A new breed of Catholics has arisen in the past ten years. In a very real way, they act exactly like Protestant wackadoos acted back in the heady days of the Satanic Panic. Today, let me show you a downright disturbing post I found speaking to these exact Catholics. It tells us that these Catholics want exactly what evangelicals tried and failed to get 40 years ago.
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The risks of faith, in questionnaire form
In theory, this 2018 post I found represents quite a provocative direction for Catholic religious educators to take. Its author, Mike Amodei, titled it “Taking the Risk of Faith” (archive here). This post is categorized as both an “icebreaker” and a “lesson plan.” As for Amodei, he appears to be that site’s Executive Editor of Adolescent Catechesis. “Catechesis” is a fancy Catholic word for the kind of religious instruction someone must take before being baptized or confirmed as a Catholic. (You might already know the term “catechism,” which is the fancy Catholic word for the stuff being learned.)
Interestingly, the active link strips out the post’s publication date, its author, its categorization, and all ability to leave a comment. It hadn’t gotten any comments by 2019, so probably there were never any at all.
I don’t know what age group Amodei aims for in his post, but it seems like young adults. He asks questions about what jobs someone might take, or what they do when they get lost while driving. To most older adults, these aren’t exceptionally scary or risk-response-arousing questions. But to younger adults who haven’t had a lot of jobs yet and might still be new to driving, they’re probably more so. Other questions ask about how best to break off “a two-year relationship” and how respondents “would probably be” as parents.
Each answer gets a weighted score. Then, Amodei seeks to “determine” what students’ “risk quotient[s]” might be by giving a total score to respondents’ added-up answers.
Of note, we do not know what the source is for this guy’s quiz or grading scale, so we can’t assess its validity. Amodei never identifies it or tells us where he got it. Nor does he tell us how he knows that it measures what he claims to be measuring. He never even tells us why he puts his cutoffs where he does.
No, Amodei just provides this list of questions with scoring, then tells us that “low risker” respondents’ scores begin at 10, while “medium risker[s]” begin around 16 (I think?), and “high risker[s]” go up to 30.
The purpose of this risk-aversion assessment
Really, Amodei just wants Christianity to sound like it might be super-risky—and thus riveting, engaging, provocative, and uncanny to young adults. He begins his post with a Bible quote from Mark 8:34-38. This is the famous “take up your cross” section:
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. . . Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this faithless and sinless generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.
That’s the beginning of Amodei’s post. He’s deliberately setting the stage here for Christianity to sound like a risky proposition. And he misquoted the Bible, too. It’s supposed to be “sinful,” not “sinless,” obviously. (The mistake remains to this day on the active link.)
Regardless, right after the quote he outright tells us:
To follow Jesus means to take a risk.
After his questionnaire and sketchy scoring system, Amodei then asks religious teachers to split their students into three groups based on their scores: low, medium, and high “riskers.”
At this point, the serious emotional manipulation begins.
The oh-so-serious risks involved in being Christian
Here are the risks that Amodei wants Catholic religious students to consider:
Would you leave your parents and family to be a Christian missionary?
What would you give up to follow Jesus?
What would cause you to lose your faith in Christ?
What motivates you to follow Christ?
It’s really hard to imagine being a young adult in a Catholic religious class and getting these questions. In such a setting, how on earth could students ever respond naturally? Would students preparing for baptism or confirmation feel free to confess that no, they would never leave their families behind? Or that they wouldn’t give up all that much to “follow Jesus”?
But these are all such gauzy, indistinct invocations of fear. Why not get down and dirty?
Years ago, a woman in our own community told us about how, while she was Christian still, she heard about a missionary woman who’d been raped while overseas. Upon hearing that, she decided on the spot never to become a missionary, not even if Jesus himself came to her in person and asked her to do it for him. That’s the kind of visceral risk that you won’t hear Amodei talking about, though.
For that matter, by invoking risk and danger, Amodei himself primes students to wonder if their entire motivation for becoming Christian at all is to avoid the two biggest fears humanity has ever had:
The fear of life…
… and the fear of death.
The Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging
Christian hucksters never sell their religion to newbies as the entryway to risk and danger. Rather, they sell it as the refuge from those things. It is, to borrow the terminology used by the authors of Divided by Faith, the Church of Meaning and Belonging.
