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

‘Why don’t you people ever seem to live near churches?’ June 29, 2012

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.

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