Orthodox Weirdness and the Uniqueness of Different Forms of Goodness and Corruption

Orthodox Weirdness and the Uniqueness of Different Forms of Goodness and Corruption September 10, 2014

Orthodox Radical Ponders Putin’s Divinity

One of the things I’ve noticed about religious traditions is that, just as the tend to produce their own unique sort of saints also, when they go bad, give off their own unique smell.

Protestant saints don’t look or sound like Catholic saints who don’t look or sound like Orthodox saints. Catholicism and Orthodox could not have brought forth a William Wilberforce, a Jim Eliot, a C.S. Lewis, a General Booth, a George MacDonald, or a Billy Graham. Neither of the other two traditions could have produced a St. Francis, an St. Edith Stein, or a St. John Paul. And likewise, nobody but the Orthodox could have produced the amazing saint of the Orthodox tradition with their bear wrestlers, cave dwelling monks and profound mystic.

But likewise, only Catholic culture could have produced a Hitler or a Himmler, an Alexander VI, or a Machiavelli. Only Protestantism smells like Elmer Gantry, or Bultmann, or Bill Clinton with his Big Ol’ Bible, or the ridiculous New Age flummery of idolatry that used to attend Obama. And likewise, only Orthodoxy gone bad could give us Rasputin, or former seminarian Stalin–or this nutty apotheosis of Byzantine Caesaropapism currently being floated re: Putin.

It’s interesting to me that bad Catholicism (which also has a strong authoritarian streak) also has a bad Catholic take on Putin as Constantine Redivivus: the strong man who will chase away Teh Gays, and privilege the Church so that she can get back to the imagined Good Old Day of kicking ass and taking names. The longing for earthly power is a permanent temptation, no matter what tradition you hail from.

By the way, I suspect that the principle holds outside the Christian tradition too, of course. Good Jews, Buddhists or Muslims are good in different *ways* from one another, and bad ones go bad in different ways from each other. Not sure what to make of that, but it interests me.

"Whoever thought up the slur, that Mother Theresa was someone at odds with the Church ..."

Where Peter Is has a nice ..."
"Free will to resist grace, available to all, and to reject good. God loves us ..."

Where Peter Is has a nice ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mark R

    Of course this manifestation is garbage, but it is convenient red meat for Westerners desperate to paint Putin in similar colors as were Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Ladin and fill-in-the-blank bad guy.
    Russia, not Orthodoxy, will swing to an authoritarian ruler since it is too vast to govern effectively. Many elements we equate with communisim in Russia already existed in pre-revolutionary Russia: communal peasant villages, not being able to move about freely, an internal security force — which existed in other countries.Some of this comes from aping the West (Peter I), from having to protect its interests from other states, from an atrophied class system, whose upper elements were always much more Western than the general population.
    Industrialisation came late and too fast for her to have Western style capitalism.
    (What exists now in Russia is not so much capitalism, but the selling off of natural resoureces.) One must bear in mind that the kind of work ethic associated with Asia — which was long under authoritarian rule –could not have developed in Russia since her agricultural season is so short, leaving one too idle for most of the year.
    Other Orthodox countries the same on industrialisation, largely from being long under foreign domination.
    One may muse, however, if the Orthodox countries are too backward, or are Western countries too, too “forward”.

    • It’s unclear whether Russia can be free because it’s not been seriously tried. The interregnum between tsarism and communism was measured in months, during wartime when no system is at its best. The Yeltsin years are a reasonable test period length but not one that advanced principled liberty. It was mostly eliminating the restraints on the jackals that had burrowed into and already were prospering under the communists. It had too much Hamilton and not enough Washington, Jefferson, or Madison. It certainly didn’t have pre-existing distributed power centers like the Sons of Liberty.

      I’m actually more bullish on the PRC, which is at least trying to train up its people by gradually loosening the leash and increasing the scope of democratic elections and republican virtue. It’s still an abominable system but will likely benefit from these efforts when it does finally go off the rails.

