AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Last month, a guest essay appeared in the New York Times that provoked panic across mainstream and liberal publications. The piece from Julia Yost, a senior editor at First Things magazine, was titled “New York’s Hottest Club is the Catholic Church” and revealed that in popular Manhattan neighborhoods, churches have seen a marked resurgence of followers. While Yost noted that many of the new congregants are more curious parishioners than full-throated converts, the left was quick to raise the alarm that religion and traditional values could be on the rise.
The Times piece implicitly suggests that the culture/counterculture paradigm has seemingly been inverted in recent years. Since the 1960s, the radical left has prided itself on being a challenge to the “mainstream.” Liberalism in this sense was a “romantic” battle to upend the established norms and mores imposed by what was viewed as the strait-laced conservative establishment. The Church was a central target in this crusade – religion itself was viewed as a relic of a bygone era.
Yet now, as the far left has come to dominate every major cultural institution – and as the drastic societal consequences of the left’s moral depravity become all too clear – the trend may be reversing. So-called “traditionalists” are now the disfavored group in the eyes of cultural elites, even if they still represent how the majority of the country feels. As Yost puts it in her piece, “traditional morality” has “acquired a transgressive glamour. Disaffection with the progressive moral majority — combined with Catholicism’s historic ability to accommodate cultural subversion — has produced an in-your-face style of traditionalism.”
As Yost also points out, many on the left and even some within the Church have been quick to dismiss this trend as little more than performance, a petty act of resistance against the dominant culture. But as Honor Levy, a Catholic podcaster points out, acting is often the first step to legitimate belief: “You just do the rituals, and then it becomes real, even if you don’t [initially] believe in it… That’s what religion is.”
At the same time as the country may be witnessing a nascent religious revival, however, the radical left is doubling down on its attacks on organized religion. Just weeks after the Times piece detailing the rise in church attendance in Manhattan, the proudly left-leaning magazine The Atlantic ran an article titled “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol.” (Since the publication of the piece, amid widespread public backlash, the magazine quietly changed the title to “How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary.”)
From the featured image of the piece – bullet holes in the shape of a rosary (which has also been subsequently changed) – to its ahistorical account of the rosary’s meaning and significance, author Daniel Panneton attempts to make the case that religion, and Catholicism specifically, is somehow inextricably linked to the alt-right and Neo-Nazi groups. “Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics,” Panneton says in the first sentence of the piece. “Militia culture, a fetishism of Western civilization, and masculinist anxieties have become mainstays of the far right in the U.S.—and rad-trad Catholics have now taken up residence in this company,” he continues.
Panneton’s article is far from the only left-wing attack on religion in recent months, however. Following the release of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization earlier this year, dozens of Catholic churches were the target of threats and vandalism from pro-abortion activists. “Christian nationalism” and “Christian fundamentalists” have suddenly become blanket pejorative terms for anyone right-of-center.
This steady rise in hostility toward Christians does not occur in a vacuum. Throughout the world – particularly in developing nations in places like Southeast Asia and South America – there has been a marked increase in individuals identifying with the Catholic faith. According to the Vatican Consensus, “The number of Catholics in the world grew by more than 15 million from 2018 to 2019.” This is all the more impressive, considering the number of European Catholics decreased by 300,000 in this same period.
Even among America’s elite class, some are returning to the faith. Actor Shia LaBeouf, for example, made headlines last week for publicly discussing his conversion to Catholicism.
To the left, the prospect of a resurgent Church in the West poses an existential threat to their grip on power. Leftism is in many ways a religion itself – complete with its own god (the state) saints (Dr. Fauci) and punishment for violating its dictates (cancel culture). Any hint of traditionalism is a mortal sin.
But with liberalism having failed to deliver its promise of a utopia, the left is suddenly facing the horrifying prospect of people turning back to traditional religious structures and institutions which have for thousands of years formed the bedrock of society. Left-wing politicians and outlets are thus left scrambling to quash any potential resurgence in traditional religiosity by labeling all who step through the door of a church as “backward” or “extremists.” But as the Catholic faith teaches, the truth cannot long be denied to those who seek it.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.