Tasting notes from my travels in American Christianity
Hello all, I wanted to share my experience attempting to find the correct place to worship over the past year or so.  This was not my first rodeo attempting to find a home church, but it was more comprehensive than my adventures in the past.  It was also influenced by several changes in my life: I got married, have a child on the way, and started making very decent money (top decile household income, likely top 3% within the next couple years).  The uncertainty I felt about donating money to my local Catholic parish grew to be a serious concern, and then the thought of raising a child in the N.O. became unacceptable.  In my previous experiment with traditionalism, I had an experience with the FSSP that was so terrible I stopped attending church altogether for a time.  And so, I started to consider my options.
Option 1: Conservative Evangelicalism.  Where to start?  The pros of this brand of Christianity are more numerous than I think many of us are willing to admit.  First, their schools are very conservative and emulate what I expect many here may remember fondly of Catholic schools in the past.  They even wear the old Catholic school uniforms and teach Latin these days.  You could easily send your child to a “Classical Christian School” from Pre-K to 12th Grade and then have numerous decent options for college.  Colleges like Wheaton are rigorously conservative and are also well regarded in general.  There is a general cultural support system for Protestantism in the U.S. that can’t be beat.  Your child could go from neonate to 21 and NEVER interact with an authority figure who wasn’t a conservative Evangelical.  Moreover, there is a zeitgeist to these churches; they are the only churches that are growing in the U.S. and they already have impressive numbers anyway.  There is a real sense that you are part of something monumental and lasting.  Sixty-five percent of children raised as conservative Evangelicals continue practicing into adulthood!

The cons are obvious.  You are the number one target for those who despise Christianity or those who profess Christianity but lean left.  The theological problems are endless.  Those great schools all teach creationism too.  The emphasis on Catholic hate is tiring and tedious as well.  I am not a theologian, although in my first dance with traditionalism I explored theology a great deal.  I no longer delve too far into it because in my heart I know it is not as applicable to my discernment of my spiritual home as I would like to admit.  With that said, there are certain aspects of Christian thought that are non-negotiable for me.  These include: devotion to the Blessed Virgin, use of the Septuagint, and the true presence.  Disregarding these three things is just too stupid to me.  And so, I moved on…

Option 2: Orthodoxy.  My exploration of Orthodoxy forever changed how I view Catholicism.  I did not ultimately settle on it, but I cannot shake the conviction that Orthodox Christians can go to heaven – and go there by virtue of their faith.  I realize this is not an acceptable view, but it is how I feel, and you can certainly offer arguments to change my mind.  I'm serious about that - it's something I typed because it's what I think even though intellectually I know it should not be correct.  Let’s start with the cons this time.  First, Orthodoxy is ugly.  People who say it is beautiful don’t know what they’re talking about.  The chants and tones are ugly.  The icons are ugly (deliberately so; the Byzantine style necessitates a sallow, sickly appearance, which happens to capture their whole religion’s aesthetic).  The churches looks gaudy with icons plastered everywhere.  There are many exceptions, and there is a certain *kind* of beauty to it all, but it seems a little depressing to me as a whole.  Second, there is an anti-zeitgeist in Orthodoxy.  Their churches are fairly empty.  There is no cultural support in the U.S. in the forms of universities, schools, or even basic catechetical classes.  Almost 60% of children raised Orthodox leave the faith.  Even if I could get past the ugliness, raising a child Orthodox would be a fool’s errand.  Perhaps most annoying, the metropolitans are just as liberal and modernist as your average Catholic bishop.  They are constantly sticking their noses in politics to tell conservatives how misguided they are, and they always weigh in on the side of the globalists who want you to go vegan, stop having kids, live in pods, and eat insect burgers.  I won’t eat the bugs.  If you want to see what the Catholic Church might be like if Vatican II didn’t happen, consider the lack of enthusiasm the Orthodox have for their rite.  I wonder if the energy of the Tridentine Mass would exist if we were not standing in direct opposition to the N.O.  The Orthodox are also utterly incapable of missionary work and obtaining conversions.  This seems like a real problem for their future.

With all that said, the pros are numerous.  They are also obvious and not worth listing.  When you look at the history between the East and West, the Catholics often end up looking like the bad guys.  We did rape and pillage Eastern Christians during the Fourth Crusade for literally no reason; we did take an oppressor/imperialist role during many different periods of history e.g., the Venetians; we often made the Orthodox actively prefer Muslim rule to Catholic rule; the Donation of Constantine was a forged document; etc.  They bravely endured oppression at the hands of Muslims and Communists, emulating what you would expect to find from Christ’s Church.  They have many rich traditions such as the use of basil, which grew around Christ’s cross.  I do not have many theological gripes with them, and they are good on my three crucial points.  But with all of this said: the pros do not outweigh the cons.  There really is an overall sense of death and dying in Orthodoxy, and even that might have been OK if not for the overwhelming liberalism of the hierarchy.  Catholics who think the grass is greener or that Orthodoxy is an antidote to modernism are very, very mistaken.  They want you to eat bugs just as much as your local archbishop.

Option 3: FSSP, et al.  I did not have a good experience with the FSSP, but that’s not important.  I will instead offer what my current complaint with all traditionalists ""firmly within the Church"" is: It’s a shell game.  You won’t be scandalized by attending Mass at an FSSP parish, but enjoy having your financial contributions go straight to a bishop who will do his best to make sure you DO get scandalized.  I really question the morality of actively participating in a parish like this that, despite being orthodox in all the right ways, on paper functions like any other diocesan parish as far as the bishop’s pockets are concerned.  It strikes me as a type of blood money: You give money you know will be used in immoral ways as long as you get to worship as a traditionalist with certainty that you are staying firmly within the Church.  This didn’t occur to me my first time around because I was poor.  Now, however, I can’t imagine making such a Faustian pact for my own piece of mind. 

Option 4: Your local diocesan parish.  Barf.  It’s been a while since I attended an N.O. parish, so I gave it a try.  It’s worse than I remember.  Just in the five years I’ve been gone, there are fewer young people than ever before.  The old people seem older.  Has anyone else noticed that cultural Catholicism doesn’t exist anymore?  There’s no sense of any distinctives; the parish schools seem anemic and secularized; everything seems emptier and hollower.  I don’t know… when I was growing up I still felt like a lot of people identified as Catholic even if they didn’t go to church; they still went on Christmas and Easter.  That seems gone now.  The ONLY people at all three local parishes are decrepit boomers and a few young-ish families that give off those creepy, desexed vibes like they don’t have the proper amount of estrogen or androgens in circulation.  The young adults group I used to attend no longer exists.  There is a new “brash young conservative firebrand” priest just like the one who used to be there before he was shuffled around parishes into obscurity, but this one seems less convincing, more scared, and more hopeless.  He gave a sermon a week ago about how only 2 children in the parish school knew the Hail Mary.  This type of young priest used to be a source of hope for the future to me; now it seems like a played out, tired trope.

I have no qualms about leaving this behind.  It’s pathetic.  Catholics used to seem like “normal” people, but now the only ones who are left are “religious” types – the kind with those wide-eyed, antidepressant stares you see at liberal mainline Protestant churches.  The population is older, lower class, and seemingly more mentally ill.  I guess that’s what happens when all the middle of the road people leave.  But those left are either abject cheerleaders for the Pope and his program, or double digit IQ “conservatives” who pretend like the priest didn’t just give a homily on how Jesus wants you to endorse welfare programs.  I am really emphasizing this because it is remarkable to me how fast this all seems to have changed.  During my entire childhood and early adult life there was a certain vibrancy in parish life.  It wasn’t great, but it was something.  But again, something appears to have changed just in the last maybe four years.  Has anyone else noticed this?  I can’t quite put it into words, but something has been lost recently…  By the way, retention rate for children raised Catholic is basically a coin toss, only slightly better than Orthodoxy.

Option 5: Charismatic Episcopal or High Anglican.  Meh, they don’t use the Septuagint for reasons (?) and I simply don’t get a sense of intellectual rigor from them.  They are weak on Marian devotion not because of any theological reason but as a concession to other Protestants as far as I can tell.  They believe in the true presence and apostolic succession, but their line of succession also comes from literal Brazilian Communists, so???  If I really gave up on Catholicism for good one day, they would have to do in a pinch.

Option 6: SSPX.  Finally… home, 1.5 hours away.  I’m not worried about whether I’m inside or outside of the Church like I once was because the truth is, surveying everything above, I’m at the point where I’d rather not go to ANY church anymore if SSPX isn’t good enough.  Surprisingly, they do have schools, and Angelus Press, and a reasonable number of parishes; they have a cultural presence big enough to work with – and definitely outsized given their size.  I agree with every single theological and political point I have ever heard them make, and that is genuinely special to me.  I can contribute to them financially and actually feel good about it!  Most importantly, the bishops of the SSPX don’t want you to eat the bugs.

The cons are that they are very small and there are *probably* some weirdos there.  They all seemed very clean cut and upstanding to me, but you know how those trads are.

With all of this said, my only qualm is how I feel about schism these days: Namely, that I don't have any interest in that idea.  Taking a step back, it was impossible to step back in and invite the cognitive dissonance back into my head space; having a kid had a major effect on that too.  I simply refuse to expose my child to that crap.  I am judging only by fruits.  In that sense, Evangelicals win out in all but theological concerns.  N.O. and Orthodoxy are both like dying men; the latter a noble old man succumbing to old age, the former a post-op transgender with cancer from the hormone blockers.  FSSP is the one who enabled the surgery, and SSPX is the oncologist.  I won't feel like a hypocrite nodding along in the N.O. and I won't feel like Dr. Faustus in the FSSP.  The idea of schism or anything else that presents a theological quandary that makes me waffle back and forth is purposeless, and does not contribute to my salvation.  And my purpose in bringing this up is not to start that conversation.  Rather, it's to say: Would you truly expect anyone not already a Catholic to do anything different?  Would your average person not judge a church by its fruits?  That person could look at history and conclude it's a coin toss between whether Catholics or Orthodox are the "true Christians," but where to go from there?  Is an individual's soul REALLY going to be lost because they picked the wrong one, or because they looked at the Catholic Church and thought they were a bunch of Communist freaks?  I already know the answer, but I am having trouble getting there myself.
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Tasting notes from my travels in American Christianity - by Imperator Caesar Trump - 10-09-2019, 08:03 AM

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