The Anti-Tribalist

I am a member of a very large congregation: The Church of Fallen Away Catholics. I wish Joe Biden would join me here.

I grew up in an observant Catholic family in a heavily Catholic part of the country and attended Catholic schools for my first 12 years of education. During the school year at St. Ignatius I was at mass six days a week. I was steeped in the catechism. I was an altar boy.

And, yet, very much as a result of the good secular part of my education, I trained my budding reason on my faith and found it wanting. For me, at least, it just didn’t add up. And every time I reasoned my faith into a logical corner, it said, “Mystery! Gotta believe. Sorry.”

At some point in high school my body remained in the church but my soul dropped out. I didn’t argue with my priests or my parents. I just decided that when I was on my own I was done with the Church. And, sure enough, as soon as I moved out to go to college I stopped going to mass. It was no struggle. I had left intellectually long before.

Still, I wanted to avoid conflict. When my parents visited me in Madison for the first time, my mother asked if I had found a church. I answered that, indeed, I had found St. Paul’s on campus. This was absolutely true. I knew where the church was.

But here’s the strange thing. A lot of my fellow Fallens can work themselves into a lather about all the horrible things the Church has done to them and to the world. In their company I can join in, but when I hear criticism of the Church from those who were never in it, I can get my back up. I become an unlikely defender of the faith. Anyone who didn’t get their knuckles slapped by a ruler hasn’t earned the right.

God help us. The U.S. Bishops would defy Pope Francis and deny Pres. Biden communion.

Which is, yet another thing, that annoys me about my fellow liberals. They fall all over themselves to be respectful of any faith, no matter how bizarre, that isn’t Catholic.

The Dalai Lama visited Madison a couple times when I was mayor. Nice guy, the Dalai. I liked him. Seemed to always be in a good mood. But Madisonians just fell all over the guy, even though he had nothing much interesting to say. I once greeted him at the airport and witnessed the great, humble man descend from his Gulfstream. He then decamped to the Kohl Center where he sat cross-legged on a couch and answered questions for what seemed like a week. I can’t remember a single thing he said, but none of it struck me as all that insightful. I quickly became as bored with the Dalai as I did when I was a kid in church.

But 8,000 liberals hung on his every word and laughed every time he laughed — often for, as far as I could tell, no reason. I sat there, trapped. You can’t walk out on the personification of god, even if he’s an awful public speaker. You just can’t. So I just sat there, thinking to myself, “Oh, for cryin’ out loud. Please let this end.”

Which brings me to today’s topic: the American bishops. These guys, despite a veiled warning from Pope Francis, are bulling ahead with a resolution that would strongly suggest that Catholic pols who support abortion rights should be denied communion. As one bishop, who is in the minority on this, described it, “they would weaponize the Eucharist.”

God knows, I’m not woke. But, can we just be honest here? These guys are just a bunch of insular, old, grumpy (mostly) white guys. Their views can be found at the back of any given McDonalds on any weekday at about 8AM. I would think that if they really cared about morality the bishops would be denying communion to insurrectionists and QAnon cultists, but, hey, that’s just me.

And yet, the thing is that Catholicism is a faith, not a democracy. If it’s Church teaching that abortion is a sin and policy makers who support it shouldn’t be served communion, well, it’s not for me to say who gets the sacraments. If you don’t like it you don’t have to be a Catholic. And, in fact, the Church’s dismal teachings on gender, sex and reproduction are one of the many reasons I’m not.

But, for some reason, people like Joe Biden find a way to be (in fact, I think for them they must be) liberal Catholics, which is a kind of oxymoron. Forty years ago I looked at the ridiculous teachings that were coming out of the Church and just took a hike. No, thanks. I’ll go my own way. But Biden, and many people in my personal life for whom I have a great deal of respect, soldier on. They struggle to be good Catholics and yet progressive on public policy matters. I don’t know how they do it. I’m not sure I understand why they do it.

I suppose it goes back to a sense of deep personal identity that I just don’t have when it comes to these institutions. It’s the same way I feel about the Democratic Party. I’m a Democrat only because their policy views are much closer to my own then the other guys. (And, actually, right now the other guys are just plain bat-shit crazy.) But I’m not a Democrat in my blood. It’s not baked into my soul. If Republicans suddenly started making sense, I could be one of them.

I could go on like this. I watched the Bucks the other night, but only because it was the last game of a playoff series and they were winning. I’m a Packer, Badger and Brewer fan when they win. If they don’t, I find something else to do.

I’m just not a tribalist in much of any sense. I can’t explain why, but the very notion of supporting anything “right or wrong”, “win or lose” I find off-putting. I’m not necessarily saying I’m right about this. I know that I’m missing something — and probably missing out on something — when I resist truly belonging to anything. It’s just the way I live. I’m happy this way. Leave me alone.

But right now, in this environment, I think the world could use more people like me in this one regard. At the heart of our problems is this very sense of fiercely supporting your tribe and hating the others. I know he can’t do it, but I wish Biden would leave the Catholic tribe. I wish he’d just tell the bishops to go… where one goes when he dies with a mortal sin on his soul.

Welcome to the 125th day of consecutive posts on YSDA.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “The Anti-Tribalist

  1. Still a Catholic. But with a new religion.
    God is Love. Love is God.
    That is it. The sum total.
    Do not get hung on the trappings of a religion.
    Go to its soul.
    A bit of explanation.
    If it is not love it is not God.
    If it is love, it is God.


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