Look How They Love One Another

During several of the many revisions/enhancements/reconsiderations of his philosophy of history, Eric Voegelin drew attention to the uncertainty of life and its effect on the human soul. Life is hard—a banal observation until you start unpacking what that means. Materially speaking, life is exponentially easier today than it was 100 years ago. At the spiritual level, life may be as difficult as it has ever been. Never before have human beings been inundated with so much pneumatic trash. Keeping in mind the plethora of competing religions, sects, denominations, ideologies, and “reasoned” denials of all that once made us three-dimensional persons which work to assail Apostolic Christianity (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, etc.), it is little wonder that pseudo-intellectuals, grifters, and charlatans prowl about the Internet seeking the ruin of souls (and their money). So-called “defenders of the faith” fall over themselves to convince you not only of the reality of existential threats to “true religion,” but that they possess the means to combat them.

All of this is very performative, of course. Some are better at it than others. Unsurprisingly, many of these individuals and the cyber-enterprises they created in their basements turn on each other regularly. Looking for a second at the microcosm that is traditional Catholicism, it rarely resembles a callback to a “better time.” Rather it appears as bellum omnium contra omnes. Principled disagreements, of which they are legitimately many, are an afterthought in the race to accuse this-or-that person or group of being schismatic, heretical, sowing discontent, disobedient, capitulating, selling out, and so on and so forth.

Many wants to believe that the story of Christianity is mostly neat, linear, and without the sort of massive upheavals that are pervasive today. Sticking with Catholicism, the Second Vatican Council represents just such an upheaval or, perhaps, the gateway to numerous upheavals, both foreseen and unforeseen. Bishop Bernard Fellay, the former Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), observed repeatedly that when it came to the Council, both the “far left” (liberal Catholics) and “far right” (sedevacantist Catholics) shared a common belief that Vatican II changed things. Moreover, in defending the Council, conservatives (including those who were once referred to as neo-Catholics) joined the liberals in believing the Council is good because it came from the Church. Sedevacantists and some other extreme traditionalists, on the other hand, believe that because the Council is bad, it cannot have come from the Church. Those Catholics stuck in the proverbial middle are left with a mystery, an uncertainty if you will, that is nearly impossible to reason through. Faith is essential, but it is now in short supply. Is it any wonder then that unqualified self-promoters have a fresh opportunity to step into the fray to “make sense” of this dilemma?

This “making sense,” as noted, often means pointing fingers. The SSPX, as the veteran voice of resistance to the modernist pathologies that have invaded the Church, is routinely subjected to fierce criticism. Liberals believe the Society is in outright schism. Conservatives tend to agree with this position, though their tone has softened in light of recent circumstances, including a growing recognition that John Paul II, the pontiff that the Society so “egregiously disobeyed,” may not have been all he was cracked up to be. Traditional Catholics vary. Some, wanting to be seen as obedient and refusing to act in any way that forfeited their ultramontane bona fides, kept the SSPX at arm’s length or denounced the fraternity altogether for the usual litany of tired, unconvincing reasons. Others view the Society as “competition,” which explains why certain individuals and their enterprises expended a disproportionate amount of energy denouncing it.

Although it is not my place to defend the SSPX, especially since it has done an incredible job explaining its positions through books, periodicals, videos, and podcasts, I mention it only because it is a frequent topic of conversation among those who purport to “explain” the Catholic Church’s current circumstances while trying to square the circle by offering a worldly “solution.” Any soul familiar with the history of Catholicism over the past century ought to know that the SSPX is hardly alone in taking extraordinary action to preserve the Faith and minister to the faithful. The saintly patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Joyf Slipyj, fortified the UGCC against the brutal persecution of Soviet Russia and the political machinations of the Vatican. Given that few comprehend history well, it is not surprising that Patriarch Josyf’s heroic witness for the Church commonly goes unnoticed.

Besides, understanding others as they understand themselves, and through the lens of charity, rarely draws clicks.

