Rod Dreher

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Russell Moore, Jesus Freak

Nice Emma Green piece in The Atlantic about Russell Moore who, now that Jerry Clower is dead, is just about my favorite Southern Baptist. Excerpts:

The idea behind this sort of Moral Majority-era politics was clear, Moore writes in his new book, Onward. “Most Americans agreed on certain traditional values: monogamous marriage, the nuclear family, the right to life, the good of prayer and church attendance, free enterprise, a strong military, and the basic goodness of the American way of life. The argument was that this consensus represented the real America.” Presumably, everyone else—gays, divorcees, pacifists, socialists—lived outside the “real America.”

If such a “real America” ever existed in more than Leave It to Beaver re-runs, it certainly doesn’t exist now. Gay marriage is legal. Church attendance is down. Most TV shows are less about happy homes than the hectic, diverse tumble of American family life; the cultural preoccupation with perfectionist conservatism has largely come to an end.

Some see this as a loosely defined form of “secularization.” These are the people, Moore said, who approach him after church and ask, fearfully, whether Christianity is dying. “Behind that question is an assumption that Christianity is a sub-culture of American life,” he told me. “I think what is dying is cultural, nominal Christianity, and I don’t think we should panic about that. I think we should see that as an act of God’s grace.”


It may be more effective to package Christianity in terms of God and country and tradition, rather than sin and Christ and blood, but in Moore’s eyes, it’s less authentic. As he wrote in his book, “We were never given a mission to promote ‘values’ in the first place, but to speak instead of sin and of righteousness and judgement, of Christ and his kingdom.”

Moore is making an argument for embracing Christian strangeness. “Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture,” he writes. “Let’s embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation.”

This word, “freak,” is both jarring and effective: It’s a high-school-hallway diss, all hard-edged consonants and staccato contempt. Christians have reclaimed this word before; the 1960s-era “Jesus freaks” mixed gospel teachings with hippie counter-culture. In many ways, Moore wants to capture a similar mentality, one of standing against and apart from culture, rather than trying to win it over. This is not quite the same as “the Benedict option,” as Rod Dreher has called it—a strategic retreat from culture and fortification of communities that share similar values. As Moore pointed out, the core of being an evangelical is evangelism, spreading the good news of Christ; there’s no low-church history of monastic retreat like there is in the Catholic or Orthodox traditions. But it is a strategic reorientation: to see the world through the eyes of the outcast, rather than the conqueror.

Read the whole thing. It was a treat to read this sitting in the Charlotte airport, in transit to Nashville, where Moore will preside over the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2015 national conference — this year’s theme is the Gospel and politics. With Moore at the ERLC helm, you can bet that this year’s event is going to be something new and bold. Tomorrow, I’m going to be on a panel with Ross Douthat, Michael Gerson, and Erick Erickson to talk about Christianity and political engagement. In what time I have, I’m going to make a pitch for the Benedict Option.

Maybe Emma Green is onto something in distinguishing between the Benedict Option and what Moore is teaching, but I’m not quite sure. I look forward to meeting him (at last) at the ERLC event, and maybe talking this through. It could be that Moore’s strategy is simply what the Benedict Option looks like from an Evangelical point of view. I have said that there can’t be a single Benedict Option, and that the Benedict Option will have to be tailored to specific traditions.

A couple of clarifications: I don’t think any lay Christian gets excused from evangelizing; it’s what Christians of all kinds do, though obviously Evangelicals have a particular emphasis on that. I have said it before and I will say it again: lay Christians are not monastics; the Benedict Option will draw from monastic spirituality and customs, adapting them to life in the world.

Second, it’s also true that while Catholics and Orthodox have had monasteries since virtually the beginning of Christianity, America has relatively few of them; monasticism has made little or no impression on American Christianity, so it’s not like we have many living models of monasticism to draw from. We Catholics and Orthodox are more like Evangelicals in that sense, though we do have monasticism in our traditions, so it’s not entirely foreign to us.

