Feminists vs. Catholics, part 6,832

There’s an article making the rounds on Facebook this week, titled “6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College”, that seems to have the whole internet’s panties in a bunch. I’ll admit it; when the link came across my feed, my own knickers started to twist a bit. Finally, today, I sat down and read the article and explored its immediate context. You know what? (You may want to sit down for this one.) I don’t understand the outrage. Okay, that’s not entirely true – I get why people have knee-jerk reactions when faced with ideology they find abhorrent. But this egalitarian atheist thinks this particular outrage is a waste of time and energy.

If you took the time to read the preface to Raylan Alleman’s “listicle” (I really hate this format, despite my love of many of the things said using it, but that is a topic for another day…), or perhaps even took the extra time to click on the “about” tab on its host blog, you would learn that this article was written for a limited audience. Fix the Family is not an evangelical website, at least not in the usual sense. Its stated goal is to educate people who are already professed Catholics about what that profession of faith entails. I have absolutely no problem with this. In fact, I think it’s kind of awesome.

I was raised Catholic. I was also raised not to do anything “half-assed”. At some point, those two value sets came into conflict with each other. Due to various events in my young adult life, I realized that I needed to better understand what I was professing to believe because I was feeling like a half-assed Catholic. That journey led me away from the church and toward a rationalist view that more honestly reflected the way I operate and interact with the world. I do not, however, think that this is the inevitable outcome of any similar examination. My family is full of sincere, thoughtful, “full-assed” Catholics. They take their professed faith seriously; not just as some kind of membership badge. We may disagree on almost everything, but we share a very fundamental value set regarding what it means to honestly explore and embrace the full meaning of what we say we’re about.

There’s no denying that there are a lot of conflicting forces at work within the membership of the Catholic Church today. Many in the developed world would like to see ideas about sexuality, marriage, and birth control brought more in line with secular Western ideals. While it is true that there are mechanisms for change built into the Church structure, they are slow to react. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. I understand that religion plays a significant role as social glue, and many people identify very strongly with the faith they were raised in. It can be difficult to face the prospect that one’s values and one’s faith might be opposed. I realize that my view is a bit radical, but I personally feel that honesty is more important than social belonging. If your views diverge from Catholic teaching, maybe you need to take a good, long look in the mirror and admit to yourself that you’re not actually a Catholic anymore.

This article is part of that discussion. It represents an accurate understanding of what the Church expects of men and women, and what it views as the optimal version of Holy Matrimony. It was not written to convince me or any other non-Catholic to live differently. I might find the ideology expressed here to be absolutely ass-backwards, and as much as I might tell myself that publicly getting all worked up about it might be just the kind of thing that would have nudged a younger version of myself down an important path, it would mostly serve a vain desire on my part to feel superior or to show solidarity with purveyors of another brand of group-think – here, academic liberalism.

Look, I’m not saying we should never criticize another person’s religion. I think it is important to engage in debate, especially where one group’s religious beliefs are being imposed on others through legislation. I also very strongly value subversion and dissent. I still remember, at age 13, watching Sinead O’Connor tear up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. It was shocking, insulting, and titillating, all at the same time. It planted a seed in me. It gave me a glimpse out into the world, and made me aware, for the first time, in a really visceral way, that the things I held sacred were not universally held as sacred.

As much as those of us on the secular side might want to scoff at conservative religious people’s claims of persecution – and rightly so in a lot of cases where it seems so obvious from the outside that they are mourning a loss of special treatment, they are right about one thing: their views are increasingly at odds with the mainstream. It is nearly impossible nowadays for a child to be raised in a fully-fortified belief bubble, insulated from knowledge of the secular world. As limited as my access was, I had a television. I had Sinead O’Connor. Today’s kids have the internet. They have the whole world at their fingertips.

Ultimately, those kids don’t need our condescension. They will make up their own minds about how to respond to the interplay between their inherited belief structures and the broader culture around them. Some of them will remain faithful. Others will choose different faiths or give up faith altogether. A large part of that process will play out in social media.

Too much of what circulates on Facebook, among users of all worldviews, is shared primarily as identity negotiation. People who express dissenting or uncomfortable views can be blocked out with the click of a button, and with a worldwide pool of millions, even the obscurest beliefs can be supported and validated by a virtual community. I suspect that’s an inevitable consequence of such a forum. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting it to be better. I would love to see such a powerful platform put to the truly constructive work of hosting honest and engaged dialogue. I am not talking about a hippie internet utopia where everyone is constantly affirming everyone else. I’m talking about messy, self-aware, and courageous conversations that challenge people to examine what they say they believe and try to really live their values. As much as I might disagree with Alleman’s perspective, he is attempting to have that kind of conversation with his fellow Catholics, and I have to commend him for it.

“Worst Jerk Fail Ever”

Apparently, Jimmy Kimmel secretly made a Youtube video of a woman setting her ass on fire, presented it as a really real thing that really happened in someone’s real life, and then revealed it was staged. I live under a rock, and I haven’t actually watched it, but the internet is all a-flutter with lulz and butthurts alike.

Over at Slate, Daniel Engber bemoans the damage hoaxes like Kimmel’s do to the “public trust”, and the way they interfere with the innocent web denizen’s “sense of wonder”.

YouTube shows the world in all its weirdness, and gives a window on the geek sublime. When liars spread their hoggish propaganda, they mist the landscape with distrust. Think of all the other twerk fails—real ones, I mean—that have been strip-mined of their life and humor by Kimmel’s toxic hoax. Why ruin those for personal gain? Why make all online videos seem a little suspect, just to advertise a late-night talk show?

Youtube, and, more pointedly, the place it has come to occupy in our culture, deserves critique. It’s an unfettered playground for the id; a black hole of schaudenfreude and voyeurism. It’s a 24/7/365 stream of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” with porn and gore thrown in. Engber’s chief concern with Youtube seems to be maintaining an ability to enjoy watching other people make idiots of themselves, and a necessary prerequisite for this enjoyment is his ability to believe that said idiots are sincere idiots. Here, Engber reveals his corroded, hipster core. For him, it is unseemly to watch videos engineered to appeal to his baser appetites, but perfectly acceptable to watch videos that happen to capture something “true” or “real”. As long as he can feel superior to the twerkers, he’s happy.

Whether or not he’s being entirely serious here, Engber is claiming to be angry at Jimmy Kimmel because he has now “ruined” twerk fail videos forever. Bullshit. This guy is angry because Jimmy Kimmel flipped the joke onto him. He subverted the “magic” of Youtube: he took millions of viewers, who were accustomed to laughing at the misfortune and embarrassment of others through their phones and computers, and made them into the butt of the joke. I have not historically been a great fan of Kimmel’s work, but this was a stroke of genius.

Engber and his ilk would do well to close their computers, put away their phones, and GO THE FUCK OUTSIDE once in a while. That’s where they’ll find the real wonder. Imagine it: real, live people and dogs and cats, being stupid and cute and funny all around you, in actual, physical reality. And better still, it’s a world you can be in, fully, and find untold depths of satisfaction and wonder engaging and exploring.

What would happen if we remembered how to share ourselves with each other instead of finding cheap comradery in sharing laughs at others’ apparent inferiority?

What if we re-learned how to exist in the world without an interpretive screen to mediate our experiences?

What if we rediscovered the courage to engage other people without a force-field made of irony?

These are important questions. Every time somebody like Jimmy Kimmel subverts the dominant paradigm, we have an opportunity to ask these questions, and others, about how and why we participate. We should seize these opportunities, not lash out at the hoaxers.