Saturday, November 30, 2019

What People Don't Understand About Syncretism

One of the most pertinent facts that emerged from the recent Amazon Synod is the sad truth that a vast number of Catholics don't understand what syncretism is. This is true not only of the dissimulating organizers of the shameful Pachamama rites in the Vatican, but also of the legion of papolatrous Twitterati who defended them, as well as the ignoramuses and faux intellegensia among the sloppy laity who argued "bUt iS JuST tEh VirgUn MAry!" until their faces turned blue.  

One thing all of these folks share in common is apparent unfamiliarity with the concept of syncretism, which was so perfectly exemplified in the Pachamama episodes. Religious syncretism is characterized by blending or "syncretizing" of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated—and often contradictory—beliefs or traditions.

The entire point of syncretism is that religious belief and imagery are blended together, such that they are difficult for the average worshiper to distinguish. A classic example of this is the ancient Romans, who held a fundamentally syncretist view of non-Roman religions. The Romans were masters of adaptation; when encountering a new religion among their conquered peoples, they essentially tried to identify the new deities with the existing deities in their own pantheon. Once such an identification was made, the new god would be worshiped under the rites and name of the old god. This connection having been made, both the Roman gods and the gods of the conquered peoples could be worshiped in unity by the mixed populace. 

For example, when the Romans encountered the Celtic god Lugus in Gaul, they associated him with Mercury. Lugus was referred to as Mercury by the Romans, and Romanized Celts might offer him sacrifices under either name. He was not Lugus or Mercury, but both, depending on the identity, culture, and preferences of the worshiper. He was worshiped under both names by both peoples in a single temple.

Another interesting example is the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, a popular cult of the early 3rd century AD. Centered in the Syrian city of Doliche, the Jupiter Dolichenus cult was essentially a Roman re-imagination of the older Baal-Teshub-Hadad cults of the region, which went all the way back to the Hittites and the Sumerians. Because Baal, Teshub et al. were storm gods, the Romans shrugged and said, "Oh, okay, that's sorta like Jupiter." The popular cult of Jupiter Dolichenus fused the official worship of Rome's supreme patron deity with the exotic mystery cults of the east. Again, his cultus was the assimilation of pre-Roman Canaanite paganism into the official Roman pantheon such that worshipers of Baal, Hadad, Jupiter, or whomever could worship Jupiter Dolichenus with a sense of cultural unity. The Roman merchant Marcus might worship Jupiter, and the Syrian peasant Yassib might worship Baal, two objectively distinct gods—but in the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, both might worship one divinity together while simultaneously adoring their own regional gods.

Syncretism is ultimately a manner of thinking found among spiritual people who don't care about truth, for syncretism is not about truth but rather vague, often emotional, concepts. It did not matter whether Baal and Jupiter were objectively different deities. It was not relevant that Baal was killed and spends part of the year in the underworld before being resurrected while Jupiter never underwent such an ordeal and indeed could not be killed or even wounded by anyone. It is of no consequence that Jupiter overthrew his father Saturn while Baal remained on good terms with his father Dagan. It's neither here nor there that Baal overcame and slew the god of the sea (a hideous monster) while the Roman sea god was Jupiter's own brother, Neptune. The contradictions and divergences between the various tales don't matter. All that matters is that the powers of the sky were a very mysterious thing, the forces of which inspired in the ancients a sense of terror and superstitious reverence. It did not matter to whom one was addressing when one worshiped the sky god; all that mattered was the worshiper's emotional needs to venerate this particular force were gratified.

To return to Pachamama, what we saw in the arguments of the defenders of the Pachamama rites was an essential ignorance of how syncretism worked. These folks did not seem to realize that syncretism essentially suspends or ignores the principle of non-contradiction, namely, that two contradictory things cannot be predicated of the same subject simultaneously. Steeped in the assumptions of western thought, the Pachamama defenders assumed that the image we saw in the Vatican gardens was supposed to be either Pachamama, or a representation of Gaia, or the Virgin Mary. And that settling the question was simply a matter of looking at the evidence and determining which of these three possibilities is correct.

Ah, the lingering influence of western rationality! Even when these folks are helping demolish the western tradition, they can't escape the western intellectual paradigms they have been raised with. They don't understand that in a syncretist context, the image can be the goddess Pachamama, and a personification of Gaia, and the Blessed Virgin Mary simultaneously. To try to make an argument that such an image is not Pachamama but the Virgin Mary would be as useless as standing outside the Temple of Jupiter Dolichenus and trying to insist to a befuddled Syrian crowd that the image inside was not Jupiter but Baal, or not Teshub but Hadad. The whole purpose of a syncretist approach is to create a cultural situation where such an image is Mary to the Catholic and also Pachamama to the pagans, so that everybody can worship under one big happy tent without anybody having to change or do anything difficult—Catholics don't have to evangelize, and pagans don't have to convert. Syncretism is the ultimate baptism of the boring status quo.

And the insidious thing about syncretism is how difficult it can be for the uninformed to spot or understand. For example, consider these candles:

The design and images of the saints look perfectly orthodox. There's St. George, the Virgin and Child, St. Martin, St, Lazarus, and others. The unaware might assume that the names at the bottom are merely the saint names in some other language.

