When I first started engaging in Catholic culture, I wondered why there weren’t any current Catholic books or musicians or artists. Then I realized that there are plenty — you just have to get out there and find them!
So, here’s a regular blog feature for people who want to reinforce their faith with good books. Honestly, for the first batch, I just bought all the books from The Catholic Hipster’s Catholic Book Cover Up. So as I read them, I’ll let you know the highlights and whether or not they’re worth your time. Since they already made his list, I’m pretty sure they all will be!
You might know Matt Walsh from such Internet tirades as Goodbye, Boy Scouts of America. You spineless cowards and If you find it easy to be a Christian, you probably aren’t one. He’s become a lot more inflammatory lately (which also coincides with his website traffic, go figure), but I know him better as that guy who wrote blog posts that finally expressed what was wrong with everything I was seeing online.
So, when he had his first book coming out, I had to get it because a) I want to make sure he keeps getting money for writing, and b) I wanted to read it and be inspired that there’s still someone arguing the case for not being insane in America.
It kills me to say this… but this book did not deliver on B. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know that there’s anyone I can recommend it to. As right as he is about *so many* topics, I don’t think this book spoke to the right audience, had a productive tone, or took any conservative logic much closer to being lived out by anyone who reads this book…. which is all such a shame.
Matt, if somehow you read this, (because, you know, blogs), I want to get across that a) you are so, so beautifully right and working so hard to show the world that, and that’s awesome, but b) the style you’ve picked up (even if out of necessity for the way this horrible click-bait world of ours works) is not reaching me. And since I’m a person who agrees with you, that feels like some kind of alignment mismatch that might be worth considering a focus group for. Not that you care about focus groups.
Anyway, here’s what’s salvageable from the book from my perspective, though I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone curious about conservative thought or looking to understand the issues more deeply:
My Reaction to The Unholy Trinity
This book tap dances on everything that stresses me out about our culture, the Internet, and the media.
As a writer (with clips on some of those big name media sites), I get to see some behind-the-scenes activity on how the psychological “sausage” is made, and this causes me to be skeptical about just about any headline unless it’s from Rome Reports. Even then, even proper news sinks into controversy whenever it gets the chance because ratings and because clicks.
If you watch a news channel — any news channel — and just accept what they’re telling you, you’re being manipulated. That sounds so conspiracy-theorist it makes me cringe, but there’s no way around it.
So, this book got a few nods and a few, “Oh, this is interestings,” chatted at JHubbs the evening I read it, but the whole time it just felt like it was spiraling into an “You know what really grinds my gears?” clip from Family Guy. Walsh would pitch up a birdie I agreed with, but then drive it into the ground with the passive aggressive rage of a retiree pausing commercials while watching Fox News.
At times, even his word choice felt inflammatory and dramatized… and neither of those qualities are helpful in a book about helping people defend conservatism or Christianity.
On that topic, the audience for the book was confusing. It’s published as a Catholic book, but it’s clearly about conservatism. But then it draws information from and bases ideas on principles of generic Christianity and includes some really deep-trench references to angels, Lucifer, and the role of the Church… while still not directly educating or informing on explicitly Catholic teachings. All this contributed to an awkward Christianity-conservatism-anger triangle that never let me settle into any of his unfolded ideas too comfortably.
Interesting Quotes and Ideas from The Unholy Trinity
As much as I am grousing, Walsh obviously delivered on a lot of interesting and frustrating nuances of the liberal/secular arguments regarding life, marriage, and gender. What I’d like to share here is not a comprehensive list of ideas from the book; instead, these are things that jumped out at me as really interesting within the context of how much of his stuff I’ve read before:
- Being against something/not wanting someone to be better than you doesn’t work as a value. It came up a bunch that liberal arguments are often against stuff: anti-gender binary stuff, anti-conformity, anti-tradition. But in these arguments, they aren’t replacing a bad thing but rather removing a perceived bad thing… to be replaced with boundarylessness and nothingness. So while your average liberal is all “for” equality, choice, and tolerance, those values don’t actually represent a real thing or a real direction; they represent a non-thing and lack or avoidance of a certain effort or responsibility.
For example, when it comes to equality:
“[Equality] doesn’t make people better. It makes them afraid to be better, and it makes them jealous of those who are better….”
[From a previous paragraph] “This arrogance is what has led to the leveling of society, where the distinctions between class and status and accomplishment have eroded, with everyone consolidating in the center. These days, our poor have all of the vices of the wealthy — greed, materialism, superficiality — and the wealthy have the vices of the poor — crudeness, vulgarity, classlessness. We’ve all met here in the middle, in the name of an equality that has mainly been achieved by adopting all of the worst traits of our neighbors.”
So, it was interesting to me to see the cardinal virtues outlined, which are characteristics that don’t get a lot of press or attention nowadays. As JHubbs and I raise kids, I’d love to bring a stronger focus on these qualities into our household and opt out of generic, short-sighted (and surprisingly apathetic) values like tolerance:
“In classical times, the Greeks ordered their ethical universe around four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. The Church later added three more that Paul had highlighted in his first letter to the Corinthians: faith, hope, and love. It wasn’t until the late twentieth century that noted modern philosophers like Lady Gaga and Barney the Dinosaur promoted tolerance and acceptance as not just cardinal virtues but the only virtues.”