What I would say to Moore and other Evangelicals is that in order to be faithful to their calling as Evangelicals, they are almost certainly going to need to cultivate both the detachment that Moore rightly calls for, but also undertake retrenchment — that is, thicken their communal bonds, and recommit to the kind of spiritual practices (or develop new ones!) that reinforce our identity as Christians, and as freaks. Once again, let me point to church historian Robert Louis Wilken’s 2004 essay, “The Church As Culture,” especially these parts:

Can Christian faith—no matter how enthusiastically proclaimed by evangelists, how ably expounded by theologians and philosophers, or how cleverly translated into the patois of the intellectual class by apologists—be sustained for long without the support of a nurturing Christian culture? By culture, I do not mean high culture (Bach’s B-Minor Mass, Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew); I mean the “total harvest of thinking and feeling,” to use T. S. Eliot’s phrase—the pattern of inherited meanings and sensibilities encoded in rituals, law, language, practices, and stories that can order, inspire, and guide the behavior, thoughts, and affections of a Christian people.



Material culture and with it art, calendar and with it ritual, grammar and with it language, particularly the language of the Bible—these are only three of many examples (monasticism would be another) that could be brought forth to exemplify the thick texture of Christian culture, the fullness of life in the community that is Christ’s form in the world.

Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin. At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life, the culture of the city of God, the Christian republic. This is not going to happen without a rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture. The unhappy fact is that the society in which we live is no longer neutral about Christianity. The United States would be a much less hospitable environment for the practice of the faith if all the marks of Christian culture were stripped from our public life and Christian behavior were tolerated only in restricted situations.

If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.

In talking with my Evangelical friends, I tell them that I sometimes envy the zeal that Evangelicalism has for Christian living. That’s something we from the older traditions can learn from them. But some of them complain about how thin and shallow Evangelical culture is, and how much of it is built on enthusiasm and emotionalism. To the extent that that is true, they could learn from us the habits of Christian culture and practices. We Christians must all reacquaint ourselves with all these things, if we are going to make it through what is to come.

OK, time to board the flight to Nashville. I’m really looking forward to meeting new Evangelical friends at the conference. We are all in this together, all of us Jesus freaks.


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The Counterfactual Game

Would that he had remained a failed writer, without a publisher (Marci Schauer/Shutterstock)
Would that he had remained a failed writer, without a publisher (Marci Schauer/Shutterstock)

I didn’t post much yesterday because I was tied up much of the morning helping my dad, and for much of the afternoon taking the boys into Baton Rouge for math class. Afterward, we went to see the new Mission Impossible movie (instantly forgettable, but fun), then out for pizza, and then undertook the long drive back to the country. It was especially fun for me because this is the first thing I’ve been able to do in a long time without guilt that I had not yet finished the revision of my Benedict Option book proposal (which I did on Sunday night, and also the sample chapter).

On the way home, we came up with a game that I later thought would be a fun diversion for readers on this blog. The question is this: If you could go back to the [fill in the blank] century and prevent a single event from happening, which one would you choose, and why?

The only restriction was that the event has to be a generally applicable one, not something that affects only your family. In other words, you couldn’t say, “I would have prevented Great Aunt Sadie from marrying that Bible salesman.” But you can’t be too general, as in saying, “Prevented World War II.”

We all agreed that for the 21st century, we would have prevented 9/11. Here were my others:

20th Century: This was a difficult one. My first thought was, “Prevent the Versailles Treaty from being so harsh on Germany” — this to stop Hitler from coming to power. But that still would have left Lenin, and then Stalin, in place. Better to stop World War I, which led to the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of Nazism, the Second World War, and the Cold War. What’s the best way to have done this? Prevent the assassination of the Austrian archduke doesn’t seem sufficient. Something else would have set off that powder keg, don’t you think? I’m still thinking of my answer. Was there a single event, the prevention of which would have spared us World War I? I don’t know that there was. Perhaps preventing in some way the extremely ambitious Kaiser Wilhelm II from succeeding his father would have been the most effective single act to prevent the suicide of the West. But I don’t know for sure.

