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Spadaro and Figueroa’s “Ecumenism of Hate”

Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane holds La Civilta Cattolica before meeting of Pontifical Council for Social Communications at Vatican

Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa’s article, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism,” in La Civiltà Cattolica (described by Spadaro as a “peer-reviewed magazine” whose “articles are always read and approved by the [Vatican’s] Secretariat of State”) is a bungled opportunity. The stark Manichean colors with which they paint their subject, and the apocalyptic tones they sound, combined with a muddled understanding of different currents in American evangelicalism, obscures rather than illuminates their argument.

The irony is that Spadaro and Figueroa succumb to the Manichean temptations, and apocalyptic rhetoric, which they ascribe to their subjects. We’ll return to that in a moment. The point I think they try to make, but lose in their ham-handed argument, is that conservative Christians in the U.S. need to be wary that, in the heat of political battle, political commitments don’t efface their more-important spiritual commitments. This is a temptation to which American evangelicalism, in particular, too-easily succumbs, and seems also to be a risk for a segment of American Catholicism today. (Politically Progressive American Christians have their own idols as well, but of a different ilk than Christian conservatives.)

First, Spadaro and Figueroa charge their subjects with political Manichaenism. I prefer the term be used to describe dualistic religious views in which good and evil are equally powerful. While there is a tendency towards forms of Manichaenism in the folk-spirituality of many American Christians (and is ubiquitous in Hollywood films portraying supernatural evil), these Christians typically are highly pietistic, and not particularly political.

Spadaro and Figueroa use the adjective not to identify any real Manichean heresy, however, but instead to communicate their disapproval of the rhetorical use of what they consider over simplified black and white moral categories.

Before we get to their argument, one must note the irony of Spadaro and Figueroa’s article is that there is no gray in their treatment of those they accuse of Manichaenism. It’s all just black and white for them as well; just absolute good versus absolute evil. The only difference is what they condemn as absolute good and absolute evil.

Oddly, however, Spadaro and Figueroa do not actually provide religious examples of the simplified moral discourse they condemn among Christians. They instead use as evidence for their point George W. Bush’s reference to an “axis of evil,” and Donald Trump’s willingness to characterize certain people as “bad” or “very bad.”

Neither is persuasive.

Given the large swaths of the world that, for Bush, fell neither into a category of absolute good or of absolute evil, his designation of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as “evil” does not betoken any form of political Manichaenism. It was not an all-encompassing categorization. Indeed, it’s more Manichean to force Bush’s comment into that category than his comment illustrates the category. Trump, on the other hand, does sort the world into people who are “good” and people who are “bad.” But even for him those are not absolute categories, but are flexible and permeable. They reflect his assessment of the most recent thing someone said of him. When one criticizes, then one is “bad,” but when that same person then praises, that person is now “good.” While they are simplistic categories, they do not take on the absolutistic judgments of even a figuratively appropriate use of “Manichean.”

For Spadaro and Figueroa, it seems as though one is a Manichean if one holds different moral or political judgments than they do. Indeed, it almost seems as though they define Manichaenism as anyone who might hold a moral absolute (aside, that is, from the absolute that there are no absolutes).

Spadaro and Figueroa’s discussion of apocalypticism fairs little better. First the mistake: They discuss the apocalypticism of the work of the late R.J. Rushdoony, the father of “Christian Reconstructionism” which is also often called “dominion theology.” They compare his views to “the theopolitics spread by Isis” which “is based on the same cult of an apocalypse that needs to be brought about as soon as possible.”

To be sure, there is a disturbing Sharia-like aspect to Rushdoony’s work in his argument that the state needs to follow “Biblical law,” by which he means mainly the Law of Moses in the Old Testament. (I’m guessing that Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was not particularly dog-eared in Rushdoony’s Bible.) But contrary to Spadaro and Figueroa’s claims, Rushdoony did not join his eccentric view of Biblical law with any form of apocalypticism. Indeed, unlike the vast majority of American evangelicals today, Rushdoony did not believe that Christ’s return was imminent. Rushdoony was a convinced “postmillennialist.” He thought that the world would gradually grow more Christian over the centuries, or even over the millennia, and then would Jesus return, at the very end of history. For Rushdoony, Jesus’ return might not happen for thousands, perhaps not even for hundreds of thousands, of years. There was no modern-day crisis in Rushdoony’s eschatology.

