What is a nun? Not what it used to be.

Historically a term for women who live in cloistered communities and devote their lives to God, the word “nun” apparently no longer has to involve religion, given the coverage of “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” the LGBTQ advocacy group at the center of a controversy involving the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Without irony, numerous reports about the controversy have made reference to the “trans nuns” and “queer nuns” of the group, which was invited — then uninvited, then re-invited — to be honored at Dodger Stadium June 16, at the Dodgers’ 10th annual “Pride Night.”

In fact, it’s doubtful the group’s membership includes any actual nuns at all.

But the nonprofit has adopted the persona of religious sisters in their bawdy and irreverent ministry to people in the LGBTQ community. Defenders call their performances “satire” and “camp,” even though they more often resemble “profane.”

Even satirically, masquerading as a faith group is a form of cultural appropriation, which is usually a serious sin to the woke. Few, if any, would dare to so openly disdain, say, Hasidic Jews or Muslims or minority groups in the public square, as Princeton scholar Robert P. George pointed out on Twitter. But we have reached the stage in our cultural devolution where women can be broadly made fun of, especially if they’re religious.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are not nuns. And regardless of what good they may have done over the past 30 years, visiting hospices and “lecturing ... about the risks of unsafe sex,” the most extreme of their attention-getting antics are rightly decried as blasphemy. Bill Donohue of The Catholic League released a list of the group’s most offensive stunts since its founding in 1979. The milder ones include burning the pope in effigy, staging a “Hunky Jesus” contest every Easter, and equating a certain contraceptive to the Eucharist.

The First Amendment, of course, guarantees the right to even free speech we don’t like, and no one is suggesting that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence go to jail or even be disbanded. They’re free to insult people of faith on city streets and on the internet, just like the Satanic Temple, an IRS-recognized “church,” is free to hold SatanCon and complain about the misdeeds of the religious.

But the City of Angels — a moniker which refers to the city’s Catholic mission roots — is home to 4 million Catholics, many of whom rightly see the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s edgiest acts as an affront to their sincerely held faith. So, too, the Dodgers’ plan to honor the group with a “Community Hero” award.

Twitter screenshot

Defenders of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — and the Dodgers — are displaying a remarkable depth of tone-deafness. Writing for USA Today, for example, columnist Mike Freeman said members of the group “are more decent, and have done more good, than you, me and likely many of the people who don’t like them.”

Only God, of course, can be the arbiter of such a claim, but juxtapose that statement against the “Sister” acts circulating on social media, and it’s very hard to make the argument for “decent.”

Freeman, who said he’s a former Catholic, decries “fake outrage,” which shows the troubling chasm that is at the heart of so many cultural divides today. In our political silos, it’s not uncommon for Americans to surround themselves with people (both real and virtual) who share their political beliefs.

But with the growth of “spiritual nones” and the decline of religious participation, people are also ensconced in spiritual silos, evident when they don’t understand why a Catholic might be deeply offended that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are getting a “Community Hero” award when they’ve built their brand by mocking the likes of Mother Teresa.

There is a straight line from the growth of religious nones to the emergence of areligious nuns, with ever fewer people daring to speak for people of faith.

Related
Perspective: We’re watching ‘post-Christian America’ unfold in real time

In response to the Dodgers’ choice to respect the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and their supporters more than the adherents of the largest religious denomination in the United States, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone tweeted, “Disappointing but not surprising. Gird your loins.”

The phrase is biblical and means to prepare yourself for battle, although some Christian commentators like Rod Dreher believe the battle is already over and people of faith have lost. “Churches are not remotely prepared for what is rapidly coming to us,” Dreher said last year. Indeed, when James Davison Hunter popularized the term “culture war” in 1991, no one envisioned that 30 years later, the culture wars would have moved to the dictionary, to the definition of what a “woman” or a “nun” is.

Nor would anyone have predicted how rapidly the cultural cachet of the religiously devout would fall, even as America rightly became more sensitive about the representation of marginalized and minority groups. And the ranks of nuns are in steep decline, with the average age of a Catholic sister around 80.

So what is a nun? The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence say, as they did in a recent tweet, it’s the likes of “Foxy Mary” and “Hunky Jesus.”

But most Americans, I imagine, still say a nun is this: