The author of this month’s The Atlantic op-ed, originally titled “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol,” certainly got what he was after.
The piece seemed to give Catholic and secular readers alike the equivalent of a cerebral hemorrhage, enough to prompt the magazine’s editors to soften the headline to “How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-Opt the Rosary” after a few hours of Twitter outrage. In return, the author reaped what must have been exponential growth in his readership and notoriety.
The author writes as if he is the one who discovered fringe groups in America. Did he just get internet access? Fringe groups of every stripe have always existed, bending, folding, and mutilating the truth to their own conspiratorial ends and using positive values, like “justice,” “equality,” and “tradition,” for bad purposes. Some of them advocate violence. Some of them perpetuate it. Nothing new here.
What is new, according to the author, is how the holy rosary now plays a vital role with one segment of the fringe. In the opening paragraph, he cannot get out of his own way without betraying ignorance of the Faith he is determined to educate us about.
“These armed radical traditionalists,” he writes, “have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can be a weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal.”
As it turns out, the rosary is indeed a weapon to combat evil, one both “dangerous” and “literal.” Ask the Blessed Mother, who at Fátima urged us all to pray the rosary to combat real-world evil. And as far as it being “dangerous,” ask Lucifer and all his minions.
I think the author realized that first paragraph was in need of nuance, so he later gives a tepid contextual snippet about how the notion of “spiritual combat” is not completely the realm of gun-toting religious zealots.
He soon recovers though, suggesting that the commander of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard’s reference to a gift of “combat rosaries” as “the most powerful weapon that exists on the market,” is a veiled call to violence. Believing Catholics know otherwise.
More disinformation ensues when the author categorically declares that “Many radical-traditional Catholic men maintain the hardline position that other forms of Christianity are heretical, and hold that Catholics alone adhere to the one true Church.”
First, it was rather sexist and exclusionary of the author to omit the fact that more than a few Catholic women also believe the Church is unique in its position amongst other expressions of Christianity. But besides that, there’s the “hardline” position spelled out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching Office of the Church alone” (CCC: 85).
Not many Catholics have read the Catechism, but it would have served the author to have at least thumbed through it. Maybe he did not have the time — as he was busy chastising these fringe groups — to at least Google certain historical figures like Martin Luther and Henry VIII.
Radicals with stockpiles of weapons and ammo aside, it is logical to suggest the author might find any number of traditional — with a capital “T” — teachings the Catholic Church upholds as true are worthy of suspicion and cultural control.
Imagine the author was at a cocktail party on the Upper East Side, deploying this quote from Pope Francis: “The family — as God wants it, composed of a man and a woman for the good of the spouses and also the generation and education of children, is deformed by powerful contrary projects supported by ideological colonization.” He would not have gotten past “a man and a woman” before he would be running for his life toward the Lincoln Tunnel.
In no way would I ever defend or rationalize the worst elements of any fringe group, religious or otherwise. But in a world of multiple pronouns and the acceptance of realities of one’s own choosing, is the faithful Catholic of today the gun-toting radical of tomorrow, as seen through the eyes of an increasingly secular, and arguably hostile culture?
Will those with their hands on the levers and controls of the academy, the arts, and politics insist in short order of a declawed, pacified Christianity? That is certainly not the faith found in the New Testament. We can be standing in one place, seemingly with firm footing on the Tradition and teaching authority of the Church, yet the ground all around us may be shifting.
Reading this article and its misuse and misunderstanding of the holy rosary, I could almost feel the tremor as more land I once thought solid slipped away.
When intellectual secularists fire their metaphorical shots across the barque of Christ, I know not what course others may take. But as for me, give me five decades of the rosary — and that is all the battle gear I need.