Reviews | New York’s hottest club is the Catholic Church

As senior churchmen seek to make Catholicism acceptable to modernity, members of a small but significant scene are turning to the old faith in defiance of liberal pieties. The scene is often associated with “Dimes Square,” a downtown Manhattan neighborhood popular with a pandemic-weary Gen Z – or Zoomer – crowd, but it spread through a network of podcasts and publications received. Its sensitivity is more transgressive than progressive. Many of its inhabitants call themselves apolitical. Others hold outrageous opinions, either sincerely or as fashion statements. Reactionary motifs are chic: Trump hats and “tradwife” dresses, monarchist and anti-feminist sentiments. The ultimate expression of this annoying aesthetic is perhaps his adherence to Catholicism.

Urban trends can shape a culture, as millennial Brooklyn did in its heyday. The Dimes Square scene is small, but its rise highlights a culture-wide shift. Progressive morality, formulated in response to remnants of American Christian culture, was once a vanguard. In 2020, the year of lockdowns and Black Lives Matter protests, progressivism had come to feel hegemonic in the social spaces occupied by young urban intellectuals. Traditional morality has acquired a transgressive prestige. Disaffection with the progressive moral majority—combined with Catholicism’s historical ability to adapt to cultural subversion—has produced an opposite style of traditionalism. This isn’t your grandmother’s church – and whether or not the new congregants are performing a play act, they have the chance to revitalize the church for educated young Americans.

Honor Levy, the fresh out of Bennington writer who co-hosts the trendy “Wet Brain” podcast, recently converted to Catholicism and lets you know when she’s unconfessed mortal sins on his conscience. The podcast’s beat is pop culture, literature, politics and religion – including practical advice on warding off demons. Dasha Nekrasova, a returning Catholic and actress with a recurring role on HBO’s “Succession,” is co-host of the scene’s most popular podcast, “Red Scare.” On a episode during Lent this year, Ms. Nekrasova focused on esoteric Catholic topics such as sedevacantism, the ultra-traditionalist notion that popes since the Second Vatican Council are illegitimate.

The confluence of New York’s Young Right-Wing Intellectuals and thinkers like Ms. Nekrasova, who was once best known for her irreverent socialist critiques, might suggest that the growing interest in Catholicism in certain social circles is just another way of being ironic or continuing a trend. Nekrasov is called “Catholic, like Andy Warhol.” In a scene indebted to Warhol, the self-proclaimed “deeply superficial” pop artist, is Catholicism just another provocation?

Faith, for these forward-thinking Catholics, can be partly a pose — a “GN,” in Internet slang. But as Ms Levy explained on a recent episode from “Wet Brain”, “You just do the rituals, then it becomes real, even if you don’t [initially] Believe in it.” She added, “That’s religion.” Ms. Levy’s co-host, casting director Walter Pearce, agreed, “It’s no problem in the world that three I tell you Hails Mary cannot solve.”

The routine focuses the believer on the act of prayer, warding off temptation and directing thoughts heavenward. The idea that it is a properly religious act to observe forms of faith even in the absence of perfect belief most likely comes naturally to a generation brought up on social media, where performance is a constant fact of life. life. It also echoes the Catholic response to anti-ritual controversies dating from the Reformation.

This is not the first social scene where Catholicism has been dismissed as insincere. The decadent movement of the late 19th century, led in England by figures such as Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, pursued an avant-garde aesthetic and research experience, including drug use and experimentation sexual. Conversions to Catholicism became common among the Decadents and were stigmatized by the Anglo-Protestant world as another pose or experiment – ​​or perversion.

The decadents knew that Catholicism goes well with transgression. The Metropolitan Museum of Art knows it too: it held an exhibition called “Heavenly Bodies” in 2018, an exhibition that juxtaposed liturgical iconography with high fashion and BDSM paraphernalia. Catholicism embraces the give and take between sin and repentance, formalizing it in the sacrament of confession. Moreover, Catholicism has sometimes been seen as a threat to the bourgeois order. As early as the 18th century, a link existed in the British popular imagination between Catholicism and homosexuality, since the traditions of monasticism and priestly celibacy deviated from the bourgeois prescriptions of masculinity and marriage. Protestant England also viewed submission to foreign religious authority as politically regressive. Catholicism went against not only gender norms, but also civilizational progress. In the mid-Victorian era, the name “perverse” – one who has strayed from the straight path – denoted a convert to Catholicism. Our current meaning of the word dates back to the decadent era, when responses to Wilde and his milieu emphasized the ostensible sexual implications of religious deviance.

Today, Catholicism once again stands against political progress and norms governing sex and gender. This violates a liberal-progressive dispensation that many young Americans find both malignant and trivial. By denigrating traditional gender roles and defining human flourishing in meritocratic terms, progressive moralism militates against young people’s acquisition of basic goods: marriage and childbearing. Ms Levy remarked that she was brought up to “get a job”. But her deepest desire was to start a family, a desire that conflicts with the imperatives of meritocracy.

While harshly judging any failure to aspire to professional class or respect for HR, progressive moralism judges as neutral or hygienic many acts that Catholicism classifies as mortal sins – such as missing mass, divorcing one’s spouse, or asking an abortion. It is its banality. Anna Kachiyan, Ms. Nekrasova’s non-Catholic co-host on “Red Scare”, defended traditional religion on the grounds that “it is supposed to introduce constraints into people’s lives”. Ms. Nekrasova put it more simply: “No hell, no dignity.” My own embrace of Catholic moral teaching was born in college, when I saw how it shaped the imagination of a great apostate, James Joyce. In comparison, my liberal moral training offered nothing to discourage or inspire.

Anika Jade Levy (unrelated to Honor) is New York co-editor of the literary magazine Still. She recently told Flaunt magazine that she had been “basically raised by Satanists” and had started praying the Rosary on an iPhone app as a form of youthful rebellion. She clarified that she was joking about her parents and that her introduction to Catholic art during a trip to Italy “was moving and aesthetically formative”. The rise of Catholicism reveals “a cultural appetite for anything that’s the opposite of what we just had,” she told me. But she sees the preference for rigor as “mainly aesthetic” and warns: “I don’t think anyone in town is in a state of grace.”

For reasons of substance or style, it is possible to prefer a system in which our moral obligations are not exhausted by the avoidance of misconceptions about race and patriarchy. Midtown Manhattan scenes may simply find it less sad to shame each other for fornication than for privilege. And as writer Nick Burns told me in an email, rosaries are even “underclass paraphernalia,” a way to dispel accusations of privilege from “bourgeois companions” on the stage. The affectation of religious imagery and faith may be nothing more than a controlled use of class signifiers for the purposes of political or aesthetic statement.

For scenesters who have converted and attend the sacraments, we should hesitate to dismiss their practice as inauthentic. Vanguard cohorts can enrich the cultural heritage of Catholicism and broaden its political imagination, as did the decadents. The church has long embraced theatricality, and it welcomes converts with motives other than pure religious zeal – for example, those wishing to share the faith of a future spouse. “Authentic” internal conversion is not a Catholic but a Protestant requirement.

What Catholicism requires is adherence to disciplines and dogmas – a test of sincerity that applies to Dimes Square and beyond. In early July, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a rosary procession to NoLIta from Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the Planned Parenthood neighborhood (until 2020 named after Margaret Sanger) drew large crowds rowdy counter-protesters. It was a reminder, just steps from Dimes Square, that the church goes against the culture in every generation. Real world events will confront young urban Catholics with all the implications of Catholic doctrine, making it difficult to view the Rosary as a fashion statement. Over time, these developments will separate converts from LARPs.

Comments are closed.