I was recently speaking with someone on Facebook. This person, in real life, is an outspoken writer and commentator within the traditionalist movement. He spoke of how, in his view, Millenial Catholics are just as irritating as the Baby Boomer Catholics they enjoy mocking and looking down on. And this includes even Millenials within the traditionalist movement. Many of them are known for their snarky attitude and for, in his words, being something along the lines of, if my memory serves me right, “integralist LARPers”.
(Integralism is the traditional stance, endorsed by many Catholic theologians [and even many Popes] in the 19th and early 20th century which rejected the separation of Church and State in favor of social models that emphasized the close connection between the Church and the larger society; LARPing means “live action role playing,” and is when a person dresses as a character from a game, and acts out the personal traits of that character while interacting with other LARPers. It is essentially over-the-top cosplaying or war reenacting. His point is that some traditionalist Catholics, especially younger ones, act as if they come from an alternate dimension in which we currently live in an integralist society, or as if the establishing of an integralist society is right around the corner.)
This is something I have noticed as well. I’d say that the mindset of younger generations of traditionalists, and younger generations of Catholics in general, is determined by several different factors. The first is that they are shaped, in many ways, by internet culture. This should almost be a stereotype, given what we know about youth culture among any generation currently in their early 30’s and younger. This is significant for two reasons: 1)Concerning some of them being “integralist LARPers,” this may be shaped by the fact that, on the internet, you can find groups of people who think and act just like you. It is very easy to find or form echo chambers. Younger Catholics may desire these echo chambers for several reasons, not the least of which is because, first off, while there is room for debate and dialogue within the study of theology (look at how the De Auxiliis debate has never been resolved in the almost four and a quarter centuries since it began), the Word of God itself, and the infallibly defined magisterium of the Church, are not up for debate. In a world filled with moral relativism, people desire moral certitude, which they do by, unfortunately, giving in to that pack mentality (specifically looking for people who will reinforce their own personal beliefs and biases). Thankfully, some people are manifesting this in the form of traditionalist Catholicism rather than radical feminism on the one hand or the Alt-Right on the other. But further, many young Catholics seek the support of like-minded Catholics as they get attacked on all sides. There is a definite move among younger Catholics (well, at least those who still practice their faith and adhere to the traditional teachings of the Church) to be more theologically conservative and liturgically traditional than their parents or, especially, their grandparents. Even the more theologically moderate youngsters are not as far to the left as their parents. This does not mean that all youngsters are EWTN and ChurchMilitant watching, Latin Mass attending, closeted SSPX supporters, but traditionalism seems to be more of a formidable force among the younger generations. Unlike in the 1960’s and 1970’s, where the larger context was fairly traditional (or at least had the semblance of such), and thus the youth of that era were reacting against that in their crusade to implement “reform”, the context of today is one defined by that same generation running the Church. The secular world is a mess, and things within the Church are not much better. Some among the younger generations of Catholics may believe that the issues of the contemporary period arose when, in an attempt to reform the shortcomings or faults of the past, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. There is thus a desire for a certain element of tradition to be infused back into the Church. This is thus going to get them flack from those outside the Church – why would they of all people want an institution traditionally as powerful as the Church to go back to strongly emphasizing such doctrines as abstinence before marriage, abortion, contraception and gay sex are sins, etc.? – and even from those within the Church who feel that anything traditional is a call to return to the days when women were oppressed, heretics were burned at the stake, and people were not allowed to think for themselves. The internet thus provides a place for Catholics who take their faith seriously and realize that Catholic theology, spirituality and practice had a 19 and a half century-long history prior to Vatican II to seek out other like-minded people for the sake of forming some sense of community and the emotional and moral support that brings.
2)This is the nature of the beast. If younger traditionalists seem snarky, it is because humor on the internet is defined by sarcasm, irony, unexpected twists, parodying things from mainstream culture (particularly in counter-intuitive ways), and absurdities. This form of humor, best expressed in memes, has led to the rise of what could be called a “meme culture.” Now, before this sounds like some cliched social commentary from 2012, I think it is important to note a trend that is often ignored outside of religious circles: the rise of forms of humor that combine religious themes with recent trends in internet humor. A quick glance on Facebook will show at least three different Facebook pages titled “Catholic Memes,” a page titled “Roman Catholic Memes,” and others with such names as “TradCatholic Memes,” “Lit Catholic Memes,” “Phresh Catholic Memes from the Papal Meme Office,” and “Traditional Catholic Memes for Working Class Teens.” There are also a series of more general theology-based meme pages, such as “Tommy Aqua’s Summa Memeologica,” “Personal Memes for Theistic Teens,” “Classical Christian Theism Memes for Biblical Teens,” and “Reverend Phlox’s Meme Stash.” There are similar pages among specifically non-Catholic groups, such as “Reformed Memes Daily,” “Calvinist Memes,” “Episcopal Church Memes,” “Methodist Memes,” and “Jewish Memes.” Like every group or subgroup, technology-savvy religious people now have meme pages.
There is a part of me that hypothesizes that the appeal of this sort of mindset, even among the religious, is rooted in the fact that reactionary ideologies, polarized public discourse, and absurdism (particularly within the realm of art, music, literature and humor) seems to be an expression of existential angst concerning, or in some cases a coping mechanism (as in the case of absurdism) influenced by, a society in crisis. In some instances it is the final death rattle of a civilization.
The polarization of the larger society is reflected in the Church. In 2017, Matthew Schmitz wrote an article for the Catholic Herald on the popularity of more traditional forms of Catholicism among the youth. He spoke of a speech by Pope Francis in which he says that the vision of those who came of age during Vatican II needs to be passed on to the younger generations. Schmitz wrote in response: “Maybe so, but the youth don’t seem to want it.” The young, in my opinion, may be hesitant to walk in the way of their elders because they interpret it not as a variation of what the Church always taught, but as a rejection of or deviation from it. These generational differences take to a feverish pitch that which has already been occurring within the Church for the past 40-50 years.
The point I am trying to make is that for the past 50 years, there has been a rivalry between two competing visions of Church teaching, as well as attempts galore to reconcile these two views. We are now at a tipping point. The youth are acutely aware of this. And the quirky or erratic behavior of the youth today is, on some level, a reaction to the reality of this set of circumstances.