A Facebook friend posted to his page:
“Shut up! No way – you’re too smart! I’m sorry, that came out wrong…”
The reaction a good friend and Evangelical Christian colleague had when she found out I’m a Catholic.
I had to laugh at that, because it recalled conversations I’ve been part of (alas) back in the 1990s, as a fresh Catholic convert, in which we Catholics wondered among ourselves why any smart people would be Evangelical. After I told a Catholic intellectual friend back in 2006 that I was becoming Orthodox, he said something to the effect of, “You’re too smart for that.”
It’s interesting to contemplate why we religious people who believe things that are rather implausible from a relatively neutral point of view can’t understand how intelligent religious people who believe very different things can possibly hold those opinions. I kept getting into this argument with other conservative Christians when Mitt Romney was running for president. They couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him because he’s a Mormon, and Mormons believe “crazy” things. Well, yes, from an orthodox Christian point of view, their beliefs are outlandish, but come on, we believe, as they do, that the God of all Creation, infinite and beyond time, took the form of a mortal man, suffered, died, arose again, and ascended into heaven — and that our lives on this earth and our lives in eternity depend on uniting ourselves to Him. And we believe that that same God established a sacred covenant with a Semitic desert tribe, and made Himself known to mankind through His words to them. And so forth. And these are only the basic “crazy things” that we believe! Judge Mormons to be incorrect in their theology, fine, but if you think they are somehow intellectually defective for believing the things they do that diverge from Christian orthodoxy, then it is you who are suffering from a defect of the intellectual imagination.
My point is not to say all religious belief is equally irrational, or that it is irrational at all. I don’t believe that. A very great deal depends on the premises from which you begin. Catholics and Orthodox, for example, find it strange that so many Evangelicals believe that holding to the Christian faith requires believing that the Genesis story of a seven-day creation must be taken literally, such that the world is only 7,000 years old, and so forth. But then, we don’t read the Bible as they do. I find it wildly implausible that they believe these things, but I personally know people who are much more intelligent than I am who strongly believe them. I wouldn’t want these folks teaching geology or biology to my kids, but to deny their intelligence would be, well, stupid.
We could go on all day with examples from all over. I can also point to you things that atheists believe that are incredible, but they insist on them, and call anyone who doesn’t believe them idiots. (In fact, atheists are the worst at insisting that those who don’t share their beliefs do so from a lack of intellect; see The Brights.)
The more interesting questions have to do with why people believe what they believe, even though those beliefs seem irrational or at least implausible. We all do this, and part of doing it is thinking that those who believe as we do are the rational ones who see the world clearly. For religious intellectuals (or atheist intellectuals who think about religion), there’s a particular temptation here, because they tend to understand the world through ideas and syllogisms. The truth is, people more often come to embrace the ideas that they do primarily because of what’s going on in their hearts, not in their heads.
In the Russian Orthodox tradition, there is a character type called “fool for Christ”, defined like this:
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:18-19 KJV)
One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference. The spiritual feat of foolishness for Christ was especially widespread in Russia. –(Excerpted from The Law of God, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY: 1993)
St. Xenia of St. Petersburg was a fool for Christ. The great contemporary Russian novel Laurus features a couple of fools for Christ. The great contemporary Russian film Ostrov (The Island) is built around a fool for Christ. I have found that some American readers of Laurus find the fools for Christ in the narrative to be the most difficult element of the novel to understand. I can easily see why. The concept is ultimately about humility, and reminding us that God sometimes reveals himself through those the world considers foolish. For Christians, it is critically important that God chose not to enter into time as a king, a high priest, or a theology professor, but as a poor man from Nazareth. That Catholic, that Evangelical, that Orthodox — or that Hindu, Pagan, Muslim, Jew, even atheist — may be closer to the Kingdom of God than those who believe they hold the right beliefs realize. This doesn’t make the heterodox person correct in what their minds have concluded, but it does draw our attention to the primacy of the conversion of the heart. The Orthodox abbot Tryphon writes:
Of all humanity’s faiths we must know that we have perhaps more, but we must never judge those who are not Orthodox. We rejoice in the knowledge they do have, but must not be filled with such pride as to think we have the right to judge, correct or teach those who are not Orthodox.
This does not mean that we see Orthodoxy as anything less than the very fountain of Truth, and the Church Christ founded. But we must not allow ourselves to think we have the right to correct or teach anyone. We must honor other peoples beliefs and not give in to the prideful position that we have the right to teach or correct others. The truth that is found within Orthodoxy must be shared by living our faith in love, and not in judging or correcting others. Truth, wherever it is found, is Orthodox Truth, and if other religions embrace some of these truths, we must rejoice and give thanks for what they do have.
People who love God and are trying to live holy lives pleasing to Him, according to the knowledge they have been given, are to be respected. They may not have the fullness of Apostolic Truth, but if they are believers, and are trying to live a life pleasing to God, we must give thanks to Christ for what they do have. They have God as their Father, just as do we. But they can have the Church as their Mother only if they see in us how Orthodoxy has impacted our lives, and made us a loving people who do not judge others, but only love everyone.
Note well that the abbot is not saying that the non-Orthodox Christians are right in their belief (“They may not have the fullness of Apostolic Truth”), but that they must be respected. I don’t know Abbot Tryphon’s work, so I don’t want to impute to him views he may not have. Taken too far, the opinion he shares above would seem to justify refusing to evangelize. That is not justifiable for Christians. On the other hand, he does seem to be saying here that the better way to evangelize is by living out what we know to be true in love, and bearing witness that way, instead of through polemics. I recall reading a NYT piece from just after the Rwanda genocide, which was a Christian vs. Christian slaughter. The piece talked about how some Rwandan survivors left Christianity and became Muslim after that, finding it impossible to believe that Christianity was true, given they way they had seen Christians behave. We find now reports of Muslim refugees to Europe converting to Christianity for the same reason. It’s about the heart, people, not the head. The desires of the heart must be rightly ordered by reason, but the desire for God starts in the heart.
Anyway. I can report some good news to you. Evgeny Vodolazkin e-mailed a couple of days ago to say he has signed a major film deal for Laurus. I can’t give you more details just now, but the film will be made in Russia, in the Russian language. Evgeny still owns the film rights for North America and Europe. I am thrilled that this great and astonishing novel will be made into a film by Russians, but I hope that some American filmmakers will read it and try to do the same here. If Scorsese’s version of The Silence succeeds artistically and commercially, it will give Laurus a chance to be made in America.
Ross Douthat highlights the stark and meaningful difference between Pope Francis’s ideals on communion for the divorced and remarried, and what they actually mean in the Archdiocese of San Diego. Douthat credits theologian Rocco Buttiglione with pointing out serious and painful marital situations that Amoris Laetitia is designed to address: a modest stretching of church discipline for the sake of mercy. But the progressive
Archbishop Bishop of San Diego, Robert McElroy, uses the same logic to more or less abandon standards entirely. Excerpt from Douthat’s characterization of the Archbishop’s Bishop’s teaching:
This is a teaching on marriage that might be summarized as follows: Divorce is unfortunate, second marriages are not always ideal, and so the path back to communion runs through a mature weighing-out of everyone’s feelings — the feelings of your former spouse and any kids you may have had together, the feelings of your new spouse and possible children, and your own subjective sense of what God thinks about it all. The objective aspects of Catholic teaching on marriage — the supernatural reality of the first marriage, the metaphysical reality of sin and absolution, the sacramental reality of the eucharist itself — do not just recede; they essentially disappear.
Which means that is not at all a vision under which a small group of remarried Catholics in psychologically difficult situations might receive communion discreetly while they seek to sort those situations out. It is, in fact, by implication almost the reverse: The only people who might feel unready for communion under Bishop McElroy’s vision of spiritual maturation are Catholics whose lives are particularly chaotic and messed-up, who don’t feel sure at all about where they stand with God, to say nothing of their kids and ex-spouses or lovers or boyfriends or whomever. Is Sonia the prostitute from Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” ready for communion in the diocese of San Diego? Maybe not; maybe she should wait a while. But the respectable divorced father of three who gets along well enough with his ex-wife and has worked through all his issues in therapy can feel comfortable receiving ahead of her. This is not communion for the weak; it is communion for the stable and solid and respectable.
Here’s the deeper meaning of all this:
At prior points in the Francis-era Catholic controversies I have noted with a certain alarm that the “liberal” side and the “conservative” side don’t seem to have much of a theological language in common; we argue past each other because we almost seem to belong to different Christian communities, with different baseline assumptions all the way down to the question of who Jesus actually was. But what is striking about reading Buttiglione and McElroy back-to-back is that here we have two supporters of Pope Francis who seem to be speaking different religious languages — Buttiglione trying to interpret “Amoris” in consonance with older Catholic ideas and categories, the bishop of San Diego essentially acting as those those ideas and categories have been superseded; Buttiglione envisioning a change that affects a few; the bishop of San Diego envisioning one that’s clearly for the many; Buttiglione laboring to treat “Amoris” as a modest development of doctrine; the bishop of San Diego entirely unconcerned with potential contradiction with the Catholicism of the ancient and very recent past.
Perhaps both men’s readings of Francis’s intentions are plausible; certainly the pope’s public commentary on marriage is now extensive enough to admit of multiple interpretations, modest and sweeping and everywhere in between.
But you will note that only one of these men is a bishop, a public teacher of the faith, a Francis appointee. I am uncertain of the wisdom of the dubia offered by the four conservative cardinals, fearful (unlike certain heighten-the-contradictions traditionalists) of what might happen in the church if the pope actually clarified his teaching and intentions. But if Pope Francis does not mean his apostolic exhortation to be implemented along the sweeping, come-all-eventually-back-to-communion lines proposed by Bishop McElroy, he should say so, and soon. Because in the diocese of San Diego, there may be something called the sacrament of matrimony, but the church itself plainly does not believe in Catholic marriage anymore.
Read the whole thing. This is why Douthat and the other Catholics critical of Pope Francis in this matter are not simply a bunch of grumps who want to be mean to fellow Catholics in difficult and painful marital situations (as Douthat notes in his post, his parents are divorced, as are at least one set of his grandparents). It’s that within the theological economy of Roman Catholicism, you can’t do what the Pope has done without there being logical consequences. And no amount of wishing them away will change that.
This principle is not simply an issue for Catholics. People like me have been saying the same thing about things like same-sex marriage. What looks on the outside like a relatively small adjustment of the marriage discipline for the sake of accommodating same-sex couples in fact destroys the idea of traditional marriage, Christian and otherwise. It is true that this formal shift could not have happened without certain facts on the ground having already been established. Similarly with Catholics, the Pope’s move in one sense only ratifies what is already happening in Catholic parishes in many, many places. Nevertheless, the formal granting of same-sex marriage rights, and its legitimization in law, institutionalizes the Sexual Revolution’s radical effect on the concept of marriage. Similarly — if Douthat et al. are correct — Francis’s Amoris Laetitia is a radical document that, however mercifully intended, removes a doctrinal and conceptual keystone that held up an already-strained arch.
[READ TO UPDATE.4, PLEASE]
About a decade ago, before he had invented a career and a brand for himself as a professional racist, I met Richard Spencer for a drink at a bar. He was home for the Christmas holiday in Dallas. Something I said, I don’t know what, indicated that I thought he was a Christian. He politely explained that he was not a Christian, that he, in fact, despised Christianity, and considered himself a Nietzschean.
He might want to rethink that, thanks to Vox’s (not alt-rightist Vox Day’s; Vox’s, as in, the Washington-based liberal site) helpful holiday explainer. Here is the headline:
And here is a key line:
Why, I bet Chip and Joanna Gaines have an Advent calendar hanging somewhere in their Berchtesgaden-on-the-Brazos!
Honestly, these people. Honestly. They can’t help themselves, can they?
UPDATE: Let me be clear that the overall article is quite informative and perfectly fine. The point I’m trying to make clear is that the writer and her editors thought inserting the Third Reich reference was somehow sensible, or even relevant, to telling a story about the Advent calendar. It is a very small thing that tells a much larger story.
UPDATE.2: A reader comments:
The author of the Vox article is a Christian who also teaches at The King’s College in NYC, which last I checked, is not an SJW hothouse. She’s a fine writer who used to work for Christianity Today. Whether people like the piece or not, please let’s put the pitchforks down.
UPDATE.3: Another reader says this post is unfair to the writer:
Just an FYI, I’ve known the author for some time. She’s an orthodox (small o) Christian who teaches at King’s College and writes for Christianity Today. I can assure you, she is not anti-Christian. I understand why the line above is creating a kerfuffle, but this is one of those cases where I think unclear editing is the culprit, not anti-Christian sentiment. Read the whole piece. It’s actually quite interesting and well informed, despite the line above.
That makes sense.
UPDATE.4: These comments made me re-read the entire Vox piece, and I have to confess, with considerable embarrassment, that I jumped the gun on it. In context, the Third Reich line is not out of place, as the author explains earlier in the essay that the Nazis tried to co-opt the Advent calendar for their own illegitimate, un-Christian purposes. My knee jerked on first reading, and I inaccurately and unkindly mischaracterized the Vox piece, based on a too-quick reading, in addition to my own biases. I would like to take the whole piece down, but I am leaving it up to show how I am at times guilty of the same faults I find in my opponents. I didn’t name the writer of the piece, but her name is Alissa Wilkinson. I offer her, and Vox, my sincere apology. I thank you readers for pointing out my error.
— John Schindler (@20committee) December 2, 2016
You have no doubt seen BuzzFeed’s hit story on Chip and Joanna Gaines, the Waco, Texas, couple who have become cable superstars for their Fixer Upper show. Here’s how it was presented on the site:
Do I have to even quote the story to tell you what’s in it? This is despicable trolling. David French nails it. He says that the Gaineses great sin, in the eyes of Buzzfeed, is that they go to a church whose pastor supports orthodox Christian teaching:
To a certain brand of secular leftist, all of this is just horrifying. It’s pure bigotry. It’s just as bad as racism. It marks you as a terrible person no matter any of your other qualities. Are you someone who has enriched and “revitalized” your community (as the Gaineses have)? Are you someone who treats people with kindness and compassion? Are you someone who possesses remarkable artistic talents? None of it matters if you’re guilty of wrongthink about sex. Let’s back up a bit to make it crystal clear what’s happening in this incident and in the culture writ large. Christianity is a religious tradition built not just on the foundation of a theological and intellectual tradition that reaches back thousands of years, it’s also built on the extraordinary lived experience of belief and obedience to God. For many millions of Christians, the question of whether there’s “evidence” God exists is strange. He makes His presence felt in their lives in countless ways.
But the secular progressive Left won’t hear any of this. With their trademark combination of arrogance and stunning ignorance, they’ll tear down your faith and replace it with a philosophical dumpster fire, a belief system that’s four parts emotional and physical impulse, two parts junk psychology, and one part corrupted intellect. It’s about desire and ambition only partially modulated and limited by consent. Do what you want with your body and your life, so long as you’re not harming anyone else and have the consent of your partners. Wait, that’s not entirely right. You can harm and kill your unborn child. You can rip your family to pieces pursuing your heart’s desires. You can leave spouses in the dust and children in their cribs if you decide you love a different person — especially if that person is of the same sex. Then you’re brave and courageous. At the end of the day, I suppose, the Left believes there’s really only one relevant rule of sexual conduct: Don’t rape.
This is exactly right. Does it not occur to these pissy little Robespierres of the left-wing media that this is one of the reasons people voted for Trump? That they’re sick and tired of never knowing where the left is going to move the line next, and they are going to be called out in public, shamed, possibly lose their job or their livelihood — all because they hold to a religious belief that was ubiquitous only 20 years ago, and which is still common today? Jesse Singal gets it:
1/ This really dumb thing keeps happening and I wish it would stop. Me or some other psych writer will express what is a firm consensus,
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
2/ which is that calling people racist or otherwise haranguing them for their views is very unlikely, on a purely pragmatic level, to be
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
3/ effective as a means of changing minds or accomplishing specific political goals like — wild hypothetical — preventing a dangerous
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
4/man with a severe personality disorder from gaining access to nuclear weapons. To which half the woke liberals on the internet respond,
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
5/sneeringly, “Oh, so you want to *coddle* racists? You want to make out with Ku Klux Klan members? Maybe *you’re* the real racist.” This
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
6/ is such an asinine misrepresentation of a fairly straightforward argument about political psychology and persuasion science that it
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
7/wouldn’t dignify a response if it weren’t for the fact that so many people seem to have latched onto it to comfort themselves. I wonder
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
8/8 if there’s any connection between this knee-jerk tendency and the fact that liberalism is in tatters in the U.S.? Nah, can’t be.
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) December 1, 2016
Remember back when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ came out, and there was a big to-do in the media about anti-Semitism, and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Gibson’s far-right, Holocaust-denying father espouses? I remember an interview — maybe it was with Diane Sawyer — in which the interviewer pressed Gibson more or less to denounce his father. Gibson got his back up and warned her to back off. I strongly sympathized with him in that moment. It is undeniable that Hutton Gibson is an anti-Semite, and it’s inevitable that his son would be asked about his father’s views. But to push for any man or woman to denounce his flesh-and-blood like that on national television — well, it was repulsive, and as disgusting as I find Hutton Gibson’s views, there was something fundamentally inhumane in what the interviewer did.
Similarly with this. It’s fair to assume that the Gaineses agree with their pastor, but for all we know, they don’t. But there is a lot more going on in a church, and in a churchgoer’s relationship with his or her church and its leadership, than whether or not they agree on the question of homosexuality. Our national media is utterly obsessed with this question, and with demonizing anyone and any institution that takes the “wrong” side of it. There are people I love in my family, among my circles of friends, in churches I’ve been a part of, whose views I don’t agree with, and in some cases strongly disagree with. But I love them, and will defend them, because human beings are not simply the sum total of their beliefs, and certainly not the sum total of a single belief.
I once knew a pastor, himself a member of an ethnic minority group, who had befriended an older man who was well known for his racist beliefs. It startled me when I learned that the two were friends, and I asked the pastor how he dealt with that. He said to me, “He’s not so bad once you get to know him.” As I type these words, they seem so banal in print, but I can hear the pastor’s voice as he spoke, and it was filled with such human warmth. This was not a pastor deceived about the wickedness of the old racist’s belief. But the pastor had gotten to know the old man well enough to see past it, to the complicated fellow sinner that man was. That made an impression on me, a good impression. It set an example for me to follow.
To be perfectly clear, I think the Gaineses have nothing to apologize for or be ashamed of if they agree with their pastor. The point is that whether or not they do is their own business — not the business of a bunch of dirtbags at BuzzFeed who are trying to generate outrage and pageclicks. The Gaineses have not made this an issue; Ben Smith and his liberal witch-hunters at BuzzFeed have. Brandon Ambrosino, writing in The Washington Post, talks sense. Excerpts:
I am currently planning my wedding, and I’ve never been happier. I believe that God brought me and Andy together and that God celebrates our love. I also believe that our marriage will offer a powerful testimony to skeptics that queer love can be God-honoring, and even sacramental.
I have heard from a few well-meaning Christian friends that they feel they can’t attend my ceremony. I think that’s silly, I think it’s theologically misguided, and it hurts me deeply because it makes it seem as if they care more about abstract principles than me, their friend and family member.
Still, I do not think these conservatives should be shamed or mocked. I do not think they should be fired. And I certainly do not think they should be the butt of a popular BuzzFeed article.
A 2016 survey from Pew Research Center shows public support of same-sex marriage is at an all-time high of 55 percent — and it is steadily growing. But the same polls tell us that nearly 4 out of 10 Americans — no small number! — are not on board with it. The minds at BuzzFeed are not naive: They know that the Gaineses and HGTV are going to have to come out with a public statement on same-sex marriage. They also know that if the statement is not 100 percent supportive of same-sex marriage, the network will be pressured to drop them.
Think about that for a moment. Is the suggestion here that 40 percent of Americans are unemployable because of their religious convictions on marriage? That the companies that employ them deserve to be boycotted until they yield to the other side of the debate — a side, we should note, that is only slightly larger than the one being shouted down?
BuzzFeed is probably at the forefront of discussions surrounding diversity in entertainment. But do their reporters think diversity refers only to skin color? Does ideological diversity count for nothing, especially when it is representative of, again, a sizable chunk of the American public? It’s hard to make the case that the website promotes this kind of diversity, particularly on same-sex marriage. In June, Ben Smith, the publication’s editor in chief, told Politico that “there are not two sides” on the issue.
Another concern I have with the story is that it validates everything that President-elect Donald Trump’s supporters have been saying about the media: that some journalists — specifically younger ones at popular digital publications — will tell stories in certain deceitful, manipulative ways to take down conservatives. (And really, I can’t for the life of me imagine any other intention of the Gaines story.)
The whole piece is worth reading. Ambrosino goes on to criticize his own side, saying that this kind of garbage is exactly why people hate the liberal media. He’s right about that. If people have to worry that they’ll wake up one morning and find themselves and their pastors turned into hate objects in the media because they or the people in their church community hold perfectly ordinary views that make the tweeting Torquemadas buzz like a nest of hornets, they’re going to fight back somehow.
BuzzFeed and its ilk are Christian-hating bullies. The best way to fight back against them is not to give a damn what they say. Trump has proven that. They can’t shame you into silence if you don’t give them the power to — and if others aren’t intimidated by their bullying either. And believe me, if the shoe were on the other foot, and Breitbart tried to force a conservative celebrity couple to take a public stand against their pro-gay pastor, or a religiously conservative father to denounce his gay activist son, I would feel exactly the same way. Some things ought to be beyond politics.
If not, though, where does this stop?
I am just glad that McKay Coppins is escaping that slopjar site and is going to The Atlantic.
"When they go low…we go high." This is what the high road looks like. https://t.co/OMJC5Vnc0E
— C. C. Pecknold (@ccpecknold) December 2, 2016
Readers, I’d like your advice.
I’m going to a conference in Trento, a small city in northeastern Italy next June, and taking my 17-year-old son Matthew with me for a little father-son vacation after the conference. Matt is interested in German culture. I thought after the conference, we would take five days for a little sightseeing in Austria and Germany.
Vienna is a city I’ve always wanted to see, and Matt would like to go too, but it seems a bit too far for the short time we have together. (A trip to Vienna and Budapest seems just about perfect, but too hard to pull off in such a short period of time. Am I wrong?) It makes a lot more sense to go up to Innsbruck, not too far away from the conference site, then continue on to Munich for the end of the trip.
Let me ask you readers who know that part of the world (I’ve never been to Austria or to that part of Germany): how would you plan the trip? Would two days in Innsbruck and three in Munich be the best choice — or vice versa? Or, should we take four days in Munich and a short one-day visit to Innsbruck? Or something else. And what would you plan to do in each city?
We won’t have a car, but will be traveling by train. For me, the hungry medievalist, it’s all about churches, castles, and cooking. Matt, who is very much into technology, has said he’s keen to see the Deutsches Museum in Munich. I like that we’re going to a part of the world and into a culture — Tyrol and Bavaria — that neither one of us has visited before. Please let me know your advice on what you think we should plan to do — and, for Your Working Boy, what to eat and drink.
He’s done it again. The honey badger in the Kremlin just moved more advanced missiles into position on Russia’s most westerly fringe to own the Baltic Sea. This week Moscow admitted it has deployed cutting-edge Bastion anti-ship missiles to the Kaliningrad exclave, north of Poland, plus equally advanced S-400 air defense systems to shoot down aircraft and missiles as far as 250 miles out.
With this move, the Kremlin has established control over the Baltic Sea, most of Poland and the Baltic republics—NATO members all. Russia now can exert anti-access and area denial—what the Pentagon calls A2AD for short—at will, meaning that any NATO aircraft or ships entering the region can be hit long before they get close to Kaliningrad. For Western military planners, this is nothing short of a nightmare, since Moscow can now block NATO reinforcements headed east to counter, say, Russian military moves on the vulnerable Baltic republics.
Schindler is no Putin apologist, but he explains why Russia is doing what it’s doing. There is a strong cultural core driving Russian policy — one that US policymakers seem incapable of discerning:
It’s not like Putin and his minions have been hiding what they believe. Putin himself is very much a KGB man—what Russians call a Chekist—cunningly conspiratorial to his bones. Yet over the last decade, he has become an open Russian nationalist with strong religious overtones. Regime outlets pontificate nonstop about the evils of the West, castigating our decadence and depravity, reflecting a nationalism that is deeply grounded in Orthodox Christianity.
Putin has talked warmly about what he calls “spiritual security“—which means keeping versions of Christianity other than Russian Orthodoxy out of the country—even stating that Russia’s “spiritual shield” is as important to her security as its nuclear shield. His inspiration for this comes from Orthodox thinkers, above all Ivan Ilyin, who hated the West with vigor and passion. This anti-Western worldview seems strange and even incomprehensible to most Americans, its reference points are utterly foreign to us, yet is grounded in centuries of Russian history and spiritual experience.
In this viewpoint, which I have termed Orthodox Jihadism, the West is an implacable foe of Holy Russia with whom there can be no lasting peace.
This is not a new thing in Russian history, of course, but Putin has revived it powerfully. More:
The anti-Western animus of this ideology would be difficult to overstate. There are rational-sounding complaints—for instance, Russian harping on NATO expansion up to their borders—but much of it boils down to depictions of the post-modern West as Satan’s project designed to subvert traditional religion and family life. These complaints sound a lot like what hardline Muslims say about the West. Just like Islamists, Kremlin ideologists claim that, since the West is spiritually attacking Russia and Orthodoxy with feminist and LGBT propaganda, all of Moscow’s responses—including aggressive military moves—are therefore defensive.
To be fair to Putin and his ilk, we’ve been doing a good job of making their anti-Western polemics seem plausible. Under President Obama, the State Department really has pushed feminism and LGBT rights hard—including in Russia. Washington’s official effort to coerce small, impoverished countries like Macedonia into accepting our post-modern views of sexuality has raised Russian ire, not least because Macedonia is a majority-Orthodox country.
The bottom line is that Putin’s Russia is driven by a state-approved ideology which hates the post-modern West and considers us a permanent existential threat. President Obama’s insistence that we can’t be in a new Cold War with Russia because there’s no ideological component to the struggle is completely and utterly wrong. The Kremlin sees that spiritual-cum-ideological struggle clearly, and says so openly.
Here’s the deal: Putin may be a sneaky, conniving man, and a dangerous enemy to have. But he’s not entirely wrong about the postmodern West. One doesn’t have to credit Putin’s sanctity to concede this.
Depending on what you believe to be the heart and soul of a nation, we certainly are an existential threat to some nations and ways of life, whether we mean to be or not. As I’ve said before, the Islamist ideologist Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfather behind al Qaeda, was a cutthroat and a crackpot, but he was not wrong to say to Muslims that the West, as the bearer of what we call “modernity,” poses an existential threat to Islam. For a calm, rational explanation why this is true, read Emma Green’s recent interview with Shadi Hamid. Excerpt:
Green: You emphasize the importance of taking the “metaphysical” propositions of Islam seriously, over and above the material circumstances of violence. What is lost in focusing on the material rather than ideological factors in the politics of Muslim countries?
Hamid: As political scientists, when we try to understand why someone joins an Islamist party, we tend to think of it as, “Is this person interested in power or community or belonging?” But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation. It’s about a desire to enter paradise. In the bastions of Northeastern, liberal, elite thought, that sounds bizarre. Political scientists don’t use that kind of language because, first of all, how do you measure that? But I think we should take seriously what people say they believe in.
It’s interesting that we’re having this conversation at a time when many people, including outside the Middle East, are loosing faith in technocratic, liberal democracy. There’s a desire for a politics of substantive meaning. At the end of the day, people want more than economic tinkering.
I think classical liberalism makes a lot of sense intellectually. But it doesn’t necessarily fill the gap that many people in Europe and the U.S. seem to have in their own lives, whether that means [they] resort to ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics. All of these things give voters a sense that there is something greater.
What we can learn from the Middle East can also apply to some extent to other regions that are struggling with similar questions of what are the ultimate purposes of politics.
“A politics of personal meaning.” And: “A sense that there is something greater.” And: “ultimate purposes” This is exactly right. The thing is, we don’t want to derive ultimate meaning in life through politics. That way lies madness. But we want our politics to embody some sense of meaning, to reflect a sense that there is something greater. In short, as someone (Kirk, I think) once said, all political problems are at bottom religious problems.
The Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko is deeply not a fan of Vladimir Putin, but he has written (in his brilliant new book The Demon in Democracy) and said in this interview he did with me in TAC, that the liberal democratic West comes up quite short in the politics of meaning. Excerpt:
The problem is a more fundamental one because it touches upon the controversy about what constitutes the Western civilization. The liberal progressives have managed to impose on our minds a notion that Christianity, classical metaphysics, etc., are no longer what defines our Western identity. A lot of conservatives – intellectuals and politicians – have readily acquiesced to this notion. Unless and until this changes and our position of what constitutes the West becomes an integral part of the conservative agenda and a subject of public debate, there is not much hope things can change.
You can’t resist Putin’s weaponized Russian Orthodoxy or the weaponized Islam of the Muslim world’s violent radicals with Justice Kennedy’s Sweet Mystery Of Life™ philosophy. Here’s Stanley Hauerwas:
Consider, for example, the hallmark sentence of the Casey decision on abortion: “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.” This is exactly the view of freedom that John Paul II so eloquently condemns in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. A view of freedom like that embodied in Casey assumes, according to John Paul II, that we must be able to create values since freedom enjoys “a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom.”
In contrast, John Paul II, who is not afraid to have enemies, reminds us that the good news of the Gospel, known through proclamation, is that we are not fated to be determined by such false stories of freedom. For the truth is that since we are God’s good creation we are not free to choose our own stories. Freedom lies not in creating our lives, but in learning to recognize our lives as a gift. We do not receive our lives as though they were a gift, but rather our lives simply are a gift: we do not exist first and then receive from God a gift. The great magic of the Gospel is providing us with the skills to acknowledge our life, as created, without resentment and regret. Such skills must be embodied in a community of people across time, constituted by practices such as baptism, preaching, and the Eucharist, which become the means for us to discover God’s story for our lives.
If you ask people if they want to live in a social order that requires them to pass no judgment when a feminist punk rock band invades a cathedral and desecrates it by turning a sacred space into a stage for political protest, you should not be surprised when they don’t consider that free speech of that sort is inviolable. It is not obvious to everyone that all decent people must be on the side of Pussy Riot, even if it means, in effect, standing alongside Vladimir Putin. It is not self-evident that the value of free speech, which Pussy Riot supposedly defended by its stunt in the church, is more important that the value of honoring God in a holy temple.
Putin is quite clearly using traditional morality and religion as a geopolitical strategic weapon — but again, that does not make us right and him wrong about the fundamentals. Patriarch Kirill, the Russian Orthodox patriarch, told Russian media recently:
What’s happening in the Western countries is that, for the first time in human history, legislation is at odds with the moral nature of human beings. What’s good and evil? Sin and righteousness? These could be defined in both religious terms and non-religious terms. If you take a good character from English, American, or Russian fiction, you will see that all of them possess the same qualities. Why? We have different cultures and different political systems, but for all of us good is good, and evil is evil, and everyone understands who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. So how do we distinguish? With our heart, with our moral nature. This moral nature, created by God, served as a foundation for the legislation which is designed. Laws defined moral values in legal terms, telling us what’s good and what’s bad. We know that stealing is bad and helping people is good, and laws define what stealing is and what the suitable punishment for it is.
Now, for the first time in human history, the law allows something that doesn’t correspond to our moral nature. The law contradicts it. It’s not the same thing, of course, but we could compare this to an extent to the apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws – when the law went against inherent moral values, people rebelled. They knew it wasn’t right; it was artificial; it was part of some ideology and not in sync with their moral nature. So the Church can never approve of this. We say that the Church can never redefine good and evil, sin and righteousness, but we don’t condemn people who have different sexual preferences. It’s on their conscience and it’s their business, but they shouldn’t be discriminated against or punished, as used to be common practice in some states. However, under no circumstances should this be accepted as a social norm no different from the social norm that stems from our moral nature, meaning marriage between a man and wife who create a family and have children. That’s why we believe this new trend poses a significant threat for the existence of the human race. The Church has to address this and say it’s a bad thing, but we’ve seen that authorities in some countries have been trying to silence clergymen. One Protestant pastor went to jail for calling same-sex marriage a sin in his sermon. Again, this is very reminiscent of what was happening under Soviet totalitarianism. In the countries that declare their commitment to freedom of speech, you can get punished for expressing your opinion. That’s a dangerous trend, and I hope it will peter out and the natural order of things will prevail. I don’t even want to think about what might happen to us otherwise. Our prayers and our work are so that humanity lives on and follows the principles dictated by our moral nature.
Patriarch Kirill does not have to be the second coming of his predecessor St. Tikhon of Moscow to be correct in this assessment. And he is correct. Meanwhile, the United States government is preparing American scholars to go abroad and undermine local traditions in the name of LGBT liberation. The United States government has contracted with George Soros to recruit culture-war janissaries to tear down traditional Orthodox culture in the Federal Republic of Macedonia. Let’s take a look at John Schindler’s 2014 post about Putin as head of the global “anti-WEIRD coalition.” Excerpt:
That’s social science shorthand for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic – and nobody is WEIRDer than Americans. In the last several decades many Americans, and essentially all our elites, have internalized a worldview based on affluence, individualism, and secularism that makes us unique, globally speaking. So much so that we seem unable to comprehend that there actually are opposing viewpoints out there.
Barack Obama, by virtue of his diverse ethnic and religious background and elite education, is almost an ideal stand-in for the WEIRD demographic, as he embodies so many things WEIRDos admire: education, affluence, diversity, progressive social views, etc. He comes close to being almost the perfect post-modern American, which perhaps is why so many Americans of that bent adore him deeply. Thus when President Obama says he detects no ideological rivalry with Putin’s Russia, he undoubtedly speaks the truth as he sees it.
Americans of all stripes have a well-honed ability to ignore inconvenient facts, and our better educated citizens seem particularly prone to this (as I noted with our “expert” inability to see what North Korea believes, even though they aren’t shy about it). At root, I suspect Obama and many Americans refuse to accept the in-our-face reality of Putin and his regime because they represent a past version of ourselves, caught up in retrograde views that are entirely unacceptable to our elites, therefore they pretend they do not exist, because they don’t actually exist in their world.
[It] is important to note that the post-modernism about cultural and social matters that has become the default setting in the West in the last couple decades has had a hard time putting down roots in Eastern Europe. It’s an odd fact that living under the Old Left (i.e. Marxism-Leninism) inoculated Eastern Europeans from much of the New Left of the 1960s and after, with its emphasis on gender, sexuality, and race. “Critical Studies” didn’t get far with people who had to live under the KGB; indeed, East Bloc secret police in the 1980s viewed all this – the feminism and the gay rights stuff especially – as bourgeois deviance and a subversive Western import. Since 1990, Western countries have made actual efforts to import that, but it’s met a lot of resistance, and doesn’t make much of an impression outside educated circles; which is why when educated Westerners meet, say, educated Poles, “they seem just like us” – because they have accepted, verbatim, what we’ve told them is normative in a “developed” society.
ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] propaganda portrays a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style. The practices of “sexual minorities,” to use the Kremlin term for LGBT lifestyles, come in for harsh criticism. …
Faith aside, it’s not hard to see why Putin wants to fight off Western values based on individualism in the sexual realm that have unquestionably led to lower birthrates, which is something that Russia, which is already facing demographic disaster, cannot afford. The existence of the country itself is at stake, so we should not expect Putin to back off here, especially because he may actually believe all this as a matter of faith, not just natalist practicality.
The West, and the United States especially, have helped cause this by active promotion of the post-modernism that Russia now rejects. It is not a figment of Moscow’s imagination that the U.S. State Department encourages feminism and LGBT activism, at least in certain countries. When Washington, DC, considers having successful gay pride parades a key benchmark for “advancement” in Eastern Europe, with the full support of U.S. diplomats, we should not be surprised when the Kremlin and its sympathizers move to counter this. My friends in Eastern Europe, most of whom are comfortable with gay rights and feminism, have nevertheless noted to me many times that it’s odd that the U.S. Government promotes such things in small, poor Eastern European countries it can intimidate but never, say, in Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, there remains the question of just how universal post-modern Western values actually are outside educated elites. There is ample evidence that many average people in Eastern Europe who fear Russia nevertheless are closer to the Kremlin’s positions on cultural matters than to America’s. In Georgia, where loathing of Russians generally and Putin particularly is universal, resistance to LGBT rights and feminism remains deep and broad, with the support of the Orthodox Church, while much the same can be said of Moldova, where fears of Russian invasion are acute, but so are fears of Western social values. Neither is this resistance limited to the East. It can be found as well in Central Europe, among NATO and EU members. In Poland, the Catholic Church continues to resist post-modern sexual values – what they collectively term “gender,” meaning feminism plus gay rights – leading one bishop to term this “ a threat worse than Nazism and Communism combined.” Strongly Catholic Croatia last December in a national referendum rejected same-sex marriage by a two-thirds margin, to the dismay of progressives across Europe.
As most readers know, I am an Orthodox Christian. My deep concern over the relationship between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church is not that the ROC will exercise undue influence over the Russian state, but that the ROC will become Russian nationalism at prayer. I am extremely sympathetic to the ROC critique of the West, and see things like the opening of the new Russian Orthodox cathedral in Paris to be a blessing. On my next trip to Paris, after I make my pilgrimage to pray before the relics of St. Genevieve, the city’s patron, I will make a visit to this Russian cathedral, pray there, and give thanks to God for its witness in that magnificent Christian (or once-Christian) city. It is my prayer — really, it is — that the Russian cathedral will in some real sense bring believing Eastern and Western Christians closer together, and strengthen our common witness against the post-Christian West — such that one day, Europe may return to the widespread practice of the faith.
That said, it will not do to lament the corrupting effect of nationalism on American Christianity — as I do — while giving a pass to the same thing in Russian Christianity.
The point of all this is that Putin aside, many people outside the West look at us and do not like what they see. In fact, they see the values promoted by the West today as godless, hedonistic, and a threat to what they believe to be sacred and true. And you know what? Mostly, they’re right. American religious conservatives should at the very least ask why if you had to choose whether traditional Christian teaching would be respected and defended more by the President of Russia, an ex-KGB agent, or the President of the United States (or any other major Western nation), that the answer would be ambiguous at best.
If you put people in the position of choosing their way of life and its sacred values, as defended by an imperfect leader like Vladimir Putin, or abandoning their way of life, what do you expect?
The faculty senate of Samford University — not Reed, or Oberlin, or some other godless Yankee college, but a Baptist college in Alabama — is refusing to recognize a new chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) because language in its 1960s-era founding charter could be triggering to communists.
No, really. Look:
[YAF organizer Karalee] Geis received an email from a Samford official who expanded upon the specific reasons the application was denied. ““We are looking for the YAF student group to amend or justify the inflammatory language listed in their Purpose,” the email said. “This is the direct statement from the Sharon Statement that, though likely appropriate in 1960, does not hold the same in 2016.”
Phillip Poole, Samford’s Executive Director of Communications, told Yellowhammer that members of the faculty were concerned with “inflammatory language” and wanted to work with students to make the process work next semester. He noted that the same process applied to YAF is the same standard protocol applied to every campus organization.
“Concerns were expressed by some faculty members regarding what they perceived to be inflammatory language in the YAF statement of purpose regarding Communism and Communists,” Poole said in a statement. “Faculty members were seeking to confirm that opposition to a political ideology would be accomplished in a manner that respects the worth of each individual, as stated within the university’s Code of Values. The members of the committee indicated their willingness to further explore these issues with students during their next scheduled meeting in the spring semester.”
YAF was founded in the 1960 by William F. Buckley and 100 young conservatives who gathered at his home. You might recall that in 1960, there was this entity called the Soviet Union, which held the peoples of Eastern Europe in imperial bondage. It had the year before, with the Cuban Revolution, established a beachhead 90 miles off the US mainland. Two years later, the Soviet Union would attempt to place nuclear missiles on that island. So, that was a thing that happened. Now, here’s the language from the Sharon Statement that caused members of the faculty senate to take to their fainting couch:
That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;
That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;
That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace; and
That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?
The existence of these lines in this 56-year-old statement from an organization founded in the Cold War is a reason why the faculty senate of Samford University will not allow YAF to establish itself on campus. A campus that is not in San Francisco, or in Boston, or a Prius-driving cultural precinct inhabited by scholars who consider NPR’s Terry Gross to be a latter-day Pasionaría … but in Birmingham, Alabama.
What’s up next for Samford? The disbandment of patriotic student groups because the Declaration of Independence might hurt the feelings of British exchange students? The banning of Christian student groups because of these words, spoken by Christianity’s founder and recorded in its foundational document — Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? — are too unkind to Pharisees?
It’s worth pointing out to the faculty senate of this Baptist university that the Soviet Union alone mercilessly persecuted Christians, murdering millions of them, and sending countless others — including Baptists — to the gulags because of their faith. In Romania, which was seized by communists near the end of the Second World War, the Marxist government went on a savage campaign of torture against Christians. One of those imprisoned and tortured was the late Father Gheorghe Calciu, an Orthodox priest. He recalled that time many years later, in his American exile:
They wanted to break the people, the whole country. Romania was not a primitive country. We were connected to European culture.
We believed in Christian values. Therefore, they wanted to do this special experiment with the young people, to create a gap between the children and the older generation, to make this generation of students a communist one. They wanted to build a new world – a communist world; a new man—the communist man and so on. Se the arrested the young people – the students – and put them in a special prison for this very experiment.
They took very distinct steps. The first was to destroy the personality of the youth. For example, the guards would come together with a group of young prisoners who had converted to communism in a cell where there were perhaps twenty young students and try to intimidate them. They would beat without mercy. They could even kill somebody. Generally they would kill one of them – the one who opposed them the most; the most important one. Generally he was a leader. They would beat him and even kill him. Thus, the terror began.
After that, they began to “unmask.” They wanted to force you to say: “I lied when I said, ‘I believe in God.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my mother and my father.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my country.’” So everyone was to deny every principle, every feeling he had. That is what it means to be “unmasked.” It was done in order to prove that we were the products of the bourgeois, and the bourgeois are the liars. We lie when we say we are virgin, we are Christian, and when we try and preserve our bodies for marriage.
They tried to say I was a prostitute, a young man that had connections with the all the girls. We would be tortured until we denied everything we believed before. So, that is what it means to be “unmasked.” It was done in order to prove that Christian principles we not principles, that we lied when we said we loved Jesus Christ, we loved God, mother, father, and so on. It was to show that I lied when I said that I was a chaste man, when I held the ideal of nation and family. Everything had to be done to destroy out souls! This is the second step
After this came a declaration against everybody who was in touch with us, everybody who believed as we believed. I was to make a declaration against everybody who knew about my organization or my actions, to denounce everybody—even father, mother, sister. We were to sever completely any Christian connection and moral people.
The final step was to affirm that we had given up all the principles of our faith and any connection we had with it. With this we began to be “the new man,” “the communist man,” ready to torture, to embrace communism, to denounce everybody, ready to give information, and ready to blaspheme against God. This is the most difficult part, for under terror and torture one can say, “Yes, yes, yes.” But now, to have to act? It was very difficult.
It was during this third part that many of us tried to kill ourselves.
The memory of the people who did this to the Christians of Romania (and other dissenters from communism) are the people whose sensitivities the Samford faculty senate wishes to protect. What a complete moral disgrace those professors are. The university community ought to be ashamed of them.
A triggered Samford alumnus who reads this blog sent me this story today, and forwarded this letter he sent to the Samford official quoted in the story. I edited it to protect his privacy:
I’m a Samford graduate (’90) and my wife ([name], ’02) is a Cumberland grad. I’m saddened to see that liberal faculty members are now running the ship. Please remove my wife and I from your communications list until further notice. I’m hopeful that we can eventually add Samford back to the list of schools our children will visit. I trust you will take the necessary steps between now and then to restore our faith in the University and what it stands (or stood) for.
UPDATE: This just in:
Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland issued the following statement Nov. 30 to employees and students regarding the establishment of a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Samford:
I’m writing to provide you with a few facts related to a proposed new student organization on our campus which has received media attention over the past 24 hours.
On November 10, the Campus Life Committee of the Faculty Senate met with a group of students who seek to establish an affiliate chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at Samford. The Faculty Senate committee followed the regular process for reviewing and approving student organizations, which includes approvals at meetings of the Student Senate, the Campus Life Committee, the Faculty Senate, the University Faculty and, eventually, the Board of Trustees. The process offers the opportunity for faculty members to ask student representatives questions regarding their plans for a proposed organization. During the meeting in which the YAF chapter was under consideration, some members of the committee asked questions regarding the planned activities of the group, ideas for promotion, and the YAF statement of purpose. I believe that the statement of purpose for the national organization and affiliate chapters is tied to a document known as the “Sharon Statement,” written in 1960 by William F. Buckley Jr. One of the specific elements of the dialogue within the committee meeting, which seems to be at the core of much of the current attention in social media, relates to a provision of the Sharon Statement which called for “victory over, rather than coexistence with” Communism. Herein lies much of the confusion, as the students and faculty involved in the meeting had different understandings of the exchange. The students believed they were told that this element of the Sharon Statement would need to be amended in order for the chapter to receive recognition; members of the faculty believed that they were only asking hypothetical questions in order to clarify the statement. Following the session with the students, the Campus Life Committee elected not to grant immediate approval for the organization and instead provided the students with specific feedback related to their application, expressing the intention to reconsider the students’ application when the committee next reconvenes.
