Ephemera VI

Last week I made mention of David Bentley Hart’s provocative article “Christ’s Rabble.” Although Hart opted to target an Acton Institute General in that piece, Acton has sent a Private to return fire. Dylan Pahman, perhaps Acton’s only resident Eastern Orthodox writer, has a new piece over at The Public Discourse that attacks Hart’s literal reading of certain New Testament passages which pertain to wealth. While I still harbor some reservations concerning Hart’s characterization of early Christians as “communists,” Pahman’s response is a mess. Setting aside Pahman’s childish attempts to associate Hart with the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Gnosticism, the real problem with Pahman’s uncharitable critique is that he simply does what he accuses Hart of doing, namely wandering around the New Testament in order to proof-text his way to the conclusion that wealth isn’t evil; it’s how we use it that can be evil. (Pahman, unsurprisingly, ignores just how often it is used for evil.) In the end, Hart can defend himself, and should he choose to do so, it will likely be a bloodbath. While Hart has sometimes stumbled along the way, particularly when targeting Thomism and the natural-law tradition, when it comes to Greek, the Church Fathers, and Christian history, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Hart to play Mickey Gall to Pahman’s C.M. Punk.

Some mixed defenses of the Tradinistas are starting to pour in. Over at his web-log Sancrucensis, Pater Edmund Waldstein has penned a detailed piece explaining why he supports their project while also opting to not align with it. In various other writings (one of which Waldstein links to), I have tried to lay out a typography of both “illiberal Catholicism” (broadly understood) and the various approaches to the Church’s social magisterium which are available today. I have made no apologies for the fact that I believe integralism is the only sensible option available for those who wish to conform to what the Catholic Church teaches. There is no need to import problematic terms like “socialism” into the mix, nor the ideological baggage which accompanies it. Waldstein appears to believe the Tradinistas have their instincts in the right place — and I think that’s right. My primary reservation concerning them remains a seeming lack of seriousness on the one hand (e.g., group’s name and website aesthetic) and a deeply confused approach to Catholic thought on the other. As I said in my original critique of the Tradinistas, it is an endeavor comprised mainly of priv-kids from Ivy League and other high-ranking schools; it’s chances of growing any deep roots are slim.

Meanwhile, David Mills, writing for Ethika Politika, thinks we need the Tradinistas (or something like them). Mills highlights the centrality of the just wage to Catholic social teaching and appears to believe the Tradinistas will help promote it. Maybe, though there is almost nothing from the Tradinistas on the just wage or even a ready-hand acknowledgment that paying just wages means discriminating between workers based on their state of life. As Mills surely knows, Distributists have a rich history of discussing the just wage and fleshing out its meaning. Moreover, Distributists also hold to a thick (though not absolute) conception of property rights which better coheres to what Leo XIII and Pius XI taught than anything the Tradinistas have proposed. To Mills I would say that we do need “something like” the Tradinistas in the sense of an organized movement to promote authentic Catholic principles in society. What we don’t need are Catholics too afraid of their own shadows talking-up a limp-wristed form of Marxism and pretending that it’s “revolutionary.” By modern liberal lights, what is truly revolutionary is the integralist thesis, or simply the idea — enshrined in Catholic doctrine — that the state is subordinate to the Church even though it retains its own legitimate sphere of authority. What we need are Catholics willing to crawl to the Cross, not a hammer and sickle.

Last night, at the suggestion of Owen White, I watched the film Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a poor farmer and Confederate soldier who led a rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. Like any historical drama, this one took some liberties with the facts while working-in some additional subplots for dramatic effect. Still, wholly faithful to history or not, the film raises some powerful points about the nature of a free society (albeit a small one) and the role rights ought to play in justifying political violence. What slightly unsettled me about Free State of Jones is not the fact a band of poor farmers and runaway slaves rose up against an ostensibly lawful political authority, but that their reasons for doing so are susceptible to two opposed ideological readings. As the movie presents it, Knight and his followers can be seen as quasi-socialists who wish to provide for the good of the commonwealth above individual gain or greed. And yet, at the same time, a very libertarian reading of Knight is available, particularly his insistence that his followers have an absolute right to their property and — citing St. Paul — ought to reap what they sow.

