WHAT DID YOU GIVE UP FOR LENT? Don’t tell me – you’re not supposed to tell folks. But what was it? Do you think of it as a struggle or a punishment to do so? Are you making a sacrifice for God? Or are you doing something to make up for your sins? What is fasting about? If you follow through on “just the rules” there is both fasting and abstinence: we’re supposed to eat less, and not eat certain things. And then something else (TV? Chocolate?) sort of creeps in because we know we can substitute something else for the food thing. So, if I give up my phone for a couple of hours a day, then I can keep eating hamburgers, right?
Why do we fast?
In the east and the west, Christians used to have a more strict fast: generally, all animal products were removed from the diet (there were some exceptions for Sundays and feast days). Additionally, the amount of food was limited: one meal a day, only eaten late in the day. The timing was relative to the liturgical practice: you only take communion after fasting. So Mass or (in the east) the Divine Liturgy were postponed until very late in the day. In the west you said Mass in the afternoon. In the East, communion came with Vespers. You ate only after communion.
Why? What’s wrong with meat or cheese or even wine? Nothing at all. Why do we do it then? Can’t we replace giving up wine (how much do we drink anyway?) with no chocolate? And who fasts until 3 in the afternoon? Pshaw. That’s all just showing off. Works don’t make us more holy. God loves us as we are. Those last two sentences are totally true. They are not modern. All of the Church Fathers – including those who wrote the rules about fasting and abstinence – would agree that rules don’t make us holy and God loves us fully even if we eat hamburgers on Good Friday. So what’s this about?
Look at the rules: – Don’t eat until late in the day. – Don’t eat more than once. – Don’t eat animal products. – Don’t drink alcohol.
Who would those rules affect? Farmers? Peasants? Homeless? Not really at all. Many if not all of these folks were lucky to eat – usually bread and maybe veggies – after working all day. These rules would affect the rich. In fact, these rules would force the rich from your local officials all the way up to the emperor (if he were pious) to live – at least a little – as if they were poor. When coupled with the traditional command to give alms during Lent, this all begins to make sense. Lent is a spiritual practice of solidarity with the poorest in our Christian family. It’s not enough to be in solidarity as such – this is not about political action per se – but it is exactly a political act in itself. It is acting in a way contrary to the world: my riches mean nothing to me. I give them up, even if only for a time, to live in solidarity with the poor. If you realize that the most ancient Christian traditions did not only fast/abstain in Lent, but several periods throughout the year as well as every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year, suddenly it’s nearly 50% of the time was some form of Lent, some form of solidarity with the poor.
What made me realize this was a comment about feasting. The rules about fasting only cut out feasting foods. The issue, for us moderns, is that we feast all the time. We have meat all the time. We have fats and adult beverages whenever we want. We have no idea what it means to feast because we don’t have fasting days anymore and – more importantly – we don’t have normal days where it’s mostly a fast. Feasts are not special because every meal is a sumptuous feast from our bagel and coffee to our late-night snack of ice cream. Even our standing in front of the fridge in a daze eating leftovers out of Tupperware with our fingers is feasting.
This is why it’s important not to imagine giving up TV or sweets is the same thing.
Fasting and abstaining are intended to make us uncomfortable, are intended to be hard, not because of our sins but because of our comfort, because of our ease.
The patristic teaching on these practices included the counsel to take what you do not spend on your feasting foods and hand it directly to the poor. What a concept! Fasting leads directly to charity. Abstinence leads to liberation.
Pray Give up costly things Give your money to the poor Pray.
This is not only a problem in the West, even the Orthodox have forgotten the “fasting” part of the equation. A priest commented to me “We too are supposed to only eat one meal a day, but we ignore that part…” They pretty much eat all they want, just vegan. So you can have all the soy ice cream you like. And, as one layman joked, “Who cares if you can’t eat steak. Lobster is fine.” (Shellfish is poor people food…)
If you think, though, that this is about the rules as such, or that fasting is some Mediaeval (and mistaken) idea about paying God back for our sins, then, of course you would get rid of this. You might even quote scripture:
This is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin. (Isaiah 58:6-7)
But these are not conflicting: these are the same thing. You can’t share your bread if you eat it…
Wherein we discuss Aquinas, Ignatius, freedom, a real integralism, and truth.
YOU MAY REMEMBER The parable of the foolish (rich) man, which came up in the readings recently in the US:
And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? – Luke 12:15-120 AV
Your host has been studying up on Liberation Theology. Certainly, this is because of other reading: having just spent a year reading the Catechism, Church History, Fundamental Theology, and Philosophy, one’s brain tends to get fired up and a summer program was needed. Additionally, several events in the US and in the Levant have caused one to be triggered. Also, in the middle of Covidness there was a debate in Catholic Social Media around the question, Can one be a socialist and a Catholic? The great range of responses to this (each insisting they were the one, right answer) precipitated research. Then, finally, a new job which daily puts one in touch with those who are most rejected in our own city has sent this writer searching. For intercessors on this journey, Blessed Stanley Rother, the Servant of God Dorothy Day, and the Orthodox Saint Maria of Paris all presented themselves. There have been numerous podcasts as well: The Liberation Theology Podcast, Tradistae, and The Josias to name a few. Please note that these come from all across the political spectrum. I’m trying to figure it out.
All Catholic social teaching begins with the doctrine that God intended all of creation for all people. It promptly moves to the idea that if you’re not sharing – if you hoard things up in barns like in the parable – you’re on the wrong path. And you’re going to die anyway. If we stand up and say “everything is amazing I’m going to build new barns…” then we’re in the wrong place. It seems entirely damning to say the value (or increased value) of this physical thing is more important than the justice due others. As we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, we may – at different times – find recourse to the laws of the land. Changing the systems (as needed) to fit our faith is Catholic Integralism – subjecting the state to the Church’s teaching on social and political matters. It matters not if that subjection is perceived as right, left, or centrist. Although often seen as a “right wing” op, Liberation Theology is also a species of Catholic Integralism, as the latter is properly understood. So how can we build a state around the ideas of liberation? How can we ensure the universal destination of goods and to what extent should the state be involved in that process?
We begin with the Church herself. On 6 August 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued an Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation. Sent out of the signature of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, it’s a very clear rejection of some of the tools used by my sources. It carries the Church’s Magisterium’s full authority, so we are obligated to follow it as faithful Catholics. In that light, it is important to note that the first third of the document essentially affirms the orthodoxy of many (if not most) of the tenets of Liberation Theology citing Church councils, both ecumenical and regional, as well as previous magisterial documents. Peppered through the rest of the document are additional statements of strong support. The items rejected though, are the tools of Marxist and materialist analysis, and what the document rightly calls a “partisan conception of the truth.”
Here, from Chapter X:
1. The partisan conception of truth, which can be seen in the revolutionary ‘praxis’ of the class, corroborates this position. Theologians who do not share the theses of the “theology of liberation”, the hierarchy, and especially the Roman Magisterium are thus discredited in advance as belonging to the class of the oppressors. Their theology is a theology of class. Arguments and teachings thus do not have to be examined in themselves since they are only reflections of class interests. Thus, the instruction of others is decreed to be, in principle, false. 2. Here is where the global and all-embracing character of the theology of liberation appears. As a result, it must be criticized not just on the basis of this or that affirmation, but on the basis of its classist viewpoint, which it has adopted ‘a priori’, and which has come to function in it as a determining principle.
Your host believes this to be the core objection – even stronger than the rejection of Marxism, per se. The “partisan conception of truth” posits first (in the case of Latin America) that the poor are “good guys” and the rich are “bad guys”. Going further, it seems to say the rich can’t be saved as they are rich with an added implication that the poor are already holy exactly because they are poor. As the document notes, the arguments of the rich, as a class, are rejected because they are rich. Truth does not matter at all: rich people can’t speak the truth here.
As liberation theology moves outside of Latin America, a partisan idea of “poor” gets replaced by an even more partisan idea of “oppressed”. Anyone who self-classifies as “oppressed” becomes “good guys”. So, as the document points out, there are now divergent “theologies of liberation”, each one liberating a group of people from oppression at the expense of others who are classified as “oppressors” in a way they (the oppressors) cannot escape. Unlike poverty which can possibly be addressed by redistributive economies mere “oppression” needs to be defined in opposition to the “Oppressor”. The Oppressed may often have the same social position and power as the Oppressors. They may even be of the same economic class. For example: can a theology of liberation be applied to the “oppressed” middle-class women of American Suburbia? Are same-sex families which, statistically, tend to be of higher incomes and higher education (double income/no kids), have a theology of liberation, properly understood? Are they “poor” in the Church’s sense of a preferential option for the poor? In these cases, there seems to be a desire to “liberation” something without ever questioning if the liberation, itself, is moral. In fact, the question of “morality” is, for some, just more oppression, but that’s where we need to start.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
Liberation theology is often seen as the province of Jesuits and every Jesuit is formed using the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius so we shall start there, with what is known as the First Principle and Foundation of the entire Ignatian tradition.
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.
A stroll around the net will reveal many ways in which this text has been paraphrased to mean any number of things in these post-Christian days, but at the root, it all begins here: Man is created to praise and serve God with the end goal of becoming a great saint. Anything that furthers that goal is to be embraced. Anything that hinders that goal is to be rejected. Here, then, is the first principle of liberation: the removal of all things in our life that prevent us from praising and serving God. Although many paraphrase Ignatius to say something to the contrary, it would be clear that sin cannot be tolerated here. Anything contrary to God’s revealed plan cannot be classified as “liberation theology”. Additionally, as we know, things contrary to God’s will become, in themselves, oppression – a way to avoid becoming a saint. Repeated sin becomes a mental habit of sin – an addiction. We are entrapped by our own actions.
Many “theologies of liberation from oppression” start by saying “this thing we thought was a sin is not a sin” and add “language of sin is – itself – oppression.” These are not theologies, then, properly understood, since they begin with rejecting revealed truth. They are, then, ideologies. These ideologies rob the church of the language of salvation. In a religion based on “the world” truthful language describes reality. To use untrue language (“this is not a sin”) is to describe illusion, to lie. These ideologies only enslave us further to our sins. So, for example, sexual sin: there cannot be a theology of liberation that starts with the approval of disordered passions. To be truly liberating we must begin with Truth (that is, Jesus).
Those who say the laws of the state must hinder us from sin are correct. But sin is not only a matter of sexual morality, divorce, and adult magazines and movies, etc. If our laws are not just, if they hinder the universal destination of goods, if they destroy the earth, they are equally immoral. They are equally damning to those who willingly participate in that system. Slavery, human trafficking, unjust housing policies, business practices that shift the pollution overseas, or the real cost of products onto the shoulders of underpaid labor are all equally damning. A political process that does not address all of these – and more – is not liberating. Further, unless the state liberates all peoples – the oppressed and the oppressor – it is not liberation at all. It’s not, therefore, integralism. It’s just another form of modern government. The laws which create usurious debt, which prevent just housing, which grant the rights of persons (divine icons) to fictitious entities like businesses and political organizations are all opposed to the Catholic Church’s anthropology and natural law. An integralist state must oppose these as firmly as it must oppose divorce, abortion, and other expressions of sexuality contrary to God’s law.
But first, the Church must make clear how all of these are liberation and how all of these negative are, themselves, real oppression as certainly as is economic oppression. The Church’s choice (and each Catholic’s in the Church) must be to become saints – to be saved. After that, each choice will be obvious for each person: a rich man may have different choices available than a poor child. A white person may have different options than a person of color. But there is no “preferential option for the [fill in the blank]”. There is only the preferential option for the poor. We must all become poor to enter the kingdom. But while there are systemic sins in our present structures, a real integralism must liberate both the “Jew and the Greek, the slave and the free, the male and female;” it must liberate all as “one in Christ Jesus” or it will not liberate anyone. We must tear down all our barns and ensure that the laws of the integralist state ensure the universal destination of all the goods (physical and spiritual) of God’s creation.
The Church must make clear that our first question is not a paraphased version of Ignatius, but rather his exact text, how can we set up for each person “to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul?” Once we have done that – and only when we have done that – will we be on our way to salvation.
CATHOLIC TWITTER HAS BEEN going over (rehashing?) what seems to be an old argument this week:
To be honest, I don’t know. This argument is going on in a column on my Tweetdeck called “I’m learning” into which I throw everyone that’s arguing about politics so that I can learn more about a Catholic approach to politics. What I’m clear on so far is that the argument that we must vote for Trump is specious – if not heretical – since Church teaching clearly says otherwise:
What I am not clear on, however, is this idea that in order to support integralism I must be fascist. Actually, this all seems to be a problem with history. The church today seems to have a problem with history.
For example: while many missionaries of the last two centuries brought many souls to Christ they also participated in political oppression. The church seems to be incapable of recognizing this. St Junipero Serra defended indigenous people from the Spanish military and brought them to Christ, it is true. But he also kidnapped them to keep them “safe”. And his kidnapping was part of the Spanish Empire’s way of colonizing this part of the world. Missions helped clear the land so that the military could move in and distribute the uninhabited property to the wealthy Spaniards. Yes, St Junipero kept folks safe. But he, himself, was part of the machine that was making the environment unsafe for the indigenous persons. The Catholic Church has a problem admitting this.
Another example is Christopher Columbus, who likewise set up a system that enslaved indigenous people while talking piously about their salvation. I have no doubt that he in fact worked and even prayed for their salvation. But he also enslaved and oppressed them. He was part of the machine that did this. Again, the Catholic church has trouble admitting this.
The fact that both of these men are not only Catholics but celebrated American forebears, creates a conflict of history, hagiography, and political mythology that Modern Catholics refuse to untangle.
I think the same is true with Integralism. There is a history. That does not define our present however, nor our future.
At its root, Integralism is simply the idea that the state must be subject to the final end of man which is his salvation.
Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that, rejecting the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holds that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end, the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.
Anything the state says which is in conflict with man’s salvation is null and void. The best state would be the state which cooperates with the church to the final end of man. Some Integralists have argued in support of a fascist state. I recognize that and it would be a lie to say otherwise. Does that, however, mean that all Integralists must be fascist? I refuse to accept that premise. Any theorist that says this or that political or economic theory will help us forward Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is making an Integralist argument if he is saying this is for man’s salvation.
So I argue that a person who is claiming socialism is more in line with the church’s teaching than capitalism is essentially making an integralist argument.
Further a Catholic Integralist could argue that while the church should rule over the state in terms of political authority, the economy of that state should be Socialist, for example. I think we are limiting our political imagination when we accuse one side or the other would being the end-all and be-all of a certain political stripe. Does the DSA exhaust all possible options for Socialism? Does the “absolute Divine-Right monarchy” of a Catholic kingdom require a capitalist economy? I don’t think so. I wonder what a socialist monarchy would look like. In fact, since Pharaoh owned all of Egypt was not Egypt simply an unjust socialism?
THINGS LEARNED AS A CHILD: when flag passes in a parade, or when it is brought into the room/stadium/meeting in a formal manner, when singing the Star Spangled Banner, or when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance: stand up, take off your hat with your right hand, and, with the same hand, cover your heart with your hat until the flag has passed or the singing/recitation has ended. When displayed, the Flag Code of the USA is to be followed. Equally, the flag is not to be worn nor are clothes based on the flag to be designed or worn (although the thematic elements – stripes, stars, etc – can be used). This latter tradition went out of popular usage in the 70s and so, today, garish shirts, pants, ties, scarves, hats, patches, etc are all to be found and worn – especially in the high summer of our patriotism. But also, no one else pays any attention to the quaint rules of public piety in our state religion. In a way, we grew up, but though some of the trappings changed, the system has stayed the same.
Although my High School social studies classes only discussed the ways the South was racist, the first time I saw the Chicago towers and the same constructions on the fringes of NYC, I knew racism was in the North as well. Later, I learned about the racism of our first European settlers, and then the continued maltreatment of aboriginal residents of this Stolen Land. The Cultural Myths of the Tabula Rosa and Manifest Destiny gave rise to our imperialism and our racism. The original sin of the Americas is not slavery, but entitled occupation. Entitlement – I can have that because I want it – is the sin of our first parents and the credo of our American culture. Racism is only a symptom, but it seems to be our dominant one.
The Recent Electoral Unpleasantness which resulted in the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue provided us a with a choice between two persons who equally despised at least half of the electorate in a public manner. I’m not privy to their hearts, but I imagine that figure was closer to 95% in terms of private feelings unexpressed in their “baskets of deplorables” and “nasty women”. 4 years later, I cannot imagine the gaslighting, the internecine bickering, or the social dissensions would be any worse – or better – had the outcome been opposite. The last real policy change I remember was when Nixon opened China. Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush Jr, Obama, and Trump have changed nothing except the political tone of voice and their choice of shills vrs dupes. As we rev up for the conventions this Summer all I can think of is Chicago and Miami in 1968. I’ve been here before.
