FULLY CHRISTIAN was formerly CATHOLIC IN THE OZARKS
Still 100% Catholic, and 100% Christian.

Monday, 26 January 2015

American Conservatism versus Pope Francis

Pope Francis leaving after La Messa del Crisma, 17 April 2014
Photo by Emilio Villegas via Wikimedia Commons
(MarketWatch) -- Then the Federalist, a conservative website, waves a red flag warning: “Don’t Pick Political Fights With Pope Francis.” Why? “Conservatives have everything to lose and nothing to gain from getting mad at Pope Francis for his public comments on homosexuality, global warming, free speech, and more.” 
Yes, conservatives warning Republicans: Don’t go to war with Pope Francis, you will lose. He’s got an army of 1.2 billion faithful worldwide including 78 million American Catholics. Francis will win. 
A huge army. More important, Francis has a direct link to a heavenly power source. As the 266th descendant of the first leader of Christians, St. Peter, the pontiff will be touring America this fall... 
read more here
Before you read the rest of the article, please read my comments here. This story is bound to really upset some American conservatives, and simultaneously fill many American progressives with glee. Putting aside the emotional reaction, please keep in mind that the columnist makes some good points. (1) Lord willing, Pope Francis will come to America, and he will likely speak about many of the things addressed in the article. (2) American conservatives will likely attack him for some of these things. (3) In doing so, American conservatives will be effectively attacking the word's most powerful and influential religious leader, and this is a losing game. They can't win. (4) American progressives will score a huge political victory, leaving American conservatives looking rather obsolete, close-minded, and somewhat anti-Catholic, or at least irreligious. All of this just in time to kick off the 2016 election cycle.

This essay is addressed to my politically conservative friends out there, particularly those in America.

Dear politically conservative friends; you can't win by challenging this pope. However, I will tell you now how to role with the punches that are soon coming with Pope Francis' visit to America, and limit any victory political liberals (progressives) might score. If you want to know, read on and take notes. If you don't care, click that back arrow button right now and move on to the next blog.

The first thing you have to understand is that Catholic popes have never been capitalists. Nor have they ever been socialists. Nor are they something in between. Rather, Catholic popes (for the last 120 years at least) have held to their own economic ideology based entirely on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you want to know what that is, simply read their social encyclicals, going back 120 years. Or if you don't have time for that, you can do a cursory review of an economic theory developed from their teachings. It's called distributism, and it is opposed to both capitalism and socialism. Check out the Wikipedia page on distributism for more details on that. What is distributism? Well, in a nutshell, it's micro-capitalism, meaning that popes believe that the best business is small business. Business should be run by families, independently, as much as possible. Large factories and industry should be owned by the workers as much as possible. The idea here is that each and every family should have as much stake in private business as possible. Ideally this would be small family-run independent business in most cases, but in those cases where large business is necessary, those businesses should be worker-owned cooperatives. Beyond that, the economic philosophy of the popes would include public ownership of those things that the public holds in common, such as water supply, natural gas supply, electrical grids, parks, law enforcement, fire departments, etc. In addition, the popes advocate a strong sense of social responsibility for the poor, weak and voiceless. This includes an absolute prohibition on abortion, along with strong financial support for mothers in a crisis pregnancy, as well as ongoing support for the children of crisis pregnancies. The popes do not dictate how this support should be provided, but only that it be provided effectively for EVERYONE who finds herself in this situation. Likewise, the popes support the poor, as well as migrants (aliens legal and illegal), calling for society to help them as much as possible. It's exactly the sort of thing Jesus would call for. You get the picture. Calling this position "communism" or "Marxism" or "socialism", as some conservative talk-radio hosts have done, is a losing proposition. For it is to call Jesus Christ himself these things. Over the last year, as American conservatives continue to do this, they have only successfully alienated Catholics (and other socially conscious Christians) from the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general. It's a losing battle. The only way to win is to STOP doing this.