Ephemera V

The pace of life on the Internet is brisk. Earlier today I wrote a few words on the “Tradinista Collective” and its attempt to craft what they call a “Catholic socialism.” Just a few hours later, Chase Padusniak, writing over at Patheos, weighed-in on the matter while also (gently) disagreeing with yours truly. That’s fine. Padusniak is right to point out that socialism comes in many shapes and sizes, though at some point one has to ask if a particular economic ordo is still socialist if it has been defined down to, say, the economic platform of the Democratic Party. Whatever one makes of the Tradinista version of socialism, I have to wonder why they bothered using the word socialism at all. Perhaps this is because I know some of the gentlemen involved with the Tradinista venture and therefore have a sneaking suspicion that the entire endeavor is an attempt to posture cool for Leftists who generally have very little time for the Catholic Church or her teachings. Words matter, and at the end of the day wouldn’t it be better for an enterprise which claims to be Catholic to distance itself as much as possible from an ideology freighted with a long history of problems, both moral and practical? Part of me wonders how people might react if someone pushed for “Catholic National Socialism” before being compelled to pen thousands of words on how this form of Nazism skirts past that other form of Nazism the Church clearly condemns. But I digress . . .

Pepe the Frog has been designated a hate symbol by the ACLU. The alt-right must be overjoyed. What started as an obnoxious gag on 4chan has spilled into one of the most surreal side-stories of this election cycle. Is this how the hypocrisy of “liberal tolerance” will finally be revealed on the grand stage? That a cartoon frog edited to look like Adolph Hitler (and Donald Trump) can generate this much mainstream attention is something to behold. I have no doubt that the same liberals who wept openly on social media for Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and called freedom of speech one of the cornerstones of Western civilization are among those persecuting poor Pepe. What the ACLU and other Pepe haters don’t seem to understand is that the more offended they get, the more convinced the trolls at 4chan and other alt-righters are that they have won. Not only have these cyber miscreants taken the Pepe the Frog meme back from so-called “normies” (i.e., everyday Internet users), they have turned him into a national sensation by getting mainline defenders of “liberal rights” to condemn him. Amazing.

Speaking of the election cycle, I took time out from my weekly viewing of WWE Monday Night Raw to watch the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (Given RAW‘s abysmally low rating this week, it looks like a lot of other fans of the sport of professional wrestling joined me.) I’ll be honest. I paid almost no attention to substance and instead assessed the entire spectacle on style and presentation alone. Clinton was arguably better prepared than Trump for the questions that would be asked, but her delivery was flat, rehearsed, and uninspiring. Trump, who did himself no favors by trying to shoot from the hip, did an okay job playing the “Strong Man” he wants the American public to see him as, but my sense is that he didn’t do anything to win over moderates and other on-the-fence voters. Assuming Trump keeps his improvisational style going into the next debate, Clinton would be wise to hang back and let The Donald hang himself with his own words. The electorate may not care all that much about fact checking; they will, however, pick up on Trump’s noticeable stumbling when pressed on foreign-policy issues that he clearly knows very little about.

Oh, and speaking of the debate, I must say the biggest howler of the night (for me) was when Clinton said she would appoint a special prosecutor to enforce U.S. trade deals with foreign countries. How, I wonder, does she plan to pull that off? The World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement, for instance, is not enforced in national courts of law; it is enforced through transnational adjudication under the auspices of the WTO itself. Moreover, many smaller trade agreements, such as the numerous bilateral air services agreements the U.S. holds with most countries in the world, have no express adjudicatory mechanism — and they don’t need one. If, for example, Canada starts limiting the rights of American Airlines to access its airports, the U.S. can impose reciprocal restrictions on Air Canada, and so forth. And when adhering to a treaty reaches a full breakdown point, one or both parties will simply denounce it and, presumably, return to the negotiating table. This is nothing new; it happens all of the time. That is how international law “works” — legalism not required.

Ephemera IV

I know I sound like a broken record, but every time I come across a “1954 v. 1962” liturgical books squabble among traditional Latin Catholics, I want to cry (with laughter). Nobody in their right mind has ever claimed that the “1962 books” are superior to those which were normative in 1954 or earlier; they have merely defended them from the accusation that they are “corrupt” or “harmful” or “theologically dangerous,” etc. What amuses me is how certain “pro-1954” folk speak of the great integrity of the Byzantine Rite to help bolster their claim that the abbreviations instituted first by Pope Pius XII and then by John XXIII are abominations in the eyes of the Lord. Step into any Orthodox or Greek Catholic parish in the world and all you will find are services which have been abbreviated (sometimes rather clumsily and arbitrarily). Even monastic usage contains cuts here n’ there to offices such as Matins or the All-Night Vigil. Now, none of this is to say that there aren’t elements of the “1962 books” which should be reconsidered and revised. Some of the abbreviations instituted make little sense, and the “new” Holy Week Rite is atrocious compared with the original. All things in due course.

Have you watched the video Anointed, produced by the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (F.SS.R.) in honor of one of the congregation’s founders, Fr. Anthony Mary, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood? If not, you should. For those unaware, the F.SS.R. (sometimes referred to as the Transalpine Redemptorists) is a traditional order of priests living a semi-monastic life on the isle of Papa Stronsay in northern Scotland. As their name indicates, they are spiritually descended from the Redemptorist tradition established by St. Alphonus Liguori in the 18th Century and carried forth by such great saints of the Church as Gerhard Majella, John Neumann, Clement Hofbauer, and Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky. Whether you are of Western or Eastern persuasion, the video is well worth spending some time with.

I don’t often go to the movies, but several weeks ago my brother and I went to see Hell or High Water, the heist film which is generating overwhelmingly positive reviews. Some, however, have criticized the movie for glorifying robbery and making bankers out to be a cadre of predators seeking to rob honest, hard-working people of their property and livelihood. The latter charge doesn’t really strike me as too far from the mark, and besides the movie sets this form of legalized theft against the backdrop of the even greater acts of theft which secured the West for America’s white citizenry well more than a century ago. While it may be cliché to speak of a film containing “shades of grey,” this one certainly does. If there is a true hero to be found amidst the desperation and panic that drives Hell or High Water, it is Jeff Bridges’s Texas Ranger, and even by the end he is tempted by lawlessness as a means to do right in an unforgiving, morally indifferent world.

Dylan Pahman, the Acton Institute’s resident Orthodox apologist for free-market capitalism, is back preaching that old-time liberal religion in his most recent article for Public Orthodoxy, “Orthodox Theology and Economic Reality.” Like many of Pahman’s pieces, this one is shot through with a number of strange assertions, the most startling being his claim that the Orthodox “lack any serious engagement with the insights of modern economic science.” Whatever does Pahman mean by “economic science”? A brief perusal through Acton’s archives—and Pahman’s own writings—reveals that “economic science” actually means the heterodox claims of the so-called “Austrian School,” a marginalized economic ideology that eschews empiricism and falsifiability. Nowhere does Pahman make mention that the Russian Orthodox Church has spoken forcefully on economic matters—including condemning global capitalism—as recently as a few months ago. It’s a shame that the real failure evident in Pahman’s writings is his unwillingness to engage honestly and openly with his own ecclesiastic tradition.

Ephemera III

“Crony capitalism” comes up a lot whenever the economic liberals start spouting off about the economy, as if this alleged variant of capitalism is not the natural outgrowth of the “pure” free-market capitalism they claim to defend. It is no small irony, however, that when pressed into arguments with others, the same economic liberals who decry “crony capitalism” will point to the empirical effects of this capitalism as “proof” that their free-market ideology is superior to any other option being put on the table. But if “crony capitalism,” that is the capitalism we all know and love, is “bad,” how can it possibly vindicate the free-market position? To this question, certain liberals will say, “Well, imagine how much better it would be if cronyism was removed!” Maybe—or maybe the positive results achieved under capitalism were always due to the fact that regulators and lawmakers had some involvement in the economy. Nobody knows because contrary to what the economic liberals say, their “pure” economic order has never existed; there is no way to know empirically what the results would be. Perhaps that is why those tied to the heterodox “Austrian School” of economics are always eschewing empiricism; it provides no support for their more outlandish, quasi-theoretical claims.

I will be back on Magnificat Media’s Friday show, Church and State, tomorrow discussing the alt-right, voting, and Donald Trump. (More information on the show, including airtimes, is available here.) For those who haven’t seen it, I encourage you to pop over the official website of the Society of St. Pius X to reflect on two pieces from The Angelus archives which discuss a Catholic’s duty regarding voting and, just as importantly, when abstention can be morally licit (perhaps even necessary). For what it’s worth, I still have not made up my mind if I will participate in this election cycle, though I think there is a strong argument to be made that certain local elections may be necessary for a Catholic to participate in, particularly if the outcome will avert evil.

In a couple of earlier posts I made mention of my home church, St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Grand Rapids, MI. The future of this tiny parish remains uncertain, particularly since funds are in short supply and our pastor is well into his 60s. It is, as I have mentioned, the last outpost of Byzantine Catholicism in West Michigan. Decades of assimilation, coupled with the fact that almost all of the Ukrainian and Polish immigrants who first established the parish have passed on to their Heavenly reward, make St. Michael’s survival unlikely. Still, with God all things are possible. Please, if you think about it, say a prayer or two for this church and its small community of Greek Catholics. It would be much appreciated.

Rod Dreher is praising Russia again over at his web-log at The American Conservative. While I have no interest in seeing the United States embroiled in a major global conflict with Russia, I refuse to stick my head in the sand when it comes to the fact that Russia has been a multi-time aggressor in Eastern Europe in recent years. Also, despite all of the lip service given to the resurgence of “Holy Russia” under Vladimir Putin’s watch, let us not forget that Russia invaded a fellow Orthodox country—Georgia—in 2008 and is currently carrying out incursions against fellow Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Ukraine. I can understand Dreher, a member of a hyper-minority confession with no substantial roots or future in the United States, longing for an ecclesiastical mothership to look to, but no Catholic should be siding with him in this. Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church, remains officially at odds with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) and has refused to apologize for the imprisonment, torture, and murder of her clergy and faithful from the 1940s onward. Remember: Until 1989 the UGCC was the largest oppressed religious body in the world. Russia is not a friend to the Catholic Faith. Never forget that.

Ephemera II

Within the dominant Latin Rite of the Catholic Church are two venerable devotions which typically occur back-to-back at the opening of each month: The First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the First Saturday devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, very few Catholics outside of traditionalist circles honor either devotion, likely out of apathy, ignorance, or a quiet belief that such practices are not only “old hat,” but “superstitious.” With the exception of a handful of Eastern Catholics who imported these devotions, most Eastern Christians stick to the formal liturgical cycle to express their piety. This can be seen, for instance, during the Great Blessing of Water at Theophany or at the memorial services for the dead conducted throughout Great Lent. While various local churches maintain some unique “old world” devotions here and there, for the most part the Eastern tradition is bereft of practices where individuals are asked to perform certain acts on certain days in order to attain a particular divine reward. That’s not necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing, mind you. And maybe the absence of such devotional practices among the East would be less noteworthy if—in the geographic West—Eastern Christians had the ecclesiastical infrastructure to be, on average, more than what Fr. Alexander Schmemann called “Sunday churches.” Of course, just because the Latins are better at keeping their doors open during the week doesn’t mean many of the faithful pass through them.

I have not yet finished Bishop Marcarie Dragoi’s fascinating monograph, Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Transylvania (1867-1916): Convergences and Divergences (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2015), but I can already tell that it will soon be part of my ever-morphing list of “Recommended Reading” for those interested about both Eastern Christianity generally and Greek Catholicism specifically. The experience of the Romanian Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches during this period parallels in some ways the experience of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Galicia after the 18th Century, particularly with respect to ecclesiastical involvement in education, culture, nation-building, and civic institutions. What is striking, however, is how much more fraternal the ties were between Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Transylvania than what was exhibited in Galicia. This is no doubt due in large part to the political machinations of the Russian Empire at this time and its reliance on the Orthodox Church as a vehicle for cultural and political dominance in Ukraine. While Orthodox/Greek Catholic relations in Transylvania were not always perfectly harmonious, they do provide a good example of how these two confessions ought to behave toward one another moving forward, not just in Romania, but across the globe.

Some changes are coming to the Divine Liturgy as it is served in Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States, though they’re nothing to get too worked up about. The strangest (in my estimation) directive concerns the absolute prohibition on translating Κύριε Ελέησον (Kyrie Eleison), Θεοτόκος (Theotokos), and Λόγος (Logos) into English. Why? No ecclesiastical authority ever declared that those words couldn’t be rendered into Church Slavonic way back in the day. So it goes. Maybe there is an argument to be made that the English language is so intrinsically corrupt that it is incapable of capturing the proper meaning of these words with such gross substitutes as “Lord have mercy,” “Mother/Bearer of God,” and “Word.” Still, let these new directives be a lesson to those Orthodox who still cling to the myth that not a jot nor tittle of the Divine Liturgy has ever passed since the text came off the pen of Ss. John Chrysostom or Basil the Great 1,600 years ago.

Much to my chagrin, I discovered recently that the website Catholics 4 Trump (C4T) is not a gag. Established by a traditionalist Catholic who contributes regularly for The Remnant newspaper, C4T is “dedicated to exposing the lies that the left and establishment Republicans have spread about Trump to further their own self-interest that have turned many pro-life and conservative Catholics away from voting for him.” Fine. However, let me be clear that this conservative Catholic (and by “conservative” I mean “integralist”) has been persuaded to not vote for Trump by nothing more and nothing less than the Catholic Church’s social magisterium. Fear concerning the potential fallout of a Clinton presidency is no excuse for crying after a faux “strong man” to save us.

