Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On converting to a faith for the culture

Orthodoxy has very little defined doctrine. What little of it that it has is true; it's our doctrine too. (Not to be confused with erroneous Orthodox opinions, of which there are plenty.) But aside from that, underneath the traditional liturgy, valid orders, and folk religion (all of which are Catholic), theologically there's not much there. Like I've said, leaving Catholicism for it is intellectually like if Newman left for the Salvation Army (nice people, strong Christians: an offshoot of Methodism, yet another try at winning modern Britain back for Christ, but it's not the church) or Chesterton for the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Reminds me of people converting to Mormonism: nobody does it for the theology, because there is none worth believing in. They do it, and generations stay in Mormonism, for the culture. The theology's science fiction (and polytheistic, among other problems, such as an eternal universe and God as a created being: it's not Christian) but the culture, as Jeff Culbreath says, elevates natural goodness to a religion. They adopted the old America's wholesome cultural ideal in order to blend in (they're actually radical, not conservative) and are made fun of now for still having it. So somebody meets nice Mormons, wants what they seem to have, and joins. There are no intellectual conversions to Mormonism, because there's nothing intellectually worth taking seriously in it. (No St. Thomas Aquinas' five proofs, no Summa. Just Joseph Smith's and Brigham Young's imaginations.)

A lot of convertodox (self-hating Westerners like Rachel Doležal's a self-hating white) are that for the same reason: Byzantium's cultures are great. (We have them; we don't idolize them.) They want wholesomeness so they dress up like they think 19th-century Russia was like, for example. And, to give our secular liberal enemies in the culture war some credit: just like the evangelical or fundamentalist (actually different brands) worlds many of the convertodox come from, it can be pride that goeth before a fall, lying to themselves about their own problems (like the Duggars, now laughingstocks). A cult.

By the way, I don't think of myself primarily as an ex-Orthodox. An ex-Anglican, sure. (I've been in St. Margaret Clitherow's house, among other such places in England. I would never revert. The Anglo-Catholics I hung out with 10 years ago didn't believe in Anglicanism.) My faith (not that I'm holy) is entirely Catholic; my idiom (including the liturgical English, the first such I learned) for that faith is that of American Anglo-Catholicism from around the '50s, which, because it largely imitated Tridentine Catholicism (the theology was a little different: Hooker minus the Erastianism; non-papal), fits into it perfectly. (British A-Cism was would-be Roman Catholic and went Novus Ordo.)


  1. Errm, you're a Catholic aren't you? So you share the 7 councils and everything that happened up to 1054. Did Catholicism have "very little defined doctrine" till well after 1054?

  2. A lack of defined doctrine does not translate into a dearth of theology. The majority of the Christian Faith in both the East and the West has always been preserved in the very "folk religion" you mention in passing - not in the decrees of ecumenical councils. Therefore, the lack of defined doctrine in Eastern Orthodoxy has no impact on its amount of theology - a theology, which for the Christian, has always existed predominantly in the lived experience of the Church, not in ecumenical councils or theological works.

  3. "They want wholesomeness so they dress up like they think 19th-century Russia was like, for example."

    No offense, but it looks like you dress up like you think mid-20th-century America was like.

    1. Right; what do I know? Everybody knows every American man under 50 from 1950 to 1960 looked like the Fonz. Seriously, you're right, and I'm not necessarily knocking those who do that Russian-peasant style: "Byzantium's cultures are great." Same thing, different country and era, for about the same reason. The thing is, I don't think what I'm doing IS the church. It's a way of being Catholic but not the only way.

    2. I really think your experiences have prepared you for these insights that you have, and I commend you for your great humility in presenting them.

    3. Thanks, Pauli.

      What I'm doing, religiously and culturally, is, believe it or not, still a living tradition, meaning people who were around then are still around. They lived to see our Mass come back in some places, and pass it down to their grandchildren. I see it at my parish every week. By the way, I'm the only one at my parish who does the whole mid-20th-century thing. The only men in Philadelphia who still look like me are blacks who came of age in the period, going to church.

      I remember mid-20th-century America fading away.

      Believe me, I understand the appeal for those who are trying to make like 19th-century Russians. They and I are both saying no to the Sixties! (My look's from the '60s, not the Sixties, dig?) Why I grew out a beard 20 years ago and called myself Serge. The difference is my vision of God and the church includes them but theirs doesn't include me. That's why I'm Catholic for life.

      By the way, I've had the rare honor of meeting a real tsarist Russian, a man who was in elementary (junior) school when Nicholas II reigned: Serge Koolish. Congratulated him on his 105th birthday.

    4. The difference is my vision of God and the church includes them but theirs doesn't include me. That's why I'm Catholic for life.

      Moi aussi. :)


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