Were Catholics Targeted by the Conservative Culture Wars?

Were Catholics Targeted by the Conservative Culture Wars? July 8, 2014

Rachel Held Evans has finished her third book and is back to blog writing. I think it’s finally time to get back on the blog horse before I start losing my religion (that’s an idiom, by the way).

As recounted elsewhere, I got back into practicing Catholicism after a few years at a secular state university. It took me a couple of years before figuring out the difference between what is theologically nourishing and what is total crap. During those years it was not difficult to buy into the myth of persecution by the secular world–as I believe is common for many reverts and converts to the faith.

Modernity: you've been a very naught, naughty boy/girl.
Modernity: you’ve been a very naught, naughty boy/girl.

At some point I ran across a book with Puritan contents, a titillating title, and Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” on the cover: Degenerate Moderns: Modernity as Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior by E. Michael Jones. I mean, talk about a double bind!

Then I discovered the books author has a site that went by the name Culture Wars and the discovery of yet another damn American war (symbolic or otherwise… do you people ever stop?). The culture wars were all about overcoming sex and Darwinism and some other stuff that went by the vague label of Conservatism. To be honest, most of it didn’t make sense to me, but I was on board. This led me to skeptically endorse the Republican side since it was conservative, therefore, I thought, friendly to Catholicism.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that Catholics never really had much trouble with Darwinism. They always drank the Dino Kool Aid.  The Catholic members of the Discovery Institute might are total outliers, no matter how unsatisfying Teilhard’s theology of evolution might have been.

By the way, did you know that Darwin's great-great granddaughter joined the Catholic Church recently?
Finding Darwin’s God is one thing, but did you know that Darwin’s great-great granddaughter, Laura Keynes, joined the Catholic Church recently?

But as it turns out whenever a “battle” is won in the war against teaching Darwinism in public schools in Kansas, it is won against a specific standard textbook. That textbook is Biology: Discovering Life, co-authored by Kenneth R. Miller. Miller happens to be a Catholic who also authored Finding Darwin’s God. Think about that next time you break out the bubbly after another Culture Wars “victory.”

[Don’t miss the Cosmos special TOP10 on the topic of the lively and productive contemporary dialogue between science and religion!]

The argument advanced by Eleanor Heartney in Postmodern Heretics: Catholic Imagination in Contemporary Art is a little bit more complex. She argues, much like Camille Paglia, that all the NEA controversies of the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s were caused by works of either practicing Catholics or fallen away Catholics. Thus, when you were calling for cuts in NEA funding, you were actually calling for cuts in the disturbing fleshiness of the Catholic imagination embodied in the works of Scorsese or Serrano. You were actually siding, against yourself, with the worst elements of the Protestant-Evangelical imagination.

Catholics don't fit into American culture wars orthodoxies.
Catholics don’t fit into American culture wars orthodoxies.

Heartney’s book describes how your objections were probably similar to ones raised against Michelangelo and Bernini, even though you now might think the Renaissance and Baroque as one of the peaks of Catholic (and Western) art. The nudity in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment was met with the disgust of the Papal MC who was immortalized by the artist in the hell portion of the fresco with a snake wrapped around his Balzac. Bernini’s St. Teresa drew accusations of pornography and Orthodox-like accusations of excessive naturalism. Only a few years later nobody blinked an eye at its eroticism, which is remarkably faithful to St. Teresa’s of Avila’s vision.

[A collection of Cosmos posts on Catholicism and the contemporary arts can be found here.]

Now quit with the cultural war-making, because frequently the owls are not what they seem. Now let Conor Cunningham, author of Darwin’s Pious Idea, take you away in a cloud of non-obviousness:






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