The second thing you need to understand is that whether or not you agree with the theory that man-made carbon emissions are creating global climate change, and yes it is just a theory, it is nevertheless a theory commonly accepted by most of the world and the scientific community. Now the scientific community and the world may be wrong, but that doesn't change the fact that the majority still accept it. That means that for now anyway, conservatives are stuck with it. Conservatives have been attempting the battle this theory for the last 20 years, and the only people they've managed to convince are themselves. This is a losing battle, and here is why. Even if all the science behind man-made climate change is wrong, that still doesn't change the fact that burning oil, in the form of gasoline and other carbon fuels, pollutes the air. It creates smog, which is indisputably toxic to humans, animals and plants. (If you don't think smog is toxic, then you're not living in reality and I can't help you. Move on to the next article please.) So even if the science behind man-made climate change is wrong, to oppose it in favour of burning more fossil fuels, is to unwittingly come out in favour of smog! Now the average progressive may not be able to succinctly articulate that, and I find that most can't, but nevertheless the message is still there subconsciously. You can't win on this one. Everybody hates smog. Nobody will back you on this. People want to get rid of it, and some people look to the theory of man-made climate change as one more good reason. They figure that even if the science is wrong, the political move to reduce carbon emissions will help to eliminate smog, and that's a good thing. This is especially true if you live in major population centres, such as Los Angeles or Mexico City, where the toxic smog is so thick that it has actually reduced the functional lung capacity of all children living there, according to medical studies. Any attempt by conservatives to counter the pope's move against carbon emissions will result in conservatives looking like they are in favour of smog. You can't win this one. It's a losing battle, and a big one at that!

So here is how you conservatives role with the papal punches and come out ahead in the end. You must change.

No, I'm not talking about changing into progressives. What's the point of that!?! I'm talking about change in the form of becoming MORE conservative not less. Here is what I mean. Currently, the popular form of conservatism promoted in the United States (and embodied by the Republican Party as well as the Tea Party, etc.) is post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. What!?! Yes, you read that right. The conservatism typically promoted by radio talk-shows, blogs and print media is post-Enlightenment Liberalism, or what is more commonly called "Classic Liberalism." Yes, American Conservatives are LIBERALS, in the most classic sense. By that I mean the kind of Liberalism that starts with John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Then it continues through the industrial age to its logical outcome in Laissez-faire capitalism, robber barons, and monopolies. It finds its conclusion in the objectivist libertarianism of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig Von Mises. It's chief proponents today are conservative talk-radio show hosts. As a student of history, let me make this perfectly clear. Post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism has seen its glory days. It saw them over a century ago. It is now on the decline, and the jabberings of radio talk-shows in America are it's dying gasps. The rejection of post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism on economics, otherwise known as "capitalism," came about in two forms. The first was atheist, or humanist, in nature and took on the forms of Marxism, communism, socialism and fascism. The second was religious in nature, and took on the forms of distributism, Christian-democracy, and social-market economics. The latter of these, the religious push-back was launched by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. While the atheist or humanistic push-back has proved to be an utter failure, the religious push-back has seen remarkable success. It is ironic that most American liberals (progressives) oppose what is essentially Post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. The political positions they usually adopt, as typically embodied in the Democratic Party, are only socially liberal (on such issues as abortion, homosexuality for example). Economically speaking, American liberals are neither conservative nor liberal. They are, in fact, just reactionary, adopting both the religious and humanist push-back against Post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. This explains both their astronomical successes and monumental failures in the 20th century.

Throughout the 20th century, the religious push-back took on many forms, and even in the United States became embodied in such things as: antitrust laws, child-labour laws, minimum-wage laws, the 40-hour work week, worker cooperatives, credit unions, small-business alliances, trade unions, etc. However, it should be pointed out that while these manifestations are relatively new, the principles behind them are actually centuries old, much older than post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. When American conservatives call themselves "conservative" they must ask, what is it specifically that they are trying to conserve? Is it merely the principles of post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism as embodied by well-known atheist Ayn Rand and agnostic Ludwig Von Misses? (Both of whom took strident positions against the Catholic Church and Christianity in general, and both of whom have been heavily promoted by American conservative talk-radio shows.) Or is it something a little more conservative than that?

