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The Left Culturally Appropriates Catholicism

Vogue magazine recently came under fire [1] from the left. The reason? They were culturally appropriating long, decorated nails. In the same week, Georgetown University, our nation’s oldest Catholic institution of higher learning, announced [2] it will now provide a housing option for students wishing to explore their genders and sexual identities.

These two seemingly unrelated stories are in fact part of the same deeply ironic and disturbing phenomenon.

The left, which continues to decry the social faux pas of cultural appropriation with ever-increasing vehemence, is itself guilty of the very same crime. They, the proponents of a predominantly liberal post-Christian culture, have undertaken a great project of appropriating and reinventing orthodox Christian values.

Take again the recent news regarding Georgetown. The notion of an LGBTQ-affirming house, for which, to merit entrance, all residents must be committed to “exploring” their genders and sexualities—whatever that “exploration” entails—is patently antithetical to the teachings of the Church. The Catholic Church, whose traditions Georgetown alleges to uphold, makes the bold proclamation that we, as human beings, are defined by infinitely more than our sexual urges.

Todd Olson, Georgetown’s vice president of student affairs, when discussing the new housing, invoked the Jesuit value of cura personalis, meaning “care for the whole person.” But again, the criteria of the new housing community requires them to reduce their residents’ humanity down to one element, their sexual identity and habits, and ignore all else.

Cura personalis, which was intended to mean caring and cultivating the whole person in order to achieve true flourishing, has, in today’s liberal age, become a blank check to do whatever one wills regardless of consequences either physical or spiritual. It has become a Latin catchphrase that now roughly translates to “you do you.”

This distorting misappropriation, and there is no other word for it, is also occurring beyond the front gates of Georgetown. And in many cases—as at Georgetown—it is happening with the direct assistance of religious leaders who seem either to have fallen for these reinvented tenets or mistaken moral cowardice for compassion.

Proponents of abortion use the language of religion to defend a woman’s right to choose. They couch calls for increased access to birth control and abortion on demand in terms of “justice [3]” and claim that killing the unborn is the best way to serve the poor. Justice and charity are two key teachings within Christianity, preached with fervor for two millennia. Now these very virtues are being used to defend the slaughter of innocents.

Yet according to Vogue, the alleged “white-washing” of long nails [4] is the real sin.

Likewise, the Christian teaching to “love your neighbor” has been repurposed to mean “affirm and approve of every action your neighbor takes. Love not only the sinner, but the sin as well.”

On almost a daily basis, adherents of orthodox Christianity are told to heed the words of Jesus when he cautioned the condemning crowd to only cast a stone if they were sinless. Jesus did not judge, Christians are told, so neither should they. Of course, many of these would-be instructors conveniently forget the other three years of Jesus’s ministry in which he denounced adultery, or indeed the verse after his dismissal of the angry crowd when he tells the pardoned woman to go and sin no more. In their myopia, “judge not” is the only part they have latched onto, which they use as ammunition to demonize those who will not bow before their altars of tolerance.

In this way, the politically charged forces of secularism have created their own quasi-religious culture made up of appropriated terms and imagery, designed to compete with orthodox religion. Mary Eberstadt has termed this “the zealous faith of secularism,” which she claims began with the sexual revolution.

In an article on the topic published in First Things, she writes [5]:

Its missionary aggression also explains why the new secular faith has insinuated itself successfully into many Christian institutions, and why this insinuation has been invariably destructive. At the micro level of personal behavior, the new faith tempts people toward disobedience and cafeteria Christianity. At the macro level, it’s institutionally divisive like no other issue of our day. It turns the followers of Christ into political interest groups.

In our post-Christian world, where tolerance has superseded all virtues—unless of course it’s tolerance towards traditional religion—we are being called to kowtow to the demands of liberalism in deference to what Pope Benedict XVI termed [6] the “dictatorship of relativism.” This dictatorship has become all the more dangerous because it has disguised itself using the language of the religious truths it seeks to suppress. Worse still, thanks to the clever machinations of secular liberalism, many religious figures whose duty it is to provide moral clarity amidst such confusion now seem to believe and preach these reimagined diktats. The left has made it its mission to culturally appropriate Christianity and use it for its own ends; in too many cases, it has been allowed to do so and even aided in its efforts by Christians themselves.

