Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 19, 2006
Cranky Catholic rides the web
Relapsed Catholic Kathy Shaidle draws a crowd with politically incorrect musings
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"I don't see the point of writing if you're going to write nothing but sunshine lollipops."
- Kathy Shaidle
Those columns were compiled into her book. Today, she is free from any symptoms, but continues to observe religion and pop culture on her blog.
"I don't see the point of writing if you're going to write nothing but sunshine lollipops," she said in an interview.
While Shaidle has attracted fans like Steyn, she's also made some prominent enemies, among them National Post columnist Warren Kinsella, best known for using a stuffed Barney dinosaur to discredit Stockwell Day's religious beliefs and Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias. Both have used their blogs to accuse Shaidle of racism and Islamophobia.
Shaidle takes them on with glee.
Her willingness to jump into the fray with humour has a serious underlay. Steyn said he quotes her in his latest book. "She was one of the first to spell out very clearly why hyper-secular Europe is not the solution to radical Islam but the vacuum into which it's poured," he said.
In addition to her blog, Shaidle writes a column for Our Sunday Visitor, a U.S. Catholic newspaper. In 1998, her poetry volume Lobotomy Magnificat made the Governor General Award's shortlist.
Born in 1964, Shaidle describes herself as a Generation-X-er who was brought up in a working class Hamilton, Ont., family, attending Catholic schools.
"I would have appreciated more grounding in the faith in elementary school and high school," she said, noting "feeding hungry children in Guatemala" seemed to be higher on the agenda.
As a child, Shaidle loved holy cards and statues. "I don't know if they make that kind of child anymore," she said.
In God Rides a Yamaha, she wrote about playing nun, fashioning habits from blankets and sheets, "a tea-towel 'veil' bobby pinned to my four-year old head."
"No loaf of Wonder Bread was safe from my pinching fingers, as I squished slice after slice into bite-sized 'hosts.'
"And I much preferred 'holy' statues to Barbies. True, you couldn't change Joseph's hair or Mary's outfit, but that didn't stop me from concocting elaborate adventures starring my nativity scene 'dolls.'"
As a teenager, however, Shaidle drifted away from the Catholic faith. "You read one bad book by Bertrand Russell, and think you're smarter than everyone else," she said. "It wasn't really that I was an atheist, I decided God and I were not speaking to each other."
After obtaining a media arts degree, she moved to Toronto and, in the 1980s, became active in the peace movement.
Pro-choice on abortion, she adopted a libertarian, anarchist philosophy. She and her friends thought government was inherently evil. They especially hated U.S. President Ronald Reagan, whom they believed was going to "nuke" everyone.
"You read one bad book by Bertrand Russell, and think you're smarter than everyone else."
- Kathy Shaidle
Political correctness drove her out of the movement, she said. "Not everyone has three hour debates on whether women should shave their armpits or if deodorant was fascist," she said.
"I got fed up with the dumbing down of all this. A noble enterprise ended up being grim and tedious, run by people with all brains and book-learning but very naive about the way the world worked."
As she drifted away, she found aspects of Dorothy Day's and Thomas Merton's writings stayed with her. "I found I cared more about the actual Catholicism than the political stuff they were talking about." She also realized that perhaps her faith grounding as a child had not been as shallow as she had thought.
Her natural contrarian nature also led her back to faith. After hearing too many times that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was "the great Satan," she decided to check him out for herself.
She described her investigation into a more traditional faith as a "rebellion against the hippie-dippy Vatican II folk Mass with the felt applique banners, the whole wheat host and lots of bad art."
Shaidle still struggles with some Church teachings, such as contraception. However, she has realized that if she disagrees with the Church she's the one who has to do the changing. "Now I feel it's up to me to change my mind. That's a little more mature than thinking the Church has to change for me."
Relapsed Catholic came into being in 2000 when she was trying to keep track of news stories she might need for freelance religion articles she was writing. Visitors started popping by and word of mouth brought more. Then came the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
"All I could do was go on the 'web and try to connect up with someone who wasn't an idiot. I was getting emails saying America deserved it."
She found, however, that most of her peacenik friends were siding with the terrorists.
"I have got to do something about this," she thought. "There's a war on. Either you believe that or you don't. I like to think I'm doing my part to keep the world from blowing up."
Radical Islamists need not feel singled out. If some evangelical is selling biblical action figures or Scriptural pajamas, Shaidle is on it. Recently she took the Knights of Malta to task for planning to honour a Catholic politician who supports late-term abortion. Other bloggers and news outlets picked up the story and the Knights have withdrawn the award.
Shaidle has been a guest on radio, and television, including a spot on MSNBC after Ratzinger was elected pope. She found it ironic that her interviewer, Ron Reagan, the son of the president she used to hate, asked her questions that seemed to suggest it was "the end of the world" because the "evil Cardinal Ratzinger" was now pope.
She said she was old enough to have once believed that his father was insane, stupid and senile and her opinion proved to be false.
"History has a way of surprising us."
Now the former peacenik is more likely to be wearing red on Fridays to support the troops in Afghanistan.
Recently, Catholic New Times, the left-leaning newspaper she used to work for, folded. "I have more readers now than they ever did," she said, noting that one of the problems the paper had was that it "didn't get" the Internet. For a Generation X contrarian Catholic, the Internet has provided a niche, a growing readership and an influential place in the new media or blogosphere.
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