Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's so appalling about converts?

Rod Dreher used to be a prolific author, commentator and blogger. What happened? He was hired by the Templeton Foundation as a Director of Publications and ostensibly to blog at Big Questions Online. But as you can see, that project never made it off the launch pad. Mr. Dreher explains a little more about why in the combox here. Excerpts follow:

Julie made a wonderful dinner for me tonight, and I told her how much I hate not having a blog, because it's just like me to want to go to the blog and talk about how good the food was, and how much I love her and my family.

I was just down in your part of the world this weekend. I've had a hard last few months -- not being allowed to blog as part of my new job has really been tough, especially because I was hired in large part because of my blog -- and I really needed to see my old friends, and go to Sunday liturgy in my old parish


I really can't say much about my situation, except that my blog wasn't shut down for political reasons. Dr. Templeton, the Foundation president, strongly believed that the things I blogged about did not reflect the priorities of his late father or the Foundation, and was therefore not something he wanted the Foundation to sponsor. This had nothing to do with politics.

We continued to publish BQO columnists (e.g., Shermer) these past few months because we had contracts with them to fulfill, but we have not commissioned new pieces. We are going to begin soon publishing a few new things on the site, but we will not have blogs.

While I have had at least two offers to restart my blog elsewhere, the terms of my employment here that I cannot write outside the Foundation without prior approval. It is impossible to write a blog under that condition, obviously. So, I am blogless for now.

So what does he write on the rare occasions that he gets permission to put something in print? He writes about how Eastern Orthodoxy is better than Roman Catholicism. And he posted it on St. Patrick's Day. Neat. Here's how he starts:

I came to Orthodoxy in 2006, a broken man. I had been a devoutly observant and convinced Roman Catholic for years, but had my faith shattered in large part by what I had learned as a reporter covering the sex abuse scandal. It had been my assumption that my theological convictions would protect the core of my faith through any trial, but the knowledge I struggled with wore down my ability to believe in the ecclesial truth claims of the Roman church (I wrote in detail about that drama here). For my wife and me, Protestantism was not an option, given what we knew about church history, and given our convictions about sacramental theology. That left Orthodoxy as the only safe harbor from the tempest that threatened to capsize our Christianity.

Note how the Catholic church comes up immediately in the discussion, second sentence. This article is mainly about the Catholic church and its supposed deficiencies, not about the Eastern churches per se. Let me rephrase the third sentence in the active voice: "What I had learned as a reporter covering the sex abuse scandal shattered my faith in large part." As a practical pointer to my readers, the Act of Faith prayer can be a good antidote to temptations against that virtue, regardless of their source.

The second paragraph talks about how when Dreher became Catholic, what he really wanted was to be Orthodox and didn't realize it. It contains the obligatory reference to Our Lady of Pizza Hut, one of his biggest laugh-lines on the holy roller comedy circuit.

For the sake of brevity, I'll quote the first and last lines of the 3rd paragraph: "If Catholicism in America had been healthy, maybe we could have held on through the sex abuse trials.... I had been so hollowed out by despair over all this as a Catholic that when the strong winds of the abuse scandal began to blow, the structure of my Catholic belief did not stand." This is probably the key to why the scandals in his Eastern Orthodox denomination don't affect him the same way. He asserts that his church is healthy, so he needn't despair over its problems. This conclusion is obvious from what the man wrote here; I'm not pretending to be inside his head or anything like that.

I say all this not to disparage the Roman Catholic Church – which I still love, and to which I cannot be grateful enough for introducing me to ancient, sacramental Christianity – but to show why Orthodoxy was so attractive to me. When I interviewed him for my book “Crunchy Cons,” my friend Hugh O’Beirne, a convert from Catholicism to Orthodoxy, told me that for a Catholic wearied by the culture wars raging inside American Catholicism, it is blessed relief to find that in Orthodoxy, there is no “war footing.” The kinds of issues that are tearing apart many other American churches aren’t nearly as contentious in Orthodox practice. Though it would be foolish to pretend these conflicts don’t exist in Orthodox parishes, they simply aren’t nearly as much of an issue.

