Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Limits of Tolerance

Excerpts from Jim Tonkowich, My Catholic Story, 2015

In 2006, I left BreakPoint to become president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD). The IRD was part of the Mainline Protestant renewal movement, and my first summer at the IRD included trips to three national denominational meetings: the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) General Assembly, the Episcopal Church (TEC) General Convention, and my own Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly.

At the PCUSA and TEC meetings I saw first-hand how, in contrast to Christians through the ages, the liberal denominations have substituted feelings for facts, passions for authority, and sentiment for reason. Their belief seems to be that if they “create space for dialogue,” emote, and vote, they can determine the New Revised Standard Version of God’s truth by Roberts Rule’s and simple majority — and Christian orthodoxy, their own confessional documents, and dissenters can all pound sand. (I should add that there were and are good, solidly orthodox dissenters who are still fighting the good fight in those groups. They are courageous men and women who deserve our prayers — and invitations to attend RCIA.)

The impact of the first two meetings sank in as I flew between TEC’s General Convention and my own PCA General Assembly.

I was reading Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper’s discussion of “the sovereignty of the individual person” and the individual conscience before God in his Lectures on Calvinism when a conversation began in the row behind me. Two women who did not know each other discovered that they had both been volunteers at the TEC General Convention. “Were you there,” asked one, “when Katherine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop?” The General Convention had elected Schori, one of its few female bishops, to lead the denomination.

Oh, yes I was there and it was wonderful,” replied the other. “Couldn’t you just feel the Spirit?”

Yes, yes. I felt the Spirit.”

Hmm, I thought, here we have “the sovereignty of the individual person” writ large. I was not encouraged.

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Katherine Jefferts Schori’s theological positions are troubling, to say the least. In her inaugural sermon as presiding bishop-elect, she announced, “Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation and we are His children.” No doubt many in attendance including the women in the row behind me thought this creative, panentheist, gender-bending was wonderfully profound. In truth, it is self-evident gibberish and heretical gibberish at that. Yet, there were at least two women who “could feel the Spirit.”

I arrived at my own General Assembly sobered. What, I asked myself, is keeping our thoroughly orthodox denomination from voting to affirm same-sex marriage, ordain practicing homosexuals, and rewrite or reject the doctrine of the Trinity? (Live issues at the PCUSA and TEC meetings)? What will keep us on the straight and narrow? The PCA’s Westminster Confession is already an edited version of the original. What was keeping us from doing more editing? (Good news: They removed all the anti-Catholic “whore of Babylon” references that were in the 1646 Puritan original.)

I could only come up with one answer: the good will of a converted clergy. And while that is a truly marvelous thing — something for which we should praise God — it also struck me as a very slender reed on which to hang the future. Given the right provocation, the PCA could, claiming the guidance of the Holy Spirit, make radical changes in Christian doctrine to accommodate the spirit of the age just as surely as the PCUSA and the Episcopalians have.

How long, I began wondering, can the PCA, any other Protestant group, or for that matter Protestantism in general maintain orthodoxy in a post-modern world? Protestantism began with a strong nominalist streak (cf. Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism), and what is post-modernism if not nominalism on steroids? The seeds of its destruction were inherent in the Protestant system from the beginning as historian Brad Gregory argues in his book The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society.

Every individual Protestant and every Protestant denomination — really just a collection of (more or less) like-minded individuals — claims the authority to interpret the Bible and define doctrine. But the buck has to stop somewhere. In the final analysis, the buck either stops with me and the like-minded group I have chosen to join (and can choose to leave) — a very scary prospect — or it stops with a Church that actually has the authority to decide, an authority given to her by God.

This was the crucial issue, settled finally as I read in Blessed John Henry Newman’s argument by inference in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. In light of the evil brought by original sin, he wrote, the Catholic Church’s infallibility is “a provision, adapted by the mercy of the Creator, to preserve religion in the world, and to restrain freedom of thought, which of course in itself is one of the greatest of our natural gifts, and to rescue it from its own suicidal tendencies” (p. 220).