- I really was a product of a toxic, anti-life secular culture. Reading this book really drove it in that a lot of the negative ideas I (voluntarily) accepted about femininity, motherhood, and child-bearing come directly from the feminist/secular influence on our culture. Here are a few highlights:
“Abortion is needed to maintain [this idea that sex is entirely for fun and pleasure]. If sex is supposed to be a frivolous, self-centered pursuit of enjoyable physical sensations, then babies must be seen as ‘accidents.’ Unintentional and unwelcomed by-products of an encounter that had nothing to do with them.” (p36)
“When a culture accepts the notion that babies are accidental by-products of intercourse — usurpers intruding on a couple’s sexual recreation — we end up with an idea of sex that’s not only selfish, but fearful… Today, kids never hear anything positive about sex because the positive aspects have been recast as negatives.
Positive: sex creates human beings…
Positive: sex is an expression of love…
These are the two most beautiful things about sex, but we have decided to teach our children that they can and should begin ‘exploring their sexuality’ one or two decades before they’ll be able to truly embrace every magnificent dimension of it. So for the next ten or fifteen years, they will learn to see the two greatest things about sex as among the worst. Unsurprisingly, this attitude will often stay with them, permanently.” (p38)
This second quote is the one that really made me stop and reflect on the insanity of the argument against chastity before marriage. We give children 17+ years of education about how the most fulfilling and meaningful aspects of sex are the ones we should be terrified of and avoid as much as possible… and then we pass out condoms and say “kids will be kids”…
“Many people — Christians included — now believe that a woman is ‘liberated’ when she treats her reproductive system like a disease that can only be cured by pumping her body full of chemicals that inhibit ovulation. Which is to say, she is liberated by causing her body to malfunction and preventing it to do what it was naturally meant to do.”
Boom. I definitely thought of fertility as a disease and a risk until God changed my heart. And I can tell you first hand that that’s what we’re teaching the under-18 population today.
- Liberals may be redefining marriage, but Christians are the ones undermining it. Liberals want marriage to mean a beneficial social contract between any two consenting adults. That’s just where we are politically and socially, and there’s plenty to talk about on that point that Walsh talks about in the book. But I was more distracted by the clear argument that while liberals may want to redefine marriage, Christians are the ones who’ve undermined it, devalued it, discredited it, and disenfranchised it.
“It should be noted that before gay marriage was decreed by the Supreme Court, the institution of marriage had for decades already been, from a legal perspective, the least meaningful, least stable, and least protected contract in existence.” (p90)
It’s not that there’s a tiny population of “perfectly right people” you should listen to when it comes to how to be married and stay married. It’s that there are simple Biblical truths about marriage that Christians ignore, and then we’re shocked when we’re part of the statistics.
When we believe our culture’s lies that “spicy feelings of romance” = “marriage,” we suddenly see marriage as temporary if we don’t feel a certain way. When we contracept with barriers between our spouses and ourselves and sterilize our marriage bed (including the emotional behavior of being cold and unsupportive in a marriage so that a spouse does not feel open to children), we suddenly see the other person as a tool that’s either helpful or not helpful, to be discarded when not. (It’s not causation, but there’s certainly a reason that the divorce rate of couples who practice NFP is less than 5%.)
Basically, whenever a Christian gets flustered about gay marriage, it’s actually a better invitation to reflect on your own relationship and whether or not you’re doing your part to be “free, total, faithful, and fruitful” to your spouse. This may be harsh, but I imagine for many Christians the answer is that you have a secular liberal marriage based on fun and romance and then you sometimes talk about Jesus in other parts of your life.
I don’t mean this to be an accusation! I mean this to be a challenge that when we tie everything deeply to Jesus at its very foundation (when we make it sacramental, not just secular) things “magically” get deeper, better, and more satisfying. (This is one lesson I had to learn with lots of therapy and patience from my spouse!)
Available here on Amazon for about $13
Tangents Inspired By The Unholy Trinity
There’s a line in here that’s in a lot of other books, but it really hit me in this one:
“…The truth of marriage is not true because the Bible said it. On the contrary, the Bible said it because it’s true.” (p108)
That’s the thing that doesn’t get communicated very well to both Christians and non-Christians alike: the Bible didn’t come first, God and the Word of God did. The Bible isn’t the authority on what’s good and right and true — it’s just the telephone that communicates it. Which is why things have one step closer to crazy with every Protestant schism since the 16th century.
We’re literally living in a real life game of divine “Telephone,” where every step away from the origin of Christianity (the Catholic church, for better or worse) is working off of misguided, disordered, and sometimes straight-up made up interpretations of the Truth. Until we get back to the source, it’s no wonder things are going to get out of hand. Or, as CS Lewis says:
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
If You Only Get One Thing Out of It….
I don’t even know. To me, this book serves more as an example of why everything’s so crazy and no one can talk to each other anymore: even someone I completely agree with says things in a way that makes me cringe, so what hope do I have to have these conversations in real life with people I completely don’t agree with?
So maybe that’s my lesson here: equality, tolerance, and choice are not cardinal virtues to live your life by; but they do appear to be important social skills to put into play when you want to maintain relationships with people you fundamentally disagree with. After all, it’s not always the things themselves that are good or bad but rather how we order them in our lives. So, thanks Matt, for helping me order these liberal values and keep them around where they’ll be the most useful and the least threatening to me and my family.
Don’t Stop Here!
Like the man said, if you don’t read good books, you’ll read bad ones. Here are more Catholic book reviews to keep you busy: