When I was growing up, there was a woman in our parish who became a staple in our family folklore: Joan Langley (name changed). She became an icon of all things showy and sentimental. We would say, “Don’t be such a Joan Langley,” or call something cloying a “Joan Langley.” When everyone was holding hands during the Our Father at Mass, we thought of it as a Joan Langley. The “COEXIST” bumper stickers—as though being a Catholic didn’t imply any hierarchy of belief—were Joan Langleys.
The iconic Joan Langley would have been a natural synodalist in Rome this past month. Dripping with synodality, Joan Langleys would open Church doors so wide that everyone could enter without repentance or conversion; and through those same Church doors, the Tabernacle would be thrown out because Jesus is not a tame lion, and He might make some uneasy.
It would be like Joan Langley to rally for the legal and ecclesial sanction of same-sex couples and to prosecute bakers or designers who wouldn’t play ball. Slogans like “We’re All in This Together” and “It Takes a Village” are very Joan Langley. In short, Joan Langley is what we now call a “virtue signaler.”
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The crux of virtue signaling is the appearance of virtue without the self-sacrifice. Easy virtue is always a sham because we are fallen human beings. We only gain virtue and make it part of our personality through hard work and sacrifice and God’s grace in the sacraments.
While Joan Langley went about my childhood sowing kumbaya, I had no inkling of her backstory. It turned out she had been conducting an extramarital affair with a man down the street. The two of them eventually broke up both families in order to cohabitate openly, exposing the children to shame and curiosity.
I wonder now if moral instability is at the root of all gross sentimentality. Joan Langleys count on emotion to avoid conscience. Sentimentality allows one to live in a universe of one’s own devising rather than the hard, sharp, demanding world of reality.
Sentimentalists want everyone to marry whomever they want, in any combination or permutation, or even in groups or outside the human realm. Realists consider the hygienic and genetic hazards of some sexual pairings, the absolute rejection of Scripture, the resulting chaos of society, and the torpedoing of stable two-parent homes with resulting damage to children’s well-being.
Sentimentalists want every foreign national to run across the Southern border without qualification. Realists would crunch the numbers as to the financial burden of such incursions, the moral cost of showing the world and the younger generations that laws are of no consequence, as well as the danger of having unvetted aliens within our borders.
Sentimentalists want unhappy adolescents to have a chance to live as the opposite gender. Realists look at long-term medical and developmental damage, the destructive example set for younger children, and the impossibility of a long-term happy outcome.
Sentimentalists want women to preach at Mass from their particularly “feminine experience” and receive ordination. Realists consider the inherent receptivity of women and generativity of men as something essential to God’s design, and they count the cost of disregarding Scripture and the Magisterium on such an essential issue.
Joan Langleys don’t regard the price tag of their experiments. They are like a fried Twinkie: a sugary treat fried in a sweet batter with a powdered sugar dusting. It thrills the taste buds for about a second, then it makes a person sick for the rest of the day.
Dylan Mulvaney wears a Joan Langley face. He puts on the prancing behavior that is an easy caricature of femininity. The reality underneath the corporate gifts of free makeup and costumes is uglier: a body not made to tolerate high levels of artificial estrogen; damage to the hypothalamus, which produces bizarre effects on personality; an unaddressed sorrow that was mangled instead of treated; sterility; and the slavery of lifetime medical care. He’s “pretty” in a fried-Twinkie sort of way, but underneath is a tragic reality.
Reality is not the concern of Joan Langleys. Like ill-raised children, they play recklessly with things that will burn their fingers and hurt other people. And there’s a dark aspect to Joan’s sentimentality because she demands that everyone else think like she does, with stiff penalties for outliers. After all, Joan Langley is “virtuous,” and the non-virtuous need to be punished for their own good, to further a virtuous society.
I wonder how much reality the sentimentality of the Synod is hiding. I have long observed that those who oppose the orthodoxy of Scripture and the Magisterium are usually engaged in something shadowy. A priest who preaches that the sacrament of penance is unhealthy for the psyches of children is engaged in a sexual affair. A catechist who teaches that Jesus didn’t know his Divine nature is divorced, remarried, and illicitly receiving Communion every Sunday.
There seems to be chronic sin at the root of most uprisings against orthodoxy. The “Synod on Synodality” proposes to solve the problem by redefining sin. In this way, all those who feel the salutary, but uncomfortable, effects of a sinful life can be excused from ever confronting the very thing that troubles them. Their situation is thereby made hopeless by removing the remedy.
Instead of offering confession and penance, the Synod seems to be considering the “softening” of the concept of sin, specifically sins of the flesh. So, divorce and civil remarriage is no longer adultery, same-sex relationships are no longer disordered, and women are no longer receptive vessels in the line of Mary but, rather, quasi-men, competent for ordination. Instead of offering confession and penance, the Synod seems to be considering the “softening” of the concept of sin, specifically sins of the flesh.Tweet This
And I wonder what measures they will come up with to force the rest of us into conformity. For gross sentimentality always demands compliance. It’s as though our whole society, and now our Church, must make itself ignorant of reality in order to shore up the delusions of its weakest members. But as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, “The sane would do no good if they made themselves mad to help madmen.”
Joan Langley-ism pervades the “Synod on Synodality,” even in its title. It reminds me of a line from the ’90s comedy show Frasier, when the ostentatiously priggish Niles invites his brother to attend a lecture series on modern lecture series. At least on Frasier such wordplay was rightly a laugh line.
Even the logo of the “Synod on Synodality” is embarrassingly sentimental. It’s the work of an artistic dilettante, designed in a font meant to appeal to children. Here’s the Synod’s catchphrase in a font called “Five Years Old”:
And here is the official logo:
See the similarity? Why are Synod promoters portraying it as a preschool playdate? Logos, even badly designed ones, cost money and go through some semblance of review and approval. This is what was approved and paid for; that should raise questions.
Perhaps it’s a ploy to suggest that the Synod is as harmless as a five-year-old. Or maybe it’s meant to appeal to Joan Langleys, who respond positively to cuteness. Or more darkly, it could be the product of adults who are unnaturally preoccupied with very young children.
Whatever the reason, it is unworthy of serious Catholicism, and it seems to highlight the whole problem with this novel “synod”: it’s childish (not childlike). Perhaps the best approach to the “synod” is to treat it as a wise parent would handle a fractious child—with a time-out of imposed silence until the child returns to reason and takes up the duties of a responsible member of the household.
In the meantime, adults cannot bow to the callow demands of childish sentimentality, lest we (Lewis again) drag Hell right into Heaven.