Jun 10, 2024, 06:27AM

Catholic Block

Crushes and crashes into Catholics from Peachy Keenan to Flannery O'Connor.

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I find myself surrounded by Catholics. Although I live in Washington, D.C., which is 20% Catholic, I grew up in Tennessee, one of the four least Catholic states (at six percent), beaten out only by Mormon Utah (five percent) and Mississippi (four percent). Though Catholics are 77 of the 300+ millions in the U.S. (and maybe growing with Latin immigration), where I grew up I recall only one kid, a blond German-American who I was told was Catholic, surrounded in a county of 40,000 Scotch-Irish and African American Protestants (and one Jewish family).

Catholics might’ve been kind of exotic, like Asian immigrants or northern Jews. But they weren’t. I was never interested. I went to graduate school with them at Catholic University, but only because I wanted to study classical Greek philosophy. Gay, an atheist since 11 and an Ayn Rand fan since 15, the particulars of their faith were nil, other than that I agreed with the extreme Protestant denomination with which many in my family congregated which viewed Catholicism as a deviant form of Christianity given to idol worship and other man-made impurities.

Lately I’ve engaged with Catholics often. I have a writer crush on the comic political commentator Peachy Keenan, whose mother, we learned recently in “Meet the Zoomerwaffen,” her takedown of campus anti-Semitism and its progressive Jewish enablers, is Jewish. But Keenan herself grew up without any religion and then became a convert to Catholicism, as I believe are some interesting conservative women writers, like Julie Gunlock, associated with the Independent Women’s Forum or The Federalist.

These ladies are often elaborating theories, though they don’t particularly connect their political philosophy, which they want everyone to adopt, to their Catholicism. Less given to theory than Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor described herself as not given to theorizing in any way. Her short story, “The Artificial Nigger,” is part of the opening scene of the recent movie American Fiction, where a white female Zoomerwaffen is triggered by her black professor teaching a short story with the n-word in the title, and so has him sacked. I’m in a reading group that’s going through O’Connor’s work this summer. All O’Connor stories and characters are weird, the best-known to most is “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” wherein escaped convicts murder a family on their way to Florida. O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood may be the weirdest; her characters tend to be the southern Protestants she grew up among. In almost every story she has a minor character named John Wesley, and it’s unclear if all these boys are the same person.

Wise Blood is like a reply to my family’s denomination, the Church of Christ (who denounce papacy as idolatry), with the Church mentioned often and with the protagonist Haze Motes announcing that he’s taking the stripping away of crucifixes and other idols one step farther by creating the Church without Christ. Actor Ethan Hawke and his daughter Maya report they had a religious epiphany from reading O’Connor, leading them to make a biopic of O’Connor, Wild Cats, starring Maya, Laura Linney, Steve Zahn, Liam Neeson, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Like O’Connor, the movie never says exactly what Catholicism means. You have to draw your own conclusions.

One of the most engaging romps with Catholics continues to be the Paramount+/CBS show Evil, now in its fourth and final season. Like Keenan, Gunlock, and the conservative lady writers, Evil concerns itself with the moral problems of modern technology, especially “reproductive technology.”

Evil’s about a team of three investigators employed by the Catholic Church to investigate what appear to be occult phenomena: beefcake Mike Colter as an African-American Catholic priest, who as the series evolves is shown to have “remote viewing” faculties in which the Church takes interest; kittenish Katja Herbers, a petite brunette Dutch actress who could be mousey but turns out to be the sexiest person—woman or man—on television, playing a kittenish psychiatrist who is a Catholic mom of (at least) four; and comic Aasif Mandvi as an atheist from a Moslem background who’s a generic “scientist.” Each episode balances religion and science, with the crimes and other occurrences investigated turning out to have a scientific explanation, while the audience is privy to the fact that there are demonic influences running parallel. In each story we’re asked to consider whether humans trying to be godlike through technological control of nature may not be stepping over boundaries that’ll lead to their doom.

The final season of Evil has two apocalyptic story arcs. First, a super collider built too near subterranean sink holes is raising the concerns of locals and environmentalists. But it also appears to be a Buffyverse style Hellmouth to, well, Hell. Second, a son has been born to a surrogate from an egg stolen from Herbers’ character Kristen Bouchard, who once consulted an IVF doctor, and sperm from her arch nemesis Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), a lawyer who gets murderers off and works with a law firm where the senior partners are goat-headed demons. The son’s the Anti-Christ and somehow (along with black holes that could be created by the super collider) will bring about the ends of days. One suspects that we’ll only be saved if Kristin Bouchard, and her mother (Christine Lahti as an exec in the demonic law firm) find their way back to righteousness.


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