Schism of a Schism

An interesting news story is coming out of radtrad land; apparently, Richard Williamson, the former SSPX bishop most known for his Holocaust denial consecrated a new bishop, Jean-Michel Faure, two weeks ago, who in turn is planning to consecrate a new generation of traditionalist bishops for their schismatic church known as “The Resistance”:

http://news.yahoo.com/rogue-catholic-bishops-plan-grow-schismatic-challenge-rome-200456706.html

Unlike the SSPX, which at least in theory, desires to be reconciled with Rome, the priests associated with “The Resistance” have decided that further dialogue with the Vatican is pointless unless it gives up its “modernizing” ways and returns to the old ways of the pre-Vatican II church. In the afore mentioned article, Faure muses that perhaps a “World War” will convince Rome to go back to “tradition”.

No doubt, Williamson and Faure imagine themselves as a couple of beleaguered Athanasiuses contra a crazy world where women can marry women, black men can become the presidents of majority white countries, and Jews can walk around in public instead of being confined to ghettos as was the case during “the good old days” of Christendom. I think they imagine that they’ll be supported in their efforts by other traditionalist Catholics who think that the SSPX has “gone soft” but I’m doubtful that. While discussion of the SSPX takes up a lot of space in the conservotrad Catholic blogosphere, the average Catholic has no idea who they are. When the SSPX does enter the news, it’s usually under dubious circumstances, like providing asylum to a Nazi war criminal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Touvier#Arrest_and_trial), offering to perform a funeral mass for another Nazi war criminal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Priebke#Death), and public Holocaust denial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Williamson_%28bishop%29#Jews_and_Holocaust_denial). Contrary to what PT Barnum said, there is such as thing as bad publicity and the only people who are going to look the other way at a religious leader who denies the Holocaust are other Holocaust deniers and/or their fellow travelers.

I think that the creation of “The Resistance” is motivated by Pope Francis’ indifference to the traditionalist cause in general and the status of the SSPX in general. While Benedict was obsessed with bringing the SSPX back into the Vatican fold, a move that blew up in his face when the press discovered Williamson’s very public and noisy statements in favor of Holocaust denial, Francis simply isn’t interested; if the SSPX isn’t willing to play by Rome’s rules, then Francis isn’t going to waste his time dialoguing with them. Traditionalist Catholicism isn’t part of Francis’ own spirituality, so he doesn’t have the same sympathy towards the SSPX’s position that Benedict had.

One lingering question I have is whether “The Resistance” uses the revised Holy Week rite devised by Pius XII. If they do, then I seriously doubt their notion of “tradition,” since that’s just as much an “innovation” as the mass in the vernacular (indeed, this is one of the points of contention that the Society of St. Pius V has with the SSPX). As with many restorationist/traditionalist groups, it’s difficult for them to pin down when “moral decline” occurred. Vatican II is a convenient whipping boy, because the liturgical and ecclesiastical changes also happened coincided with a period of intense social changes, thus creating a perfect storm of conservotrad disapproval. Yet, as Pius XII’s changes to the Holy Week rites show, liturgical change didn’t just start with Vatican II; indeed, Pius X made a number of changes, not just to the liturgy, but to the breviary and the culture of the church itself, like lowering the age of first communion:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reform_of_the_Roman_Breviary_by_Pope_Pius_X

In the end, I suspect that “The Resistance” will just be another fringe group in the already fringe radtrad scene. The SSPX and the FSSP already have most of the non-sedevacantist trad support sewn up through the sheer number and strength of their institutions. Only the most zealous supporters of Williamson will be interested in “The Resistance” and that crowd is probably not the sort that many people, even trads, will want to associate with.

“Religious Liberty” Comes to Indiana

Another “religious liberty” bill was signed into law this week, not in the South, but in Indiana:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/27/politics/indiana-religous-freedom-explainer/index.html

The governor of the Hoosier state, Mike Pence, made the rounds today on the Sunday morning talk shows, but was unable to provide a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether it should be legal to discriminate against LGBT people:

http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/mike_pence_on_abc_news_sunday_am_we_re_not_going_to_change_this_law

What’s interesting about the Indiana situation is that Pence’s Twitter feed contains this curious picture of him signing the afore mentioned “religious liberty” bill into law being flanked by a phalanx of “professional religious people,” mostly friars and sisters in full habit accompanied by what appears to be a diocesan priest, some generic white Protestant minister types, and a token Orthodox Jew. Based on the habits alone, it seems like the friars and sisters are from the religious orders associated with Mother Angelica: the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. Since Mother Angelica is a fully fledged culture warrior, it makes sense that the religious orders associated with EWTN would want to be part of such a momentous “win” for their side. But why is the Catholic presence so overwhelming in this photo-op?

While the Catholic church is the largest religious denomination in Indiana (and the United States as a whole), the state is still overwhelmingly Protestant in nature. Even forty years ago, many white evangelicals still believed that the Catholic church was the “whore of Babylon,” or at the very least, so full of theological errors that it wasn’t the sort of organization that a self-respecting Protestant should be associated with. The culture wars over sex, racism, and LGBT rights provided the fodder that brought white Protestants and Catholics together, their dislike for feminists and civil rights leaders being stronger than their dislike of each other. Since Protestant ministers generally don’t wear interesting garb to denote their clerical status, I think that Pence self-consciously wanted to photograph himself surrounded by Catholic religious to send a message that, “Self-consciously religious people support me signing this bill and I have a pic that proves it.” Since many Americans still retain the childish belief that anyone in a habit or robe is holier than the hoi polloi, I think the presence of Catholic religious for the signing of this bill will have the desired effect of providing an imprimatur of sorts. The token ultra Orthodox Jew is a bit odd, since Orthodox Jews generally don’t partner up with Christians out of principle (unless they’re extremist settlers in Israel, but that’s another story), but the clothing indicates that he’s a Lubavitch Hasid, and they tend to be more open to engage in these kind of interfaith culture war posturings than, say, the Satmar.

With questionable photo-ops like this, I don’t see how the Catholic church can continue to claim that it really has the best interests of LGBT at heart. I feel like the church operates sort of like the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who used to say one thing in English to Western journalists and then say the exact opposite to Middle Eastern audiences in Arabic. In the West, the Catholic church might say that LGBT people are to be respected, at least in terms of not being subjected to physical violence, but then in the developing world, it advocates for jailing and even killing LGBT people:

http://religiondispatches.org/ugandan-bishops-push-notorious-anti-gay-bill/

While the Catholic church in the United States isn’t advocating for the death penalty for LGBT people, it is supportive of “religious liberty” bills that make it difficult for them to lead ordinary lives. Forcing LGBT people back into the closet is the real point of these “religious liberty” bills; if many businesses refuse to serve LGBT couples, then many gay people will remain closeted about their sexuality even if gay marriage became available in all fifty states. It’s sort of like how Jim Crow legislation reduced many black people back to a servile status after Reconstruction, despite the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Given how much the first iteration of Jim Crow ruined this country, you’d think that Jim Crow 2.0 would be completely rejected, but never underestimate the desire of the American public to beat up on a minority group.

I think in the end that these religious liberty bills are going to bite the religious right and the Catholic church in the end. Support for same-sex marriage is growing, and a majority of Catholics are in favor of it. These “religious liberty” bills seem quite unpopular outside of the religious right, which is further alienating potential voters from their cause. White religious conservatives can’t even count on their co-religionists of color because of their chronic tone deafness on racial issues. The number of white religious conservatives is steadily declining, so this push for “religious liberty” may be the final death throes of the religious right. While the Catholic church has an uncanny ability to recover from scandals of all types, being so closely associated with the “religious liberty” movement may be what pushes many wavering Catholics away from the church for good.

Pray, Pay, Obey and Don’t You Dare Think

Something I forgot to mention in my previous entry on the loves and hates of the conservotrad blogosphere/message board world is the fixation on perceived anti-Catholicism. The Catholic Answers group was originally founded as an apologetically organization to defend Catholicism against the critiques of Protestant fundamentalists, but now they’ve also branched out into defending the church against the so-called “New Atheists.” Consequently, the posts that aren’t about sex or liturgical abuses tend to be about how an erstwhile conservotrad can defend the Catholic church against the latest ecclesiastical scandal. Having participating in many of these threads, I think that the Catholic Answers Forum (CAF) moderators need to just pin a sticky thread entitled, “How do I respond to scandals in the Church?” that would have a single post that reads, “There are no scandals in the Catholic Church; the secular media is anti-Catholic and wants to make you think there are scandals to damage your faith.”

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The Religious Equivalent of Pro-Ana Sites

I’ve always been the kind of person who has an obsessive need to know things, a trait that is probably due to Asperger’s Syndrome. Hence, when I decided to convert to Catholicism back in 2005, I read everything I could get my hands on, especially blogs and message boards. These two sources formed a crucial part of my “Catholic education,” so to speak, because I had become convinced that the most of the parishes in the archdiocese were “unorthodox” and would obscure or leave out the “Truth” as I understood it to be. However, as I have mentioned before, these blogs and message boards fed into my pre-existing problems with debilitating anxiety.

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What We Mean When We Talk About the Middle Ages, Part II: Protestant Edition

Given that there are thousands of Protestant sects, it is impossible to speak of a single Protestant view of the Middle Ages, so I will have to speak in generalities by necessity. I will also confine myself to the English speaking world.

In many ways, the Protestant critique of the Middle Ages mimics the atheist/humanist critique by emphasizing the corruption of the church and the ignorance of the populace. However, for Protestants the main problem with the Middle Ages that the medieval church was “doing Christianity wrong,” especially by keeping the Bible away from the masses. As I explained in the previous installment, it would have been impossible for every person or even many people in medieval Europe to have a Bible even if mass literacy was a thing, but then again, I also don’t think that having access to a Bible does much for ones faith or morals.

Protestants also take issue with the various extra-biblical practices that the medieval church encouraged, most notoriously indulgences (which are never went away, BTW), but also the cult of the saints, Marian theology, the use of pictures and statues during worship, pilgrimages, relics, purgatory, monastic orders, etc. John Calvin’s “Treatise on Relics” is probably the best explanation of why some of these practices are so offensive from a Protestant standpoint, but the argument can generally be summed as “it’s not in the Bible” (Catholics, of course, can come up with their own Bible verses to support the veneration of relics, Marian devotions, or what have you, but that’s neither here or there at the moment). While the Reformation did sweep away the superstitions associated with Catholic sacramentalism, the masses in Protestant countries didn’t became any less superstitious; rather, they just became superstitious about different things. The Bible, in particular, became an object of magic, veneration, and superstition, especially since most people still weren’t literate in the post-Reformation era. After all, if the Bible was literally “the Word of God” then how could it not be the object of awe and a source of potent magic powers? In an agrarian, pre-literate society, sola scriptura is practically an invitation to Biblical superstition.

In Victorian era England, some dreamy reactionaries began to reappraise the Middle Ages, the most famous being G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. The social, political, and cultural chaos left in the wake of the Industrial Revolution left some wishing for the stability of the Middle Ages, when everyone knew their place and the church provided for everyone’s physical and spiritual needs. The guild system in particular was seen as an ideal way to defuse both labor militancy and the exploitativeness of capitalists, and influenced the development of distributism. The Oxford Movement to “Catholicize” the Church of England was also based on a desire to return to the unitary innocence that the pre-Reformation church was believed to have. Indeed, the notion of “Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe” is based on the overly simplistic view that medieval Europe was completely united under the benevolent watch of the Catholic church, whereas the Reformation led to fragmentation and heresy. Of course, the Protestants who fully bought into these romanticized views of the Middle Ages and medieval church tended to “jump the Tiber,” like the afore mentioned ChesterBelloc and John Henry Newman, rather than remain Protestant.

Some Protestants on the dominionist fringe seem to be into the idea of an agrarian society ruled by religious law that could be interpreted as being somewhat analogous to a Protestant Middle Ages (here, I’m thinking of figures like Gary North, R.J. Rushdooney, and the disgraced Doug Phillips). I suppose for such people, the Middle Ages were fine in theory, but had the wrong theology.

In general, I think that most Protestants tend to take the view that the medieval church was a deviation in some form or fashion from the purity of the “early church.” As with Jesus himself, there isn’t any independent documentation about the nature of the “early church,” so it tends to take the form of whatever a person desires in his or her ideal church; those in the peace church tradition imagine the “early church” being like a Quaker meeting or perhaps a Mennonite service; those in liturgical churches envision an “early church” more like what conservotrad Catholics might come up with, albeit shorn of those elements they deem extra-biblical; evangelicals see an “early church” focused on preaching and teaching; gnostic-inspired Christians think of the “early church” as a group of individualistic truth seekers who were eventually harassed out of existence by the “orthodox Christians”. Maybe the “early church” was all of these or none of these; the historical record is scant on this matter. However, all of these conceptions of the “early church” agree that the medieval church was a corrupt version of the purer original version.

While I would agree that the medieval church was a corrupt institution, I would also say that the church — Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or otherwise — has always been corrupt and always will be. What form the corruption takes will simply change depending on the place, time, and culture. Looking backwards to a “golden age,” whether in the Middle Ages, late antiquity, or the 1950s is a waste of time, and distracts us from tackling the problems that we have in our own time. Given how many problems are deserving of our time and energy, indulging in nostalgia is a delusion we can ill afford to entertain.

What the University of Oklahoma Scandal Means

I’m going to take a short break from my series on the uses and misuses of the Middle Ages in modern discourse to comment on the situation at the University of Oklahoma. Like many black people, I wasn’t shocked that a group of white college students would use racial epithets and sing about lynching black people behind closed doors. That this episode was “caught on tape,” so to speak, simply illustrates what many civil rights activists have been saying for a long time, namely that the United States is far from being post-racial (whatever that means) and that the kind of old school “naked aggression against the Other” style of racism that we usually associate with the elderly is alive and well among millenials. As is usual in these sorts of situations, I feel like the media isn’t asking the right questions.

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What We Mean When We Talk About the Middle Ages, Part 1

Of all the periods in Western history, no era gets a worse rap than the Middle Ages, which lasted roughly from 500 CE to 1500 CE. For atheists, humanists, and freethinkers, the Middle Ages are often characterized as “one thousand years without a bath,” to quote a history professor I once had, a “dark age” when the Catholic church clouded the collective mind of Europe with irrational faith and superstition. The view of many Protestants tends to be equally dim, regarding the medieval church as a degenerate institution that had fallen away from the original message of Jesus Christ (whatever that was). Realizing that anti-medieval sentiment is usually bound up with antipathy towards the Catholic church, conservotrad Catholics take a revisionist tack towards the Middle Ages and insist that it was during the medieval period that European civilization reached its pinnacle, only to be felled by the Reformation and the Enlightenment (whether the Renaissance was a good or bad thing depends on who you ask). I will deal with each of these perspectives separately.

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