Maybe the type of conservatism Americans should more fully embrace should be something a little more conservative than what post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism has to offer. Maybe American conservatives should embrace something a little more firmly rooted in Christian history and theology. Maybe it's something a little more, dare I say it? -- medieval. Ah yes, those dreaded "Dark Ages," happily named so by the children of the "Enlightenment." Isn't it a bit telling, and humorous, that those who would name their own period of history the "Enlightenment" would subsequently name all previous periods of history the "Dark Ages"? It's the epitome of both pride and prejudice if you ask me. However, most historians agree that those dreaded "Dark Ages" of medieval history weren't so "dark" after all. In fact, following the immediate troubles in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, the continent that would later be named "Europe" experienced an explosive period of economics, education and civil rights unheard of in previous eras. In comparison to medieval times, the days of the Roman Empire were the real "Dark Ages." A continent ruled by Christian leaders, for all of their faults and shortcomings (and there were plenty), was still infinitely better than an empire ruled by brutal Pagans. The Romans were brutal to be sure, and if you have any doubt about that, go ask just about any Jew who is knowledgeable of his people's history. Jews have suffered much under the pogroms of medieval Europe, but it is nothing in comparison to the absolute slaughter of genocide committed against them by the Pagan Roman Empire and the Racist Nazi Reich, neither of which were Christian by any stretch of the imagination. (The Roman Empire pre-dates Christianity, and the Nazi Reich was an overt rejection of traditional Christianity.) As primitive as medieval times were by today's standards, they were a massive leap forward in all areas of human development, compared to previous eras. We often judge medieval times by our plush 21st century standards, with a hefty dose of Enlightenment prejudice to boot! But is this fair? Can we really judge an entire epic of Western history on such standards? It was the cradle of our modern civilisation. Everything we enjoy today we owe to our medieval ancestors. These were the people who brought us out from the Pagan tyranny of the real "Dark Ages" under the Roman Empire, and into what we now know as the modern world! It is telling that Americans know so little of medieval times. Aside from the caricatures they typically see in movies and television, they really know nothing of it. The average American Protestant couldn't tell you anything about Church history between the late 1st century and the early 16th century. That's fifteen centuries of missing history! That's fifteen bloody centuries! FIFTEEN CENTURIES! One-Thousand-Five-Hundred YEARS!!! Has there ever been another people with such historical amnesia? I suspect a good part of the blame could be laid on the doorstep of America's public schools, but I also suspect that a greater part of the blame could be laid at the doorstep of many American Protestant churches. Conservative talk-radio show hosts are no help either. For them, history only began 240 years ago, with the founding of the United States. For them, the "greatest hope for humanity" is our national Constitution and Declaration of Independence, not the Saviour Jesus Christ who died for our sins. It seems to me that anyone boasting of the name "conservative" should think long and hard about what it is he is really trying to "conserve." Many good things came out of the Enlightenment era (1650 - 1790), but a lot of not-so-good things came out of it too. It was a period or rebellion against traditional Christianity, ultimately culminating in two violent revolutions. The first was the American Revolution, or the American War of Independence, which was the more moderate of the two. The second was the French Revolution, which was the more radical of the two, and more clearly embodied the ideals of the Enlightenment.

Is this conservatism?  No!  This is liberalism in the most classic sense. The Enlightenment was about rejecting traditional Christian ideas. The post-Enlightenment era (1790 to 1914) was the fruit of this experiment. During this time private industry gradually moved away from family-owned businesses and into massive corporate empires. It was a time of monopolies and robber barons. It was a time of extreme economic growth, punctuated by large market booms and recessions, of which the later were particularly hard on the poor. By the turn of the 19th to 20th century, the Western world was defined as a two-class society of haves and have-nots. With the adoption of antitrust laws, which broke up corporate monopolies, the modern world began a century-long rejection of post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism which is still going on today.

So what kind of conservatism should Americans embrace? Should it be the type of conservatism promoted on talk radio and the blogosphere, in which a post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism is the standard. We typically see this with calls for the abolition of government regulations on business, labour laws, minimum wage, antitrust laws, etc.  The cry often heard from the American conservative Right is "get rid of government!" and "we don't need any government laws and regulations."  What do they mean by this?  Are they advocating a return to the post-Enlightenment era? In a word -- yes. All one needs to do is read the writings of the authors they say inspired them, and they promote on their blogs, television and radio shows. Chief among them are Ayn Rand and Ludwig Von Misses, both of whom freely acknowledge their disdain for Christianity, and their belief that Christian morality and ethics are the greatest things holding back progress.