19th Century: The world would have been better off, all things considered, if Karl Marx had never found a publisher.

18th Century: Preventing the French Revolution would have been for the best. Hard to know where to start with this one, given how complex the causes were. My guess would be preventing the failure of the King’s finance minister, Necker, to stabilize royal finances and to put the economy on more stable footing. If memory of my reading serves, Necker was thwarted by various aristocrats. Had the state’s finances been in better shape, it’s possible that necessary reform and transition away from absolute monarchy could have happened peacefully and gradually. But I kind of doubt it. As with World War I, it seems that the awful thing was bound to happen. Similarly with Marx and his publisher, if Marx himself had not lived, would the conditions of the times have produced a Marx anyway? That’s a rather Marxist question, come to think of it.

We didn’t get beyond that in the game, so I’ll stop there. If we had continued on to the 17th century, I would have said something about stopping the wars of religion, and in the 16th, the Reformation. But there too, the causes are so complex that it seems impossible to imagine the one thing that would have kept it from happening. The corruption in the Roman Catholic Church that led to the Reformation built over a long period of time. Seems to me that the more one digs deeply into these games, the more it seems that with these major events, things could hardly have happened any other way.

I”m traveling this morning to Nashville for the ERLC conference. More later.

UPDATE:Please confine your counterfactuals to specific centuries.

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Republicans & Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards says she's never seen anything more depraved than people filming what happens in her clinics. Really. (American Life League/Flickr)
Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards says she's never seen anything more depraved than people filming what happens in her clinics. Really. (American Life League/Flickr)

So, as expected, the Senate’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood failed on a procedural vote. All the Democrats (except one, Joe Manchin) voted to protect the fetal-mining abortionists, and all the Republicans (except one, Mark Kirk) voted to strip the organization of federal money. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who opposes funding Planned Parenthood, was in New Hampshire campaigning for an office he cannot hope to win.

Some of my conservative friends on social media are angry at the Republicans for failing here, but I think their anger is massively misplaced. They needed 60 votes for debate on the bill to proceed, but there aren’t enough pro-lifers in the Senate to make this happen. Note well that except for the honorable exception of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, the entire Democratic Senate cohort — including the son of the late, great Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania — voted to keep federal dollars going to an organization that kills unborn children, chops them up, and sells their body parts.

This is true:

The fact is, ours is a country that prefers to keep funding Planned Parenthood. We will cannibalize unborn children in the hope that someday, we might live longer because they died. There is nothing that will stop Planned Parenthood, because maintaining sexual autonomy and liberty depends on honoring what they do. Our media believes this, certainly. So do many Americans.

This takes incredible nerve:

[Planned Parenthood head Cecile] Richards said, “The depravity of these tactics and the invasion — the willingness of this group to invade the most personal, private space and to violate the medical relationships — I’ve never seen anything as low.”

Who is this ghoul to speak of depravity? The organization she runs kills unborn human beings, dissects their bodies, and sells them! Watch the videos, for God’s sake! This woman says she has never seen anything lower than undercover investigators filming what actually goes on inside the clinics she runs, and showing others how they dissect and pick through the bodies of unborn children, and negotiate their sale. Think about that.

It’s hard to get around the fact that a majority of the American people just don’t want to know, or rather, are prepared to live with it, in the name of defending Science and the Sexual Revolution.

Note well that the Democratic Party is the party that embraces these atrocities, and calls them progress. I am not accustomed to defending the Republicans, but when it came right down to it, and US Senators had to declare themselves, every one of the Democrats (except one) sided with the abortionists and fetal miners.

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Stanley Fish: ‘Scalia Told Us So’

I miss Stanley Fish’s column on the NYT’s website. In a new piece in HuffPo, the law professor and postmodernist provocateur points out the inconvenient truth that Justice Scalia was right about where gay rights jurisprudence was taking us. Excerpts:

Two recent items in the news reflect the continuing fallout from Obergefell v. Hodges, the case barring states from restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman. Senator Ted Cruz is holding hearings in response to what he takes to be the “lawlessness” of the decision. And in the New York Times, law professor William Baude asks a question many have been asking in the wake of Obergefell: “Is Polygamy Next?” (Are we sliding down a slippery slope?)

So the questions are: (1) Is the majority decision, as Justice Scalia charges in his dissent, “lacking even a thin veneer of law” and full instead of “the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie”? (2) Or is Scalia’s dissent, as his critics charge, “unhinged,” “bitchy,” “juvenile” and “hysterical” (all words that have been applied to it)? And (3), is it inevitable that the majority’s arguments will lead to the legalization of plural marriage? I would answer “yes” to (1) and (3),” no” to (2).


Scalia’s complaint against the Obergefell majority — although he doesn’t put it this way — is that once again a moral perspective has been allowed to displace the process of patient legal analysis. This time the morality is different; not the stern old testament morality that ruled in Bowers and was overruled in Lawrence, but the morality of love, identity, intimacy, spirituality, aspiration, dignity, self-expression and respect — all words Kennedy uses and words that bear the mark of the vaguely new age sensibility Scalia derides when he refers to the “opinion’s showy profundities” that are, in fact, “profoundly incoherent.” What exactly, he asks, is the legal import of intimacy and spirituality, and “who ever thought” that they were “freedoms” of a kind that merited constitutional protection? How can this claim be traced by a legal analysis to clauses in the Constitution? How can the court justify the creation of “‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention?”

There may be answers to these questions, but, Scalia insists, the court doesn’t really answer them. It instead proclaims the virtues of the moral perspective it “really likes” while heaping scorn on the moral perspective it “really dislikes.”

Once the court’s preferred morality is in place, it is hard to see what stands in the way of deriving from it a case for the protected constitutional status of polygamy, also a form of intimacy that could be said to express the dignity, identity and self-expression of those who engage in it. The legal judgment against polygamy was established in an opinion that cited as its chief support the older morality the court has now rejected. In Reynolds v. United States (1879), a Mormon’s claim that he had a right to engage in plural marriage because his religion commanded it was disallowed. Polygamy, the court declared, “has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe… and was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people.” In short, we white Protestants just don’t do that kind of thing. “It is impossible to believe,” the court continued, that the “constitutional guaranty” of the free exercise clause “was intended to prohibit legislation” criminalizing plural marriage.


Now it would seem to be impossible to believe anything else. With the prohibition against interracial marriage struck down, the prohibition against gay sex struck down and now the prohibition against gay marriage struck down, the prohibition against plural marriage cannot be far behind. To be sure, there are some problems that would have to be thought through or re-calibrated, such as community property laws, inheritance laws, custody laws, probate laws, tax laws and the like. But that’s just a matter of tinkering with the details. The main principle — the protection of “our most profound aspirations” (Kennedy) — demands its extension to polygamy.

Read all of it. Fish doesn’t take a position one way or another on the advisability of polygamy, but only points out that Scalia got it right in his prediction of where the language and principles in the pro-gay jurisprudence (starting with Lawrence in 2003) is taking things.

Jonathan Rauch, the prominent gay rights advocate, says this is nonsense. There is an extensive literature on the social harm done by polygamy — something that does not exist regarding same-sex couples. And that means that it would be easy for opponents of legalizing polygamy to demonstrate in court that there is a rational basis for outlawing the practice.

