You don’t have to look very hard to find strong anti-religious sentiments in 2016 America. Look no farther than, for example, the latest WikiLeaks email dump to get a good flavor for what modern-day anti-Catholic bigotry looks like. In one of the leaked email exchanges, Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta, and Clinton’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, can be seen emailing with someone from a D.C. think tank and calling Catholicism a “bastardization” of the Christian faith and a religion in dire need of a “Catholic Spring” to put an end to its “middle ages dictatorship,” among other things.
“They [Catholics] must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy,” read one line from the leaked exchanges.
We bastardized, backwards, gender-enslaving, robotic-thinking Catholics can hardly be blamed for wondering what church they went to that turned them into such sour, anti-Catholic grapes, but it certainly wasn’t the same church as Mark Wahlberg, known affectionately to fans as “Marky Mark.” Just days before the WikiLeaks scandal broke, the actor made the rounds with a homemade video about the positive role Catholicism has played in his life.
Into a charmingly shaky and grainy camera, a long-haired Wahlberg praises the role of his faith, and priests in particular, in helping him to be a better man. He recorded the video as an opening greeting for a priest conference taking place in his hometown of Boston. He says things like:
“I want you to know my support for your work to foster vocations to the priesthood, because I want my children and future generations to have good priests in their lives, just like I had,”
“My Catholic faith is the anchor that supports everything I do in life. In my daily prayers, I ask for guidance, strength in my vocation as a husband and as a father,”
“Growing up in Dorchester, I got myself into trouble now and then but I always had a priest to stick by me.”
No grand overtures, no fancy theology, no sarcasm. Just a down-to-earth man saying thanks to other men for their often-unappreciated work.
And this is not the first time Wahlberg has publicly credited his faith with helping him to become a better person. In 2014, he reached out to a man he struck so hard during an attempted robbery as a teenager that he left the man blind. The incident landed the young Wahlberg in jail. Decades later, the actor credits his faith with helping him to finally seek forgiveness from the victim, and in doing so, find personal healing and peace himself.
Wahlberg’s narrative is particularly striking in that it cuts completely against the typical Hollywood narrative about religion, which is usually a dumbed-down version of what can be seen in the Podesta email, which was itself incredibly ignorant.
But Wahlberg’s positive experience with religion is overwhelmingly still the norm in America. A major poll conducted last year by the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life found that more than three-fourths of Americans are still affiliated with a religion, and of that group, two-thirds agree with the assertion that religion is “very important” in their lives. These are people who’ve had a pastor help them through marital difficulties, or a priest give a dying loved one last rites, or a rabbi console them when they lost a baby to miscarriage. These are people who enjoy potluck meals with fellow believers on the weekends, Shabbat dinners with other families on Friday nights, or simply doughnuts and coffee with other like-minded singles in the basement after Mass on Sunday. These are people looking for love and community and meaning in their lives, and who found it in part through the heroic and barely compensated work of faith leaders.
And so in a twist, those of us put off by the grossly-uninformed caricatures of religious people in Hillary’s leaked campaign can turn to the unlikeliest of places, a celebrity, for a more realistic and uplifting taste of the role religion can play in the everyday lives of all people, famous and powerful, or not.