Throughout the past 24 hours, media outlets have misrepresented some of the facts related to this situation. Among the errors is that the request for a YAF chapter at Samford has been rejected. Rather, the approval process for the organization remains in effect, pending additional information from the students at the next meeting of the Campus Life Committee. The media has incorrectly reported that the university is sympathetic to Communism and even inferred that we have now or at some time in the past had a “Communist Club” on campus. As you might guess, we have never had a Communist Club at Samford. Finally, as I highlighted above, the differing understandings of the dialogue regarding the Sharon Statement have led to such headlines as “Samford is a Haven for Marxists.” In fact, the Campus Life Committee requested technical improvements and clarification of the purpose statement in the proposed organizational constitution submitted by the students.
Earlier today, students, faculty and staff who are involved in this matter visited via conference call with a national YAF representative to more thoroughly explain the issues and to dispel misconceptions. I’m told that it was a positive exchange and that everyone is hopeful for a smooth process as the consideration of the YAF chapter moves through the prescribed system for review. Both Karalee Geis, the proposed president of the YAF affiliate chapter, and Shannon Ashe, the chair of the Campus Life Committee, were involved in the conference call and each of them agreed with the plan for moving forward.
Because of the rather bizarre comments that have been made regarding Samford in social media over the past 24 hours, I feel compelled to offer a few personal observations. First, I defend the rights of all people, even those within what many may view as the cloistered environment of a private university, to write and to speak. It is a First Amendment right and, I believe, a basic human right, therefore I think that it is not advisable to attempt to insulate either students or faculty from expressing or hearing opposing views. That being said, I can say with confidence that Samford is not a bastion of support for Communism. I think we have overwhelming agreement throughout the campus that Communism is a failed system. Even so, I am faced with the truth that, as Christians, we are compelled to show the love of Christ to all people, regardless of political ideology or any other factor.
And I can’t help adding that I am a thoroughgoing Capitalist.
Any questions or concerns you have about this issue should be communicated to Dr. Phil Kimrey in the Division of Student Affairs, which has administrative responsibility for the establishment of new student organizations on our campus. Any media inquiries related to this matter should be referred to Philip Poole, Executive Director of University Communication.
And that’s all I know, at least for the moment.
The professor who forwarded that statement to me adds:
Replace “communism” with Nazism, anti-Semitism, or White Nationalism and see what happens.
“Love all people” claim is just so much bullsh*t. He would never extend the same deference to a group that took a stand against racism and racists, Nazis and Nazism, but Communists and Communism, that’s a different kettle fish, since the president knows that so many “respectable” people were drawn by its allure.
UPDATE.2: Great comment by a Samford alumnus:
I’m a graduate of Samford, Rod. You’re right to be calling attention to this, but not quite for the reasons you think. Let me provide a little context here:
Samford has never held itself out as a freewheeling “marketplace of ideas” environment. Oh, they throw out the usual boilerplate about that stuff, but the administration always made it crystal clear that for them, “free exchange of ideas” came with a giant asterisk. When I was there, the administration was very clear that certain things would not be tolerated. For example, they pretty much banned the distribution of any pro-abortion literature on campus. “Banned” might be too strong a word — I mean, if you went to the library, you’d have no problem finding pro-abortion books or magazines; what I mean was they wouldn’t allow any student groups, and definitely no outside groups, to distribute literature or advocate for pro-abortion causes on campus.
Pro-abortion stuff is just one example; there were other taboos, not all of them explicitly spelled out. Now I love Samford, but there was no mistaking the fact that in many ways, it was kind of a totalitarian environment. A soft, comfy totalitarianism, but totalitarianism nonetheless. When I was there, no demonstrations or protests of any kind were permitted without explicit permission from the administration. Heck, a professor who wanted to put on a mock “protest” just to show students what protesting was like had to get permission! Back in the 70s, the school actually shut down the student newspaper over some petty dispute that basically boiled down to the staff being insufficiently conformist.
Even the design and location of the campus underscores their mindset. Look at some photos of the school; it’s quite intentionally designed to stand apart from the surrounding community, and the school is fronted by a large wall and gate. And unlike virtually every other college I’ve seen, there is absolutely nothing within easy walking distance to allow students to escape the school’s atmosphere — no bars or restaurants or clubs catering to a college crowd.
That Samford might have misgivings about YAF doesn’t surprise me. It has nothing to do with YAF’s opposition to communism. Samford doesn’t particularly like ANYBODY to make a scene or cause trouble, even if they’re sympathetic to the cause — and I assure you, they’re probably VERY sympathetic to anti-communism.
Now the reason for this is that Samford is, or was, an explicitly conservative Christian school. They see themselves as having a distinct theological mission. Anything that detracts from that mission is suspect.
What’s funny to me, though, is that Samford’s ideological intolerance was always the butt of jokes by outsiders. Thing is, over the years, as PC culture has become increasingly militant, I’ve watched supposedly “enlightened” liberal schools move closer to Samford’s totalitarian model. Some — Oberlin comes to mind — seem to have surpassed it. Yet still they mock Samford, and schools like it, oblivious to the fact that they are slowly morphing into left-wing versions of the same thing. Leftist-dominated schools are turning themselves into almost perfect mirror images of a college where, at least when I was there, we had professors of biology who openly questioned the theory of evolution. Yet still they look down their noses at Samford, fancying themselves as wide-open arenas for intellectual combat.
It turns out, the joke’s on them: Want to see what the natural end-point to “safe space” PC hysteria is? IT’S A BIBLE-THUMPING SOUTHERN BAPTIST COLLEGE. Seriously, the “safe environment,” with all that implies, is a huge part of Samford’s sales pitch to conservative Christian parents. They were into “safe spaces” before safe spaces were cool.
It’s hilarious, really. I’ve long told people that when I lived in California, I discovered that some of the more intolerant leftists I encountered reminded me a lot of the intolerant fundamentalists I’d known back in Alabama. Well, this is EXACTLY what I was talking about: Campus PC madness has now reached such a peak that when somebody hears about a conservative Christian school in Alabama stomping on free expression, they IMMEDIATELY assume the threat must be from SJW fanatics — because that’s where all the intolerance comes from these days, right?
I’m sure a lot of leftists probably hate schools like Samford with the fury of a thousand suns, but Samford is the embodiment of their SJW utopia, staring them right in the face. They should take a long, looooong look and decide if that’s really the example they want to emulate.
BTW, I know this post sounds very critical of my alma mater, so I should reiterate that I actually loved my experience there. I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I went, and I think there’s definitely a place for schools that want to provide that experience, as long as they’re clear about it, which Samford was. What I object to is schools that essentially try to be “Samfords of the Left” while holding themselves out as something different and more noble, while implicitly or explicitly mocking a school like Samford simply because it’s more upfront about its biases.
If the left wants its own Samfords, they should have the courage to own it.
UPDATE.3: This just in from a source inside the university:
Despite this recent controversy, Samford is on a more conservative trajectory. Samford now has an endowed chair in Western intellectual history and all undergraduates must now take a 2-semester course in Western intellectual history. The undergraduate liberal arts school (where most of the liberal professors are) recently underwent a change in administration. The Faculty Senate (stocked with liberals) recommended three candidates to the president: a very liberal African-American woman, another liberal Episcopalian woman, and a conservative Christian straight, white man (the horror!). Despite pressure to pick one of the more liberal candidates, the administration selected the more conservative, Christian candidate.
All this to say, Samford is not becoming a school controlled by SJWs. There are signs of renewed Christian commitment across campus. So instead of following the trajectory of most other schools, Samford is heading in the other direction.
The New York Times, of all places, proclaims the joyful news that the Birra Nursia brewery was spared the horrible Norcia earthquake! More:
“Remarkably, the brewery was hardly damaged,” the Rev. Benedict Nivakoff, who is from Connecticut, said during a chilly morning walk through the devastated town center. “The fermenters were loosed, but they’re tall and heavy, and so they didn’t fall.”
The monks are planning to move the beer from the brewery to a safer location, where it can be bottled and specially labeled before it is sold to raise money for reconstruction, Father Nivakoff said.
The monks set up a website for their fund-raising efforts after the basilica and monastery had been weakened by earthquakes and aftershocks in August.
“The campaign started then — now we need to add a few more zeros,” said Father Nivakoff, the prior of the monastery.
The monks, in the tradition of St. Benedict, who believed they should live and support themselves by the work of their hands, intend to keep the brewery small. That way, Brother Wilmeth said, “it will stay in our control and really serve monastic life, not overwhelm and consume us.”
The monastery’s beer varieties quickly gained an enthusiastic following in local shops and restaurants, and the brewery began exporting to the United States this year. If many of the regional venues that sold the beer are shuttered because of the earthquake, it is still available through American importers, the monks said.
The beer has also become very much a part of their lives. If fund-raising efforts can help both the sanctuary and Norcia live again, they say, the monks are happy to repay their benefactors — even in a small, frothy way.
“We are proud that we are American,” said the Rev. Martin Bernhard, who is from Texas and is the cellarer of the monastery. “To taste and buy our beer is a beautiful thing for us.”
You could contribute to the cause by, well, contributing directly to the cause, or by mail-ordering some Birra Nursia for Christmas. It’s not cheap; the monks only produce 10,000 bottles per year. And it’s not cheap to have shipped from the distributor in California. But if you have been richly blessed this year and can afford it … I recommend the Extra. The last sip I had of it was at table in the refectory in Norcia this past February. In my memory, it has become the most delicious, precious beer imaginable.
