This article about young women who choose to become nuns is a whole lot, my pals. It notes that these women are specifically looking not for, like, a fun cool liberal order tied to the secular modern world but the really dogmatically strict, conservative hardline ones that demand the most obedience and sacrifice.
And before the author gets to some thoughts on why, I’m like oh yeah, no, I see why this would be appealing–it’s an escape from how precarious, terrifying, and lonely life in a hypercapitalist world that values individualism and is heading for increasingly certain environmental destruction is. It provides a sense of actual fulfillment, of finding meaning to your life, that we’re told to find from going to work and serving our bosses, or as conscientious consumers on the market.
“Nothing is ever enough,” Dubay writes of how it feels to live in the modern world. You are expected to give yourselves entirely, 24/7, without wavering, to careers, to hobbies, to lovers, to children. Ideally, you are supposed to spend zero time not loving your job in a dying industry or your husband who fails to absorb the concept of emotional labor. But this is impossible.
And yet, Dubay explains, there is one being who reliably rewards our efforts: Christ. The woman who loves Him, the religious sister, has a calling worthy of her complete devotion and that honors her sacrifices “many times over,” as the Book of Luke says. She has found her “passion.” She has “rest,” “fulfillment,” “enthrallment,” “completion”—precisely the things that I, exhausted, have often wanted.”
And of course it’s not enough to just exist as a religiously-observant person in the modern, secular world; that doesn’t address the root of the problem. And presenting religious life as having this very cool ‘n’ hip vibe is a) something the youth are pretty solidly able to identify as insulting pandering, as a hollow sales pitch from growing up hyperaware of being constantly advertised to, and b) hits at neither the nihilist absurdism nor the straightforward sincerity that is more in line with what they’re more receptive to. Like, whom among us with our cynical irony-poisoned brains cares that priests are also gamers in these dark and trying times?
This part covers the appeal of going back to Simpler Times when Catholicism was comfortably terrifying better than I’m explaining here; it describes a teacher’s reaction to seeing a strict, traditional priest speak to his class about the religious life–
The more Olon thought about his students’ enthusiastic response to the hardcore priest, the more it made sense to him. Millennials and Generation Z kids report much higher levels of social anxiety, pessimism and depression than previous generations. He’d seen it firsthand in his own classroom. “When I ask kids what they want to do in their lives, they’ll say, ‘I guess I’ll get a job,’” Olon told me. They would explain that they had already done everything. They had destroyed worlds, fallen in love, built communities, made art. Then he’d realize that they meant they’d done this all online.
In real life, they were much more fearful. Everything they said—every youthful, experimental pose they struck—became a part of their permanent record on social media. The stakes seemed so high for even tiny choices. Sometimes, after class, they would ask him mournful questions like, “What have I ever really done that has any depth?” They reminded him of people having midlife crises. Yet Olon noticed that the more cornered they seemed, the more pressured they felt to do something truly wholehearted and unique. To be like Steve Jobs and take a huge risk that changed the whole world. Hemmed in on all sides, they also yearned for a tabula rasa, to tear everything down and start over from scratch.”
Anyway I have absolutely thought about becoming a nun because I hated the thought of doing any career, had absolutely no direction in life I felt would be worthwhile to pursue, and realized that all I wanted was to fill my time with hobbies and occasional socializing just to fill this meaningless void with pleasurable distractions that ultimately didn’t matter. Oh and that I needed some kind of assurance that I won’t die alone and neglected because I’m not capable of forming the emotional and physical connections that other people look for in a relationship so uh better see what other options are out there. And I still feel like that, on all accounts! It sucks! And basically everything in this article about how strict obedience in the name of a higher power, in a community of similarly-minded people who become your family, hits home incredibly hard. I’ve even already been raised to believe the inflexibly conservative strain of Catholicism, like really it’s all right there.
…but also actually being… some amount of religious is what guarantees I would never actually go through with this? Because I do think that it has to be a calling, not a self-interested escape, and it’s deeply offensive to use religious life as an out because I’m too lazy to get a job and too socially incompetent to interact with people. Like, the article does touch on what some of these women thought about why or if they felt some calling from God to become nuns and, understandably, it’s an incredibly nebulous point–what is a calling from God? How do you know you’re having one? But like, if you’re bullshitting it, you know.
(Also ahaha I uh am also not on board with a lot of the conservative religious doctrine that, while it doesn’t affect me, is still something I’m not able to make myself sign on to in exchange for a workaround for capitalism.)
I guess what I am saying is that uh if you have heard God’s calling to join the religious life, go do that, I support it, I do not support the twee Catholic Twitter nonsense of “to all my lovely followers, remember that abortion is a sin uwu~ ” but if you hear the calling of “I hate my job and need to talk to people” idk pal, do some political or charitable work and get some therapy, maybe you’ll still go to hell but in the meantime we all have to live in this hyperbolic hell we call earth together ¯\_(ツ)_/¯