Ephemera I

I was recently alerted that Mark Lilla has a “new book” coming out, The Shipwrecked Mind. Like his early publication, The Reckless Mind, this volume is comprised of essays and review pieces Lilla published previously in The New York Review of Books and The New Republic. The gentleman who first brought this collection to my attention claimed that Lilla was not an “original thinker.” What I took that to mean is that Lilla’s writing is either derivative or repetitive (maybe both). I am not sure that is true. While we can safely assume that Lilla will not be shifting any paradigms, I think it’s important not to sell the man short. He has, after all, brought a lot of needful attention to European intellectual developments over the past two decades and was the first—to my recollection—to expand the definition of what a “Straussian” is beyond a silly synonym for “neoconservative.” Now, mind you, I disagree with Lilla about a great many things, but he’s not some middle-minded hack. In other words, he doesn’t write for Patheos.

There has been talk around the social media watercooler of a traditionalist Catholic of some repute (though, I must confess, I never heard of him) joining up with the Antiochian Orthodox Church. That’s nothing new, is it? Every year X number of Catholics (and many more Protestants) join Orthodoxy, either through the Antiochians or one of the many other jurisdictions operating in the United States today. What’s surprising about this move is that the individual in question appears to have taken a fairly hardline stance, denying the validity of all Catholic sacraments and professing that “Papists” are destined for hell. To the best of my knowledge this is not, and has never been, the position of the Patriarch of Antioch. If anything, the Antiochians are considered rather “liberal” when it comes to recognizing Catholic sacraments as valid. Moreover, the Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic communions have a long history of cooperation, including communicatio in sacris. So, whatever this fellow happens to think Orthodoxy “is” vis-à-vis Catholicism, it’s rather distinct from the perspective of his chosen Patriarchate. So it goes. It’s entirely possible the lad has just come down with a nasty case of convertitis; give him a few years and he’ll cool his pies.

Following up a (little) bit on yesterday’s post on the alt-right, I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time learning about the meme “Pepe the Frog” and how Nazified variants of this cartoon frog have become associated with the alt-right movement. (Various depictions of Pepe as Donald Trump can also be found online.) It seems that certain participants in the grotesque online forum 4chan (where the Pepe meme first originated) are endeavoring to “take back” Pepe from everyday online folk by making him politically and socially toxic. How this Internet swerve got bound up with the alt-right movement is a bit of a mystery to me, though as I noted yesterday, it’s become commonplace for the alt-right’s critics to associate it with Nazism and white supremacy. For whatever reason I want to believe that is not all the alt-right movement really is, though several individuals I trust are convinced that either there is no authentic “movement,” only a bunch of people flocking around offensive images and slogans for various reasons, or that the alt-right can basically be boiled down to one thing: antisemitism. Maybe it would be best if the alt-right faded out of existence altogether, but I really don’t see that happening.

I was hoping at some point to offer up a review of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s (UGCC) freshly translated catechism, Christ Our Pascha, but I am not sure when I will have the time. It is, in my humble estimation, a far superior text to the standard Catechism of the Catholic Church, though I have no illusions that it will ever be as widely promoted or read. (I do hope, in time, that the entire text will be made available online.) The UGCC faithful in the United States and Canada, like the Catholic faithful writ large, are badly under-catechized. Why this is the case is a complex question. However, in addition to the having to weather the deleterious effects of secularism, Greek Catholics in the West have struggled to hold on to their flocks in the face of what I will non-polemically call “Latin competition.” Let’s face it. The Novus Ordo Missae is much shorter than the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Most English-language Catholic educational tools are written from a Latin perspective and Latin Catholicism is just far more “available” than Greek Catholicism in this part of the world. Although Christ Our Pascha will not singlehandedly overcome all of the challenges facing Greek Catholicism in the West, its availability is a an important step toward preserving the Eastern heritage of the Catholic Faith in the United States and Canada while also enlightening non-Eastern Catholics on the rich theological, spiritual, and liturgical patrimony of the Christian East.

Finally, consider this post a “test run” of something I am going to try to do at least once a week, namely collecting together commentary on various topics which probably don’t warrant their own post (or I simply don’t have time to write about at any length). If you prefer linearity in your blog reading, then my apologies. (And for the one or two of you wondering, yes I have shamelessly lifted this idea from the old Ochlophobist web-log.)