Look — there’s America magazine, “the Jesuit review of faith and culture,” discussing the spiritual maunderings of actor Shia LaBeouf. He’s been on a “salvific journey” after facing charges of assault and emotional abuse from an ex-girlfriend. Read all about it.
Wait, did you see Kourtney Kardashian’s “pre-wedding” mini-dress with a colorful Virgin Mary emblem on the bodice? Her groom, musician Travis Barker, has an image of the Virgin Mary tattooed on his head. If you didn’t see them, some of her 199 million Instagram followers surely did.
Vanity Fair recently reported that writer Honor Levy, “an It girl in a downtown Manhattan scene,” converted to Catholicism. (In a separate interview, Levy calls the Bible “the best book ever.”) It’s a thing. The magazine includes converting to Catholicism in a brief litany of modish behaviors, e.g., eschewing casual sex and dressing “like a duck hunter” adopted by a “fashionable dissident-y subculture” of the political New Right.
Is Catholicism — the oldest and, many would argue, the only true Christian denomination — becoming cool? You bet! Earlier this summer, Vox magazine explained “How Catholicism became a meme,” in an article subtitled: “One of the world’s most powerful religions is now an alt status symbol.”
Let’s back up for a second. On the most superficial level, we are talking about an Internet fad that conservative writer Michael Warren Davis calls “FadCath”: “What happens when a religion becomes faddish among the Very Online.” Davis illustrates the ankle-deep profundity of FadCath commitment with a quote from actress (“Succession”) and podcaster (“Red Scare”) Dasha Nekrasova: “Everything feels so senseless and pointless, so why not be a Catholic?”
Why not be a Satanist for that matter? But FadCath sips from the deeper waters of TradCath, which can refer either to traditional Catholics who prefer a more conservative liturgy, or, per the Urban Dictionary, “young Internet reactionaries, who hold conservative positions on the role of women, abortion, homosexuality” and the traditional, pre-Vatican II reforms, Latin Mass.
TradCath has been trending for some time at the outer edges of political conservatism. “War Room” podcaster and Donald Trump promoter Steve Bannon has said he performs the examen, the daily spiritual exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola (a founder of the Jesuits) “to ground me by understanding my failures in the previous day before turning to the day ahead.” Bannon had been planning to convert an 800-year-old Italian monastery into a “gladiator school” for conservative activists until the Italian government intervened. Author J.D. Vance, now running for a US Senate seat in Ohio, converted to Catholicism in 2019, influenced, he wrote, by his ideological mentor and financial supporter, venture capitalist Peter Thiel.
Actor LaBeouf, who is starring in a new movie about the Catholic saint Padre Pio, has also embraced a conservative flavor of Catholicism. LaBeouf says he came to the faith after a dark period in his life, when “my life was a mess.” In addition to facing allegations of assault, he was ostentatiously dropped from the cast of the movie “Don’t Worry Darling” by director Olivia Wilde, who expressed concern about LaBeouf’s behavior.
LaBeouf has attracted attention in Catholic media for his full-on endorsement of TradCath, in the form of the traditional, pre-Vatican II reform mass recited in Latin. “Latin Mass affects me deeply, deeply,” he explained in an interview with Bishop Robert Barron. “It almost feels like I’m being let in on something very special.”
Catholicism has survived wars, famines, floods, and endless persecutions, so there’s ample reason to think the religion will survive Shia LaBeouf and Kourtney Kardashian, too.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.