Untimely Observations

Paganism & Orthodoxy


When I hear Leftists rail against the "reactionary" Catholic Church, I find myself wishing, praying that it were so! Unfortunately, with the exception of a very few traditionalist parishes, the Catholic Church, from the pope on down, has contracted the liberal bug and is dying from it. I know because I was a Catholic for many years and traveled across the entire spectrum of the church, from the liberal extreme in Berkeley (where I grew up) to a traditionalist, schismatic group in San Diego. There certainly were priests and laity at the right end of the spectrum who were aware of what was happening to the church (even Pope Paul VI, who himself was in large part responsible for the disaster, said the "smoke of Satan" had entered the church), but these good right-wing folks had -- it became clear to me -- lost their church. They were like decent relatives in attendance at the Old Woman's funeral.

There’s not room here to explain how I made my way to the Russian Orthodox Church, but I will try to explain briefly why I think pagans -- at least the sort of pagans that are likely to visit AltRight -- are no threat to the Orthodox and are a potential source of wisdom. As I'm sure you know, both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church oppose the doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" by upholding both Scripture and Tradition. Both Orthodox and Catholics assert that, in order to be Christian, one has to immerse oneself within the traditions of the Church of which Scripture is but a part. Obviously, I accept this teaching, but it has become clear to me that this is insufficient in the current crisis. There is a third dimension, in addition to Scripture and Tradition: the larger culture in which any believer must take part. And that third dimension has collapsed around us.

There are all kinds of ideas and behaviors that are essential to the Christian life that were never made explicit in either Scripture or Tradition (more specifically, for the Orthodox, the teachings of the Church Fathers). Up until very recently, there was no need to make these ideas explicit, because they were a part of the larger culture, which had both pagan and Christian roots. I am thinking in particular of the relations between the sexes, but it is larger than that. It's the replacement of all hierarchical thinking and practice with that "net-like structure" that Mark Hackard mentioned in his most recent piece. It was in great part the collapse of that third dimension of Christian life that brought down the churches. The best of them had their creeds and their liturgies and so forth, but the attack this time didn't come in the form of armies outside the city walls or angry leftists pounding on the church door. Instead, the larger culture changed suddenly (after long gradual change). The culture, which was the very medium of existence, the water in which clergy and laity swam, became fundamentally opposed to traditional Christianity. Thus, except for the tiny minority that sensed what was happening and acted, Christians absorbed sentiments, prejudices, imaginations, etc. that were utterly antithetical to Church teaching, and in what was, historically speaking, the twinkling of an eye -- maybe a decade -- they ceased to be Christians. Some of them still recited the Nicene Creed and attended Mass, but their heads were full of thoughts utterly incompatible with traditional Christianity.

Traditional Orthodox parishes do stand in firm opposition to the larger culture, and priests such as our own are acutely aware that the Church is like an ark on stormy waters. But the Church has yet to face the threat fully and to articulate its response clearly and forcefully. The Church Fathers were men who faced the threats of the early centuries and articulated a response. Their defense of the essentials truths built much of the present Church; we still hear their words in the creeds and see the truths they articulated in the liturgy and in the icons and architecture. They built defenses that withstood the enemy for many centuries, but a new enemy has arisen. And so we need new Fathers.

The new Fathers will have to be men who are firmly grounded in both church and secular life. They will have to be immersed in church life, but also in current intellectual currents. They will have to understand the enemy thoroughly and formulate a forceful counter attack, which will take the form of polemics, creeds, and quite possibly literature. The new defense that these Fathers raise will have to be woven throughout Church life -- into the liturgy and into Holy Tradition. This will probably be the work of centuries, but it needs to begin now. I believe it is beginning.

And this is why I welcome the neopagans. They did not poison the culture (and thus the churches), but are in fact enemies of that culture. Much of what they oppose in "Christianity," I, too, oppose. I find that they are more clear sighted than many Christians, even traditionalist Orthodox, about what is ailing us. And so I welcome them as allies against a common enemy; and where they truly differ, I welcome them as worthy opponents who will help Christians to hone their own thinking and thus help them to prepare for the real battles that lie ahead.