Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Catholicism must paganize or die — Vasquez

posted by Rod Dreher

fatima_candles.jpg
I hadn’t looked in on the Cosimanian Orthodox gloomster The Ochlophobist in ages, and so enjoyed it that I made a note to bookmark his site. I also found there links to the blog of one Arturo Vasquez, a Catholic who makes pithy, wise, pessmistic observations. Such as this one, which I offer for discussion:

Any tradition that you read in a book is not a tradition. Tradition is passed down through life, not learning. The entire Bugninian project of the liturgy was an attempt to create a tradition by the book. Even if it sought to reintroduce certain ceremonies or accoutrements into the liturgy that had died out several centuries earlier, all it did was create novelty with the thin veneer of antiquity. All of this has nothing to do with tradition. Once a tradition is dead, it’s dead. Otherwise, you are just playacting.

Just because something is broken doesn’t necessarily mean that there is someone around smart enough to fix it. This is basically the dilemma of Catholicism of the 21st century, if not the perennial dilemma of humanity.
….
Roman Catholicism at this point has painted itself into a corner from which, in my eyes, it can only escape by jettisoning much of the metaphysical apparatus upholding the modern concept of “Christianity”. In other words, it has to become “pagan”, full stop. On the one hand, textual scholarship, modern science, and a general lack of coercive power have made any historical arguments for Catholic faith and practice insufficient. On the other hand, the only attempts to justify Christianity from the Catholic perspective have either centered on “personalist” dialogue with these sources (under which man’s aspirations are fulfilled by a personal “Other), or through reactionary fundamentalism against anything deemed “threatening to the Faith” (which is why Pio Nono never got invited to any parties).
The way out has often been proposed as keeping the spirit but discarding the letter; neglecting the sign but holding fast to the meaning. I say we stand this on its head: keep the sign, but reinterpret the meaning. Or rather, try to find the transcendental in the immediate, imperfect tradition, rather than try to construct the true liturgy/church/philosophy whole cloth. In other words, let us have a rebellion against ecclesiastical Cartesianism.
Because if we are blind to the truths in the symbols immediately before us, chances are that there is nothing wrong with them, but rather something wrong with us.

I wondered what he means by Catholic Christianity needing to become “pagan, full stop” — and then I found this passage from a Vasquez post about Church governance:

The driving idea behind my intellectual projects, however, is a postmodern agnosticism towards attempts by any institution (divinely instituted or not) to hem in the limits of the enchanted world. Intellectually, I suppose, these reservations are due in large part to my studies of Neoplatonism, particularly of Marsilio Ficino. This is where a lot of my perennialism and admiration for folk religion comes in, as well as my profound distrust of theological abstraction. Since the human intellect is the lowest form of immaterial existence, and since our knowledge of the material world is constantly evolving, I am beginning to think that entering into the realm of religiosity is not an invitation to blissful certainty, but is rather more like being tossed into a lion’s den with forces that we barely understand. One can of course try to keep on the “straight and narrow” of “official” sacramental Christianity, but I have never found that road to be as clear cut as most would like to think. In the end, we may be living in a world haunted by gobblins and witches, where the evil eye is very much a problem that we are sedating with modern drugs, and where Santa Muerte is coming to get you (though she is really your friend). Though we would still need to walk by faith and not by sight, what we can see is much more than we think is out there.
The good news is that there are helpers, but those helpers are often not found in high offices or fancy robes. They are the Virgin Mary, the saints, las ánimas del Purgatorio who sometimes are let out to wander the earth, the angels, and heck, Santa Muerte herself if you believe in that sort of thing. They may not work with the bureaucratic efficiency that we often desire, but they do work. And there is of course wonder. But that wonder is the result of this existential gamble we call our lives, and here certainty is often not in the cards. But it does, at the same time, make life worth living, and living well.

I think I know what he means. I must confess that the older I get, the more I believe that the kind of lurid Christianity — weeping icons, gaudy statues, bloody plaster Christs drooping from crucifixes, candles inside cheap, colored glass sheaths bought at the supermercado — is closer to the Real Thing than the abstractions of the theologians. I once stood in front of a large fire in the plaza outside the basilica at Fatima, Portugal, and watched as throngs of worshipers burned wax shaped like body limbs in the flames, as prayers for healing. It was the most pagan religious ceremony I’d ever seen, and you would sooner see goats sacrificed on the lawn of Our Lady of Nordstrom’s than such a thing in these United States. But it was scary and gorgeous and raw. I loved it, and I hated it. But I wasn’t indifferent to it. Mostly, I found it mesmerizing. This photo above is of souvenirs on sale in a shop in Fatima. The candle-looking objects are things you buy to throw on the fire. When you are there, you are very, very far from Our Lady of Nordstrom’s.



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Richard

posted July 13, 2010 at 7:42 am


Well, he makes pithy observations all right – but I think many of them are nonsense on stilts.
“Any tradition you read in a book is not a tradition.” You mean, like the Gospels? Like the entire canon of the New Testament? How about Canon Law – that’s not a tradition even though it’s been worked on and handed down for thousands of years? Does that mean “The Odyssey” was a tradition while it was still passed on orally but then stopped being one when it was written down? Whaaat?
Now, if he means you have to actually live out what the Gospels tell us, then he’s simply repeating what the Bible tells us. Which brings us back to my first point.
I find all this obsessive navel-gazing to be somewhat distasteful and perhaps even dangerous. Get your focus off yourself and your opinions and problems for ten minutes and go do something for a friend or neighbor or even stranger. The Christian faith is meant to be lived, and sometimes minute-by-minute. And Peter Kreeft, my favorite Catholic, would be the first to tell him that if he wants to get down to the real “straight and narrow” then he needs to get back to our foundational data, the Bible. Without which there is no Church, no sacraments, no faith.
In my mind some of this kind of thing is dangerous precisely because the Bible warns us against it: don’t get too puffed up with human ideas, don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought, don’t let yourself be taken captive by the world, etc. And I’ll add this one: don’t make your life with Christ on earth all about you and your works. It seems to make the mercy and grace of God superfluous. Even the Catholic Church and Lutheran bishops now agree on that one!
I know what you mean about some experiences being “scary, gorgeous and raw”. I have been to 2 charismatic churches, one Catholic, one Protestant. The Catholic experience send shivers down my spine and it was most certainly gorgeous and raw (scary only in its newness). The Protestant church was just plain scary with people rolling around the floor, muttering and moaning, and that sort of thing. We’re told to test the spirits over and over in the Bible – I wouldn’t darken the doors of that Protestant chuch again at gunpoint because I think it WAS pagan.
Lastly – this is tangentially related to the ‘pride and facts’ thing – Vasquez gives us very little data to back up his claims. It’s all just opinion. Well, that’s fine, but what evidence do you have for all of this – even just the “Catholic Church has painted itself into a corner thing”. Opinion pieces that give us little or no usable data on subjects like this contribute to the feeling people have that facts don’t matter that much, I’ll just stick to my viewpoint, thanks very much.



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crowhill

posted July 13, 2010 at 7:47 am


Little pagan ceremonies involving fire and such may get people engaged at an emotional level, but they don’t build a cohesive culture. That’s why paganism lost.