Many comments on this new Pope Francis thread from Catholics and others are really sobering and thoughtful about the state of Christianity in our country. A couple:
[Quoting another reader:]
The cover-up by the Bishops struck at the heart of the moral and spiritual authority of the Church in the West. There is now this kind of uncomfortable silence…and anger: “Don’t you even try to challenge us on the moral issues that we are dealing with in our complicated private lives, with the way you dealt with your own dirty laundry.””
I think this is very true and will be true until the Church engages in a fearless and searching reckoning of the crisis and is transparent with the laity. And the clergy who covered up these abuses must pay a price for the cover ups not retire to comfortable positions like Cardinal Law.
However, the laity is not justified in ignoring the commandments because of the transgressions of a small minority of the clergy and the Church does not belong to the offending clergy. It is so much more than the clergy. Do not let them take it away from us or cause us to discard it.
It’s not just anger. The clergy scandal irrevocably and permanently altered the way all the Catholics I know think about the church. In short, except for a VERY small core of Catholics I know who are able to separate the men from the institution, none of them are at all willing to believe anymore that the Roman Catholic Church is in any way a special institution with a particular right to dictate morality.
I live now in a very Catholic area (Wisconsin) with Catholic family. And the abuse scandals simply undid their faith in the church as an authority. Most of them have either left and will not go back or go with an insistence on a hands off approach wherein the priests and especially the bishops have absolutely no right to dictate morality to them. A few have gone the other extreme and jumped into sedevacantist RadTrad camps.
I think this is nowhere more painfully obvious than in the statistics out of Ireland. But you can see it everywhere.
It’s not the sex abuse scandal.
Take my parish where my kids attend school. Very conservative, orthodox priest. He even has introduced Latin into our Novus Ordo liturgy. It is a parish in a politically/culturally conservative neighborhood. The school is amazing. Prayer is an active part of their school day, and they focus a lot on faith formation.
That said, hardly any of people who send their kids to school at our parish go to mass regularly. I’m in my early 30s and so are the other parents in my kids’ classes. It is nothing like I remember being in Catholic school in the 90s, when you saw everybody at mass on Sunday. If anyone does go, it is the mothers and kids. Fathers rarely go to mass.
Why is this not the sex abuse scandal? Because these people who don’t go to mass are heavily involved in the social and community life of the parish. Everyone meets at the parish for sports and festivals. People volunteer for all sorts of things. For lollipop soccer (non-competitive soccer for kids under 6), the fields and concession stands are packed. People hang around till nearly 11:00 socializing. Even the priest and a seminarian will attend. This is a wonderful, vibrant (and welcoming) community. By the way, all of these parents could send their kids to the above-average public schools in the area.
If these people had a problem with priests, they wouldn’t choose to maintain their Catholic identity. And it’s not just identity. They are actively participate in the life of the parish and support it with time and money.
If people were honest with themselves, it’s because it is easier (and more entertaining) to avoid Church and a religious life. I love the Catholic mass. It is beautiful, and a representation of Heaven on Earth. But it is not entertaining. It is not ESPN on Sunday morning; it is not a fantasy football app. It is not even a Megachurch with Starbucks and bagels in the lobby. For the poorly formed Catholic, the Mass is boring and repetitive.
I am happy my kids’ school focuses on faith formation. There is a whole generation of people who were not properly formed as Catholics (1960s-1990s). They simply do not know about their faith and don’t care. Maybe they wouldn’t care regardless of formation. But we can’t have 40 years of a bland, superficial faith formation (tarnished by awful, criminal sexual abuse), and expect everything to be fine. The Church needs to heal. It will take 100 years.
I think a major reason for the disconnect between church doctrine and how Catholics live their lives is that the church and clergy actually DO NOT regularly teach on moral issues. I’m talking about in the parish, in classes, etc. not in Vatican documents that typical Catholics never read. I am a fairly recent convert to Catholicism from the Mormon faith. And even though I no longer believe in Mormon doctrine, Mormons do an excellent job in continually hammering home, to youth and adults alike, LDS moral teaching on things like sexuality. No active LDS youth will have any confusion about what the Mormon church teaches on the sinfulness of pre-marital sex for example or about how their participation in LDS life will be affected by it (at least if they don’t hide the sin from their local bishop). How many Catholic youth graduate from Catholic schools understanding that pre-marital sex is a grave sin or believing that if they have sex outside of marriage then they cannot fully participate in parish life?
And unlike in Catholicism, those who actively and publicly disagree with LDS teachings often leave the Mormon faith. Why? Because Mormonism is not a comfortable environment for those who publicly flout its teachings. The same can’t be said in most case for Catholicism.
And on and on.
Meanwhile, today I was communicating with a Catholic parochial school teacher, a theological conservative who is also a father of young children. He is extremely fed up with the indifference and even hostility of Catholic parents. But he is especially fed up with the bishops. He told me that his local bishop is a time-server and bench-warmer who is presiding over the decline of the diocese’s Catholic schools into mediocrity. Says this bishop doesn’t want to rock the boat, and contents himself with managing decline, because that’s the easiest route. This reader sees the sex abuse scandal as central to the decline in the Church’s authority, because in his view, the bishops of his church and very many of the clergy showed that they cannot be trusted.
Recently, I exchanged e-mails with an Orthodox priest. We were talking about some various issues in the different Orthodox churches. I told him that after I left Catholicism, I came to Orthodoxy incapable of trusting religious hierarchy. It’s not that I disbelieve in the authority of the hierarchy, or of its necessity. I am not a Protestant. Nor is it that I believe that all bishops are bad. I can think of several examples, in both the Orthodox and Catholic churches, that prove that statement wrong. No, the thing is this: that I cannot bring myself to believe that as a general matter, the hierarchy can be trusted to do the right thing consistently. I might be wrong about that, but I’m not moving off that belief, because I have seen up close and personal, in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the damage done to innocent people who did have trust.
Here are some very wise words from a theologically informed writer who was Catholic but who is now Orthodox, on why he is not interested in Catholic vs. Orthodox polemics. Excerpt:
The greatest pitfall in which one can be entrapped is the fantasy that one can find ecclesiastical refuge in either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. At the risk of offending pious ears, neither is a paradise. Whatever problems you had in one will follow you to another, and you will have to be willing to exchange one set of baggage for another. Anyone who tells you the opposite is either a liar or provincial in their view, having lived only in a carefully created womb of devotion that takes pains to remove or deny evidence to the contrary that would challenge its strictly defined parameters.
There is no “refuge” for us weary sinners in an organized religion. How many times have we grown frustrated with our own coreligionists or religious authorities to prove this out? “Refuge,” if it may be found, is found on the more personal level of the community one develops for pursuit of the praxis of the Christian life. For us non-monastics, this community increasingly violates old confessional boundaries, discarding barriers sustained by removed intellectual extrapolation in favor of the experiential knowledge born out of praxis. This is, indeed, the ancient Christian path to contemplative knowledge of God and true religion.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. One reason this works is because it is easier to trust people with whom you have personal experience. The Evangelical theologian Alastair Roberts recently wrote a very insightful blog post on distrusting institutions and its effect within Evangelicalism. Excerpts:
In the past, theologians and pastors typically heavily mediated theological thought to their congregations. The edification of church members was crucial, but theologically trained pastors were expected to pre-digest Scripture and theology for the sake of their congregations and feed them with it to the point that they could process ever more solid food.
The rise of the Internet, however, has posed serious problems for this model. Increasingly, the person in the pew is receiving their theological and biblical understanding independent of pastoral oversight and guidance, often through a sort of personal ‘research’ akin to that of the Googling anti-vaxxer.
Church leaders are increasingly facing a situation where members of their congregations have an ever-growing and diversifying interface with a dizzying array of different figures. Congregants are following people on Twitter and Facebook, reading various blogs, listening to podcasts, watching Christian videos on Youtube, participating in online forums and communities, reading a far wider range of books than they probably would have done in the past, watching Christian TV shows, listening to Christian radio stations, etc., etc., all within the comfort of their own houses. The sheer range of sources that the members of a congregation will be exposed to nowadays is entirely unprecedented. Although some may expect pastors to keep on top of all of this, I really don’t see how they realistically can.
The result has often been a situation—similar to that faced by vaccination programmes—in which pastors and church leaders urgently have to protect the spiritual health of their congregations against false teachings that untrained people have adopted through their independent ‘research’. In such a situation, few things are more important than a strong bond of trust between lay people and those in authority over them, who are responsible for their well-being.
However, that bond of trust has come under extreme and sustained assault in the last couple of decades. With the revelation of scandals of spiritual and sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups and gross mishandling, pastors and church leaders are subject to much more suspicion. Pastors, prominent Christian leaders, and teachers may commonly presume that authority is something that comes with the job position. However, this election is just going to provide further evidence of how profoundly mistaken this assumption actually is. Especially among the up-and-coming generations, the older generation of prominent evangelical leaders has less and less influence. Their widespread support of Trump will just be the final nail in the coffin of their credibility for a large number of younger people. ‘Authority’ counts for little where trust no longer exists. Not only will this mean that their future statements won’t carry weight: they will be actively distrusted. Once again, there is a dangerous situation of unattached trust, ripe for the establishment of counter-communities.
Many people now privilege online bloggers, speakers, and writers over the pastors that have been given particular responsibility for the well-being of their souls. The result is growing competition among Christian gatekeepers, which increasingly positions the individual Christian, less as one fed by particular appointed and spiritually mature local fathers and mothers in the faith, and more as an independent religious consumer, free to pick and choose the voices that they find most agreeable. Sheep with a multitude of competing shepherds aren’t much better off than sheep with no shepherds whatsoever.
The egalitarian online environment also makes it difficult to discern the difference between those who hold ordained pastoral office and responsibility and people who are simply self-appointed online ‘influencers’ (in case you need a reminder, I am just a blogger: I am not your pastor). It makes it difficult to discern the difference between trained and orthodox theologians and untrained people who are simply regurgitating error. Everyone appears to be a peer online, which dulls our awareness of the fact that some people have authority over us and others have other forms of authority resulting from privileged knowledge, training, or experience. Everyone is expected to make up their own opinion in such a world, but very few people have the means to make up their minds well.
Once again, when information overwhelms us and traditional gatekeepers are no longer trusted, we can renegotiate our networks of trust and find a new sense of orientation in tight-knit communities.
Whereas in the past, communities of trust would tend to be locally based, typically rooted within church congregations, extended families, workplaces, and neighbourhoods, in the age of the Internet, communities of trust are increasingly abstracted from locality. Twenty or thirty years ago, one’s community of faith would primarily have been found in one’s local congregation, and would have been overseen by pastors and church leaders. Nowadays, our communities of faith are much more diffuse and much less pastorally guided. Where once pastors, church leaders, and mature Christians could keep watch over a congregation, ensuring that error didn’t creep in, this is much harder to do today. Likewise, dissenting and disaffected persons are much more able to form their own independent communities online.
Jen Hatmaker is a good illustration of some of these dynamics. Hatmaker isn’t a trained theologian, yet her changed position on same-sex marriage has recently received an immense amount of discussion among Christians. In some respects, there isn’t a huge difference between Hatmaker on same-sex marriage and a celebrity anti-vaxxer who has claimed to have extensively ‘researched’ the issue. In both cases, even supposing they were correct, the person’s position is of little academic worth (because they only have very limited ability to engage in first-hand research themselves). Nevertheless, it is of deep social consequence and danger. The opinions of such persons hold weight on account of their popularity, likeability, and people’s instinctive trust of them, whereas the official authority figures challenging them are distrusted, despite their greater learning.
To understand the future of evangelicalism, there are few things more important than attending to currently shifting networks of trust. If people are confident that evangelicalism will generally be opposed to same-sex marriage in twenty-five years’ time, for instance, I wonder whether they have been paying close attention to the movements that have been taking place. The most prominent voices that have opposed same-sex marriage are now regarded with deep distrust from many quarters, especially by the younger generations, not least on account of their politics and the abuse scandals that have tarnished their reputation. People no longer trust them as leaders, so their position on same-sex marriage is now thrown into greater question. Although they may officially have authority, practically they have little authority over the younger generations.
As with the social crisis of truth, thought, and knowledge facing America, the crisis facing the Church will only be addressed as it is addressed precisely as a social problem. Where trust has broken down, a crisis of truth will soon follow in its wake. Rebuilding trust once lost is an immensely daunting and difficult task, yet it is the task that faces us. Where trust is lacking, there is little to be gained from directing ever more information and arguments at people. Repentance must be made, forgiveness must be sought, bonds of trust must be repaired, and then truth might begin to do its work.
Please read the whole thing. These little sections here can’t possibly do justice to the sweep of Roberts’s whole post. In case his name is unfamiliar to you, Roberts a young, English, theologically conservative intellectual. I don’t care what your tradition is, if you are a small-o orthodox Christian and not reading his blog, you are making a serious mistake.
This “social crisis of truth, thought, and knowledge facing America” is not confined to the churches alone, as Roberts points out. And it is by no means a matter of sorting out who has the most persuasive argument. Roberts starts his post not by talking about the church, but about why it is that so many people put their trust in Donald Trump, in particular in Trump’s anti-vaccine theories:
Trump’s argument against vaccines works because people no longer trust the authorities—the governments, the scientists, the medical professionals, etc.—who tell them that they are safe. The biased mainstream media, the liberal elite, lying politicians, activist judges, crony capitalists, politically correct academics, the conspiring government, scientists bought off by big business, hypocritical religious leaders: all are radically corrupt, motivated by self-interest, and radically untrustworthy. In such a situation, people’s realm of trust can become more tribal in character, focusing upon people of their own class, background, friendship groups, family, locality, ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc. and deeply suspicious of and antagonistic towards people who do not belong to those groups. This collapse of trust hasn’t occurred because the general public has suddenly become expert in the science behind vaccinations and discovered the authorities’ claims concerning vaccines to be scientifically inaccurate. The trust that has been lost was never directed primarily at such scientific claims. Rather, it was a trust in the persons and agencies that presented us with them.
The loss of trust in the persons and agencies happened on many different fronts. It happened as people ceased to believe that the persons and agencies were being open with and transparent to them, that they were committed to their well-being and had their best interests at heart, that they were devoted to truth over power and self-advancement. However, with the loss of that trust, a lot of beliefs that those persons and agencies guaranteed, which formerly would have gone unquestioned, became collateral damage.
This is why the abuse scandal was so devastating to the Catholic Church. The thing that magnifies the power of the sex abuse scandal, or any other major church scandal, to destroy the church’s authority is that contemporary culture gives one a powerful disincentive to believe what one wants to believe. I have experienced this over and over in contexts that have nothing to do with religion, with people who are conservative and with people who are liberal (inevitably, people believe that THEIR experts are telling them the truth, and the OTHER people and their experts are just too stupid or blinded by ideology to see it).
Where does this leave us? In a mess. We have entered a period of radical distrust, and if anybody tells you they know for sure where it’s going, don’t trust them. Roberts’s insights, taken in tandem with the comments from you readers, help me to better understand the intuitions that led me to the idea of the Benedict Option. No community can survive without authority, and agreed-upon authority at that. The Ben Op is a general strategy for rebuilding social trust around small communities of believers who share a traditionalist (= anti-modern, at some level) Christian faith, and who — crucially — are committed to the practices necessary to sustain that faith in community, over time. Let me repeat Alastair Roberts’s words:
Rebuilding trust once lost is an immensely daunting and difficult task, yet it is the task that faces us. Where trust is lacking, there is little to be gained from directing ever more information and arguments at people.
Exactly. It is certainly true that the masses today have strong incentives to refuse legitimate religious authority. But it is also true that the authorities who run our authoritative religious institutions — archdioceses, parishes, schools, even down to the level of youth groups — ought not to make it so hard.
Reader JB commented on the Pope Francis marriage-and-communion thread:
Gallup Poll on U.S. Catholics: 86 percent say contraception “morally acceptable”…sex outside marriage ok for 72 percent of Catholics and 70 percent gay and lesbian relationships are morally fine. Guessing among younger faithful, maybe higher numbers.
The Catholic Church is not forming it’s followers to live its challenging and radically countercultural teachings on sexuality and family life.
Once you get outside of the tiny bubble of those that either care about or have some vested interest in these things, you find that Church teaching is completely irrelevant to the lives of most of your family and friends.
I am a faithful practicing Catholic. Most of my Catholic friends and family know nothing about this controversy; they could not care less. A number of them are in their second marriages and would never think to bother with an annulment. If they do attend mass, they receive communion like most everyone else. No one goes to confession. These are good people, not willfully committing sin — but according to official Church teaching, they are committing a serious sin against the sacrament of Eucharist.
There is such a growing chasm between peoples everyday lives and Catholic teaching on these matters. Their children often drift away from regular church attendance…but so do those who are raised in solid Catholic families who are faithful to the Church’s teachings.
We also cannot underestimate something that I think operates at an even deeper level than we realize – the clergy scandals.
The cover-up by the Bishops struck at the heart of the moral and spiritual authority of the Church in the West. There is now this kind of uncomfortable silence…and anger: “Don’t you even try to challenge us on the moral issues that we are dealing with in our complicated private lives, with the way you dealt with your own dirty laundry.” This is something I see with friends and family. It’s there, just under the surface and if you were to gently challenge them on some of these moral issues, it goes there quickly. I have heard things like this:
“Who are they (priests/bishops) to tell me how many kids I should have, how to deal with my daughter’s unplanned pregnancy, or if an adult can have a loving relationship with another adult of the same sex? These men who protected and sheltered abusers? Just say mass, marry my kids and bury our dead. Stay out of our private lives.”
Isn’t this really the current state of things? Am I being too dark here? I am not trying to be negative or hopeless. But don’t you have to deal with reality if you are going to find the right response/solutions?
These internal conflicts within the Church are important obviously. But are they now (in the West anyway) completely irrelevant to the masses of practicing and nominal Catholics?
Well, one answer to this is that when St. Athanasius fought the Arian heresy, most of the world was Arian, but the fight was critically important to have. These theological fights aren’t just for Christians of the present day, but for generations yet to come. Two hundred years from now, Cardinal Burke and his cohorts may be seen as footnotes to Catholic history, or they may be seen as the Athanasiuses of their time.
Still, the Catholic commenter makes some powerful points. I’d like to hear what you readers have to say about them.