Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Privatizing religion: the appeal of schism

A wrongheaded reason I got involved in Byzantine Christianity over 20 years ago, apart from being acquainted about 10 years earlier with fine culturally conservative Ukrainian Catholic exiles from WWII, was the pose of being too cool for the culture wars including life issues such as abortion; have your traditional Catholicism and try to be accepted by the mainstream by dropping out and making your religion a purely private matter, an accessory as one blogger has put it. Just drop the hated Pope. Like the forced compromises in Communist countries: Russian Orthodoxy and the schismatic Chinese Catholics. (You can be as high-church as you want as long as the state calls the shots.) The best lies are mostly true: there's a point about seeing the culture wars objectively without falling into the mistakes of the mainstream right as well as the left; the church has a worldview different from both. Contra libertarians, liberty is a means, not an end. But, I still think, the church's doctrine is about the ends, of flourishing and justice, not the means; it's apolitical. (Monarchy? Republic? Dictatorship? We can work with all of them.) For all the good in it, is the pro-life movement a Novus Ordo substitute for Catholic culture that doesn't stop abortion?

In America (as in the rest of the Western world except Russia with its empire, nukes, and European natural-gas monopoly), Orthodoxy is small so it's non-threatening and considered cute, plus you have exoticism (Orientalism) - "diversity," liberal leapfrogging loyalties - arguably working for you: it goes along with the status quo and, like Westernized Buddhism the beatniks liked, you can market it as more mystalicious (as I think Modestinus once put it) than boring old Latin Catholicism. Mainstream liberal America, culturally Protestant: anything but Rome (still) and anything but pre-Sixties America. My guess is the few hipsterdox buy into that. Another half-truth. Byzantine liturgy, etc., has a unique mystical kick, but as the late Fr. Serge (Keleher), a born Roman Riter turned Russian Orthodox priest turned Russian Catholic priest, said, that is entirely Catholic.

Anyway, I had enough sense to snap out of that after about three years, then bought into a conservative Orthodox argument instead: blame the papacy in principle for the bad decisions of and after Vatican II, so the Orthodox, who were smart enough not to change their services, are the true church after all. But, for example, what about their changing with mainstream society on contraception? So, again after only a short time, I stopped kidding myself about that kind of Orthodoxy too (this blog hasn't been Orthodox in at least 10 years), but I took a long time to come back to the Catholic Church. God's patient.

The council didn't change the church in itself because it couldn't.

Anyway, in spite of the old liberals (who are fading away), it's great to be in the church.


  1. From Facebook:

    None of my Orthodox friends (all monarchists, of course, though they don't all share my negative view of Putin) support contraception or are anxious to accommodate mainstream Western culture.

    No, conservative Orthodox buy the lie that all of Western culture outside their empire's a fraud lacking God's grace.

    Yet the Orthodox monarchists I know support non-Orthodox monarchies (if they didn't, it's unlikely we'd get along as well as we do).

    Reminds me of the WWII-exile base of American ROCOR, who like the tsarist Russians were rather benignly indifferent to the Catholic Church and at best were sort of ecumenical, the nobles all being related to the Germans, Scandinavians, and English. There remained an idea of Catholicity, that Russia was still part of Europe. Different from the Greek fanatics who joined them in the '60s, the convert cult of Fr. Seraphim (Rose), etc.

    I had a flirtation with Orthodoxy back when I was in college and almost started instruction to convert. I was entranced by the liturgy and the history and the perception that Orthodoxy was unchanged by the modern world and its problems. The more I studied, though, the more I found that what Orthodoxy looked like wasn't really what it was like, and that Orthodoxy had made serious compromises with modern culture, as well as serious theological compromises in order to justify remaining outside of communion with Rome. Thus endeth my flirtation with Orthodoxy.

    Right. As a Catholic friend who read Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church put it, behind the liturgy there's sloppy theology, almost like Anglicanism.

