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Tiktok tradition, clickbait Catholicism, soundbyte spirituality, & media mummery... we need a renewal of ideas through practical mysticism
Watching a recent episode of the Regeneration podcast triggered a thought about lockstep-thinking vs free inquiry. Ours is an era of discovery and renewal, but it’s also a pandemic of narcissism.
I’m just going to rant here. I might change my mind, and decide this was all irresponsible. But it's a kaleidoscope of thoughts that I can’t get around. And it’s why I’m doing what I do with SmartCatholics, LegendFiction, this project - CatholicFrontier, and the new projects I dream about.
We’re sick with immaturity.
So many of us are hunkered in mental bunkers, shelling anything that moves above the skyline.
When it comes to living out religious faith or convictions, this internal warfare within the Body of Christ, between Christians and Catholics and Orthodox and more, is gutting our children, and pushing them out of one gulag into another.
Please note that I’m not talking about all the well-meaning People of God.
I’m talking about the leaders who are rotten with a catechesis of narcissism.
The raging rants and whimpering words of real mystics today are drowned out. Sometimes we find them in quiet podcasts or little blogs. They’re there.
Crusading LARPers or culture warriors, or anyone defined by a hashtag, thrives on shutting out, shutting down, and shutting off ideas that scare them.
I know I can say, that, because I lived it, and did it for 25 years. Praise God I didn’t have a platform. That feedback loop would have made me more insufferable. Today, I’m hoping to be a part of the groundswell of grassroots renewal, because for better or worse, it’s not happening at the top.
And that’s probably exactly how it should be.
Cultivating a heart of hope, and a mind of salvation, and a strength for peacemaking, can tempt us to not see how bad things are.
This is why a project like SmartCatholics is a way I hope to contribute good, to do good.
Today, media influencers and social celebrities have hijacked the faith of millions. Maybe with good intentions, they’ve podiumed their opinions and choked the feeds with their views.
Like me, they are breaking with their addictions, and turning to activism to distance themselves from their inner demons. I’m probably doing everything they are.
That’s why I need to constantly remind myself about the danger of cult-thinking, of narcissism, of head-based faith-thinking. Why I need to get away from my screen and back into a spirituality rooted in sunlight and prayer and morning air and children and feeding my family.
A SmartCatholic runs the risk of being an armchair theologian. We’re everywhere, posting on YouTube, happy to regurgitate what’s ‘plain and obviously accepted,’ wrapped in our own anecdotes.
But the problem is all the cult thinking. What is cult thinking? Any time that you
can’t handle or demonize an opposing viewpoint
have a single source of truth and information
assume that you’re probably gonna be ok and they’re not
unable to thoroughly challenge and handle the depths of doubt on every question,
you’re probably in a cult.
Maybe you’re in a cult of your own making. Maybe some groupthink. Maybe a large following. And you might even be following a perfectly lovely person, who has no idea how their followers are acting.
Pope Francis has been brilliant about targeting such thinking. He’s always ramming rigidity, challenging us to seek the Holy Spirit, being open to the needs and demands of the present. Reality is always greater than ideas.
And like heck do we have fetishes for our ideas.
When free thinking isn’t allowed in academics, and online forums savage each other for raising competing ideas, we’re proving our inability to handle truth.
We’re in an era of Tiktok tradition, clickbait Catholicism, soundbyte spirituality, and media mummery.
Bad ideas lead to bad faith. Good ideas inform better faith.
What you know drives how you pray, how you live. If you believe the wrong information, you will repress what doesn't fit, even if its your own lived experience.
It’s really depressing how many of our religious leaders and bishops have become so partisan and apocalyptic, losing the long view and the hope of the saints. Instead of training and raising up parish communities with the capacity to discern and think like mature adults, they build fan bases of equally enraged yes-men. Also known as fascists.
That’s also called… artificial intelligence. It’s not a new thing. Something that seems to be thinking, but only repurposes and recombines ideas from other people, is only artificially intelligent. Today is the era when we need our minds the most. We don’t need to short-circuit our brains and blinkering ourselves with pious 'faith talk.'
The council of Vatican II called us to renew our minds, our faiths, our understanding, our reading of Scripture. Many of our ideas today are filtered to us through well-meaning, self-congratulating minds still starved for their own renewal.
We are barnacled with influencers rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. And they’re sending our young children into the narcissistic embraces of selective rigorists. Radtrads are my own personal background and childhood wound. I get the fear.