In the meanwhile, COVID-19 has – in a nearly miraculous way – exposed every other division in our country which is not related to partisan standing in most cases. I’ve seen nutty discussion of 5G towers on both sides, ranting about our health care on both sides, and reality denialism on both sides. Both sides have shown their concern for business rather than people, and both sides have shown that literally everything from prayer to health care is a political tool. Then the riots started. Anyone who thinks that the riots are somehow less valid today than they were in the 60s is just stupid (that’s charitable) or else simply racist. Blaming people of color for their oppression by a system that was built to oppress them is the mortal sin of lying. Full stop. I am reminded of a saying from my childhood that explained the ways non-white people experienced racism in our country: If you’re yellow, you’re mellow. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, get back. Watching the assumed Catholics in charge of Guadalupe Radio call Gloria Purvis “uppity” with a whole thesaurus has proven to me nothing has changed since my late grandparents in the Deep South could use the same thesaurus to avoid the N word and yet never acknowledge the personhood of our neighbors in even polite conversation. It is miraculous that a virus which has kills so many people has also removed all the scabs on our wounds and exposed our already dead hearts. Again, I’ve been here before.
Our founders are credited with setting up a system for the betterment of the human person, unfettered by the ways of “the old country”. Yet they built a system flawed from the beginning, marked with our original entitlement – ignoring the original inhabitants of this “property” and also a huge population of people whose skin happened to be the wrong color. They, too, were treated as property. This system is the one they created in the original political victory we celebrate today. In the salad days of my political activism, there were defeats, of course, but not many. And every victory seemed to indicate we were making something new, something better. Yet every such victory came inside this same system. Every such victory left me hopeful: we have progressed closer to what the founders wanted. Only each progressive victory has helped build exactly what we have now. The very things we did not want we have done, the things we wanted did not come to pass. How is that possible? I think the answer lies in what we can see happening in light of the recent riots.
The simple request – as I understood it – was “please make your police stop killing us.” I do not – as a white man – experience any fear of the police. I cannot related to it in the same way. But I can empathize and I can see not only the oppression but get a sense of how it affects people. Yet, within a couple of days, the whole tone of the conversation was changed into “Yes, but not looting” and then, a month later, we were celebrating the victories of Texans no longer referring to “master bedrooms” while actual lynchings and police killings continued. Are the Texan realtors showing the same houses to all people? This is what I want to know. Are banks giving loans justly? If someone moves into the “wrong neighborhood” in Texas, do their neighbors make them feel welcome or do they go buy crosses decorated with Christmas lights an say “oh, they’re just Christmas lights…” Movies are coming out of circulation. Fine: but is Hollywood ready to let people of color into all levels of production and status? My political victories – as small as they were – helped build this system. When preachers worry that single-parent families cause disadvantages for the children without blaming the system of economic deprivation and political oppression that causes those families, we only perpetuate this system and our own empowerment.
This doesn’t even address the economic or class divisions in this country – also fully uncovered in the last 10-15 years. Does anyone remember the G7 (G8, etc) riots that happened literally around the world while the Neoliberal Economic System was being locked in place under previous administrations?
We built this. I built this. You built this. Somewhere my sense of warm mushiness at polite displays of secular piety died. You can’t pretend to live in Mayberry anymore. Sheriff Taylor, with his keys hanging near the cell so folks can go home for Sunday dinner with the family is not the legal system we have built. America currently has 2,193,798 in prison. Mayberry is only the mythical, mostly-empty Limbo in our hellish inferno of perpetual prison and hate. We built this.
There was something comforting about beginning every meeting of our Knights of Columbus Council with the Pledge. It reminded me of grade school when every weekday began that way. It was a continuation of those things I learned in childhood – which were lies, but we can pretend different for a few moments. Right? Yet I’ve also learned that the Knights of St Peter Claver were founded because some Columbian Councils wouldn’t let blacks in. The pledge, which was an obscure text for a long while, came to the fore in the last century as a talisman against “reds”. The Holy Name society requires of its members the same respect for the Flag as the Holy Name. That tells you something. Nothing is as it seems.
St Paul says, though, that when he became a man, he put away childish things. My nearly Late-Fifties self is wondering if it’s finally time to do so as well. Somewhere the dream died – or rather I awoke into a hellish reality, able to see the dream as only a distraction, a carrot that we never get to have while we are beaten with a switch we cut for ourselves.
Putting out the fire, putting away childish things: What would it look like if we let it burn down, turned the ashes over, added fertilizer and started something new? The integralist side of me wants a world where “State” and “Church” and “Economy” as we know these today do not exist, where the Kingdom of God runs with only as much mediation as required. The realist side of me sees that quite a lot of my fellow countrymen as well as not a few of my coreligionists cannot imagine another world and, given their druthers, would rebuild this system but “better”. Burning it all down would only result in more of the same but, we hope, less of the bad stuff. That seems impossible since the only hope at all is Jesus Christ and his Kingdom (the Catholic Church). So any human activity is doomed to fail, all the more another Enlightenment-inspired Masonic Liberal Democracy. The only hope, then, is evangelism: proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is the only King that matters. Satan, we must remember, is the first thief who stole the whole creation. God has won it back it back by the force of love on the only tru weapon of peace: stretching his arms out on the cross.