Yes, one thing Rod Dreher would never do would be to disparage the Roman Catholic Church, which he still loves. Let's get that straight.

The main reason why Orthodoxy is so attractive to converts, at least to this convert, is its seriousness about sin. I don’t mean that it’s a dour religion – it is very far from that! – but rather that Orthodoxy takes the brokenness of humankind with appropriate seriousness. Orthodoxy is not going to tell you that you’re okay. In fact, it will require you to call yourself, as St. Paul described himself, the “chief of sinners.” And Orthodoxy is going to tell you the Good News: Jesus died and returned to life so that you too might live. But in order to live, you are going to have to die to yourself, over and over again. And that will not be painless, and cannot be, or it’s not real.

Here we see a prime example of the strawman fallacy at work. You can find Catholic parishes where there are serious priests and serious people going to confession and taking their kids, and you can find the sort of unserious Catholic parish that Dreher likes to compare to the best of the select Orthodox parishes. Thus the real point here is one of purity. Aren't there more "bad" Catholic parishes? Who's religion is more pure? Later in the article he points out as the exception in Orthodoxy what he thinks is the rule in Catholicism, "...the ethnically-oriented older parishes that see themselves as little more than the tribe at prayer," a reference which will surely win friends and influence people who were born Orthodox.

I'll end this overly long post with a short discussion about blog links. First, anyone desiring more context for our ongoing discussion about Rod Dreher's misguided ideas can check out the Rod Dreher tag. For extra reading material, make sure you click the actual blog posts and read the comments from readers. Of course, you can always check out the Contra-Crunchy Conservative blog. That was where everything started.

Lastly... I noticed that when Rod linked to his famous conversion story, "Orthodoxy and Me", in this article his link dead-ends. My non-conspiratorial theory about this is that the post is so long that it was not automatically converted when Beliefnet changed blog formats. You can still see it here by explicitly using the Internet Archive ("Wayback Machine"), but it is funny to me that all the back-links to the original story now lead nowhere. So anybody reading this WaPo piece online who clicked the link missed out on, among other things, Rod Dreher calling our friend J-Carp a "malicious...and petty little Catholic Prufrock named Jonathan Carpenter" early in the article. I think Rod probably wanted for people to read his conversion story which he linked to many times from his blog in later posts, and I think it's interesting that he doesn't realize the link is now dead.


  1. Oh my gosh. So much fodder here, so little time.

    "If Catholicism had been healthy"...? WTH?? Dreher, you bozo, we have more than 60 million Catholics in America -- and counting. Your OCA has...what? 100,000 on a good day? We get thousands upon thousands of converts each year. Your OCA, even at the height of its convert boomlet, got a relative handful. (But they were all loudly publicized to infinity and beyond. Maybe that's the difference.)

    So, what on earth is Rod's definition of "health"?

    Meanwhile, today's Catholic Church is a model of transparency, of zero tolerance (even to extremes), and of cooperation with the authorities -- while Rod's OCA is still making excuses and covering up. HellOOOO--you don't hear that much about Orthodox sex scandals (beyond because they're being COVERED UP. DUHHH! Everyone in the OCA seems to know this except Rod and a few of his self-deluded fellow cultists and sycophants. Rumors have been flying for years, but apparently Rod's Nose for News has been blocked by so much snot that he hasn't picked up the scent. (Ohhhh, I forgot...he has a special sort of Nose for News that picks up ONLY Catholic scents, LOL.)

    Why does anyone even publish this guy anymore? Hasn't he banged on his one note long enough to drive his listeners away screaming in pain?

    So, has anyone in his comboxes taken him to task for his latest gratuitous Catholic-Bash? (For Saint Patrick's Day yet--talk about utterly tone-deaf.) Or, do his comboxers now comprise only the Dreherian Sycophants (all five of them)?