Rauch wrote his bit responding to Freddie de Boer’s Politico essay arguing that now gay marriage is here, there’s no reason to keep polygamy illegal. Here is de Boer responding to Rauch’s criticism (as well as social conservative arguments against polygamy). Excerpts:

Second: this is not how rights work. Typical of the kind of jury-rigged arguments that progressives tend to employ against polygamy, this implies a profound, drastic deviation from conventional political morality. Are people really rights consequentialists in this way? If I proved that segregated schools produced better test schools, would Jon Rauch say we should resegregate them? If social science demonstrated that interracial marriages had poor demographic outcomes, would Rauch favor recriminalizing those marriages? I certainly hope not. But that’s an absolutely necessary logical consequence of his argument. I cannot stress this enough: if you say that social science compels us to deny polygamous marriage, you have to also say that you’d oppose gay, interracial, or any other kind of marriage if that empirical research existed. I find that a fundamentally bankrupt vision of political morality. And there are examples everywhere. There is research that suggests a great number of socially undesirable outcomes associated with religious belief. So do Rauch or other people who quote the social science on polygamy think that we should start shuttering the synagogues, temples, and churches? Of course not. They don’t actually believe in rights consequentialism. They just endorse that viewpoint here because of their fear of polygamy.

On the point that polygamy would be too complicated to implement in our society:

Logistics are never sufficient reason to deny human rights. Again: this is not how rights work. The Americans with Disabilities Act has cost our country hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of hours of effort and energy. And yet it’s one of the best pieces of legislation in our history, precisely because rights exist regardless of their short-term convenience. Again: is this logic applied in any other case? If someone proved that desegregation was really expensive, would that be sufficient reason to establish it? If gay marriage was logistically difficult? No. No, none of the people making this claim would oppose gay marriage or desegregation or any other rights-based claim on logistical grounds, because again, these complaints are not the product of a coherent legal worldview but of short-term, ad hoc, “any port in a storm” argumentation.

To be sure, de Boer is a true left-wing radical, one who believes that the state has no right to tell anybody who they can and cannot marry, and how many people can and cannot exist within a marital bond. Obviously I think he is profoundly wrong about that, but that is beside the point. What is useful about de Boer’s posts, and Stanley Fish’s — and, if you get right to it, Antonin Scalia’s — is how they reveal the logical thinness of the anti-polygamy position. It seems to me that it all goes back to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s “sweet mystery of life” declaration in the majority Planned Parenthood vs. Casey opinion:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

If that were really true, then we would have anarchy. Nobody actually believes that it’s true. But a majority of the Supreme Court believes it is true when it comes to matters of sexual liberty, including abortion and same-sex marriage. Scalia’s point all along has been that the Court is imposing its own moral views over an older moral code, all the while pretending that it’s engaging in dispassionate legal reasoning. But this is what liberal elites do all the time. In fact, de Boer is often very good at discerning this from the left. More on which in a subsequent post.

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Baby Irene came home from the hospital a couple of days ago. Doctors initially expected her to spend much longer in the NICU, but she has made amazing progress. Thanks so much for your prayers.

There’s an Orthodox tradition that a mother and her newborn don’t return to church until forty days after the birth, and then they do so with a special ceremony. So we didn’t see Mat. Anna and Irene in church today, nor were we able to meet Irene at coffee hour, because she still needs some time for her immune system to get stronger.

The Go Fund Me account for the Harringtons is just shy of $55,000. Thank you for your generosity. Believe me, it is deeply needed, and deeply appreciated. This past week, the congregations of nearby St. Pius X and St. Isidore the Farmer Catholic churches took up a collection for the Harrington family, and brought $8,600 to them to help with medical expenses. That is the Body of Christ, isn’t it? God bless those people. I’m told by local Catholic friends that Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church here in St. Francisville took up a collection for Baby Irene and her family in today’s masses. Thank you, thank you, friends.

After the liturgy today, Father Matthew told the congregation how overwhelmed he and his family have been by the kindness of so many in their crisis. He said that a woman showed up at the church yesterday with a bunch of groceries for them. “Who are you?” he asked her.

“Just a friend,” she said, then drove away.

“That is love,” said Fr. Matthew. Truly, it is. Again: thank you.

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This Will Be Edifying

In the invitation to her funeral, Bobbi Kristina Brown’s auntie Pat Houston asked mourners to hold off on the flowers, and instead donate to her — Pat Houston’s — charity. Classy! Meanwhile:

Bobby Brown’s sister vowed the family feud was “far from over” between their family and the late Whitney Houston’s kin during the memorial service for her niece, Bobbi Kristina Brown.

A frustrated Leolah Brown walked out of the St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta on Saturday and spoke to reporters gathered outside. She was angry because of some words that were said during the funeral by Pat Houston, the sister-in-law and former manager of Whitney Houston.

“I told her that Whitney is going to haunt her from the grave,” Leolah Brown told reporters outside the church.

Before she went back inside the church, Leolah Brown expressed her love for Bobbi Kristina and Whitney Houston. But she ultimately spewed more venom toward Pat Houston, calling her a “phony” and not a “blood relative.”

“It’s just getting started,” she said.

O Fortuna!

“I have sought escape in the Prytania on more than one occasion, pulled by the attractions of some technicolored horrors, filmed abortions that were offenses against any criteria of taste and decency, reels and reels of perversion and blasphemy that stunned my disbelieving eyes, shocked my virginal mind, and sealed my valve.” — Ignatius J. Reilly, on the old-school New Orleans movie theater

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View From Your Table

Ely, the Fens, Cambridgeshire, England

Ely, the Fens, Cambridgeshire, England

It’s been a grim week. Here, have a new James C. VFYT. Erstwhile commenter Thursday is in England at the moment, and met up with James C. for some picknicking:

No eels I’m afraid, but Thursday and I did enjoy refreshing Pimm’s Cups, mature extra-sharp cheddar, Wensleydale cheese with cranberries, smoked ham, Melton Mowbray pork pies, crusty bread from the market, and (to top it all) confiture Ferber courtesy of Thursday’s recent stay in France.

That’s Ely’s grand Romanesque-Gothic cathedral in the background, with the famous Lantern Tower on the right.

Summer in the English countryside. Can anything beat it?

UPDATE: Lost VFYTs from CatherineNY’s trip to England this summer. Look!:

Stoke Gabriel, Devon, England

Stoke Gabriel, Devon, England

Lunch by an inlet of the River Dart in Stoke Gabriel, Devon, England. That is the thirteenth century church tower, where there was a bell-ringing competition in progress, on the hill.

Wells, England

Wells, England

CatherineNY writes:

Celebrating the Fourth of July with a glorious view of Wells Cathedral.

That was the same day I was in Lyon having a glorious view of quenelles, chicken in morels sauce, and James C.’s andouillette!

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Fetus Miner’s Friends in High Places

A reader flags this story:

Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s top health-care policy adviser is linked — by blood — to a figure at the heart of the Planned Parenthood baby part-selling scandal.

Charlotte Ivancic, Boehner’s health policy director, is the older sister of Cate Dyer, the founder of Stem Express, the California-based company caught buying aborted fetus parts from Planned Parenthood.

Ivancic, formerly Rep. Paul Ryan’s point person on Medicare reform, advises Boehner on all aspects of health care reform.

“Dyer says one of her biggest inspirations is her sister, Charlotte Ivancic,” according to a Sacramento State University alumni magazine. “She too had aspirations of being doctor, but took a detour and is now an esteemed healthcare law expert.”

Et tu, Mr. Speaker? Conservatives need to hear from you on this.

UPDATE: To clarify, no, I don’t think Boehner needs to fire his aide, and in fact I think it would be outrageous if he did so. I only believe that Boehner should make a public statement saying that this won’t affect his handling of legislation arising out of the Planned Parenthood scandal. That’s all.

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‘Institutionalism’ & the Church

A Catholic friend of the late Orthodox priest Matthew Baker’s writes with reference to the Archdiocese of New York problems post:

I noticed that a number of commentators took the opportunity to express their satisfaction that they left the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy and so thereby avoid these kinds of problems. I appreciate your effort to rein in the enthusiasm – as noted the East has had its share of scandals, though never so great. I am reminded, however, of one of the last conversations I had with Fr. Matthew Baker before he died. In the course of the conversation we came to discuss the ills of the Catholic Church, which we both agreed was best labeled ‘Institutionalism’.