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Hank

posted July 13, 2010 at 7:52 am


“the kind of lurid Christianity — weeping icons, gaudy statues, bloody plaster Christs drooping from crucifixes, candles inside cheap, colored glass sheaths bought at the supermercado — is closer to the Real Thing than the abstractions of the theologians.”
Closer to the real religion of the Holy Roman Empire of the 4th & 5th centuries, yes. Closer to what Jesus had in mind? That’s a whole ‘nother religion.



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Timbo

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:21 am


The opposite is true. The Roman Catholic church must get rid of the pagan elements that have entered in over the centuries.
Novenas are often white magic. Burning candles to famous Christians in heaven has to stop. Santeria (worship of Voodoo gods masked as saints) has got to be rooted out.
Mary the mother of Jesus is only a Christian who is now in heaven at the foot of the throne. Giving her any higher position is idolatry.
The Roman Emperor Constantine established “priests” and large temples from the pagan religions in Rome.



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Charles Curtis

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:40 am


“..if he wants to get down to the real “straight and narrow” then he needs to get back to our foundational data, the Bible. Without which there is no Church, no sacraments, no faith.”
Now *that’s* non-sense on stilts. Protestant nominalistic nonsense. The Bible did not create, and does not sustain the Church. The Holy Spirit creates the Church, and scripture is also the product of the Holy Spirit, but through the agency of the Church.
And Arturo’s point (I believe) is that contemporary culture has been de-christianized because the Church has been protestantized. It’s been a straight down-hill slide since 1517. Modern people tend to rationalize the faith and strip it of it’s mystery, and when they do it loses it’s power to seduce.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:43 am


Ah, yes: if the whole world would be fundamentalist/Calvinist Protestant, all would be solved. That’s why Pentecostalism is dying — the world needs a more cerebral Christianity. (Heh heh heh).



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Anon Prof

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:50 am


Sounds like he is describing the pentecostal movement sweeping the global south. I’m not so sure that is a good thing.



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Matthew

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:53 am


Rod,
Thanks for the excellent post and observations.
It seems Vasquez is speaking more of “cultural tradition” more than an “individual’s tradition”. However, a question for you then, given your conversion to Orthodoxy. Is there ever a time when one ever remove themselves from a cultural “living tradition” (i.e., Catholicism) in favor of another group with a more “ancient living tradition” culture (i.e. Orthodoxy), especially when the “ancient living tradition” is foreign to the individual? As you have mentioned on this blog before, and as I have heard and read elsewhere, converts coming into Orthodoxy are often told it will take many years for them to live and breathe Orthodoxy and truly understand what its all about.
Two caveats: First, this is an honest question, definitely not placing a judgement call on your conversion. I could as easily set up a comparison between subsets of many Christian families as well as world religions. Secondly, the comparison between Orthodoxy and Catholicism I make is partly liturgical (as the Novus Ordo liturgy is the ordinary form of tradition of the Latin Church, and is trumped in antiquity by the ancient liturgical traditions of the East), and in praxis such things as required fasting in the East today began to die out in the Latin Church centuries ago). This comparison is not meant to derail the discussion or cause a flame war.
I look forward to your response, Rod.
-Matthew



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Anon Prof

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:55 am


Ah, yes: if the whole world would be fundamentalist/Calvinist Protestant, all would be solved.
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/roddreher/2010/07/catholicism-must-paganize-or-die—-vasquez.html#ixzz0tZBCMC82
True, but then we would be at the end of the age, the lion would lay down with the lamb, etc…, etc…, etc…
Captcha: garment problems (HA!)



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Rod Dreher

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:06 am


To clarify my own thoughts on the matter, I think Vasquez would push things much farther in that direction than is justifiable. Santeria is the worship of African gods dressed up in Christian garb. The more useful and truthful point is that to the extent that Christianity has become an abstract, cerebral religion, denying the body and mystery (sacrament = mystery), it is in danger of losing contact with what keeps it alive.



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Roland de Chanson

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:12 am


It was perhaps inevitable that this topic would bring out the wisest of the wise. Just a few observations on the wisdom literature posted thus far:
The Gospels grew out of Tradition. Yes, the Homeric poems when they ceased being passed down orally, became scripture – taught in the schools. Not tradition.
Canon Law is not Tradition. It gets changed.
“Paganism” (there really never was such a monolithic thing) built a cohesive culture for a millenium or so. It’s still around, so it can’t have “lost”.
There was no Holy Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries.
It is the claim of the Roman Catholic Church, founded by Christ, that its Magisterium teaches “what Jesus had in mind.” Protestantism, invented by men, is the “whole nother religion.”
Santeria is not a discipline of the Catholic Church.
Mary, the Theotokos, not merely the mother of Jesus, is not the object of idolatry in the Catholic Church. There is a fundamental difference between latreia and doulia.
Priests long antedated Constantine. They were “established” by Him who established His Church, Peter the foremost among them.
I will now go read Vasquez – but I agree to some extent with Rod on this topic. There is nothing colder than the turgid verbiage of theologians. The connection to the heart and soul of suffering humanity is made through the sacraments and objects the Church calls sacramentals. While a fondue of plastic limbs is not my preferred form of liturgy, if it eases the aching hearts of simple faithful, what is the harm in it? In fact, the sacraments themselves have a material component, water, oil, bread, wine that ground them in reality. If God had disdained the physical world He created, He would not have become Man to live, die, and rise again. It is the metaphysical made physical. The Word made Flesh.



