Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Church as Sub-Department

From a brief, 30-minute discussion between Tom Holland and Freddie Sayers.  The entire video is here; further links below are time-stamped.

Speaking of the role of the church during these last nine months (in this case, the Church of England, but generally applicable to many churches), Holland offers:

I think the risk for the churches, and particularly the Church of England, because it’s the established church, is that with so many of its traditional responsibilities and roles taken over by various aspects of the state, the risk for the churches is that they come to seem like a kind of eccentric and not very important sub-department of the welfare state.  And I agree, I think that the role played by archbishops and bishops in particular, the messages that they were giving, were basically public health messages.

Holland continues: if churches are to play a distinctive role, that’s inadequate.  There are far more qualified people for this: doctors, epidemiologists, and the like.  These church leaders should be talking about purpose, meaning; that there is something more than the physical. 

Many churches are like this on so many levels: public-service announcements on behalf of the state, cheerleaders for militarism, cheap imitations of rock concerts and high school parties.  Are any of these actually meaningful to those who appreciate the real thing?

Which brings Sayers to respond, bringing into focus the meaning crisis and the role that the church has played in facilitating it.  He starts by offering that what we find is that the one universally agreed-upon moral value we have a s a society is tied in the question life or death (Ed. well, except for the death of the unborn, or the “other” in some foreign country we are bombing):

And all of our public decisions have been structured around that.  And it’s a pretty good one, I think most people would sign up to that: I would rather people survived than didn’t.  It just really laid bare to me how there aren’t very many other virtues that are publicly sayable, or that people widely agree on anymore.

Well, we have equality, racism, diversity, etc.  Whatever these mean and however they can be lived out.  In other words, meaningless terms such as these cannot offer meaning.

What is the value of what kind of life we are living?  What is the value of beauty, togetherness, relationships?  If someone who is in their 80s lives for nine months, but is able to be with their family and have a beautiful spiritual life verses living for twelve months, being stuck on their own in an elderly care home without being able to see anyone?  How should we judge those two scenarios?

He continues that this is probably something that Christians should address. 

How many people reading this know someone who spent Christmas alone, scared to death by the 24/7 news coverage of the unimportant trivia of positive tests?  Who have missed out on church for the last nine months, or any other regular activity that involved personal relationship – activities that they had done religiously for seventy, eighty, or even ninety years?

Have you talked to them lately?  Do they sound happy and upbeat about living such a life when closer to the end than at the beginning?  Happy to have one more day of nothingness in exchange for losing one day of a robust life?  Is this the point of living, merely to exist?


Christian churches have, for the most part, let us down.  This is most profound in the more institutional churches – at least from what I have seen: The Catholic, the Orthodox.  The Protestants are good for their name: some subset, at least, are protesting.


  1. There's a remnant. Always, there's a remnant.

    I belong to a Catholic parish in the Midwest. It offers the Traditional Latin Mass and only the Traditional Latin Mass. I joined four years ago for that reason. In submission to Caesar's--i.e., the Governor's--decree, the diocese ordered all churches closed for two months in the spring. No Lent. No Good Friday. No Resurrection Sunday. No sacraments.

    No matter. The pastor, dutiful son of the Church, complied.

    The bishop issued guidelines governing the re-opening of the churches in May. A small sign on the front door to our church made reference to those guidelines. Something along the lines of "His Grace asks that we wear a mask and keep a safe distance."

    The church attracts a cross section of worshippers: young and old, families and couples and singles, mostly white but with a handful of blacks and Asians in the mix. As far as I can tell, all they have in common is a love for the Traditional Latin Mass. Or so I thought.

    They don't wear masks! I drove to that post-hiatal Mass, stepped out of my car and shoved my mask in my pocket, bracing myself for the inevitable admonition to put the infernal thing on. I was prepared to comply. I certainly didn't want to make a scene in church! But as I walked through the church and looked around, virtually all the faces were bare. I saw maybe six or seven face diapers in a sea of 120 worshippers.

    No priest or cop gave the green light to de-mask. Nobody said anything one way or the other. It just happened. Talk about spontaneous order! That achingly beautiful ancient liturgy isn't the only thing that lifts my spirits Sunday mornings.

    In hoc signo vinces.

    1. Tony, sometimes correlation IS causation. I think your example might be one of those times.

      Thank you for the uplifting story.

    2. Tony,

      This is one of the main reasons why I have lately gotten so interested in the traditional Catholic way of life. I see these people as some of the toughest and most B.S. resistant folks. As a libertarian, I find it a little funny that I'm so enamored by the most traditional and reactionary of all the Christian faiths.

