In one of history’s many bitter ironies, advent season – a time when we prepare to welcome the child Jesus into our hearts and homes – kicked off while the US’s merciless and punitive treatment of refugees intensified. And plenty of Christians got the irony – such as the Massachusetts pastor who caused a stir by setting up his church’s nativity scene with baby Jesus in a cage. Many Catholic organizations and individuals have been involved for a while doing hands-on work to help refugees, and religious leaders nationally have spoken out against the inhuman and anti-Christian injustice of our present immigration policies.
But then there are the others.
My friend and guest writer H. Lillian Vogl’s idea about “two Catholic churches” comes into play here, again. Because while some catholics were working to raise awareness of and assist immigrant families, others not only ignored or dismissed the injustices, but even defended and praised them.
But there was no shortage of outrage on the Right.
It was just outrage over different things.
First, we had an article by Patti Armstrong, in the National Catholic Register: “Exorcist Warns About Celine Dion’s Occult Children’s Clothing.” The argument, such as it is, is that a) the aesthetic of the clothing seems dark to the author (because, you know, Catholics are all about avoiding darkness and the grotesque, and have never focused on death or decorated an entire chapel with skulls or anything) – and b) that the exorcist in question, who once was Mother Teresa’s spiritual director, is “convinced that the way this gender thing has spread is demonic.”
This is wildly irresponsible journalism, since there is no evidence that Dion is actually involved in the occult, and the exorcist did not specifically warn about her clothing, nor even about gender neutral clothing per se. And while the clothing is wildly overpriced and possibly unethically sourced, its being gender neutral is no new or problematic thing. For most of history, baby clothing was ungendered. I have an adorable picture of my paternal grandfather – later a physician and WWII veteran – with beautiful curls, wearing a dress.
I suppose I could be outraged by the high prices, because economic injustice is real.
I can also be outraged by the bad journalism and historical ignorance.
But wait. Maybe I could be outraged by the latest Starbucks cup design, instead. Or by people viewing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as a song with ambiguous lyrics. Because we seem to do it every year. These are practically Catholic internet holiday traditions.
Oh, and now we can also be outraged about gingerbread! Yes, gingerbread. Because midway through advent, right-wing Catholic media personality Taylor Marshall, typically renowned for his pricey Islamophobic webinars, took to Twitter to mock a seminary for hosting a gingerbread-making contest:
“How Fabulouth! These seminarians had a gingerbread house making contest and Corey won. This is effeminate and puerile, and it’s why some Seminaries are horrific. Grown men don’t gather to decorate gingerbread. (Can you imagine Basil and Gregory Decorating cookies together?)”
(capitalization is Dr. Marshall’s own)
Now, I am not a huge fan of seminarians doing gingerbread house contests, since this doesn’t seem to be essential to living the gospel, but there’s nothing especially wrong with it. At least it’s better than the idealized “manly man” evenings of scotch and cigars, because it’s cheaper, and won’t scandalize the faithful with the spectacle of the clergy and would-be clergy lounging in decadence at a time when they should, perhaps, be kneeling in sackcloth and ashes. I can more easily imagine Basil and Gregory making pastry than I can imagine them lolling in epicurean decadence in the midst of horrific church scandal.
(Full disclosure: I enjoy Scotch and cigars, but I also have not recently been a part of an elite group that has wildly abused its responsibility. I’m just your garden-variety slob).
But we’re focusing on the wrong things.
Taylor Marshall, the reason why some seminaries are horrific is that priests prey upon young people and other priests excuse and cover for them. Clericalism and power trips make seminaries horrific. Bad theological formation, and radical isolation from the lived world also do not help. Gingerbread houses, however, are not the problem.
Patti Armstrong, the really demonic thing happening to our children is not gender neutral clothing, but family separations, incarceration, and even death. It’s that in a nation of opulence, children are going hungry. It’s that our own government is enabling a genocide in Yemen, where children are starving and dying.
Outrage can be exhausting, even paralyzing. It can sometimes get in the way of genuine reform. But in itself, when rightly ordered, it is very human – the sign of a rightly functioning human heart. It can even spur us on to action, and so be a motive force of good.
And there is plenty to be outraged about, not only right now but always. “The poor you will always have with you” was not meant, by Jesus, as a compliment to us.
But this past Christmas, Catholics opted to be outraged by all the wrong things.
(Incidentally, anyone curious about the church’s actual teaching on Islam can save a buck, skip the webinar, and read Nostra Aetate for free).
image credit: www.flickr.com/photos/nicolasconnault/2974673841