Monday, May 28, 2007

Catholic hatriotism

As one of his Memorial Day posts, Christopher Blosser linked to a post at VoxNova called "Memorial Day and the Religious Syncretism of the State" by Michael Iafrate, which basically ... well ... Here's the part Chris excerpted, without comment from himself:
Two years ago, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, a visiting priest was celebrating Mass at my parish in West Virginia. Near the end of Mass, before he processed out of the church he wanted, in light of the upcoming holiday, to honor the soldiers who "made the ultimate sacrifice for us." All of this he said in front of a giant crucifix which, last time I checked, represents the "ultimate sacrifice" in which Christians believe and which, indeed, we had just celebrated in the Eucharistic action. As a fitting conclusion to the patriotic Mass, the congregation sang, not to Jesus, but to the country itself in the words of "America the Beautiful."
We get into a really dangerous place when we start confusing our myths and our holidays. Memorial Day honors the memory of those who gave their lives serving the United States in its military, many of them making the "ultimate sacrifice" (in the state's view) in service to the nation. That's fine. The state needs holidays like this to support its grand narrative and mythology, just like any community of persons.[2] The Church, however, has its own "sort" of "Memorial Day." In fact, our celebration of the Christian "Memorial Day" spans two days: All Saints Day and All Souls Day, November 1 and 2, respectively. These are the days that Christians celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us giving their lives specifically as followers of Christ, many of them making the ultimate sacrifice as martyrs on the way of the cross. . . .
Should not Christians at least consider resisting American holidays as a way of resisting the American mythology, the metanarrative that, as Catholic theologian William Cavanaugh says, serves as an "alternative soteriology" to the Church's story of salvation history?[3] Should we not look for opportunites to subvert the holidays of the empire in which we find ourselves, reminding ourselves of and drawing attention to the ways in which these holidays, as part of American mythology, try to shape our loyalties and practices according to the ideals of the nation-state?
When I speak or write this way, I am often asked if I am advocating a Catholic type of separatism or sectarianism. The answer is no; I am not suggesting a withdrawal from the world. Such a suggestion would deny the mission of the Church for the world. On the other hand, I don’t think the careless syncretism of patriotic Christianity is the only alternative to sectarianism. I think we need a healthy, Catholic suspicion of alternative metanaratives to our own, an ability to clearly understand the differences between the two, and the courage to let that test our celebrations and our social ethics as Catholic Christians.
RTWT, because I actually thought highly of the first part of what Chris excerpted before going on to read the whole thing.

Like Mr. Iafrate, I have an "ick" reaction when I notice US flags anywhere in the church though I freely admit that that may just be my inner Brit, where state flags et al ARE absolutely unthinkable for historical reasons. I also don't go to special Masses for secular holidays; I think "The Star-Spangled Banner" completely inappropriate for church ("America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America" are judgment calls, though I'd tend to reject them if I were a priest; the anthem is not); and I don't even care for the Pledge in any context (too much like a prayer, both in itself and in the context it creates).

But reading the piece as a whole (plus the combox here), it's clear that it's motivated not by healthy skepticism toward nationalism and a sense of the two kingdoms but on total rejection if not hatred of any polis ("hatriotism"), and this one most of all. I was simpatico even up through "the state needs holidays like this to support its grand narrative and mythology, just like any community of persons," because ... well ... it's true -- I just don't think anything follows from that.

I mentally checked out at the part about Independence Day, which he says "celebrates foundational acts of violence." Not really; Independence Day celebrates a declaration that may have needed acts of violence to make good on its claims (but all political claims do that), or perhaps the consequences of those acts of violence. But the acts of violence themselves? No. There is a distinction between political realism and bellicism (one that Catholics of Iafrate's ilk are eager to erase, natch), between Macchiavelli and Mussolini, between Carl Schmitt and the Shining Path.

In that same segment, through the favorably-cited excerpt from "Catholic Peace Fellowship," Iafrate blithely conflates multiple different senses of "set free." Christ's sacrifice sets our souls free from sin generally and eternally (though sin and its effects obviously still exist, so the Cross is not unconditioned). An act of political violence can set us free from the effects of certain particular sins in the world. The two things are not remotely equal or equivalent, and only a man either blind to the difference between the world and heaven, or one who has decided to completely and unconditionally reject the created fallen world as inconsequential (which is a heresy BTW), could think otherwise.

The same quote also states an outright falsehood: "As the ultimate sacrifice has already been completed, we do not need to trump it. We do not need to come up with a better one." What Christian patriot in their right mind has ever said that? That the Founding (or Memorial Day or Independence Day) "trumps" Easter. Or that the blood of Iwo Jima is "better" than the Blood of Calvary? I want cites. And quotes. Not assertions from hostile witnesses. Not disagreements with pacifists. Cites and quotes. And no, Cavanaugh talking about "alternative soteriology" or similar cites doesn't count -- that's HIS gloss on the thoughts of others. It's the thoughts of those others I want, lui-meme. (This imagined nonsense is a kissing cousin to Mark Shea's constant lies about "Salvation Through Leviathan" -- no backer of Leviathan thinks it salvific.)

