‘Oriental Orthodox’ Dialogue, the Problem of Pluralism

Zenit news agency ran a story on the ecumenical dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox (Report of Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Commission). Noteworthy in that report is the list of papers that were presented at the Commission’s meeting. Please notice the topics: “Mission, Witness, Service and the Problem of Proselytism,” by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian; “The Mission of the Church,” by Bishop Paul-Werner Scheele; “The Salvation of Nonbelievers in the Patristic Period,” by Father Mark Sheridan, O.S.B.; “The Church and the Salvation of Non-Christians in the Second Vatican Council and Afterward,” by Monsignor Johan Bonny; “The Salvation of Nonbelievers,” by Metropolitan Bishoy; “Marriage Between Catholics and Muslims: A Catholic Perspective,” by Archbishop Peter Marayati; “Mixed Marriages With Non-Christians,” by Metropolitan Bishoy.

Who are the “Oriental Orthodox”? According to CWN:

The Oriental Orthodox churches are the six ancient Christian bodies that broke with Rome after the Christological disputes of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The term “Oriental Orthodox” is used to distinguish these churches from the “Eastern Orthodox” who remained in union with the Holy See until the Great Schism of the 11th century.

The Oriental Orthodox churches are divided into the Armenian Apostolic, Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syro-Malankar, and Syrian Orthodox churches.

The following comments assume that the general conclusion of the papers presented at the Commission was that unbelievers can be saved as unbelievers. I would love to find out that my assumption is wrong.

All of these sects reject the Council of Chalcedon’s condemnation of Monophysitism (the heresy that denies Christ’s human nature). None of them accept any subsequent ecumenical councils. Strange that the salvation of non-believers, the “problem” of proselytism, and mixed marriages have become topics of such great import in discussions with those who reject Catholic Christology. Not that the questions are purely academic ones: Most of these sects are little Christian specs in an ocean of Islam. One (Syro-Malankar) is found in dominantly Hindu areas. Some of these sects have been terribly persecuted (e.g., the Armenians by the Turks). But why the focus away from the mystery of Christ and toward the salvation of the non-believer? It seems that the dialogue is focusing on policies regarding survival in a non-Christian world and not what constitutes authentic Christianity. Without questioning the wisdom of survival, it seems to us that this is more a political-diplomatic reality than a strictly theological one.

The cynical question begs to be asked: Is the idea that we can have “Christian unity” with each other as long as we recognize that Christianity is not necessary?


The Problem of Pluralism and the Delight of Demographics

And speaking of dialogue, recent events have brought me to ponder the ideology behind most of what passes for it: pluralism. In a nutshell, pluralism is the belief that the coexistence of a multitude of diverse and contradictory religious, philosophical, and moral systems is a good thing. It is one of the many malignant cultural and intellectual trends that was vomited forth from the so-called Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century. Its noxious fumes are in the very atmosphere we breathe.

While this piece focuses more on the problem of pluralism and less on solutions, I will quickly summarize those latter. Besides good will, there are two things that can check pluralism: loyal adherence to Catholic orthodoxy (with its accompanying supernatural economy) and embracing a Catholic culture. We are trying to advance both of those ends here.

Among the “recent events” which led me to these considerations is my participation in exchanges with neighbors in the rural town where the Center is located. What occasioned these conversations and correspondences is a very difficult site plan review process we are undergoing before our local Planning Board. The review concerns a 10,300 square foot structure we plan on building for school and chapel space. This would all be routine stuff had not a handful of local critics mounted an intense campaign against our expansion. The public hearings became circuses. Things were difficult enough, but then…

The SPLC published their anti-traditionalist screed.

It didn’t take too long for that brouhaha to become public locally as a new twist in the excitement surrounding the public hearings — multiple and long public hearings. There have been several newspaper articles on us, at least one TV news piece, and two on-line discussion forums begun as a result of the issues raised. We are still in the throes of all the fun.

Not that all our neighbors are up in arms over our proposed building project or our presence in their midst. There is a healthy amount of decency and civility in Richmond. This is one of the reasons we like the place.

One of the on-line forums on the Keene Sentinel’s web site is entitled “Free to Believe: Religious tolerance in the Monadnock Region.” The first posting began with the following panegyric to pluralism:

My mother and father are Catholic, my sister is Buddhist, my husband is an atheist, I’m an agnostic. My adult son told me recently he prays every night before he falls asleep. My daughter’s boyfriend is a Jew.

I attended a Catholic elementary school… my husband is a disabled Vietnam era veteran… Some of my friends are married, some are divorced… some are gay. My son’s best friend in high school is black. … My father is bald and my daughter is a red head. My sister is skinny and my mother is short. I wear glasses and color my hair.

What I am trying to get at here is that there really is no room in our lives for intolerance and bigotry-religious or otherwise.

Besides the irrational mixing of such weighty things as religious beliefs and morals with incidentals such as hair color, skin color, nationality, and body type, the author of these lines, and others with her, thought it offensive that our goal was to convert others — including themselves — to our religion. They explicitly said as much. Such a thing is inherently anti-pluralistic, you see.

Another lady, less polite than the first, posted this thinly-veiled diatribe against us:

We are practicing Catholics and have lived our lives and raised our children to always be receptive and respectful of other people’s beliefs.

And I am happy and proud to say that in our family there are different religious beliefs, yet no-one is made to feel that they are not ‘saved’, or that one’s belief is really the one, true belief, as opposed to others. If there are so many denominations that can claim that ‘THEY’ are the one, true religion, then guess what? We all can probably find favor in the eyes of God as long as we live good lives and keep to the commandments. Simple. A little open-mindedness and respect might actually go a long way in getting along with people and finding favor with God.

Note that the first posting I quoted was from a fallen-away Catholic while the second is from a lady who calls herself a practicing Catholic. These victims of the liberalism that has long been ravaging the Church would probably not believe you if you tried to tell them that they have replaced a creed with an ideology, but that is exactly what they have done. The ideology of pluralism does not have to be one they have knowingly embraced or studiously compared to its alternatives. It’s so ever-present to them that they mistake it for normalcy. Sadly, their Catholic upbringing does not seem to have equipped them to resist the ideology.

When the more malign of those infected by pluralistic thinking behold us — Catholics who think that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation — they are programmed by their ideology to call us members of a cult1. Someone, in a strained attempt at humor, even made a crass Kool-Aid joke on the tolerance forum. How tolerant!

This leads me to my considerations on demographics. It is no secret to some of our adversaries that the married folk involved with the Center are producing more offspring than they themselves are. They seem to behold the handwriting on the wall.

Now I’m no sociologist and I really don’t care how birth rates, immigration patterns, and such eventually factor into the conversion of our nation. I trust God to do it as He pleases, while I do what I can to assist. But some thoughts in this area can help to offset the enlightened bigotry of the liberal American pluralist.

A journalist named Sean Scallon recently wrote an article on changing religious demographics, “From Catholic to Orthodox, From (Nominal) Christian to Islam – religious trends in the 21st Century.” The article is written from a purely secular point of view, but its information is worth pondering. Mr. Scallon’s opening comments are germane to our considerations on pluralism:

Demographics is destiny and that’s true not just in politics but business, education, sports, entertainment, culture and religion.

Especially religion.

That’s because numbers and numbers of adherents determine whether or not your faith is taken seriously or is just another kooky cult.

What does this have to do with pluralism? What we believe in faith and morals — not pluralism — is what everybody believed in Christendom in the Ages of Faith. But the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the various “Revolutions” (French-Masonic, Industrial, and Sexual) have made it that now, in the post-modern, post-Christian world, very few people believe or live the way we do in the lands of former-Christendom.

Should the demographics be reversed — and, God willing, they will be soon — it will be the liberal Enlightenment thinkers who will look like a kooky cult.

Come, Lord Jesus!


1. Those of you who read the Boston Globe Style Book know that a cult is “organized fanatics working for a common end.”