New Sherwood

John Zmirak’s crusade against the Catholic “sub-culture”

A personal distaste for the “sub-culture” of orthodox Catholicism has been evident with Dr. John Zmirak for quite some time. In recent weeks, however, this contempt has attained the level of a crusade. His latest rant is remarkable for its pleading stereotypes and crass superficiality:

The weirdness, bitterness, crankiness, and the general mediocrity that pervade the Catholic subculture – from its newspapers to its TV shows, from most of its tiny colleges to the poorly-penned books, and sloppy, sentimental blogs that flood the tiny market of conservative Catholic readers – is the direct result of having few people to choose from …

Is this Church of the Umbrella Handle, with its much smaller set of human types, the ‘smaller, purer Church’ of which Pope Benedict XVI spoke – or is it the subset of ‘neo-Pelagian immanentists’ against whom Pope Francis warned?  Of course, it is both, and the wheat is irretrievably mixed up among the tares. But one thing is certain: It is as inbred as a pack of captive cheetahs, with all the dangers of deformity and disease that that implies.

The Church as righteous subculture is unappealing to nearly everyone – including the kids who grow up inside it, who despite all those years of homeschooling and chapel veils frequently flee for what look like saner pastures.

In fairness, Zmirak could have made a legitimate point here without gratuitously insulting the only Catholics left who give a damn. But that opportunity was squandered by his bitterness. One suspects that the author of “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song” has been, shall we say, unlucky with the devout “home schooled and chapel veiled” set. I should hope so, at any rate.

What Zmirak fails to account for is the fact that without a “righteous sub-culture”, there is no Catholic culture – period. Bad Catholics like Zmirak (and I reluctantly include myself in his company) are by definition parasitical. If you want to be a bad Catholic you need a strong base of serious, orthodox, striving-for-holiness Catholics to sustain the cultural framework. I have discussed the idea at length in various posts over the years. Bad Catholics – defined as those who are less than devout but are not dissenters – are a tolerable and even amusing evil, but they are also a luxury, possible only when the Faith is strong and capable of producing saints. Today, that element is present only in the Catholic sub-culture Zmirak so passionately disparages.

The Catholic sub-culture certainly has warts. But it is virtually alone in producing orthodox vocations, raising large families, and handing down the faith from one generation to the next. Contrary to Zmirak’s insinuation that kids who grow up in this sub-culture are fleeing in droves (which may be his honest perception, as malcontents tend to attract malcontents), those small orthodox colleges are the only Catholic colleges where the overwhelming majority of graduates keep the Faith. As the sub-culture grows and rebuilds, it will also become more diverse, and a place for the Zmiraks of the world will be more secure. But at present, in all sobriety, the Church simply cannot afford Bad Catholics anymore. Bad Catholics drag the Church down just as much as the dissenters, if not more so, because they are more readily perceived as hypocrites (fairly or not) and because they discourage the weak by their impiety. Christ did not establish the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church for the pleasure and enjoyment of Bad Catholics. It was “the Church as righteous sub culture”, however unappealing to the worldly, that converted Rome and the world in the end.

February 4, 2014 - Posted by | Catholicism, Culture, The Catholic Crisis

9 Comments »

  1. I haven’t read Zmirak’s piece yet, though I intend to. Elsewhere there’s a reaction to it that seems to suggest more along the lines of a “Catholic town”, at least that what I got from the part about nuclear families might not be the way to go: http://the-american-catholic.com/2014/02/03/the-majority-dissent/

    Comment by TSO | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  2. Good post, Jeff. I read that column too and what most put me off about it was its smug superiority to the people he’s writing about (or thinks he’s writing about.)

    Comment by William Luse | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  3. This is the first I have heard of anything of the sort from Zmirak. I read his Catechism and 7 Deadly Sins books, and if I remember correctly at one point he says something like, “and that’s the only time you’ll get me to say a good thing about Vatican II.” So I had assumed he was somewhat of a JPII Traditionalist at least. What are other examples of his modernist tendencies? I am simply curious and not necessarily questioning the validity of this.

    Also I full-heartedly embrace this idea of a devout core holding the framework of the Church together, almost as the anchor that keeps “less catechized” Catholics from going fully adrift. It’s rather the holy version of a more diabolical idea that I heard a few years ago- that what the extreme left calls “hetero-normative” homosexuals needed the ultra-extreme feminists and Foucaults of yesteryear in order for an idea like gay “marriage” to even begin to be tolerated, let alone accepted.

    Comment by Timothy O'Brien | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  4. I read Zmirak’s essay and I’m done with him. His cool kid looking down his nose at the dorks act has gotten stale.

    Comment by dymphna | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  5. He used to write for Taki. Maybe he’s making up for that.

    Comment by Bruce | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  6. “Neo-pelagian” sounds like a very protestant accusation. To which the retort should be “antinomianist” (I think).

    Comment by Bruce | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  7. You can’t build a bridge while you’re burning it–that’s the problem with Zmirak’s approach of late.

    I get where he’s going, and there’s *some* merit here, if overstated. But it’s stated with such disgust that it ensures it won’t be heard.

    And, really, it was unnecessary–he could have penned it without the assaults on Catholics who embarrass the crap out of him. He tried to fuse two essays together–a good one about the necessity of outreach to our fellow erring pew sitters, and a bad one about how abysmal he thinks the orthodox are.

    As is usually the case, the bad drove out the good.

    Comment by drprice2 | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  8. Its the devoted 10% that keep the Church alive for the other 90%.
    At one time the truly devoted included a majority of the religious, priests and Bishops, now not so much.
    Without a ‘creative’ minority, as Pope Benedict called it, the majority wouldn’t have a solid foundation on which to build.

    Comment by rod | February 4, 2014 | Reply

  9. I read the piece and it is very unchristian as well as lacking in Charity. I think people like him who are part of what Pope Emeritus Benedict called Professional Catholics who as he explained to Peter Seward in his interview Book in 2010 make their career and money off the Faith and the Church but whose own Faith is like a tricks. I think he is spot on and This person is part of what Church Militant TV calls the Church of Nice where the main issues are not talked about. Myself I think they are jealous because most of these men and women belong to the Charismatic Renewal as well.

    Comment by Janet O'Connor | February 5, 2014 | Reply


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