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Turmarion

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:18 am


I’m in complete agreement with Vasquez, which means I’m bucking the majority of posters here, thus far.
Richard: “Any tradition you read in a book is not a tradition.” You mean, like the Gospels? Like the entire canon of the New Testament?
“The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”–2 Corinthians 3:6. If stuff you read in a book were sufficient, then the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) would have been enough and there’d have been no need for Christ. Paul is very, very clear on this, especially in Romans. Scripture is important, but Catholicism and Orthodoxy see it as but one component of Tradition; an important and vital one, but one nonetheless. Protestants see the Bible as being the basis of the church; Catholics and Orthodox see it as the book of and within the context of the Church.
Thus my problem with this: “he needs to get back to our foundational data, the Bible. Without which there is no Church, no sacraments, no faith.” Ahem. The early Church of Acts had no New Testament, as the first parts of it weren’t written until at least twenty years after the Crucifixion, the first Gospels not until thirty or forty years later, and the last books (John and Revelation) not until the end of the 1st Century! The canon wasn’t more or less closed until another hundred and fifty years later. Yes, there was the Old Testament, but by itself it wasn’t sufficient, as the Jews had that, too, but obviously weren’t Christians!
The point is that the Church did exist, as well as the Sacraments and the Faith, before the Bible as we know it, and got on quite well, thank you very much. Scripture is necessary (a point came at which correct doctrine had to be asserted by canonizing certain scriptures) but not sufficient. It appears you hold a Protestant view of Scripture, which of course is your right; but the context of this post is the Catholic Church, which holds a very different view.
I think, however, that Vasquez’s point holds even for Protestants. The only Protestant denominations that are growing are the Evangelicals, particularly those of a Fundamentalist stripe (and even they’re beginning to flag), and the Pentecostals, which are spreading like wildfire. The former embrace what Vasquez calls “reactionary fundamentalism against anything deemed ‘threatening to the Faith’,” and the latter practices things that are “scary, gorgeous, and raw” and quasi-pagan. While Vasquez is writing impressionistically, I think this fact indeed backs up his claims.
I find all this obsessive navel-gazing to be somewhat distasteful and perhaps even dangerous. Get your focus off yourself and your opinions and problems for ten minutes and go do something for a friend or neighbor or even stranger.
Not sure what in the essay was “navel gazing”, but getting the focus off oneself and helping one’s neighbors isn’t necessarily a Christian program. It could be secular self-help. Anyway, you seemingly contradict yourself later in the post when you say, “don’t make your life with Christ on earth all about you and your works. It seems to make the mercy and grace of God superfluous.” Which is it?
crowhill, it would be better to say that paganism did not deal with meaning and purpose in life, so it satisfied the heart but not the head; and pagan philosophies spoke to meaning and purpose while giving no beauty or motivation, speaking to the head and not the heart. Christianity came with its ethos and worldview and absorbed the best of paganism while giving it new meaning. Thus it was able to speak to the head and the heart (and the gut). C. S. Lewis (I think it’s in Mere Christianity) speaks of pagan rituals as being “thick” and philosophy, ethics, and intellectual religion as being “thin” and says that only Christianity is both, appealing to both sides of man. The Eucharist, if you think about it, is about as “thick” and pagan (in a sense) as you get–you ritualistically consume your God! On the other hand, Christian ethics are very demanding and don’t just let you off the hook after the rite is over, as paganism did. See?
Hank: Closer to the real religion of the Holy Roman Empire of the 4th & 5th centuries, yes. Closer to what Jesus had in mind? That’s a whole ‘nother religion.
Slight quibble–the “Holy Roman Empire” doesn’t begin until 800 A.D. with the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor. The 4th and 5th Centuries it was just the plain old Roman Empire. Anyway, it depends on one’s view. If Jesus really gave his continuing authority to the Apostles passed down through Apostolic Succession (on which Catholics, Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox all agree), and if the Church manifests (admittedly imperfectly) his will, then the 4th and 5th Century Church, while it may look different from the Church in Acts, is in complete continuity with it and is every bit as legitimate. Read Newman’s On the Development of Christian Doctrine.
Of course, this once more gets to the Protestant/Catholic split, which we can’t and shouldn’t debate here. What one could say is that from the Catholic/Orthodox view the Apostolic Church was the acorn, the Church now the oak. Yes, some branches have to be pruned as we reform abuses and such, but overall the development is natural. Those who argue that the 4th or 5th or 21st Century Church is “a whole ‘nother religion”, from the Catholic/Orthodox view, want to throw away the tree because it’s not an acorn. Which would be like saying there’s something wrong with me because I’m an adult, not an infant. Of course, those with such views would interpret them differently–I’m just pointing out that this is not the interpretive framework Vasquez is coming from.
Timbo, many of the rituals you speak of, abused or understood improperly, can indeed become in effect “magic”. Catholic teaching is clear that they are never to be allowed to devolve into superstition. As to the rest, we must agree to disagree, although if you want the Catholic perspective, read Peter Kreeft, or check out the Catholic Answers website. I’m not proselytizing; just arguing that one ought to understand the other side’s perspective before arguing against it.



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Turmarion

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:22 am


Roland, excellent post–I didn’t see it yet as I was typing, so we made some of the same points. Then again, reinforcement doesn’t hurt! :)



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PDGM

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:29 am


What seems to be missing from this discussion, at least to my reading of it, is the place of valid symbolism. Both the parts from Vasquez you’ve quoted, and the responses to your posting and to Vasquez ignore this.
Also missing: that human beings have both rationality (reason) and intellect, but the two are different, with intellect being the higher faculty. And symbolism works with the intellect, not with reason, though when we discuss it, we use reason as well.
If symbolism is something more than an arbitrary set of signs, what Vasquez is saying (but in a confused way) is that symbolism works more powerfully than rational explanations. And this, I think, is true. It’s why the Orthodox liturgy is so powerful. It’s why pueblo dances in New Mexico is so powerful. And the Catholic liturgy in its current form is trying to invoke symbols, but in a ratiocentric way, which I think is the point that Vasquez is making about current Catholic liturgical practice.
Basically, what Vasquez might be saying is, to the vast majority of human beings who are not “eggheads” symbols speak more fully, more powerfully than do more abstract signs in the form of conceptually abstract words.
Think of the difference, for example, between “transubstantiation” and the current Catholic liturgy’s phrase “fruit of the vine and work of human hands” to invoke the bread and wine of the liturgy. One is abstract; one is somewhat dry, but to my mind more powerful in its symbolic content.
PDGM



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PDGM

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:32 am


Folks,
My apologies: when I wrote “It’s why pueblo dances in New Mexico is so powerful,” I should have used “are” for “is”.
PDGM



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Richard

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:41 am


Roland, I have no wish to pick a fight here, but the Gospels grew out of a very young ‘tradition’ considering they were written no later than some 60 years after Jesus’ death and possibly much earlier. The Odyssey, by contrast, was not written down until hundreds of years later. I see no reason to think that when things get written down they cease being tradition – nobody has yet defended this other than by assertion.
Canon Law is not Tradition because it gets changed? On the sheer face of your logic, there is no tradition. Jesus can’t be a tradition because ‘he got written down’. The Catholic Church has no traditions because things have been changed. What are we left with?
“It is the claim of the Roman Catholic Church, founded by Christ, that its Magisterium teaches “what Jesus had in mind.” No serious Catholic theologian would accept that as complete. The claim only makes sense in light of Christ’s teaching; where does that teaching come from? The canon of the New Testament, of course, the same source of claims about the Eucharist. The very claim that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ comes from the Gospels: “upon this rock I will build my church”.
It is not a Protestant/Calvininist/Lutheran/Pentecostal-only idea that Christianity has its roots in the Word of God in print (which gives us access to the Word of God on wood). If you want real truth, and real tradition, it is to the Word we must turn. Outside of that, where are these truth claims grounded?
I don’t mean to be nasty here, but I’ll confess to being frustrated as all get out at these silly dichotomies and (to borrow from Obabma) false choices: you’re either Roman Catholic or a fundamentalist. Bible believer or sacramentarian. As if we share nothing. Or as if we’ll find the answers to life in cheap plastic kitsch or “I Heart Jesus” t-shirts rather than serious study of Christ, his teaching, the apostles, and the saints. Which is: repent, fast, and pray.



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Richard

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:47 am


Turmarion, I withdraw from this discussion. If our starting point is that the Catholic Church owes none of its authority to Christ and his teaching, then I have nothing further to say. How on earth can you write that they didn’t have the Bible in Acts and got along fine? The early church of Acts didn’t make claim to a Magisterium either, or most of what makes up the Catholic Mass or sacramental Protestant churches.
Please disregard my last post. Rod, if you are so inclined, please delete all of my posts on this subject.



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Kath

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:54 am


All I know is that nothing firmed up my own faith more than reading Flannery O’Connor — so to me there’s really something to what Vasquez is saying.



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Roland de Chanson

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:59 am


Turmarion,
You said it far better and more patiently than I. I guess I just have lost my sense of forbearance when ignorant bigots start delivering themselves of opinions they are not entitled to by dint of their lack of learning.
Richard,
The NT is not the Constitution of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church decided what the NT consisted of and what it did not. But this is not the topic of Rod’s post so let’s defer this discussion to another place and time.



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Leah

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:02 am


And I couldn’t become Episcopalian because something in my Lutheran soul revolted at the sight of the gaudy, gold cross they’d parade down the aisle. Austerity has its place in religion too.



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Joseph

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:15 am


Owen White (Ochlophobist) and his friend Arturo have a strong tendency to fetishize “organic” tradition, as opposed to what they call “marketing” – broadly speaking anything that admits the rhetorical function of language. Isn’t this just high Romanticism? Their cult of “authenticity,” defined as the opposite of industrial modernity, is right out of Wordsworth. And it is intellectually bankrupt, built on a lie just like Romanticism, which was a fraudulent aesthetic movement and a profoundly erroneous theory of language. I suspect Owen and Arturo are both vastly closer to the people they despise than either of them can see.
I admit I do check by Ochlophobist from time to time, as something of a guilty pleasure. But let’s be clear about this: Owen is a jerk. His bile can make him entertaining, and I used to think he did a brilliant job of channeling the performative misanthropy of the satirist, but I’ve reached the conclusion that his purposes are not so salubrious or loving as that. No, I believe he genuinely does wish us all ill.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:19 am


I believe the genius of Christianity — traditional, sacramental Christianity — has been in incorporating pagan elements. I’m not only talking about Christmas trees and the like. I’m talking about sacralizing the natural world. Pagans (broadly speaking) worship nature; Christians — sacramental ones, I mean — worship a God who is immanent in nature, particularly under certain ritual conditions (e.g., when a validly ordained priest is the conduit for bread and wine becoming the flesh and blood of God). To say that is deeply pagan is not to say it’s untrue. In fact, I do believe it is the truth. But to believe that, and to believe more generally in Sacraments as something other than mere symbols, is to align oneself to a certain degree with paganism. I don’t have a problem with that, because the pagans understood something profound about what it means to be an embodied spirit. The constant difficulty is in keeping the religion from tipping over into outright paganism/syncretism.
It’s easier for Protestantism (generally speaking) to do this because it is a “purified” form of Christianity, made bloodless and abstract. But the body keeps breaking out: witness Pentecostalism.
(Matt, your questions are good ones; I don’t have time to really answer it now, but I will later…)



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Rod Dreher

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:23 am


Yeah, Joseph, I get what you mean about Ochlophobist. You made me realize the reason I’d quit reading him; his misanthropy was so deep it made me realize that despite his insights, he really is a church of one. I struggle with misanthropy too, so too much of that kind of thing is a temptation to me.



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Turmarion

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:24 am


PDGM, I’d pretty much agree with your post, but I’m not sure what you mean by, “What seems to be missing from this discussion, at least to my reading of it, is the place of valid symbolism. Both the parts from Vasquez you’ve quoted, and the responses to your posting and to Vasquez ignore this.” You make the point that “symbols speak more fully, more powerfully than do more abstract signs in the form of conceptually abstract words,” and I agree; and that “the Catholic liturgy in its current form is trying to invoke symbols, but in a ratiocentric way,” with which I’d also agree. You could say that the post Vatican II Church has largely “disenchanted” the Liturgy. I’d also say that properly done ritual is more powerful even for the “egghaeds”! ;) Anyway, I’m not completely clear on what you meant by “the place of valid symbolism”. Could you elaborate?
Richard, if I sounded as if I were saying “you’re either Roman Catholic or a fundamentalist. Bible believer or sacramentarian” that wasn’t my intention. It is a matter of record that the only Protestant denominations that are vibrant, healthy, and expanding are Pentecostal or Fundamentalist; but that doesn’t mean that those are the only (or most legitimate) ways to be Protestant; and I’m certainly not saying “Protestantism bad! Catholicism good!” although as a Catholic I’m (obviously) going to favor the Catholic view, as I expect that a Protestant would do the opposite. Look, my two best friends are Baptist and pagan, respectively, and I’m married to a Buddhist, so no one can say I lack an ecumenical worldview!
I guess what I was saying was this: from a Protestant perspective, the Catholic Church is “too pagan” as it is, so Vasquez’s whole thesis is a non-starter. That’s a valid point to take, but it’s not helpful for someone who is a Catholic and is trying to decide how he thinks about Vasquez’s case, or who is looking at it from a purely sociological perspective. It also teeters on the edge of opening up Protestant/Catholic polemics, which I think aren’t useful here.
This is expemplified by your statement, “If our starting point is that the Catholic Church owes none of its authority to Christ and his teaching, then I have nothing further to say.” No one who read my statement carefully and fairly would assert that I said what you imply. Just to make the point, here it is again, with emphasis added: “If Jesus really gave his continuing authority to the Apostles passed down through Apostolic Succession (on which Catholics, Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox all agree), and if the Church manifests (admittedly imperfectly) his will….” No one who understands Catholic (or Orthodox) doctrine would think that it “owes none of its authority to Christ and his teaching”. Now they might disagree as to whether the Catholic/Orthodox teaching on how that authority was given and passed down is correct; but that’s very much different from saying that Catholicism or Orthodoxy doesn’t claim to be based on Christ or his teachings.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to cause upset, as I apparently have. This is exactly what I meant when I said it’s not useful or salutary to get into Protestant-Catholic polemics here. We must agree to disagree, to acknowledge each as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to be charitable with one another. As the Robert Duvall character says in the movie The Apostle as he (a Pentecostal preacher) watches a Catholic ceremony in rural Louisiana, “You do it your way, I do it my way, but boy, we get it done!” May we all cultivate such an attitude!
Kath, I’m with you all the way on O’Connor!
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/roddreher/2010/07/catholicism-must-paganize-or-die—-vasquez_comments.html#ixzz0tZVXVrh4



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the stupid Chris

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:30 am


One of the things that drew me to Orthodoxy was precisely this problem within Catholicism. And though I think the idea that the Church must “paganize” is designed to shock rather than cure, what the Church really needs is to un-Protestantize itself.
IMO this is a revisiting of the Palamas/Barlaam debate that, for Orthodoxy, was settled in the 1300s, with the East going one way and the West going the other.
(a primer on the Hesychast Controversy: Barlaam believed that philosophers had better knowledge of God than did the prophets, and valued education and learning more than contemplative prayer. He stated the unknowability of God in an extreme form, having been influenced by a reductionist interpretation of the writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. As such, he believed the monks on Mount Athos were wasting their time in contemplative prayer when they should instead be studying to gain intellectual knowledge.)
Two weeks ago I attended a Roman Catholic funeral for a much-beloved relative. The church was packed. There were remembrances and references to how loving God is and how loving this relative was.
It was beautiful. But.
I was dismayed at how little actual praying got done. Among the many fine words about God over the two hours we were there, there was probably 20 minutes of the service addressed to God. It seemed quite perfunctory, actually.
What’s gotten lost is a sense of the Mysterium Tremendum. Catholicism, both left and right, has become all about us.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:32 am


