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Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and the State

The often-provocative Catholic blogger Artur Rosman contends [1] that if conservatism in religion were enough to turn the tide against secularism, Orthodox Russia would be in much better religious shape these days:

Can you think of a more theologically conservative group than Orthodox Christians? They can rightfully claim the most ancient liturgies, which run for hours and require plenty of aerobic exercise from babushkas.

If the conservative church thesis were true, then could you think of a better scenario than the caesaropapist [2] arrangement Orthodoxy enjoys under Putin? The connection between church and state is so close that Patriarch Kiril has ecclesiological [3] problems because of the president’s policies and vice-versa.

Alas, says Rosman, though huge numbers of Russians (75 percent) claim to be Orthodox, only a tiny number of them (four percent) actually go to church. Of those who claim Orthodoxy as their religion, 30 percent don’t even believe in God. This, according to the study Rosman cites.

Rosman’s conclusion for American Catholics is peculiar. He says faithful Catholics should be of good cheer, despite the darkening prospects for Christians in America:

I also wish the American hierarchy would look happier when considering the coming persecution, if it’s really coming.

They should welcome something like it rather than ratcheting up their sad attempts to look like good mainline Americans and indulging in medieval fairy tales of a harmonious Christendom.

Too long they’ve peddled to us what H. Richard Niebuhr (the real theological brains in the family) called in The Kingdom of God in America [4], “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

The Murray Project [5] is dead.

Well. I can agree with Rosman that the “Murray Project” — broadly speaking, the idea that one can be both a good Catholic and a good American — is dead, or at least on its last legs. And I agree with them that this might well be good for the faith, in the sense that it will separate out the people for whom the faith really matters from the casual Catholics and other Christians. What is coming will be clarifying for us all, but I’m not sure we should be altogether pleased by it.

That said, I don’t believe that Russia is a good example from which to draw this conclusion. The Russian Orthodox Church endured 70 years or more of intense persecution, probably the worst in all of Christian history. It is a miracle that Christianity survived at all in Russia. I do not like the entwining of Church and State in Russia today, but I doubt very much that that has much to do with the woebegone state of the Christian belief there. What nation, and which peoples, could have suffered something so grotesque and unremitting, and have bounced back so quickly?

Did persecution strengthen the Catholic Church in France? I can’t see that it did. There has been no meaningful religious persecution in England in at least two centuries, but the faith — Protestant and Catholic alike — is in very serious trouble there. Something else is going on. Whatever it is, I share Rosman’s wish that the Catholic bishops and other prominent Christian leaders would stop drinking the Kool-Aid and start speaking out, and preparing their people for long-term endurance.

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71 Comments To "Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and the State"

#1 Comment By Reinhold On June 17, 2015 @ 12:10 am

*I mean, I don’t doubt that you have a good hand, but you are making me force you to show it….

#2 Comment By JonF On June 17, 2015 @ 6:08 am

Reinhold,

One thing you are missing here: it was not the Bolsheviks who overthrew the tsar. It was a much, much broader coalition of folks who were fed up with Nicholas. Even the Russian reactionaries abandoned Nicholas at the end.
The Bolsheviks overthrew the interim republican government of Alexandr Kerensky..

#3 Comment By JonF On June 17, 2015 @ 6:12 am

Re: This might look utterly insane to us, and people were making fun of this kind of thinking, but some serious people were predicting Soviet victory in the Cold War all the way into the mid-1980s.

As least in the US that sort of thing dissipated pretty quickly once Reagan took over. The hand-wringing and pearl-clutching was suddenly that Reagan would start a nuclear war. (Was Revel’s book really that late? I thought it was a 70s publication)

#4 Comment By Anne On June 17, 2015 @ 8:14 am

My grandmother, an Irish Catholic immigrant who fled British discrimination in Ireland only to face yet more discrimination against Catholics in America, nevertheless counted her blessings. She always contended the law’s on the right side in America, and most people mean well. When the first Catholic president was elected, she just noted “I always said it could happen.” I can only imagine how she’d react to Rosman. His theory about the benefits of persecution alone would likely set off a bout of apoplexy. Let’s just say I’m pretty sure she’d agree with my own assessment of Catholic-American relations, i.e., the Murray Project is very much alive and kicking.

#5 Comment By Bar Bill On June 17, 2015 @ 8:48 am

“I can agree with Rosman that the “Murray Project” — broadly speaking, the idea that one can be both a good Catholic and a good American — is dead, or at least on its last legs.”

Remember what John Prine sang: “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore.”

#6 Comment By Andrew W On June 17, 2015 @ 9:47 am

“Russian Orthodox Church officials should exercise some caution and distance itself from the Putin regime. At some point the regime will lose the support of the public and if the church is too close to the regime it will lose the public’ confidence.”

There’s not much evidence that the Putin regime is going to lose the support of the Russian public. Dictators go down when they’re incompetent. Putin may not be a good man, but he’s good at his job.

I’d recommend you look at Larison’s recent post on arming Ukraine.

#7 Comment By Al On June 17, 2015 @ 10:16 am

“That may be true, but why did they hate religion so much? My understanding is that religion was used to oppress everyone but the wealthy 99% of the time. Christian theocracies were as brutal as communism. If the Christian theocrats had had the technology and infrastructure that the communists had, they would have killed just as many people. Who was the Catholic Bishop who said, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” when asked how to distinguish Cathars from Catholics? Do you not think he would have been thrilled to drop a nuke if he had that capacity?”

This is historically inaccurate. The “kill them all” quote is a myth, and has been proven so. If you think the Church supported capitalist exploitation, I highly encourage you to read “Rerum Novarum”, and “Quadragesimo Anno”. You could also read Fr. Heinrich Pesch or really any of the English Catholic distributists. In spite of the individual failings of various Churchmen, the Church as a whole, by Her teachings and Her actions, has always defended the poor and oppressed.

I will be the first to admit that the Catholic Church has more or less always had problems with corruption. This is inevitable, as, despite being divinely instituted, She is run by mere mortals. To say that this fact invalidates Her teachings or that it makes the institution itself evil, is a logical fallacy.

Some incredibly evil things have been done in the name of democracy (atomic bomb, reign of terror, Iraq war), and, given that democracies are always run by flawed human beings, a good many more awful things will probably be. Does that mean that democracy is in and of itself a bad thing? Should we discard democracy?

It is not enough to say, “this institution or this idea was used to justify this horrible thing by these terrible people.” You have to argue the idea itself. Is there some principle in democracy that causes people to do terrible things? Is democracy, on the whole, better for society than other forms of government? Do the teachings of the Catholic Church necessarily lead to oppression of the marginalized? Are the spiritual claims of the Catholic Church (to have been instituted by God Himself for the salvation of all men) true, or are they not?

Also, please look up the word, “theocracy”.

#8 Comment By Andrew W On June 17, 2015 @ 10:26 am

“Am I wrong that the Church was just collateral damage due to its close affinity with the state? Do you believe that the Bolsheviks really just hated religion so much that they went about sacking churches, or that it had something more to do with state politics?”

I think Grumpy got this right, and my wife, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union agrees with her. The Soviet system was a religion in its own right and it didn’t need any competition from the Orthodox Church or any other religion.

#9 Comment By Al On June 17, 2015 @ 10:36 am

” I would have said that the Bolsheviks were hostile to OTHER religious faith and pushed atheism because it was a nullity. They already had their own faith–Marxism/Leninism”

Exactly. Atheism was a necessary part of their ideology. Thus the persecution of the Church.

Also, your definition of “religious faith” appears to be quite broad.

Also, your

#10 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 17, 2015 @ 12:55 pm

Read Solzhenitysn! Oh God. Here’s a better injunction: if you want to understand the history of communism, read HISTORY BOOKS, not just a couple prominent liberal dissidents and the wretched movie “the Lives of Others.”

I think this is a good piece of advice for everyone, on the right and the left. Literature and the arts are all well and good, but if you want to understand an era, reading a novel or an epic poem is not a substitute for reading, you know, history. (Or other related disciplines like anthropology, etc.). However beautiful the novel, movie or epic poem may be, it’s still one man’s creative interpretation of an era, not hard data or historical fact, and not necessarily representative of what most people in his time or place thought.

#11 Comment By Reinhold On June 17, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

“The Bolsheviks overthrew the interim republican government of Alexandr Kerensky..”
Yes, the Provisional Gov’t.
“The Soviet system was a religion in its own right and it didn’t need any competition from the Orthodox Church or any other religion.”
Well, even though I “don’t have any idea what I’m talking about,” I think that had much more to do with political than ideological competition.

#12 Comment By Andrew W On June 17, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

“Well, even though I “don’t have any idea what I’m talking about,” I think that had much more to do with political than ideological competition.”

Well as long as your admiting up front you don’t actually know what you’re talking about I guess it’s all good.

