The Rosary: Extremist Symbol of Christian Nationalism?

I prayed my extremist symbol of Christian nationalism today. Have you?

I refer, of course, to the rosary. In an opinion article in The Atlantic magazine dated August 14 (the vigil of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary – did they know?), Daniel Panneton reports that the rosary “has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or ‘rad trad’) Catholics. On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture.”

Golly, who knew?

Panneton is apoplectic about what he claims is the growing Catholic presence in the Christian nationalist movement. The rosary, apparently, has been hijacked by these “rad trad” Catholics. In the original edition of The Atlantic, Panneton’s piece was entitled “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol,” accompanied by a picture of a rosary made out of bullet holes. After public reaction, The Atlantic changed the title to “How Extremist Gun Culture is Trying to Co-Opt the Rosary,” accompanied by a simply photograph of a rosary. The second title genuinely represents better Panneton’s theory, but it simply goes too far.

The left is overwrought with the threat of White supremacist groups and Christian nationalists, even though these groups are so small, so fringe, and so ineffective that one can must conclude that the foaming at the mouth, hyperalert attention given to these groups by the political left can only be a strategy of distraction from actual threats to the safety and civility of American life – like the murders in Chicago, the violence on the streets of New York, the lootings in Los Angeles, and the war zones that are the inner cities of so many major metropolitan areas.

Panneton writes: “Catholics are taught to love and forgive their enemies, that to do otherwise is a sin. But the extremist understanding of spiritual warfare overrides that command. To do battle with Satan—whose influence in the world is, according to Catholic demonology, real and menacing—is to deploy violence for deliverance and redemption. The ‘battle beads’ culture of spiritual warfare permits radical-traditional Catholics literally to demonize their political opponents and regard the use of armed force against them as sanctified. The sacramental rosary isn’t just a spiritual weapon but one that comes with physical ammunition.”

One would expect to hear of regular attacks on liberal institutions from Catholic and other Christian nationalists. But do we? No. This is a classic case of transference. The riots of 2020, carried out by BLM, Antifa, and other radical groups, where dozens were killed and billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed, and now the attacks on churches and pregnancy centers by groups that call themselves Ruth Sent Us and Jane’s Revenge, do indeed represent a willingness to resort to violence in the name of what they perceive to be their just cause. But these groups are secular and leftist, not right-wing and certainly not Christian nationalist. How is it that Panneton can get himself so worked up over violence that is not happening from barely existing Christian nationalist groups, and have nothing to say about the actual violence that is being committed by leftist groups? Either his goal is to distract people from the real threat of violence to Americans, or he agrees with the ends that BLM, Antifa, Jane’s Revenge, etc. propose, so he’s not worried about the violent means.

It seems that any symbol used, even tangentially, on the extreme right (and, let’s face it, the entire political right is extreme, doncha know!) is now claimed to be a symbol of White supremacy and Christian nationalism and, therefore, off-bounds by decent people. The Betsy Ross flag, the Gadsden flag, the Texas “Come and Take It” flag, the “OK” hand gesture, and now the rosary. Do these symbols belong to right-wing extremists because they use them at times? Apparently, they do, if you ask left-wing commentators. Eventually, I suspect the U. S. flag will be added to the list, if it hasn’t already.

This is, of course, absurd. Panneton ought to take his fear-mongering Catholic-baiting and try to sell it at the average Catholic parish around the country. He won’t get very far before he receives odd “what are you talking about?” looks, or is quietly asked to leave. Catholics take their symbols very seriously, and the rosary is a sacramental with deep, emotional attachments because it is a prayerful reflection on the life of our Lord, His sacrifice for us, and His victory over death, as well as a devotion to the Blessed Mother that is second to none. For Panneton to warn about Catholic so-called Christian nationalists co-opting this beautiful devotion is creating a problem that doesn’t exist. What, are we supposed to stop praying the rosary because some kook on the extreme right prays his or her rosary? Not a chance. I will continue to pray my rosary, especially when I find myself walking the streets of any major city in hopes of finding protection against the thugs and murderous gangs that represent a real threat to our safety.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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