Recently, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of the Russian Orthodox Church gave an interview in which he discussed, inter alia, worship in the Orthodox Church as compared to other traditions. (You can find the interview at the bottom of Robert Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican Letter #49 here.) Here’s an excerpt.
Let me be clear: Neither John Zmirak nor Mark Shea are saints of my devotion. The former is often a mindless shill for the liberalism of the Right; the latter too often tries to baptize the liberalism of the Left. Both also accept the neo-Catholic narrative of Church history since Vatican II, though Zmirak, like the economic liberals who haunt the halls of the Acton Institute, enjoys playing pick-and-choose with the Church’s social magisterium. Shea, under the guise of faithfully adhering to that magisterium, tries to maintain the myth that the Democratic Party faithfully represents the Church’s teachings on economics, society, and “life issues” (broadly defined).
And so it should come as no surprise that the two are butting heads over pro-life issues during this election cycle. Those interested in getting a rundown of the controversy—specifically Shea’s smear tactics against Zmirak—should check out Jason Scott Jones’s recent piece over at Life Site News. In short, Shea insinuates that Zmirak is a supporter of “Right Wing Culture of Death Priorities” related to torture, war, the death penalty, gun rights, and so forth. As Jones discusses, however, it does not appear that Zmirak really defends any of that stuff, or at least not as forcefully and clearly as Shea implies. This is not to say Zmirak “gets it” entirely right. After all, his pro-market apologetics and faith in movement conservatism’s “small government” narrative betrays an adherence to liberal principles over the express teachings of the Church. Still, Shea has a responsibility to the truth and making Zmirak out to be pro-torutre or pro-unjust war is completely uncalled for.
This spat between Shea and Zmirak won’t settle anything. The two have been going at it for years. What it does reveal, though, is the rotten state of American Catholic politics. Instead of seeing what many faithful popes and theologians knew from the 18th Century on, namely that liberalism is the enemy of a just society and the Church, Catholics like Shea and Zmirak fall over themselves to prove that one can be a “good Catholic” and a “good liberal” (albeit of different flavors)—no questions asked. The problem is that this simply not true. It is not possible to love liberalism while being faithful to divine and natural law. Is that an unsettling truth? Yes, of course it is. Few men actually desire to feel “out of sorts” with his age; many want to “get by” with as little obstruction as possible.
That is a temptation, and like all temptations it is from the devil. God has not called us to be “good liberals”; he has called us to be faithful sons and daughters of the Church. It is not our place to uphold the “rights of man”; it is our duty to uphold the rights of Christ the King in society. Read the works of Shea and Zmirak and ask yourself, “Do either of them do this?” In fact, read the works of most contemporary Catholic pundits and ask the same question. The answers you reach will be unsettling.
Recently there have been rumblings on social media and Catholic blogs about the American Solidarity Party (ASP), a small but growing third party which takes its bearings primarily from those Catholic social principles which are endorsed by a number of non-Catholics as well, specifically subsidarity and — naturally — solidarity. For those not inclined to click around the party’s website to get a grasp of what it stands for, Susannah Black, writing over at Front Porch Republic, has penned an extensive piece detailing the ASP’s history and vision. I suggest you all read it.
Now, from the get-go, there are several aspects of the ASP which I could quibble with. For instance, its absolute stance against the death penalty does not align with Catholic teaching, though, as a prudential matter, I can certainly see the utility in placing a moratorium on it until the United States undertakes more comprehensive criminal-justice reform. Moreover, there is room to discuss the appropriate limits of centralized government programs, entitlements, and wealth redistribution; at this point ASP is keeping its platform fairly general, not particular. And last, Catholics need to always be on guard against letting a political party or movement with non-Catholics turn into an opportunity for religious indifferentism or syncretism.
With that said, I encourage all of you dear readers — Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant — to give serious consideration to the ASP as an alternative to the dreadful options being walked out by the Democratic and Republican parties. The ASP may not fully capture every platform point you hold dear, but if you are faithful to your respective confession’s teachings, I think you will find the ASP comes far closer to upholding them than any other American political party. (For my part, my policy preferences are a bit closer to what a party like Ukraine’s Svoboda upholds, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.)
