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?

Further Comments on Grasping for Political Relevance

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.

Shall We Vote?

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.

Eco on “Ur-Fascism”

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.

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Traditionalist Worker Party?

I have a confession to make: I get lost down Internet rabbit holes too often for my own good. As I skimmed Google News earlier, I came across a story from the L.A. Times detailing the violence which broke out today in Sacramento between members of the self-proclaimed Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) and anti-Nazi/white supremacist protesters. As I made my way to the end of the story, I couldn’t help but notice that TWP is headed up by one Matthew Heimbach, a young darling of sorts to white-nationalist types and an apparent Eastern Orthodox Christian. As some may recall, Heimback caused quite the stir back in 2014 when he was received into the Antiochian Othodox Church and then proceeded to beat up someone up during Bright Week while holding a large Byzantine cross. The priest who chrismated Heimbach quickly denounced the latter’s views and stated that Heimbach had to undergo a period of penance if he wanted back into the Orthodox fold. Though details are sketchy, he appears that Heimbach is still a practicing Orthodox Christian — in an Old-Calendarist jurisdiction. (Only in America folks…)

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