It is those suicidal tendencies of freedom of thought that are killing the Protestant Mainline and infecting Evangelicalism. This is Protestantism’s Achilles heel and without the authority of the Catholic Church, the dissolution will continue. Given that state of affairs in Protestantism, it is wise, as Newman knew, to opt out of “private judgment” into the security of the Catholic Church.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Let the heavens rejoice, and the let the earth be glad (Laetentur caeli et exultet terra) [Medieval Old Roman Chant, AD 6]


Medieval Old Roman Chant (6th century AD).

Title: "Offertorium: Letentur celi et exultet terra".
Service: Mesonycticon (Midnight Mass).

Latin text
L(a)etentur c(a)eli, et exsultet terra ante faciem Domini: quoniam venit.
Cantate Domino canticum novum, cantate Domino, omnis terra.
Cantate Domino, et benedicite nomen ejus: bene annunciate de die in diem salutare ejus.
Ante faciem Domini: quoniam venit.

English text
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad before the face of the Lord, because He cometh. 
O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.
Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.
Before the face of the Lord, because He cometh. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Anima Christi (Soul of Christ)

Frans Floris, Lamentation, c. 1554, Musée Bossuet

Latin text
Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Jesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.
In saecula saeculorum.

Poetic English Translation
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That with thy Saints I may praise Thee Forever and ever.

Translation by Cardinal John Henry Newman

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;

Body of Christ, be my salvation;
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ's side, wash out my stains;
Passion of Christ, my comfort be;
O good Jesus, listen to me;
In Thy wounds I fain would hide;
Ne'er to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love,
World without end.

Peace and blessings upon my Russian and Ukrainian friends near and far

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I have two good friends in my Greek language class. One is a Russian lady and the other one is an Ukrainian lady. Whenever I see them being happily together, it gives me joy and hope that the Prince of Peace (Eph.2:14) is indeed among us in the midst of all these difficulties and tragedies. Whether you are an Eastern Orthodox or Greek Catholic, Ukrainian or Russian, I love you sincerely and dearly. You are a precious child of God in Christ and your being is so precious and sweet. Also Slavic Christian spirituality and piety is an unmeasurable treasure for humankind. May God bless you and your beloved ones abundantly.

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"The Church, though dispersed throughout the world... having received [this faith from the Apostles]... as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world" (St Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1, 10, 1-2).

У меня есть два хороших друга в моем классе греческого языка. Одна русская леди, а другая украинка. Всякий раз, когда я вижу, что они счастливы вместе, я радуюсь и надеюсь, что Князь Мира (Еф.2: 14) действительно находится среди нас среди всех этих трудностей и трагедий. Будь вы православный или греко-католик, украинец или русский, я люблю вас искренне и нежно. Вы - драгоценное дитя Божье во Христе, и ваше существо так драгоценно и сладко. Также славянская христианская духовность и благочестие - неизмеримое сокровище для человечества. Пусть Бог обильно благословит вас и ваших возлюбленных.

У мене є два хороших друзів у моїй грецькій мові. Один - російська леді, а інша - українська леді. Всякий раз, коли я бачу, що вони щасливі разом, це дає мені радість і надію, що Князь Миру (Еф.2: 14) дійсно є серед нас серед усіх цих труднощів і трагедій. Чи є Ви східною православною або греко-католицькою, українською чи російською, я люблю вас щиро і дорого. Ти є дорогоцінною дитиною Бога в Христі, і твоє буття так дорого і солодко. Також слов'янська християнська духовність і благочестя є незмінним скарбом для людства. Нехай Бог благословляє вас і ваших улюблених.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Identity Politics and Cultural Marxism


Students at New York University protest for immigration rights, but symbols of other causes are on display. Students today clamor for "safe spaces" and engage in identity politics. How did we get here?(source)

Jordan Peterson on Derrida and Cultural Marxism

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p. 187-189. 

Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx

These disciplines draw their philosophy from multiple sources. All are heavily influenced by the Marxist humanists. One such figure is Max Horkheimer, who developed critical theory in the 1930s. Any brief summary of his ideas is bound to be oversimplified, but Horkheimer regarded himself as a Marxist. He believed that Western principles of individual freedom or the free market were merely masks that served to disguise the true conditions of the West: inequality, domination and exploitation. He believed that intellectual activity should be devoted to social change, instead of mere understanding, and hoped to emancipate humanity from its enslavement. Horkheimer and his Frankfurt School of associated thinkers—first, in Germany and later, in the US—aimed at a full-scale critique and transformation of Western civilization.

More important in recent years has been the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, leader of the postmodernists, who came into vogue in the late 1970s. 

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Derrida described his own ideas as a radicalized form of Marxism. Marx attempted to reduce history and society to economics, considering culture the oppression of the poor by the rich. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivized. 

The result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions more were subject to oppression rivalling that still operative in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. The resulting economic systems were corrupt and unsustainable. The world entered a prolonged and extremely dangerous cold war. The citizens of those societies lived the life of the lie, betraying their families, informing on their neighbours—existing in misery, without complaint (or else).

Marxist ideas were very attractive to intellectual utopians. One of the primary architects of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, received a doctorate at the Sorbonne before he became the nominal head of Cambodia in the mid-1970s. In his doctoral thesis, written in 1959, he argued that the work done by non-farmers in Cambodia’s cities was unproductive: bankers, bureaucrats and businessmen added nothing to society. Instead, they parasitized the genuine value produced through agriculture, small industry and craft. Samphan’s ideas were favourably looked upon by the French intellectuals who granted him his Ph.D. Back in Cambodia, he was provided with the opportunity to put his theories into practice. The Khmer Rouge evacuated Cambodia’s cities, drove all the inhabitants into the countryside, closed the banks, banned the use of currency, and destroyed all the markets. A quarter of the Cambodian population were worked to death in the countryside, in the killing fields.

Lest We Forget: Ideas Have Consequences.

When the communists established the Soviet Union after the First World War, people could be forgiven for hoping that the utopian collectivist dreams their new leaders purveyed were possible. The decayed social order of the late nineteenth century produced the trenches and mass slaughters of the Great War. The gap between rich and poor was extreme, and most people slaved away in conditions worse than those later described by Orwell.

Although the West received word of the horror perpetrated by Lenin after the Russian Revolution, it remained difficult to evaluate his actions from afar. Russia was in postmonarchical chaos, and the news of widespread industrial development and redistribution of property to those who had so recently been serfs provided reason for hope. To complicate things further, the USSR (and Mexico) supported the democratic Republicans when the Spanish Civil War broke out, in 1936. They were fighting against the essentially fascist Nationalists, who had overthrown the fragile democracy established only five years previously, and who found support with the Nazis and Italian fascists.

The intelligentsia in America, Great Britain and elsewhere were severely frustrated by their home countries’ neutrality. Thousands of foreigners streamed into Spain to fight for the Republicans, serving in the International Brigades. George Orwell was one of them. Ernest Hemingway served there as a journalist, and was a supporter of the Republicans. Politically concerned young Americans, Canadians and Brits felt a moral obligation to stop talking and start fighting.

All of this drew attention away from concurrent events in the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Stalinist Soviets sent two million kulaks, their richest peasants, to Siberia (those with a small number of cows, a couple of hired hands, or a few acres more than was typical). 

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A Soviet propaganda poster(source)

From the communist viewpoint, these kulaks had gathered their wealth by plundering those around them, and deserved their fate. Wealth signified oppression, and private property was theft. It was time for some equity. More than thirty thousand kulaks were shot on the spot. Many more met their fate at the hands of their most jealous, resentful and unproductive neighbours, who used the high ideals of communist collectivization to mask their murderous intent.

The kulaks were “enemies of the people,” apes, scum, vermin, filth and swine. “We will make soap out of the kulak,” claimed one particularly brutal cadre of city-dwellers, mobilized by party and Soviet executive committees, and sent out into the countryside. The kulaks were driven, naked, into the streets, beaten, and forced to dig their own graves. The women were raped. Their belongings were “expropriated,” which, in practice, meant that their houses were stripped down to the rafters and ceiling beams and everything was stolen. In many places, the non-kulak peasants resisted, particularly the women, who took to surrounding the persecuted families with their bodies. Such resistance proved futile. The kulaks who didn’t die were exiled to Siberia, often in the middle of the night. The trains started in February, in the bitter Russian cold. Housing of the most substandard kind awaited them upon arrival on the desert taiga. Many died, particularly children, from typhoid, measles and scarlet fever.

The “parasitical” kulaks were, in general, the most skillful and hardworking farmers. A small minority of people are responsible for most of the production in any field, and farming proved no different. Agricultural output crashed. What little remained was taken by force out of the countryside and into the cities. Rural people who went out into the fields after the harvest to glean single grains of wheat for their hungry families risked execution. Six million people died of starvation in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, in the 1930s. “To eat your own children is a barbarian act,” declared posters of the Soviet regime.

Despite more than mere rumours of such atrocities, attitudes towards communism remained consistently positive among many Western intellectuals. There were other things to worry about, and the Second World War allied the Soviet Union with the Western countries opposing Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Certain watchful eyes remained open, nonetheless. Malcolm Muggeridge published a series of articles describing

Soviet demolition of the peasantry as early as 1933, for the Manchester Guardian. George Orwell understood what was going on under Stalin, and he made it widely known. He published Animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release. Many who should have known better retained their blindness for long after this. Nowhere was this truer than France, and nowhere truer in France than among the intellectuals.

France’s most famous mid-century philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, was a well-known communist, although not a card-carrier, until he denounced the Soviet incursion into Hungary in 1956. 

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He remained an advocate for Marxism, nonetheless, and did not finally break with the Soviet Union until 1968, when the Soviets violently suppressed the Czechoslovakians during the Prague Spring.

Not long after came the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, which we have discussed rather extensively in previous chapters. As noted (and is worth noting again), this book utterly demolished communism’s moral credibility—first in the West, and then in the Soviet System itself. It circulated in underground samizdat format. Russians had twenty-four hours to read their rare copy before handing it to the next waiting mind. A Russian-language reading was broadcast into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty.

Solzhenitsyn argued that the Soviet system could have never survived without tyranny and slave labour; that the seeds of its worst excesses were definitively sowed in the time of Lenin (for whom the Western communists still served as apologists); and that it was propped up by endless lies, both individual and public. Its sins could not be blamed on a simple cult of personality, as its supporters continued to claim. Solzhenitsyn documented the Soviet Union’s extensive mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders, and showed in painstaking detail how these were not aberrations but direct expressions of the underlying communist philosophy. No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago—not even the communists themselves.

This did not mean that the fascination Marxist ideas had for intellectuals—particularly French intellectuals—disappeared. It merely transformed. Some refused outright to learn. Sartre denounced Solzhenitsyn as a “dangerous element.” Derrida, more subtle, substituted the idea of power for the idea of money, and continued on his merry way. Such linguistic sleight-of-hand gave all the barely repentant Marxists still inhabiting the intellectual pinnacles of the West the means to retain their world-view. Society was no longer repression of the poor by the rich. It was oppression of everyone by the powerful.

According to Derrida, hierarchical structures emerged only to include (the beneficiaries of that structure) and to exclude (everyone else, who were therefore oppressed). Even that claim wasn’t sufficiently radical. Derrida claimed that divisiveness and oppression were built right into language— built into the very categories we use to pragmatically simplify and negotiate the world. There are “women” only because men gain by excluding them. There are “males and females” only because members of that more heterogeneous group benefit by excluding the tiny minority of people whose biological sexuality is amorphous. Science only benefits the scientists. Politics only benefits the politicians. In Derrida’s view, hierarchies exist because they gain from oppressing those who are omitted. It is this ill-gotten gain that allows them to flourish.

Derrida famously said (although he denied it, later): “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte”—often translated as “there is nothing outside the text.” His supporters say that is a mistranslation, and that the English equivalent should have been “there is no outside-text.” It remains difficult, either way, to read the statement as saying anything other than “everything is interpretation,” and that is how Derrida’s work has generally been interpreted.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the nihilistic and destructive nature of this philosophy. It puts the act of categorization itself in doubt. It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power. Biological distinctions between men and women? Despite the existence of an overwhelming, multi-disciplinary scientific literature indicating that sex differences are powerfully influenced by biological factors, science is just another game of power, for Derrida and his post-modern Marxist acolytes, making claims to benefit those at the pinnacle of the scientific world. There are no facts. Hierarchical position and reputation as a consequence of skill and competence? All definitions of skill and of competence are merely made up by those who benefit from them, to exclude others, and to benefit personally and selfishly.

There is sufficient truth to Derrida’s claims to account, in part, for their insidious nature. Power is a fundamental motivational force (“a,” not ”the”). People compete to rise to the top, and they care where they are in dominance hierarchies. But (and this is where you separate the metaphorical boys from the men, philosophically) the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role. 

Likewise, the fact that we can never know everything does make all our observations and utterances dependent on taking some things into account and leaving other things out (as we discussed extensively in Rule 10). That does not justify the claim that everything is interpretation, or that categorization is just exclusion. Beware of single cause interpretations—and beware the people who purvey them.


Monday, April 8, 2019

In the Midst of Desert Beauty (Среде пустинската убост)


One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4 (picture)

with English subtitle

"At this point, a last question must be asked: can the Ladder, a work written by a hermit monk who lived 1,400 years ago, say something to us today? Can the existential journey of a man who lived his entire life on Mount Sinai in such a distant time be relevant to us? At first glance it would seem that the answer must be "no", because John Climacus is too remote from us. But if we look a little closer, we see that the monastic life is only a great symbol of baptismal life, of Christian life. It shows, so to speak, in capital letters what we write day after day in small letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what the life of the baptized person is, in communion with Christ, with his death and Resurrection." Benedict XVI, General Audience, John Climacus, 2009 (source)

 The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Saint Catherine's Monastery

  The fact that the top of the "ladder", the final steps, are at the same time the fundamental, initial and most simple virtues is particularly important to me: faith, hope and charity. These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes; rather they are gifts of God to all the baptized: in them our life develops too. The beginning is also the end, the starting point is also the point of arrival: the whole journey towards an ever more radical realization of faith, hope and charity. The whole ascent is present in these virtues. Faith is fundamental, because this virtue implies that I renounce my arrogance, my thought, and the claim to judge by myself without entrusting myself to others. 
  This journey towards humility, towards spiritual childhood is essential. It is necessary to overcome the attitude of arrogance that makes one say: I know better, in this my time of the 21st century, than what people could have known then. Instead, it is necessary to entrust oneself to Sacred Scripture alone, to the word of the Lord, to look out on the horizon of faith with humility, in order to enter into the enormous immensity of the universal world, of the world of God. In this way our soul grows, the sensitivity of the heart grows toward God.
  Rightly, John Climacus says that hope alone renders us capable of living charity; hope in which we transcend the things of every day, we do not expect success in our earthly days but we look forward to the revelation of God himself at last. It is only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, that our life becomes great and that we are able to bear the effort and disappointments of every day, that we can be kind to others without expecting any reward. 
  Only if there is God, this great hope to which I aspire, can I take the small steps of my life and thus learn charity. The mystery of prayer, of the personal knowledge of Jesus, is concealed in charity: simple prayer that strives only to move the divine Teacher's heart. So it is that one's own heart opens, one learns from him his own kindness, his love. Let us therefore use this "ascent" of faith, hope and charity. In this way we will arrive at true life.  
Benedict XVI, General Audience, John Climacus, 2009 (source)

Have Mercy Upon Me, O God (Rakhemli Alaha): Psalm LXX 50:1-6 in Aramaic

St. Mary’s Assyrian Church in the northeastern Syrian village of Tal Nasri, destroyed by ISIS. source

Assyrian Eastern Orthodox Father Serafim and brethren chant the Psalm LXX 50:1-6  in Aramaic.

Rakhemli Alaha /aakh taibutakh
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to the abundance of thy mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Uakh sogha drakhmaikh eti khathai
Wash me thorughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

Asga atshigani /meen euli / umen khathai dakani
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Mehtol / dsakhlaute yakha ana / wa khtahay luqbaley yinon
Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in thy sight:

Lakh balkhodaikh khteith /ubiishatha
So that You are justified when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
qdamaikh eichidth
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Mehtol / dtezddaq /  bmelthakh utizke bdinaikh
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
Mehtol /dabaula / Ethbatneth wabakhtahe btentani emin
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Rakhemli Alaha / aakh taibutakh
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to the abundance of thy mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Uakh sogha drakhmaikh eti khathai
Wash me thorughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.