The following are a variety of quotes from Ayn Rand from various sources, including interviews and her own writings. The works of Ayn Rand have been promoted by conservative talk-radio shows for decades in the United States. Even a former Republican Vice Presidential nominee, a Catholic no less, made one of her books required reading for his office staff.
'Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice.' -- Ayn Rand, Interview with Playboy Magazine, March 1964 
'The kind of sense of life that produced the [papal] encyclical “Populorum Progressio” . . . was not produced by the sense of life of any one person, but by the sense of life of an institution. The dominant chord of the encyclical’s sense of life is hatred for man’s mind—hence hatred for man—hence hatred for life and for this earth—hence hatred for man’s enjoyment of his life on earth—and hence, as a last and least consequence, hatred for the only social system that makes all these values possible in practise: capitalism.' -- Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, page 304 
'The ideology that opposes man’s enjoyment of his life on earth and holds sex as such to be evil—the same ideology that is the source and cause of anti-obscenity censorship [is]: religion.' -- Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 1, 3 
'If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.' -- Ayn Rand, Faith and Force, A lecture delivered at Yale University on February 17, 1960
The following are quotes from Part IV, chapter 29, of Ludwig Von Mises' book Socialism. It should be noted that when Mises says "liberalism" he is referring to post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism, otherwise known today in America as "conservatism" or "neoconservatism."
'The expectation of God’s own reorganisation when the time came and the exclusive transfer of all action and thought to the future Kingdom of God, made Jesus’s teaching utterly negative. He rejects everything that exists without offering anything to replace it. He arrives at dissolving all existing social ties.' 
'One thing of course is clear, and no skillful interpretation can obscure it. Jesus’ words are full of resentment against the rich, and the Apostles are no meeker in this respect. The Rich Man is condemned because he is rich, the Beggar praised because he is poor. The only reason why Jesus does not declare war against the rich and preach revenge on them is that God has said: "Revenge is mine."' 
'This is a case in which the Redeemer’s words bore evil seed. More harm has been done, and more blood shed, on account of them than by the persecution of heretics and the burning of witches. They have always rendered the Church defenceless against all movements which aim at destroying human society.' 
'It would be foolish to maintain that Enlightenment, by undermining the religious feeling of the masses, had cleared the way for Socialism. On the contrary, it is the resistance which the Church has offered to the spread of liberal ideas which has prepared the soil for the destructive resentment of modern socialist thought. Not only has the Church done nothing to extinguish the fire, it has even blown upon the embers.' 
'The fate of Civilisation is involved. For it is not as if the resistance of the Church to liberal ideas was harmless. The Church is such a tremendous power that its enmity to the forces which bring society into existence would be enough to break our whole culture into fragments. In the last decades we have witnessed with horror its terrible transformation into an enemy of society. For the Church, Catholic as well as Protestant, is not the least of the factors responsible for the prevalence of destructive ideals in the world today.' 
'Priests and monks who practised true Christian charity, ministered and taught in hospitals and prisons and knew all there was to know about suffering and sinning humanity—these were the first to be ensnared by the new gospel of social destruction. Only a firm grasp of liberal philosophy could have inoculated them against the infectious resentment which raged among their protégés and was justified by the Gospels. As it was, they became dangerous enemies of society. From the work of charity sprang hatred of society.' 
'Now independent production does not tolerate any spiritual over-lordship. In our day, dominion over the mind can only be obtained through the control of production. All Churches have long been dimly aware of this, but it was first made clear to them when the socialist idea, rising from an independent source, made itself felt as a powerful and rapidly growing force. It then dawned upon the Churches that theocracy is only possible in a socialist community.
Is this the kind of "conservatism" that Christians should embrace? Some would argue that the religious beliefs of these intellectual leaders within American conservatism have nothing to do with conservatism itself. I say hogwash! There is a reason why their books are promoted by conservative talk-radio and blogs. It's precisely because these intellectual leaders in American conservatism are the architects of a political philosophy that is at its heart the antithesis of Christianity. They didn't make these quotes as a side note, some obscure beliefs they had apart from their economic views. Rather, they made these quotes precisely because of their economic views. They were thinkers! They took the economic philosophy they supported to its most logical conclusion, and unlike most people, they weren't afraid to say it or write it. If unapologetic support of Laissez-faire capitalism led them into opposition of Jesus Christ and his Church, then so be it.

Yet, like so many other radical philosophies, it cannot survive on its own. It must wrap itself in the cloak of "God and country" to gain the support of the vast majority of people who would otherwise recoil in horror if they knew what it was really about. This is the job of America's talk-radio shows, blogs and conservative print media. They take the grotesque and make it palatable. At its heart, American conservatism is post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism, and that is a philosophy of absolute individualism. So intimately tied with the development of the United States during the 19th century, this post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism (or absolute individualism) was simply dubbed "Americanism" by the popes of the Catholic Church. This is not the kind of "conservatism" that any Christian should embrace.

So what kind of conservatism should Christians embrace, particularly those in America? As I said above, we look to the principles and ethics of medieval times as our guide. We look to the code of Chivalry, the Canon Laws of the Catholic Church, and the rights given to women and peasants as examples of the overarching mindset true Christian conservatives should have. Surly we can never go back to such primitive simplicity, nor would we want to, but we can extract the good from the bad, take the lessons we need, and move forward in our own time. We are not alone in this. The Catholic Church has spent the last 120 years trying to develop a moral plan as demonstrated in the social encyclicals of the popes. The economic model of distributism, formulated by those who sought to implement the social encyclicals of the popes, serves as another guide. Indeed, this is no novelty. Such ideas have, in the past, made their way into the mainstream of American political thought. American antitrust laws, minimum wage laws, child labour laws, the 40-hour work week, credit unions, trade unions and cooperative corporations where all created with distributist solutions in mind. The popes continue to move forward in this, extracting the best from Christianity's medieval past and applying these principles in practical solutions for the modern world. This is conservatism -- true conservatism!!!  It is a conservatism based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which gives preferential option for the poor, small business and families. It is a conservatism that is more at peace with nature, seeking to "conserve" the resources and planet God has given us. It is a conservatism that shares many common goals with some of today's liberals, without embracing their destructive humanist views on collectivism, sex and family. It is a conservatism that champions the little people, and gives them a fair opportunity to provide for themselves, independent of big business and big government. It is a conservatism not seen on America's political spectrum in decades. It's the kind of conservatism that does not see Pope Francis or the Catholic Church as a threat, but rather a natural ally in the war against atheism, hedonism, greed and godlessness. That's the kind of conservatism Christians should embrace. What should we call it then? Call it what you like. Call it "Christian Conservatism" or "Traditionalism" or "Distributism" or just plain old "Chivalry." It doesn't matter. What matters is that Christians reject this post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism ROT that is commonly marketed as "conservatism" these days by many American bloggers and talk-radio show hosts. It's time for conservatives, particularly Christian conservatives, to rethink who they really are.

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Thursday, 25 December 2014

Victory Over The 'War On Christmas'

The Adoration of the Shepherds
Painted by Gerard van Honthorst on December 25, 1622

Every year we hear about it. Some new department store chain has changed the word Christmas to "Holiday" and instructed their employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." The laughable example of the "Holiday Tree" comes to mind. I saw this in a supercenter a couple years ago. A "Six Foot Holiday Tree with Built In Lighting" was just $39.99+tax. It was hideous actually, but I couldn't stop myself from chuckling out loud. Go to a typical department store and just try to find "holiday" decorations with an overtly Christian flare. Good luck! There may still be a few holdouts here and there, but for the most part, if you want Christmas decorations that focus on the Christ child, you almost have to go to a religious store to find them. If you do find a regular store that still sells Christian decorations, please patron them, and be sure to tell all your friends and family to do the same. We should be sure to reward those establishments that still honour the real reason for the season.

In America this politically correct trend, toward the purging of Christ from Christmas, has been dubbed the "war on Christmas." Americans seem to be obsessed with violence, and as a result, many new social trends seem to become a "war" on something. In this case however, the metaphor may be justified, because there really is a purging going on, and to those on the receiving end of it (Christians) it truly does feel like a war they're losing.

In truth, this metaphorical "war on Christmas" has been going on for a very long time, and I think it began decades ago with the hyper-commercialisation of Christmas. I remember working in a department store about a quarter of a century ago. (I say it that way just to give a perspective of how long this has been going on.) It was a popular arts and crafts store. It was December, so naturally we were selling all sorts of Christmas decorations. One night a finely dressed Asian woman and her children came into the store frantically looking for lights and decorations. Her English was good, but I could tell she was new to the country. I helped her find everything she needed. She seemed very concerned, that if she didn't decorate her house as quickly as possible, she might be seen as disrespecting our culture or something. She had many questions about these decorating traditions which were very foreign to her. I explained to her that all the fuss was about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Then she stopped and looked at me in the most astonished way. "Jesus Christ?" she asked. I explained the whole thing to her. She was amazed, and even more confused. She told me she thought the whole thing was about Santa Claus, and presents, and most of all -- being American!