    My advice: Don't read Dreher. (I confess I couldn't plow through all your excerpts, Pauli. Confessional dreherrhea makes me gag.) Instead, read someone who can actually write, like this guy:

    LOL--unlike Dreher, O'Rourke has a sense of humor, too. :)

  2. And oh yeah...the Catholic Church is so "unhealthy" that people have been predicting its imminent demise for 2,000 years.

    What a doofus.

  3. "The main reason why Orthodoxy is so attractive to converts, at least to this convert, is its seriousness about sin."

    Except, of course, when convenience and expediency dictate that Orthodoxy redefine sin as not-sin. Viz. Orthodox tolerance of contraception and Orthodox tolerance of divorce / remarriage up to three times for up to 20 reasons. (Man, that's sooooo biblical.)

    Meanwhile, in Orthodox countries like Holy Russia, women continue to have an average of 10 abortions each. (Yes, you read that right.) If that's "seriousness about sin," I think I'll take laxity. :0

  4. Diane, I loved the O'Rourke article when I read it in the WS print edition last week. Was meaning to blog on it, so thanks. I made my wife read it and said to her "This is the male reaction to the Tiger mom thing."

  5. The Man From K StreetApril 7, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    I love the pained, obsequious deference that is required of Templeton retainers: the dead founder must always be referred to as "Sir John" (good thing he picked a Commonwealth tropical paradise to be a tax exile in), while the son must be called "Dr. Templeton" (though he hasn't practiced medicine in years).

    Anyway, oh how I remember the heady days of 2006 when Our Working Boy promised on a stack of missals that he would never, ever, become a "professional ex-Catholic" (by which is meant an anti-Catholic). Yet that is precisely what he became, and always will be. His career depends on it. Think of it this way: would anyone really care what, say, Garry Wills has to say on any given issue, if Wills had come from a Methodist background? Would anyone think of Rod's pal (and now fellow Philadelphian) Damon Linker as anything but a smallbore apostate, a cockle-boat in the wake of great ships like Hitchens, if he was a former Assemblies of God adherent? It is only Rod's time with Team Rome that makes his utterances at all interesting (and even then he only sometimes reaches that threshold). And he himself knows that more than anyone else.

    We should never expect him to have much of substance to say about E-Orthodoxy. I honestly don't think he's all that intellectually or emotionally invested in it, and no wonder--they aren't all that invested in HIM, a convert from outside the ethnic tribe. "The Benedict Option" will, I predict, be vaporware for another 4 or 5 years, but when it does appear, count on at least 80% of the content to be a discussion of Catholicism.

  6. What the man from K Street said.

  7. I'll assume Rod safely weaved through his contractual obligations with the ghost of Sir John. Just a couple of things come to mind, following along from the earlier comments here:

    1) The sad part to me is that after all this time (five years already?), it is still the same old Catholicism Sucks and So Does Their Music rant. One might have hoped that, by now, Rod could write a truly nice piece about blessings he's received from Orthodoxy. You know, lend the reader some insight into the faith, and maybe provoke some readers to further investigate it. Nope -- he takes the easy way out by peddling another Catholic-bash, which is of course always in vogue.

    2) Along those same lines, Rod again shows that what he's about is joining up with something small that can't make much of a difference. Kind of the whole Crunchy Manifesto. Go small, and nothing big can be your fault. Better yet, you get to stand apart from the world next to a blue bucket, and disparage what you left behind to feel better about yourself.

    For his sake, it would have been nice if the past five years might have advanced the ball a bit for him. Based on this, I guess it hasn't.

  8. Diane: "If Catholicism had been healthy"...? WTH?? Dreher, you bozo, we have more than 60 million Catholics in America -- and counting. Your OCA has...what?

    Diane, I think Rod would point to your statement and say "There's the problem. She thinks that health is related to size." And he'd have a chorus of "amens" from his groupies with Catholics like Erin Manning among them.

    To both sides I would say this. It's a lot easier to keep a bonsai tree healthy than a huge oak growing in the wild of the world. One of the ways you do bonsais is to deliberately keep them small by constantly trimming and regulation of water and nutrients. I don't think Jesus wanted the church to be a bonsai tree, but a "real" fully-grown tree which, though not perfect, could provide a home for birds to nest.

