Thursday, June 15, 2017

Don't taint Orthodox Christian ecumenicism with lies of omission

A June 1 article in the National Catholic Reporter demonstrates how to mislead (and therefore manipulate) an unwitting reader by either downplaying important facts, or in this case omitting them altogether.

In Orthodox not interested in reunion with Rome, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese tries to make the case that Orthodox bishops in Eastern Europe, as well as rank-and-file Orthodox Christians, are not interested in reuniting with the Church of Rome, and are therefore less ecumenical than their Roman Catholic counterparts.

One of the fundamental problems with Fr. Thomas' article is that it does not establish a frame of reference for what reunification would look like, aside from the Vatican being "open to a less intrusive role for the pope in the Eastern churches than in the West." (Does "less intrusive" mean that the Eastern churches would be exempt from papal primacy, or does it mean the pope would simply take a softer approach to how he rules over the East while allowing Orthodox bishops to refer to him as a mere patriarch?)

Fr. Thomas also neglects to mention if Orthodox Christians would be expected to budge from their own theological positions (where they differ from those of Rome), or if East and West would simply agree to disagree on such matters.

On that topic, Fr. Thomas writes that "the touchy issue has always been the role of the papacy", thus disregarding altogether one of the primary theological divisions, namely the filoque in the Nicene Creed. While to some it may seem like a matter of splitting hairs, whether one believes the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only (as the Orthodox believe) or from the Father and the Son (as Roman Catholics believe) nevertheless points to a stark difference in how one views the Holy Trinity. Neither side should be expected to "reunite" with the other at the expense of such a core belief.

It is very telling that the author employs a Reality Distortion Field worthy of Steve Jobs by writing that the two sides "accept the same Nicene Creed", and leaving it at that. Intentional or not, this amounts to a lie of omission in the service of over-simplifying (and thus distorting) the true reasons behind the appearance of Orthodox resistance to reunion with Rome. Such a lie (that being the impression Fr. Thomas creates that there is no dispute over the Nicene Creed) also makes it easier to paint Orthodox Christianity as being less ecumenical than Roman Catholicism, with the unwritten implication that the Orthodox are somehow more close-minded because of it.

One dimension left unexplored by Fr. Thomas is the possibility that perhaps Orthodox Christians, along with their bishops, feel some sort of trepidation at being a smaller fish potentially being eaten by a much larger one. Looking at it through the other end of the telescope, I suspect that to Roman Catholics, reunion with Orthodox Christianity may feel like an opportunity for expansion of their own interests. (I have a hard time believing that Roman Catholics would view their post-reunion pope as "just one of the guys" among the other patriarchs.) Likewise, for Orthodox Christians that same reunion may feel like the beginning of a typically Western incursion, albeit in priestly garb, and under the pretense of ecumenicism.

Whether this last point is a factor in the results of the Pew Research Center study quoted by Fr. Thomas is merely speculation by Yours Truly. Nevertheless, it points to an issue that is far too complicated to allow for accusations that Orthodox Christians are less ecumenical than Roman Catholics, and whatever such a generalization would seem to imply about them.

As for me, ecumenicism and Christian unity between East and West shouldn't mean the same thing as "sameness", nor should it require outright reunion between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. There are enough ideals and issues around which members of both sides can passionately lock arms in solidarity without the need to merge their respective organizational structures, and thus risk losing that which makes each unique and beautiful.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Don't burden Wonder Woman with American jingoism

The following is a letter to the editor of the New York Post.

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Dear Editor,

Maureen Callahan's appraisal of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie (Why 'Wonder Woman' is less American than ever, June 1, 2017) seems to center on the extent to which it fails to be a propaganda exercise for the cause of American Exceptionalism. In the process, she betrays the national insecurity and defeatism at the heart of mindless flag-waving for its own sake.

America is already great in many ways, even if its sons and daughters have been repeatedly deceived into harm's way in the name of (or within the highly-charged milieu of) patriotism. Think of the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" that was fabricated by elites to lure unwitting Americans into the Vietnam war (which didn't actually have anything to do with "stopping communism"), or the "pre-emptive" oil war in Iraq that was waged by George W. Bush under the false pretense of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that were already known not to exist.

When will more Americans realize that the sense of "patriotism" they've been trained to feel is actually a form of mind control that keeps them supporting people and causes that are diametrically opposed to their own interests? When will they stop offering themselves up for manipulation by politicians such as President Trump, whose numbskulled appeals to patriotism of the most jingoistic variety were designed to turn the crowds at his campaign rallies into arenas full of angry barking dogs?

Patriotism in and of itself is a complicated and contradictory affair, and so I do not share Ms. Callahan's dismay that today's Wonder Woman doesn't honor her roots as wartime propaganda with an hourglass figure.

Finally, Ms. Callahan concludes her piece by asking "Why can't Wonder Woman make America great again?", which inadvertently amounts to the author bashing her own country. Looking at the bigger picture, a country that is truly great doesn't need to constantly preen and flex its muscles for the benefit of the rest of the world - it simply needs to let its actions speak for themselves.

James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada