“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”

“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

“Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing.”

I’m no expert in these matters. Forgive me if I blunder. But, honestly, I’m not saying anything new here.

Sometimes the world seems crazier than normal. Perhaps it is. Or maybe it’s always been crazy, but we just get used to some kinds of crazy and surprised by other kinds. And not a few people are wondering why, when the very real issues of racism are front and center, thrust upon our collective consciousness once again by the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of several police officers (should we call them thugs?), do we suddenly see passionate and violent young Marxists and anarchists emerging from every nook and cranny. See this, this, this, this (and even this from 2015).

[Note: I am not using “anarchist” in a pejorative way to only indicate the use of violent chaos to achieve some vague ends, rather I mean the philosophical and political positions found in formal anarchist ideologies.]

Clearly we are witnessing an emergence (or re-emergence) of what appear to be a new generation of Marxists rampaging our nation’s streets and social media, calling for the abolition of police forces, seeking to rewrite history, and demanding the redefinition nearly every important word in our language. I realize many protesting, hanging out in autonomous zones, or even acting out violently against police and defacing federal buildings would not necessarily call themselves Marxist. And certainly few today would identify with traditional Bolshevism. But Marxian socialism and its pervasive ideological intentions, often in language that doesn’t sound all that Marxist to many of us, is far broader today in scope and more internalized as self-evident truth than was witnessed in the example Soviet Russia. (I mean, troubling though it may be, we are all a little bit socialist in ways that either we recognize or don’t. It’s because of the “water” we swim in these days. I think many would go to their graves denying this reality.) Today it’s less about structural state Marxism and more about seeking a new life world, a new pentecost with a utopian spirit descending like tongues of fire. For many, they were suckled on the Marxist teet in a plethora of subtle ways and have adopted as the very ground of being the Marxist ideology.

It’s clear today’s protests are not quite the same as (though not unconnected to) Dr. King’s nonviolent, and essentially Christian, march for freedom. But it seems clear the eyes on the prize today are different eyes envisioning a somewhat different prize. And surprisingly, if the images we see are accurate, many or perhaps most of the protestors, are white teens and twenty-somethings. Regardless, though the protestors obviously are protesting racism and police brutality, many are protesting much more. It makes some sense to wonder if some of the protestors, or perhaps some of the leaders of the protests, have hijacked the news of the day to promote a different agenda.

BLM protest in Los Angeles includes protesting fast fashion.

Where do these passions come from? On the surface it’s easy to identify: Just watch the horrific video of George Floyd (or numerous others) getting killed or brutalized at the hands of highly militarized cops, and then connect the dots and no wonder people are literally outraged — raging out their anger. My heart breaks over see such brutality by the very people who are paid to protect us, and I too get angry. But why, given the traditional nonviolent approach of past and successful civil rights protests, do today’s protests so quickly abandon that methodology and cross over into rioting and unabashedly resort to violence? It’s hard to say. One could justly assume that the old ways didn’t completely work so they must be abandoned. But another thought is to consider that Marxian socialism (a.k.a. scientific communism) happens to be the political and philosophical underpinnings of many of those offering their leadership to these protests. Marxism arises from atheism. God is abandoned and thus the ways of MLK, perhaps adequate for a past age, must now be abandoned as well. For Marxists, fomenting dissent was never foremost about the proletariat and poor working conditions. Rather, it was offered as a religious alternative to Christianity and, by implication, Western Culture. We are, I believe, at a crux moment in history. The stakes are higher than ever. It is not a debate, not even a protest, it is a war.

In short, Marxian socialism is fundamentally religious in its origins, in its language, and in its goals. Nonviolent protests make ethical sense to a people informed, as they once were, by a Christian story and a God who gave his life for others. Nonviolence doesn’t make ethical sense to the Marxist whose narrative flows from Hegel to Marx to Lenin and onwards. Christians ought to know this. In fact, Marxism borrows much of its language from Christianity, which is why it speaks so viscerally and powerfully to its followers. This is by design.

I think a lot of people honestly protesting the evil they see in society would be rather shocked to take a closer look at this. But, I have to say, I’m no expert; I’m just trying to understand.

[Pause: Given the state of the world we are in I must state emphatically that I firmly believe that black lives do matter and this sentiment makes a ton of sense today. It is clear our county has been deeply, structurally racist and at times openly violent, and has a problem with it still to this day — and not only regarding African Americans, but Native Americans and other minorities as well. From a Christian perspective and a full understanding of sin this seems abundantly clear, and sadly, expected. Personally, I completely buy into the historical record that shows the political and economic machinations that led us to this time in history. To loosely paraphrase George Orwell, for too long we have created a country where “all lives matter, but some lives matter more than others,” which has led to innumerable injustices. It grieves me to know that in ways I don’t even recognize I probably have played a part in this system. I realize writing this may put me at odds with many on the right, including the religious right which I am not a part of though I may have a few “conservative” leanings. But I’m not on the right. And sadly, there seems to be a racist problem within some corners of the traditional Catholic movement, a movement for which I have strong affinities, but also struggle with. But this post is not about the sentiments of many ordinary folks, right or left or other, or what they believe they are fighting for or why they are posting #blacklivesmatter in their social media. The sentiment that black lives matter is a truly Christian sentiment. No follower of Christ can say otherwise. And I must say that I have more sympathies even with some of the views of the radical left than I do with the mainstream left (which I generally oppose because they are much a part of the “system” as the mainstream right), but in Christ there are no distinctions. All human beings are equal before God. He died for us all. He calls us to peace, not violence, not to seeking power over others. Violence begets violence, and sinful man loves violence. But Christ calls us to love our brothers and sisters, to love our neighbors, and even to love our enemies. And if we find another in need, including one suffering under the burdens of racism, including systemic racism, we are to be the good Samaritan. We are to cross the road to the “other” and care for that person. Ultimately our salvation will not be found in politics or the nation state. You want to be truly radical, follow Christ — completely. Racism is a sin. We are all sinners. I have no solution but to point to Christ. There but for the grace of God go I.]