Fraught, the second definition of which reads “causing or affected by great anxiety or stress,” remains one of my favorite adjectives to use when discussing not only our current political climate, but the situation in the Catholic Church as well. Some friends like to tease me for using the word too much. By my lights, folks don’t use it enough. Sticking to the Church for a moment, it is patently absurd that words such as “troubled” or “unstable” or “challenging” are used to describe one of the greatest ecclesiastical crises in Church history. Although some point to trying periods such as when Arianism ran rampant or iconoclasm reigned supreme (at least in the East), never before have we seen apostasy on such a grand scale, along with princes and leaders of the Church teaching manifest error without any apparent risk of official censure. Truth be told, those who like to bring up previous points of difficulty in Church history often do so in order to paper over what is going on today, at this very moment, throughout the Catholic world. Even if there is an argument to be made that there were worse times for the Church centuries ago, that does not relieve faithful Catholics living today from the duty to fight for a restoration of orthodoxy and sound leadership. And yet there appears to be no end to the excuse-making, no shortage of justifying rhetoric meant to lull otherwise vigilant Catholics into accepting “the times” and going about their business. After all, God won’t allow the gates of hell to prevail against the Church, etc., etc., etc.
On the political level, there is a noticeable shift within certain Catholic circles away from either longing for some age that never existed or believing that the “right set of candidates” with the “right set of policies” will bring order back into the world. The fruits of the liberal order are now fully apparent; there’s no reason to think the situation will improve. Similarly, there is no reason to hope that some half-witted “strong man” is the answer to our present maladies. Seeking salvation in a buffoon would be risible if it wasn’t so catastrophically sad. How many more election cycles will it take before a sizable enough portion of the Catholic electorate wakes up and fights back? Or will the bulk of American Catholicism succumb to secularism once and for all, praying for political peace at the cost of their very souls? Never underestimate the power of cowardice fueled by promises of comfort and entertainment. Given how leaderless many Catholics feel today, and the fact that our very shepherds have abandoned fighting for the fullness of the Faith, is it any wonder the sheep are picked-off so easily by the wolves?
Now comes the hard part. For no matter how often I make mention of these realities to an increasing number of people willing to accept them, I am always hit with the question, “What do we do about it?” And here I must say, without a trace of glibness or irony, “Pray.” For prayer is where we draw our strength from the only true source of hope in dark times, Christ our Lord and Redeemer. It is in prayer and participation in the Church’s divine services that we find the fortitude to press ahead, to be witnesses to the truth, and endure whatever evils may come because of our most sacred convictions. No design, no artifice of human thought with an accompanying socio-political program, can possibly provide more than prayer. If we cannot be Catholics, if we cannot hold together in charity and truth, then nothing we might pull together from the teachings of the popes on society and the learned reflections of theologians will mean much of anything. And even if such endeavors can succeed for a time on the mundane level, what use will they be for orienting us toward our highest end, which is the beatific vision?
My post from earlier this week discussed briefly the tendency in American Catholicism to chase after political relevance, even at the cost of following what the Church actually teaches with respect to society, economics, and politics. It would be a mistake to read my remarks as focusing solely on older generations of Catholics who buy into one form of liberalism or another. Yes, they are the most visible and, arguably, politically influential, but they are hardly alone. A very modest amount of footwork can quickly reveal a contingent of younger Catholics (though some are now entering their 30s and 40s) who ostensibly claim to reject liberalism (however defined) in favor of some quaint fusion of very generalized Catholic principles with some form of socialism. Ignoring glibly the social magisterium’s routine condemnation of both socialism and communism, this group of Catholics take on the socio-political postures of mainline college activism and dress them up in worn-out vestments leftover from the days of “social Catholicism.” Instead of positing the salvation of souls as the highest end, they prefer instead to rail against “social injustices” while setting to the side pelvic matters which, they fear, will somehow undermine their mainline political credibility.
Granted, this shift is not exactly new in Christianity. Starting at least eight years ago, in the run-up to Barak Obama’s election, a significant contingent of evangelical Christians, many of whom were once disposed toward upholding traditional “Life” issues, started to speciously expand the menu of such issues to include, inter alia, the environment, poverty, war, the death penalty/criminal justice system, etc. In other words, they looked for a way to circumvent making abortion a supremely important political matter in order to get behind candidates and policy platforms which many evangelicals traditionally considered morally problematic. Sure, some of these young evangelicals still spoke of abortion “as bad” and sometimes whispered that “gay rights” and so-called “same-sex marriage” weren’t “ideal,” but by and large they acclimated themselves to what the Democratic Party promotes — and they’ve never looked back. If anything, they have drifted further to the Left, embracing more radical social ideals and economic reforms which, even if intended to ameliorate concrete evils, often seek to do so illictly. But, without a magisterium to guide them, it is not entirely unsurprising that these well-meaning Christians have lost the way in the name of retaining some modicum of political relevance.
