My readers know I spent a few days away at Loras College in Dubuque for a liturgical music conference. The conference experience is so different from either the parish or the blogosphere. Those few days a few of us at the conference chatted up both the internet and parish experiences. Almost everybody I saw (and we had just about a hundred participants–fairly good for a first-year conference) is strongly rooted in the parish, and those who know of the blogging phenomenon in Catholic circles (Or is it the Catholic phenomenon in blogging cricles?) see it as a curious sideshow to the mainstream Church.

Our keynote speaker, and a parish pastor, and I got into a discussion on the notion of tribalism. In part, it was a lament. They are aware of the internet phenomenon of conservative Catholicism, but have little direct experience with it. I feel somewhat well-steeped in the internet community (having been a denizen for about eleven years now) and I seem to bridge the gap to mainstream parish life. I see some things that perhaps exclusively parish-based and strongly blog-based people don’t see.

A number of conservative/traditionalist Catholics have found affirmation and support in gathering their numbers together through the internet. There would be more satisfaction, to be sure, if they were also able to gather “in the flesh” as it were, with like-minded people. But maybe it’s a good thing they (and we liberals, too!) can’t do this. We may feel as if the silent majority is like a deadweight to us, they with their mainstream concerns, as opposed to those of us prepared to reform or re-reform the Church.

Those 400,000 anti-ND/Obama signatories are nothing to discount. I don’t think the petitioners missed many Catholics, though. About one-half of one percent of American Catholics seems about right to me. A community of that size is nothing to be trifled with, and has a degree of clout unforeseen a generation ago. (I can only imagine if the internet were around in 1968, or if Vatican II were finally called this decade.)

My conference friends, not being regular internet folks, are dismayed about the damage to the Church’s overall quality of unity. Do they have a valid concern?

This bit isn’t very focused, I realize. Can anyone add some of their own to it: is tribalism good for the Church, or not?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Tribalism

  1. Liam says:

    Tribalism is intrinsically ordered toward the self-preservation of the tribe. It is intrinsically disordered toward anything else.

    Tribalism in the Church and on the Internet appears mostly to serve as a shibboleth to identify one’s membership in (or exclusion from) the tribe, rather than preserving the tribe as such. It is thus being used more as a consolation, which should not surprise us because the various Christian churches (including the Catholic Church) in America have long done a poor job of countercultural catechesis regarding desolation rather than consolation as the more usual way of spiritual being for adult Christians.

    Consolations are not necessarily bad, but dependence on them is not a good sign of spiritual health.

  2. How can tribalism as you describe it, Todd, be “good” for the Church?
    Dismiss as cliche or not the maxim “A house divided cannot stand,” each and every RC has to make some sort of conclusion as to the veracity and validity of the scripture accounts of the mandatum endowed Simon/Cephas by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not rocket science, it doesn’t demand nuance. Either we adhere to the office, the Rock, or we don’t. All the C02 we spew over whose church is it, really, just remains pollution.

  3. Art says:

    Of course tribalism is bad. Wasn’t that the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

    I also doubt that they would find satisfaction by gathering “in the flesh.” Then they would have to deal with the fact of how few are actually in the “tribe.”

    When one of these conservative bloggers gets 10 comments in their boxes, they think they’ve gone viral. They also study the number of “hits” they get without studying the quality and think they are speaking to a vast, huge worldwide audience that agrees with them completely.

    As far as the dangers, what you generally have are small groups of people (be they liberal or conservative) united by a common enemy more than a common purpose who convince themselves that they, and only they, are “right,” that God is on their side and their side only, and everyone who disagrees is the “enemy”, not only of them but of God, with whom they must be at “war” against.

    What they wind up doing is reaffirming their own biases and prejudices while dismissing and shutting out any competing thinking.

    This can be quite dangerous when it is used to justify such things as homophobia, which is particularly rampant on so many of these so-called “Catholic” blogs.

  4. Art says:

    Couple more points I wanted to make.

    400K signatories on an online petition can be, and even should be, discounted. First off, online petitions are not worth the bandwidth it took to produce them. Second, there are more than 70 million Catholics in the U.S. Even assuming that each of the petition signatories represents one person (which is a stretch), that still means 69,600,000 U.S. Catholics did NOT sign the petition.

    We spend an awful lot of time dealing with the squeakiest wheels.

  5. Tony says:

    This can be quite dangerous when it is used to justify such things as homophobia, which is particularly rampant on so many of these so-called “Catholic” blogs.

    This is precisely why I have no interest in engaging “mainstream” Catholicism (Catholic-lite). When the proclaiming of the ordered sexuality of a husband and wife in the bond of holy matrimony is considered “homophobia” (whatever that means), I realize that I’m sitting in the wrong church.

    I believe most of the Am-Church has become “of the world” (or at least endeavoring to become so) rather than being in the world and being salt for the whole. Many of us who focus on God in the Holy Mass and the sacraments feel like an outcast remnant of the Catholic Church.

    But I can meet in the flesh with like minded individuals. We are doing it tonight, as a matter of fact, when we attend the first Friday Latin Mass with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.

    This monthly tradition in our family helps strengthen us to be salt for our home parish.

  6. Art says:

    If you would venture out of your comfortable circle of like-minded individuals, you might be surprised to learn how many in the “mainstream” church also highly value the ordered sexuality of a husband and wife in the bond of Holy Matrimony.

    It’s just that they might be able to do that without feeling the need to accuse the President of the United States of promoting “buggery.”

  7. Michael says:

    Nicely said, Art.

    • Art says:

      It just strikes me that we have tribes on both ends of the spectrum thinking that the the other tribe is in control of the church aparatus, and that their tribe is the great majority, the “real” church if you will.

      Meanwhile, people in the vast middle really couldn’t care less.

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