What we think of as Marxian socialism began even before Marx was Marx as a stated replacement for Christianity. In France it was hoped, during the decade of the French Revolution, that socialism would replace both Christianity and the monarchy, and thus fill the spiritual vacuum left by their absence in the wake of the bloody revolution. In England, the path forward was promoted by Robert Owen as a kind of rational religion based in science that took shape in a short-lived Utopian socialist community he later founded in the United States. In Germany, it took shaped as the logical extension of Hegel’s philosophy. Socialism became a kind of Utopian ideal replacing Christianity as the next step of the great movement of world history. (This is, of necessity, a pathetically brief overview of these origins and currents.)

More to the point regarding the German strand of Marxian socialism, which has arguably been the most influential strand, Gareth Stedman Jones writes in his introduction to the Penguin Classic printing of The Communist Manifesto the following perspective (emphasis added):

[W]hat became of Marxian socialism in Germany in the beginning had nothing to do with industrialization or the social and political aspirations of industrial workers. On the contrary, it emerged from debates among radical disciples of the German philosopher Hegel, about what should replace Christianity or Hegel’s rationalized variant of it, ‘absolute spirit’.
[…]
In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels made a successful effort to cover over these religious tracks and to set in their place a socio-economic genealogy appropriate to their new communist self-image. […] In this way, the history of socialism or communism appeared to become synonymous with the emergence of the industrial proletariat[.]
[…]
But despite the Manifesto, socialism or communism was never to become synonymous with the outlook of the ‘proletariat’. The speculative or quasi-religious origins and character of socialist creeds, including that built upon the pronouncements of the Manifesto itself, continued to shine through the laboriously elaborated socio-economic façade. It was not the mere facts of proletarianization that generated the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century, but the experiences of social and political upheaval, shaped and articulated through the militantly and apocalyptic languages of communism or revolutionary socialism. For this reason, historians have rightly likened the passions, intransigence and extremism of twentieth-century revolutions to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
[…]
The end of communism was not ‘the end of history’, but the end of an epoch in which criticism of global capitalism overlapped with the rise and fall of a powerful and organized post-Christian religion that, in the name of science, addressed itself to the oppressed. (Marx 8-10)

While the toppling of the Berlin Wall evidenced a powerful shift in global politics, that post-Christian religion really only died in the minds of hopeful neo-cons.

What we see in the passions, the verbal and physical attacks, the shouting down, the autonomous zones, the overturning of cars, the smashing of store windows, the iconoclasm, and the all too common disregard for logical arguments and historical facts, has arisen like some kind of religious cult with it own shock troops, whether they be those of the Antifa movement or any number of far-left groups. And this is why we are not hearing shouts for workers of the world to unite, or diatribes on class struggle, or that the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. Today it’s not about that, and it never really was. Suffering workers were used as a kind of social lever to move the mountain in the past and anti-racism is used today, but the goal is neither of those things in themselves. It’s bigger. It’s a religious war, like it always has been. It is about the total crushing of Christendom, which is the traditional name for Western Culture, and every possible vestige of it. And if you are surprised by the language, the energy, or the global reach of this “movement,” you’ve been living under a rock.

This is why some who say of course black lives matter and are deeply bothered by racism and stories of police brutality, are perplexed by the apparent hijacking of their hashtags by a violent Marxian agenda. Is this what it’s really all about? Are the autonomous zones the way forward? Why do we need to burn down a restaurant or deface a statue of Mahatma Gandhi?

It can be difficult, probably impossible, to separate agendas into neat boxes. The situation is rather fluid, and people are complex, but that fluidity might be to the benefit of those with specific long-term agendas who have been waiting for large-scale crises they can leverage for their own goals — a kind of disaster Marxism, to borrow and twist a phrase from Naomi Klein. The fact is, many see a connection between global warming, massive scale pollution, slave labor, racism, international corporate control, war, police militarization, the 1%, pandemics, the corporate industrial food system, and the continual cycle of governments lying, lying, and lying some more. Add to this the very real existential crisis of the God-shaped vacuum at the center of every single human soul on the planet and it’s no wonder we are experiencing a tidal wave of angst, rage, and fear washing over the world.

I mean, heck, I actually understand and appreciate Greta Thunberg’s anger.

But still, why all the smashing, why all the destruction? Is it a sign of weakness or a felt helplessness? To some degree, yes. But it’s more than that. With Marxian socialism you eventually get Marxism–Leninism. Vladimir Lenin took the religion of socialism and constructed a plan of action, that is, a truly revolutionary position that is not only unafraid of using violence to achieve its ends, it requires it. The goal was not merely to take hold of the machinery of the the state and make it one’s own. And it’s not actually about fairly distributing goods or leveling the playing field or even creating that so-called socialist economy that so many conservatives fear. The goal is to smash the state as Lenin declared. Rise up! Destroy it all, level it all down to the ground, start over. It’s energy flows forth from a complete and utter lack of faith in the Western historical narrative at nearly every level. It’s all dead. Out with it. Of course, Lenin was not the first to think this. In various forms such sentiments have been around for a long time.

Paris Commune, May 1871

But underneath it all is a hatred of Christ and God’s offer of salvation. (And in no way do I mean to equate state power or the sinful structures of authoritarian regimes with the gracious offer of God’s salvation or the never-fully-achieved ideal of Christendom.) I would hazard a guess that the visible riotous element we see in the headlines represents a tiny fraction of a single percent of the total number given over to the socialist religion. In those rare instances when the cameras pull back to reveal the contexts of the riots, they look small and rather insignificant in relationship to the much larger and actually calm urban landscapes. (Which also implies the headline-driving messages we are typically getting are created, in part, by photojournalists eager to sensationalize.) But we do see everyday the evidence that a post-Christendom West has no tolerance for the Christian message. Reactions go from shrugs to eye rolls to snears to hatred to physical violence as though they are attacking devils. The anti-Christian, and far more common anti-Catholic, prejudices are everywhere just below the surface and often out in the open. But of course most people don’t smash bank windows or peaceniks’ skulls because most don’t want to give themselves over to violence or lose their jobs. (When my new neighbor, as he is moving into the house next door and I’m helping him carry in his furniture, tells me point blank that he hates Catholicism, without prompting or knowing who I am, I am both laughing and crying inside. It’s going to be interesting having them over for dinner.) But the ideas of Marxian socialism, without most people even having a clue, are widespread and internalized by a great many from baristas to city council members to Catholic school principals. We were once warned about the “errors of Russia” and now they are normative “self-evident truths.”

Lenin himself stated: “Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion… We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion.” (Quote found here.)

Street demonstration in Petrograd after Provisional Government troops open fire, July 4, 1917.

Some might say what they see looks more like anarchists than Marxists. And they would have a point. Anarchism will naturally be less organized than Marxism and much of what’s happening appears more like rampaging than organized action. However, while traditional Anarchism and Marxism have often been at odds with each other, there is also much they have in common. Daniel Guérin writes in his book Anarchism, “The anarchist is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man” (Guérin 12).

Guérin goes on to describe the anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner, one of the most important and foundational thinkers on anarchism and, in many ways, the forerunner of our contemporary anarchist mindset. While using numerous quotes from Stirner’s book published in 1844, The Ego and His Own, Guérin writes:

In order to emancipate himself, the individual must begin by putting under the microscope the intellectual baggage with which his parents and teachers have saddled him. He must undertake vast operations of “desanctification, beginning with the so-called morality of the bourgeoisie: “Like the bourgeoisie itself, its native soil, it is still far too close to the heaven of religion, is still not free enough, and uncritically burrows bourgeois laws to transplant them to its own ground instead of working out new and independent doctrines.”

Stirner was especially incensed by sexual morality. The “machinations” of Christianity “against passion” have simply been taken over by the secularists. They refused to listen to the appeal of the flesh and display their zeal against it. They “spit in the face of immorality.” The moral prejudices inculcated by Christianity have as especially strong hold on the masses of the people. “The people furiously urge the police on against anything which seems to them immoral or even improper, and this public passion for morality protects the police as an institution far more effectively than a government could ever do.”

Stirner foreshadowed modern psychoanalysis by observing and denouncing the internalization of parental moral values. From childhood we are consumed with moral prejudices. Morality has become “an internal force from which I cannot free myself,” “its despotism is ten times worse than before, because it now scolds away from within my conscience.” “The young are sent to school in herds to learn the old saws and when they know the verbiage of the old by heart they are said to have come of age.” Stirner declared himself an iconoclast. “God, conscience, duties, and laws are all errors which have been stuffed into our minds and hearts.” The real seducers and corrupters of youth are the priests and parents who “muddy young hearts and stupefy your minds.” If there is anything that “come from the devil” it is surely this false divine voice which has been interpolated into the conscience. (Guérin 28-29)

So much is packed in these three paragraphs. And Stirner was writing in the mid-nineteenth century. Consider blaming parents and the Church on one’s conscience. Or that what comes from the devil is what the Church teaches. Or the need for “desanctification.” Or that we ought to listen to the appeal of the flesh. Or that the youth must be separated from their parents. One clearly gets the idea that Christendom must be razed to the ground, all systems and structures of political and social power destroyed, and that all authority disregarded and attacked if necessary. Words from more than a century and a half ago, and now again words for today.

Two possible questions of many: For those who have been fearing a socialist takeover of this or any other country, do you realize it’s not fundamentally a battle over which form of government or which economic system wins, but that it’s a religious war over whose god wins? For those who believe that black lives matter and that systemic racism must be confronted and eradicated, do you want to align your goals with Marxists and their larger agenda? I believe it would be wise for us to keep our eyes open even as our passions burn for justice.

Anarchist activists topple and deface a statue of Saint Junipero Serra in downtown Los Angeles.

The destruction of religious and political statues is linked to the destruction of Arby’s restaurants and Starbucks windows. This is not ironic. It’s not merely a matter of eradicating racism and corporations, as though that’s even really possible (though, of course, we must continually fight against sin in all its forms, including racism both personal and systemic), it’s about attacking all that smacks of the state, of Western history, of “the system,” of what has been handed down, of what is bourgeois, of what could be deemed vestiges of imperialism, and especially of what is Christian. The violent actions on our streets today are at a minimum cathartic for some, but many have hope for real change. The roots go back to before the French Revolution, but the modern version, I would argue, though linked directly with the radical 1960’s, find its origins in the internet fueled radicalism of the Battle for Seattle and soon thereafter the Occupy Movement. This is when this new Marxian consciousness we are witnessing began to foment and spread. It’s an old ideology playing out in a new technocratic era, and it’s been staring us in the face for a while now.

Marxian socialism is not dead, rather it is a religion being born again in the hearts of a new generation of believers.


Marx, Karl, et al. The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics). 1st ed., Penguin Classics, 2002.

Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism. Translated by Mary Klopper, New York, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1970.

Image sources:
https://johnbwellsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/bbc4df3f-4977-4c54-bc97-2a6c7ade86fd.jpg
https://i0.wp.com/www.laweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/lasat_04.jpg
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https://media4.manhattan-institute.org/sites/cj/files/portland-violence.jpg
https://www.newframe.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/image-24-373.jpg
https://images.jacobinmag.com/2017/08/29130143/19170704_Riot_on_Nevsky_prosp_Petrograd.jpg
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francechurchesdestroyed

It’s sad to see a beautiful Catholic church building destroyed. The video below shows some demolition moments from a church destruction earlier this year in France. But for how sad the video is, the churches demolition is really just a symptom of many other factors.

Those factors include such things as:

  1. The French government and not the Church itself owns all the Church buildings. And many of these buildings are old and in need of major repairs, and are unsafe if not repaired — the one above was going to be quite expensive to repair. And though beautiful, they don’t attract enough tourism to warrant their survival.
  2. A Church whose membership numbers have been in free-fall for decades. Thus there just are not the numbers to keep the churches filled with parishioners and, consequently, financially supported. There are a lot of reasons for this, but certainly they include: Too many priests and bishops who no longer believe in the faith, but have found careers essentially live action roll-playing being priests and bishops. Modernism and all its mutant children, including bad theology, a lightweight view of marriage, and rampant sexual immorality seem to have replaced a hearty and robust faith — and few are interested anymore. And many Church leaders often seem eager to dismantle the Church.
  3. Consequently very few Catholics are left who have the means and are willing to save these old churches. It’s easy to bemoan the loss on social media, it’s another thing altogether to step up and contribute where needed, even to fight for it.

And the list goes on. The point is, however, that we should not be surprise at all about the destruction of this church. What we should be is sad. But not so much for this building as for the Church itself, and for the world that is so actively and happily rejecting Christ. If anything, the above video is a powerful reminder of how the Church has been, and is continuing to be, assailed from within by a Catholic leadership who no longer has faith, and a laity who follows suit.

This is the text from the video* notes:

This is the last moments of Église Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville (St. Jack’s Church Abbeville). France is paying for 2,800 Cathedrals & Churches to be Demolished across France. The Saint-Jacques church was a neo-Gothic parish church located in Abbeville The building was constructed from 1868 to 1876 at the site of 12th century church which was rebuilt in 1482. It gradually deteriorated for lack of maintenance at the beginning of the 21th century and was demolished from January to May 2013. Architect Victor Delefortrie was responsible for the design of the church. The church contained two bells, Jacqueline from 1737 and another, mute, dated 1645. Inside, there was a particular organ called Mutin Cavaillé-Coll from 1906. During World War I , Abbeville was bombed but Saint-Jacques church was not affected. Only impacts shattered the windows. It also survived World War 2. In 2008, it was estimated that it would cost 4.2 million euro to restore the church from weather damage and disrepair. In 2010, an association was created to safeguard the church and a petition was launched. In spring 2011, while deciding on its fate a crack was noticed which had caused stone to fall from the church. The 31 January 2013, Nicolas Dumont, the mayor of Abbeville, issued an order to demolish the church as a safety hazard. The next 7 February, the city council voted to demolish the church at estimated cost of EUR 350 000. On April 27, the foundation stone was found and preserved by the city. In November 2013, the rubble of the church are used by two artists to create a work of contemporary art entitled Build/deconstructed. A town square was proposed for its replacement. The project was the work of an architect in the city, Jean-Marc Demoulin, who accommodated the desires of the residents. A lawn of grass covers the church’s location, taking its shape and orientation. Two pathways form a cross. At the site of the choir, a memorial will be erected to honor veterans and Achilles Paillart, the pastor responsible for the church’s reconstruction in 1868. A small pond will occupy the site of the altar The conversion also included the creation of forty-two parking spaces on the perimeter of the square, including three for people with reduced mobility.

The story as told above doesn’t seem as horrible as the video images first seem, but it’s still a terrible situation. I do not know if it’s entirely true about how many churches France is paying to demolish. 2,800 seems rather high, but my gut says it’s probably true. Is there hope for France and its churches? Can these buildings be saved? Can the Catholic Church in France rise from the ashes? If Christ returns will He find faith in France?

I pray every day for the Church in France.


∗ The original source for the video has disappeared. I found another source, posted above, but it does not contain the text in its notes.

This lecture is worth the entire two and half hours. And it is a packed two and a half hours. Every bishop should watch it. Every priest too. It is profound and filled with riches to ponder and meditate upon. It is also filled with many challenges. Share it with others. Discuss it.

I am not a conspiracy nut, nor am I a staunch traditionalist, nor am I prone to sectarianism or division, etc, etc, but…

Given the connection between the message of Fatima and the Mass, and given a number of connections and observations Mr. Rodríguez makes, it makes sense that the third secret of Fatima has not been fully revealed. It seems rather clear that the message is very likely a direct challenge to the spirit of Vatican II and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. And given that the third secret was to be revealed in 1960 and wasn’t, and also by that time the pope and other key individuals in the Church were intent on changing the Mass and bringing about a glorious revolution, no one in leadership (including popes St. John XXIII, B. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis) has wanted to open that can of worms — whether to cancel the council, or redirect its purpose, or not promulgate a new rite of the Mass, or call all of it into question after the fact. Perhaps they would all feel (or have felt) like they would need to officially abandon the Novus Ordo Mass altogether and they just can’t handle admitting that Vatican II was not the work of the Holy Spirit but of man alone. If this is true, then certainly what we have seen in the Church over the past fifty years are the profound and terrible results of God’s judgement — the list of troubles is staggering. Of course, I cannot say all this is true for I know almost nothing about it, but I wonder, I really wonder. Certainly it is deeply sobering to consider. (And the only “arguments” against this that I’ve come across consists of eye rolling. Thin arguments indeed.)

I worry that a great many cardinals, bishops, priests, and perhaps some popes, from the last half century or more, will end up in Hell because of the destruction they have brought about.

What?!

the-inferno-canto-19

Am I way off? Is Mr. Rodríguez wrong? What am I missing?

Many art critics have religious leanings. Many artists have religious leanings. Many works of art deal with religious themes. However, there would seem to be an unspoken pact among art critics (and art teachers) that religion and theological concerns will not be seriously considered as a topic or approach to thinking and writing about art. This is not a great situation for either artists or anyone who would appreciate art.

Jonathan Anderson is an artist, critic, and professor, and author of the book: Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism (Studies in Theology and the Arts). In this lecture below he surveys and addresses this lack of theology in art criticism, and why it matters — not merely because he’s a Christian, but because theology can help all of us better understand works of art.

Anderson mention James Elkins and his book On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art. Here is a lecture Elkins gave on that topic a decade ago:

This is one of the most interesting and intense conversations I have ever witnessed. Jordan Peterson has received a significant amount of attention of late for his views, and in particular for an interview he did on television. Camille Paglia has been well known for years and is frequently outspoken on a number of topics. Both are absolutely brilliant and provocative. This video is easily worth its nearly two hours running time.