  9. Along those same lines, Rod again shows that what he's about is joining up with something small that can't make much of a difference. Kind of the whole Crunchy Manifesto. Go small, and nothing big can be your fault. Better yet, you get to stand apart from the world next to a blue bucket, and disparage what you left behind to feel better about yourself.

    Pikkumatti, wow, did you nail it. That sort of dovetails with my bonsai analogy which, BTW, I don't think should be carried too far. God obviously wants to "prune" us and we should let him do so without fear, but he also wants to gather up all the scraps so that nothing is lost.

  10. Still so relevant:

    Or, to put it another way:

    It's easy to be "pure"
    When your church consists of four,
    And one of them's your priest
    And two others are deceased.

    It's easy to be "pure"
    When your church is quite obscure
    And insular and clannish,
    And no one there speaks Spanish.

    It's easy to be "pure" --
    But you'd best make extra sure!
    So, here's what you should do:
    Found a church confined to *you.*

    As you say, Pauli, Our Lord's mustard-seed parable is a great antidote to this extreme (and essentially VERY Protestant) purism. So is that famous passage from Revelation about "a great throng which no man could number, from every nation, tribe, and tongue." Sounds like a perfect definition of the Catholic Church, if you ask me. :)

  11. "One might have hoped that, by now, Rod could write a truly nice piece about blessings he's received from Orthodoxy. You know, lend the reader some insight into the faith, and maybe provoke some readers to further investigate it."

    This is so true of so many ex-Catholic anti-Catholics. If they are so fond of their new confession, how come they never tell us about it? All they can do is bash the Church they left. It's a sick, sick fixation.

  12. Despite Crunchy's membership, at least the Orthodox aren't doing this.

  13. Wow..What a hornet's nest. I am an Orthodox convert from Rome myself, and I understand the sentiments posted here.

    The Orthodox Church has many devout and beautiful people in it who are fed and are being transformed by it's asceticism, doctrine, and beauty. 99% of these people never give Rome a second thought. Inside the Divine Liturgy lies the ancient faith of pre-Scholastic religion, and it is life changing.
    Rod is sometimes too emotional as he himself admits, but if you look closely you will see a man on a faith journey. Sometimes things are not wrapped up in pretty boxes and tied up with string. Sometimes the cross comes to reside in our hearts and the contradiction of horizontal and vertical realities is overwhelming. Rod is in the great quandary, the one that comes with a true test of faith. He followed his conscience East. This is somewhat of a stretch for those of you who believe that a conscience can be defiled and that only the Church is able to turn the rudder of your sailing. Orthodoxy never took this is still a face to face personal encounter with Christ, the cross, and contradiction.
    I think we possibly misunderstand Rod's obsession with the RCC. It is his great love and sentimentality that echoes through loud and clear, and if read closely without prejudice and infallibility, one will see the making of a true, heartfelt, statement of faith.

    Which one of us is honest and transparent enough to expose our own quandary, the areas where we question, the areas where we have had to walk alone? I am not...but Rod let's it all hang out sometimes. Maybe he shares too much, maybe he is too forthcoming. Maybe not. But, he definitely stands as a contradiction; 'both and' not 'either or'.
    My own conversion has nothing to do with size, scandal, or personal pleasure. It has to do with truth. Belief has everything to do with truth; if not it is delusion.

  14. Should we keep calling him Rod or should we refer to him as Muzhik now?

  15. There is something delightful about a bag full of ripe oranges...they are all orange. There is something dreadful about listening to the oranges argue over who is the greenest.

  16. ^ Whatever that means, LOL! ')

  17. "Inside the Divine Liturgy lies the ancient faith of pre-Scholastic religion, and it is life changing"

    Oh, brother.

    Hope you don't mind if I roll my eyes a bit here, Amanda.

    BTW, are you familiar with Orthodox scholasticism? It's positively byzantine. ;)

    What's that again about oranges arguing?