Once again, Eberstadt pinpoints the grave threat such compromise poses to orthodox Christians:

The most insidious threat to the real Church, and even to religious liberty, is not the new secularist church in itself. The greater threat is self-censorship. There is understandable temptation, including among Christians, to preemptively accommodate to this new faith, for all kinds of reasons: saving face, not being “judgy” …Christians need to know that what’s paramount is confronting secular religion and its sex-fixated dogmas, not accommodating them.

The accommodation of the secular religion is precisely what happened at Georgetown. The LGBTQ lobby has managed, for all practical purposes, to appropriate and redefine what cura personalis means within the gates of Georgetown, and has persuaded the Jesuit administration, with seemingly little difficulty, to go along with their game.

If orthodox Christianity is to survive in an evermore hostile culture, its practitioners and leaders will need not only to withstand the pressure to accommodate and self-censor, but to repossess their own language and tenets that have been exploited by the left.

They would do well to follow the example of Father Walter Ciszek, S.J., who was imprisoned in the Soviet Union for his faith and who embodied the essence of cura personalis as it was originally intended. Despite the grueling conditions he suffered in the Gulag, Father Ciszek tended not just to the physical needs of those around him, but to their spiritual needs as well. Throughout his internment, he performed daily Mass at risk of death, ministered to his fellow prisoners, and, most notably, converted many of his guards.

Those guards tried to subsume him into their godless state. Father Ciszek dared to not only resist their efforts, but to love them enough to show them another way, a higher way of living befitting of men made in the image and likeness of God.

Kelly Marcum is a former intern for The American Conservative and a 2015 graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She lives in D.C. with her husband.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "The Left Culturally Appropriates Catholicism"

#1 Comment By Anonymous On January 17, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

If the Israelites can take the gold of the Egyptians, why can’t the Egyptians take the gold of the Israelites?

#2 Comment By David Nash On January 17, 2018 @ 2:56 pm

This is America!

I will NOT surrender my hamburgers, pizza, tacos, and kebabs for any slovenly mandate of the nattering classes.

Not to mention chimichangas, pulled pork, corn on the cob, and lasagna.

And if they think I will denounce The Magnificent Seven, they can just give the Amigo Salute and wait for it.

#3 Comment By ShawnF On January 17, 2018 @ 3:42 pm

This article belies its own fundamental thesis, which was encapsulated in the third paragraph: “The left, which continues to decry the social faux pas of cultural appropriation with ever-increasing vehemence, is itself guilty of the very same crime.”

Marcum goes on to state that “many RELIGIOUS FIGURES whose duty it is to provide moral clarity amidst such confusion now seem to believe and preach these reimagined diktats.”

And “The LGBTQ lobby has…persuaded THE JESUIT ADMINISTRATION, with seemingly little difficulty, to go along”

And “it is happening with the DIRECT ASSISTANCE OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS who seem either to have fallen for these reinvented tenets or mistaken moral cowardice for compassion.”

The problem is, those examples are all of RELIGIOUS LEADERS appropriating the views of the Post-Christian Left, not the other way around.
One cannot be “post-Christian” AND simultaneously be considered a (Christian) religious leader.

So it seems that Marcum is *really* just using Georgetown University as cover to express her discontent with the state of her religious community. But that problem is not a result of the Left appropriating Christian values, but of CHRISTIAN INSTITUTIONS becoming more liberal. I would hasten to add that this has been an ongoing trend for centuries.

#4 Comment By MM On January 17, 2018 @ 3:44 pm

Echoes of the Podesta emails:

[7]

“It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”

I won’t be holding my breath for progressives to discuss Judaism and Islam in this fashion…

#5 Comment By Moone Boy On January 17, 2018 @ 4:58 pm

Jesuits, eh?