The 7/27/22 Post

I made passing mention the other week of Catholic (and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox) social media being haunted by professional grifters, that is, those who blend armchair theology and unctuous spirituality outrage porn. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, grifting became so out of control that the charlatans turned on each other. Traditional Catholics chided far-right conservative Catholics for being weak which, in turn, prompted the latter to accuse the former of being crypto-sedevacantists. QAnon-style conspiracy theories spilled the banks of national politics while far too many of my co-religionists set aside prayer, the Bible, and common sense to hang their souls on the words of an episcopus vagans. It does not look like the crazy train plans to slow down anytime in 2022.

Meanwhile, over in the (neo-)integralist universe, the march for authoritarianism-for-authoritarianism’s sake continues. Gone are the days when this “movement” (if it can be called that) possessed spiritual roots; now it is the equivalent of a warped role-playing game where sorcery is secondary to a rarely mitigated lust for the last dregs of power. Confused over what it is they even stand for these days, it is not hard to find integralists fawning over China; making plans to relocate to Hungary; and praising Vladimir Putin’s murderous intentions toward Ukraine because somehow that beleaguered land has become the battleground for a clash of civilizations. It is meet and right that the integralists are increasingly viewed as cosplay jokesters who have worn out their welcome at the discussion table. They cannot demand to be taken seriously when they flee from criticism and opt for personal smears over intellectual engagement.

As for the Orthodox, well…it is a mixed bag. With a radically smaller audience than their estranged Catholic brethren, grifting cannot pay the bills. Orthodox blog-dom, like Catholic blog-dom, is radically less interesting today than it was 10-20 years ago. The loudest Anglophone Orthodox voices that I have come across online lack theological sophistication. These folks learned their history from YouTube videos and their understanding of anything not culled from one-sided polemics is minimal at best. Some of these lads (and yes, they are almost exclusively lads) are well-meaning; they want to have something—anything—to say that draws clicks. Unfortunately, the markets for lamenting over the Fourth Crusade or talking nonsense about the oft invoked yet poorly understood energies/essence distinction collapsed long ago.

Some might say I am complaining and complaining needlessly at that. Perhaps my approach to Christian social media should be the same as my approach to professional wrestling: Watch what I like and shut up. I confess that I have no grand solution to any of this foolishness. The best proposal I can draw up is for everyone to sit down, be quiet, and watch Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. It is my current litmus test for the soul. I dare say that any person who spends approximately 90 minutes with this one-inch animated creature should renounce their professional guile while gaining a genuine appreciation for the wonders which surround us daily. Will it work? Doubtful…but I still have hope.

Not Gonna Panic

I do not understand Twitter in all its particulars, and maybe I understand less than that. When I popped the site open this morning I was “informed” that “Satanic Panic” was trending. After poking around a bit, I do not think the concept trended worldwide. Rather, Twitter’s internal gadgets and gizmos has found this is a topic I would be interested in, next to Vince McMahon’s fall from grace at World Wrestling Entertainment and the ongoing war in Ukraine. For those unaware, the initial wave of “Satanic Panic” began in the 1980s and marched onward into the 90s. Largely unsubstantiated claims of satanic ritual abuse sprung forth from the media, pundits, and law enforcement during this time, leading to wasted resources and, worse, the framing of innocent persons. (The case of the so-called West Memphis Three is one of the more popular and egregious examples.) Even this season of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, set in 1986, refers to this panic as it related to the game Dungeons & Dragons.

Since everything old is new again, I should not be surprised that “Satanic Panic” is back in play. Heaven only knows what really gave rise to the phenomenon in the 1980s, though several sociological theories have been put forth. A number of those who decry this panic as little more than conspiracy mongering seem to enjoy engaging in conspiracy theorizing of their own. One such untested claim is that the “Satanic Panic” was a myth ginned up by Evangelical Christians to seize the reins of power. Another, slightly more plausible, explanation is that the “Satanic Panic” was bound up with “homophobia” which itself saw an uptick in the aftermath of the HIV/AIDS crisis. For my part, I think the “Satanic Panic” was caused by all that sweet heavy metal that came out of that decade, but I digress.