  18. There is something dreadful about listening to the oranges argue over who is the greenest.

    That is one of the many reasons why I have chosen to eschew psychedelic drugs.

  19. BTW, our diocese (Charlotte) welcomed 850 new Catholics at this year's Easter Vigil, and our neighboring diocese (Raleigh) welcomed over 1,200. If we are unhealthy, we have a pretty odd way of showing it.

    And I bet those thousands of new Catholics find the Catholic Church pretty "life-changing." Just sayin'.

    I don't knock Eastern Orthodoxy or the OCA (which I recently learned actually has only about 30,000 members, BTW). Like most Latin Catholics, I believe that the Eastern Tradition is rich and beautiful. (That's why I'm glad we have Eastern Catholic Churches, our other lung.)

    But I have little patience with the kind of Orthodox triumphalism that counterposes East to West, airily denigrates Latin "scholastiscism," and...well, you get the idea. I won't go on, lest I start to lose my temper, LOL.

    God bless, all, on this FD of Saint Athanasius (and my 29th wdding anniversary :)).

  20. "That is one of the many reasons why I have chosen to eschew psychedelic drugs."

    Oh my gosh, I am laughing so hard... LOL!

  21. "This is somewhat of a stretch for those of you who believe that a conscience can be defiled and that only the Church is able to turn the rudder of your sailing."

    Um, OK. I never even heard this one before, much less subscribed to it. But whatever you say.

    Amanda, you seem like a very nice person. But could you tone down the Eastern triumphalism a bit? You may have an intimate knowledge of Orthodoxy, but you are not displaying a very deep knowledge of Catholicism. Yes, I know, you left Rome. But, forgive me, that does not automatically make you an expert on the Catholic Faith.

    You may want to read Cardinal Newman on the subject of conscience. He's pretty interesting. :)


  22. It means that neither of the churches should point the finger....when it comes to scandal and cover-ups. I never said I thought the RCC was unhealthy. I am not qualified to make such a statement. Neither am I qualified to determine if a church is healthy or unhealthy based on size. Are you implying that the Orthodox Church is unhealthy because we are few? That is an honest question, not sarcastic in any way. I want to know your true opinion. I understand how Rod's comments are being rebutted here, but I doubt he considers size and numbers when making the statements that he does. He obviously does not feel that size is a good judge of spiritual health.
    I apologize for what is perceived as Orthodox triumphalism. It was not intended as such in any way. I am a part of the Greek Orthodox Church. We are small in numbers, I cannot defend that.
    Your number dropping is humbling to say the least. But I wonder.....
    I am not an expert on either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. I have read Cardinal Newman extensively, I only hope to follow God as he did. I still stand by my comment about the conscience though. I really don't think we can argue about it because we see things so differently. Again, please don't take my comments the wrong way. You have succeeded in making fun of me though, and I am laughing right along with you. I am not qualified to have this argument, and that is the truth. I just have my little ol' experience and heart, and that is not saying much.
    It is wonderful that your diocese had so many converts. Christ is Risen!

  23. He is risen indeed.

    As far as I know, the Catholics and Orthodox agree on the role of the individual conscience and the need to engage in the formation of one's conscience.

  24. Well, my opinion is this...our differing theological understanding of original sin makes all the difference. I apologize for the original was insensitive, and I was definitely not prepared to defend it. I am in no way able to articulate the whole of this difference.

  25. Yes, He is risen indeed. :)

    Amanda, I apologize for making fun of you. I apologize for being snarky. Thank you for your humbling and charitable response.

    My beef is certainly not with you but with Rod. If he finds peace in Orthodoxy, more power to him. I don't take issue with him because he has become Orthodox. I take issue with him because he keeps relentlessly and publicly bashing the Catholic Church. And, in the process, he is lying, misrepresenting, and smearing. That is slander; it is gravely sinful and damaging to the Cause of Christ. (And it does Orthodoxy no service to lie about Catholicism: The endds never justify the means.)

    More to the point, though: Why on earth doesn't he just give it a rest?