#6 Comment By Jane On January 17, 2018 @ 5:29 pm

As a GU grad myself (albeit not recent), I read this as a way for the University administration to basically cluster all of the “out” LGBTQ kids in one place. That way, the parents paying tuition for their non-LGBTQ kids can have a little assurance that their straight kid won’t likely have an “out” LGBTQ roommate. They will all cheer on the LGBTQ kids while being privately relieved at not having to confront them. During my time in the 1970s there were gay Hoya guys, most of whom “came out” during college, mostly after the Freshman year in a dorm. Not a big deal, as I recall. It would not be the first time a nice Latin-phrased Jesuit principle is co-opted for a political purpose.

#7 Comment By LouisM On January 17, 2018 @ 7:53 pm

There is something interesting and unique about 2000 years of western roman Catholicism. If one examines the writings of the saints, the apostles, the various orders (Dominican, Jesuit, etc), priests, popes, etc then there is practically no thought or feeling or belief that has not been felt and written.

Its very reassuring to know that someone else has shared your pains, thoughts, doubts, sufferings, beliefs, etc.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that the left would try to coopt Catholicism to attract catholic immigrants from China, Korea, south and central America, Africa and all parts of the world. They are merely abbreviating Catholicism to their audience and to leftist politics BUT THE TRUTH WILL ALWAYS BE THE TRUTH AND ANYONE WITH EYES AND EARS AND BRAIN CELLS WILL SEE THE LEFT HAS BEEN AT WAR WITH CATHOLICISM AND CHRISTIANITY FOR 50 YEARS…ATLEAST SINCE ROE V WADE.

Its really the height of hypocrisy to wage a covert war against Christianity and then coopt Catholicism for politics all the while using separation of church and state, abortion, feminism, civil rights, etc to undermine, demean, delegitimize and push Christianity out of the public sphere entirely. Sadly, there are ALOT of priests and nuns that don’t believe in Catholicism. There are ALOT of leftists in the Catholic Church. Even in the days of Michelangelo, the Medici’s and Martin Luther there was a near schism between the traditionalist catholics and the non-traditional catholics. There were Popes who ran the Vatican like a business, others ran it as if they were emperor versus those of the orthodox / traditionalists. It was those schisms that Martin Luther pointed out and led to the protestant reformation. They are still there…still with us.

Evidently the left wants Catholicism to serve a similar role as evangelicals serve republicans and conservatives. Its just another attempt by the left to either bend religion to serve its needs or feed it to the atheists to destroy it. Either way…its unraveling Catholicism.

#8 Comment By Realist (the first one) On January 18, 2018 @ 10:19 am

I have to agree with @ShawnF. The title of this post is inaccurate. The secular left could care less about appropriating elements of Catholicism to promote their agenda. This is about left-leaning elements within the Catholic community (including the clerical establishment) who are seeking to adulterate their own faith in order to make it more compatible with secular liberalism. They are Quislings who are selling out their own faith in order to avoid social marginalization and “fit in”. But most orthodox Catholics find it too painful to acknowledge this truth, so they try to blame the phenomenon on elements external to the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, we Catholics are reaping the bitter fruits of the Church’s failure to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy beginning with Humanae Vitae in 1968. At that time, Pope Paul VI made a conscious decision not to require dissenting Catholic theologians either to adhere to church teaching, or to lose their credentials to teach Catholic theology. This cowardice opened the floodgates to dissent within the Catholic Church, and has directly led to the current state of affairs, because the dissenters know that they will face no consequences for their actions.

#9 Comment By Myles Hagar On January 18, 2018 @ 10:38 am

The Jesuits taught me that ‘cura personalis’ includes bodily asceticism as outlined in the Spiritual Exercises, First Week.

#10 Comment By Tom On January 18, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

I’m a gay leftist Catholic specifically because leftist ideology is basically what Jesus was preaching the entire time. Love thy neighbor, care for the poor, empathy. Off the top of my head- look at Catholocism’s stances on immigration- clearly leftist. Open your heart, read a book, think critically about progressive politics and what Jesus’ entire message was. Clearly you weren’t paying attention in church.