Apparently evil just isn’t intriguing enough without some supernatural/occult-ish twist. Today, heinous and violent crimes, including rape and murder, are explained (away?) by detailed psychological profiles that often attempt to track the emergence of a predator by peering into their past. A systematically abused child who graduates from animal torture to sadistic killing is a lot less interesting than someone possessed by a demon. And should this demon be a figment of the imagination, or an excuse conjured up by the perpetrator, the tale routinely proves more exciting than a “mere” determination that a criminal is mentally and emotionally damaged.

Some may object by noting that even if the “Satanic Panic” was and remains overblown, it does not follow that no criminal acts are carried out with infernal intent. That is true. I believe in the reality of demonic possession just as much as I believe that individuals, psychologically broken or not, can commit evil acts in the name of Satan. As the last century and this one proves, the demonic can mean much more than black clothing, mediocre Latin, and pentagrams. (As for hellfire and brimstone, mankind now has a comparative advantage in that department over the legions of hell.) Indeed, there is an argument to be made that we live in an era of casual demonism, from the way we craft foreign policy to the way we treat our neighbors. Its true power lies in the fact nobody is having a panic over it.

The Worst of Times?

Handwringing is never in short supply on Catholic social media, especially traditional Catholic social media. (Who would have ever thought such a thing could exist?) The latest impetus for despair is the set of restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) imposed by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Other anti-TLM moves, such as Cardinal Blase Cupich showing the Institute of Christ the King the door in Chicago, are contributing to the consternation. And while one former Catholic college professor has intimated that I am not taking the situation as seriously as I ought (perhaps because I do not believe Eastern Catholic churches should become TLM hubs), I remain disinclined from screaming, “The sky is falling!” We are not living in the end times. We are not even living in the worst of times, at least as far as the traditional Roman liturgy is concerned. Those who enjoy rending their garments often lack perspective. Until at least Pope John Paul II’s 1988 document Ecclesia Dei and, really, not until Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007, the TLM was unavailable to a hyper-majority of Catholics. Indeed, the 1970s and 80s were the “wild West” of traditional Catholicism with random with typically aging clergy doing what they could to say the old Mass across the country. Few had time for liturgical minutiae. Arcane rubrical debates could not be front and center for the simple fact that clergy and the communities they ministered to had to get by with what they had—and it was not a lot.

Recently I had the privilege to do editorial work on a new book, The Story of Fr. George Kathrein. Kathrein, a native of Austria and Redemptorist, experienced the 1970s liturgical reform firsthand. Despite resistance from his superiors and fellow Redemptorists, Fr. Kathrein pressed ahead, offering the TLM and other sacraments according to the traditional Roman Rite to flocks of Catholics. And while he was never officially a member of the Society of Saint Pius X, Kathrein maintained ties with the fraternity while working to aid the most abandoned souls in the Catholic Church. Even as the years slowed him down, Fr. Kathrein never lost sight of his mission, nor did he fret for the Church’s future. Years before the strictures on the TLM were loosened, this Redemptorist and numerous other clerics forged ahead, laying the groundwork for the contemporary traditional Catholic movement.

How many untold stories are still out there? As time takes its course, more and more will be lost to history. Now more than ever, traditional Catholics need to hear and read about the “bad old days.” Perspective is key. Unfortunately, there is a temptation for not just traditional Catholics but all people to “outsource” their problems, to hope that someone else will come along to clean things up and set the room back in order. When Summorum dropped, Catholics accustomed to hyper-papal centrality and top-down ecclesiastical structuring, thought the good times were here to stay. Ah, but what one pope giveth, another pope taketh—and there ain’t nuttin’ you can do ‘bout it.

Or is there? Without committing to the thesis that 2022 is 1972 or 1982 redux, it would behoove traditional Catholics to take a close look at the years following the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae to assess how (relatively) bad they really have it (or not). What lessons can be distilled from that era and applied today? And though I am under no illusion that priests read this web-log, surely there are some throughout the country’s dioceses who will not allow the shifting and arbitrary decrees of misguided hierarchs to impede their duty to save souls. The highest law of the Church cannot be abrogated.