THERE WAS VERY LITTLE POLITICAL CHOICE in my household growing up: one was either Democrat or one was silent. My stepfather was brave enough, once or twice a year, to pick fights on this issue. I don’t think he ever actually voted Republican, but I think it was something. to fight over, in those adult ways that make children terribly uncomfortable at the dinner table. When Mom was on the NY State Democratic Committee, my Aunt June was on the CA State Republican Committee. And so, friends on two sides of the family, with the Cuomos and the Reagans. Life was odd for us from the 70s into the 80s. When I got to college, Mom made me register to vote, an honor I accepted under protest, and when I got my absentee ballot that year at my Evangelical Christian College in the suburbs of Westchester County, I held open the double-wide newsprint and scandalized my dorm-mates by voting, in a bright red magic marker, across the board on the Socialist Labor line. I sealed it up, dropped it in the mail. Twelve years later my Mom called one November and said she was happy to see I had voted again: she always knew my across-the-board red vote. I confusedly asked her why she checked on her 30 year-old son, who had not, in fact, voted since he was 18 in that one election. But at least I know that someone in my home district was keeping up my traditional voting patterns.
The next time I registered to vote was when an actual leftist was running for Mayor in SF. I don’t mean a Democrat, although he – like anyone else in this town that wants to get elected – was registered in that party. I mean a leftist. He didn’t want real estate or tech money, bankers or the old guard to decide things in SF. He wanted, you know, electoral power and civic justice, better city taxes, health care, and education, high pay for teachers, lower pay for cops… naturally, he lost.
These stories are to indicate I have no partisan bona fides at all. Which is appropriate for someone who thinks of themself as an Anarchist, although not in the stereotyped, Molotov Cocktail sense of the word. I consider the state a real construct, and I consider the social contract to be real (and even for me to be beholden to it). But I do not consider myself to be bound to it. I am an ontological Anarchist: my person is mine. But before you get all grumpy about American Atomism, I give my person to the only King that is, Jesus Christ. That involves submission to his will, in his church. How can I be an anarchist then, you may ask: because no one coerced me into doing so. Not even I coerced me into doing so, for you can only submit out of a grace freely given to all: you cannot be drawn by force, it is the ontological nature of the human soul to seek truth and, having found it, to submit.
Much of our recent shared experience has been political theatre.
By political theatre, I mean something to distract us. Anarchist theory suggests that any protests are part of the state’s system for letting off steam in order that the system can keep going. Protests are like a valve on a pressure cooker. When the system changes bedroom names and says “small gatherings – except protests” this seems to be exactly the case. We are watching only the existing system of injustice give vent to the energies raised by shelter in place and fear of the covids. Businesses all over the political spectrum are making official actions to publicly adhere to the current political vogue. This is virtue signaling in the purest sense of the word: unless there is systemic change, which is beyond the power of any business, this will all be for naught. But we will all feel good. Then we’ll go back to being productive. Even tearing down statues is only a political drama: we feed into it by defending the statues and performing exorcisms (while carrying the American flag, no less).
Political theater reached unheard-of heights when the current incumbent departed 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under cover of pepper spray and twice went to church. The predictable reaction was for members of the opposition party to waive their Bibles like flags, dress in cloth stoles like clergy, and be seen to pray. Both of these scenes triggered a new round of sectarian violence in the Catholic internet. This came to a head, recently, when the crypto-schismatic Archbishop Vigano came out of crypto, openly siding with President Trump against the canonical head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory. Catholics, online and off, lined up in predictable sectarian fashion under these two princes of the Church.
Another part of the Catholic Drama has been our reaction to the protests and riots that are happening around the nation. Sadly this is parsing out in predictable, sectarian fashion as well. Not only Roman Catholics, but also the Orthodox, as well as various ecclesial communities and denominations, have all divided (as we did in the US Civil War) and simply mirrored our society. This division and political mirroring is kind of humorous when it comes to most issues. I don’t care how you feel about the Second Amendment, you can’t make me believe there is a theological reason for that feeling. But you can try so I can enjoy the political theater. Ditto taxes, single-payer health care, and the designated hitter rule.
Racism, however, is different. The Church should not mirror society on the issue of racism. It is not a political choice: there is right and there is wrong. St Paul (and the first council of the Church at Jerusalem) made it clear: there is no race in the Church, all are one in Christ. Racism (directed against previously-Gentile Jewish Christians) was the first thing that the Apostles were asked to deal with. They had to appoint men (Deacons) whose job it was to keep things rightly ordered. Still, we know that for a long time, on the topic of racism, the Church has simply mirrored society. We have bad actors in the Church and we also have the rest of us. As someone mentioned, the issue is not that there are “bad cops” but rather that the “good cops did nothing”. This is us in our current situation: it’s not that there are not bad actors – we all know there are. It’s that the rest of us do nothing. Pope Pius XII compared American Jim Crow laws to Nazi Eugenics and Pope Francis refers to how our “…toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.” But most of us seem quite happy with our crystals.
This is not a matter of data: you can’t count the number of “racisms” and say it’s going up or down. This is a matter of failed personal relationships. This is a matter of doctrine, a matter of right and wrong. I respond to you differently because of some element (skin color, usually) that I can see. I treat you as less than a person (usually by treating you as less then me). That is racism. It’s not a data point. It’s a failure of love. Christians know this: we know all sin is a failure of love, a failure in rightly-ordered relationships between human beings, each other, and God.
But, as the church works for salvation – not of some, but of all, we must realize that everyone out there needs Jesus. BLM needs Jesus. PBA needs Jesus. It’s not our job to support one to the damnation of the other. The Church, in order to be the Church, must bring Jesus to all. You cannot be silent: a choice has to be made, to stand with – and spread – God’s kingdom, or to be outside it. When someone who says “there’s nothing wrong” gets blocked by a Bishop on Twitter, with which side do you stand? There are sides there. Really. Don’t stand on the side that says “some don’t need Jesus.”