We need more kneeling theologians, who are changed by what they learn.
We certainly need more theologians who are doing something helpful and productive out of all that praying. A theologian who can’t talk to people, or can’t do anything, and stays stuck in their academics, is about as good as a gargoyle. For them, ideas are greater than reality, and they seriously need to get out of their bedrooms, touch grass, meet a human being, and have an argument. Maybe in a soup kitchen.
Ours is an era where an ounce of effort yields a ton of good. It’s insane how easily we can collaborate and do good together. It’s incredible how our creative reach is magnified like magic at our fingertips.
The ludicrous silo-mentiality, the scarcity gospel and us-vs-them mindsets among our religious groups is a black parade into a senile care center, drooling and abandoned by our children.
We’re in freefall into demographic winter, and our young people are too demoralized to even have sex together. To even stay alive.
These are the impact of bad ideas given to children. To an imperium and colonization of a new force in history - business that has zero care for human thriving, or humans at all.
Heck, it’s not even business. Business is just a new kind of religion. A new infernalist empire. But we just don’t think of it that way.
I’m not against business. But we’ve all seen what happens when business bypasses law, absolves itself of any moral responsibility, and has no boundaries to its narcissism.
How do we respond? With radicalized content, shrill rageposting, dismissive conversations… We’re either easily triggered or trigger happy.
This is not an age of wisdom.
Nor even of wit.
It’s just coopted woke.
Not even the good kind of woke. We’re trying to out-victim Christ. Which takes time and care away from the real victims among us. Once again, the slurry of narcissism hogging the limelight.
Media makes it seem like we’re all on a warpath. But we’re not. Most of us just want to meet a mate, do something valuable with our lives, raise children, make food, and enter the presence of the Most Real.
Our kids are walking away from Christian faith with good reason.
They don’t see anyone living what they say they believe. The modern crisis is a crisis of witness.
They see only a few being consistent, demonstrating a deep and conflicting crusade of interior faith and fear. Such people, like Jordan Peterson, Pope Francis, perhaps many others, are brilliant signs of the times.
The burning of the Cathedrals in France chill our hearts, as if they are signs of the times. They are. But not what we think.
The fields of the farmers have been burning for decades, food pulled from the mouths of poor families to control production caps.
Our festivals have died, our fiction is flattened and self-serving. Our online discourse is a pissing contest for the fastest mic drop. Our in-person communities are as tribalist as chimps.
Our churches are echo chambers that ignore the exodus of children.
We’ve weaponized the Eucharist - the sacrament of communion - into an idol. An idol is a de-personalized object. We’ve turned it into a metric of our perfection.
We’ve fetishized selective tracts of tradition from a specific culture.
We’ve fetishized marriage and family into a Tweet-long idea, with no sense or ability to understand how people can have other responses.
Where is the ancient radical hospitality? Where is the hunger for contemplative curiosity, for clarity of thought, for the centrality of the kerygma, the freethinking renewal of everything in Christ.
Such church structures need to ‘burn’ away. Religion that obsesses over it’s own self-preservation needs to go.
We do need a new story, and we need a renewed reason for faith - not the infernalist creed of hellfire. We do not need more Catholics and religious crabbing for job security in the Catholic imperium.
We do need an army of catechists, podcasts, resources, retreat centers, stories, music festivals, food drives, family collaboration, anchored in the kerygma - God is love.
We need a rediscovery of radical hospitality to simply engage with our world around us with accompaniment, tolerance, welcoming. To discuss ideas without fear.
We need receptivity & renewal, to seek Wisdom in all times from a position of wonder to learn, celebrate truth and beauty.
We believe we have a monopoly on Christ, a monopoly on the truth.
We need to build resilience to resist narcissism in ourselves, in ideas, and in others.
We need to practice presence. To learn to take action as firstresponders, and not just film it for a reaction video.
All of these problems, ideas, fears, hopes, and much more beside, rattle around in my mind. I have so much to say, and no idea how to say it.
I hope to continue finding a way to do good. There are many answers, and they are all rooted in a simple thing. It’s not more contemplation, more Communions, more ceremonies, more churches…
The only conceivable answer is a practical mysticism. A personal return to engagement with reality, and to sit in silence within the Holy Mystery of God. We have to ask for this.
Out of this return to reality, we start again to embrace simple, holy ideas.
And out of those ideas, to share a system. To build a structure.
A structure that is the kingdom.
Holy Wisdom, pray for us.