A Banner Day

Hulu’s recent adaption of the John Krakauer true crime/religious history bestseller, Under The Banner of Heaven, generated mixed but overall positive reviews. Opting for a “poetically licensed” examination of the savage murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty with flashbacks to Mormon history, the television series has come under fire from Mormon faithful. McKay Coppins, a staff writer at The Atlantic who adheres to some form of the Mormon religion, attacked the show for presenting the “idea…that Mormonism is at heart an oppressive and violent religion whose mainstream adherents are ever perched on the brink of radicalization[.]” Further, “the show has managed to offend or at least alienate most of the Latter-day Saints who have given it a chance, including the most sophisticated viewers.” According to Coppins, some unspecified element of his confession now looks at Mormon history with a critical eye. It stands to reason, however, that professing critics of the Mormon religion are few and far between; they do not represent the mainstream.

While Coppins has several complaints about Banner, one of them is exceedingly silly: Mormonism is a persecuted minority religion in America. Sure, there may only be approximately 7-8 million Mormons in America, which places their numbers well north of observant Muslims and Jews. And despite not being a Christian religion, Mormonism in America is six to seven times larger than Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Mormons continue to have a stronghold on Utah society and politics, and Mormon adherents can be found in all walks of political, social, and popular American life. Due to Mormon doctrinal plasticity on issues that have landed them in hot water, including polygamy and overt racism, they have been able to “get by” in the United States despite harbor an array of religious opinions that can be sourced to a charismatic 19th century charlatan named Joseph Smith.

Mormons may be nice people (many are) with a general moral code that broadly adheres to the shared views of many folks until recent times, but one of the unsettling elements of Krakauer’s book (and the Hulu series) is how central polygamy (or, to use the Mormon term, “plural marriage”) was to Mormonism at the outset and remains critical to the religion’s fundamentalist wing. (The mainline Mormon religious institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), routinely denounces its estranged fundamentalist brethren as existing outside the LDS church.) Joseph Smith’s centrality to Mormonism has not waned in nearly two centuries. So why is it wrong for Krakauer or a plethora of other writers, scholars, and polemicists to peer into Mormonism’s history to expose not merely that plural marriage was practiced, but was actively promoted as essential for salvation? The LDS church may find all this embarrassing, but it is not wrong.

There is an argument to be made, of course, that fundamentalist Mormons are simply staying true to historic Mormonism, the sort which was allegedly revealed by God to Smith and later prophets before becoming politically inconvenient. Moreover, when following the thread of strict Mormonism to its logically illogical and perverse conclusions, is it surprising to find plural marriage, pedophilia, rape, spousal abuse, and incest running rampant in fundamentalist circles? Whatever good came out of the mainline LDS church condemning these practices does not wash over that it shares a common history with the more extreme or, should I say, strictly observant branches of the religion. The fundamentalists await one “strong and mighty” to restore pure Mormonism. The LDS, for its part, have never produced anyone “strong and mighty” enough to suppress those who represent an arguably more authentic form of Mormon belief.

A Little Legal Realism for Tuesday

Natural law never held much sway with me, at least professionally. As an impressionable college-aged kid, I was on board with Leo Strauss’s critique of natural law (which he saw as something of a contradiction) in the light of (classical) natural right. While Strauss was customarily coy about his “true meaning,” students of Strauss (“Straussians”) took up the master’s cause against the natural law tradition. Harry Jaffa, in his debut book Thomism and Aristotelianism, tried to expose how Aquinas morphed Aristotle’s philosophy of natural right into a basis for natural law. This critique was presaged by Strauss’s own Natural Right and History which, inter alia, delivered a rap on the knuckles to the Dumb Ox for illicitly inserting synderesis into Aristotle’s thought. Some have opined that Strauss’s true target was not in fact Aquinas but rather Jacques Maritain, whose modernized Thomism was not to Strauss’s liking.

On the level of practice, both in my old life as an aviation lawyer/academic and my current adventures on consumer protection, the legal-realist paradigm, once thought extinct in respectable circles, has and continues to hold my attention. Setting aside misspent hours (hundreds and hundreds of hours) in the undeniably attractive but morally vacuous realm of law and economics (which, truth be told, owes more to the realist movement than it often acknowledges), today I find more value in examining common and statutory law, court rules, and judicial decisions through the realist lens, both to understand (to the extent that is even possible) not only why Case A yields Outcome Z, but to predict in a moderately scientific (though largely impressionistic) manner what will result from Cases B, C, D, etc. Had I the time, I would do more than keep personal notes. Data collection is a long, drawn-out process, requiring resources that are unavailable to me. And truth be told, I am starting to suspect that certain variables, such as what a judge had for lunch or if s/he is satisfied with the current storylines in World Wrestling Entertainment, has a lot more to do with decision-making than I previously thought.

They do not teach this stuff in law school, mind you. Even in the headiest academic circles, reverence is still given to the integrity of the law and its allegedly strong orientation toward rationality, orderliness, and predictability rather than being a tool for the politically powerful who expect the courts to advance this-or-that “cause,” even at the lowest judicial levels. Typically, the public only gets wind of this possibility when the U.S. Supreme Court drops a bombshell on, say, abortion rights or environmental regulation. Few realize that day in and day out on the state level, hundreds (if not thousands) of decisions are made that reinforce an array of socio-economic structures that are deeply problematic. When race plays into the mix, some attention may be given by media outlets, but even that is a rare occurrence. The fact that state courts, such as Michigan district courts, often serve as wealth-transfer vehicles from the have nots to the haves is ignored. The “sacrosanct” rules of evidence, one of the guarantors of fairness in the “truth seeking” mission of the courts, quickly evacuate the premises in landlord/tenant and debt-collection cases. And should an enterprising lawyer or two feel compelled to press the issue through the protracted appellate process, there are strong institutional incentives for an appellate judge or panel to maintain the status quo lest a disruption to the paper-pushing process expose the need for more judicial resources, including transparency mechanisms.

Some (very) modest steps in the right direction have been taken in recent years. The Michigan Supreme Court’s Justice for All initiative is one example. A handful of local courts have taken steps to assist those who believe they cannot afford representation in finding legal help. Other states have more comprehensive plans in place, but in-depth studies on their efficacy are only beginning to emerge. Unfortunately, few are asking the hard questions, up to and including what do we, as a society, want from the judiciary and how do we get there? As I opined many years ago over at Bridge Michigan, an elected judiciary is freighted with problems, though I am less convinced today than I was then that a purely appointment-based system is the way to go. Regardless of which selection method is utilized, a myriad of class-based institutional issues remain. Arbitrary and capricious decision-making runs rampant when those left to the mercy of the courts lack the means to hold the system accountable.

On a Modest Liturgical Proposal

The other day, a traditional Catholic writer whose work I have followed with interest for many years began posting a “proposal” of sorts on social media that roughly went like this: Due to the ongoing crackdowns on the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) by bishops hellbent on applying Traditiones Custodoes (Pope Francis’s motu proprio that put to bed his predecessor’s tradition-friendly edict Summorum Pontificum), perhaps Eastern Catholic parishes should open their doors for this liturgy to be celebrated within their walls. There were a few other peripheral suggestions mixed in as well, but I’ll leave those to the side for now.

Without delving into the canonical conundrums such a “solution” may raise, it is important to note first that Catholic churches “sharing space” is not an innovation. A number of Eastern Catholic communities located outside of their ancestral lands have relied on Roman parishes for material support, including worship space. As a youth, for instance, I was an altar server for a Melkite Greek-Catholic priest on an Air Force base in New Jersey. We were compelled to make do with the “ecumenical” layout of the base’s main chapel. Is it optimal? No. It is, however, far better than nothing. And so, it is at least conceivable that, under needful conditions, a TLM could be served in an Eastern parish, especially where there is no other established Roman community nearby.

That situation is a bit different, though, from the one the aforementioned writer is proposing. His interest, as far as I can tell, is for Eastern churches to open their doors to the TLM where the local Latin ordinary has either forbidden or radically restricted the celebration of the TLM within his diocese. This instrumental approach to the Eastern churches, even if well-intentioned, should not stand for at least two powerful reasons. First and foremost, it sets the stage for tensions between the Latin ordinary and the ruling Eastern hierarch, which does nobody a lick of good. Imagine if a Latin Catholic bishop opened one or more of his parishes to local Eastern Catholics who were disgruntled with their rightful bishop, perhaps because they do not like celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular or prefer to retain certain traditions that have faded out over time (e.g., the use of Latin devotions in Eastern parishes). The howling would be deafening.