I believe the genius of Christianity…(is)…about sacralizing the natural world.
Blame the Incarnation and Resurrection for that. ;-)



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PDGM

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:42 am


Turmarion,
You ask about what I call “valid symbolism,” so here’s my attempt at an explanation.
Valid symbolism speaks to the human heart, directly, without much or any ratiocination. It bypasses the reason, even if eggheady types (I count myself as one, albeit one who is very sensitive to symbolic beauty) use reason and rational analysis to write about it or speak of it.
In contrast, invalid symbolism is (and here I’m thinking on my keyboard fingertips, so please bear with me) invariably either sentimental–Hallmark card cr*p or else actually both sentimental and evil–think Speer and the whole designed Nazi project, with its brutalism, it’s inadvertent Dolce & Gabbana homoeroticism, its whole blonde haired blue eyed faux volkisch idiocy.
Modern academics (yes, and I’m sometimes guilty here as well) often cannot distinguish between the two above; but I do believe there are real differences. Sun, eagle, gold, God: there are reasons intrinsic in even our mundane level of reality why these are linked on our level.
Hope this helps,
PDGM



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Nick the Greek

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:42 am


Tolkien described his legendarium as “a pagan myth that Christians can believe in”. Could this be a clue as to why Lord of the Rings was voted the best-loved book of the 20th century in survey after survey?



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Mark Scott Abeln

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:42 am


Imagine Christ and His Disciples, at the Temple in Jerusalem, witnessing the bloody sacrifices and holocausts on the altar. THAT is not pagan, but perhaps close to the spirit of what they are talking about.
Christ of course got rid of the bloody sacrifices, but instead underwent one Himself – and so we have bloody Passion scenes in art. A sanitized Christianity is comfortable, prim and proper, but is not authentic.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:57 am


A sanitized Christianity is comfortable, prim and proper, but is not authentic.
Amen to that.



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Major Wootton

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:18 am


Nick the Greek, I occasionally contribute items on apocryphal statements attributed to Tolkien to “Beyond Bree,” the newsletter of the Tolkien Special Interest Group of North American Mensa.Can you provide the source for your quotation, that Tolkien said “The Lord of the Rings” was a “pagan myth that Christians can believe in”?If not, I think you’ve either manufactured or passed on a nice little nugget for BB!



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Major Wootton

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:24 am


As for the main thread, about “paganizing” Roman Catholicism.Probably people are bringing different ideas about what “paganizing” means to the discussion.As an adherent of the Lutheran Confessions (and, ahem, a guy with eyes in his head), I would say that when a church looks to renewing itself by anything but committing itself to the sound tradition of preaching and living Law and Gospel, and of rightly administering the Sacraments, it gets into trouble — even on its own terms.
If you need to get your ya-yas out, go to a Rolling Stones concert.



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GingerMan

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:40 am


Related thoughts from old First Things article here (subscription required):
http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/06/09/capistrano-swallows-and-quirky-catholic-culture/
Excerpt:
There’s a figure in all this—a metaphor, perhaps, or a synecdoche—for the condition of American Catholicism. Its long history, certainly, from the Spanish colonial beginnings on. But, most of all, San Juan Capistrano seems an image for recent decades—because sometime around 1970, the leaders of the Catholic Church in America took a stick and knocked down all the swallows’ nests.
They had their reasons. What was anyone to make of those endless 1950s sodalities and perpetual-adoration societies, the Mary Day processions, the distracting rosaries shouted out during the mumbled Latin Masses? The tangle and confusion of all the discalced, oblated, friar-minored, Salesianed, Benedictined, Cistercianed communities of monks and nuns?
The arcanery of decorations on albs and chasubles, the processions of Holy Water blessings, the grottos with their precarious rows of fire-hazard candles flickering away in little red cups, the colored seams and peculiar buttons that identified monsignors, the wimpled school sisters, the tiny Spanish grandmothers muttering prayers in their black mantillas, the First Communion girls wrapped up in white like prepubescent brides, the mumbled Irish prejudices, the loud Italian festivals, the Holy Door indulgences, the pocket guides to Thomistic philosophy, the Knights of Columbus with their cocked hats and comic-opera swords, the tinny mission bells, the melismatic chapel choirs—none of this was the Church, some of it actually obscured the Church, and the decision to clear out the mess was not unintelligent or uninformed or unintended.
It was merely insane. An entire culture nested in the crossbeams and crannies, the nooks and corners, of the Catholic Church. And it wasn’t until the swallows had been chased away that anyone seemed to realize how much the Church itself needed them, darting around the chapels and flitting through the cathedrals. They provided beauty, and eccentricity, and life. What they did, really, was provide Catholicism to the Catholic Church in America, and none of the multimedia Masses and liturgical extravaganzas in the years since—none of the decoy nests and artificial puddles—has managed to call them home. All the mission bells will ring, / The chapel choir will sing, / When the swallows come back to Capistrano.



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Al-Dhariyat

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:41 am


Really, this is a fascinating discussion for an outsider such as myself.
So the ritual, the sacrament ties the faithful to the faith in Catholicism and Orthodoxy whereas some strains of Protestantism places less emphasis on it?
I hope no one will be insulted by the comparison but I’ve been to both Protestant (not sure the denomination) and Catholic services and the “mystery” of the Catholic rituals reminds me, as a Sunni Muslim, of some of the rituals in Shia’ Islam, many of which I did NOT understand. Whereas the more straightforward nature of the Protestant service was comparable to what I have found in mainline Sunni Islam mosques. Just an observation, certainly not meant as a hard and fast comparison. Thanks.



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PDGM

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:55 am


Al-Dhariyat,
Your sense is accurate. In general, protestantism (especially lower church protestantism) focuses on the individual soul and God: two poles that are utterly central. Catholicism and Orthodoxy (and Shiism, from what I understand, which may not be enough), have a more capacious, “stepped” relationship between God and the soul, which includes saints, angels, the Blessed Mother or Theotokos, and so on.
Where this is less true is sacramental protestantism, which has features of both worlds.
Regards,
PDGM



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Charles Cosimano

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm


“Cosimanian Orthodox!”
I am laughing so hard I can’t comment on the post.
But to be slightly serious, with a billion adherints each, it is unlikely that either Catholicism or Protestantism is likely to die out in the near future, much as the members of either side would fervently wish the other to.
On the other hand, the phrase, “First we burn the theologians!” does have some appeal.
Now, having done that, what would a Cosimanian Orthodox Church look like? Well, I was raised liberal Protestant so the melting wax legs are out. And decoration just gets in the way. So it would probably make the most austere of Calvinist buildings look gaudy by comparison and be much more reminiscent of a Zen temple. I like Zen.
Inside is a sort of radio reciever, well not really but basing the entire doctrine on the notion that divinity is merely a sort of frequency that could be tuned to, that would be the center of the building and by each comfy chair (I like Zen, I like to be comfortable more) there would be a helmet attached to the receiver. And the worshippers, after placing their credit cards into the appropriate slot for their tithes and offerings (hey, God don’t need money, we do) would put on the helmets and be directly connected to the divine, with no need of a cheerleader.
Hmm, this does not sound like a bad idea… Eat your heart out L. Ron. Rod, you may have just created a monster.



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Nick the Greek

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:07 pm


Major Wootton: No, I can’t remember where I read that quote and now realise that I shouldn’t have put quote marks around it, since it was quoted from memory and may not be his actual words.



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Grace

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm


I have read Arturo for a while – it is a relief to see him turning from the conclusion that it’s all Scott Hahn’s fault.
He has many good points, but as another commenter pointed out, they are often wrapped in nonsense and take one…nowhere.
His basic point, I think, is that the fundamentals of Christianity are better, more powerfully and more trustworthily (not a word, but..) preserved in traditions. The uneducated peasant Catholic who has absorbed the faith through devotion to the saints, the rosary and even some near -magic traditions has probably done so in a deeper way than the theologian or priest who can articulate a lot of theology but doesn’t know what it means and then proceeds to attempt to destroy the faith of others.
But it all does really make you wonder what the Gospels, what you know, Jesus Christ is for.
He seems to think he has discovered the tension between popular devotion and institutionally-shaped and delivered religion, but of course he has not.
The trick of Catholicism has been keeping them in balance. Arturo blames Trent (when he’s not blaming Scott Hahn) – he says that the imbalance began there.
I think there’s another element in this – in his previous blogs, Arturo was straight up about his long-term association with the SSPX, but is more circumspect about that now. I wonder how his experience with them has impacted his thinking. Secondly, a tragedy befell him and his wife about a year ago – their baby died right before or during birth.
Believe me, that kind of mystery would lead me to call “bullshit” at the niceties of “orthodoxy” with all of its clear, provable answers, too.



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Turmarion

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:28 pm


Roland, thanks.
Joseph, I haven’t really read Ochlophobist, but while you make a valid point broadly, I don’t think the high Romantics were all wrong. They rightly saw that the West had lost an organic tradition, and they were right to decry this and wish for it to be restored. Their method for doing so didn’t work, and ditto for many moderns, as you rightly point out. You can’t intellectualize yourself back to innocence, so to speak. What is the right course? Well, we’re all still working on it.
PDGM, thanks. I think part of what Vasquez is talking about by “paganizing” the Church is a reclamation of “valid symbols”, as you put it. Too much of contemporary Catholicism is indeed what you so aptly refer to as “Hallmark cr*p”. An example that springs to mind is the unfortunately common practice of holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer. By me, it’s sentimental, touchy-feely claptrap. Yes, it is a symbol of our unity in Christ; but the true symbol of this is that we share in the One Body of Christ in the Eucharist, and thus become one body in him and with each other. Sentimentality only detracts from the profundity.
stupid chris, I actually tend to agree with you. I think the West got off on the wrong track with over-intellectualization way back with the Scholastics. It’s interesting that the greatest Scholastic, St. Thomas Aquinas, after the vision near the end of his life, quit writing the Summa Theologiae, saying it seemed “like straw”. I think that the Orthodox Church really held onto something that we’ve lost. If I lived in an area that had one that hadn’t been too Latinized, I’d probably go to an Eastern Rite parish, since the vapidity of much contemporary Roman liturgy gets very much wearing, at times. BTW, I heartily second your amen to Mark!
As I pointed out in a different context on the Nietzsche threads several months ago, I think temperament is a big determinant of what we subscribe to intellectually and religiously, and I think Leah and Major Wootton exemplify this. I think a point is reached in which the intellectual and emotional landscape is so different that the people really don’t get each other at all. I think all the complex, funky, half (or more-than-half) quasi-pagan stuff in the Church, as long as it’s kept in its proper place, is great. Others would look at that and be horrified. It’s all in one’s temperament.
An interesting thing I’d like to toss out. The Gnostic priest Jordan Stratford, of the Gnostic (and therefore proudly heretical) Apostolic Johannite Church, is one of my favorite heterodox guilty pleasures as a reader. In this post from his blog, he makes this interesting point:
” I was reminded of an anti-Catholic rant on a popular blog which described Catholicism as ‘Roman Paganism with Old Testament window dressing’. My reaction was something along the line of ‘well, duh’. That’s what Christianity is, that’s what it’s always been. St. Augustine even said so. Cutting oneself off from the paganism of Christianity is to excise oneself from Christianity per se.”
With proper contextualization and nuance, this would, I think, be essentially correct. Now he would take it too far in the other direction, but he’s still got a point. This post is also germane to the topic here, I think.



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Major Wootton

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm


Thanks, Nick the Greek, for your reply. Here are two examples of “Tolkien apocrypha”:
(1)In Jared Lobdell’s enjoyable “The World of the Rings: Language, Religion, and Adventure in Tolkien,” the author cites Tolkien’s “Letters” (p. 391) correctly for the claim that JRRT read S. R. Crockett’s “The Black Douglas” (1899): the novel impressed Tolkien when he read it in youth, and he said it was probably Crockett’s best book. Tolkien acknowledges that the scene with the wolves in Crockett’s novel influenced a scene in “The Hobbit,” as is also noted in Douglas Anderson’s “Annotated Hobbit.”
But Lobdell says further that Tolkien said that Gilles de Retz in Crockett’s book was “the source of his creation of Sauron” (Lobdell’s phrase).
However, there isn’t anything about a Sauron-de Retz connection in the letter, and I haven’t found some other place where Tolkien says any such thing — so where did Lobdell learn this?
(2)In Lin Carter’s book “Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord of the Rings,” he stated that Tolkien likes Robert E. Howard’s stories about Conan the barbarian. Here is what the “J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia,” edited by Michael Drout, reports on the matter:
—Carter apparently based his claim on information communicated to him by his colleague L. Sprague de Camp, who visited Tolkien once, in February 1967. De Camp recalled their conversation at Tolkien’s residence, in Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers (1976). De Camp had already sent Tolkien a copy of his 1963 anthology Swords and Sorcery, which contains Howard’s “Shadows in the Moonlight” …..”[Tolkien] said he found [the anthology] interesting but did not much like the stories in it,” de Camp said (243). However, de Camp added, “[Tolkien] indicated that he ‘rather liked’ Howard’s Conan stories” (244). Since de Camp offers no indication of where Tolkien might have read any Conan stories other than the one included in the 1963 anthology, it appears possible that Tolkien actually read only “Shadows in the Moonlight.” ……A 1983 letter from de Camp to John Rateliff implies that de Camp would not have been prepared to stand by his earlier suggestion of Tolkien having read multiple Conan stories. Rateliff quotes de Camp: “During our conversation, I said something casual to Tolkien about my involvement with Howard’s Conan stories, and he said he ‘rather liked them.’ That was all; we went on to other subjects. I know he had read Swords and Sorcery because I had sent him a copy. I don’t know if he had read any other Conan besides ‘Shadows in the Moonlight,’ but I rather doubt it.”—-
Incidentally, bits of C. S. Lewis apocrypha appear from time to time. A 2004 article, “Coosing Our Own Destiny,” in “Touchstone” magazine stated that Lewis said that George MacDonald’s “What’s Mine’s Mine” was the fourth greatest book he had ever read.
When asked by email for the source of this comment attributed to Lewis, the author said it came from unpublished letters by Lewis held by Wheaton College. However, he wasn’t able to find the paragraph that he’d copied, and I don’t believe it has appeared in the three volumes of Lewis’s Collected Letters that have now been published.
It’s certainly possible that Lewis said what he was reported to have said about the MacDonald novel, but for now it belongs to the “apocrypha.”



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm


Channeling a pithy Paglia (an oxymoron there!) – Too much Apollonian not enough Dionysian.



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Hank

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Rod: “Ah, yes: if the whole world would be fundamentalist/Calvinist Protestant, all would be solved. That’s why Pentecostalism is dying — the world needs a more cerebral Christianity. (Heh heh heh).”
What Christianity needs is not to look to paganism, but to its savior. Simply swinging on the pendulum form one extreme (Roman Catholicism) to the other (American Evangelicalism) completely missed the point, as does this response of yours.
Embracing more paganism sure isn’t the answer, just read up on your prophets in the Old Testament of your Bible for how that always worked out. ;-)



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SJG

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm


I don’t usually comment on blogs, but I just had to reiterate Kath’s point about Flannery O’Connor, who really ought to be canonized, and I mean that about 90% seriously.
That is all.



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Richard Barrett

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm


Just to be clear, I am a different Richard than the Richard who posts as “Richard”; I always post with my first and last name.
I guess I’ve just got C. S. Lewis on the brain here, but the idea of “Christianity as true myth” that he got into seems applicable here. This is from The Pilgrim’s Regress, p. 169:
Child, if you will, it is mythology. It is but truth, not fact: an image, not the very real. But then it is My mythology. The words of Wisdom are also myth and metaphor: but since they do not know themselves for what they are, in them the hidden myth is master, where it should be servant: and it is but of man’s inventing. But this is My inventing, this is the veil under which I have chosen to appear even from the first until now. For this end I made your senses and for this end your imagination, that you might see My face and live. What would you have? Have you not heard among the Pagans the story of Semele? Or was there any age in any land when men did not know that corn and wine were the blood and body of a dying and yet living God?
In any event — a book that might be applicable on the Orthodox side of this discussion is Cosmos, Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village by Juliet Du Boulay. It’s actually interesting on several points related to topics routinely discussed here. For example, this description of the ritual that goes into the building of a new house and what it means:
When the building is begun, holy water is sprinkled inside the foundations, starting from the eastern side — the side described as the side ‘facing the sun’ — and moving round anti-clockwise ‘like the dance’. After this a cock is slaughtered in the same place and the body taken round in a similar movement so that the blood drizzles into the foundations. The cock is then cooked in a celebratory meal for those present… [N. B.,] sacrificial associations in Greek village life are rare in my experience and this is not discussed further in this book. Again, on the eastern side are buried a bunch of flowers and a silver coin, while a bottle of holy water is built into all four corners. The house is a prized inheritance, built once only in a series of generations, and, made to shelter and nourish a putatively unending line of descendants, it is a symbol of permanence[.] (p.38-9)
Regarding Owen — yes, he comes across as a misanthrope sometimes. On the other hand, what do you expect from somebody who describes himself as an “ochlophobist”? My impression of him is that he’s a man who struggles to stay faithful to his principles, and in his insistence on being authentic to his understanding of authenticity — i. e., being “real” rather than “nice” — he doesn’t sugarcoat that this will not exactly make him the most fun person to have at parties. To the extent that he’s upfront about what he is and what he’s like, one can’t really fault him for being exactly that.
Richard



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Hank

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:32 pm


Tumarion, your quibble is well taken re: the HRE. I was thinking of everything from Constantine through the HRE, and should have been more precise.



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PDGM

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:33 pm


Hank,
Your statement is circular, and misses the point of the post as well.
You’ve already decided that Roman Catholicism is an “extreme.” What if it is not an extreme? And anyway, Vasquez’ point is that RC Christianity is not “extreme” enough in regard of its practices, not that it’s too extreme.
PDGM



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kenneth

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:36 pm


I’ve always said that street-level Catholics, especially the devout ones in Latin America, are twice the pagan I could ever hope to be. There’s a HUGE gulf between living Catholicism and the Vatican. I would argue there’s a huge gulf between the Vatican and reality at every level, but that’s a bigger post for another time.
I have mixed feelings about whether “paganization” of Christian religion is a good thing or not. As a pagan, I can tell you that direct experience of the divine is far more powerful and meaningful than the musings of theologions and the top-down authoritarianism of Rome which presumes to tell you what your conscience says. On the other hand, most such hybridization of Chriatianity and paganism tends to graft together the worst, most pathological aspects of both systems, sort of like the reassortment of common viruses which made the 1918 Influenza.



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PDGM

posted July 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm


kenneth (at 1:36pm),
Your comment on hybridizing providing the most pathological of both aspects is not always true, though I do understand what you mean. The pueblo tribes in New Mexico from my point of view lack horrifying pathologies of both Hispanic Catholicism and of some of the indigenous weirdnesses.
I went to a feast day one summer, starting with a mass in a dirt floored adobe church where everyone was in modern western dress, then proceeding to a procession in which a small statue was carried out to a bower on the plaza; after which point the dancing, which lasted all day, began; before this, people changed into traditional costume. The pueblo is broken into two halves, and each of these halves took turns dancing; and the hour or so long dances ended with the dancers going into the bower and paying respects there. It was beautiful and moving and seemed to be peaceful, tranquil, and somehow very true as well.
Now, I don’t live there; maybe there are hidden oddnesses; but the vibe I got was really a wonderful one.
FWIW,
PDGM



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TWylite

posted July 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm


“Our Lady Of Nordstrom” may have been preeminent in American theological life, until Calvin Klein stapled his 95 Receipts to the wall of the Houston Galleria Mall. Thus began the Protestant Retail Reformation. Many like-minded people were tired of the hierarchy of mega-malls, desiring a more personal (and less costly) relationship with apparel manufacturers. Factory outlet malls, and especially mail/internet order supply chains filled this spiritual void.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 13, 2010 at 3:12 pm


It’s nice to know I’m not the only Pagan resident here. Glad to see your posts, Kenneth, on any topic.
A conceptual mistake many Christians make is in seeing paganisms (even with uppercase “P”) as coherent structures against which one may compare (or oppose) Christianity (or any other monotheism, let alone any hierarchical faith like the also pagan Hindus). It might help to understand that prevailing academic wisdom suggests that the Roman deities started as the spirits of place — pagus being the original Latin term for farm or homestead — and were adopted and changed as the agricultural centers urbanized.
It is in that spirit (ahem), possibly an unwarranted assumption, that I take Vasquez’ usage of “paganizing”. It is also within that logic that the “adoption” of Pagan spiritual entities, deities, spirits, what have you, makes perfect sense as locals (forced or not) assimilated to the new and growing Christian hegemony in Europe.
The strength of a written tradition is in its stability. The Jews demonstrate that very well. The weakness is in its taking on the authority of dogma, unable to fit local and individual experience of divinity, and the demonizing (look up the greek daimon, you might find that interesting) of those aspects of personal experience that could lead to social and political tension with dogmatic authority.
I observe, anecdotally and from reading, that the appeal to modern Pagans is that very thing, a way to rationalize personal experience within the framework of mundane life. I submit that the core point of this topic is that modern Roman Catholicism has lost sight of that, has tended over time to increase the gap between faith and community. I hasten to add that I neither imply nor intend criticism or blame. I grew up in a mostly Catholic community, and wouldn’t change one whit of it given the choice.



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michael

posted July 13, 2010 at 3:54 pm


“Ah, yes: if the whole world would be fundamentalist/Calvinist Protestant, all would be solved heh heh”
I attend a fundamentalist Calvinist church and denomination, which I now see is a large play-act, pretending it’s still 1540, well-dressed men tossing off Latin phrases and holding a 100 AD world view (even as they use 21st century technology to sell stuff to their followers). There is a reason this tradition is shrinking or stagnant.. eventually people get tired of intellectual play-acting. I agree that raw religion of the type you describe is closer to most human hearts — but as others say, whether that is good or bad is a separate question.



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Turmarion

posted July 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm


Grace, I was interested when you mentioned Arturo vis-à-vis Scott Hahn. I’m a convert as an adult, and had read some of Hahn and had seen him early on in my life as a Catholic (it’s been twenty years, now). I liked him somewhat at first, then didn’t read anything or hear anything by him for a long time. Then recently I was given some videos of a seminar by him, and at Lent I got a CD on the Eucharist on him, and I have to say he really gets on my nerves now.
On the talk on the Eucharist in particular, he came across as rather hectoring, and his style is very Protestant (which I realize is a complaint or compliment, depending on the context. From me it’s a complaint). I practically expected him to make an altar call! More generally, I couldn’t quite exactly put a finger on it, but something about his approach now rubs me the wrong way. I went to Arturo’s blog to check out some of what you’d mentioned, and I think his referring to Hahn as “conservative Catholic-pop”, or some such, hit it for me. He also confirmed my feelings of Hahn as a bit of a professional convert, which also aggravates me.
Now be clear: I’m not saying Hahn is a bad man, or trying to dis him or Protestants or Protestant converts to Christianity. I’m just saying that he doesn’t work for me anymore, and I find myself more and more sympathetic to the “paganized” Catholicism that Arturo speaks of. I mean, if we’re just going to be Protestants with liturgy, we might as well be Episcopalians! (No insult intended there, either!)



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Cecelia

posted July 13, 2010 at 5:01 pm


After all the exceptional comments made him I have little to add – except this put me in mind of a old essay by Umberto Eco – I have copied the relevant part here:
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach — if not the kingdom of Heaven — the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.
DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.
This came from a column he wrote for an Italian newspaper he goes on further to suggest that Windows of course is Anglican – big cathedral with smells and bells but always the possibility that one could go back to DOS.
I do not all together understand what Vasquez means by “paganism” but if what he means is the ability to to reignite a sense of mystery and wonder then I would be all for it. I suspect that when we speak of the “innocence lost” by modernism, industrialization, empiricism etc – it is that sense that our lives and the world we live in is full of mystery – something which is captured rather well by old ladies in black mantillas and ancient symbolism. I wonder if part of why people turn to “new age” type things and even Pentecostalism is it because they are seeking that connection to the mystery of existence?



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Jon

posted July 13, 2010 at 7:17 pm


Note on “priests” . This comes up a lot among the less educated critiques of Catholicism, but “priest” is actually a Christian, and New Testament, word– not a pagan one!
The English word derives (via medieval French and Late Latin) from Greek presbyteros, which simply means “elder”, and that is used in the New Testament in various places to denote the officiants of the Christian communion. English extended the word to also take in the sense of Greek hiereus, Latin sacerdotes– “priest” in the Pagan (or Old Testament Jewish) sense. But that is secondary. The priestly office in the traditional churches is simply the New Testament office of Elder.



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mouth

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:50 pm


Rod: “Ah, yes: if the whole world would be fundamentalist/Calvinist Protestant, all would be solved. That’s why Pentecostalism is dying — the world needs a more cerebral Christianity. (Heh heh heh).”
When did trying to live out Christ’s words become “cerebral”? As far as I can see, Christ’s teachings in and of themselves require a lifetime to absorb and put into action, they can fill every moment of the day, and there are always still deeper depths to go – you’re never finished. Christ Himself knew we never do get the log entirely out of our own eye, and as He repeatedly stressed, the job is to persist, keep watch, and have faith, faith, faith.
Now if the sacraments and paganism stuff make that message more clear to you, fine – though there’s a danger that in giving them so much importance you’re giving time to them rather than to Christ’s actual teachings.
But it’s hard to see what’s being served by snide references to other Christian sects. That smacks of the obsession with religious triviality of the Pharisees which aggravated Christ.



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Andrew

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:13 pm


True theology – knowledge of the triune God – comes from prayer and the conversation within the heart of the human soul and Almighty God.
God can only be known in a book by apophatic description – what He is not – since what God is is to us entirely indescribable in actual words – and this knowledge is nothing more than intellecutal description. Since it is humanly imparted knowledge, as all books have been written by and for the finite human mind, it is inevitably imperfect and limited. Moreover, if it is written so as to contradict the revealed truth of the Christian faith as it has been lived from the time of Christ, it is nothing more than a dishonest intellectual exercise in self-worship – creating our own god in our mind to be our own religion and then worshipping that mind’s image as the deity.
Faith, on the other hand, is an infused habit of the soul which allows it to know God and have eternal life. Since it is the gift of God, no amount of human striving can ever obtain it. There is no point in reading a book to find faith, since faith is not obtained by intellectual effort. The illiterate theif on the cross had more faith than all the Jewish Temple priesthood and Sanhedrin combined. All their thousanands of combined man-years of study of the Torah, yet no more than a handful recognized the Messiah when he stood right in front of them.
Faith will never be found by an atheist by listening diligently to sermons, or reading the Bible repeatedly, or plumbing the depths of the doctors of the Church.



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These are the Choices?

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:12 pm


Given the ancient majesty, mystery and prayer traditions of the Zodiacal Church, and the pure, uncorrupted prayer brilliance of the more modern Biorythmic Church, I prefer to flip the page to cackle at the Obituaries, instead.



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Joseph D'Hippolito

posted July 25, 2010 at 1:43 am


What do any of Vasquez’s rantings have to do with the crucifixion of Christ, which fulfilled the Mosaic Law’s requirement for atonement, and His resurrection, which was God’s way of reinforcing Christ’s claims about Himself and the means with which the ultimate penalty for sin — death — has been destroyed?
The problem isn’t just that many Christians have forgotten the fundamental principles that Scripture enunciates. It’s also that too many Christians have divorced Christianity from its Jewish roots. I’m not advocating the re-institution of Mosaic Law. I am, however, arguing for a greater understanding of what the NT means in light of the OT. When Paul wrote to Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God…,” he was referring to the OT, which was the only Scripture available to the Church at the time!!
Vasquez’s excrement about “folk religion” might have sociological significance but has nothing to do with God’s remedy for reconciling the human race to Himself.



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