#13 Comment By Reinhold On June 17, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

“Well as long as your admiting up front you don’t actually know what you’re talking about I guess it’s all good.”
I was quoting panda, who has yet to offer his version of the ‘communism was a religion’ argument.
It’s incredibly superficial to call communism an organized religion. Why then isn’t Nazism or Zionism an organized religion? Why isn’t Liberalism? Why not every political ideology? Each one has its unique forms of commitment and justifications for oppression. This is an argument over the political interpretation of communism and why it was opposed to Russian Orthodoxy, not a disagreement over historical facts.

#14 Comment By Reinhold On June 17, 2015 @ 5:31 pm

“However beautiful the novel, movie or epic poem may be, it’s still one man’s creative interpretation of an era, not hard data or historical fact, and not necessarily representative of what most people in his time or place thought.”
It’s usually not even one man’s interpretation, it often serves just to confirm our Very Serious Liberal Pieties about unimaginably tyrannical regimes. ‘Ah, yes, “Schindler’s List,” that’s how it was, how awful.’ All our most cliche platitudes are comfortably reaffirmed by something like “The Lives of Others” or “The Killing Fields.”

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 17, 2015 @ 7:49 pm

If it doesn’t worship a deity inherently more powerful than humans, it is not a religion.

Ergo, communism was not a religion, and neither is secular humanism. Catholic humanism is not a religion, but it is a philosophy that grew up within a religion. The humanism is not what defines it AS a religion. Worship of a deity is what defines the religious component. There are, of course, many forms of totalitarianism that are not religious, but being totalitarian does not render any of them a religion.

Bolshevik hostility to religion has several roots. One is indeed that the Russian Orthodox Church was so closely tied to The State and to the White Armies that it become, more or less, the enemy. Another is that the powerful anarchist politics within the peasantry were, like those in Spain, virulently hostile to the church, in ways the Bolsheviks didn’t bother with. A third is that European social democracy in the late 19th century developed an anti-clerical veneer, particularly among intellectuals, which seeped into Russian social-democracy.
a fourth is that a generation that entered the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1920s and 1930s was virulently anti-religious, in part because the kiddies took in deadly earnest what to their elders were mere platitudes. I suppose the fact that Ioseph Djugashvili got kicked out of the seminary in his early adult years could have had something to do with it too.

The mere fact that Orthodoxy remained so present and able to spring back after the CPSU lost power shows how limited the anti-religious orientation of the party was. If they had wanted to REALLY wipe out religion, they could have done a lot more.

Kerensky’s government was a thin reed waiting to fall. He was only saved from Kornilov by the Bolsheviks, and having declared themselves the new socialist government, the real fight was not with Kerensky, who had nothing to fight with, but Kornilov, Deniken, Wrangel, Petlyura, any of whom would have executed everyone who has ever commented at TAC, without exception.

#16 Comment By cosmostheinlost On June 17, 2015 @ 7:52 pm

Here’s my brief reply to the questions raised by this interesting piece:

[6]

#17 Comment By CatherineNY On June 17, 2015 @ 8:12 pm

@Anne writes “My grandmother, an Irish Catholic immigrant who fled British discrimination in Ireland only to face yet more discrimination against Catholics in America, nevertheless counted her blessings…I can only imagine how she’d react to Rosman. His theory about the benefits of persecution alone would likely set off a bout of apoplexy. Let’s just say I’m pretty sure she’d agree with my own assessment of Catholic-American relations, i.e., the Murray Project is very much alive and kicking.” Amen. My Polish grandmother may not have fallen into a bed of roses when she came here, but by doing so, she avoided living under both Naziism and Communism. Long live the Murray project.

#18 Comment By Andrew W On June 17, 2015 @ 9:31 pm

“It’s incredibly superficial to call communism an organized religion. Why then isn’t Nazism or Zionism an organized religion? Why isn’t Liberalism? Why not every political ideology?”

Why not do your own homework kid?

#19 Comment By Andrew W On June 17, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

BTW you’ve got a lot of nerve trying to tell Panda you know more about he does about the country he grew up in. Maybe if he’s nice he’ll translate “chutzpah” for you.

#20 Comment By Reinhold On June 17, 2015 @ 11:54 pm

“BTW you’ve got a lot of nerve trying to tell Panda you know more about he does about the country he grew up in. Maybe if he’s nice he’ll translate “chutzpah” for you.”
I said no such thing. You’ve got a lot of nerve trying to brow-beat me without making any argument of your own.

#21 Comment By Reinhold On June 18, 2015 @ 12:02 am

“Why not do your own homework kid?”
I swear, I get more irritating crap from liberals on this thread than from any conservative I can think of.