Second, such a situation hardly fosters unity among traditional Roman and Eastern Catholics. Rather, the latter’s parishes become escape hatches for the former, with the former apparently not participating in the life of the community. That is not Catholic. It probably does not need to be said that Eastern Catholics have and continue to find themselves alienated by their Western brethren when they fail to conform to Latin norms in (and sometimes outside of) Latin environs. Why should a special exception be extended in the opposite direction? And what does it say when Roman Catholics want to use a Eastern parish for their liturgy but not “sully” themselves in communal and liturgical prayer at Eastern services?

None of this is to say that Eastern Catholic churches should slam their doors on Roman Catholics. Every Catholic, regardless of rite or ecclesial affiliation, has the right to worship at any Catholic liturgy. Granted, some people get bent out of shape about this, but let that be their problem. Although the traditional Roman Rite was a bit of a mystery to me growing up and remained so for many years of my adulthood, I have come to embrace it as a beautiful, spiritually enriching, and reverent expression of the Church’s unwavering devotion to God. Any Eastern Catholic, regardless of their sui iuris church, who has not experienced the TLM should run, not walk, to the next one that is available in their area.

At the same time, I hope that Roman Catholics will seek out Eastern liturgies where available and approach them with the same respect they hold for their own rite. Chauvinism is a stupid vice. The good work of eradicating it will not be advanced by turning Eastern parishes into liturgical rental units. The problem will only be exacerbated.

On a Sunday

It is no secret that I have all but ceased web-logging. Despite a few “return trips” to the ring, my interest faded fast. Long gone are the “good old days” of Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) blogging where bright and eccentric minds from far flung locales across America (and sometimes the world) traded in anecdotes that made Apostolic Christianity in this region of the globe seem equal parts quaint and insane. The blogs I am thinking of did not deal in Communio tropes, nor were they interested in the latest iteration of “Palamism.” These were the places you went to find out some inside baseball about a convert-heavy Antiochian Orthodox parish in the Midwest or which editor at First Things had no problem being a first-rate asshole when patronizing an elite used bookstore. Distributists, communists, hippies, royalists, traditionalists, anti-traditionalists, and a whole lot more lovable wackos populated these cyber lands. A “new guard” never sprang up. Instead, Twitter became the vehicle for ecclesiastical squabbling which, in turn, flung open the doors to grifters who pay for their family vacations on the fears of their followers.

Part of me thought this was a fad. After the predictable fall of Donald Trump, I thought Fearmongering, Inc. would go the way of the dodo. Boy, I was wrong. Nothing doubles-down faster than stupidity. Integralism, that once-fascinating and seemingly noble refreshment of a bygone ideal, degenerated swiftly into Trumpism with Latin; now it is little more than a joke being played by an unscrupulous Ivy League maniac on a cadre of mental midgets with demented dreams of serving before the altar of unchecked violence. The shadow of Trump does not end there; it covers almost all of what may be called right-wing American Catholicism. Even traditional Catholics who ought to know better than to subscribe to another rotten form of “Americanism” cannot help themselves. Without a strongman in Rome, they are desperate for one closer to home, even if every sane soul knows he is never coming back.

Lest I come across as ironically detached from all of this, let me assure you that is quite far from the truth. My sympathies run deep for all Catholics of good will who find themselves, for one reason or many, spiritually homeless. At the same time, I confess that I remain concerned over certain calls from traditional Catholics to seek shelter in the Christian East in light of ongoing crackdowns on the traditional Latin Mass. It is not that I believe Eastern Catholics should lock their doors. However, for decades I have witnessed debacle after debacle erupt from Roman Catholics (typically conservatives and traditionalists) rolling into Eastern parishes and immediately telling everyone what’s what. Whether it is the Latin chauvinist ripping on married clergy or the recently bearded chap whose convertitis compels him to dress like a 19th century serf, the result is too often disruptive. (I am leaving to the side for a moment the lunacy I find among my Eastern brethren when uncharitably attacking Roman Catholics. Rest assured, I am painfully aware of this phenomenon.)

