It’s awfully easy for me to find examples of what’s wrong with mainstream culture or ineffective education or liberal policy. Lately, though, I have come across plenty of things on my own side of the aisle that have me scratching my head. Sadly, a lot of it has to do with faith and religion. I guess that’s why religion is considered one of the “no-no” topics for polite conversation.
Here’s an easy example: I am opposed to gay marriage. I believe homosexual activity to be immoral, yet I cast no judgement on the homosexual individual. It’s the behavior I disagree with. Along comes that nutcase preacher from Westboro Baptist Church. He also condemns homosexual activity, but he does it by demonstrating at the funerals of US servicemen who were killed in action. His outrageous actions done in the name of God cast a dark shadow over anyone who calls himself a faith-filled person.
A not-so-easy dilemma: what to do about Catholics who are “too Catholic”? I used to believe that the biggest threat to believers came from “the Left,” for lack of a better term. Those folks who want to liberalize the Church, make it a democracy, and bring it into the new millenium were the ones to watch out for. They too easily fall into formation with those who accuse the Church of being sexist, repressive, out-dated, and so on. I began to distance myself from those parishes that pulled out their kneelers, baked their own Communion wafers, and sang all of the “pat ourselves on the back for coming to church” songs in place of those hymns that actually focus on God. Little did I know that the so-called traditional Catholics could be just as scary.
Ultra-orthodox Catholics think the Church is in trouble for an entirely different set of reasons ranging from using the English language instead of exclusively Latin, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI being too liberal, and Catholic culture being too lax. I touched on that last point a little when I blogged about passing judgement on Catholic women who wear pants. I’m finding out how much more there is to it than that. The other day, I read a rather heated discussion on a Catholic blog about whether it’s immoral for Catholics to practice yoga. No, I’m not making that up. Then, there’s the lady that sits a few pews behind us in church every week who refuses to recite the prayers in English. Instead, she whispers them loudly in Latin. She also will only sing traditional hymns; otherwise, she keeps her booming opera voice silent. These examples are like mosquitos. They are annoying but generally harmless.
Then the “too Catholic” scenario hit closer to home. SuzyQ is attending the Steubenville Summer Youth Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville this weekend. I’m all for a movement to engage teens in their faith and offer them a way and opportunity to befriend other faithful teens. Then I saw the list of what to pack for the conference. A bathing suit was suggested, not for swimming, but for wearing in the shower for modesty. It’s immodest to take a shower naked in single-sex dorms with bathrooms equipped with private shower stalls?? Only spiritual reading was permitted. If you were hoping to re-read some Harry Potter before the latest movie opens, you are out of luck.
Why, oh, why can’t we just be normal? Do we have to go from one extreme–teens reading sexually explicit YA novels and flaunting porn-star fashion–to the other. Are we really expecting to keep teens practicing their faith by encouraging them to shower in bathing suits and condemning secular entertainment? Wouldn’t it be more effective to teach them to discern what’s appropriate and why? If we portray “true Catholics” as akin to the Dugger family, how is that going to appeal to teenagers who are bombarded with Katy Perry and “Jersey Shore?”
So why not just shrug all of it off as just a minor nothing that’s easily addressed? It turns into a problem when the conference also sells Steubenville and other schools like it as “authentically Catholic” colleges. The message is that other schools will not provide an environment that is healthy for Catholic students. Now, I can’t argue that there are plenty of dangers for Catholic students at colleges both secular and Catholic. But there are also some outstanding Catholic Campus Ministry programs and Newman Centers out there, too. If parish youth groups, retreats, and events like the Steubenville conference would give kids some tools to take away to college, Catholic teens might have a better chance at continuing in the faith along with acting as a joyful witness in their faith to the rest of the world.
Does my desire for “normal” religious practice make me any less uncommon? Uh. No. It’s one thing to be counter-cultural. It’s something else entirely to enclose yourself in an extremist-looking sect. Apparently, being normal is even more uncommon than you think.