Now I bring up this true story to illustrate a point. What kind of message is our culture sending with all of this pomp and circumstance we do every December? This lovely immigrant I met twenty-five years ago had been looking at decorations go up for weeks and yet she made no connection to a religious celebration. If you ask me, that's an indictment, not of her but of us, and especially our culture. This "war on Christmas" has been going on for a very long time. Long before "happy holidays" and "holiday trees," our Christian culture surrendered our Christmas celebrations to the cult of commercialism. In fact, I would say this surrender began an extremely long time ago, way back in the early twentieth century. It started when retailers learnt that December was the biggest shopping month of the year, thanks to the popular Christian celebration of exchanging gifts on Christmas. So to generate more sales, they needed to promote the Christmas holiday, but to do that, they couldn't get too religious. After all, Jews shop in December too, and so do atheists and non-religious people. Any overtly Christian message might drive those customers away. So immediately, there was an attempt to scale back the religious connections to Christmas, and an emphasis was put on popular folk tales and cultural mythology instead. It wasn't long before Santa Claus became the focus of Christmas more so than Jesus Christ. Now this may seem odd, since Saint Nicholas was not only a Christian figure, one of particularly Catholic character, but it wasn't the historical Saint Nicholas retailers were interested in promoting. Rather, it was some fabricated mythical character resembling the "jolly old elf" from Clement Moore's classic 1823 poem "​Twas the Night Before Christmas".  With the retail adoption of that particular version of Santa Claus, the commercialisation of Christmas was in full swing, and for quite a while, Christian Americans naively embraced it. As time went on however, promotion of Santa Claus simply wasn't enough, and fears arose that any mention of Christ in Christmas might offend non-Christian shoppers. So then came the purging. Not only would the mythical Santa Clause be promoted, as well as all the other mythical characters that arose during the twentieth century, but all mention of the Christ child was to be gradually eliminated. Again, our American culture simply went along with this, not realising the full scope of what was happening.

Then, roughly about ten to fifteen years ago, the unthinkable happened, and we finally hit the overreach of political correctness. Not only department stores, but public schools as well, stopped saying "Merry Christmas," and substituted the term "Happy Holidays." The holiday phrase had been used for a long time of course, in general public discourse, mainly to refer to Christmas and Hanukkah together, but now for the first time, people were being told not to say Christmas any more. Thus the metaphorical "war on Christmas" was born, and here we are today with our happy holidays, holiday trees and our festival of lights. Where is Christ in all of this? Well, he's not in the department stores. That's for sure. You won't find him on the campus of public schools. Outside of very rare occasions, he's not usually featured on television Christmas specials. Thankfully, we still have him on the radio, now and then, with some popular Christmas carols from ages past. However, with all the new pop artists releasing Christmas albums every year, I'm not sure how long that will last. Indeed, if we rely on retailers, governments, artists and broadcasters to keep Christ in Christmas, we're done for.

That's the problem really. We Christians have been relying on others to fight our battles for us, and that is our undoing. These days I hear a lot of people bemoaning the commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas (err, I mean "holiday time"), but we fail to see that everything we need to win the battle is already in our hands. It's time to stop cursing the darkness and create a light -- a big light -- one that will outshine and outlast all those inflatable yard ornaments. It's really simple. Any Christian family can do it, and any Christian pastor can promote it.

The solution draws heavily upon our Christian liturgical calendar, which is already familiar to many Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Lutherans. This will be new to Baptists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals, but they can catch on rather quickly. It's called Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Christmastide.

For our Christian brethren who might not know, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. So look at your calendar, find Christmas, and count back four Sundays. That's the start of Advent. Now Advent is a time when we prepare for Christmas, just like everyone else, but as Christians, we should be making this a particularly religious occasion.

For example; I don't have a problem with mythical Santa, elves and flying reindeer. However, if our intention is to put Christ back into Christmas, than maybe we should leave the fairy tales in the attic and showcase the nativity scenes front and centre. On a personal note, my annual Christmas outdoor display is very simple. I put the Holy Family in the middle of my front yard, and surrounded them with little spiral Christmas trees. That's it! It's nothing fancy, but it definitely gets the point across. There is no way anyone can drive by my house and not know that Jesus Christ is the reason for our celebration. Multiply a display like this by a several million, and don't tell me it wouldn't have some kind of impact on our culture. It would. So when you're putting up those Christmas lights, think about this. How can you tell your neighbours, and everyone who drives by, that Jesus is the sole reason for the season?