Beyond that, though, and again contrary to Spadaro and Figueroa, I’m unsure Rushdoony’s influence, even while he was alive, extended much beyond small sects of “hole and corner” Christianity in the U.S. And even that influence dissipated after his death. I know of no important evangelical leader, let alone a political leader, who articulates any form of Rushdoony’s eccentric view of “Biblical law.”

As I mentioned, however, American evangelicals are indeed overwhelmingly apocalyptic in their eschatological beliefs, even if not derived from, or combined with, Rushdoony’s theonomy. Historically, however, apocalypticism tends toward political quietism rather than political activism. After all, why polish brass on what you think is a sinking ship? Aside from outsized support for the state of Israel among U.S. evangelicals, I know of no distinct policy implication from their apocalypticism.

Spadaro and Figueroa also throw in a discussion of the “Prosperity gospel,” and of support of evangelicals (and conservative Catholics) for expanded judicial protection for religious liberty. All of this is mixed together and served in a potpourri of condemnation. The irony again is that Spadaro and Figueroa expend no effort to understand sympathetically what might be motivating the U.S. Christians they condemn. They condemn them in black and white, in, dare I say, Manichean terms.

They describe the Catholics and evangelicals they oppose as being joined in an “ecumenism of hate.”

Of course, if they did not use the extreme language they do, then it is doubtful their article would have received the attention it did. Still, one might expect two Christian pastors to be, well, rather more pastoral in their orientation, “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition,” as the apostle Paul instructed the young pastor, Timothy.

As I mentioned at the start, however, I do think there are reasons to be concerned about the influence of the politicization of Christianity in and on American Christians and American churches. But given their muddle of analysis, and their inaccurate, poorly-evidenced, and over-the-top language, Spadaro and Figueroa don’t help with that discussion.

Reader Discussion

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on July 18, 2017 at 09:54:50 am

"As I mentioned at the start, however, I do think there are reasons to be concerned about the influence of the politicization of Christianity in and on American Christians and American churches"

You say these fellows claim that the Vatican has reviewed their work.

No surprise there! This seems right up Francis' alley.

For what it is worth, former Pope Benedict is reported to have commented that the "Church is in danger of capsizing" (under the captaincy of Francis, he could (should) have added).

Anyone interested in observing the politicization of religion need only listen to, or read, any utterances from this south American Marxist with the tall hat.

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gabe
on July 18, 2017 at 10:05:37 am

To be sure, there is much disturbing rhetoric emanating from The See, this example is just yet another.

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Paul Binotto
on July 18, 2017 at 20:50:41 pm

Regrettably, I can no longer understand ( or fathom) what this Jesuit SEE(s).

This is truly sad. When one considers how the Mainline Protestant Churches maneuvered themselves into insignificance, it is disconcerting, at best, to witness the same mistakes being made by the Catholic Church.
In their search for *significance* and relevance, the Mainline Protestant denominations slipped into simple conformity with the zeitgeist and assumed that they could hold sway with their current (and prospective) Congregants by offering them a "Gospel" of "beggared truths and slogans" (apologies to John Locke).

Worked out really well for them didn't it?

Before long, the Big Reveal will be that Pope Francis is really nobody - or is that nobody.really?

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gabe
on July 19, 2017 at 09:19:43 am

It is Sad, Mr. Gabe.

"Before long, the Big Reveal will be that Pope Francis is really nobody – or is that nobody.really?" - I have some reservations about the plausibility of this proposition, because, for it to be possible, even plausible, the assumption must be first made that Nobody.really is actually a male. How can we know this?

