Monday, January 24, 2011

Lay Cults

The most recent post on Reditus references this post from another blog, which I think describes a phenomenon with which I am familiar:

Where to not be a member of that particular Catholic lay organization is to be less than fully Catholic. And where all Catholics before the advent of that cult, and all those now who are not a member of that cult are suffering from not being a member because only through that membership can one be fully Catholic.

And where leaving that same cult is viewed by other cult members as apostasy from the Faith where ostracism is the typical response.

Which is not to deny the good those cults serve. For instance, a fair number of Italian college kids embraced the Faith through Communion and Liberation, but those same college kids in turn invariable held that it was only through C.L. that the Faith could be fully lived. I know, I mistakenly helped found C.L. in my hometown, and spent hours fruitlessly attempting to explain to them that the Faith was not perfected in C.L.

And that experience with C.L. I discovered was common among others I have talked to who associated with the other Catholic lay cults.
This also makes me think of groups like the Neocatechumenical Way, but I think college kids are particularly susceptible.

At the Newman Center where I lived in college (which, while deeply imperfect, was nevertheless still excellent and a great experience) there was one such group. I think it may have been officially two separate groups; there was an accompanying Retreat initiation that may have been separate administratively but which got a person into that same basic social network.

We called them the Sunshine Squad, for their stereotypical impossibly "peachy keen" demeanor (and, because we were sort of dicks, made bumper-stickers in opposition once...)

The Group seemed almost like The Party of a one-party-state. Sure, there was a theoretical difference between The Group and the Catholic Church on campus or the Newman Center...but it was clear that The Group had a virtual monopoly on positions of leadership, on the social life of the dorm, on the public agenda.

Other more traditional leaning factions, including the Knights of Columbus themselves, and our little Renegade Trad group (who served the private Old Mass of a priest there each morning, made antependia and cerecloth, were the chant schola for the Latin Novus Ordo, organized an assembly-line for making chapel veils, had sit-ins to end communion on the hand, etc) were marginalized or looked upon rather suspiciously as "divisive." To the point that, I found out sadly, the chaplain banned ad orientem in the main chapel this year after we succeeded in a brief restoration last year.

The Group, on the other hand, acted exactly as this article describes. Yes, it brought a bunch of people to the Faith, produced some vocations. But then they also spoke as if their experience was the be-all and end-all of the Faith and the best and only way to live it in the modern world, looking suspiciously on anyone who didn't join it as if they were spoil-sports or weren't really part of the Catholic community as they understood it.

Even though it was basically Evangelical Protestantism with a very neoconservative Catholic veneer.


George said...

still, your experience of catholic social life in college sounds pretty amazing if everything you list doing is true. was this a catholic college??

A Sinner said...

No, it was actually a big state university, of all things! And, yeah, the Catholic life there was pretty great. It was pretty great in general. I guess I got nostalgic...

Andrew said...

Sunshine Squad, that's pretty good. Did you guys intentionally give them a name that could be abbreviated SS? That reminds me of my time at a big state university and my contact with the Newman Center. I met a lot of good people, but there was certainly that True Believer "Sunshine Squad" type group meddling in everything.

I think this is a pretty common occurrence in the whole range of youth/young adult intentional Catholic groups. Now, to be honest, I have my own elitist tendencies but if you're going to get snooty about something it should really be something more worthwhile than beige evangelical neo-conservatism.

Who Am I said...

What would a Trad equivalent of Sunshine Squad be pegged as ? I mean we've ALL come across the be all end all experience of ROMAN Ritual Traditionalism, so it happens anywhere you go ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna take a guess. UIUC St. John's Catholic Newman Center, Koinonia retreat program. I remember that shitty clique well (1995-97). I left college because of my involvement in that cult. School became second to my duty as a good catholic. My gf at the time ended up kissing a priest there. Good times.