  • I don’t think Alexander VI belongs on the same list as Hitler and Himmler. Sure, he liked the ladies and looked out for his family’s political and financial interests, but who among us hasn’t done worse, or wouldn’t have done, given the opportunity? Honestly, one consequence of the sex abuse scandals, what we’ve learned about the worst failures of church leadership in response to that, is that by contrast it makes historical bad guys look- I won’t say good, but venial.

    And Machiavelli! The cartoon version of Machiavelli may be a super-cynical political schemer, but the actual man was not that at all. Reread The Prince, read The Discourses on Livy, and tell me if you find anything other than a sincere patriot struggling to find a way that justice can survive within a political order, given that political order must always be grounded in the fear of force.

    As for your Protestants, I don’t find Bultmann’s approach to the New Testament plausible, but if the Roman Catholic villains list started with Hitler and Himmler, the Orthodox villains list started with Rasputin and Stalin, and the Protestant villains list started with Bultmann, I’d say we had a winner. For my part, I’d put Joseph Kony, for example, way beyond Bultmann on the evilness scale (also on the Protestantism scale,) but hey, whatever…

    And as for the specifically Roman Catholic good guys, how can you omit Maximilian Maria Kolbe? There’s the most absolute manifestation imaginable of the type known as Roman Catholic Priest. Especially when the Holocaust is there, both at the head of your villains list and in the form of Edith Stein (a great figure for sure, and it is an honor to venerate her both under her birth name and as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, but she is a bit out of place on the list of people who could have been formed only within the church of Rome.)

    And I don’t know about Francis of Assisi being so specific to the Roman Catholic tradition. Granted, he spent a lot of time preaching about the virtues of the papacy, but then again he spent a LOT of time preaching. Nine sermons a day, and not short ones. Much of what Francis was, he became in the course of delivering that immense body of words. And who spends more time preaching than the Methodists, or the Baptists, or the Pentacostalists? Not that Francis would have become a Methodist or a Baptist or a Pentacostalist if their groups had existed in his day, but I can imagine a Methodist or a Baptist or a Pentacostalist preacher talking himself into becoming very much like Francis, without leaving his denomination.

    • Great comment. Agreed that Machiavelli isn’t a pure villain. Also agreed the Protestant villain list could’ve been better–maybe Cromwell and whowever founded the KKK ought to have been on there. Even then, though, the Protestants (with that tradition’s historic affinity for Anglophone liberal democracy as opposed to the historic Latin temptation to fascism and the historic Slavic temptation to Stalinism) comes out looking a lot less villainous than Orthodoxy or our own Church.

      • Tom

        From a theological perspective, if not a “crimes against humanity” one, the televangelists and Joel Osteens of the world represent a particularly Protestant disaster.

  • Alex

    If the hope for a Constantine Redivivus is “bad Catholicism”, what view should a (good) Catholic take of the original?

    • D.T. McCameron

      Politician. Emperor. Man of the world. And savior of Christians.

      God makes use of whom He will, be they honest or corrupt, noble or savage, pagan or Christian.

      *edit* But that’s just one (bad) Catholic’s two cents.

    • what view should a (good) Catholic take of the original?

      It was an idea whose time has passed. We should learn from our mistakes and, should we get another chance and the world asks to be ruled by Christians attempting to administer justice according to the light of Christ, next time we should do it much better.

      • HornOrSilk

        Well, it’s also that he was a Saint, but like other Saints, doesn’t mean everything he did was good (but, on the other hand, there was certainly good things he did). We merely have to look to St Jerome to understand this point, too.

    • chezami

      Gratitude for what he did good. Prayers for his soul. The usual.

      • HornOrSilk

        Actually, St Constantine is a Saint in the Catholic Church (as he is given a significant feast and title of Equal to the Apostles in the Eastern Catholic calenders).

  • Newp Ort

    In former Soviet Russia, saint persecutes you.