Join up, and Jesus will cuddle you close and help you in life. He’ll be the Daddy you never had! At the end of your life, he’ll even make a nice warm nest for you in the sky, and you can relax there forever and ever.
But after purchase, these dishonest mountebanks rip the rug out from under their customers by finally telling them what they actually bought in the religious marketplace. Now, suddenly, Christians are members of the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging. They must take risks and sacrifice things they love to get the Meaning and Belonging they thought they’d already purchased.
Between the first sales pitch and the denouement of the truth, Christian leaders try hard to indoctrinate their new sheep with so much fear and risk aversion that they won’t bolt when they finally figure out what they’re in for.
(Ask me how I know. Go ahead. I bet you’ll never guess.)
The audience for hints of risk and danger
All that said, for young adults reared in the faith, risk becomes the spice of life. They see Christianity as just this thing they do with their families. On its own, it’s pretty boring and dull. Catholicism, in particular, has such a fusty, dusty, fussy, hidebound quality to it. As fanciful as I could get as a child, there just wasn’t a lot in Catholicism to hold my attention.
So for decades now, ever since the 1980s at least, Christian leaders have tried hard to make Christianity sound exciting, counterculture, weird, rebellious, daring, even risky. This is how Carman, a schmaltzy Christian pop singer, managed to fart out not one but at least two songs involving not being “ashamed” of being Christian. Here’s the one every Christian teen had in their cassette box:
And now, here’s the one Carman wrote for his apparent legions of older, Trump-idolizing fans:
See, Christians need to pat themselves on the backs all the time for their vast bravery in somehow, against all odds, remaining vocal members of what is still American culture’s dominant faction.
Young Christians, in particular, must be indoctrinated to believe in their bravery. They must be taught that they are taking a stand. That they have counted the costs. That they are unashamed of Christ and will show the perseverance of the saints against any demonic forces that may seek to stumble them in their faith. In the end, they beat their chests and bellow that they will never be “ashamed” to “admit” that they are members of the most powerful faction in America, as Rick Perry famously said of himself while running for President.
But the hilarious part of it all is that it’s all meaningless pandering. Christianity’s not weird or counterculture. It’s most especially not any kind of risk. The worst thing a Christian will face in America is maybe mockery if they make unsupported assertions or perform their self-serving piety in public, and maybe some ostracism if they insist on being self-righteous prigs around other people. (You know, like Rick Perry.)
Neither of those are dangerous, only unpleasant. And if Christians aren’t asshats, then they certainly won’t ever need to worry about either discomfort happening to them.
Knowing all of this, then, I have to roll my eyes when Mike Amodei ends his post by demanding that students write essays to answer this one last question:
What does it mean to risk your life in faith for Jesus?
Authoritarians and risk aversion
Something else to keep in mind here, too:
The kind of Catholicism that Mike Amodei describes in his post is the kind that would appeal most to authoritarians. Whether they’re authoritarian followers or leaders, they’re going to have vastly heightened risk-assessment alertness. They not only spot a potential risk faster and earlier than non-authoritarian normies, but they also tend to react to it much more strongly and definitively. Thus, their big asks from religion are safety and certainty.
So the way that authoritarian leaders pose their questions matters. Here, we see one of them deliberately invoking anxiety-producing situations. He leads with Bible verses containing threats from Jesus himself for those who refuse to march into danger on his say-so.
Then, Amodei gets his students to imagine themselves in great danger. He wants them to model, in their minds, fiercely clinging to their faith despite whatever happens in their scenarios. Remember, if they fail to put themselves into Jesus-ordained danger, then Jesus will reject them in turn. That’s the coercion they’re operating under by the end of Amodei’s post.
This is almost comically over-the-top emotional manipulation. It’s just so painfully obvious. And it’s hard to imagine today’s young adults not cringing at it all.
The Satanic Panic also tried to raise the stakes of belief
In a lot of ways, Catholic leaders seem to be trying hard to resurrect the excessive zeal of the Satanic Panic.