Now, ‘Institutionalism’ affects both traditional and progressive Catholics in equal measure. It is one might say – to borrow and misuse a term – the “structural sin” of Catholicism, living in its very bones, in seminaries, parish structures, canon law, etc. Institutionalism can be summarized as something like: ‘the excessive trust in institutional structures – including a complacent belief that the institution takes care of itself, an expectation that those vested with institutional authority can and will exercise sound if not perfect judgment, and finally, and most importantly, the conviction that all problems are institutional ones to be solved by ever-more refined rule-amending, making, or keeping’.

The most obvious manner in which institutionalism manifests itself is in attitudes toward the papacy and ‘creeping infallibility’ (in which the pope is assumed to be infallible even in his ordinary teaching). However, one can also see it among progressive Catholics and their attitude toward Vatican II as well as their oft- vocalized belief that we need a Vatican III to ‘address contemporary problems’ or that this or that rule needs to change. It is this obsession about the institution that makes mincemeat of both the tradition of faith (we need to adapt to the contemporary worldview or else no one will go to church anymore!), cover up evil (we cannot let anyone know about this or else no one will come to church anymore!), or place sole responsibility on Church institutions for failure (if it weren’t for those progressives at Vatican II, everyone would still be coming to church!).

Now, institutionalism is not the ‘structural sin’ of Orthodoxy – at least not today (there’s reason to suppose it was in the Byzantine period). And therefore, one shouldn’t really expect Orthodoxy to go awry in these institutional scandals, and certainly not compromise the tradition in order to adapt to the era (though I wouldn’t necessarily claim this as a intellectual or moral victory on the part of Orthodoxy – your experience of Western Modernity is in some respect much more as outsiders and late-comers).

As I discussed with Fr. Matthew, we concluded that the ‘structural sin’ of Orthodoxy today is probably something more like ethnocentrism, nationalism, or perhaps even chauvinism. The scandals here are often less intrusive to the daily life of Orthodox in the US but scandals they remain. One thinks of the number of Orthodox jurisdictions in major US cities. One thinks of the Russian Orthodox support of Putin at the expense of Ukrainian Orthodox (and Catholics, of course). One thinks of the general attitude of the Church of Greece to ecumenism, but also to the Ecumenical Patriarch. These are real scandals that have no parallel in the contemporary Catholic Church. It will be a scandal if the upcoming Orthodox Synod accomplishes virtually nothing because of intransigence and pride of only a few participants. Yes, that may mean the tradition is preserved, but is the Gospel?

None of this is to excuse the deep failures of the Catholic Church militant, nor is it to vilify Orthodoxy. The ‘structural sins’ of our churches are something to consider, however, in light of the efforts of the Benedict Option. How do we avoid exacerbating these tendencies as we turn inward and cultivate our small communities? How do we avoid developing a reactionary defensiveness of ‘our own’ in the face of external critique (and there will be much of it)?

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The Beautiful Lie

Here’s a new 11-minute video from the Planned Parenthood expose. If you can’t watch the whole thing, start at the eight-minute mark:

Brandon McGinley writes about America’s “Potemkin life” exposed by the Planned Parenthood scandal. Excerpt:

We were on the patio of a casual restaurant within sight of the gentle Beaver River. Between us and the riverbank was a pristine lawn, crisscrossed by walking trails. The weather was mild and clear. Around us, people conversed contentedly while dining wholesomely and affordably, in perfect security. To all appearances, here was the very image of the good society: pleasant, safe, and prosperous.

I mused aloud: Unless a person is steeped in a tradition of moral theology, the notion that our culture is in a state of decay will sound simply incredible. The secular citizen might acknowledge an injustice here, a minor outrage there—but the MacIntyrean concept of a new Dark Ages? Madness.