    If he does not want to expose Orthodox sex abuse, fine. That makes him a hypocrite with a double standard a mile wide, but OK, whatever. All I ask in return, though, is that he let up on us Catholics. He left us five years ago. It is past time for him to move on.

    If he will not publicly chronicle his own communion's failings, then he has no business endlessly retailing ours. He is no longer in formal communion with us, so he needs to shut the heck up about us already.

    We are not his problem. The OCA is. Let him turn his attention to OCA issues and stop fixating on Catholicism. If he cannot give "equal time" to Orthodox scandals, then at the very least he should be "fair and balanced" and stay silent about both churches' scandals. Silence re OCA scandals coupled with obsessive public ventilating re RC scandals -- that spells "double standard" in big fat BIASED letters.

    As both a Christian and a journalist, Rod needs to repent and shut up.

    Just my two cents' worth.... ;)


  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  27. Hey, Pauli, can you give us the Cliff's Notes version of the Muzhik blogpost? That post reads like a Russian novel (long, convoluted, names we can't connect with characters, ultimately a point in there somewhere but it takes a lot of work to get to . . . ). TIA.

  28. Pik, it's coming. We actually had a phone consultation about this on Monday.

  29. That post reads like a Russian novel....


    Reminds me of one of the Jeeves and Bertie books (forget which one). Bertie is reading a novel, borrowed from the local library, called By Order of the Czar. He says he doesn't know yet what the Czar has ordered, but he has a feeling that a lot of characters with names ending in -ski will end up dead or exiled to Siberia.

    OK, I don't know why I was reminded of that. Everything reminds me of something in a Jeeves and Bertie novel. :)

  30. Waaaah, I'm sorry Amanda deleted her last comment...I'd wanted to respond. Come back, Amanda, we love you! :D

  31. You are a trip Diane...I'd like to drink a beer with you. I hope you drink; a person with your whit and intensity needs a jack and coke ever once in a while.

  32. If you think that post reads like a Russian novel then the post I deleted read like a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book from half priced books. It's better that we not comment on such dribbling....or is that scribbling?

    Diane, you are right about repent and shut up, I think I heard my spiritual father utter those exact words in my last confession....LOL! In a bio-ethics lecture once, I heard a doctor say his spiritual father used to tell him, "Son, there is a fine line between bragging and confessing." That cracks me up...its so like me to think my soap box is fashioned from virtuos wood.

    About evil Rod...LOL!
    If there is hypocrisy, Rod is guilty. For the sake of all human causality, I hope this time he is right... do not know how much I needed that gut laugh of a post. My youngest was up all night feeling horrible, and my husband snored the sheets off the bed...I ended up on the couch. I really needed that...Thanks for sharing.

  33. Pauli..but Bonsai trees are so beautiful...haven't you watched Karate Kid? LOL!!

  34. Thank you, Amanda! The feeling is mutual.

    Of course I drink. Russian vodka, natch. (Actually cheap Chilean white wine, mostly.)

    But I would love to have a beer with you, should we ever meet in Real Life. :)

  35. So sorry re your youngest, Amanda!! Hope he or she feels better now.

    Quelle coincidence! My husband was also snoring his head off last night. It drove me CRAZEEEEE. It was as if a fog horn was being amplified through those speakers they use at rock concerts. If I didn't love the guy, I would have strangled him.

  36. I've enjoyed perusing Est Quod Est... refreshing.

  37. Great piece on Orthodox convert culture from a blog I've just discovered:

    The comments are fascinating!

  38. Hello, Pauli. Really, I have "no dog in this fight." But I had long wondered what happened to Rod Dreher. As a writer, even if I didn't always agree with him, he did manage to keep my interest as a reader, and I often wondered why he appeared to have disappeared. But I see now that you have been trying to track down what happened

  39. Wow, is there ever some nastiness here. I wish the Catholics here would realize that many of them treat Protestants the same way Dreher is supposedly treating them. Protestant converts to Catholicism are still converts. The nastiness I see between Catholics and Orthodox are one of the reasons that, for all its faults, I can live with the Anglican Communion.