The Religious Equivalent of Pro-Ana Sites

I’ve always been the kind of person who has an obsessive need to know things, a trait that is probably due to Asperger’s Syndrome. Hence, when I decided to convert to Catholicism back in 2005, I read everything I could get my hands on, especially blogs and message boards. These two sources formed a crucial part of my “Catholic education,” so to speak, because I had become convinced that the most of the parishes in the archdiocese were “unorthodox” and would obscure or leave out the “Truth” as I understood it to be. However, as I have mentioned before, these blogs and message boards fed into my pre-existing problems with debilitating anxiety.

I never spend much time on the Fish Eaters Forum (FEF), partially because the “Catholic Education” web site’s guide to the Catholic interwebs said it was “dangerous” because of its schismatic, borderline sedevacantist slant, but also because even at my most “orthodox” I could sense that many of the posters were out in crazy town. But I did spend a lot of time in the Catholic Answers Forum’s (CAF) “Traditional Catholicism” subforum, which is only slightly less crazy. The main difference is that at CAF, where they really try to come off as 100% ultramontane, I don’t think you can openly advocate for schism or sedevacantism, whereas it seems like the posters who frequent FEF tend to be all be sympathetic to the SSPX in some form or fashion. Plus, there are a good number of non-Catholic posters at CAF, whereas FEF is too traditionalist to appeal to anyone outside of that subculture.

One of the main aspects of CAF that exasperated my anxiety was the fact that everyone else was just as obsessed with being “orthodox” as I was, so most of the threads were concerned with, “is doing X a sin?” Despite being a huge square, who never did drugs, drank alcohol, or dated, sin and the near-occasion of sin because a major concern of mine, and I went to confession weekly; after all, you never know when you might get hit by a bus and end up in Purgatory or worse because you didn’t make a detailed confession. I remember one time during a confession at a “regular Catholic parish” (i.e., not St. F, as this was after my departure) I was relating the sad details of my dull life, and the priest told me point blank not to come in and confess such piddling things. Despite this, I was still convinced I was wallowing in sin and worried about the final fate of my soul.

As an asexual, I never had problems with “sexual purity,” but if I did, I can imagine that the “Moral Theology” subforum, where most of the threads were about masturbation, homosexuality, and some variation of “how far can I and my significant other go sexually without committing ” (because what you are and aren’t doing with your genitals is the number one ethical issue of our time, of course) would have caused me even more guilt and anxiety. Rather than sex, my obsession was with liturgy. Along with sex, the posters on CAF and the denizens of the Catholic blogosphere in general were constantly complaining about “liturgical abuses” caused by Vatican II. Posters would relate perceived horror stories involving holding hands during the “Our Father,” guitars in the sanctuary, and the ultimate insult of liturgical dance. Blogs feed into this liturgical hysteria by posting photos of “liturgical abuses” (some of which, as it turns out, were not even from Catholic masses), while the commenters alternate between pearl clutching and snarky commentary about the perceived ungodliness of the participants in said mass.

I think for conservotrads, sexual deviance is a natural consequence of deviance from liturgical norms and vice versa. Based on the various pre-Vatican II religious education textbooks that I’ve read, it’s clear that pre-Vatican II Catholics thought that the liturgy always was and always would been in its Latin Tridentine form and the decision to put it in English and “democratize” certain elements of it in the 1960s must have been jarring, to say the least (however, the fact that most Catholics accepted the liturgical changes without complaint indicates that it wasn’t the shattering event that conservotrads make it out to be). Changing the liturgy, conservotrads claim, sent the unintentional message that anything was up for grabs, from accepting homosexuality to female priests. This is probably why Fr. Z of “What Does the Prayer Really Say” has as his slogan, “Change the Liturgy, Change the World,” as if participating in a mass that conforms to the Vatican’s rubrics will presumably lead you to change your behavior to conform to the Vatican’s moral rubrics.

While the conservotrad Catholic blogosphere, as well as message boards like CAF and FEF, envisions itself as providing a valuable information network for “orthodox Catholics,” I now see these sites as being the religious equivalent of pro-ana/pro-mia sites (see, the difference being that the latter encourages girls to develop eating disorders, and the former encourage hyper-scrupulosity and religious OCD. I thought that by going to these sites and being “encouraged” by conservotrad Catholics was going to make me a better Catholic, but in reality, I was simply feeding into my pre-existent mental problems. Even when I was “orthodox,” I realized that these sites were having a deleterious effect on my mental state, but I felt compelled to return to them for reasons that I can’t entirely explain to this day. Maybe I thought that if I didn’t check them I’d miss some important news story, but in retrospect, not being privy the latest object of the conservotrad two-minutes of hate hardly seems like something worth stressing out over. I think there was also the hope that being around “orthodox” Catholics who were concerned with personal holiness would lead to some increased holiness on my part, but now I’m of the opinion that anyone who claims to be “holy” is probably just using that as an excuse to justify their own ill treatment of other (see Padre Pio and Chogyam Trunpa for examples). Similarly, traditional liturgies may be aesthetically pleasing, but I’ve seen too many jerks associated with the Latin Mass scene to think that attending it makes one a better or more ethical person. My disillusionment with the Catholic blogosphere is simply exhibit 2 is why religion and ethics have nothing to do with each other (exhibit 1 is actually the St F situation).