    Yes, it was Ware's' book that got me thinking seriously about what was really happening within Orthodoxy. I also found the ethnocentrism difficult. I was looking at Greek Orthodoxy, and as one of the congregation members told me, I wasn't just becoming Orthodox, I was becoming Greek. I have no real interest in becoming Greek -- wonderful culture, great food, delightful people, but I'm not Greek. So, behind the liturgy and the beards and the icons, there was a lot of stuff going on that just wasn't in accord with a Church that was truly catholic and truly orthodox.

    Nothing wrong with "becoming" Greek or Russian; some Catholics are called to move East and I think Metropolitan Andrew (Sheptytsky) should be their patron saint. (He was a Polish count who became the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.) The Orthodox' mistake is they think being Greek, Russian, etc., IS the church. Ethnocentrism turned into idolatry: schism.

    I agree with that in accord with the liturgy, for example, or the ethos of the church, but what the person I talked to was getting act was the idea of ethnocentrism. That's the problem with catholicity. In the Catholic Church, there are all sorts of ethnic subcultures, but belonging to those subcultures is not seen as a prerequisite for truly being part of the Church.

    Also, it is impossible for somebody who is not Greek to become Greek. I can embrace the culture and the food and the language, were I free to do so, I could marry somebody who is Greek, etc. But I myself would remain the same American, Euro-mutt ethnicity. Same with the Russians, the Germans, the French, etc. Even with my last name, I couldn't really pass for French, even if I tried for years. I wasn't born into it -- outside of the US, I will always be an alien. Works with Orthodoxy as well.

    Like I said, I have no problem with it as long as you don't turn your back on the rest of the church.

  2. More:

    Bp. Kallistos (Ware)'s book is a bit odd. Yes, there's the hedging on the issue of contraception (which I understand was changed from earlier editions of the book) and his reasoning for why the Orthodox don't define the doctrine of the Assumption (or Dormition, if you like) of Our Lady is completely fallacious. Other than that, interesting but not really substantial.

    Re: Ware, they're not heretics but there's nothing backing them up. It's amazing they're still essentially Catholic. They have a point that the church is best when it's the Church Local run by custom (so they were smart enough to keep their old liturgy), but they made an idol of their nation and culture (in themselves good things) at the expense of the church's universality.

    He's also squishy on women's ordination.

    It is amazing that the Orthodox have done as well as they have, but a lot of that has do with boundary policing by the Ottomans once they took over. There was Patriarch of Constantinople who got Protestantizing ideas into his head and that lasted just as long as it took the Ottomans to have him strangled. The Ottomans (and the Russian princes & later tsars) had an interest in preserving a Christian church that was subservient to the state but also highly traditional. That it was non-papal was even better, in that it allowed for greater loyalty to the state rather than to some dangerous idea as global Christendom. The Red Chinese are basically trying to do the same thing with the fake "churches" (Catholic & Protestant) that they have set up.

    Part of the grace of being part of the church, even though they're estranged from us, is obviously women's ordination has NO support in Orthodox cultures.

    I thought I recalled Ware writing that there were lots of Greek women in seminaries just waiting for the day when they were allowed to be ordained to the diaconate. And yes, he writes that deaconesses were ordained the same as deacons.

    Maybe you've read more of him than I have. I'm very skeptical. Greece? Nah. I'm not surprised he thinks that about deacons: that's fashionable among liberal academic Orthodox. He's an Anglicanized version of the liberal Parisian/St. Vladimir's Seminary version of Russian Orthodoxy/the OCA. (The OCA's intelligentsia: most of the OCA are the people from The Deer Hunter, descended from ex-Catholics 100 years ago and still very Catholic.)

    Wouldn't surprise me if the academic elite within Orthodoxy in the west were itching for women's ordination, first to the deaconate and then to the presbyterate and ultimately the episcopacy. Of course, whether the people want it or not is another thing.

    Right, their liberal intelligentsia are Episcopal Church wannabes (trying so hard to deny they're Catholic that they sound liberal Protestant); their rank and file are still culturally Catholic. A good friend who knows the Polish National Catholic Church very well says they're the same way, with a liberal mainlinish faction and a conservative, more Catholic one.


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