Not so with Catholics. As Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. has stated repeatedly, if one wants to know what the Catholic Church teaches, look it up. Google it. Do what is necessary; it shouldn’t be hard. Even though certain forces have conspired to obscure the Church’s social magisterium, that teaching has not been lost — and it certainly has not changed. The only thing that has changed (or is changing) is the willingness of Catholics living under the horizon of secular-liberalism to take that teaching seriously. Admittedly, that’s not always easy, especially in today’s fraught political climate, but no Catholic has the right to dissent from the truth; no Catholic can ignore what is plainly taught in favor of political relevance or, worse, social-media posturing.
Last Friday I gave a talk on integralism for a Catholic men’s group here in Grand Rapids. It was my fourth talk for them, the most “popular” being my lengthy lecture on the (in)compatibility of libertarianism with Catholicism. Much of what I had to say was built upon articles, blog posts, and my ever-expanding book manuscript. At the outset of the talk, I half-jokingly said that integralism is nothing more than Catholics following what the Church has always taught, not just with respect to politics and society, but all facets of natural and supernatural life. It became clear to me over the course of my 90-minute speaking engagement that I wasn’t saying anything “new.” That is, I was not attempting to advance a pet ideology or catchy socio-cultural posture; I was imply explaining, inter alia, the relationship of spiritual and temporal authority; the social kingship of Christ; and the duty of all Catholics to follow divine and natural law, even when they conflict with civil positive law.
So it is strange (and depressing) to look at ostensibly Catholic publications, blogs, and social media to see so many self-professed conservative and traditional Catholics promoting ideas, positions, and candidates which are at odds with what the Church professes to be true. Pragmatism—and a last desperate grasp at political relevance—seems to be animating far too many Catholics to support the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump along with policies that uphold economic liberalism, war mongering, and religious indifferentism. Granted, this is not a new problem. For more than a century, American Catholicism has capitulated to the spirit of the times in order to prove that Catholics, like Protestants, Jews, and atheists, can be “good Americans” while (privately) holding fast to their (personal) religious beliefs.
A year ago I had thought that, given the deplorable state of American political life, this election cycle would witness a noticeable rise in outspoken Catholics who simply cannot abide by the despicable choices secular democracy has furnished us. Instead, what I see are more and more Catholics who love to go on about “orthodoxy” and “tradition” doubling-down on liberalism because they have duped themselves into believing that our state of affairs will be noticeably improved by the Republican Party over the Democratic Party. Granted, some of the panic-button pushers are willing to concede that the GOP is a shell of its former self with very little left on its platform to appeal to so-called social conservatives or the religious right. However, these same folk fear that another four (or eight) years of Democratic rule will yield catastrophic results for both Catholicism and the United States.
Personally, I am not willing to give in to fear, at least not yet (and, God willing, not ever). No credible evidence, coupled with a cogent argument, has yet been presented to convince me that I ought to cast a single vote this November which runs contrary to conscience—a conscience shaped by reason and revelation. If someone asks me what integralism “looks like” in action, that is it. Integralism means following the Church, not the Zeitgeist. Integralism means foregoing compromises with evil even at great professional and personal cost. Integralism, above all else, means upholding the social rights of Christ the King and never genuflecting before earthly powers and temporal thrones which have divorced themselves from God’s appointed spiritual authority, our Holy Mother Church.
Social media can be hard to assess sometimes, but it seems that Brandon McGinley’s latest piece for First Things, “Catholics Must Resist Ethno-Nationalism,” is generating some buzz (both positive and negative). Most of what McGinley has to say is pretty straightforward. For a good long while, Catholics in America were marginalized for religious and racial reasons; now (white?) Catholics are firmly a part of mainstream American life; and today that means (white?) Catholics have to contend with the racialist nature of contemporary American politics (or, rather, contemporary American conservative politics). Where people seem to take umbrage with McGinley concerns his strongly implied position that Americans (particularly American Catholics) should not support policies which exclude persons based on race or ethnicity. (What about religious background?)