Then of course there is the Advent wreath. Every Christian home should have one, or at least four Advent candles, to light one for each week, until all are lit. Children love this custom, as it serves as a visual countdown to Christmas. Every candle lighting session in the home should be accompanied by the song "O' Come Emmanuel" to remind everyone in the house what this season of Advent is about. The word Advent means "coming" and it is a Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia. During Advent we contemplate Christ's two comings. The First Advent he came to us as a babe in a stable, to save the world from sin. In his Second Advent, he shall come to us in the clouds as a conquering King to judge the world and bring us into eternity. This is a side of the Advent season sorely neglected in our modern age, and needs to be brought back. The song "O' Come Emmanuel" has a haunting double meaning when Christ's Second Advent is considered, with the understanding that the Church as the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).

Advent calendars have also become popular in recent centuries. These usually start on December first and end on the twenty-fourth. Children love them, as again, they serves as a countdown to Christmas. As Christians, we should be particularly careful to get get Advent calendars with a religious theme.

Some Christians observe Advent with mild fasting and abstinence. While this is not an official practice, it is observed by some, and of course there is nothing wrong with that. Others prefer to look at Advent as a time of increasing joy and expectation. Certainly this is the case with most children. I prefer the later approach. One thing Christians should be mindful of is a slowness and tranquillity in our Christmas preparations. This is so completely opposite of how things usually work. One of the ways my family deals with this is by getting all the big things out of the way first. Shopping is done early, the earlier the better. Avoiding the chaos of department stores and supercentres is a must for me. Christmas decorations go up immediately after Advent begins, so I'm not trying to rush them later. Wrapping of gifts happens early too, usually weeks before Christmas Day. Everything is done as early as possible to reduce the Christmas rush, and try to enjoy the time of Advent for what it is. Advent is supposed to be a time of peaceful preparation for the coming of Our Lord, wherein we remember his first coming as the babe in a stable, and look forward to his Second Coming as our King in the sky. It is so important that we project to the world an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. Our celebration of Advent and Christmas should be a joyous one, completely disconnected from the hustle and bustle of the commercialised "holidays" put forward by retailers, governments and broadcasters.

Now get ready because Advent is just the preparation. I'm about to tell you how to strike a death blow to the metaphorical "war on Christmas." This is how to do it. Prepare and then STOP.  That's right, I said "Prepare for Christmas and then STOP." Don't go any further. There should be no Christmas parties prior to December 25. There should be no carolling prior to December 25. Once everything is ready, STOP and enjoy the lights, music and candles until December 25. Then, on Christmas Eve (the evening before December 25) GO! -- the partying begins. Not only does it begin on December 25, but it shouldn't stop until January 6.  Here is why. Christmas is not a day. It's a period of time lasting twelve days. It starts on December 25, which is the Feast of the Nativity, wherein we remember the birth of Christ and the visit by the shepherds. Then it goes through until January 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the visit of the magi (wise men). Now stop and consider this. The commercialised Christmas (holiday) ends on December 25. By December 26 it's over. So long as Christians celebrate Christmas this way, the commercialisation and secularisation wins. The way to gain victory over the "war on Christmas" is to keep celebrating long after everyone else has stopped. So get as many recordings of religious Christmas music as you can, and keep them playing through January 6. Call those Christian radio stations, playing Christmas music in December, and nicely tell them if they're really "Christian" they should keep that Christmas music going through January 6. Keep all the decorations up, and for heaven's sake, don't turn out those Christmas lights! Keep them going! Instead of having one giant dinner on Christmas Eve with the whole extended family, maybe consider two or three (or more) Christmas dinners, at various houses, during the twelve days of Christmas. Share the cooking and hosting you see. Then get religious! Attend church services more often during Christmastide (the twelve days of Christmas). This is the time for carolling, parades, pageantries and parties. Churches can organise a lot of these things. If pastors begin working together with other pastors, across denominational lines, they can begin community pageants and parades with a strictly religious theme. The New Year celebration can take on a much more traditional religious tone. While many Christian families can break up their gift-giving into two parts. Some gifts on Nativity (December 25) and some gifts on Epiphany (January 6).

Retailers can control what they put on their shelves, and what they tell their employees to say. Schools and government offices can do the same. None of them, however, can control time. That is something we Christians have on our side. The commercial and secular "war on Christmas" has a flaw. It's an Achilles Heel that we can easily exploit to our advantage. Santa Clause only comes on Christmas Eve. In other words, the whole commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas is dependent on everything coming to a close on the morning of December 25. Whatever happens after December 25 is beyond the control of retailers and government institutions. If Christians will simply reclaim the historical celebrations of Advent and Christmastide, which rightfully belong to them anyway, victory over the "war on Christmas" will be inevitable. We can't stop the commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas, but we sure can render it irrelevant.

