Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Enemies, Opponents, and Brothers in Christ

Wool over one's eyes.Recently a Christian speaker stood before an audience desiring to gain acceptance for a path that conflicted quite clearly with their tradition. The technique he used is tried and true. He began to describe how there’s a difference between crazy and not crazy. Always he drew associations with his theoretical opponents and craziness, always with his own views and sanity. In other words:

  • He presented a false dilemma: Your choices are: my novel views or else these extreme and unpleasant attitudes and motivations; those are your choices. He didn’t define craziness, of course. You could insert the word ‘extremist’ or ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘liberal’ or any other undesirable buzzword. The important thing is to leave it vague enough, and to indicate, without indicating why or how, it is undesirable: You don’t want to be thought of as “x”, do you? Well then, the only alternative is my views.
  • He poisoned the well: Those who would oppose me are, by opposing me, demonstrating that their motivations are irrational. Of course, he did not have any actual opponents on hand to prove him wrong – the goal was to prevent opposition, and stereotype it in advance.
  • He mischaracterized his opponents, theoretical or otherwise. By attributing to them irrational, he easily escapes contest with the many rational books and articles that have been written to refute his position. He likewise, escapes having to engage such things, since a scholar needn’t, after all, debate with the irrational. [1]

In short, this speaker silenced opposition, embarrassed concern, and slid a pre-packaged point of view into the minds of those least educated on the matter, least versed in the relevant body of thought, and most likely to desire an easy avenue to intellectual status – namely, the mass of new converts and under-educated members of churches that cater to every novelty while fostering ignorance of tradition. He pled to dilettants.

These techniques are cited here, because they’re not uncommon among Western Rite enthusiasts. Frequently, those who express concern, potent questions, and certainly challenges to things done in the name of “Western rites” are characterized as “hysterical” [2], “raving”, “railing”, “polemicists” [3] “bashing”, “attacking”, “hostile”, “attempting to demean the rite” [4], and so on.

In other words, a variety of irrational emotions (rage, hysteria), evil motives (hostility, hatred, the desire to demean), and extreme actions (railing, raving) are attributed to those who would express concern over some of the enthusiasm being expressed, question the wisdom of some of the initiatives undertaken, or oppose the novelties introduced. The technique is the same, and it’s effects are:

  • Present a false dilemma: you must choose the “balanced view” of the enthusiasts, or the extreme emotions, motives, and actions presumably characterizing their opponents. There is no third choice – namely that of happy approval of what is good, and firm, even adamant opposition to what is not, coupled with cautious consideration of what is questionable. There is only, in this presentation, “us” and “them”, and “them” aren’t really an option.
  • Poison the well: when you see opposition, you must read it with the remembrance that it cannot come from genuine and legitimate concern, a righteous desire for fidelity and purity, and a human struggle to balance the need to admonish and sometimes correct one’s brother for his own salvation, for ours, and for the sanctity of the Faith, with the need to seek dispassion, find humility, and pray for the best. No, opponents must be ‘read’ with a certain pre-packaged hermeneutic – with eyes provided to you by the enthusiasts.
  • Mischaracterize opponents: you are encouraged to read opponents with prejudice and feelings, all the while being admonished not to read the enthusiasts with prejudice and feelings, except of course where prejudice and feelings are deemed to favor the enthusiasts. The first step in persecuting anyone (as the enthusiasts so frequently claim to be persecuted) is to dehumanize them – to make them into caricatures of honest, honorable, reasonable people. This is how you become the enemy of another, and not merely the opponent. Once you have decided that your opponents are not honest, honorable, reasonable people with whom you can seek and indeed find the truth together, you may feel safety from them, but in fact you are no longer safe from yourselves. The truth is, we all need each other, to challenge one another, question one another, admonish one another, and indeed to listen to us. Once we willingly decide to end that, no position we hold is worth having.

Opponents need not be EnemiesThis capacity, to treat opposition as warfare, which always reduces opponents to something less than our fellows, lies in wait as a temptation for any of us, and we are most vulnerable when wounded by one another. As St. Nikolai said, “Men can do me no evil as long as I bear no wound.” And likewise, he offered an entirely different way of looking at enemies in [this wonderful prayer].

So we must encourage those who are enthusiasts, those who are critics, and those who aren’t sure, to use moderation in characterizing opponents. The very caution that we use in examining these matters for approval or disapproval, let us use in choosing how we portray our counterparts, for agreement or disagreement. Let charity teach us to use more strictness with ourselves and more leniency with others. We who are writing this have often failed in this regard. We have sometimes let prejudice, defensiveness, and the desire to finish the course easily determine our words. We are resolved to do better. At the same time, we must, for the sake of the things for which we are striving, point out misleading and harmful techniques, when they endanger our brothers among Western Rite enthusiasts, our fellows anywhere, and ourselves in the temptation to respond in kind. We only seem to be opponents, after all, but to the degree we seek salvation in this striving, we are not opponents – not really. And just as we must acknowledge behaviour sometimes unbecoming, we must seek forgiveness, too, for driving our opponents to behaviours unbecoming fellows in Christ.

Let us love one another, that with one mouth, one mind, one accord we may confess, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the Trinity, One in Essence, and Undivided. Amen.

End Notes:
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April 10, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Questions, Western Rite Seminal Material | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Scarecrow

This is just a random example (one can find them all day long) of the Straw Man Fallacy so widely prevalent among enthusiasts for Western Rite. The writer is, in the space of a sentence, supposedly summing up Bishop Anthony’s encyclical on the one hand, and Fr. Alexander’s (Schmemann) articles on the other:

“To wall oneself off from canonically ordained fellow-priests is a serious affront to the unity of the Church, and to discourage or speak poorly of the WR because some would be uncomfortable makes it seem as though it were some insurmountable obstacle for Orthodox to overcome.” – 1/26/2005

The writings alluded to are present on this site and even a cursory read would indicate that Bishop Anthony has not “Walled himself off” (he set limits for concelebration, which any bishop may do), and Fr. Alexander has not based his reasoning on whether some would be uncomfortable. But this is useful, because it illustrates one purpose of this site, to provide an area of constructive criticism without subjecting it to straw man misrepresentation.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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