Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mature and Balanced Individualism on Display

I've recommended him before, and I'll recommend him again; Arturo Vasquez has a very insightful post today regarding individualism, philosophy as a way of life, living in the present, and "the liberation of thought and action from the modern prison of ideology":

Some of the things he said in that post made me re-examine my own motives and strategies of organizing my thoughts about the world; and when something makes you question yourself like that, you know it's valuable (an experience he apparently had, in turn, with Hadot).

My only concern is that such an attitude could tend towards dismissing any visionary drive for change whatsoever, could be somewhat quietist and tend towards resigned inaction.

I think that it's true that problems have never gone away, merely become different, and that humanity's average subjective happiness has not gotten any better even for all the "progress" the world has had. However, the specific condition of specific people with specific problems can and has clearly been ameliorated at various points.

Working on a project with others to solve a specific current problem or for a vision of a "brighter" future in some specific aspect (as long as you don't get too utopian) in some ways exactly the thing that can and should make us happy and ennobled in the present, the concrete expression of Charity, even if some might view the effort as "futile" just because it won't make everything perfect and may even have unforeseen side-effects. Trying, even against all odds, is our solace for the present. God will decide if we succeed or not, if we do "make a difference," but even trying is meritorious, and even making a difference in one life is good.

Still, I think a very nuanced and perceptive post, and the point about hidden agendas and ideologically romanticizing the past and/or future...are well taken and very important. The modern Secular Messianism whereby many seeks happiness in history (ie, in either the past or the future) instead of beyond it, does tend to value some abstract utilitarian systematic judgment of good. When really the Kingdom of God is an eschatological reality that will only find expression in the concrete individual acts motivated by Charity and done in the present for the good of people seen as more than just statistics or theoretical beings.

A Beautiful Community

If you need an argument for small parishes with a relatively high clergy-to-laity ratio, run on a volunteer/part-time basis with more concern for organic community and traditional ritual than formal institutionalism and bureaucracy, you need look no further than here:

This Orthodox community in England is small, they don't even have a permanent chapel, instead rotating between several borrowed (including a Deacon's house-chapel, apparently). It reminds me of the suggested parish model from the "base communities" article by Fr O'Donnell that I wrote about previously.

Just look how involved they are in their beautiful little religious rites, in community life, in traditional piety, and fun and fellowship too.

I don't think I need to point out that this sort of communal intimacy and personal connectivity is very hard if not impossible in a 10,000 person parish under some distant full-time pastor, with the Novus Ordo blandness that provides so very little foundation for binding a community in a ritual cycle and sense of mystery...

It's nothing fancy; they can't afford some big church compound or full-time staff. And yet they are highly motivated and committed, and I find the images of their life as a parish community so beautiful and touching nonetheless.

They use candles and natural light. The women are covering their heads, but the people aren't "dressed up" too rigidly. All different ages are represented. This is not rocket science. I'm starting to get the sense that Catholic churches waste a lot of time and money on specialized things and programs that offer diminishing marginal returns, when really you can make due with some worthy necessities and emphasizing the fundamentals, all while spending very little (as when we spruced up our chapel with that new antependium).

God Bless England and God Bless the Orthodox!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some Thoughts from Bruno Bettelheim...

Bruno Bettelheim is a psychoanalytic theorist perhaps best known for his work analyzing traditional Fairy Tales for their subconscious content and how these can be therapeutic for young children in their emotional journey towards adulthood.

I just found a few quotes I would like to share that I think make good points about emotional maturity, especially along the lines of my recent "Sense of Sin" post:
Once man feels truly significant in his human environment, he cares little about the importance of his planet within the universe. On the other hand, the more insecure a man is in himself and his place in the immediate world, the more he withdraws into himself because of fear, or else moves outward to conquer for conquest's sake. This is the opposite of exploring out of a security which frees our curiosity.
And here he actually uses a Biblical story as an example, and touches the theme of Institutionalism (in this case the "institutions" within our minds themselves) that I've discussed in earlier posts:
Jonah's trip across the sea lands him in the belly of a great fish. There, in great danger, Jonah discovers his higher morality, his higher self, and is wondrously reborn, now ready to meet the rigorous demands of his superego. But the rebirth alone does not achieve true humanity for him: to be a slave neither to the id and the pleasure principle (avoiding arduous tasks by trying to escape from them) nor to the superego (wishing destruction upon the wicked city) means true freedom and higher selfhood. Jonah attains his full humanity only when he is no longer subservient to either institution of his mind, but relinquishes blind obedience to both id and superego and is able to recognize God's wisdom in judging the people of Nineveh not according to the rigid structures of Jonah's superego, but in terms of their human frailty.

Friday, January 29, 2010

An Alternate Marriage Proposal from the East

In my last post I laid out an amateur "synergizing" of the Eastern and Western views on remarriage that, though it would require some reworking of canon law on the part of the West, addresses the concerns and preserves the essential teachings of both sides.

on a side note, I'd like to discuss an interesting alternate proposal I've seen floated by some Orthodox, that I think would, however, be less acceptable to the Catholic side.

This proposal would have us broaden our concept of "validly consummated" to include more nuance than just the first completed mechanical act of intercourse post-wedding. As we admit that even Sacramental marriages validly ratified but not consummated may be dissolved, their proposal would view annulled/dissolved marriages as having been Sacraments in their ratification, but not fully in their consummation.

The uncertainty factor of "how do I know my marriage now is a valid Sacrament if putative marriages later annulled appeared to be also?" made moot in this proposal by changing the whole paradigm, by interpreting "consummation" as an eschatological horizon that is the culmination of the project of a life together, rather than a discreet moment at its beginning.

There would then be no question that Sacramental marriages had been validly ratified, but they always would be viewed as starting off "tentative" and then becoming more and more indissoluble as the couple grows in grace together, ie, as the marriage was progressively "consummated" (viewed as a process, not a moment, like ones relationship with God). The couple could, indeed, only "know for sure" once they did, in practice, persevere till death, for (like salvation itself) it is only then that the process would, in fact, be complete. The analogy with Christian life would extend to viewing baptism as analogous to the wedding, Communion as analogous to sex, mortal sin as analogous to divorce, and confession and penance as analogous to the penitential subsequent marriages.

It is important for Catholics engaged in the ecumenical dialogue to understand this different paradigm. Catholics view Christ's prohibition of divorce as descriptive: meaning that divorce of validly ratified and consummated Christian Matrimony is impossible. Some Orthodox, however, would view Christ's prohibition of divorce as more proscriptive: in other words, divorce is forbidden but is not impossible. The Orthodox make the analogy of divorce to sin and would point out that, while sin is forbidden and the Church should never sanction or enable it...nevertheless, after the fact, the Church can absolve from it and restore communion through penance. Divorce is seen as a civil matter, and a grave sin, and so the Church does not sanction it, but can show oikonomia after the fact.

I find this proposal interesting, if ultimately problematic due to the fact that marriage doesn't continue after death and the fact that when you repent and return to the same God/Church, so the analogy of confession and penance would seem to be, rather, remarriage to the same person. The Orthodox would counter, however, that at death the marriage bond is transformed into the bond with God, and that any woman can be the icon of the Bride Church and any man an icon of the Bridegroom Christ in this analogous reconciliation (in the East, remember, the Priest is the actual minister of marriage, not just the witness, and might be analogized to the role of God the Father in this symbolic triad). But I find this interchangeability of persons disturbing, as part of marriage is the specific choice of one specific individual over all others, like the choice of God over all other idols. So, again, I'd have to say that if the bond is being viewed as specifically that which is analogous to the baptismal bond (as opposed to some lesser bond, like a merely natural marriage) then I'd have to view reconciliation as necessarily being reconciliation with the same spouse.

Still, viewing almost all (rather than a tiny subset of) annulled/dissolved marriages as "Sacraments ratified but not consummated" basically seems to be getting at the same idea as my "natural marriage that was even possibly a sacramental" proposal, it may even be possible to make them equivalent, and the broader conception of "consummation" as an ongoing process analogous to the progression of Christian life might, nevertheless, be an enriching spiritual framework for Catholic couples who want to deepen the spiritual aspect of their Marriage.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Concrete Proposals vis a vis Orthodoxy: Remarriage

One crux between the Catholics and the Orthodox that would seemingly have real practical effects, but which (perhaps for that very reason) is not as much discussed as more theoretical issues (the Filioque, Purgatory, etc) the disparate traditions on Remarriage.

Of course, it is perhaps common now for Catholics to simply imagine "recasting" the Orthodox divorces as "annulments" and not say too much more on the issue.

And, for the most part, I think that's true. Certainly in the First Millennium there was not some long tribunal process. When remarriage did occur, annulment was with the simple permission of the bishop. And we Catholics can hardly talk given how many annulments are given now (perhaps for good reason).

However, the issue is a bit more complicated than that. I've discussed this with Orthodox, and they are not entirely satisfied with simply drawing an equivalent between their divorces and our annulments.

The Orthodox I've talked to have pointed out that both Catholics and Orthodox have "ecclesiastical divorce" AND "annulment," though we emphasize the latter and they the former. For example, the Orthodox would, in fact, admit the concept of "annulment" for a marriage that had obvious natural defects (such as if it turned out to be incestuous or if one of the parties was still married). Then, they believe, truly it could be said that no marriage of any sort ever validly took place. Conversely, Catholics, they point out, have "ecclesiastical divorce" too, in the dissolution of marriages ratified but unconsummated, and in the Pauline and Petrine Privileges "in favor of the faith" which are true dissolutions rather than annulments, albeit not of a validly ratified and consummated Sacrament.

The biggest "problem" the Orthodox have with simply interpreting their divorces as "annulments" that they find it downright ridiculous to say that "nothing happened" when a couple clearly exchanged vows in a church, had sex, bought a house together, had children, etc. Our canonical concept of the apparent or "putative" marriage (whereby the children are still legitimate under current practice, etc) strikes them, I think correctly, as a highly legalistic loophole. The Orthodox are very concerned that pretending that "nothing" happened in an annulment downplays the severity and tragedy of an intimate human relationship collapsing, of the common life once established being torn apart, which is true on a practical and emotional level whether or not there was ever theoretically an indissoluble Sacramental bond to worry about (ie, that's not the only concern), hence their penitential emphasis in subsequent marriages.

To them, and they have a point, it looks like we're allowing a divorce, but trying to pretend like "nothing happened" to "save the appearances" of absolute indissolubility, which is disingenuous especially when there is no clear defect of form, but rather the vague "psychological defect" requiring a "process" investigation. In the Orthodox mindset, they allow the divorce under "oikonomia" (pastoral lenience) but then the later marriages are done in a Penitential spirit. They also dislike the "uncertainty" that annulments (especially for that nebulous and invisible "psychological" defect) seem to introduce into all marriages (ie, if "putative marriages" seemed real for years before being annulled, maybe your current marriage isn't either!)

At the same time, as a Catholic, I feel that Christ's absolute prohibition of divorce ("except in cases of unlawfulness") has to mean something. He didn't portray it as merely an "ideal" like the evangelical counsels...but as a principle he was restoring in direct contrast to the bills of divorce allowed for the ancient Jews due to weakness.

So...I think each side has something to offer the other, and can offer it without actually changing the concrete practice on either side, nor anything that they hold as dogmatic, though I'd encourage the West to change some of its canon-legal terminology to reduce confusion.

What I propose is certainly just my musings as an amateur, so if you find anything inadmissible in it, please warn me. However, I think it a relatively sound harmonizing of the two positions without compromising either.

There is of course a difference between natural marriages and the fully ratified and consummated Sacrament of Matrimony. The Church already admits that natural marriages may be dissolved for good reason, that it is not entirely against the primary precepts of the natural law (though neither is polygamy). It was present in the Law (and even God cannot dispense from primary precepts of the natural law, which are based on Logic itself), and remains in the Church in the Pauline and Petrine privileges. In fact, even a Sacramental marriage that is ratified but not consummated may be dissolved.

My proposal then is that, perhaps, the concept of a "putative marriage" needs to be rephrased a bit on the Catholic side. The Orthodox are right: it is disingenuous to say that absolutely "nothing" happened, as if it were all a legal fiction. There may not have been an indissoluble spiritual bond created, but that's different from saying that "nothing" happened that can be called a marriage. There was (except in rare cases like incest) a valid legal marriage, a true marriage for all social intents and purposes. And isn't that all a "valid natural marriage" means anyway??

I think then that, rather than this legalistic concept of a "putative marriage"...the Church should starting calling the marriage prior to an annulment a true "natural marriage". Not the indissoluble Sacrament, but still as much a marriage as the marriage between two Jews or two pagans or a Jew and a Christian or a pagan and a Christian, etc. And such marriages, as we know, are dissoluble, "in favor of the faith" especially.

The West could then speak of TWO events taking place before a remarriage. The first, the annulment, would be interpreted not as a declaration that "nothing" happened, but that the marriage did not fulfill all the requirements to be an indissoluble Sacrament. It would, however, usually still have been a valid natural marriage...and so there would be an implicit dissolution of this in the permission to remarry.

The canonical principle that "two Christians can either form a full Sacrament, or absolutely nothing at all" needs to be re-examined. It may well be true that there is no provision in Revelation for a deliberate merely natural marriage between two Christians. Which is to say, deliberately causing a Sacrament-invalidating defect for the sake of obtaining a purely natural marriage with another Christian for whatever reason...would be a grave sin, just as doing the same to obtain a merely "putative"/legal marriage is now (though, in either cause, the natural or putative marriage still exists). But I don't think it would contradict any dogmas (current canon law is a different question) to believe that when an attempt at the Sacrament of Matrimony "falls short" still might be a valid natural marriage (which, after all, merely means a marriage valid socially that is not a Sacrament).

If it took place in the Church according to the Church ritual...we might even call it a sacramental and the source of actual graces, even if not a Sacrament with an increase in sanctifying grace. The Orthodox, by the way, make no such strong distinction between sacramentals and Sacraments proper, so even if they insisted on insisting that the previous marriage had still been a "holy mystery" or "sacrament" we must understand that in the light of the fact that they have a broader understanding of the term that covers both our concept of Sacrament and "mere" sacramentals.

Even if an invisible "psychological defect" of consent existed at the moment of the marriage...the "uncertainty" that possibility would cast over all marriages would be less of a concern, because (all the other requirements being met), canon law could provide that such a marriage would become instantly validly ratified the moment either party did finally release full consent in their mind, allowing a previously (but invisibly) "tentative" marriage like that to become the fully indissoluble sacrament without needing a complicated convalidation or sanation.

The Catholics having admitted all this, the Orthodox would probably be more comfortable with us "interpreting" their divorces as implicitly containing the annulment aspect too. As really BOTH of our processes would involve BOTH an annulment AND a dissolution of a marriage. The West would still emphasize the determination that the marriage had not reached the level of a full Indissoluble Sacrament, and the dissolution of the resultant merely natural marriage would be implicit. The Orthodox would emphasize the dissolution of the natural marriage (and thus the penitential aspect of new marriages), but the permission of the bishop to remarry would be taken as tacitly implying that the old marriage hadn't reached the level of the full indissoluble Sacrament (in the Western sense).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On the true "Sense of Sin"

Becoming more mature emotionally and spiritually is a process of integration.

I'll use Freudian terms for a moment (though don't take that as an endorsement of Freudianism, it's just a convenient framework for speaking in this case)...much attention is given among "good Catholics" to the problem of over-active "ids" in the world today. People who act on primal urges without appropriate self-regulation or foresight, who are ruled by their passions, who seek instant gratification.

However, I think just as much attention should be paid to people with over-developed "superegos". The problem is somewhat addressed in the concept of having "scruples" that confessors are to watch out for. But I think there are plenty of repressed, guilty, fear-motivated Catholics who are not obsessive-compulsive in the same way that the "scrupulous" are said to be distinguished, but are simply intra-personally authoritarian ("self-control" is often their key word) and morally perfectionist in an unrealistic way.

I myself was once this way as an adolescent. So in some ways I can empathize with it more than with an over-active Id (though, it should be mentioned, such uptight attitudes are often actually a defensive mechanism against particularly strong primal urges too, or particular sensitivity to such urges). But, I grew out of it, as I'd hope anyone would. It is definitely a "lower" stage of integration.

If you're healthy, you come to realize that in order to have to be flexible. This would seem obvious. And yet, so many religious orders and seminaries seem to counter-intuitively encourage rigidity at least implicitly in the means they think will encourage holiness. But rigidity is the exact opposite of what you need to change and grow! Of course rigidity isn't going to lead to change, it is going to lead to petrification and stagnation! Though trying to institutionally discipline/re-socialize others can indeed "work" in terms of "successful" behavior modification, it is usually only with extremely negative side-effects. Perhaps it comes from a "storming heaven" mentality (or perhaps just Jansenism), but in the end you learn that you certainly cannot "discipline" yourself into personal growth, spiritually or otherwise; a fire cannot get hotter on its own energy, because its heat is all its energy, it needs external fuel.