On a certain level, McGinley is right. As I wrote about in my two recent posts regarding the so-called “alt-right movement” (see here and here), racism has no place in authentic Catholic social teaching or politics. A well-ordered society will not discriminate arbitrarily between its citizens, nor will it ignore concrete injustices being inflicted upon particular classes of persons (however defined). That does not mean that a well-ordered society cannot or should not exercise prudence when it comes to the status, rights, and opportunities of non-citizens, particularly if they pose a legitimate threat to public order. And this is where things start to get messy. For while it is no doubt true that some Americans who want to place stricter regulations on immigration (temporary or permanent) are animated by good old-fashioned redneck-style racism, that’s hardly true across the board. Americans — including American Catholics — have a genuine fear that increased Muslim immigration to the United States, Canada, and Western Europe poses a serious security threat which cannot be dismissed with guffawing and some finger wagging. Moreover, while the Catholic Church teaches that we are called to show charity toward all peoples, including refugees fleeing violence or other horrors, it does not state that such persons are to automatically enjoy all of the rights and privileges of citizenship. Under ideal circumstances, refugees should return to their native lands when the opportunity permits. If permanent residency is to be extended to them, that decision must be made with an eye toward the common good.
Where McGinley loses me is toward the end of his article where he seems to justify open-armed acceptance of all with the argument that American Catholics will soon find themselves on the margins of American life. While I agree with McGinley that American Catholics will find themselves increasingly pushed to the sidelines (if not cast out like lepers), I cannot wrap my head around the idea that letting in more people to the United States who profess a false religion which harbors murderous hatred for Christ and His Church is going to improve our situation. If anything, we should be pushing for looser immigration policies for those coming from historically Catholic countries (e.g., Mexico), along with opening our borders to persecuted Christian populations in the Middle East, a number of whom are Catholic (e.g., Chaldeans, Melkites, and Maronites). To hell with “American values” and “our nation’s history.” As faithful Catholics, it is not our duty to appeal to secular-liberal conceptions of tolerance or buy into fanciful ideas of “brotherhood” that have nothing to do with what the Church magisterially teaches. Our duty is to Christ the King and the conversion of society to His rule. Racism can have no part in that, of course, but neither can squishy platitudes.
No one with eyes to see and ears to hear should be the least bit surprised that Alasdair MacIntyre’s 2004 essay, “The Only Vote Worth Casting in November,” is once again making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and lowly web-logs. What’s probably not making the rounds are two 2014 articles from the Michigan news and politics magazine Bridge, namely my piece, “Why Did This Conservative Stay Home on Election Day?,” and a rebuttal penned by dear friend Conor Dugan entitled “This West Michigan Conservative Pulls the Lever for Voter Participation.” While both articles are centered on Michigan political realities which may not be particularly interesting to voters in America’s 49 other states, Dugan and I tried to articulate both sides of the “vote or not” debate by relying on more general principles and facts.
Were I inclined to rewrite my article in light of this ongoing election cycle, I probably wouldn’t change much. There is nothing about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton that I find so laudable (or odious) that makes me feel compelled to vote for either. In other words, I am not so “fearful” of Clinton that I now believe I “need” to vote for Trump in order to “save the country,” nor do I find something better in having Hillary at the helm over The Donald. If that makes me a “bad American,” then so be it. I so rarely receive compliments of that magnitude.
For reasons I cannot possibly discern, The New York Review of Books has republished Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay, “Ur-Fascism,” on its website. The piece briefly recounts Eco’s own involvement with Italian fascism before moving out to reflect on the the role of fascism (and, to some extent, communism) in European politics from the 1930s onward. The essay then “peaks” with 14 features of what Eco calls “Ur-Fascism” or “Eternal Fascism.” As Eco makes clear, “[t]hese features cannot be organized into a system” as “many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism.” For what it is worth, I have tersely summarized the 14 points below, with some commentary to follow. You should, of course, read the whole essay and draw your own conclusions.
The freshly translated catechism of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Christ Our Pascha, covers the entire spread of Catholic doctrine, including the Church’s social magisterium. While a single post cannot review the whole of this catechism’s teaching on the subject, it is important to highlight that the UGCC falls into agreement with the wider Church on matters such as property, solidarity, subsidiarity, and wages. Contrary to the claims of Catholic economic liberals, such as those housed at the Acton Institute, the UGCC understands that the right to property is neither absolute nor exclusively private under all circumstances. Here is paragraph 941: