They sometimes wear beards, use lingo no outsiders understand, drink craft beers and indulge in rituals that baffle those who just don’t get it, man.
Who are they? Goth rockers? Electronic dance music addicts? Militant protesters?
Well, technically, they could be all of these things. But primarily these offbeat folks are Catholic “hipsters,” bonding over social media, daily Mass or shared pints at a Theology on Tap session in a local bar. And now they have a manifesto of sorts, thanks to Tommy Tighe, a Catholic marriage and family therapist from Livermore, California, who has written for a number of Catholic publications, including Angelus. Tighe also co-hosts The Catholic Hipster Podcast with Sarah Vabulas as well as the Sirius XM Radio podcast The Chimney, and has co-authored a new book called “The Catholic Hipster Handbook” (Ave Maria Press).
In addition to chapters he’s written on such topics as Catholics using Twitter and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tighe’s book includes contributions from a variety of writers, including a foreword by actress and comedy writer Jeannie Gaffigan, who wrote for her husband’s TV Land series The Jim Gaffigan Show. Tighe notes he met Jeannie’s husband once backstage after one of his shows, which sometimes employ humor rooted in the Gaffigans’ Catholic faith.
“It was a pretty brief interaction, but he did say, ‘You look different than you do online,’ which made me laugh.” On that note, Tighe says humor, like that employed by the Gaffigans, can lead people to explore Catholicism.
“While our faith is very serious, we have to be able to make light of ourselves and join in on the humor when appropriate,” he says. “Non-Catholics are not going to be interested in a faith that's nothing more than a bunch of stuffy people who don't laugh at jokes.”
Topics in “The Catholic Hipster Handbook” include Catholic slang, footwear (including sandals), music and scapulars. Much of the book covers the attraction younger Catholics feel for Catholic practices that were more popular in the pre-Vatican II church, including the Tridentine Mass, the rosary, Eucharistic adoration, viewing relics and studying the saints.
Tighe says he met his book’s contributing writers through Catholic Twitter.
“As far as the topics, I let them run wild with their favorite ideas so it would be something they were excited about,” Tighe says, adding he defines a Catholic hipster as someone “living a radically authentic Catholic life in a culture that runs so counter to seemingly everything we believe in.”
That doesn’t mean Catholic hipsters are stodgy puritans railing against the baleful influence of popular culture, but rather people who find joy in the centuries old mystery and majesty of the Catholic faith and don’t mind if that sets them apart from their contemporaries, Tighe says.
“I would most definitely consider myself a ‘Vatican II’ Catholic, if I was forced to categorize myself in that way,” Tighe explains, adding: “That being said, I have found a great deal of spiritual enrichment in practices that many would consider ‘old school.’”
For example, Tighe says he enjoys praying the Divine Office and discovering little known saints.
“I consider hipster Catholicism a delving into pre-Vatican II spirituality and practices and simply as a move to get outside of the mainstream, to do something different than the ‘Average Joe Pew Sitter.’”
Tighe’s book elaborates extensively on these and other ideas. Take the chapter Vabulas wrote on “The Local Craft (Catholic?) Brewery Scene.” If you like beer, credit Catholicism, she notes. In medieval times, water was often unsafe to drink, so monks brewed beer for people to slake their thirst, and telling your fellow brew-lovers about that can lead to conversations about the faith.
“It’s only natural that Catholic hipsters and secular hipsters could blend so well together at a brewery,” she writes, noting the popularity of brewery tours among many folks today. “After all, Catholic monks make some of the best beers in the entire world!”
“I honestly see a Catholic connection in almost all popularly understood secular hipster practices,” Tighe adds when asked about parallels between the two groups. For example, he says, farmers markets are an example of the Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity -- doing things at the most local level possible -- put into practice, a topic covered in Mary Rezac’s chapter “Taking Pope Francis to the Farmers Market."
Rezac writes that farmers markets restore the relationship between those who grow food and those who eat it, putting "the human person back in the center of the exchange."
Tighe adds that as more and more people grow concerned about the environment, Catholic hipsters also have something to offer such folks.
“The secular hipster focus on the environment -- riding a bike, being concerned about one's carbon footprint, for example -- connects well with Pope Francis and ‘Laudato Si’ (Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment.)”
So secular and Catholic hipsters have more in common than either group may realize, Tighe says.
“Much of the secular hipster culture is a turning back to the traditions, a turning back to a past time, and that seems to match up perfectly with a 2,000-year-old Church that holds tradition and the old way of doing things to be so valuable, especially in today's world.”
You can learn more about Tighe and his book at catholichipster.com.
Rob Cullivan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for Catholic News Service and other religious and secular publications.