"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Finding unity in persecution

[WARNING: there are some graphic images in these first links.] The persecution in Orissa has led to stories such as this and this . The homes of Christians have been burned. Nuns have been gang-raped. Many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, have been killed simply for being Christian. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Orissa.

In the West we face the prospect of another sort of persecution, not primarily a persecution coming from another theistic religion, but from a kind of religious irreligion. In its form, it is religious, but in its matter it is irreligious. The Catholic Catechism speaks of this religious irreligion in this way:

The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism. (CCC 675-676)

Notice what the Catechism says about the Antichrist's deception. The Antichrist offers a false hope, a promise of present salvation which in fact can be actualized only after Christ returns in glory. This false hope denies the supernatural eschaton, though, paradoxically, in its ultimate climax it occasions Christ's return "in glory" through its futile attempt to achieve the state of paradise entirely by means of our own human efforts.

The words "in glory" were added to the Nicene Creed (they are not in the Apostles Creed) precisely to make explicit the nature of the difference between the return of the true Christ and the rise of false Christs, and ultimately the Antichrist. This addition to the Creed codifies what Jesus said, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it." (St. Matthew 24:23)

The Antichrist offers present salvation from all man's troubles. He offers to do this through the strength and ingenuity of the natural power of man, that is, through economics, politics, science, technology, and a new religion that celebrates man in all his freedom, creativity, power, and goodness. In a way the following video reminds me of this very way of thinking; it can be summarized in those two words: "secular messianism".

Notice the lyrics:

We're gonna spread happiness
We’re gonna spread freedom
Obama’s gonna change it
Obama’s gonna lead 'em

We're gonna change it
And rearrange it
We're gonna change the world.

Now's the moment, lift each voice to sing
Sing with all your heart!
For our children, for our families,
Nations all joined as one.
Sing for joy and sing abundant peace,
Courage, justice, hope!
Sing together, hold each precious hand,
Lifting each other up;
Sing for vision, sing for unity,
Lifting our hearts to Sing!

Yes we can
Lift each other up
In peace, in love, in hope
Change! Change!

This is the secular gospel. When we lose sight of Christ as the object of our hope, then necessarily our eyes are lowered, and we place our highest hope in man, not in the abstract, but in the concrete, one man.

Some Christians think that the goal of uniting all people is intrinsically evil. I myself used to think that, as I explained here. But that goal in itself is good; peace and unity among all mankind is good. The moral difference between Babel and Pentecost is not found in their goal of uniting mankind, but in that in which and through which we are to be united, man or God. The unitive efforts of the Antichrist are evil not in the sense of being the *opposite* of Christ's unitive intention of drawing all people together (St. John 12:32), but in the sense of being a *deficient imitation* of that true unity that comes only through Christ, in being joined to Him, into His Body the Church.

I have written in more detail elsewhere about the imminent and inevitable conflict between the "City of man" and the "City of God". These are two different ways of thinking, because they are two fundamentally different orientations. They correspond to that which was attempted at Babel, and that which was initiated at Pentecost, respectively. They culminate in the direct conflict between the Antichrist and Jesus Christ.

"Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." (St. Matthew 24:28)

As smoke shows us where the fire is, so persecution shows us where the Church is. When looking for the Church, we can look for the vultures. We can look for per se persecution, i.e. persecution directed not just against individuals, but against an institution on account of the identity of that institution. Protestantism itself has no institution. There are many different Protestant institutions, but there is no visible Protestant Church. Christians (whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox) are united by our allegiance to Christ. But Protestantism as such has unity only in one way, in shared opposition to that from which it came. Lewis says something similar in his book The Great Divorce about the unity of "grey town", which has no intrinsic unity, but only parasitic unity, for its unity is the unity of shared opposition to something else.

In the US there is some general bias against what is characterized as anti-intellectual fundamentalism and Bible-belt 'moral majority' types, as well as a kind of general disdain for the superficiality and sentimentalism of certain aspects of Evangelical culture. Certain public figures in these traditions are routinely ridiculed (e.g. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson). But there are no anti-Presbyterian rallies, or anti-Lutheran riots, or anti-Baptist protests, anti-Evangelical rampages etc. There is no vitriol and hatred directed against the "Emergent Church" as such.

By contrast, there is a palpable hatred for the Catholic Church that is nothing less than diabolic. Before becoming Catholic, I was mostly unaware of it. No one in the secular world really goes on the attack again Pentecostalism, or Presbyterianism, or Anglicanism, or even Orthodoxy, at least not as such. The bulls eye is on the Catholic Church. See Philip Jenkins's book The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice.

