Traditional Christianity Meets Millennial Counterculture in Brooklyn, New York

The Morbid Anatomy Summer Garden Party was held in the Fort Hamilton Gatehouse as Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Green-Wood Historic Fund

Tara Isabella Burton, who received a doctorate in theology from Oxford University, is at work on a book about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated in America, to be published in November 2020 by Public Affairs. Her novel, “Social Creature,” was published in June 2018.

A few weeks ago, I found myself at a goth garden party in Brooklyn, New York’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery with a few people I’d met on the fringe corners of what the internet often refers to as Weird Catholic Twitter (and its somewhat more sedate stepsister: Weird Anglican Twitter).

The crowd was mixed. There were people involved in New York’s vintage clothing collecting subculture, some Brooklyn goths, and some of the organizers of the event, which was hosted by the Morbid Anatomy museum, a floating gallery of the arcane and the macabre.

Among the other guests were a hobbyist taxidermist, who explained at length the various ways he liked to strip the skins from animal bones before reconfiguring them (“Don’t,” he warned me, “keep maggots in the house”) and an illustrator who had composed an entire lecture on the subject of the relation of Captain Hook, of “Peter Pan,” to Oscar Wilde and Britain’s fin de siecle aesthetic movement.

We Weird Catholics and Weird Anglo-Catholics fit right in.

The Fort Hamilton Gatehouse entrance at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

It may seem blasé, at first, to compare my faith — as a onetime academic theologian and an increasingly committed Anglo-Catholic — to these secular markers of proud, countercultural “weirdness.” Despite my affection for the aesthetic trappings of my religion — the liturgy, the incense, gloves in church — my faith is, I hope, more deeply rooted in me than its accoutrements.

But, standing in Green-Wood Cemetery with my friends — vintage, goth, and Weird Catholic Twitter denizens alike — I was struck by the degree to which for me, as for many religious people I know, faith has become not merely a matter of personal metaphysic but a countercultural rejection of elements of a dominant (secular) culture. It’s traditionalism as transgression. You might even call it tradpunk.

To be a Christian, especially an Anglo-Catholic, in a largely secular city is, for me and for so many of my millennial cohort, an act of cultural resistance. We live in a consumerist American culture that, more often than not, tells us that the world is fundamentally meaningless — or, little better, endowed only with the meaning we in our intuitive wisdom choose to imbue it with. Moral values are relative. Truths are no less fixed.

Seventy-four percent of millennials agree somewhat or strongly with the statement that “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.” There are no absolutes — often, there is no such thing as right and wrong.

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Source: Religion News Service