Weird up your religion

I usually ignore the New York Times because of their aggressive pay-walling, but this op-ed crossed my feed this morning and I think it’s worth reading.

Christianity Gets Weird

“More and more young Christians, disillusioned by the political binaries, economic uncertainties and spiritual emptiness that have come to define modern America, are finding solace in a decidedly anti-modern vision of faith. As the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns throw the failures of the current social order into stark relief, old forms of religiosity offer a glimpse of the transcendent beyond the present.

“Many of us call ourselves ‘Weird Christians,’ albeit partly in jest. What we have in common is that we see a return to old-school forms of worship as a way of escaping from the crisis of modernity and the liberal-capitalist faith in individualism.

“The Weird Christian movement, loose and fledgling though it is, isn’t just about its punk-traditionalist aesthetic, a valorization of a half-imagined past. It is at its most potent when it challenges the present, and reimagines the future. Its adherents are, like so many young Americans of all religious persuasions, characterized by their hunger for something more than contemporary American culture can offer, something transcendent, politically meaningful, personally challenging. Like the hipster obsession with ‘authenticity’ that marked the mid-2010s, the rise of Weird Christianity reflects America’s unfulfilled desire for, well, something real.”

–Tara Isabella Burton, from an op-ed published in the New York Times, May 8, 2020

There’s a lot going on in the piece, but the gist of it is that there’s a small but potentially growing progressive answer to the so-called “trad cath” and other Christians who’ve been looking to the middle ages for their religion. I say “progressive” because of their rejection of the white nationalism, heteronormativity, and misogyny so prevalent among folks self-applying the “traditionalist” label, but they still oppose abortion so..take the term or leave it.

The politics though, while interesting, aren’t the most interesting bit to me. Rather, it’s the use of the word “weird.”

Weirdness is relative. And to be honest, I wouldn’t call anything mentioned in that op-ed “weird.” It certainly isn’t the Christianity most visible in mainstream America–with its white, gun-toting Jesus swilling beer at a NASCAR race–but it’s also not completely outside the norm to embrace flamboyant pageantry, community-based devotion, and what amounts to a kind of syncretization of old-school practices with the dominant culture.

I mean, that’s kind of the entire history of Catholicism, isn’t it?

From it’s arrival in Gallo-Roman Europe, to the African Diaspora, to Día de Muertos you see Catholicism (and later Protestantism) get adapted, tweaked, and tugged around pre-existing belief systems and cultural practices–including magical practices. Spend an evening on a deep dive into Psalm 51, and try counting the number of cultures and magical traditions that have embraced it as one, mean banishing ritual.

But even looking at the early church and the evolution of its now-mainstream teachings, you see this happen. The Marian cult, the cult of the saints–take a look at the church’s first millennium warnings about angel veneration, then ask how we wound up with Saint Michael.

Catholicism has been gloriously weird from the beginning. But hey! It’s nice of folks to notice again.

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