Paul L. Caron

Sunday, August 21, 2022

NY Times Op-Ed: New York’s Hottest Club Is The Catholic Church

New York Times Op-Ed:  New York’s Hottest Club Is the Catholic Church, by Julia Yost (Senior Editor, First Things):

YostAs senior churchmen seek to make Catholicism palatable to modernity, members of a small but significant scene are turning to the ancient faith in defiance of liberal pieties. The scene is often associated with “Dimes Square,” a downtown Manhattan neighborhood popular with a pandemic-weary Generation Z — or Zoomer — crowd, but it has spread across a network of podcasts and upstart publications. Its sensibility is more transgressive than progressive. Many of its denizens profess to be apolitical. Others hold outré opinions, whether sincerely or as fashion statements. Reactionary motifs are chic: Trump hats and “tradwife” frocks, monarchist and anti-feminist sentiments. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this contrarian aesthetic is its embrace of Catholicism.

Urban trends can shape a culture, as millennial Brooklyn did in its heyday. The Dimes Square scene is small, but its ascent highlights a culture-wide shift. Progressive morality, formulated in response to the remnants of America’s Christian culture, was once a vanguard. By 2020, the year of lockdowns and Black Lives Matter protests, progressivism had come to feel hegemonic in the social spaces occupied by young urban intellectuals. Traditional morality acquired a transgressive glamour. Disaffection with the progressive moral majority — combined with Catholicism’s historic ability to accommodate cultural subversion — has produced an in-your-face style of traditionalism. This is not your grandmother’s church — and whether the new faithful are performing an act of theater or not, they have the chance to revitalize the church for young, educated Americans.

Honor Levy, the fresh-out-of-Bennington writer who co-hosts the trendy podcast “Wet Brain,” recently converted to Catholicism and lets you know when she has unconfessed mortal sins on her conscience. The podcast’s beat is pop culture, literature, politics and religion — including practical tips for warding off demons. Dasha Nekrasova, a Catholic revert and actress with a recurring role on HBO’s “Succession,” is a co-host of the scene’s most popular podcast, “Red Scare.” On an episode during Lent this year, Ms. Nekrasova focused on esoteric Catholic topics such as sedevacantism, the ultra-traditionalist notion that the popes since the Second Vatican Council are illegitimate.

The confluence of New York’s young, right-leaning intellectuals and thinkers like Ms. Nekrasova, who was once better known for her irreverent socialist critiques, might suggest that the rising interest in Catholicism in certain social circles is just another way of being ironic or chasing a trend. Nekrasova calls herself “Catholic, like Andy Warhol.” In a scene indebted to Warhol, the self-proclaimed “deeply superficial” Pop artist, is Catholicism just another provocation?

Faith, to these trendsetting Catholics, may be partly a pose — a “LARP, [Live Action Role Playing], ” in internet slang. But as Ms. Levy explained on a recent episode of “Wet Brain,” “You just do the rituals, and then it becomes real, even if you don’t [initially] believe in it.” She added, “That’s what religion is.” Ms. Levy’s co-host, the casting director Walter Pearce, agreed: “There’s not a problem in the world that three Hail Marys can’t fix.” ...

Today, Catholicism again stands athwart political progress and norms governing sex and gender. It violates a liberal-progressive dispensation that many young Americans find both malign and banal. By disparaging traditional gender roles and defining human flourishing in meritocratic terms, progressive moralism militates against young people’s attainment of basic goods: marriage and procreation. Ms. Levy has remarked that she was raised to “get a job.” But her more profound desire was to start a family, a desire that conflicts with the imperatives of meritocracy. ...

What Catholicism requires is adherence to disciplines and dogmas — a test of sincerity that applies in Dimes Square and beyond. In early July, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a rosary procession in NoLIta from Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the neighborhood Planned Parenthood (until 2020 named for Margaret Sanger) drew large crowds of rowdy counterprotesters. It was a reminder, an easy walk from Dimes Square, that the church runs afoul of the culture in every generation. Real-world events will confront young urban Catholics with the full implications of Catholic doctrine, making it hard to view the rosary as a fashion statement. Over time, these developments will sort the converts from the LARPers.

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