Further, you cannot say that the state requires a mythology and then say that said mythology should be subverted or undermined, without declaring oneself at war with that state. That's what a "requirement" is -- the mythos has to be accepted, at some level. I don't care how Iafrate and his ilk try to characterize themselves, they are truly America-haters and a threat to any conception of any (necessarily imperfect) polity¹ because their one-track thinking presupposes and forces an absolute radical choice between Caesar and Christ according to a monistic conception of good (i.e., there are no goods). This would make nonsense (1) of Our Lord and the coin, since there's nothing to render unto Caesar on this "logic"; and (2) of the vast majority of Christian political thought and all of its magisterial content, not just JWT, since at least St. Augustine, which has always held a place for a secular state as a thing other than the Church.² Further, the more true it is that all states are founded in violence and maintain themselves based on it (I think it is true, simply), then the details of one particular polity become irrelevant -- no polity could ever deserve any level of loyalty.

But that the particulars of anti-American left-wing hatriotism is the driving force simpliciter is clear from when the discussion of certain holidays (forget the of-course-denied-while-committing-it Godwin Violation we get here):

Thanksgiving, about which he says "it is important to reflect on the content of our thankfulness, and a closer look at the national holiday, with its connections to genocide and imperialism, should give Christian residents of the empire pause." He later says in the Combox that the holiday should be "subverted" on among other grounds, the fact that sneer quotes are required around "discovery" and "New World." Quite apart from the historical issues, what kind of a "holiday" or "celebration" is about how awful one's country's past is?

Martin Luther King Day is supposedly good, which is absolutely baffling since King, although a minister, was a figure whose notable achievements were entirely political. He only "set [anybody] free" in the political sense, i.e., "civil rights," "civil" = "of or related to the civitas." So is Memphis the new Calvary? Why isn't honoring King at all proof his blood is "better" than the Lord's? (I don't believe it is at all or MLK Day implies anything of the sort, but I'm not the one spouting the daffy thoughts on patriotism and nationalism.)

Columbus Day, which "needs to be rejected for the lie that it is." Of course, Columbus's discovery of America was kinduvva precondition for the US existing at all, so if celebrating it is a lie, the US can be little short of satanic ("father of lies" and all that).

Earlier this month, Father Martin Fox wrote about National Day of Prayer (with some criticism from yours truly, actually coming from "the other side" than I do here). Father expressed appropriately healthy skepticism about the American civic religion without collapsing into a hatriotic rejection per se of America and of politics in the name of an exaggerated and phobic conception of "violence."
¹ A self-respecting society would strip such people of their citizenship and civil rights, if not declare them outlaws.
² The details obviously have changed over time and will be haggled over until the Parousia, but that the basic framework involves some kind of church-state distinction is not disputable.


Christopher said...

Another contributor to Vox Nova -- "Radical Catholic Mom" -- has posted the following reflection about a fallen soldier:

I do not find there to be any tension between hating war, loving life, AND honoring those who have chosen to serve their country and lose their life in the process. ANYONE who has ever served in the military or been a family member of one who has served KNOWS that Memorial Day is NOT a day for politics or even theology. It is a day to grieve.

When my two Marine brothers were serving at the same time, one in Iraq the other in Afghanistan, I asked a local deacon at my parish to pray for them. Do you know what he said to me? He said, "What is wrong with your family to produce two killers?" I was absolutely stunned and speechless. My brothers joined the Marines directly because of 9/11. My family has produced one police officer, two teachers, and two soldiers: all service professions.

I understand how Catholics can despise war. We are called to choose peace and live peace. But what do we do when there is war? How do we serve the families of those affected by it? My mother was in Hell when her only sons were in harm's way. She received many prayers and phone calls from lay Catholics, but none from her priests and deacons.

One of these soldiers who did not come home is being honored by an Afghan village where he served before he was killed by a sniper's bullet. He tried and succeeded to save the life of a little Afghan girl. The Taliban did not help her. But a United States Petty Officer did. If an Afghan village can honor him, can we not as well? His name is US Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John Fralish. He served in my brother's unit the 1/3 Alpha Company Marine unit as a medic. He is remembered by the 1/3 family and hopefully by other Americans.

Today as I BBQ and spend time with my beloved family, one of whom is my brother now out of the Corp, I will say a prayer and drink a beer to honor these men and women.


Victor said...


Joseph D'Hippolito said...

She received many prayers and phone calls from lay Catholics, but none from her priests and deacons.

That is as much of an indictment of the Catholic clerical establishment concerning American policy toward the Middle East as I can think of.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Mr. Iafrate also has a serious problem with the "Republicatholics" of the Knights of Columbus.

I tend to round-file anything that uses the "neo-con" thought substitute label, but I gutted my way through it.

You know, the order with John Kerry, Terry McAuliffe and Ted Kennedy as prominent members. The organization that doesn't discipline members who are pro-abortion.

Anonymous said...

To complete my thought on the K of C piece: it's awful, a blanket indictment of the whole order as some kind of Bushbot auxilliary.

Not that the Knights are beyond criticism, of course. Far from it. But this one is so far off the mark as to be laughable.

Susan B. said...


I went to that Catholic Anarchy site and all I can say is that it's the quintessential "Hatriot" site. I mean look at the quote on the sidebar: "It is better that the United States be liquidated than that she survive by war." Good Lord these people make me sick! Thank God that jerkwad lives in Canada.

paul zummo said...

Credit where it's due, even Shea has issues with all this.

Anonymous said...

ohmigawd ... ohmigawd ... I take it all back, I take it all back!!!