In October 2017, Church Militant published America magazine’s interview with Milo Yiannopoulos after the latter’s refusal to print it. It isn’t hard to see why they wanted to distance themselves from him. Milo is a walking contradiction, not least because he’s openly Catholic and openly gay. This confuses people, and I’m not sure either Catholics or homosexuals know what to make of it. But maybe that’s the point. Modern society is confused and contradictory, and by personifying that in himself Milo shoves that contradiction in our face. Jordan Peterson has called him a trickster, comparing him to “a jester in the king’s court…the only person who could tell the truth because he was beneath contempt…they point out what no one wants to see and they say things that no one will say.” Perhaps the Church ought to listen.
But Milo is so clever that it’s difficult to pinpoint his contradiction and the temptation to dismiss him as nothing more than an unpleasant provocateur is hard to resist. I think for most homosexuals there’s an obvious gap between their lifestyle and Catholic teaching. What Milo seems to have done is to narrow that gap to the point where he (to the dismay of the gay community) admits that the Church is right in its teaching and acknowledges that he is living a sinful lifestyle but then (to the shock of Catholics) continues to do it with no apparent effort to the contrary. He looks to the saints, less as examples and sources of strength to help him turn away from the life he’s already recognized to be wrong, but as fellow sinners whose sins make him feel a little better about his own. He seems to be using the Catholic property of welcoming sinners, not so much to justify his behaviour, but to justify not doing anything about it, beyond acknowledging it, as if to say, “the great saints have done this and worse, so I’m in good company – at least I recognize it. I’m in a better position than most.” That may well be true, so far as it goes.
Thinking of this further, maybe his point is ultimately that it’s better to be an orthodox sinner than a sanctimonious, unorthodox ecclesiastical authority. From a detached perspective what he’s demonstrating is the disparity between someone who understands orthodoxy but fails to live up to it and someone who righteously lives up to and preaches a distorted or watered-down version of orthodox truth. If he’s sacrificing his soul in the process I would suggest it might not be worth it (and not really an example of Christian sacrifice) but it’s an important lesson for Christians nonetheless. In order to illustrate it clearly, the liberal clergyman who wants to “update” Catholic teaching (there are myriad examples) must be balanced by a blatant, undeniable sinner whose extensive understanding and acceptance of orthodoxy is equally clear. Milo is providing this and it’s valuable to have that voice. The world is spinning on the wrong axis. If the Church is also spinning on the wrong axis how can she ever set the world aright? Maybe Milo is trying to correct the Church’s axis. Maybe the Church does need to re-centre herself. For starters, the emphasis on sexual sin, which has come to characterize the Catholic Church in many modern minds, is easy, obvious, and a natural response to an oversexualized world. But the spiritual sins are still worse. It’s a welcome point but, again, as a Catholic, it’s not worth Milo’s soul to act out a counterbalance to this perceived overemphasis. Then again, maybe he’s just playing a character in order to make this point. God only knows.
He is intelligent and orthodox, and the nucleus of his contradiction is so elusive because he’s tried to rationalize it and surrounded it with so much else that is refreshingly coherent. All sinners do this sort of rationalizing but in his case he’s public about it and if key figures in the Catholic media were as smart they might find a way to expose his contradiction both to him and to his audience. In fact, it seems to me that he’s inviting them to do just this. He’s Woody Woodpecker. He’s an instigator, a troublemaker, and he’s trying to elicit a reaction. That reaction would be nothing less than the Church’s indictment of the modern world on the one hand and the salvific invitation of Christ, translated for a modern understanding, on the other. The dilemma is that anyone who calls Milo out would probably carry their own contradictions which he’d call out without hesitation. And he’d probably be right. That leaves practically no one with the courage to take him on. But the invitation is there, and it’s one the Church must heed. Milo is provoking the Church to speak to a world that is desperate to listen. Peterson again: “the times call forth the speakers, and we’ve called forth Milo.”
The mainstream media consider Pope Francis to be a progressive, moderate, liberal pope, and at times can barely contain their jubilation at the prospect of the Catholic Church modernizing to line up with their ideology. I used to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt by assuming he was just trying to use a friendlier language to make nice with the world and build bridges but that Church doctrine would remain unaffected. Even if that were what he was doing (and I’m not so sure anymore) I’m now inclined to think that it’s a mistake. Too many churchmen are content to think we still live in a Christian society and that “church” is the thing that people do on Sundays and everything’s fine and we can just keep chugging along happily, making sure not to antagonize anyone. But we don’t live in a Christian society. Society and the Church have diverged so much that what the Church needs to do, if she wants to flourish, is double down on orthodoxy. Which will certainly antagonize society. The Church must show herself as a clear and incompatible alternative to modern society, rather than something that can be diluted with and embedded in society. It must be made clear to people that their choice is to accept or reject the Church. The Church does society and herself a disservice if she doesn’t clearly set herself apart from the world as a unique, resistant, objectionable and uncompromising thing. The beauty of Milo Yiannopoulos is that he demonstrates how wide the divergence is. He’s straddling both worlds at once. He is both extremes at the same time. That’s impossible. He should be a gay hero but they hate him. He should be a Catholic hero but they fear him and are somewhat bewildered and offended by him. He’s the product of the incompatibility of Church and modern society, somehow realizing two mutually exclusive possibilities simultaneously. He’s a paradox. He’d make a great fictional character.
I don’t know Milo Yiannopoulos personally and my analysis is based on the public persona of someone who has decided “to become famous for a living” so I have no right to speak about the man behind the persona. But he’s asked for prayers, so I’m happy to oblige. If he reads this, hopefully he’ll return the favour. But whether the public persona accurately represents the man or not, by using his predicament to illustrate a paradox he is showing us a truth that we’d be unwise to ignore. With words that should be repeated in every corner of western civilization, he’s issued an exhortation to Catholics to fully assume their role in the modern world as the one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church that “was founded on a rock and a cross, not a hug.”