This is a great lecture by Fr. Chad Ripperger via Sensus Fidelium. I was not previously familiar with how the term “monument” is being used here, but I find the message excellent. [Look up “Catholic monument” online and you get a bunch of headstone and funeral services companies.] I have become increasingly interested in how traditional forms of and within Catholic liturgy and worship were handed down to us from Christ, through the apostles, and developed through history. There’s a lot of good stuff in this talk, but it’s basic message is that the collapse of the use and preservation of Catholic monuments & traditions (arguably an act of deconstruction) has led to the collapse of Catholicism in many parts of the world, been disrespectful of past generations, and sabotaged the fatih. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

An interesting quote: “Different liturgy beget different church structures.”

Lately I’ve asked if different liturgies, such as the TLM and the NO, actually require different architecture. This makes sense when one feels as though the Novus Ordo being celebrated in a very traditional Catholic church is, in some fundamental but hard to express way, out of place in that space. Or why modernist style church buildings fit okay (arguably) with the NO but not with the TLM. This also raises questions about how to bring back, as it were, the TLM when the available church building is modernist and not traditional. Is it possible? I think so, but certainly not ideal.

I also find his point about Catholics treating sacred things, and especially the Eucharist, in a casual way because the mystery has been removed. This makes me wonder if the act of removing the mystery is, in fact, some version of transgression against the second commandment. I’m not sure of the connection, but I think lessening the idea of God being “I AM” is actually built into the structure of certain modern practices, like receiving Christ in the hand rather than on the tongue. Perhaps this makes God seem more accessible, but I think we are confused about what accessible means, how it’s supposed to “feel,” or why we think it’s important.

In my previous post I said that I am a kind of “by default” post-modernist, that it is the sea in which I swim, and that I love aspects of it, but that I also loath it. My desire, as I said, is to strip away all the post-modern garbage and get to the Truth. I was reminded of a post I wrote a while back on another blog about this post-modern sea we swim in. I am re-posting it here.

We have learned to trust the photographic image. Can we trust the electronic image? With painting everything was simple. The original was the original, and each copy was a copy – a forgery. With photography and then film that began to get complicated. The original was a negative. Without a print, it did not exist. Just the opposite, each copy was the original. But now with the electronic, and soon the digital, there is no more negative and no more positive. The very notion of the original is obsolete. Everything is a copy. All distinctions have become arbitrary. No wonder the idea of identity finds itself in such a feeble state. Identity is out of fashion.

~Wim Wenders, 1989

The following screengrabs are from Wenders’ film Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989). They are all of images within images, and represent/re-present places within places and ideas within ideas.

My mind wanders over these images and then wanders beyond them, both outside their frames and to my own presuppositions and fetishes, and I think of Baudrillard’s quote:

It is perhaps not a surprise that photography developed as a technological medium in the industrial age, when reality started to disappear. It is even perhaps the disappearance of reality that triggered this technical form. Reality found a way to mutate into an image.

-from Photography, or the Writing of Light (2000)

Of course Baudrillard is wrong if we take him literally. Reality has not disappeared. But Baudrillard is right, as all postmodernists are, that the way we understand reality is heavily mediated for us (and by us) to the effect that reality, or “reality”, would seem to be an image created for us, is an image presented to us, is an image we carry with us, is an image we remember, and is an image we create. And, as an image is worth a thousand words, or a million, and therefore images are stories, fragmented or otherwise, connected and intersecting with other stories, stories referencing other stories, images referencing other images, we can apparently say all is reference. With Wenders we have the added question of the ever changing and never original (or always original) electronic image coupled with the question of what is fashion.

I suppose this blog plays a part in how I mediate the world for myself. I write for an audience, largely imaginary, but I also write for myself. Subconsciously, and maybe sometimes consciously, I write so that I can understand the world and my place in it. In this sense I can say that I have my take on reality. But the question is, are all distinctions truly arbitrary? And can this notion apply beyond the world of images to the rest of life?

So some degree Wender’s position hearkens back to his explorations in such films as Paris Texas and Wings of Desire. In those films we see characters struggling to communicate across great barriers (physical, psychological, spiritual) with those whom they love, or believe they love. In Wings of Desire the barrier is the difference between the world of human beings and the world of angels. The film’s story revolves around the idea that to become fully human one has to give up being merely an observer and enter in, that is, to immerse oneself in the tangible messy world we humans call reality. To cross that chasm is to take a leap of faith.
But is faith a leap? In the so-called Western/Christian tradition the word faith has a lot of gravity. Faith is one of those words, like love and happiness, whose meaning we all know and yet can never seem to finally pin down. For many the word has precisely to do with some kind of existential or spiritual leap. And for some that leap is a leap into the unknown or the unsure, or even the absurd. Interestingly, when we read the word faith used by the early Christian writers, such as the Apostles Paul or Peter or John, it is, in fact, the ordinary Greek word for belief. It does not appear that the Apostle’s intentions were to convey any idea of a leap of faith, or of faith being a kind of spiritual ecstasy. For what I can tell they were merely telling others to continue to believe what they have heard about Jesus because it is true, and that they can know it is true because the Apostles were eye witnesses.
Which brings us back to Notebook on Cities and Clothes and the idea of mediation and its relationship to truth. The fact is we are immersed in a world of images, and we seem to understand our world more and more in terms of those images rather than words, and those images are increasingly potentially untrustworthy. We are also in a world in which, while many of the barriers between people and cultures still remain, we are intersecting more and more with an increasingly broader scope of people(s) and a multiplicity of voices. Which means that we live in a world of references, that is, a world in which everything begins to reference something else and is built upon other references.
Maybe no other living filmmaker has more fun with playing with references than Quentin Tarantino. Part one of Death Proof immerses the viewer in a 1970s pastiche, full of faux antiquing of the film, samples from 1970s films, and stylistic choices right out of now classic B-movie road and slasher films. The film is designed to draw attention to itself. Tarantino winks at the audience and the audience winks back, along with the occasional high-five and an “oh yeah!” If a drinking game were devised for Death Proof, where viewers had to down a shot for every meant-to-be-obvious filmic reference, players would die of alcohol poisoning after ten minutes.

Examples include this appropriated “restricted” card from the early days of the MPAA rating system:

And this created title that looks like it came directly out of an early 1970s Disney film starring you know who:
Other examples include faux scratches and dust on the film and numerous jump-cuts that simulate a worn out film jumping in the projector gate because of splices and damaged sprocket holes.

But what is so fascinating is that Tarantino is not making a 70s film. He is making modern film. Consider that while the characters seem to live and play in a archetypal film of a previous era, and while the film makes a point of looking aged and worn out, characters still drive modern cars and use cell phones – like Jungle Julia below.

And yet, I doubt many viewers found this disconcerting, or even noticed, because there are no longer any meaningful distinctions (apparently). For a director like Tarantino there are no boundaries between films or genres or eras, there is only the magnificent cloth of cinema where every film participates in the weave, connecting and intersecting in the psychic playground cinephilia. For Tarantino, I would argue, faith is not a belief in what is true, but in what is cool and can be appropriated. And cool is another word for fashion.
In such a world where does one find one’s identity? Might one say that we are all only references built up from other references? That is the postmodern perspective, and it is the current version of “God is dead.” But is it true? I would say no. Ultimately there is no such world of only references, and we do not live our lives as though such a world were true. Wisdom would say one should always recognize the potential fallibility of our sacred ideas, but we are all creatures of faith, and faith knows there is a final reality that, at least, haunts us. Maybe, as we are immersed more and more in images, so increases the haunting.

I am reposting this post from my other blog. It was originally published a couple of years ago. I have added new thoughts at the end about where I am now with the topic discussed. I hope you enjoy.

Are we not postmodern?

My brain often works best by comparison. In this post I want to briefly compare the postmodern impulse in art making and the post-Christendom worship of the emergent/emerging1 church. I fully admit my ideas are not fully baked, and yet the process of putting them forth might teach me a thing or two.

Somewhere in the transition from the 1960s to the late 1970s Art reached its end. The end was prefigured by such notables as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, among others. The end of art wasn’t really about the end of art, but about the end of a series of historical/cultural problems and intuitions tackled largely in succession since the Renaissance. What happened over time was a decline in interest in those issues as they either were solved (“solved” is a rather subjective term with regards to art) or they were found no longer relevant. The world changed and so did the world of art.

But art never stops. Art will emerge as long as humans exist.


Hymn, by Damien Hirst, 2000

What happened (one thing that happened) was a new impulse, that of appropriation. This impulse was already coursing through the veins of art; Picasso appropriated, Johns and Warhol appropriated, and many others. But with postmodern art artistic action began to twist free from the weight of art history and the art’s weighty lineage. Art and art history began to work more and more independently from each other. Of course that independence wasn’t complete, but art makers felt that art had become fundamentally divorced from meta-narratives. Now the appropriation of anything and everything was possible – even appropriation of that weighty lineage. In this sense art finally became art.


Portable War Memorial, by Ed Kienholz, 1968

What is meant by appropriation?

To appropriate something involves taking possession of it. In the visual arts, the term appropriation often refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of new work. The borrowed elements may include images, forms or styles from art history or from popular culture, or materials and techniques from non-art contexts. Since the 1980s the term has also referred more specifically to quoting the work of another artist to create a new work. The new work does not actually alter the original per se; the new work uses the original to create a new work. In most cases the original remains accessible as the original, without change.2

Key here is that last part. The “original remains accessible as the original, without change.” This is a kind of quoting without quoting; a kind of objective theft for subjective purposes. One could say it’s a synthesis, something new from something old that becomes new merely through the act of appropriation. In this way an old work of art may become a new work of art fully within a new context – and seen as a new work of art because of new ownership as it were. But this should be expected, for “there is nothing outside the text” as Jacques Derrida once said.3


After Walker Evans 2, by Sherrie Levine (1981).

Keeping this in mind I want to shift gears a bit.

Christianity has gone through (and is going through) similar changes. Christianity is one of the great meta-narratives in world history. However, many Christians (some of whom prefer the term Christ followers) have begun to twist free of their traditional moorings. They see their faith and Christianity as two different entities. Faith is no longer strictly about being a member of a particular group with its set of proscribed codes, mores, or rituals. The focus has shifted more toward Jesus and away from the historical church. Jesus has become the deconstruction force, deconstructing Christianity.


Jesus has a power lunch with the money changers?
(Why I put this picture in here I don’t know.)

If faith is a passionate, existential belief in the lordship of Jesus, then Christianity as an external religious set of practices can be other, is other. This otherness allows the multiplicity of historical and cultural expressions of Christianity to be appropriated as the “believer” sees fit. One is no longer bound by a tradition, rather by faith. Christian practices and disciplines from any branch of the church and any time period can be appropriated by the Christ follower on an as needed basis. Logically, then, practices from non-Christian sources might be appropriated as well. If being a Christ follower is no longer about religion (or being religious), then religion, as a set of optional practices and disciplines, becomes a non-threat.

More and more Christians today are seeking old, and very old, religious practices – going back to the historical church and gleaning. I assume the idea is that through the course of the modern era we may have lost some good things. I assume this is more true for Protestants than Catholics or Orthodox. The question on the table is whether these practices are meaningful and might they negatively influence one’s faith – a real fear for many Protestant apologists. I don’t have an answer for that at this time. I am both curious and wary, and certainly interested.


Christ followers walk a labyrinth

Why does this interest me? I came to a deep re-evaluation of my faith as an undergraduate (more than 20 years ago). I was an art history major, a film studies major, and part of a college ministry team in a large Baptist church. I began to have too many conflicts between my faith (which I held to be true) and the Christian culture in which I was immersed. My Christianity was deconstructing, but only because my faith was stronger. I began to see that the outward forms were of little consequence compared to my pursuit of truth and my beliefs. Interestingly art played a big part in this. Art is what helped me realize the freedom that resides at the center of the story of Jesus. I saw artmaking, which is such a natural human thing to do, chafing under the weight of Art’s meta-narrative. Breaking free did not destroy artmaking, in fact artmaking flourished. Breaking free merely lowered the dominance of the meta-narrative a few notches. I think, similarly, I knew intuitively my faith could handle some freedom.

And so I left that Christian culture behind for a while. I took a breather. But I did not leave Christ behind. In fact my faith became stronger, my theology more grounded, and my hope deeper. Now I am at the fringes of that culture again and wondering.

Modern Christ followers, many of whom are part of what is sometimes called the emerging church, are appropriating many religious practices – trying them out as it where – in much the same way that artmakers are appropriating many things from both “within” and “without” the art world. And just like with artmaking, if one’s faith is authentic then one has great freedom in one’s practices.


Image by Luke Flowers from this article

Phyllis Tickle has recently articulated the idea that the emerging church is really part of a wholesale worldwide emerging, religious and otherwise. She has also likened the shifting and changes in Christianity to be like a great rummage sale, where people sift through what is there, what has come before, what others have done, to find what they need and what they didn’t know they needed. According to Tickle these rummage sales tend to occur within Christianity about every 500 years or so. The current rummaging includes searching for spiritual practices that have been lost, long unused, or never before used in the current context(s). These practices include anything from how we “do” church, to how we pray and fellowship, to classic disiplines like solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, confession, and submission. Most of these practices were never truly promoted or explored in my Christian upbringing, and they are largely foreign concepts to a consumeristic culture.

I am not yet sold on the idea of spiritual disciplines. I am still inclined to think of a truly spiritual person as being one in whom the Spirit of God is at work – which I see as a one way street: God invading a person’s life. And I am inclined to think that one cannot move or change one’s spirituality through any action unless God initiates and completes the work. Yet, just as with all issues of God’s sovereignty and human action (and choice) there is what we know of God and what we actually experience every day. With that in view I can see spiritual disciplines as offering tremendous encouragement and I find myself increasingly curious about exploring disciplines. I also see them as being very much a matter of personal choice. Regardless, the re-emergence of disciplines and practices is evidence of a church extending beyond the modernist model of Christianity, which I see as generally positive.

1. I am purposely conflating these two terms, though many would seek to separate them, because under the umbrella of this particular topic one finds the comparison still holds true.

2. “Appropriation (art).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 3 Sep 2008, 15:40 UTC. 17 Sep 2008

3. I believe that quote is found in Of Grammatology.

New thoughts since the original post two years ago:
For several years I was seeking a new kind of Christianity or , at least, a new kind of Christian culture. I kept running up against my aversions to modern Protestant versions of the “faith,” and I wanted something that had more substance in terms of culture and practice. However, whatever kind of Christianity I found would still have to have some basic theological foundations that were largely reformed, for I am a child of the Reformation in many ways, though not strictly. Out of curiosity the emergent/emerging church became a focus of mine for a while. In some way it still is and some of the key players in that movement (if it can be called that) are still on my radar, but less so these days. I appreciate some of the hermeneutic approaches and the emphasis on one’s personal process in coming to truth. But the more I look at popular alt-church trends the more I find that church, religion, practice, or most of anything we call worship or the Christian life just doesn’t mean squat. Not that there is no value whatsoever, but none of it is truly substantial. Faith is radically inward. Faith is what is truly substantial. Faith gets worked out in a person’s life in works that cannot be adequately predicted or proscribed. And there is nothing that a person can do, no practice, no spiritual discipline, nothing, that can affect any meaningful spiritual change in a person’s life. You cannot grow your faith. Only God can do that. If he chooses to work through some spiritual discipline or some ancient practice in someone’s life then that is his choosing and the individual’s benefit. But if there is anything that a study of the New Testament cries out to us regarding religion is to beware of pretense. It is is a bigger trap than mere sincerity can avoid. My searching has only clarified this for me.

On the whole, though, I do not see my observations in the original post above as necessarily indicating a negative situation for Christianity. The postmodern situation highlights something very important that can get lost in a primarily Christian dominated or influenced culture. That is, faith is fundamentally existential, which means that it requires the individual to make the decision, which means that the choice needs to be a free choice. Postmodernism throws everything up for grabs and pushes the individual into a more radical posture. It calls into relief the meta-narrative of Christendom as narrative. If we strip away the trappings of Christian culture one can no longer rely on the safety that culture provides. One has to now wrestle with the issues rather than having them answered before one even has a chance to ask. Kierkegaard dealt with this issue in his Attack Upon Christendom. The problem, as I see it, in not with postmodernism per se, rather it is with the sad reality that many (most?) people today do not seem to have the intellectual foundations to be able to accept this freedom and turn it to good. Our present age appears to me as a sea of people floundering in the waves and grabbing anything that looks substantial. Freedom without discernment is a deep and wide ocean where everything and nothing looks like salvation. But of course discernment, like faith, is one more undeserved gift from God.

 

This is a previous post from my other blog. Note: The more I read John Caputo the more I realize that it has been a long time since grad school and I don’t know Derrida as well as I should. Regardless, I think this post is pointed in the right direction, if only as a simplistic step towards a jumping off point.

 

Would Jesus endorse Christianity as we know it? Would he say, “Yeah, that’s it. You got it.”? Or would he surprise us all by not fitting into our concepts of who he is? I think we all know the answer.

Since the beginning of Christianity there has been the need for reform of one kind or another of the church. The letters of Paul attest to that. Some would argue, and I would generally agree, that refocusing on Jesus as the foundation of Christianity (are not Christians followers of the Christ?) is the most direct and most powerful catalyst for change and reform. This concept interests me a great deal. I am fascinated by the idea of setting aside much of what we Christians cling to and then turning only to Jesus and, with him as our sole example, examine our lives, actions, and worship. With this in mind I give you two quotes to ponder:

A great deal would have been achieved if it were remembered today also that Christianity is obviously not some sort of world view nor a kind of idealist philosophy, but has something to do with a person called Christ. But memories can be painful, as many politicians have discovered when they wanted to revise a party program. In fact, memories can even be dangerous. Modern social criticism has again drawn our attention to this fact: not only because generations of the dead control us, have their part in determining every situation in which we are placed and to this extent man is predefined by history, but also because recollection of the past brings to the surface what is still unsettled and unfulfilled, because every society whose structures have grown rigid rightly fear the “subversive” contents of memory.

Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, 1974, p. 120

In deconstruction, one sets out in search of, or rather, one is oneself searched out or called on by whatever is unconditional, or undeconstructible, in a given order, and it is precisely in virtue of this undeconstructible x, which does not exist, which does does not exist yet, which never quite exists, that everything that does exist in that order is deconstructible. Whatever exists, whatever is present, is contingent, historical, constructed under determinate conditions—like the church or the Sabbath—and as such is inwardly disturbed by the undeconstructible, unconditional impulse that stirs within it—which for the church is the event that occurs in the name of Jesus. To “deconstruct” is on the one hand to analyze and criticize but also, on the other hand, and more importantly, to feel about for what is living and stirring within a thing, that is, feeling for the event that stirs within the deconstructible structure in order to release it, to set it free, to give it a new life, a new being, a future.

John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, 2007 p. 68
Rembrandt van Rijn, Holy Family, 1640
Oil on wood, 16 1/4 x 13 1/2″ (41 x 34 cm)
Musée du Louvre, Paris

I like Küng’s concept of the ‘”subversive” contents of memory.’ That there is something subversive in the very person and teachings of Jesus is a powerful idea. What would the church (I recognize that’s an unwieldy and overly broad term) do with Jesus today? In my more cynical moments I am inclined to believe he would be crucified again and again. Though the name of Jesus is prominent in Christian churches I doubt that name represents the true Jesus as much as one might assume. My fear is that I would be part of the mob that called for his death. My desire is that I would know the truth instead, that my life would be conformed to Jesus’ example and, if faced with the physical (living, breathing, walking, talking) Jesus, there would resonate deep within my soul an unqualified and unchangeable “YES!”

Of course, in a profound way we do have Jesus among us. Remember the words of Jesus, like in the following famous passage from Jesus speaking to his disciples:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'”

“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'”

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'”

To me this is kind of sneaky, in a good way. We can easily be knocked off kilter and sent spinning if we think we have Jesus pegged. What I find interesting is that the above passage always surprises me even though I have been familiar with it for decades.

How is it that Jesus is a subversive force within the church? In films like Lord, Save Us From Your Followers: Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?, and books like They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations we find that most people have a fondness for Jesus, though many express a dislike for Christians or Christianity or organized religion in general (most especially if it’s Christian). This makes sense to me, but I know there is a difference between a “Jesus is my homeboy” approach and a “Jesus is my lord” approach. I understand the dichotomy, but I also know that those outside the church will just as likely have wrong ideas about Jesus as those within.

If Jesus is subversive then he must challenge the very foundations of the “truths” we cling to, of that with which we are comfortable, of what we claim even in his name. If Jesus is a comfortable idea then we have missed who he is. The irony of modern evangelization is that to begin with Jesus straight away may be the path of least resistance, and yet many Christians may mean something entirely wrongheaded when using that name. This I cannot say for sure, but my intuition says it must be likely.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The raising of Lazarus, c. 1630
Oil on panel96.2 x 81.5 cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Caputo argues for Jesus as a kind of deconstructing force within the church. When I set Jesus and the church side by side in my mind and ponder the connection, I cannot think of a better concept than deconstruction with which to understand the force of Christ amongst our religious structures. Caputo sees Jesus as “the event” within the word Christianity. (I know I am not doing the depth of his argument justice.) The idea of “the event” he takes from the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Think of the word “democracy.” There are democracies and then there is democracy the ideal (not in a Platonic sense, but in a Derridian sense). That ideal calls to us when we think about, speak of, or participate in doing democracy. We don’t ever see the ideal, but we know it is there. Democracy the ideal is the event within the word Democracy. Think of Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He is a kind of force, a man who quotes Lincoln and Washington while entering the cynical world of real politik. In the end he becomes a kind of savior-like figure who sacrifices his life for what he knows to be true. Jesus, who’s name is spoken countless times in churches around the world is like Mr. Smith. But rather than just speaking of the truth, he is the truth, he is the image of God, he is the event within the word Christianity.*

Rembrandt van Rijn, Descent from the Cross, 1634
Oil on canvas, 62 x 46 in. (158 x 117 cm)
Hermitage, St. Petersburg

What I fear is that I live my whole life as a “good Christian” only to one day confront the actual event (Jesus) within this thing (Christianity) I am doing, and to be told “I never knew you.” The fact is I confront the event every day. The question that I must answer is to what am I finally committed, Christianity or the event within.

Back to my original questions. I don’t think Jesus would give our organized versions of Christianity the thumbs up, though I don’t think he would give the thumbs down to all of it. I do think, however, that we would all be surprised by his presence beyond reasons of “wow, he exists!”. I think he would challenge us deeply in ways that get at those very things that we use to convince ourselves of our own wisdom. I think those individuals and groups deeply embedded within the church would have trouble with Jesus on many levels. And I’m not referring to the obvious examples of those who claim Christianity but spew hatred. I am referring to the good, ordinary, run-of-the-mill Christians who try to live good lives and get along with others. They would have trouble with Jesus as much as anybody. But I also think those outside the church, who say they like Jesus but not Christians, would also have trouble with Jesus. Jesus hung around with sinners but he was not their homeboy. He was not their revolutionary either. He is God’s revolutionary, whatever that means – which is something we could spend the rest of our lives figuring out.

* This is one of the reasons I don’t like seeing a U.S. flag prominently displayed in a church. The event within democracy is not the same event as that within Christianity. The event within the U.S. flag is something closer to patriotism than democracy, and it is miles from Christ. With our tendency to focus on Christianity rather than the true Christ already in play, why jeopardize our profound and constantly reforming need for truth that much more with connecting faith to patriotism?