#11 Comment By a commenter On January 18, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

Jesus certainly was leftist in many ways. But on sexuality, he was even more strict than the strict traditionalists of his time, telling people off for divorce even when Moses had made accommodation for it, and chastising people for giving in even to adulterous thoughts, let alone actions.

#12 Comment By MM On January 18, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

Tom: “Leftist ideology is basically what Jesus was preaching the entire time.”

I must have missed these sentiments in the Gospels:

Karl Marx: “Religion is the opium of the people.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I think that the word liberty… is perverted when it is held to prevent the natural outcome of a dominant opinion.”

Jerry Brown (former seminarian): “Never underestimate the coercive power of the central state.”

Perhaps the old quote from Luke could be translated for today’s political sensibilities?

“Render unto the State all things of value and importance, and unto God anything left over.” : )

#13 Comment By Tom On January 18, 2018 @ 1:06 pm

@ MM: Was I talking about the State, or quoting Marx? I was talking about progressive politics in America today and how in line that is with Jesus’ message. But thanks for misquoting a bunch of philosophers at me. It was “opium of the masses,” not “people,” btw.

#14 Comment By MM On January 18, 2018 @ 2:16 pm

Tom,

No need to take offense, it was partly in jest.

But the Marx line is not a misquotation. It’s a direct translation of something he wrote in his Critique of Hegel. And the other quotes are verbatim, from a Supreme Court case and a current governor of a Deep Blue state.

It was a simple point I was making: “Leftist ideology” or “progressive politics”, modern terms, are inseparable from bureaucratic state power. No such terms, indeed no such ideas, existed 2,000 years ago.

#15 Comment By Ms Vanilla Rose On January 18, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

It’s so cute when the right pretends to have values.

#16 Comment By Georgetown SFS ’12 On January 18, 2018 @ 9:32 pm

The two phenomena you write about have absolutely nothing to do with each other. You have erroneously conflated them in order to churn out 1,000 words of tiresome hand-wringing over “Georgetown’s Jesuit values”, intentionally I suspect.

Appropriate (v.): Take (something) for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.

‘the accused had appropriated the property’

Note the reference to property in the example sentence given by the OED. Cultural “appropriation” is bad to the extent that it deprives people whose culture is appropriated of ownership and economic opportunities that come with it.

So, long nails are considered cheap, tacky, etc when they’re the province of POC nail artists (none of whom are getting rich off their nail art). Then, all of a sudden a white designer copies the idea and is instantly able to command haute couture prices. See the material harm?

On the other hand, citing a religious maxim to justify a policy is just… a very, very, very common rhetorical strategy. Used by people of all political stripes with reference to all sorts of religious traditions. It’s got nothing at all to do with “appropriation”.

In addition, one of your sentences [Yet according to Vogue, the alleged “white-washing” of long nails is the real sin.] wrongly attributes the critique of nail art appropriation to Vogue.

The critique OF Vogue you linked to was in a Nigerian news site called Pulse.ng (a real tribune of the American Left! Was it, by chance, the first Google News result for ‘cultural appropriation’?)

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 19, 2018 @ 4:29 am

There’s good reason tortured logic is said to be Jesuitical. The Grand Inquistor chapter in Brothers Karamazov captures it perfectly.

#18 Comment By Hal Fiore On January 19, 2018 @ 7:13 am

I think the left has of late thrown off the shackles of Marxian materialism and come to the realization that their beliefs and positions are, at their core, moral. Agree or not, the beliefs in human rights, peace, social justice, protection of the living systems of the planet, equality of the sexes, etc., are moral positions. They cannot be arrived at through a strictly rationalist thought process that denies a spiritual realm to humanity.

Now, I don’t think they understand Christianity very well, but neither do most practicing Christians in the West. But it is natural and understandable that the language and cultural ground that their awakened spiritual consciousness would find itself on would be based on the spiritual traditions under which the culture was built.

I have to say, and it is unfortunate, I believe, that any kind of traditional Christianity is probably on its way out. When the old paganism of the late Roman Empire ceased to fulfill the needs of the people, it ceased to be, only to insert its more usable elements into the new religion via the neo-Platonism of Augustine and others. And that is probably a way for ideas (memes is the trendy word) to survive from one age to another.

