DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a recent interview, Stephen Bannon reminisced about his childhood and lauded his Catholic upbringing.
The half-hour interview was published on YouTube by Breitbart News last week. At one point, author Keith Koffler asked the former White House chief of staff about the role of Catholicism in his life, especially his childhood. Koffler noted that Bannon was an altar boy at a Catholic Church during his childhood in Richmond, Virginia.
Bannon said that his grandmother was brought up Southern Baptist but converted to the Catholic faith. "When Southern Baptists convert to Catholicism ... she was like hard core. At one point in time, she was a daily communicant. She's the one who, you know, really kept the family focused on Catholicism."
The grassroots conservative political leader noted, "My dad was very devout, and my mom was. So we came from a very observant Catholic family."
He also noted that a few of his uncles and other family members "became religious, either monks or priests."
The interview was in wake of Koffler's recent book, Bannon: Always the Rebel. Koffler and Bannon joked around at the beginning of the interview, commenting on how much time Koffler has already spent interviewing Bannon.
The book is purported to reveal "How Bannon's core values come from his Catholic faith, his working-class background and his service in the Navy." It also is supposed to address "How Bannon's faith helped him stop drinking."
In last week's interview, Bannon recalled stories his father told about the persecution of Catholics by American racist organization the Ku Klux Klan:
That's one thing about these guys like the Klan and the neo-Confederates. My dad would always tell us stories about how when he was growing up, priests were actually tarred and feathered by the KKK. Back in the 1930s, the KKK was quite prevalent and virulently anti-Catholic. Not as bad as they were, obviously, very racist and anti-Semitic. But they were anti-Catholic also.
When Catholics are a minority like that, Bannon observed, "The Catholic Church becomes a cultural thing. To culturally be a Catholic is almost as powerful as the religious part of it because the church is such a community when you grow up."
He added, "You're raised Catholic, and it stays with you forever."
At an earlier point in the interview, Bannon spoke highly of the "Catholic family life" he grew up in, noting he was "one of five kids." His mother stayed at home to rear the children, while his father was a "foreman" who "worked his way up to a lower-level white-collar management."
He said his childhood was "unremarkable" by 1950s standards, comparing it in jest to cliched family sitcoms from the era.
The Breitbart executive said his family, although not formally well-educated, was "very bookish." He recalled being a bit of a bookworm growing up but admits he was also known for getting into fights.
His parents were "Kennedy Democrats," especially his mother, but she was "not a fire-breathing liberal."
He said the 2008 Great Recession opened his eyes to the exploitative behavior of society's elites. He saw politicians and businessmen doing nothing to help the lower and middle class. This stirred up his desire to become a conservative grassroots political leader.
Bannon feels his Catholic upbringing informed his "populism," teaching him that free-market capitalism must be set up in a way that upholds the dignity of workers:
It's always struck me, the more I've gotten involved in conservatism, the way people addressed economics. And I realize you've got the 'Protestant work ethic' and everything like that. I call it 'Cato-Austrian economics,' and it cuts so across the grain of how you're raised as a Catholic. There's an enlightened form of capitalism; and then there's this whole bare knuckles [attitude], 'everything's related to net present value, everything's related to return on investment.' It's just not the way Catholics think; it's not the way Catholics are brought up to think.
The former aid to President Trump claimed his Catholicism taught him to be critical of some conservatives and libertarians who are scrupulous about financial data and economic numbers, to the point of ignoring the dignity of the human person. He argued that some Republicans are "obsessed about GDP growth or about the economy."
In the interview, Bannon described his particular blend of conservative politics as a kind of "populist nationalism." He also spoke out on a few occasions against illegal immigration. At one moment he argued, "We've got to stop illegal immigration, because that's suppressing wages at the working-class level."