This is probably where I should start singing War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” but nobody wants to hear that. The sky is falling, after all. Everything is terrible. These are the worst of times. Who would have thought we’d be living at the end of days? Nothing will save us unless Rod Dreher’s katechon, Victor Orban, revives the West while Vladimir Putin simultaneously vanquishes it on the banks of the Dnieper. Some opine that we now live in a “post-truth” world. For my part, I prefer Timothy Snyder’s observation that if everything is a lie, nothing is true—which may be the only truth, revealed not through reason but rather an “absolute moment” in crooked history. Perhaps this is what Dreher meant when he molested Solzhenitsyn’s call to “live not by lies.” Live not by the lies that envelop us; live by the absence of truth that frees one from all commitments, creeds, and conscience. Those perplexed by Dreher’s true meaning need only look to how he is publicly living his own life currently to find evidence that this was his intention all along.

Ah, but I digress…willingly…but still, I digress. Should this scribble dislodge me from my blogging slumber remains to be seen. The chances are far better than average I will lose interest quickly. There is a sizable portion of my heart that hopes this will not be the case.

Three Paragraphs on Russia, Ukraine, and Integralists

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is now in its fourth week, is prime time news all over the world. Even without the dramatic video packages supplied by cable news, social media provides an incessant stream of images and videos (many horrific) chronicling the carnage from Kyiv to Kharkiv. Deep-dive analysis, the sort which purports to penetrate through the “fog of war,” is available for those who care to search it out, but there are serious gaps in what the public knows about the conflict. Even the best assessments remain qualified. Militarily speaking, one of the few things everyone agrees on is very little has gone “according to plan” from the Russian perspective. Fierce Ukrainian resistance coupled with poor Russian planning equals protracted hostilities. How long Ukraine can hold out remains uncertain. And while some continue to hope that Russia will, in time, throw in the proverbial towel, that outcome seems unlikely unless the near-unthinkable happens, namely Vladimir Putin and his murderous regime find themselves on the business end of a political revolt. Then there is a myriad of “X” factors, such as potential NATO intervention; the alignment of other world powers such as China for (or against) Russia; and nuclear weapons.

Situated against the backdrop of this ongoing tragedy, specifically in the lowest part of the lowest corner rather than front and center, is the bloodless but not inconsequential “apologia for Russia” embraced by certain unsavory segments of the Catholic world. Barking-mad traditionalists join forces with round-shouldered integralists for the purposes of promoting the idea that Russia’s bloody hand has been “forced” with respect to Ukraine. Never mind that almost the entire Eastern Orthodox world not directly under the thumb of the Moscow Patriarchate has condemned the conflict at the risk of irking the largest member of its ecclesial confederacy. Never mind as well that one of the targets of Russia’s aggression is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, that longsuffering communion that continues to bridge the sometimes irritating and often illusory “divide” between Eastern and Western Christendom. And of course, never mind that nothing about the conflict’s prosecution fits within even the most expansive conception of “just war.” This conflagration, in the ideologically poisoned minds of its Catholic supporters, is a battle for civilization, with the forces of anti-liberal Light marching against the Dark Forces of Western decadence. Like all ideological constructs, this one, too, is remarkably resistant to empirical falsification.

As the dolorous weeks go by, some have been forced to temper their views. A Cistercian monk, who lamentably allowed himself to become the spiritual head of movement coopted by lunatics who privately believe Donald Trump should still be president, has opted to call the war what it is rather than retreat into silence. Many in the integralist camp, however, are still looking for ways to blame shift even if images of dead children and hollowed-out hospitals compels them to cease open genuflection before their Eurasian idol. The latest narrative trick is not so much to support Putin but to “understand” him, as evidenced by a recent article in new Sohrab Amari’s brand-new rag, Compact. “Understanding” is not always a bad thing, but it would be daft to pretend that the sort of “understanding for Putin” promoted by his Catholic fanboys is in any sense neutral. It is, in the end, a sympathetic understanding, one which is synonymous with muted support in the face of fierce criticism. Contemporary integralists have never been accused of hoarding courage.