The air is full of plans, and of pacts and proposals. Every wind that blows through press and air carries patterns for new leagues, Federal Unions, Spheres of Influence, and Hemisphere Controls, each of which is spread out on the bargain counter of the world, and offered at a price so cheap as to require only a little manipulation of politics and economics-but never a change of heart. Are we not still suffering from a mental “hangover” from the days of liberalism and the doctrine of the natural goodness of men? Does not the enthusiastic and fulsome praise we give to every three-hundred-word generalization prove that all we think the world needs is a few structural changes?
Ven. Fulton Sheen, Seven Pillars of Peace
It is a mark of the failure of the American system that our political spectrum tends to run from center-right libertarian to further-right libertarian. At the farthest left end of our political spectrum are those who say it would be okay to tax others for social goods – usually the “wealthy”. But no one ever says, “Sure, tax me 40% more to pay for social goods.” For most of us, our idea of Justice involves correcting somebody else. Racism, however, asks us to deal with our own, personal acts of injustice. We want the government with political authority to correct other people but we also want that same government to leave us alone. As such, we are nearly all center-right Libertarians. Racism- and classism – however, is always in the first person. How to I show favoritism?
The protests offer us only more statism: they don’t like the system in place (rightfully so), yet they only want to give us a new system. What is that new system? Do they know? They reject the idea of “absolute truth” so what is their idea of “justice”? Is it merely revenge? That seems to be the case sometimes. Without a stated goal, a desired outcome, the protests will be hijacked (as they already are) by people with their own agendas and more skill at leading crowds. The protests, the yelling, the iconoclasm are not Justice coming into focus. They are only a distraction. From what? From the only hope any of us have.
Jesus wants to give us life. I do believe that Jesus fixes racism – but only by changing our hearts. The Church cannot mirror the world in this. The Church must not mirror the world or she is lost. Fa and AntiFa, everyone needs Jesus. If the Church picks a side, everyone loses. This is not political theatre: this is the souls of everyone we reach with the Gospel. Bl. Pier said that we need social reform: he was speaking of a reform that was possible at that time, in his country, when the vast majority of his fellow countrymen understood that to mean Christian Social Reform. He was not advocating merely more politics, but Christian politics. We must do the same. We cannot be partisans in this: we must be Christians. It is not enough to decide which side is right enough: we need to preach the truth.
There was a tradition of socialism in Anglo-Catholic circles in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. An old website devoted to this subject still lives at the Internet Archive in all its early-internet glory: Anglo-Catholic Socialism. This quote, from Anglican Bishop Frank Weston, late of Zanzibar, ties it all together nicely in two ways:
The Church of England stopped saying no to these “ritualists” but they got them out of the way. They stopped them from making too much trouble. In England they were assigned to the poorest parishes: sent into the slums and villages too far from the railways, they were assigned to care for sailors in the dockyards or miners. As Bishops they were sent to the fringes of the Empire, to people who didn’t speak English, to places where no one important ever went. Blessedly that only made stronger their sense of social justice, as we would say now. Serving the poor, the marginalized, the weakest of society, they built up huge, strong communities with their Tridentine (in English) Mass, their Breviaries, and Religious Orders that looked “more Catholic than Rome”.
Our “ritualists” tend to drift right. I’m not sure why. There are very few open racists singing On Eagle’s Wings or holding hands at the Our Father. But the actual texts of the Extraordinary Form are as Revolutionary as the Novus Ordo. There is no reason a person praying the Latin Breviary should not walk out of Vespers wanting to
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles. Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Cast down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the meek and the lowly. Fill the hungry with good things and send away the rich in their stupidity. Full stop.
Yet they wave flags on their censors, cast aspersions with their aspergillums, and dismiss “social justice warriors” as a bunch of silly “snowflakes” and – at the same time “terrorists who are persecuting us and destroying everything that’s good”.
Where’s the Catholic Left? For that matter, where is the Orthodox Left that would bring us the promise of the Paschal Homily?
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
Attributed to St John Chrysostom
Is there no one who will say a Latin Mass and then turn and lead a march? Is there no one who sees the connection between the Sacred Heart and the sweat of the poor, between St Joseph the Workman and the union organizers at Starbucks? Do you not see the link between the Litany of Loreto and Laudato Si?
I have been listening to a number of political Catholic podcasts recently. I have been interested mostly in the discussion of Catholic socialism which is been taking place on Twitter and in several podcasts. These tend to fall farther to the left than many of my friends and social circle. (By way of listing the resources, see the end of this post.) What I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a marked lack of political theatre, although there are some abstractions. When the Gospel gets too far from the person-to-person relationship it drifts into political abstractions and heresy. But these folks seem to realize that it’s based on relationship.
I’ve also been intrigued by the overlap of the integralists and the socialists – although they rarely talk to each other, seemingly. I’m on the outside looking in. Both want a society built on Catholic principles, but the former are vague about the endgame, while the latter are not vague at all. Yet both seem to avoid a statist version of their history, seeking rather something that fits well with my ontological anarchy. God seeks your salvation… but it’s only in relationship. Submit to this yoke of your own free will, not through coercion. But it will be encompassing. Racism must be destroyed in our relationships. If we cannot relate as equals before God, no law will fix this. But charity is not enough and we need social reform. That can only come through changing society into the image of God’s Kingdom, the Church.
And this last can only come when the Church stops trying to mirror society and, instead, seeks to change it.