I am always cautious to address Nobody by both masculine and feminine (I draw the line at only two) pronouns, because the moniker is ambiguous, perhaps intentionally ambiguous, (admittedly, a trait shared with Francis), in regards to gender. So before we can rightly speculate on whether Nobody is Francis, and Francis, Nobody, we must first look closer at what we actually know about Nobody.

Nobody's rhetoric is decidedly masculine in tone, so this may be an indication that Nobody is male. However, who's to judge, it may be just as likely that Nobody is a female with decidedly masculine emanations.

So our question still remains unanswered. What else do we know? We can make a few simple assumptions in examining Nobody's gender: Nobody can be male, or Nobody can be female, but Nobody cannot be both male and female, (post-modern assertions aside).

Next, what do know about Francis and his gender? While the name 'Francis' at face, may also be ambiguous of gender, perhaps intentionally ambiguous, (admittedly, a trait shared with Nobody), Francis is Pope, Francis is priest of the Catholic Church. So therefore, Francis is male, because although a Francis can be female, a female cannot be Pope or priest of the Catholic Church, (this is disregarding the very rare instances over 2000 years, when Pope has not been priest, at least when elected).

So what conclusions may we draw thus far: 1) Nobody could be Francis, but only if Nobody is a male, Pope and priest. 2) Nobody cannot be Francis if Nobody is male, but not Pope and not priest. 3) Nobody cannot be Francis if Nobody is female, because Church doctrine does not admit females to the priesthood (or office of Pope).

So, if Nobody is female, for her to be Francis, Pope and priest, first there would have to be a change in Church doctrine regarding the admittance of females to the priesthood. Otherwise, Francis if female, to have gone undetected, would have to have pulled off the greatest masquerade of the last fifty years. And the likelihood of Francis doing that is as likely as the Church ever changing its doctrine...on second thought, maybe you're onto something.

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Paul Binotto
on July 19, 2017 at 11:47:20 am

[T]he assumption must be first made that Nobody.really is actually a male….

Nobody can be male…. Nobody can be female….

I thought your name sounded familiar. Were we in the same Gender Studies class?

Nobody cannot be both male and female….

So you’re saying that EVERYBODY has an innate potential to be both male and female? Yeah, we must have been in the same Gender Studies class….

[B]efore we can rightly speculate on whether Nobody is Francis, and Francis, Nobody….

So you’re speculating that the pope is a robot? Call Dan Brown!

Nobody cannot be Francis….

I’ve heard that we are all one in Christ. But the idea that we are all one in the pope? That’s a new one.

I’m reminded of the song, “Everybody Loves My Baby, but My Baby Don't Love Nobody but Me.” If everybody loves my baby, then clearly my baby loves my baby. But how can we reconcile the idea that my baby loves my baby with the idea that my baby doesn’t love anybody but me? This is only possible if I am my baby.

This takes the adage “You have to learn to love yourself” to a whole new level.

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nobody.really
on July 19, 2017 at 12:58:24 pm

Ha, yes, or perhaps, "love your neighbor as you love yourself".

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Paul Binotto
on July 19, 2017 at 16:54:35 pm

Ahhh! It sounds like more "popery" to me!

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gabe
on July 19, 2017 at 18:08:20 pm

Hm. I knew potpourri had a scent; I didn't know it had a sound.

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nobody.really
on July 19, 2017 at 23:44:54 pm

Yes, it is that popping sound you hear when the *pressure* gets a little high - or is that from pot?

Hmmmmm!

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gabe
on July 21, 2017 at 16:50:00 pm

[…] This piece by James R. Rogers at LibertyLawsite is, I found quite funny.  But oh oh, maybe it’s a hate site, since it’s in Texas, has Liberty in the title and is ‘Murrican and on the wrong side of the good/evil dichotomy. […]

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Image of Ha ha ha! Will the real Manicheans please stand up? | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog
Ha ha ha! Will the real Manicheans please stand up? | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

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