the catholic (NOT protestant) left

postscript of the fourth turning

This has been sitting in drafts for nine months at this point, so why tf not. Will Arbery if you see this, I do not dislike you and would start a Catholic frat!!!!


It’s either ironic or completely sensible that the one character in Heroes of the Fourth Turning to say anything of personal interest to me was Kevin, the sloppy-drunk horny one who another character calls a soyboy. “Maybe I need to be in the den of lions, in order to really be the Catholic I was meant to be,” he speculates. “Like there are some priests, like Jesuits, who thrive in that kind of environment.”

Which Jesuits, Kevin, and the dens of which lions? Because the ones I give a shit about are assassinated by U.S.-armed right-wing military juntas.

Friends really hyped Heroes of the Fourth Turning to me because I'm the most Catholic person I've met in theater, but just as this play illuminates the spectrum of American conservatism, there’s a political spectrum within Catholicism these characters are ignorant of by design—not the design of drama, but the particulars of Catholic education. Just as I think Will Arbery means to complicate and to some extent separate the people he loves from a frothing, reactionary mob, I want to do the same for the Catholics who drew me back to the religion I was raised in.

“Does this equal this?” Kevin asks Gina, desperately.

“You’re asking why Catholicism necessitates conservatism,” she clarifies.

It really, actually fucking doesn’t, and in political contexts outside of the U.S. and western Europe, it hasn’t. After all, Kevin, the saying (or joke) among Catholic orders goes “if you've met one Jesuit, you've met one Jesuit.” But American Christianity, as delineated by insiders and judged by outsiders, doesn’t allow for such diversity.

American Catholic fascists like Steve Bannon and Pat Buchanan are ironic to me because as recently as Gina’s generation, Catholicism was ethnic, particularly in cities with communities of immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe who feature prominently in labor history. Biden’s significance as the second Catholic U.S. president comes 60 years after JFK was the target of frequent anti-papist propaganda, like this op-ed suggesting that under a Catholic president, U.S. military and nuclear power would answer to the Vatican. The Church is global, ancient and arguably incompatible with this young, Protestant nation. To the 20th-century KKK, “American” was white, Baptist, and threatened by Jewish and Catholic migration. Evangelicalism is homegrown, Catholicism is Old World, foreign, with an overseas base in Rome. So at what point did white, American Catholics become American?

Wyoming Catholic College, the basis for Heroes' Transfiguration College of Wyoming, was founded the year Pope John Paul II died, and its website is littered with quotes from the late pope about the value of a Catholic education. His papacy lasted nearly three decades and saw the fall of the Soviet Union and the Holy See's documented protection and promotion of sexually abusive priests specifically in the Americas. Born Karol Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II came of age in Nazi-occupied Poland, and began his ministry under an anti-religious, Stalinist government installed after Yalta in 1945. His Polish patriotism and leadership of a Vatican that included a spy ring of clergymen working with the CIA are credited with subduing the spread of communism within the Church in Eastern Europe and, as some argue, the collapse of the USSR as a whole. Under John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—led by one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI—attacked Latin American liberation theology as Marxist, heretical, and dangerous.

Curious, then, is the play's lack of any mention of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from the southern hemisphere whose proximity to Argentina's Movement of Priests for the Third World should raise alarms for the long-awaited Gina, a member of the anti-communist John Birch Society who chides, “There are Catholics being martyred around the world every day.”

Martyred where, Gina? In 1970s Poland? Because if you actually gave a shit about Catholics “around the world,” your politics would be anti-imperialist, anti-war and anti-America. Christian socialism, specifically Catholic socialism, is alive and well in the Global South, particularly Latin America and the Philippines, and the United States and the Vatican have both done their part to suppress it by doctrine, propaganda, espionage and violence.

In the Philippines, the Christians for National Liberation allied with the CPP for years. Catholic priests diverted diocesean funds and resources to aid the Communist Party and the New People’s Army, who’ve waged the world’s longest protracted people’s war against the Filipino government for going on 52 years. Saint Oscar Romero was gunned down saying mass in El Salvador, and nine years later, six of his Jesuit brothers and two laywomen were pulled from their beds and murdered on the lawn. Less-favorably remembered by the Church, both its authority and its congregants, is Fr. Camilo Torres Restrepo, who joined the Colombian National Liberation Army and had a number of badass quotes like “I have taken off my cassock to be a truer priest” and “If Jesus were alive today, he’d be guerrillero.”

An untapped front of the culture war Teresa bloviates about is actually we should fucking take Christianity back from conservatives. I need anti-religious American liberals and leftists to grow up and realize they’re fucking misanthropes. Giving American conservatives ownership of Christianity is, cynically speaking, a strategic misstep which alienates a largely Christian working class, and spiritually speaking why a lot of y’all are fucking miserable, wiping out sacred white sage and putting “witch” in your insta bios. Heroes of the Fourth Turning is the worst Catholics in the world marking their territory, and dumbass theater-going New Yorkers just letting them with wide eyes and utter shock that conservatives can indeed read.

I know I pointed to exemplars from the Global South, because that’s where these movements still have hold and successfully organize and educate base communities in ways the hyperindividualistic, secularized U.S. has not been able to muster. So is there hope for a comprehensive American liberation theology? When the GOP and whatever horror of a Trumpist splinter group is a emergent have evangelicals in a death grip? I say “comprehensive” because there is American liberation theology: Black liberation theology, whose most visible figure of the moment is Rev. Raphael Warnock. For the same reasons that reading Black communists has more immediacy to Americans and our current context than Marx, Black liberation theology could be one way to go. But given how much white leftists love to decontextualize and purposely misinterpret “religion is the opium of the masses,” I doubt it.

(Side note, something that pisses me off about Heroes’ reception is Protestant-raised theater people clinging to it. This is not about you!!!!!! Do you put saint bones inside altars???? Is the pope your papa????? Do you season yourself with ashes and oil???? No!!! Get the fuck out!!!!!!!!)


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