That’s the message I took from the Catholic writer Leon Podles’ post about pew-sitting heterodoxy in the “Where American Catholics Are” thread:

I have been reading about popular Catholicism in the medieval and Counter-Reformation periods, and it has made me less alarmist about the current situation.

Peasant societies had their own ideas about sex and marriage, and largely ignored the teachings of the clergy on the sacrament of matrimony, on the sin of fornication – and on the seriousness of homicide.

The clergy tried to repress the animal spirits of young men (half the male population of Dijon at one time seems to have engaged in gang rape) by preaching self-control and condemning anything that might excite young men, including fireworks and dancing. I feel sympathy for both the Jansenists who wanted Catholics to be morally serious, and for the populace, who wanted some joy in their short lives of hard work.

Moralists can sometimes sound like kill-joys, but we need them, and the clergy often have that unenviable and unpopular role. But if they want to be a s rigorous as the Curé of Ars, they had better be as austere as him, or no one will take them seriously.

Asceticism is the one thing we do not do in America, nor in American religion.