In early 2019, I started following more Catholics on Twitter. It was an intentional decision. Most of my community in the arts and entertainment world is highly secular, and I was feeling isolated. I thought, naïvely, that following more Catholics online would lessen the sense that everyone disagreed with me. At the time, I was completely unaware of the bizarre internet niche called Weird Catholic Twitter. I didn’t know about trads and modernists. I’d never heard the term Novus Ordo. What I wanted was, simply, to connect with more young Catholics. It worked! I met some incredible people, many of whom I now count among my good friends. I also encountered a level of vitriolic infighting that was absolutely shocking. Catholic Twitter, it turns out, is a theological war zone.
The Twitter Intensity Curve
Every social platform has a personality. TikTok is playful and woke. Instagram is aspirational. Facebook is a mess. Twitter is… intense. Whatever niche you’re into, the most fanatical subset of that niche will find it’s way onto Twitter, where they can engage in ideological battles with other equally intense people. Unlike TikTok or Instagram, the best way to amass attention on Twitter is to convince people that you’re smarter than they are. Instant access to journalists, academics, and politicians is a huge benefit to this endeavor. Delivering that perfectly timed zinger to the right blue check can make or break a Twitter persona. And when niches are so small and focused, it only takes a few thousand followers to turn yourself into Someone Important.
Catholic Twitter is no different. Unlike mainstream Catholics, Twitter people love to debate theology. They like to go on about Church history. They also like to gatekeep. Are you really Catholic if you don’t believe everything the Church teaches? If you’ve never read Humanae Vitae? Average Catholics don’t fixate on these things. But in this small space of intense people, being the know-it-all is finally cool. And, for the know-it-alls of the world, the atmosphere is intoxicating.
How Catholic Twitter Changed Me
Even on Catholic Twitter, I found myself feeling isolated. In fact, being online with a bunch of Catholics felt more or less the same as being online with a bunch of atheists. Fundamentally, the rest of my community shared a set of beliefs that I did not. Online Catholics are mostly socialists on one side or monarchists on the other. (You read that right. Monarchists! Clearly, this is not a normal representation of society.) I’ve never been a radical person. If anything, my belief system is staunchly moderate. But Twitter is not a platform that favors nuance.
Nevertheless, I felt myself becoming acclimated to the this world. My friends’ radical politics began to appear idealistic rather than fringe. Their snappy one-liners appeared witty rather than mean. Why wasn’t I idealistic, witty, and smart? Why didn’t I want Justice? (I do, of course.) But the more I tried to emulate a certain type of Progressive Catholic, the more followers I gained, the unhappier I became. Because, fundamentally, Twitter isn’t a platform about building community. It’s a platform about debate. Debate is enlightening and sometimes edifying, but it does nothing for the soul. And it wasn’t what I came here for.
I am an intense person. Or, at least, I have intense person tendencies. But I didn’t come to Twitter in order to feed these tendencies. I came to make friends, and I have. I want to keep these relationships. They have been good for me. But knowing what the latest debate is online? It’s been absolutely useless for me both creatively and spiritually. On the best days, it’s an interesting distraction from my work of making art. On the worst days it harms my faith. I already know what homophobia is; I don’t need to see it every minute. I already know how I feel about politics; I don’t need to be advised to cut out my loved ones over it. It’s not a normal, healthy, way to go through life.
So what did I learn from Catholic Twitter? My thoughts don’t fit into 280 characters, and that’s a good thing.