‘Why don’t you people ever seem to live near churches?’

Following Justice Antonin Scalia’s weird, epic outburst from the bench Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court, Corey Robin offers a profile of the conservative jurist.

Scalia is a lifelong, ultra-conservative Catholic. Robin highlights one of the curious ramifications of that, which is that here in America, very conservative religious believers tend to drive a lot on Sunday mornings:

After Vatican II liberalized the liturgy and practices of the church, including his neighborhood church in suburban Washington, D.C., he insisted on driving his brood of seven children miles away to hear Sunday Mass in Latin. Later still, in Chicago, he did the same thing, only this time with nine children in tow.

That’s not a commitment to the church, that’s a commitment to an ideology, followed by a search for a local church that will accommodate it:

Scalia’s conservatism … is not a conservatism of tradition or inheritance: his parents had only one child, and his mother-in-law often complained about having to drive miles and hours in search of the one true church. “Why don’t you people ever seem to live near churches?” she would ask Scalia and his wife. It is a conservatism of invention and choice, informed by the very spirit of rebellion he so plainly loathes — or thinks he loathes — in the culture at large.

Scalia isn’t a cafeteria Catholic, he’s a concierge Catholic. Invention and choice shape his spirituality, after which he seeks out the “one true church” that will reassure him that what he has invented and chosen is traditional, right and proper, and that his particular inventions and choices are normal and normative.

The automobile made this possible. The automobile abolished the parish, freeing us all to roam much farther in search of a church that matches our affinities — of style, tone, taste, theology, politics, etc.

I’m not picking on Scalia here — we evangelicals long ago perfected this same art of shopping for the right church, the one that allows us to pretend that our idiosyncratic preferences are the true and ancient essence of primitive Christianity.

If you want to see this same “conservatism of invention and choice” on display among evangelicals, just check out your regional mega-church. It’s the one with the ginormous parking lot.

  • Münchner Kindl

    Jefferson rejected constitutional originalism. That idea today is pushed most often by conservatives,

    That’s not how it presents. The call of “activist judges” being negative when judges rules against displays of religion, but consies being okay with activist judges when it’s against gay marriage, means that for the extremes mud-slingers, whatever epithet is closest to hand will be used.

    However, if you look at what the legal experts themselves are saying, there is a heated debate whether intent of the founders or current intent (each of the approaches has a long special AE word which I’ve forgotten) are the offically allowed way to interpret the constitution.

    The fact that you have two official names for different approaches and experts arguing with each other means that the issue isn’t very clear cut. Otherwise the experts with facts on their side could just tell the other side “this isn’t how we do it, go away once you understand basic law 101″.

    That this doesn’t happen means to me that both approaches are considered valid.

  • Münchner Kindl

    I remember something my father’s family did. Every Sunday, they would put on their nice cloths, all get into the car, and go to church. The catch was, every Sunday they would go to a different church than they went to the last week.

    This does sound like a good approach on one hand.On the other hand, a church parish should be a community – where you go not only for the yearly Christmas service, or once a week for service, but also where in the summer there’s a picnic, where the youth club meets, where old people have a monthly cafe to meet and talk, etc.So a church becomes a group of friends/ acquaintances, a community. (Which is also why it’s hard to leave it if it takes the wrong direction – nobody ever said it’s easy to leave a church you’ve grown roots into : only that sometimes it’s necessary to ask yourself what you stand for and what you stand against).So how did you solve this? Which community did your family belong to?


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