After the martyrdom of the Czar and his family, the Orthodox Church in what was becoming the Soviet Union wrestled for a while with various ideas about what was needed. In the Byzantine idea of polity, the Church and the State had always worked “in symphony” even though the idea usually manifested as State Control of the Church in reality: what the west called “Caesaropapism”. In Russia this played out as an ongoing power struggle between the Czar and the Patriarch of the Russian Church. In fact, Czar Peter forbade the election of any new Patriarch in 1700 and the Russian Church let that happen. So there was no Patriarch until the Bolsheviks killed Czar St Nicholas II in 1917 and let the Russian Church have a Patriarch again.
That’s where this story gets really odd. If the state can prevent your leadership from electing a Chief Bishop – and then, turn around and grant you permission to do so again 200 years later – how beholden to the state are you? Both the Church and the Russian State – Czarist and then Soviet – thought the answer was “Greatly Beholden”. So, in the 1920s and 30s, when Orthodox Clergy wanted to bring the Church more-closely into alignment with Soviet ideology, the Soviets encouraged this…
Not because Soviets thought that the proper manifestation of Christian Social Teaching was socialist; not because they thought that Marx had finally understood Christ more perfectly. Rather the Soviet Support for what was called “The Living Church” (Живая Церковь Zhivaya Tserkov) was to encourage a schism in the Church – in order to weaken the Church entirely. After a while, it was common for Soviet agents to influence internal Church politics by seeming to take “liberal” Church positions against the “conservatives” in the Church: things like allowing monastics to marry without giving up their church titles, or allowing Bishops to get married. Today they would have been pushing new definitions or marriage and sex or liberalized abortion laws. This was a political choice and not a theological one. When it became necessary to fight the Nazis, Joseph Stalin jumped theological tracks and began supporting the conservative majority in the Church to get them all fighting with him (and Churchill, etc) against Hitler. Later, again making a political choice, Stalin and his successors would persecute (or partially liberate) the Church in order to gain some political stepping stone.
This history is presented because America seems to be in a Trumpian Renovation period right now.
Entirely for his own political power (not for any theological position) the President has taken religious talking points. In that it results in some sort of political change in favor of Church teachings, I don’t think that’s bad, per se. But the overall effect is to lure a certain class of clergy and faithful into thinking they have to support the President no matter what. These are like the minority of Orthodox in Russia today seeking to make Stalin a saint. They remember the Great Leader’s overtures to the Church and so the Bad Things he did must be ignored. Our President has this same class of supporters in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities of America.
So I think it’s interesting that right now there is a fight between governors and the president over opening Churches. I remark that it’s interesting… but I don’t trust or agree with either side. While I can agree that many “liberal” politicians would rather the Church go away, the reality is the “conservatives” would drop us like a hot potato if they thought they could get more votes by doing so. We already see this in the area of abortion where Republicans are quick to talk, but slow to act and even many a Catholic Politician refuses to vote (as a matter of course) in keeping with the Church’s position. No, if they could get more votes and stay in power by doing so, they blow up Churches just like Stalin did and give their people swimming pools.
The real issue about opening the churches: If gov’ts allow houses of faith to be open for the spiritual wellbeing of their people it is a tacit admission that religion is a communal, not private affair. It follows that religion is a part of – with effect in – the public sphere. This is contrary to the entire enlightenment project and contrary to the stream of secular, atheistic culture. Religion is ok at home. Not in public.
Neither Trump nor the Democrats can allow for that save that it supports their political ends. Trumps was conservatives who think they have to vote for him because of abortion… while ignoring literally everything else about him as a person and the economic choices he makes. Democrats what liberals who think they have to vote for Biden (or Clinton, or Obama, or whomever) simply for the sake of healthcare or welfare, ignoring abortion and every other moral issue that comes up. At present, both sides are using the medical emergency and taxes to whip up support.
Contrary to any “Politicopapism”, the Church offers the Social Kingship of Christ: which requires the state to move her people towards salvation… or get out of the way while the Church does her job. So it is possible to see that a given politician’s support for something is a cynical ploy to get votes and yet, realistically to give that politician our vote now – knowing that next election we may have to get rid of him. It is possible to see that healthcare for all and a social safety net are part of the requirements of Catholic Teaching while realizing that abortion must be stopped and cannot ever – even momentarily – be considered “healthcare”. Siding with one politician over another will only lead to a schism in the Church, to participation in the Enlightenment project of weakening the Church.
Our current culture drives us apart, to consider “my needs” over and above anything else. Catholic Social Teach is exactly social and requires a community. It takes a village, actually, to live the faith. If we allow the politicians to destroy our social fabric in a Stalinesque move simply to divide and conquer, (if, God forbid, we should participate in it) we are following them – not Christ. We are seeing the new Living Church, and we are bound for death.
Nolite confidere in principibus, in filiis hominum, in quibus non est salus. Exibit spiritus ejus, et revertetur in terram suam; in illa die peribunt omnes cogitationes eorum.
Put not your trust in princes, in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish. (It’s Ps 146 in the Protestant texts.)
I HAVE BEEN WORRYING ABOUT the presidential election cycle that is coming up. After the presidential chaos of the 1960s and 70s the election and re-election of Ronald Reagan proved to be a turning point in American politics unrelated to left or right. It was a stability moment. Reagan was the first president since Eisenhower to serve two full terms of office. Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson served out Kennedy’s term and was elected for one himself. Nixon was re-elected but his second term was destroyed by Scandal. Ford served out Nixon’s term and was not re-elected at all. Carter served one term. This constant change in officeholder paralleled with a period of political and economic chaos in the United States. I do not think they are unrelated. Although the president has (or had, rather) very little direct power, the effect of seeing the same face and hearing the same voice was one of “all is well, remain calm… and productive.” We lost that calming influence in the 60s and 70s having five different presidents and – I believe – we can see the results if we just crack open a history book or (for some of us) our memories.
Since the election of Ronald Reagan only one president, George Bush, Sr, has been limited to one term. This time of presidential stability is not unusual in American history as most presidents were allowed to serve out at least two terms. Even in this era of wild swings from left to right no matter how hated a sitting president is he tends to get reelected. Americans seem to like the stability that parallels with reelecting a president.
And so, unless things go wildly amiss, I expect Donald Trump will be re-elected. I know some people don’t want him to be, but does the left hate Trump any more than the right hated Obama? I suspect the president’s supporters will rally to his victory unless he manages to be too divisive and destroys the economic stability with social chaos. This may cause even some of his supporters to vote against him, or to vote for third-party candidates who are further to the right.
The backlash after his second term will be horrible. To be honest, even if it’s only one term I think the backlash will be bad. What backlash do I mean? The backlash that’s already happening.
I imagine a nation filled with New York State style abortion laws. I imagine a nation where it’s okay to kill grandma because she’s old. I imagine a nation where it’s okay to kill a newborn child because they have Down’s Syndrome. I imagine a nation where, like France, it’s okay to let starve someone to death because they were in a car accident. I imagine a nation where – as they tried to do in California this month – the seal of the confessional causes a priest to go to prison. I imagine a nation where, an angry new majority will do all of these things in the name of freedom, utility, and science. In the hope of preventing a Donald Trump style election in the future, as in The Hunger Games, the coastal cities will decide that the Fly Over States are worth suppressing in the name of national security.
To the extent that many Christians, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, have put their trust in Princes and have been willing to ignore the President’s racism, sexism, xenophobia, stupidity, crudity, vulgarity, lewd behavior, and general childishness, this backlash will fall on us. “Us” here means any Christian, not just Christians who supported Trump. Every church building, anywhere, will suddenly be a fly-over state. There will be a special backlash for Christians who looked at Trump’s feet, ankles, shins, calves, thighs, and hips of clay and his heart of stone and said, “Yes, but he’s going to appoint pro-life judges.”
Christians know that the end does not justify the means. Or at least we used to know that. We seem to have forgotten it, but only for this president. While many pro-life activists have been staunchly supportive of any pro-life action such as feeding the poor, ending the death penalty, rescuing the homeless, stopping war, and going to the borders to support immigrants, this is not been true of the “but he’s going to give us judges” class of people. This class of Christian has been as silently divisive as the president has verbally been.
And, we must be truthful: the president has taken pro-life steps only to further divide the nation. He, himself, is not pro-life. He, himself, only sees it as a wedge issue that will radicalize both his followers and his detractors. By putting a wedge issue into the country, he hopes to stay in power.
So, I think we’re about to be up the creek without a paddle. I’m not certain that it will happen in 2020, in fact, I don’t think it will. But come 2024 it’s going to be scary.
Nonne vidisti humiliatum Achab coram me? quia igitur humiliatus est mei causa, non inducam malum in diebus ejus, sed in diebus filii sui inferam malum domui ejus. “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the evil upon his house.” We have been reading the Story of Ahab for the last few days. All this stuff about Elijah, Jezebel, and now Elisha, is all during the reign of King Ahab who was the Anointed of God, ruling in the Northern Kingdom of Israel c. 871 to c. 852 years before Christ. He was not a good guy. In fact, in the 16th chapter of the First Book of King (MT) or 3rd Kings (LXX) we learn he was the worst.
He was the worst not just because people thought so: but rather because he was evil and led his own people astray. Here are some other things we know about Ahab: – 7th King of Israel – Son of Omri – His existence is supported by archaeological evidence outside of the biblical record. – He was not Jewish – rather he was an ardent Ba’alist until the final period of his life. During his reign he actively tried to get people to apostatize by use of bullying, murder, fear, and lies. His wife used whispering campaigns to support her husband. His friends were often at risk of instantly becoming his enemies. He was the worst of the kings, but he was the Anointed of God. In that respect the people prayed for him. There were sacrifices on his behalf in the Temple. God sent him prophets to correct him (even though he ignored them). God tries and fails over and over – because we are free – to win this man back to the good path and away from idolatry. And, as the king goes so goes the country. So there are many many folks who follow Ba’al simply because it’s popular. The People follow him as Lawful King, his brother King, in Judah, treats him with respect, but ignores his theological errors. When every attempt at reform fails, God finally tells him off face to face. And that works. But he’s still done so much damage that he must pay for it all. A King is responsible for all the sins of his people following him. He sort of dies in battle, disguised out of cowardice as a regular soldier. He gets shot by an “unaimed arrow” and his blood is licked up by the dogs (MT) or by pigs (LXX). In the end, God protected his people from the King and from the needful sins of Regicide. Jesus says, Resist not evil. Turn the other cheek. Pray for your enemies. Bless those who curse you. And St James asks us elsewhere who are we – each of us sinners – to judge another servant? Who are we to be worse than God in showing mercy, in showing love? We are to act like God, giving even our political opponents every chance to move forward to their theosis, even at our own expense. How different is this from our current political environment where we are governed by anger and a prideful rage so out of proportion as to be comedic. Our rage is out of proportion because we have lost the cultural sense that we are all equally fallen. We are each and every one sinners and, so, damned. We are each and every one a potential saint, but only if we all help each other (all of us) to get there. So when the rightful authority is Ba’alist, and destroying the icon of God all around us, we should never abandon our god-given duties to build up that icon. But at the same time we are obligated to our own equally God-give function to save the icon amid the Rightful Authorities. It’s a tight line to walk. Our Spiritual Enemies are the demons. We may have political opponents, but they are not our enemies. They are only the dupes of the demons as are we often enough – and as we will be if we let them trick us into judging folks for their political sins.