      Part of it I think is that many traditionalists have an appropriate distaste for democracy and republicanism, and are more apt to being somewhat monarchical. I consider myself a monarchist as well, but I only serve and obey one King.

      Part of it also is that being either a libertarian, a Southerner, or a Catholic, you undoubtedly have recognized the abundance of lies which have overtaken the old truths of who you are, where you came from, and what you stand for. In the course of history, liberty has lost, and the state prospers and has a great many public defenders; the South lost the war, and the Yankees are riding high and enjoy a great many public defenders; and traditional Catholics have lost and the Protestants and Nouveau Catholics (American Bishops) are dominant and enjoy a great many public defenders. I guess being a libertarian and a Southerner, I know what it is to lose and yet lose on the side of truth, justice, and beauty. I recognize this same willingness to 'lose the world for something greater' among traditional Catholics. They are probably the originators of this willingness.

      I myself do not attend the Latin Mass, but I am getting more and more interested in learning the prayers in Latin. I'm looking to purchase a Douay-Rheims/Latin Vulgate Bible and copy of the Catechism of the Council of Trent. I like to use the website as an education resource as well.

      Are there any other resources you'd recommend? Any advice you'd give me on my journey toward the traditional Catholic way of life?

    3. ATL,

      If you've hung around Fisheaters at all, you have an idea what the typical TLM aficionado is like. Yes, he is resistant to the prevailing superstitions. Outsiders underestimate this libertarian streak in him--probably because it falls on the paleo side of things.

      Look for a parish under the auspices of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) or Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). They offer the TLM all the time. You may also find a Latin Mass offered, here and there, at various diocesan churches. If you do sit in on a Latin Mass, try the High Mass first. The Low Mass may bore you until you get a handle on things.

      Douay-Rheims and the Catechism are good. If you really do acquire a taste for the TLM, you may want to pick up the 1964 Roman Missal.

    4. The Traditional Latin Mass hearkens back to the time when the Church acted as a check on the king. This history might have something to do with what we are witnessing in those who continue with this tradition.

      The Orthodox traditions, to my knowledge, never had or developed this division of authority as was present during the Western tradition during the Middle Ages. Even today, at least to my understanding, Orthodox churches are national churches: Russian, Greek, etc. This means something in terms of hierarchy and authority, I imagine. I have found these traditions to be quite subservient to state decrees. But I am sure there are exceptions.

  2. I read this excellent article on Lew Rockwell. It contains a statement which I liked: "Well, we have equality, racism, diversity, etc. Whatever these mean and however they can be lived out. In other words, meaningless terms such as these cannot offer meaning." It's true, those words are devoid of meaning, and for young people, life itself is devoid of meaning, and the government doesn't want the Church to offer any. Aimless people can be easily controlled. But they must be given some direction, so they are taught to be angry, instead of how to be happy. Angry people need the government to make the world a good place for them. Happy people don't. Look at the Journal of Scientific Exploration: Promoting human happiness is supposed to be the main objective of science, but this Journal doesn't even list "Happiness" as a category.

    1. Thank you, Ron. I really appreciated your comment on the objective of making people angry. You succinctly captured much in that short comment.

    2. "equality, racism, diversity"

      They are just empty vessels, which can be used to stir up the democratic masses for more government intervention in all our personal lives. You nailed it.

  3. I've been telling the faithful for some time now that this is the time to stand for God. Its one thing to boast your faith as ameans to diminish the less faithful, but another thing entirely stand devoted to the word when things get rocky. Yet even here in the Bible belt, ad hoc, toothless decrees have sent even the most (self proclaimed) devout scrambling for cover. What so many boasted as faith proved to be little more than a borrowed veneer.
    We hold these truths to be self evident. That all men are endowed by THEIR CREATOR with certain unalienable rights. And the state will make no laws establishing a religion nor prohibiting the free exercise there of. The entire weight of the government and God were always on the side of the faithful. Yet at the first sign of trouble legions of 'faithful' fled the battlefield at the first rumor that the enemy was coming. And thus it was left to a few Jews and Catholics in NEW YORK CITY of all places to take the fight to the courts and affirm these foundational and entirely non-negotiable principles. Yet wouldn't you know, that as soon as sanity was restored all those who fled the battlefield in the most crucial hour, strolled right back in for another act of the great charade that is their 'faith'. Can God have faith in you? Did you prove this to him when the chips were down? Verbal diarrhea spewed into a face diaper is nothing close to faith. Faith is standing with God when you have something to lose. The line between the righteous and the hypocrites has been laid bare. God knows the score now. Don't foul his holy house with your self serving presence now if you didn't stand with him through the darkest hour. If you know the Bible you know the Lord's special and specific disdain for the hypocrites. And we all see you now.