Usually, you'll just exhaust yourself trying and have a huge ironic relapse. That's not to say you can't take deliberate steps to improve your character, but they have to be steps that tend towards personal openness. That's the only way growth is going to happen, because you cannot learn without taking in new information. A "Cartesian" approach to spirituality isn't going to work, because deductive reasoning from already known facts will only take you so far; but to grow you actually need new experiential knowledge. It is an experimental science in that sense. You cannot develop your own internal resources without opening yourself to receiving things from outside, from interactions with others, from that external fuel. You need to take risks and make yourself vulnerable. Grace is absolutely external and absolutely gratuitous, and you have to open yourself to it, which is the opposite of rigidity. The tighter you try to grip virtue, the more it will slip through your fingers.

One will often hear traditional Catholics lamenting the loss of a "sense of sin" among Catholics. This is another one of those loaded phrases (like "vocation discernment") that makes me cringe, not because there can't be a proper understanding, but because usually what they mean is a sense of guilt or shame. But guilt is a self-righteous sort of emotion, for it implies a cognitive dissonance between a Perfect self-concept and the reality of ones actions ("How could I do something like that?!"). But a perfect self-concept like that is self-righteous (and delusional); "how could I do something like that?" Easy: because I'm a sinner, duh.

I found a quote on a poster today, by Dorothy L. Sayers, that I think instead sums up what I now believe is the true sense of sin: "None of us feels the true love of God till we realize how wicked we are. But you can't teach people that -- they have to learn by experience."

I think this is a beautiful quote. The "sense of sin," always must needs be actually an incredible sense of dependence on God's love and mercy, not guilt and fear. The quote is wonderful not even so much for the first sentence, though it's true, but for the second: you can't teach people that. They have to realize it for themselves. It's why I tend to look with suspicion on fire and brimstone proposals to restore a "sense of sin" to young Catholics through simply some sort of grim conditioning. The true "sense of sin" is not guilt and shame and fear...but the love of God and experience of His mercy.

Catholics who want to see sermons address Sin more...seem to often be judgmental types who want to hear hot-button sins like abortion and promiscuity condemned so that they can feel all smug and self-righteous because they aren't involved in that. Try to talk about not being charitable or humble...and they get more uncomfortable or dismiss those topics as too soft. They really just want controversy, and for some sort of "us vs them" divide to be opened up against "the sinners," or else get a certain cathartic satisfaction out of their self-righteous horror over their own sins.

But we're all sinners. Everyone I love so dearly here on earth is a sinner. Christ died for sinners, and every friend or family member I would die for is a sinner too. We know we have faults, terrible moral faults sometimes, but our love for each other outweighs all that. Then so much more must God's. The irony about those with overdeveloped superegos, is that they are often just as quick to judge others as they are themselves. One thing I've learned as I've grown more mature is that when one truly recognizes that one is a sinner in the sense that I think Dorothy L. Sayers was talking about, one stops trying to work ones own will-power, and comes to depend utterly on God's grace. And when one is depending on God's mercy like that, one finds it harder and harder to judge others, and the whole world actually seems a much less dark and spidery place, because we're all sinners and God loves us all.

Of course, that's the Gospel message, yet so many Christians overlook it. It's not about giving up on the possibility of growth in holiness, but rather you come to understand what addicts, like alcoholics, say about surrender and realizing that you yourself are powerless. It means that you can't repress some things with just will power and denial or compartmentalization and de-personalization. Just having the "superego" repress the urges of the "id" just repression. Things need to be integrated. Nor does it work to just try to label things as accidental to the self, external temptations, etc. You have to accept and embrace that they are part of you and who you are, not extrinsic.

I can actually understand Martin Luther's "sin and sin boldly, but have faith more boldly still" better now, though I think he phrased it provocatively and invited misunderstanding; I think Paul said it better with simply, "where sin abounded, grace did more abound". Not that you act defeated or presumptuous or give up on "who I could be tomorrow"...but that any hope of getting there requires coming face to face with "who I am today".

To actually let the Self change and grow (and thus, in some sense, die and be reborn) requires not simply pretending like the ideal self is already there "just buried under all this other crap" that is externalized (perhaps even personified as a demon in some imaginations) with some external locus of control. Rather it involves accepting that the self itself is imperfect, embracing this even, and ironically that is when you can actually move towards perfection. Whatever the external temptations or demonic suggestions or uncontrollable circumstances that may have been the occasion for you sinning, you have to "own it" in yourself rather than trying to "fight off" those external influences.

The problem with the "self-discipline" or "doing battle with oneself" discourse is actually that it usually ends up as a weird sort of dissociative dialogue. "How could I do something like that?! Bad me!" is actually phrased as a second-person address to oneself, it grammatically takes the second-person form "How could you do something like that?! Bad you!" So there is this bizarre dissociation and disconnect between the "scolding" speaker (the internalized voice of authority) and the "scolded" subject. The "superego" is identified in that moment as the "real" self, totally blameless, which is punishing this other "bad" agent inside ones mind (the "ego") for not obeying it as master, but rather doing these things that some third competing party (ie, the "id," a demon, The World, The Flesh, etc) told it to. When really they're all the same person!!! This isn't real ownership or contrition or integration, because the voice of "conscience" that is doing the "repenting" or abnegation totally dis-identifies with the bad action and attributes it to some second-person agent and external temptation. So there is no responsibility taken, it's just exactly the same passing of blame that happened with Adam, Eve, and the snake!

The result is a cycle of guilt, repression, confession, swearing it all off, and then falling again...that I think many people get trapped in, but it only reinforces the behavior. It's the common cycle of an addict. Don't take me wrong, I'm not denigrating confession, I just understand now that it's actually more about acknowledging my sinfulness (ie, a condition of my self's very nature) instead of just my "sins" (ie, discreet actions abstractable from the self) and the need for God's mercy, and the inability to simply will-away and repress various temptations.

And the ironic thing soon as you realize that, it became much easier to resist and take real value from confession, etc. It might take a crisis, a break-down, an ultimate failure of "self-control", to realize that no efforts of your own are going to work. And that's the beginning of surrender. I'd tell people now, just stop worrying about things!!! Stop angsting over things and "feeling" guilty. That's not going to do anything, not going to change you, and actually implies a lack of personal agency. Yes, you have to do better, always. But no matter how much we fail, God loves us infinitely more.

The world would be a horrible place if everyone was utterly depraved and selfish; sin is truly horrible. But, love is stronger still. The great thing about love is, even a little bit, flawed and fragmented as it may be, can cover for a multitude of faults. Families, friendships, the whole great network of personal relationships still works even though everyone involved is a sinner, even though everyone is not at the ideal 100% selflessness. The universe God has designed has a "high tolerance" in that sense. Because grace fills in the gaps.

People still love each other even though they're sinners, though it is more perfect when they are less so. But it is only that initial imperfect love, and that experience of God's mercy, rather than guilt or fear or some internalized authoritarian voice, which should lead us to strive to become more perfect, more on fire with love, with Charity, and with the other virtues (which in themselves serve only to make us better conduits of love). A tiny redeeming scrap of moral fiber or selflessness or nobility can be worth more than all the sin of a lifetime. That's why deathbed confessions or eleventh-hour self-sacrifices ("It is a far, far better thing that I do.
), if not merely viewed as a legalistic technicality, are still valid and good and why we find such stories so inspiring. So much more then, however, should we desire to experience not just a tiny scrap of that, but to be filled up our whole lives!

So, don't be so hard on yourselves! It seems a lot of people think of God as some angry old man in the sky who knows when you've been naughty and when you've been nice and will give you coal for Christmas if you're on the wrong list. The unconditional love that parents display for even terrible children...should be a reminder for us of the prodigal son story and a demonstration of the unimaginable love and mercy of God for His children. I realize how my own parents love me unconditionally and easily forgave things that I felt dreadfully guilty about as a child, and so I have to believe God's love is not petty either.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Concrete Proposals vis a vis Orthodoxy: Intro

I'm going to be doing a series of posts on-and-off regarding ecumenism with the Orthodox.

The Orthodox, I think most people would now agree, represent a much more viable option for ecumenism than the Protestants. If we should have been trying to please anyone all these years, it was the Orthodox. Instead, we tried to Protestantize, and no one ended up liking us; the Orthodox are appalled by our current liturgical situation, for example.

Even though we are so much closer to the Orthodox, and there is such greater hope of reunion, once again, the Vatican's corrupt allegiance to "Western" culture won out back in the time of Vatican II, leading us to pursue in vain those heretics who happened to share a Western European history, rather than those strange Oriental folk with whom, nevertheless, we actually share
the Faith itself. Yet it was a popular position for a time to think that we had more in common with Western Protestants (merely because they were Western) rather than with Eastern Orthodox (even though they are much more orthodox).

Of course, ecumenism continued on both fronts fortunately, and as of late the emphasis on the Protestant side has greatly decreased. They're finally realizing that we have no hope there except maybe for some traditional-minded Anglo-Catholics to jump ship, and we should really throw in all our cards with the East. And things seem to be progressing quite nicely there, especially with the Russians these days.

One great thing about the East is that I really do feel that it represents a sort of snapshot of the First Millennium Church. The problem, of course, is that the West has gone on to have doctrinal development and refinement since then, forming explicit crystallizations of ideas previously left more fuzzy...whereas the East sort of became frozen after the Seventh ecumenical council, believing anything not defined by then couldn't possibly be of the Faith since it wasn't already.

You can already find Orthodox who agree, essentially, with the Catholics on most issues, from the Immaculate Conception to Purgatory...but the problem is that they never officially "concretized" one formulation or another, so these all remain merely "theologoumenons" for them that admit debate and a variety of interpretations, and
you will find other Orthodox who will vehemently reject such interpretations if only to deliberately distinguish themselves from Rome. And their authorities are reluctant to come down in favor of one interpretation for fear of alienating the other side, so there is a sort of ambiguity about certain teachings that the Western Church developed with more precision only in the Second Millenium.

For Catholics, it is hard to understand how the Orthodox can believe that development and refinement of formulation is possible for the Trinitarian and Christological questions (ala the first seven councils)...but then so much is left undefined and sort of vague for them about issues of ecclesiology, sacraments, grace and justification, etc. And yet, this
was no doubt the situation in the First Millennium. Orthopraxy came long before any abstract formulations of the dogmas of the Faith. The Church was praying for the Dead long before it was ever explicitly spelled out exactly what state those dead were in and how and why our prayers for them are efficacious. It was recognizing Mary as All-Holy long before it ever explicitly discerned that this took the specific form of having Sanctifying Grace/Divine Life from the moment of her conception. It was believing in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, long before terms like "substance" and "hypostasis" ever came into play, and was practicing the Eucharist long before the word "transubstantiation" was invented.

And yet such theological precision can be useful as long as it doesn't become too narrow or suffocating. As long as we don't turn the
formulation of the dogma into the dogma itself, as long as we don't let the specific theological framework we parse the Truth in become confused with the Truth itself. It's true that such things like purgatory were rather fuzzy and not explicit before the 10th century or later. But, then again, things like the Trinity and Hypostatic Union were fuzzy before the 4th century. When looking at the Orthodox, I think Catholics can rightly ask why can there be clarification up to the 4th century or the 6th century, but then not for other questions up to the modern day?

I am convinced, personally, that there are no actual differences of Faith with the East, as much as strident voices on both sides might insist there are. But I have looked at all the doctrinal issues, and found them to be semantical. And, I think, there is a general recognition of this fact among the more nuanced heads on both sides (especially ours). The problems that remain are practical/political.

If the Orthodox could accept
us wholesale today, I could accept them wholesale today. The Pope would, presumably, not dare interfere in any inter-Eastern or intra-Eastern affairs in the Church, and would only step in when there was a question with a disparity of jurisdictions both West and East involved; in other words, true ecclesiastical subsidiarity would be practiced. So they could continue in every way exactly the same as they do now, except we would be in communion, and they would let us receive communion their churches. But they wouldn't have to say anything different, they wouldn't have to do anything long as they could accept the same tolerance for us.

There are some things, like the date of Easter and them putting the Pope's name in their liturgy...which it would be nice to resolve practically, of course, but that could come later. For example, I could see us agreeing to adopt the "Reformed Julian" calendar for our liturgy (it doesnt differ from the Gregorian for 600 more years, anyway)...if we could all agree to just calculate Easter based on the actual astronomy at Jerusalem instead of all the complicated tables. It would be better, as the New Calendarist churches in the East have messed up their whole liturgical year since the Sanctoral uses the new calendar, but Temporal doesnt, so certain overlaps can no longer occur (such as the Kyrio-Pascha, the coincidence of Annunciation and Easter) since the new calendar is 12 days back but the earliest and latest dates for Easter are not. But those things are disciplinary and non-essential. If we never reached an agreement about the date of Easter, we could still be one Church (some Eastern Catholic Churches still use Orthodox-style reckoning).

My point is, they wouldn't have to change any of their theological formulations, and wouldn't have to suddenly answer to the Pope in any practical questions as they seem to imagine. They wouldn't have to conform to the model that the Latin West currently uses vis a vis the Pope as Latin Patriarch (a role that, without an East to balance, has become somewhat confused and entangled with his role as Pope qua Pope). He wouldn't dare meddle in their internal affairs. They'd just exchange letters of communion each time a new Pope or Patriarch was elected. It would be otherwise totally the same, and hopefully would help act as a "counterbalance" to the power and centralizing influence of the Papacy in the West, and help reignite dynamic debate and dialogue in the Church, being mutually enriching.

However, while I believe the "dogmatic" issues are all entirely semantic, and that we actually teach the same thing (just we are "speaking Latin" and they are "speaking Greek" and something gets miscommunicated in translation), that our positions are complementary, not contradictory...still, I believe this must be made explicit. Statements must be made demonstrating how the two positions are the same and clarifying how they are complementary instead of contradictory, otherwise people will just be confused and both sides will look suddenly indifferentist or latitudinarian about doctrinal issues.

We can't, for example, suddenly say that the Filioque or Immaculate Conception are just Western theologumenons that may be safely ignored by the East. It must certainly be maintained that, given a Latin theological framework, as a Latin formulation, they are correct and dogmatic. But, at the same time, it must be admitted and demonstrated and agreed upon that the Greek formulations are also correct given a Greek theological framework, and are actually equivalent formulations of the same Truths, just with complementary emphases or perspectives. In other words, we're both right. We need to agree to that and demonstrate it convincingly.

If such reconciling explanations are not issued and agreed upon by both churches (perhaps in a third "neutral" language like English), I fear we lose clarity rather than gain it in a potential reunion. We give up the mutual enrichment by simply not addressing the issues, and thus make both sides look "wrong" instead of making both sides be right (which is the real solution).

Unfortunately, the current strategy seems to attempt to solve the semantical issues by having each side distance itself from its position. By making each side's position increasingly vague and blurry until they end up being so ambiguous that they would admit possible equivalency between them. This, I fear, is what happened with the Joint Declaration on Justification with the Lutherans. We didn't actually reconcile the two positions (impossible, because with the Protestants it isn't just a semantical "misunderstanding"...they actually believe something different). Rather, they simply phrased it in terms so broad and ambiguous that either side could fit their position under that umbrella. The same formulations were agreed on, but understood by each side as meaning totally different concepts.

What we need is the opposite. We need to allow a diversity of theological formulations with the East, while realizing that they actually are formulations of the
same concepts, or we'll just end up with something as intellectually dishonest as the Joint Declaration again.

So, to that end, I'll be doing several posts soon, each on a certain concrete issue that allegedly divides us from the Orthodox, and attempt to show concretely and specifically how the two positions, in their separate formulations, are actually the same just with different emphases, complementary not contradictory. I'll try to point out where they're equivalent, and where each side might gain something through an encounter with the complementary emphasis of the other on that issue.

100 Visitors!

So, The Conspiracy thickens...

It is just about a month since this blog started, and I'd just like to thank everyone who has been following this blog so far. Yesterday our 100th "Absolute Unique Visitor" visited Renegade Trads!

While most visits seem to come from the USA, there seem to be regular visits from Canada, Australia, and Portugal as well. As of late, there have also been a few visits from France, the UK, and the Netherlands. About 20 of you seem to be regular readers now, but I only know maybe 7 of you. It would be great if the rest of you would introduce yourselves in the comments or email me privately; I always appreciate feedback.

Thank you all for continuing to follow the blog and to comment. Thank you for continuing to recommend this blog to your friends or on Catholic forums or other blog comment sections, and especially for referrals on your own blogs.

On my part, I will continue to try to post every day or two. If you have suggestions for topics or other ideas or how the blog could gain a higher profile, please e-mail me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

One has to wonder...

The March for Life was this weekend. Several of my friends here at school attended.

Apparently there was record turnout. Over 400,000 people!

While I'm glad we made quite a show...I had to wonder, upon hearing that number...what would have happened had they actually, you know, marched on Washington. I mean, stormed Congress in session, surrounded the White House and Capitol. Not even anything violent, just...refused to leave, held their ground, kept the Congressmen blockaded in there. Or even just sat down in the streets or on the steps of Congress or on the Mall...and just refused to leave.

I mean, we say abortion is a genocide. And it is. Yet many people think pro-lifers lack credibility because, they reason, if we really believed abortion was murdering babies, we'd fight to protect them, that we'd think any action justified to safe born people would be justified to save the unborn.

Now, they're wrong, we don't encourage lone vigilantes because 1) preemptive violence does not come under legitimate Defense, the attack would have to be already in progress, 2) it wouldn't usually accomplish anything anyway, as you'd be arrested and the procedure would continue; and even if you did manage to disable the abortionist or wrecked the clinic, the woman can always go to another clinic or have it on another day (that's the unique problem when you are dependent upon and attached to the one who wants you dead) and, 3) it's bad PR for the movement as a whole.

Abortion is different not because the baby is less human, but because it is dependent on and attached to the one who wants it dead (and so what can you do at that point, kidnap the mother and hold her until she gives birth? Not likely.) It's different not because the baby is less human, but because of the unique situation that the threat to its life is continuous, and the baby cannot be "hidden" from that threat at a safe-house or anything, because it is actually physically attached to the threat itself (ie, the abortive mother). Only the State would be able to effectively hold the mother in protective custody for a prolonged period until she gave birth, that would be unfeasible for a private movement.

So violence could only be justified in very narrow hypothetical cases that never actually happen; like, for example, you somehow find yourself in the room when a partial-birth abortion at 8.5 months is in progress, and have the chance to disable the doctor before he sucks its brains out and actually complete the delivery of the baby alive. Then it might even be our duty. At the same time, there is no particular obligation to seek out all evil in order to stop it, there is no obligation to try to put ourselves in that room if we have no specific knowledge of a specific threat.

However, the turnout at the March for Life made me wonder if our potential for non-violent civil disobedience is being maximized? Some pro-lifers go so far as to block clinic doors with their own bodies until they're dragged away. Of course, one person can be dragged away easily. Even 20 or 30 by police, so they've never actually prevented anyone from entering a clinic who really wanted to in the end (though hopefully they've changed some hearts in time to save some lives). But I still consider their actions right and heroic.

But there weren't just 20 or 30 people at the March for Life. There were 400,000! And all they did with that massive man-power...was march peacefully, hold some signs, and leave. What if they had parked on the steps of Congress and refused to leave!? Or even just in the streets? What could they do then? I suppose they could spray the crowd with tear-gas, or bring in the national guard to start removing people (very slowly, however: 400,000 is almost a third of the United States entire Armed Forces). But usually action like that, force against citizens doing non-violent civil disobedience...backfires on the government and increases the legitimacy of whatever cause in the public's mind, shows the followers belief and dedication. I mean...imagine them driving tanks Tienanmen-style against a peaceful crowd whose stated purpose was just to save babies! There would be incredible outrage.

The Church would be the best organization for organizing something like this. It already has the authority, for its faithful followers, to legitimize such an act, and to encourage people to go, and already is networked with all the main pro-life groups, and has the infrastructure and social capital to do it. The March for Life already has the organization, it would just have to expanded into a drawn-out sit-in. Harder, sure; you'd need to solve the food and bathroom problems, I guess, but where there's a will, there's a way. People could bring there own tents, and I'm sure some big donors could find a way to provide portable toilets and food service; they somehow do it for big theme parks and concerts and sports venues.

But why don't they? Why no civil disobedience to speak of if abortion is murdering millions? 400,000 people turned out for the March for Life! So there is no lack of resolve or man-power! We could presumably get around that many for a "sit-in on Capitol Hill". Or even more than that, if pro-lifers knew this was going to be THE thing (for example, I didn't go to the March this year, but I'd sure as hell go to that sit-in!)

So why haven't they?

I fear it's because they are cowardly and/or refuse to think outside the box like this...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What good, then, is religion?

Religion may not resolve psychological issues, in fact it might make one more neurotic.

It may not cure sickness, in fact one might become even sicker.

It may not gain me friends, in fact I might lose some.

It may not make me wealthy, in fact I might become poorer.

It may not answer my questions, in fact it might raise a thousand more doubts.

It may not make me a better person, in fact it might make me worse.

It may not give me inner peace, in fact it might make me more conflicted.

It may not give me meaning, in fact everything might seem even more senseless.

It may not lessen my fear of death, in fact it might increase it.

And, though it can play a role in any of those things, I suppose, I would seriously reconsider my experiences and the purity of my motives if I viewed my faith through any of those lenses, and I would look askance at anyone who claimed that finding religion, in itself, had done any of those things for them. I would recommend staying far away from any charlatan trying to market the Faith using any of the above promises or enticements.

Religion may not make me happy. But it allows me to live with myself. And that's all I could ever ask.

Or rather, perhaps more precisely, it makes the idea of living with myself at least tolerable. Some atheists or agnostics might tell you that they can live with themselves just fine, thank you very much. But if they don't believe in eternal life...I find that hard to believe. For their whole view of existence is predicated on the idea that some day they will no longer be, that at death their self will dissolve as if it had never been. That they
won't, in fact, have to bear living with themselves forever, which even they know deep down would be a horrible fate for any person. They may, indeed, be in no particular rush, but this is their mad wish: that someday, at least, they will not be. Perhaps they can wait 70 or 80 years, distracting themselves with things in the meantime, but contrary to portrayals of them as clinging to the Self...their ardent desire, as evident from their chosen beliefs about its destiny, is actually the eventual annihilation of it entirely.

But consciousness is not reducible to this material frame; we will have to live with ourselves forever, in one sense or another, but then stripped of all earthly distractions from what we are or have become. And if you were banking on annihilation to escape being, to escape the utter fragility and absurdity of the consciousness we construct...then living with yourself forever must be Hell. On the other hand, if I have already lost myself to grace, to love, if the Self with all its flaws has already been totally consumed by Another...then maybe living with it forever won't be so bad.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm conflicted, re: Chinese Censorship vs US "Information Imperialism"

So, as you might guess, I'd generally consider myself against censorship or attempts by Authority to control the free flow of ideas. Adults can make those sorts of judgments for themselves.

However, an interesting argument came out of Communist China today that caught my attention.

While, up to this point, I was totally behind attempts to subvert China's censorship of the internet and they made an interesting argument against the US governments opposition to such censorship. Namely, that the US isn't opposing Chinese censorship on any sort of truly principled humanitarian grounds about free-speech etc, but simply as a form of "Information Imperialism" designed to Americanize and Westernize China through exposure to the (numerically superior) American information output.

Now, I don't really think China is being sincere about its intents either. Censorship, for them, clearly serves the end of political repression.

At the same time, I have no doubt that their analysis of US motives is nevertheless correct. I sympathize with opposing the idea of "Information Imperialism". Other cultures are bound to get diluted and globalized if they are all "brainwashed," as it were, with American TV, American movies, American ideas, etc.

Some would take a "free market" attitude and say that this simply means that our ideas are superior and deserve to win, but this doesn't take into account the fact that we produce so much and have so much money behind it...that the sheer volume is bound to overwhelm any other culture's output on world stage, and thus simply increase America's hegemony psychologically.

I guess it's the same principle whereby I'm inclined to be sympathetic to tariffs imposed by Third World countries on our goods (to protect their own nascent industries), but am appalled that we would demand tariffs on goods from poor countries when we already have so much.

Still, I don't really know how, practically, information could be given a "fair playing field" vs American Ideas without it turning into authoritarian repression or mere controlling people through ignorance. How do we get people in other cultures to embrace their own local culture when the world of McDonald's and Coca-Cola is there promising them instant gratification, entangled with the whole American "freedom" narrative of Classically Liberal Democracy and the Protestant Work Ethic??

Perhaps some sort of "tariff" on foreign information, which would allow it, but only for a "toll" paid by either the producer or the consumer side?

I don't know. I totally understand and sympathize with the concept behind what the Chinese are claiming (though I think they are claiming it disingenuously). There is a real problem that the sheer volume of US production in the area of ideas, backed by money and technology, would easily spell-bind any poorer culture and seduce them away from their native tradition with the promise of material happiness. Because of a false but constantly reinforced connection that has been drawn between the ideas, on the one hand, and the material prosperity on the other. Promising them temporal prosperity if they'll sell their souls to American hegemony, to the "progressive" globalizing meta-narrative, to Babylon. When really, all adopting the ideas will do is make them subservient and complacent, unwilling to resist, even when they are only marginally more prosperous and just as disenfranchised on the world stage.

The Second World is fortunately powerful enough to resist American Hegemony without being co-opted or selling out. Unfortunately, Russia and China aren't the nicest places to live necessarily. Though the Orthodox Church is exerting more influence in Russia again. If only China became some sort of Cathodox...then (as I discussed in my post on Globalism) if the Church would join that axis instead of the America-Western Europe-Israel one, and maybe bring the Third World with it...perhaps American Hegemony could crack. After all, it only two proton torpedoes into an exhaust shaft to destroy the Death Star...

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Well, speaking of excuses: please excuse me if this post is a little disorganized, I'm pretty much just spouting off random thoughts.

But anyway, one thing that has disturbed me about certain more moderate voices in traditionalism, even recently among some I would consider to sympathize with "renegade trad" type a variety of attitudes that I fear too often act an excuse to not take action.

These attitudes can range from some alleged theoretical commitment to gradualism ("brick by brick"), to a certain fatalism or defeatism disguised as alleged realism.

More radical traditionalists, however, do no better, their greater fire and zeal notwithstanding. Because most of them are all talk too, their own in-fighting and delusional extremism mitigating against any hope of affecting anything outside their own little fantasy world.

Though my last post attacked dithering, ineffectual many of us lay people are likewise unwilling to be activist in the Church? Too lazy or afraid to work to hold our leaders accountable and oppose gross negligence on their part? To withstand Peter to his face?

Especially among pseudo-Intellectuals (and there is no such thing as a real Intellectual, they are all pseudo-) I sense there is a certain ennui, a certain quietism born of a Post-Modern or Existentialist crisis whereby meaning is always deferred, whereby we can have no effect on the world, whereby we are spectators engaged in endless critique and discussion of the issues, but helpless to actually effect them. Where there is always another counter-point to consider against reaching any conclusion or taking any specific action. And so too much thought stifles action.

It goes back to the problem of "reactivity" found in the article I posted on No Organizations, and I hope it is not intrinsically endemic to Catholicism as a mental and emotional paradigm. People complain or lament or sigh, but don't dare put anything on the line to change things. It almost sounds sometimes like people are on the verge of giving up.

Frankly if you look at the liberals in the Church, they got what they wanted by being activist. Why aren't traditionalists and conservatives so bold? If liberals somehow are pushy enough to get liturgical dancers and puppets, why shouldn't we push more? While there is a certain idea of "taking the high ground" and "refusing to lower ourselves to such tactics" the same time one worries that such are, again, excuses for not confronting bad Authorities, either out of fear or scruples or simple laziness. If you aren't going to fight for what you believe in, then don't complain.

These days parents seem to be able to exert their influence to get what they want for their kids from many weak and easily cowed teachers. When it is the wrong thing, we look down upon this as mere strong-arming or bullying tactics...but if it is correcting an injustice, is nagging or utilizing our stronger personality really wrong? Or perhaps the problem is just that the personalities on our side are weaker and using "theoretical" disagreement with the tactics as an excuse...

If even the ADL can raise up enough of a ruckus to make the Vatican issue all sorts of retractions and "clarifications" every time something happens even remotely touching on the Jews...why don't actual Catholics do the same thing? Why don't they listen to their own followers? Doesn't what we think matter more than The World? If they were elected officials...certainly they would care more about pleasing their actual constituents than vague external forces. It can make one feel really powerless and voiceless sometimes.

And, though I myself have never dabbled with schism or near-schism...I have to admit, that I find the argument that Summorum Pontificum was released for the sake of the "good Catholics who stayed in the Church" rather than the SSPX to be increasingly laughable. However we may feel about their tactics, the SSPX, following their convictions, did successfully pressure the Church into changes through what they probably think of as "civil disobedience". I don't necessarily buy the logic of their justification, but the point is that they did buy it, and they acted on it, and perhaps it may yet turn into something of a victory if they can avoid being co-opted at this point in the game.

Now, perhaps this comes more from the "call it as I see it" side of my personality than the "moderate" side...but I think there is a mistaken notion that sanity or maturity consists in a sort of detached resignation about life. An "adult" is conceived of as someone who sits around reading the newspaper or debating the minutiae of fiscal policy over coffee, and it's only "crazy radicals" or "young hot-heads" who go out and actually protest. But I think that is not true. Real maturity and adulthood sometimes consists in know when the situation is dire enough and when the circumstances are right to take effective action. Politicians are the subject of lobbying all the time, but Catholics rarely "lobby" our bishops, and when we do it is usually always individuals, not an organized collective action.

I can't help but imagine that if the Church were a secular government, or if the traditionalist movement was a political "cause"...people would be agitating a lot more and raising consciousness. I mean, look at Civil Rights. Not to compare the issues themselves, but in terms of the process and methods. From the I Have a Dream Speech in 1963 to our First Black almost exactly as long as it has been since Vatican II. And yet, how many "reasonable" people honestly think we're within a decade of even seeing communion on the hand ended, or the Propers restored to Mass, or women covering their heads in large numbers again...let alone anything close to a restoration of the Traditional Rite? "Slowly slowly" we're told. Ha. At a certain point, incrementalism can only go so slow. At various junctures, you have to make a quantum leap.

Benedict XVI, as much as I really like this Pope, has absolutely NO "plan" to restore traditional liturgy. That's a naive thought. He's sympathetic, no doubt, and has thrown us a bone in the form of the motu proprio (mainly to entice the SSPX back, methinks). He is a conservative, and is appointing more conservative bishops and using more conservative styles in his own liturgy. But anyone who thinks he has ever imagined that the Old Rite will someday be the rite of the whole Latin Church again, or even concretely considered the end of things like communion on the delusional. This man is a theologian remember. A brilliant one, no doubt, but no Visionary. He is up in an ivory tower mentally, as are many of the curial officials (a problem when you recruit mainly from Academics). I'm sure he has abstractly "considered the question of" things like the Old Rite and communion on the hand...and could write pages and pages of brilliant "reflection" on them, from a vaguely conservative perspective...only to reach no real concrete conclusion about what, concretely, is the right answer about what should be done, what the ideal final outcome should be.

It's the same problem I fear a lot of people these days have, it's all endless reflection (or "dialogue" in the case of ecumenism)...ruminating over things, but never actually acting with a concrete plan to change the status quo. But we need decisiveness, people!!

To take one step forward isn't good enough if the opposing forces are taking two steps backward. Once again why conservatism has been an impotent philosophy, and why the "progressive" left-ward movement of history seems "inevitable" in the past few centuries with only the speed being modifiable. Because the liberals are actually moving in that direction, whereas conservatives are merely trying to stop motion. Well, a dead-weight may slow motion in one direction...but it is never going to stop it, that would take an equal motion in the opposite direction. And certainly it is never going to actually reverse things.

In a tug-of-war...if there is a side just trying to hold their ground, while the other side is actually pulling...the side that is actually positively pulling will win. We need to start actually pulling right-ward! If we don't, the best we can hope for is a stale-mate. This conservative idea of "stabilizing" things at the status quo as a first step before attempting any restoration or retrograde never going to work, because the other side is never going to agree to stop. We need to work as agressively as they do positively moving in our own direction; a direction which should not necessarily be conceived of as simply "turning back the clocks"...the past can never be restored, we must present traditionalism as an alternate vision of the future.

So, I want to hear your thoughts. Is there any effective ACTION that traditionalist Catholics could take to agitate for the Old Liturgy? Letter writing campaigns to bishops? Rosary vigils outside Cathedrals? Buying television or radio spots? Picketing? Hunger strikes? the fact that I say these things already rather tongue-in-cheek, already considering them "impossible" or "silly," actually our big problem? Is the reason the liberals have had such success because they actually are willing to consider such "crazy" ideas as at least possible, at first, and then follow through with some of them?

Is the best way really to keep working to establish the presence of the Old Rite place by place? But might that not require waiting 20 years for a certain generation to die? Or more, in some places, as not all young priests are all that willing to provide it either (especially those of the Evangelical Protestant Catholicism variety).

Frankly, without some sort of agitation, I doubt we'll ever cause a massive institutional change, as most people who might even become sympathetic...are never going to voice a positive preference against the status quo. And most traditionalists seem to take the attitude that, as long as they have the traditional liturgy...they're too comfortable in their own happy status quo to bother worrying about having it implemented on a wider scale. Certainly they refuse to risk their own comfort zone to do anything about it.

Because many people in the pews are indifferent. And winning them over would require the twofold task of 1) getting them to care about their Faith in general again, and then 2) getting them to realize how bad the liturgy is. It's not going to happen.

The "indifferents" in the Church form a huge "shield" that negligent bishops can hide behind because, they'll tell you, "there is no demand for change". But a lack of demand for change does not equate to positive demand for the Status Quo either (of which there is almost none). It is not a ringing endorsement of the status quo, it just means a huge block of people who are indifferent.

Sure, if the TLM is only offered at one parish in a dioceses...most people are not clamoring to get there. "There is not much demand". True, but why should tradition bear the burden of "demand"? If the tables were turned and the Novus Ordo were only offered at one parish while the TLM was the you think as many people would make the trek over to the Novus Ordo as do currently the TLM? Even after 40 years? I just dont get the impression there is that much positive attachment to it beyond the inertia of familiarity and the fact that it is what's closest.

Do good Catholics always just wait for change from the top down? I don't know, but I'd like to hear your thoughts. And hopefully they'll be concrete and proactive.

A dream deferred is a dream denied, and I worry we're letting the restoration of tradition be denied to us simply by accepting its deferral, by placing our trust in some vague hope of the success of incrementalism. Patient struggling is one thing, co-option or ideological neutering is another. At the same time, as the Crane Brinton model of revolutions suggests, revolutions are "are born of hope" rather then misery. They come when promised reform by the old guard does not go far enough, and the hopes of those looking forward to them are disappointed. They often emerge when the old government is under significant financial strain and is losing credibility and issues policies designed to appease both sides that in reality please neither the right nor the left.

The destruction of the liturgy happened practically over night, and thanks to the constant agitation of some very proactive liberal voices. Are we nearing the point where some sort of "catalyst" will be needed, some "spark" to cause the counter-revolution (of which much groundwork has been laid below the surface) to erupt? Where some sort of "push" will be needed to force a hesitant Vatican to act decisively in favor of tradition? That is how most change happens in history. Groundwork is laid gradually below the surface, and then suddenly things start rolling very quickly as it all comes together, in a matter of weeks or months even. How will we know when that tipping point has been reached when it comes to reforming the Church and the liturgy? And what form could such a "spark" take??

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Appeasement

The clergy's recipe for mediocrity: care so much about how your enemies see you, about what The World thinks, but then take your own friends and loyal followers and ideological allies for granted.

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth."

It's really just starting to hit me how many of our clergy, even the ones I would consider theoretical ideological allies...are in practice such weak, dithering, ineffectual men, wringing their hands over petty decisions for fear that rocking the boat at all might upset someone.

Constantly working to appease the liberals or the Jews or the Protestants or the liberal Protestant Jews...but then not particularly caring for the concerns of conservative Catholics who want to see action taken against, say, pro-abortion politicians. Or stopping altar girls or communion in the hand in their parishes. Or even something as petty as wearing a maniple.

Because they know they can always count on the loyal Catholics continued support...and donations. So one strident liberal voice in a parish can halt a project that others might want. It's why "conservatism" is such an impotent philosophy of life: the Status Quo always wins out, dragging everyone down like a dead weight.

And there's also this constant fear of their own colleagues and superiors created by the authoritarian Institutional dynamic. And the fact that they're paid and so can be threatened with having their livelihood cut off, or being given a terrible re-assignment. That's a terrible system when it comes to open dialogue with and healthy critique and accountability of higher-ups.

Even those who have what I would consider the "right" convictions...lack the courage of their convictions, worried about the "delicacy" of their situation. It's like they handed their balls over on a platter when they're ordained.

It's so cowardly and unappealing. No wonder the priesthood is perceived of as effeminate and they have a vocations shortage...

They try to justify it saying they need to be "discreet". Well, there is nothing that disgusts me more than a coward, except a coward who hides it under the name of discretion, thereby both sinning against fortitude and defaming the true discretion of men braver than themselves.

They're so obsessed with sins against chastity, but the other virtues (like fortitude and prudence) are hardly emphasized at all.

So many of our clerics are just old women...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Transformation of an Altar

So, we finally got the altar all fixed up. The slot in the plywood wasn't quite big enough for the altar stone originally, so my priest had to hack away at the edges of the hole with a steak-knife until it fit, but once we got that on, I think the new linens and frontal cleaned up rather nicely.

Here is a picture of the altar last year:

We didn't even have an altar stone yet, just a relic corporal. And, as you'll see in the "after" pictures...since then the Sisters, whose chapel it is (we just use it in the mornings), moved the sanctuary lamp to the floor and put a big crucifix up on the wall.

Also, the altar wasn't even normally
this "good" as usually it is not set-up for an ad orientem TLM, but merely a Novus Ordo versus populum. We have to "set it up" and "take it down" again each morning after Mass, and that's like reliving the iconoclasm of the 1970's over and over again, like some perpetual cyclical nightmare (I better get some Purgatory off for that!) So it usually didnt even have the altar cards or altar crucifix or missal, just the table with two candlesticks in the corners. There were only two layers of cloths, not 100% linen, not even hemmed, and the top one only covered half the mensa.

Here is the altar now, after all the projects I was working on over winter break were installed:

It's hard to see some of the changes because they're covered by cloth, but the surface was raised about 3/4" with a sheet of wood, and an altar stone inserted in a square hole in that sheet. There are now three layers of linens (blessed this morning before Mass!) that actually fit the table, the topmost or "Fair Linen" with a lace trim along the front (I don't really like lace, but we needed something that would hide the edge of the plywood when the antependium wasn't up) and hanging down to the floor on the sides. And, of course, the reversible white/purple antependium held by those strong magnets epoxied in the edge of the plywood.

Here is the white side, though I like the purple better. It does need to be ironed again, I suppose:

I had a lot of extra linen, and bought a bag of 100% beeswax pellets, so we're hoping to make a better cloth for the credence table and hopefully a chrismale/cerecloth (a waxed linen that sometimes was put under all the others to protect them and the surface of the mensa). That carpet serves as our "predella" as we can't actually alter the structure of the chapel.

And all of this cost under $300. Plus those altar cards I made for the Latin Novus Ordo cost only about $100 (mainly the cost of framing), so presumably so could Old Rite altar cards, if people would simply print their own and have them matted and framed. Add some candles and a crucifix, and an altar can be totally transformed for probably under $500 if you budget wisely. Making your own stuff is much cheaper.

So, hopefully, a step in the right direction, and maybe an example for other churches of how a nice frontal is perhaps the best way to get the biggest visual "bang" for their buck.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Testimonial from a Black Catholic

Martin Luther King Day is tomorrow, and a reader has submitted a testimonial to share on the blog regarding the experience as a black Catholic involved with the traditional liturgy, and some of the conflict and sense of cultural alienation involved:
First, some background information. Until last May, I went to an FSSP parish in Mableton, Georgia. I had been going there for three years. Currently, I'm going to my local parish, which is comprised of blacks and Hispanics in roughly equal numbers. The reason why I left was not because I thought that the Novus Ordo is superior (I don't) or because I enjoy the works of Marty Haugen (I don't). To sum up briefly, a bunch of parishioners didn't like this one priest, so they ganged up on him and falsely accused him of every sin imaginable. The secular and religious authorities had to get involved (including the ones in Rome), and the priest ended up resigning from the parish, but was cleared of all charges. Because I believed the priest in question was innocent, this other faction of parishioners ostracized me and wouldn't let their children attend the CCD classes I was teaching. The other faction was also supportive of the SSPX, which I could care less about were it not for the fact that they didn't trust all of the people outside their clique. Aside from the factional disputes, there was also the feeling of cultural alienation. I can't testify to the way traditionalism is in other parts of the world or even other parts of the US, but at the parish I attended the whole neo-Confederacy thing was pretty blatant. In this case, it probably has to do with a pre-existing regional disposition to that kind of ideology. Maybe I should have gotten the clue when the French priest we had when I first started going had a Confederate flag on his car. Apparently, the guy must have been a hard-core monarchist and bought the crap about the South being the only place that traditional Catholicism could have flourished (except that it didn't. Oops).

Another issue I have is over the collective mental explosion of the trads/neo-cons over Obama. In the black community, the Obama candidacy was treated like the natural teleological outcome of more then 400 years of struggle, some thing that I was clearly on the outside of (I did a write-in candidate, because I didn't want to vote for either). Much of the enthusiasm comes from the feeling that the Obama presidency means an end of the feeling of being a metic. The term metic comes from Ancient Athens. Metics were people who were residents of Athens, but not citizens. Many of them had lived in the city-state for many generations, but were still considered foreigners. This has been the traditional situation of blacks in this country; always residents, never citizens. When Obama won the election I thought, "Wow, we've finally made it" and then I felt guilty because of his pro-abortion record and that feeling hasn't left me since. The whole election filled me with a great deal of anxiety, since I was told by my mother that if I didn't vote for Obama then there would be race riots and blacks would be even worse off than they were in the post-Reconstruction era. Then all of these Catholic blogs and writers were saying that if Obama was elected, then it would usher in a Nazi-type government (which was also what my mom said. Strange how Hitler always wins no matter who wins). he crux is the problem is the phenomenon known as "double consciousness" as described by WEB Du Bois in his book The Souls of Black Folk. It refers to an inability to reconcile the twin identities of being black and American, or in this case, it is the difficulties of reconcile black and Catholic identities.

Another example is the annual Catholic blogosphere two minutes of hate about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that seems to occur during the King Holiday.
I've noticed that there seems to be some confusion on the part of many trads/neo-cons as to why black people idolize Dr. King. I would think that it would be obvious, but apparently not. One blog that I recalled reading some years ago complained that black Catholics should be trying to emulate the saints and not some cryto-socialist heretic. Unfortunately, there is no Catholic version of Dr. King or any of the other figures who people black American history. For example, when Coretta Scott King died almost four years ago, there were public masses said in her honor at predominantly black Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Is this against the rubrics? Possibly, but I really can't complain about that. FYI, Coretta Scott King lived the bulk of her adult life in the same house MLK bought for her in 1962. The house itself is located in an Atlanta slum called Vine City, one of the worst parts of town. She was actually burglarized a number of times, including once by a man who killed several other elderly women in the area (when he saw the identity of his newest would-be victim, he fled, showing even criminals respect the Kings). When I think of that, it's apparent to me that Mrs. King honestly cared about the poor blacks in a way that I really can't say about any of the Catholic "cultural warriors" whom I'm supposed to pledge allegiance. I can't just act that the black Protestant church is the "work of Satan" because frankly they've done more for me in many religious, material, and political senses. This isn't a part of my history that I can junk simply because it doesn't fit into the Euro-centrist triumphalism espoused by so many trads/neo-cons. Since American black culture stems in some form or another from the black Protestant church, I wonder if this means then that the entire cultural output of blacks is totally worthless then? It's a terrifying thing to contemplate.

Part of the problem is that the Catholic Church didn't invest much time or energy trying to evangelize or support the interests of America's black population. The Catholic Church was uninterested in the abolitionist movement, because the French priests that were staffing many American parishes at the time equated abolitionism with modernism and Protestantism. It wasn't unusual for priests to inform on slaves who were planning to escape, even if it involved breaking the seal of confession (see Catholics in the Old South by Randall M. Miller for more on this topic). Since the "Black Church" was/is the only wholly black owned institution in America, quite a few blacks who were raised Catholic under slavery converted to Protestantism so they could have control of their own affairs. This is why I think that it’s a mistake to use rhetoric that equates slavery and abortion, since it’s pretty easy to call out the Church’s less than stellar response to the former and claim hypocrisy. In fact, it wasn't until the late 1960s that many Catholic parishes in the North and South became desegregated. In many parishes, blacks had to sit in the back and take communion last - if they were even allowed to enter the building in the first place. As a rule, disenfranchisement makes a poor evangelization tactic. So if you believe that the Catholic Church is the True Church, then the effects of slavery have condemned more than 28 million people to a life of heresy. During my travels on the Catholic blogosphere in particular and the Catholic media in general, I've noticed a failure to acknowledge to black Catholics even exist. For example, writer E. Michael Jones wrote in his book, The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing, that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement (intended to end discrimination against blacks in housing, jobs, and education in Northern slums) was a "liberal plot" to eradicate white ethnic Catholics, conveniently ignoring/forgetting that Chicago contains one of the largest black Catholic communities in the country.

There is an essay by James Baldwin entitled Stranger in the Village that details his experiences in a small Swiss village where he is the only black person that the townsfolk have ever seen. He mentions at one point that these Swiss people have a connection to Western culture that he will never have:

"For this village, even were it incomparably more remote and incredibly more primitive, is the West, the West onto which I have been strangely grafted. These people cannot be, from the point of view of power, strangers anywhere in the world; they have made the modern world, in effect, even if they do not know it. The most illiterate among them is related, in a way I am not, to Dante, Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Racine; the cathedral at Chartes says something to them which it cannot say to me..."

When I read that, I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut, because it was/is true. American blacks occupy an odd niche in history, as the "Bastards of Western Civilization," not fully African, but not totally Western. When an American black goes to, say, Ghana, he or she is referred to as obruni or "white foreigner." Despite the best hopes of blacks to find their roots in Africa, many Africans tend not to see a connection with their American cohorts. Meanwhile, current trad/neocon discourse states there is no place in the canon for blacks, not even for a Fredrick Douglass or an Booker T. Washington. Black history, even if a conservative take is being used, is inherently subversive, because it challenges this notion of Manifest Destiny, White Man's BurdenBlack Athena hypothesis or anything like that, but I don't want to be insulted all day either. I may prefer Gregorian chant to gospel music, but I don't want the latter to be written off as heretical "jungle music." Since the percentage of Europeans who comprise the Catholic Church is getting smaller and smaller, I think these issues are going to take on ever more importance. I don't know if any of these things make sense to you or are helpful, but this is part of my take on the situation.


I think these are issues that shouldn't be simply dismissed or ignored by the mainstream Church or traditionalist movement.

We will see what is said of MLK in the Catholic Blogosphere tomorrow. In some ways it seems to be the anti-Columbus Day for a lot of trads. Columbus Day is all glorified (despite the fact that it is clearly not so much a celebration of the figure of Columbus himself as an individual, but of the morally tarnished event of white colonization of the New World), whereas Martin Luther King Day is dismissed or belittled and his own person attacked (despite the fact that it is not so much about celebration of the man in his private life, but of the triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement).

But, as Leah describes, important figures of black history are excluded from even the secular American historical canon by trads and conservatives (sometimes having the gall to claim it's only because they are "non-Catholic") a way they would never exclude important non-Catholic
white figures such as the Founding Fathers.

Though, in either case, we do need to recognize the difference between recognizing important historical, or intellectual, or political achievements for a given community on a temporal level, and going to such silly extremes as making them Saints, ala this now infamous picture, which probably just causes more backlash from conservatives and trads:

I've discussed the issue of Euro-centrism and the "Western Civilization" meta-narrative among trads and conservatives, and this seeming expectation that non-Europeans should conform to a neo-colonialist, culture-cringe mentality in general in my post on Globalism.

Though I'm white, one of my complaints about a lot of the untraditional stuff that goes on in our that it's still so unambiguously

For example, while traditional chant is the appropriate music for liturgy, I really like gospel. If the non-traditional music they were using was really emotional, clapping-and-jumping gospel music or black Spirituals...I could at least be touched by that emotionally. Because there is a real history of suffering and struggle behind it, a real pathos. I might be tempted to get behind something like that, it really is organic.

But that's not what they use. For some reason,
that is looked upon as inappropriate for unspecified (and, I suspect, subconsciously racist) reasons...even when totally corny (and totally white) "Christian Rock" is seen as okay for "contemporary" Masses. Anyone seen the South Park episode about "Faith+1"? We have a contemporary choir in my area, and the music really is that bad, that sappy, that pathetic, that cringe-worthy. And yet, its apologists will tell you, it is okay because "the Church can adapt to any appropriate style". Yet, recommend music something like the following video as an at least better alternative if they refuse to use chant and want something "lively," and suddenly those same Guitar Mass people will scowl at you and say, "Well, of course that's inappropriate," and the only distinction I can see is because it's black, and in many Catholics mind, that's just not "who we are." Even when "On Eagle's Wings" (or "Jesus Baby") apparently is...

It's one of those things that survived Vatican II that makes you really question their priorities. Just like mandatory celibacy, this very
white mentality...was kept, even as they destroyed the traditional liturgy and started being ambiguous about the One True Faith in a pluralist way. The traditional Roman Rite, at least, does have some organic connection to Europeans, of course, given that it is the Rite of a specific place that does happen to be European. So a certain white identity among white devotees is perhaps to be expected there. But it is, bizarrely, maintained even in the Novus Ordo milieu, even though that was meant to be a sort of "United Nations Liturgy" from what I can tell. A quote from Arturo Vasquez's amazing blog Reditus describes this better than I:
I suppose this is one of my beefs with apologetics-driven, American conservative Catholicism: it packages Catholicism into a highly marketable, very sensible, very bland, and let’s face it, very American product. In what is easy for Americans to grasp (practical questions and trivia), it brings them up, and in the education in the Catholic ethos (i.e. all the cool stuff), it leaves them right where they are: in the atmosphere of the suburban strip-mall.
An atmosphere that is, of course, quintessentially white. White American without even any of the organic connection to European history that it is implicit in the traditional Roman Rite.

This Euro-centrism, this implicit pressure for non-whites to assimilate culturally or else be branded as not "true" something we need to deconstruct.