This article was first published in Forward In Christ Magazine

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Great Catholic Boycott

If video above does not play, click here.

This isn't the first time something like this has been called for, and it certainly won't be the last. It is however, the first time it's been called for on such a large scale, by a media outlet with such a broad reach. I suspect it will have a significant long-term effect.

As much as many in the U.S. Catholic establishment would like Michael Voris to just "fade away," that is not going to happen. He's raised a small army at ChurchMilitant.TV with many subordinates who could take over his position if necessary, or who could go off and start their own Internet media outfit if they had to. Likewise, he has managed to rally scores of bloggers on the Internet, bringing them to a singular focus. What this man has done is impressive, but it is no longer limited to him alone. Michael Voris is just the tip of a very big iceberg. There is only one way to avoid running aground on this thing, and that is for the bishops and priests of the U.S. Catholic Church to steer away from it. Trying to knock the tip off the iceberg (as some have tried to do by attacking Voris) is not going to solve the problem. Even if successful, the iceberg still remains. The best way to avoid hitting the iceberg is to simply be nowhere near it. That means there is only one way out -- fix the problem!

The problem has been avoided for far too long. Mother Angelica, of EWTN, fired the warning shot across the bow 20 years ago (see here). For this she was disciplined. Yes, the tip of the iceberg was cut off, but the ship still ran aground on it. About 10 years later it was hit with the worst sex-abuse scandal in the history of Christianity. The ramifications of this are still being played out, and the money lost by the Church is incalculable, both in lawsuit payouts and lost donations. Well, here we are 10 years later again, and guess what? Very little has changed, and the ship is about to hit the iceberg again. The proverbial "bell" has been "rung" and nobody can "unring" it.  The call has been put out with this video, and unlike mainstream television, this isn't just a one time running. This video will be played over and over again, on computers, tablets and smart phones -- indefinitely. It's not going away. It's never going away. Who would have thought that we would finally reach the point, when a Catholic media persona could actually, and legitimately, make the claim that being a faithful Catholic means NOT giving donations to your parish and diocese? Well, it's happened, and his call is resonating.

I am fortunate. The "diocese" I am part of doesn't have these problems. It is traditional, and does not compromise on Catholic teaching. I will continue to give to my "diocese" and to the parish we are attempting to start here in my area.  Some of you, however, are not in the same position. It is important for a Catholic Christian to give, especially during this Advent and Christmas seasons. So if you decide not to give to your parish or diocese, because of the appeal given by Voris in the video above, then might I suggest a few alternatives...

  • You could find a conservative and traditional parish or group to give to instead. It could simply be a traditional Novus Ordo parish, or a traditional Anglican Use parish. It could be a local Latin Mass parish or community, preferably one within your diocese or a regularised fraternity such as the FSSP. (I strongly discourage giving any money to the SSPX or similar unregularised outfits.)
  • You could give directly to a regularised traditional fraternity, prelature or ordinariate. Some suggestions might be such organisations as: Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, Institute of Christ the King, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, Una Voce, and Opus Dei. In all of these fully Catholic organisations, you can rest assured that your donations will be put to use in the most traditional way, building a more traditional future for the Catholic Church here in North America.
  • You could simply find local charities, that are consistent with Catholic social teaching, and give directly to them instead. I would recommend crisis pregnancy centres as one example, local soup kitchens, and homeless shelters as another.

Whatever you do, don't stop giving. Rather, if you decide to follow Voris' call for a financial boycott on Catholic parishes and dioceses that no longer adhere to the Catholic faith, then just redirect your funds to those that do.

As I said, the proverbial "bell" has been "rung" and nobody can "unring" it now. The only people who can stop this boycott are the Catholic bishops and priests themselves, by getting back to the traditional basics and start teaching Catholicism again. If not, well, I imagine it will only be a matter of time before they start feeling the pinch. Remember, this video isn't going away. It will be played over and over again -- indefinitely. There is certainly nothing I can do to stop it, and sharing it here on my little blog (which only has a small following) isn't going to make any difference one way or another. I'm sure more videos like it will soon follow. Watch the big Catholic blogs and you'll see, they'll be jumping on this bandwagon soon enough.