The Satanic Panic was a moral panic that occurred in the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. Millions of Christians fully believed in its various conspiracy theories. Its main conspiracy theory involved demons gaining control over various American industries and professions—from Hollywood to roleplaying games to teaching to government to you-name-it. The end goal of all these demons was simple: to seduce American kids and teens to Satanic worship and thralldom, thus…
Wait. Hmm. You know, I’m not sure to what end. You’d think that Jesus’ ineffable plan couldn’t be thwarted. How could demons possibly do anything to an ineffable plan? Whatever, they’re rollin’. Demons. Seducing kids and teens to Satanism. All through the power of sexy blockbuster movies and D&D. Yep yep.
Other conspiracy theories claimed that Satanic cults routinely kidnapped children and pets to sacrifice their lives. Still others involved Wicca as a gateway drug to horror-movie-style Satanism. In the feverish imaginations of Christian attention-seekers, the sky was the limit.
It all certainly made being Christian feel like a big dangerous deal, though. Christians stood tall against the darkest forces of the Enemy! They fought for the souls of America’s youth! They stood on a battlefield in their minds! Wearing armor! In their minds! It only looks like they’re just boring salespeople ineptly pitching a product that doesn’t work to people who don’t want it!
Hooray Team Jesus, y’all!
Of course, one needn’t invent a full moral panic to invoke risk
As all moral panics are meant to do, the Satanic Panic was meant to deal firmly with Christians’ sense of fading dominance and their emptying pews. They wanted their power back, and if American normies thought only they could deal properly with all this Satanism-ing, then they’d shut up and let Daddy drive again.
Interestingly, the Satanic Panic really only involved evangelicals. Catholics stayed well out of it and seemed embarrassed to be sharing any kind of label with these weirdos. The ones I knew personally seemed relieved when evangelicals sorta realized all of a sudden how dumb all these conspiracies were and then simply forgot all about them.
But now that Catholicism is seeing such rapid declines, their leaders are perhaps starting to see the value in getting the flocks nervous.
Mike Amodei doesn’t go as far as to invoke the Satanic Panic himself, of course. He just wants young proto-Catholics to see themselves as the daring, brave, risk-taking ambassadors of a living god who’d absolutely let them suffer enormous pain if it suited him.
Where the real risk is in Christianity in 2022
I’m betting he’s not expecting a single one of those students to ask him how this talk of risk-taking relates to their big child-rape scandal.
After all, it seems like the only people who actually face any kind of real risk in Catholicism are the powerless. The Catholic powerful, by contrast, are safer than cups in a cupboard. It’s the powerless who give up everything to go do Jesus things. The powerful sit back and get richer by the minute. While the powerless risk their relationships and jobs to annoy others for Jesus, the powerful enjoy the meager benefits of this boorish behavior. And they face not one of the risks, ever.
In America, the real risk comes from moving against the dominant forces of our culture. In some areas, it’s still very risky to declare oneself non-Christian, much less atheist. I’ve never heard of a kid converting to Christianity and getting thrown out of their family home. But I’ve heard of lots of Christian kids becoming atheists and getting kicked out.
And I do know this for sure, too:
When the flocks finally figure out the truth about their religion and start deconstructing, Catholic leaders like this guy will be long gone with their money.
Endnote: SCORE YOURSELF
If you’re wondering, I scored 21 on Amodei’s dumb quiz. Apparently that makes me a medium risker.
Frankly, I think it’s a very poorly designed quiz. The test simply doesn’t differentiate at all between physical risks, financial risks, and emotional ones. Socially, I’m almost fearless. Financially, I’ve been known to take very minor risks. Everywhere else, I drive my life like a 100-year-old lady.
Well, like most 100-year-old ladies. My great-grandma on my dad’s side lived to 100 taking risks I wouldn’t take on a million-dollar bet at 50. Remember my “ass never goes above head” rule? She didn’t have that rule. Or many other rules, really. But you get the idea.
And yes, I miss her. She drove a red convertible, is a “first woman in her field” record smasher, taught my little sister cardshark tricks that horrified our mom, scandalized her retirement community by dating “younger men” (read: 75-year-olds), and baked a rum cake that made me dizzy at 10 (and also horrified our mom). She was really one of a kind. And she had no patience whatsoever for religious hucksters and their manipulative tricks.
Rest in Power, Gramma.
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