But as the ongoing Planned Parenthood revelations demonstrate, our Potemkin society conceals more than just notional corruptions.


Like Justice Kennedy, we use soft language to conceal hard truths. There are the guilty euphemisms of the abortionists: “products of conception,” “tissues,” “choice,” and so on. And there are the more popular evasions that, while less perverse, still serve to obscure uncomfortable realities. We call the workings-out of our particular rendition of international capitalism “natural”; we look at a permanent underclass and speak of “freedom”; we give nearly every innovation, regardless of its human cost, the name of “progress.”

Oh yes. Oh yes, indeed. When I go on about the Benedict Option, there are lots of people of good will who genuinely have no idea what I’m talking about — meaning, why I see a need for this. Planned Parenthood, and the popular culture’s reaction to it, is one big reason why. The moral insanity exemplified by the rapid deconstruction of the family, and even of gender identity, and the near-irresistible propaganda machine calling it progress, is another. These are by no means the only things, but they are indicative of America’s advanced state of decadence.

At this point, I don’t see much point in arguing with those whose ideological or moral commitments prevent them from seeing what is clear to us Christians (and Muslims and Jews) who are steeped in the tradition of Abrahamic moral theology. Yes, we have to keep fighting politically to protect ourselves and our communities, but the more important fight is to build up the institutions, communities, and ways of living that will endure what is, and is to come. We have to resist. You don’t do that by simply having the right attitudes and principles. You have to live them out, consistently, in community.

But action must first begin with contemplation. We have to contemplate, without sentimentality, the character of what we are facing. David Bentley Hart:

I wish, that is, to make a point not conspicuously different from Alasdair MacIntyre’s in the first chapter of his After Virtue: in the wake of a morality of the Good, ethics has become a kind of incoherent bricolage. As far as I can tell, homo nihilisticus may often be in several notable respects a far more amiable rogue than homo religiosus, exhibiting a far smaller propensity for breaking the crockery, destroying sacred statuary, or slaying the nearest available infidel. But, love, let us be true to one another: even when all of this is granted, it would be a willful and culpable blindness for us to refuse to recognize how aesthetically arid, culturally worthless, and spiritually depraved our society has become. That this is not hyperbole a dispassionate appraisal of the artifacts of popular culture—of the imaginative coarseness and cruelty informing them—will quickly confirm. For me, it is enough to consider that, in America alone, more than forty million babies have been aborted since the Supreme Court invented the “right” that allows for this, and that there are many for whom this is viewed not even as a tragic “necessity,” but as a triumph of moral truth. When the Carthaginians were prevailed upon to cease sacrificing their babies, at least the place vacated by Baal reminded them that they should seek the divine above themselves; we offer up our babies to “my” freedom of choice, to “me.” No society’s moral vision has ever, surely, been more degenerate than that.

Wesley J. Smith predicts that none of these exposés will matter. Our society wants what it wants, and will stop at nothing to get it. It’s hard to keep fighting when you don’t see much hope for victory. You do it because it’s the right thing to do, and even small victories deny something to the enemy of life.

UPDATE: In this latest video, a Planned Parenthood official discusses how they tell the public that they’re getting fetal body parts for “research,” but concedes that it’s also a business — something that they don’t want the public to know. She also says that PP’s lawyers have it all figured out to protect them from accusations of selling fetal parts across state lines (though she concedes that’s what they’re doing). At the 8:30 part, the doctor takes the undercover investigators into the lab, where they pick through the dismembered body of an aborted fetus. The doctor talks about maximizing the profit by selling the body in pieces, as opposed to whole. She talks about how they have to work to keep the body from looking “war-torn.” And the medical assistant at the end, picking through the body parts with tweezers, says excitedly, “And another boy!”

Not “a male fetus” — a “boy.” It was a boy, and now, because Planned Parenthood killed him, what was a boy became material for scientists to pick through looking for bits they can use.

This is what we do in our country.

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