Sunday, 9/29/13

  1. An Orthodoxen at WYD
  2. Infallibility (and another useless doctrine)
  3. Putin the cultural conservative
  4. Corruptio optimimi pessima
  5. Admiring “Jesus,” albeit an imaginary one
  6. A Protestant Pope?
  7. First (and last) Miley Cyrus thought
  8. Pope Francis and Right-Wing Catholics


Liz, a new Orthodox Christian, attended World Youth Day as a young journalist. To say she was disappointed would be to understate it.

It’s no secret that the arc of my spiritual story is from Evangelical to Calvinist to Orthodoxy. On the way to Orthodoxy, I took a brief “last look” at Roman Catholicism, but opted out.

I call it a “last look” because I’d been on very friendly terms with Roman Catholics for about 15 years at that point, working alongside them for “the life issues,” and I knew both the strengths (in many cases, a personal piety that I could recognize but as a Protestant couldn’t enter) and the weaknesses (a Mass that had become dumbed down to the point that the admirable personal piety seemed limited to those old enough to remember the days before Vatican II).

Methinks commenter #1, Timothée, protesteth Liz too much.


What I find most fascinating is how all the usual suspects from the Catholic left and the Catholic right are fighting over the same figure, the same pope. There is no better sign of how perspicacious the doctrine of papal infallibility really was. Above all their national, political, financial, and other differences, Catholics know that everything rises and falls with every word that issues from the mouth of the pope.

(We’re All Ultramontanists Now, from Cosmos the In Lost)

“Perspicacious”? May I suggest that “self-aggrandizing” might be better? So the promulgation of this dogma got all the Catholics arguing about and spinning the words of the Pope. Is that really any better than Protestant fundamentalists arguing about and spinning the words of scripture, especially when Popes are ever-so-coy about telling us “Now listen up. I’m speaking ex cathedra now”?

“Everything rises and falls with every word that issues from the mouth of the pope”? Really? The Vicar is pre-eminent over the God whose Vicar he claims to be?

This reminds me of my disenthrallment with the notion of “perseverance of the saints” (“eternal security” in today’s dumbed-down parlance) piece of Calvinism. Papal infallibility and eternal security both seem to be useless doctrines even if in some sense they’re true (which I deny about both).

I know folks who declared their election, their consequent profession of faith, and their eternal security in the strongest of terms who are now living lives that put the make the Prodigal Son to shame look saintly there in the pig pen. When it’s pointed out to Calvinists that this person professed, or even now professes, confidence in their salvation, the response is either antinomian affirmation or “well, they clearly weren’t elect in the first place.” But they thought they were. Those around them thought they were. They were all wrong. How useful is the doctrine, then?

So with infallibility. If the pope won’t clearly declare when he’s ex cathedra, nor will he infallibly say which side interprets his remarks accurately, what use is the doctrine?


A former KGB agent, who now rules Russia, sounds more sensible and realistic, from a culturally conservative point of view, than any leader in the post-Christian West (paraphrasing Rod Dreher, who posed it as a rhetorical question). Listen to Putin:

We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of migration. Without the values ​​embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values​​. One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.


Not that Orthodoxy doesn’t face challenges. I believe Putin’s actually a believing Orthodox Christian – and an ex-KGB thug, and (as a Christian) a work in process, far from complete and far from an exemplary Christian statesman in much of his conduct.

As for self-reproduction, Russia is hardly a paradigm. The Russian people have a deep identity as Orthodox, but it may not be actualized in Church attendance, fasting, prayer, sacraments and the like. Or parturition. So apart from the “Orthodox” label, they’re a lot like Putin, especially the “works in process” part.

And I’m becoming increasingly queasy about the commercialization – Orthodox bric-a-brac and “museum quality Legacy Icons” touted on North America  Orthodox internet radio, for instance. (What Museums are you talking about?!)

The three examples are incommensurable except as disclaimers of triumphalism.


Frederica Matthewes-Green gave an unexpected spin in a recent podcast to the stream of breathless books claiming that newly-discovered documents reveal that Jesus was really … well, generally speaking, a revolutionary or at least a rebel, and universally just like the author aspires to be.

That last clause is the key. However sloppy the scholarship, however amnesiac the sense that this is all new and quite revolutionary, however ironically reminiscent of fundamentalism in its focus on “this text I’ve just discovered,” the author admires Jesus and projects onto Him his or her highest aspirations. That’s better than nothing. It may even be better than parsing words from a Papal interview or trying to discern which bad guy on the world stage has a name that maps numerologically to “666.”


The notion of a “Protestant pope” freaked me out before I even started reading. I mean, what does it mean to be Protestant? Do Protestants even know? Try selling sola scriptura (even fides or gratia) to a Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Methodist, or even most Lutherans these days. Good luck.

I reflexively worried this would mean the elimination of the beauty, wonder, and intellectual richness of Catholicism (It turned out Benedict brought in too much of that for some). I also worried that the Mass would be replaced with Costco-style roadside chapels and pushy charismatic preachers who hog the service with their eisegeses of a multi-layered text–and no liturgy, no liturgy whatsoever. I was a lot younger then, so perhaps my understanding of Protestantism’s pluralism wasn’t terribly nuanced? Mea culpa.

(Is the Pope Protestant? (On the Propes))

When I was Protestant, I was denominationally (1) Evangelical Covenant, (2) Wheaton Bible Church, (3) floating as my job moved me around, but reading my way into Calvinism mostly through the “Presbyterian” Calvinists rather than the Reformed, and finally (4) Calvinist in the “Reformed” stream (specifically Christian Reformed, a Dutch continental Calvinism).

#4 was kind of coincidental. So far as I knew, my hometown had no solidly Calvinist Presbyterian Churches except the Reformed Presbyterians, and I wasn’t ready to forego musical instruments in worship. (I later learned that the local Reformed Presbyterian Church was full of very right-wing political cranks – acolytes of R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North, although that seemed to be the legacy of a former pastor rather than the obsession of the current one.)

Along the way, I attended the local Assemblies of God Church (on its way to becoming a sort of megachurch) from curiosity about the charismatic movement, the local Plymouth Brethren (good people, but unhinged – it’s complicated) and during those young career move days, Southern Baptist, Disciples of Christ and others.

So why, fer cryin’ out loud, does a young Catholic scholar have to tell me that it’s futile to look for any coherent “Protestant” thread except for that of “not Roman Catholic”? I can be so dense sometimes!


I think the purpose in life of Miley Cyrus and her parents is to serve as cautionary tales for the rest of us.

(Rod Dreher, commenting on her Rolling Stone interview)

But if the world needs yet another example of how evil it is to push your child into show biz, or even to be a showbiz enabler, the world is even denser than I am. This is one of many subjects on which my parents’ instincts were right. Did any Christian ever escape show biz unscathed (except, maybe, Pat Boone)?


The pope’s most controversial statements seem to arise from a single motive: He doesn’t like “right-wing” Catholics, and wants to make it clear to all the world that he’s not one of them.
Up to a point, I see what he means. From what I have read, in Argentina, a swath of the folks who fought for the Latin Mass also supported the right-wing dictators down there—which means they winked at torture and murder, but their consciences proved too tender to countenance altar girls …
I also understand the pope’s main point: you don’t lead people to Christ by starting with the code of Canon Law, or even the canons of natural law. The apostles on Pentecost did not rush into the marketplace to explain the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. They proclaimed the resurrection, and that is the key event which ought to motivate each of us.
That said, the news of the resurrection was not what converted the Roman world. First of all, the eyewitnesses were long-dead by Constantine’s day. And the notion of bodies rising from death was profoundly off-putting to Greeks and Romans who saw the spirit as higher and better than the flesh. What impressed the Romans was how the Christians lived, and their willingness to push back against the corruptions of a dying, death-dealing culture. Christians did not kill their unwanted infants—in fact, they went to the city gates and rescued the infants whom pagans had abandoned. Christians did not divorce, as Romans did; they were more likely to be chaste before marriage and faithful afterward—which led Roman aristocrats to seek out Christian wives. (Think of St. Augustine’s pagan father.) Christians might own slaves, but they did not think it acceptable to use them as sexual concubines or kill them for disobedience. In an increasingly totalitarian Roman state, Christians were even willing to say no to the emperor. These radical acts of resistance to the social and political culture, carried out at personal cost that sometimes included martyrdom, won over jaded residents of the crumbling empire. If anyone today is acting similarly, it is precisely those Catholics who fight the culture of death, who resist the expanding power of a secular government, who refuse the ethic of enlightened hedonism which crusades against cigarette smoking while permitting abortion. They are the pro-lifers, the home-schoolers, the large apostolic families, the members of traditional religious orders who embrace ascetic lives.

(John Zmirak, What Is Pope Francis Saying to the Right?)

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.