I don’t really know enough history to state for certain but I imagine that there might have been two alternative paths that different groups might have attempted to keep the old religion alive. The Julian attempt to restore a much-adapted paganism to the new time was doomed to failure, it seems, while the adoption of Greek ideas by Christians was much more successful.

Similarly, today we have hard core conservative attempts to petrify the form of religion, the self-identity, structures, hierarchies of at least the Western Catholic and Protestant branches, all the while contending with the fact that their own constituents have moved in the direction of a clearly post Christian embrace of materialism, belligerence, and sexual objectification. I don’t think I need to draw the obvious current political connection in the U.S. there. At the same time, many of Christianity’s values and morals are taking root elsewhere. Not all, to be sure. That will be up to those who follow us to decide, and they will do that for their own purposes, and the process will have a lot of accident included.

My own hope is that Christ, being the true core, will survive Christianity. But hope, that great Pauline virtue, might be the best we can do.

#19 Comment By Anonymous On January 19, 2018 @ 11:43 am

you have no idea what you’re talking about. if you want peace, work for actual justice, not pointing the finger at anyone you don’t agree with and calling them a hypocrite. the only thing threatening “orthodox christian values” is your own delusion. this is not what christ would want.

#20 Comment By MM On January 19, 2018 @ 11:52 am

Hal: “I think the left has of late thrown off the shackles of Marxian materialism and come to the realization that their beliefs and positions are, at their core, moral.”

So, can an apology be expected for all the times the Left used a strict interpretation of separation of church and state to discredit, dismiss, or muzzle conservatives who made moral arguments in the political sphere?

Because I remember the 1990s, and that sort of thing was ubiquitous…

#21 Comment By Jeeves On January 19, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

Realist (the first one):
“This is about left-leaning elements within the Catholic community (including the clerical establishment) who are seeking to adulterate their own faith in order to make it more compatible with secular liberalism.”

Exactly so. Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, has been trying to make itself “relevant” since the dawn of secular liberalism. Not being a Christian, I don’t really care. The spectacle of this wheezing institution making doctrinal peace with the left is like watching the slow-motion implosion of a structure that, at least in the West, may be at the end of its useful life.

#22 Comment By Jackson Sinnenberg On January 19, 2018 @ 4:23 pm

Easy there Tomi Lahren in training. You are not ordained, you have no claim on shaming people for misappropriation of Christ’s teachings because you have no claim to authority on those teachings.

Also pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t take the tone of self-satisfied self-righteousness you do.

#23 Comment By Mack On January 19, 2018 @ 10:15 pm

Fine, fine, but now back to bashing public schools.

#24 Comment By Joe Lammers On January 20, 2018 @ 3:53 pm

“Ms Vanilla Rose says:
January 18, 2018 at 4:48 pm
It’s so cute when the right pretends to have values.”

Its so cute when leftists pretend to make a witty post.

#25 Comment By MM On January 20, 2018 @ 5:57 pm

Sinnenberg: “Also pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t take the tone of self-satisfied self-righteousness.”

Then he’d be avoiding progressive and Democrats like the plague these days…

#26 Comment By Mack On January 21, 2018 @ 9:54 am

In the photograph the repeated use of the first-person singular followed immediately by a referential “we” with no transition, the frequent capitalization errors, and the cliche’ slogan tee suggest that this person is not a thinker.

#27 Comment By Antonia On January 24, 2018 @ 1:38 am

It amazes me that some people think the Grand Inquisitor in Brothers Karamzov is factual. It is polemical fiction, based on standard Orthodox clichés about Catholicism. This kind of screed seems to be almost a requirement in works by Orthodox authors, even where is it irrelevant to the actual book.

#28 Comment By Fred Garvin On February 5, 2018 @ 2:11 pm

How is LGBQT-only dorms on a Jesuit school a surprise?
Do you think straights form a majority of Jesuits in the USA? Seriously, anyone surprised at this hasn’t been paying attention to the Jesuits since Nixon was president.