However, these innocuous looking candles are in fact Santeria candles used for Voodoo ritual—the titles at the bottom are not appellations for the saints, but are in fact the names of Voodoo demons. If you don't believe me, just do some searching for Papa Legba, Ogou Feray, or Ezili Danto. Haitian Voodoo-Santeria is an excellent example of what a syncretist religious tradition looks like. No two things could be more contradictory than the purity of the Catholic faith and the dark magic of Voodoo; and yet, here we see the traditional imagery of Catholicism and Santeria blended together.

We can imagine the erstwhile defenders of Pachamama belligerently insisting that these candles are perfectly orthodox. "Look at it! It's obviously the Virgin Mary and Christ child. You are being hypocritical. The only reason you are attacking this is because they have BROWN SKIN!"

There's much more that can be said here, but I think the essential point is this: the entire rationale behind syncretism is to blend religious traditions such that people from various cultures can continue to worship their own customary deities under one big tent. It's not a matter of sorting out whether an image is Pachamama or the Virgin Mary; when something is syncretist one can make convincing arguments for either. And that is the whole point.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The New Double Truth Theory

Many years ago, during the Benedict XVI pontificate, I drew attention to a phenomenon which I dubbed Catholic "dogma ex voce" ("from the voice"). The essential observation of this post was that contemporary dissenters, embarrassed by the Church's traditional teachings, must use the subterfuge of contradicting them in lower level pronouncements in order to promote their garbage while being able to affirm the facade that the Church has "never changed" its teaching because the official pronouncements remain unchallenged. In that article from 2010, I wrote:

Obviously and thankfully, [authoritative declarations] cannot be gotten rid of. They can be ignored and wished away, but they will not go away. Definitive, infallible ex cathedra statements remain for all time and are irreformable of their very nature. No matter how much any bishop or cardinal would like to contradict or get rid of these dogmatic heirlooms, they cannot.
Yet, though these declarations will not go away, there is a way that the hierarchy has found to get around this problem. I have noticed that, in areas where the modern hierarchy takes vastly different positions than the traditional Church, novel positions are not given to the faithful by means of encyclicals or dogmatic statements, but are found throughout lower-level pronouncements, such as speeches, letters, addresses, bishops' statements etc. By repeating these novel positions again and again in very low-level pronouncements, the faithful get accustomed to hearing certain novelties "from the Church" and over time come to accept them as "Church teaching."

Though these sorts of novelties are not "official", they are spewed out with such regularity and from so many sources that the stupid Catholic faithful eventually come to associate them with "Church teaching" and accept them as "dogma" uncritically. It is essentially the old adage that a lie, repeated enough, becomes taken as the truth. This is how the propaganda machine of dogma ex voce works to slowly undermine Catholic tradition while maintaining that the Church has not essentially "changed."

This has been going on for a long time; in my original article, I cite examples of it from the pontificate of John Paul II. Benedict XVI himself did it all the time in his personal writings and statements. Really its a post-conciliar phenomenon grounded in attempts to push the Spirit of Vatican II whilst simultaneously trying to reconcile the conciliar documents with traditional teaching, the old conservative Catholic two-step dance.

But in recent years it has reached new levels of intensity such that the Church really seems to be breaking down under a kind of institutional schizophrenia. The Amazon Synod brought this to the fore more than ever. The way things are developing, this practice has virtually evolved into a kind of "Double Truth Theory." The Double Truth theorem was an hypothesis proposed by the Latin Averroists of the 13th century as a means of reconciling philosophical principles which challenged Catholic dogma. Essentially, the Averroists asserted that religion and philosophy, as separate sources of knowledge, might arrive at contradictory truths without detriment to either—that something may be true from a philosophical perspective whilst being false from a theological perspective and vice verse. It was the opening salvo in a long war to detach philosophy (and science) from theology while being able to still affirm theological truths—in other words, to be able to affirm error while still paying lip-service to the Church's official pronouncements.

The Double Truth Theory, of course, is nonsense. There is only one truth, but we apprehend it under different modes or ways of knowledge. But ultimately if something is true, it cannot contradict another truth, be that truth philosophical, theological, moral, scientific, or whatever. We cannot say contradictory statements are all true, no matter how badly we might want to. Very rightly did St. Thomas Aquinas reject the Double Truth theorem as the nonsense that it is.

But is that not the very situation we see the hierarchy attempting to foist on us at the moment? Being at least nominally Catholic, these theologians and prelates cannot openly deny the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils or solemn pronouncements of the Church, nor contradict them with new solemn pronouncements. But what they can do is contradict those teachings through the ex voce method—ignoring the official pronouncements while making a slew of contradictory statements on the "unofficial" level: speeches, interviews, magazine articles, books, homilies, letters, and so on. In a pinch they can always claim that the Magisterium has not taught anything contrary to the faith—where "taught" is understood in a very specified way as a solemn teaching. But meanwhile they go about undermining the faith at every opportunity they can in a torrent of constant heterodoxy while expecting the faithful to believe that nothing substantial has changed. And meanwhile actual heretics (like Fr. James Martin) are permitted to continue spreading their poison unhindered, further lending credence to that the novelties being vomited out all over today are in fact "Church teaching."

They know exactly what they are doing as well. When they are among themselves or in gatherings of supporters, they openly boast of how they are undoing Catholic tradition and leading the Church into a brave new world.

In the old days, Catholic teaching served as a bulwark against the introduction of error because it was known that official Catholic teaching is irreformable. The modernists have gotten around this today, not by trying to overthrow the official teaching, but by simply leading us to a place where official teaching no longer matters. "Catholic dogma" is whatever the leaders of the Church happen to be bloviating about in their press conferences and interviews.