Secular messianism is religious in its zeal for the religion of man, but it is no less 'religious' in its opposition to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, in which the "way of life" is upheld and defended, and abortion and artificial contraception and divorce are forbidden. The religion of man chafes at any restriction on man's three primary [disordered] desires: the lust of the flesh [sexual desire], the lust of the eyes, [greed], and the pride of life [being his own god]. (1 John 2:16; cf. CCC 377) This "triple concupiscence" is in direct opposition to the "evangelical counsels" included in Catholic religious vows: chastity, poverty and obedience. (CCC 915, 944, 2053)

What does the opposition between the secular messianism of the "City of Man" and the heaven-oriented devotion of the "City of God" look like? Here's a glimpse from a recent event in Argentina:


When this persecution comes here, how will we respond? Undoubtedly some Catholics will break ranks; the greatest resentment and hatred of the Church comes from such. But how will Protestants respond to this persecution? Persecution has a way of helping us see things more clearly, clarifying where the lines are, and where we stand in relation to those lines. I hope and pray that the Protestant response to the coming persecution is not one of remaining at a distance, but rather, standing together with Catholics in faith and prayer and honoring Christ.


Mike L said...


When I viewed that video from Argentina, all I could think was how many times I've seen that movie before. Very similar confrontations were commonplace in America during the 1980s and 90s. It just took longer for the same to happen in Argentina and other predominantly Catholic countries. But it is happening now in all of them.

Abortion is actually down substantially among young American young women, who tend to be more pro-life than both older women and men of all ages. (It takes two words to explain why young men are generally less pro-life than young women: "child support.") America is ahead of the curve on this issue. The future, if we can get there, looks brighter than the present—just as it does in the priesthood.


Rene'e said...

Hi Bryan,

This is a very powerful post. The Argentina video provokes powerful emotions of saddness in me along with tears.

I think I am alittle 'battle weary'
from defending the Catholic Church to others so much lately.

I think I am going to just stick with Catholic blogs for a while, to recharge my spirit. But, those on the Argentina video, inspired me to not sit still for long.

In the meantime, I am going to keep praying for unity, of course I am speaking of Unity of the Catholic kind.


Oso Famoso said...

Wow. Lord have Mercy. Christ have Mercy.

Oso Famoso said...

Did you see the new video? Of the "Obama Youths?" They march in the room chanting "Alpha and Omega" and then go onto to praise Obama's healthcare plan and say, "Obama inspired me..."

If one doesn't have the real Messiah it is apparent that one creates false ones.

Skyrim Geek said...


I hate to say this because I do not align myself with any political party. But, I believe that Obama's avowed stance on his priorities to propagate the destruction of innocent human life show that voting for him is no different that asking that the devil's will be done in the U.S. and abroad. I'm not intending to portray McCain as a saint either.

The way I look at it is, if Obama wins, we are handing our nation (and potentially others) directly to the will of Satan, whose desire has always been to destroy innocent human beings since the beginning when he was envious of man for being God's greatest creation and he was reduced, in his eyes, to the role of a servant to the hairy little creature, Adam. I believe that McCain is deficient on several issues, but he offers a "stay" in the execution of what little morality we have left in our government (that is, protection of marriage and freedom to practice Christianity).

If Obama wins, I'm afraid we will lose all legal protection. Catholic schools that don't comply with government teaching standards (LGT, contraception, abortion propaganda) will be forced to close, priests may be arrested for hate crimes for reciting homilies that reflect Church teaching on homosexuality (already trying to be pushed in San Francisco), children will be taken away from parents for refusing to teach the status quo on homosexuality to their children (already happening to foster children in England), the legalization and the propaganda of acceptance of euthanasia will spread nationally along with gay marriage. The Catholic Church has more to lose because it is unified and Her teachings are crystal clear. She is also a visible institution, and the Body of Christ. The devil wants nothing more than to perpetually try to crucify Christ. The Catholic Church will take the full force of the assault (legally, physically, and by propaganda) as She is today.

To me, this is not about Republicans and Democrats, it's about doing what little we can to stop the orcs of Mordor from taking Osgiliath. A vote is much more than a vote now. It is siding with the direct will of the devil or not. There is no question who the lesser of the two evils is in this election, in my opinion.

The United States has anti-Christians willing to take their vengeance out on Christians to a greater level than that of the video in Argentina. If their position becomes the status quo, I think that the United States is going to make that video from Argentina appear like small potatos.