“We need a Catholic version of genre fiction,” she was telling me. “It’s important that our teens have Catholic versions of things to grow up with.”
At first I agreed.
But then, a moment later, something sounded off.
I couldn’t figure out what, so I nodded and moved on.
But it kept itching at me.
Because it pits a ‘Catholic version’ of a thing in ‘contradistinction’ to other kinds of things.
Like saying we need red mugs instead of blue mugs.
But that’s not necessarily ‘Catholic’. What really is a ‘Catholic version’ of something?
Perhaps what she meant to say was something like this: “we want to see our Catholic worldview more explicit in the content. This story needs to be clearly set in a narrative where everyone is comfortable with Catholic themes and tropes and sacramentals.”
Ok, I’d agree with that.
You know what’s funny about that…
When I first started writing science fiction, I did exactly the same thing. The first story I ever wrote (and no, you can’t read it) was about a plane crashing into a planet, and someone fighting of a t-rex with a lightsaber. His thoughts kept going back to Sunday mass with his girlfriend as he tried to escape.
It was very on the nose.
But that’s not a ‘Catholic version’. That’s just a new creation, with clear Catholic content – emerging from my particular cultural background.
So is there a problem with explicitly ‘Catholic’ content?
It depends on the context. I think it’s very helpful to normalize a Christian culture within storytelling, especially for children.
But I see three problems that will come from that.
One is a sense of tribalism, an insulation from other forms of story. It can create an us-vs-them which is forever at the root of division and partisanship. It can tend to a sense of superiority.
The other is an association of Catholicism with a cultural expression. Catholicism doesn’t have a ‘culture’. It is culturally agnostic. We embody it into our culture.
The third is an inability to think ‘Catholic,’ because we’re always looking for the clues and cues that something is ‘safe’. Instead, we should be helping children mature into discerning adults in the modern world.
And the number one ability of a discerning adult is to cultivate a more mystical ‘eye’. To look at any story, and to see the deeper truth. The real message. To always be asking, what can I learn from this narrative?
So no, I don’t think we need more ‘Catholic versions’ of things.
This creates the illusion that only these things are ‘safe’ and ‘healthy’ and free of ‘contamination’.
If that’s is the preferred diet, what kind of spiritual immune system will teens have?
If children regularly see parents nodding vigorously and praising specific content for being particularly ‘Catholic’, and edging suspiciously away from everything else, what message are we modelling for them?
“But so much of modern media is riddled with sin and horrible things.”
That’s true. Definitely don’t give that stuff to early children. They need ‘milk’ for a long time.
But then a time quickly comes where they need to put away the ways of the child, and eat meat.
And eating meat is not predigested. They have to do the work themselves.
So by the time you have teens, we parents should be helping them walk a different path. Teaching your teen to live in fear of encountering sin in fiction (or even other people) is to hamstring them.
To hamstring them as human beings, incapable of even handling their own sin responses.
In 2021, Catholic teens are saturated in a culture of media and memes and references and movies. Almost all of it is not explicitly Christian. Some is intentionally anti-Christian.
But the majority of it is a well-meant working out (catharsis) of vice and virtue. All these good things that were birthed and embodied in our past, sort-of Christian culture are now unmoored from religion and pews. They are lived badly, and well, and confusedly.
We still live these beautiful and important things, even if we tell ourselves we don’t.
Teaching our teens that they should hold back from everything, pine for and hunt for ‘Catholic versions’ of things is a problem.
“So should we never have explicitly Catholic fiction then?”
That’s a different question.
I think we absolutely should.
I think it is very important to normalize our faith and lifestyles and traditions through fiction. It’s fascinating to many, not just us.
But we don’t need a ‘Catholic version’ of Star Wars. Or any other thing.
Because if we’re serious about being Catholic, then we should recognize that everything in creation points to God.
Every horrific and badly-lived life and dictatorship points to the truth of God. Every moment in history, and psyche, and music, and story, is a revealing of God’s inner dynamism within the human being.
Nature is charged with the grandeur of God, and history is a million insights into seeing through a glass darkly.
For adults, there are no ‘Catholic versions’ of things. Because everything is essentially ‘Catholic,’ in this sense that everything is a working-out-of or living in (or outside of) Christ.
If that’s not clear to our teens, then we have a bigger problem. And it’s not that they need ‘Catholic versions’ of things. It’s that we’re afraid of releasing them like ships into the wider world.
We’re afraid of what winds will fill their sails, and where they’ll go. And we’re afraid that they can’t handle it. More importantly, we’re afraid that we won’t be able to handle them and the inevitable questions.
Wanting ‘Catholic versions’ of things for adults means that we are afraid of the unlight outside our tribe campfires. We’re afraid of the dark, and haven’t been given the skills and tools to handle it.
Adults won’t survive that way. Teens won’t last that way.
If we are Christ-bearers, and builders of a kingdom, then we have to cultivate the skills, training, and the mystic insight to engage with everyone, to engage with everything, and not to retreat in fear. Not to ring the wagons against the unsafe.
This doesn’t call for more Catechism, clearer dogmas, and 100% Catholic-proof content in high school. It calls for an ability to discern. To field and discuss ideas, and to celebrate the good wherever we find it.
Children don’t need to see fear from their guardians. We guardians must model calm, reflective, winsome bravery and merriment.
So let’s normalize our culture in the Faith, with the understanding that how we do it is ‘a’ way. It is not ‘the’ only way. It may not even be the best way. But it is what we have. It is where we are.
We can’t go back to milk once we’ve had meat.
We need Catholic contributions. Not Catholic versions.