Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fake News from Breitbart: Bannon Wants a War and Yes, He Will Use Jesus to Get One

By now, intelligent consumers of news and opinion are accustomed to having a pathologically dishonest president. We are no longer shocked by Team Trump’s dishonest and intellectually indolent “news”/publicity outlets. The only shocking aspect of being caught in the skeevy web of neo-Nazi news psuedo-journalism when Breitbart piggy-backed on one of my opinion pieces to concoct a fake news story was the “why me?” factor. While I enjoyed being characterized as “the breathless Somerville,” I was surprised to find so many falsehoods in' Breitbart News's short critique of a blog opinion piece I wrote about Steven Bannon and ultra-conservative Roman Catholicism. 
Breitbart calls itself a news agency. Yet they got almost everything wrong. 
The headline reads: Fake News:” HuffPo Invents a Steve Bannon ‘War’ on Pope Francis.” 
My essay contains no mention of Pope Francis whatsoever, and I am not a Huffpo writer. I write for Indie Theology and Drumpfwatch and sometimes cross-post on Huffington Post and Medium. Big difference. 
The Breitbart staffer writes this: 
Huffington Post writer Michele Somerville goes still further, alleging that Bannon is aligning himself “with the ultra-conservative fringe of Roman Catholicism” in order to wage a war on Pope Francis.
Again, my essay contains no mention of Pope Francis whatsoever. 
“...Bannon has no connection whatsoever with the website or its theories about Catholic doctrine,” the Breitbart staffer wrote. That’s not true. Bannon has publicly announced that embraces aspects of the Church Militant movement. He therefore has a connection to at least some of the doctrine The Church Militant website promotes. The Church Militant website is both the most prominent media outlet for the movement at the present time and the voice of today’s Church Militant. 
Somerville bases her entire thesis on an outright error. She mistakes Steve Bannon’s 2014 reference to the “Church militant”—a common Catholic expression referring to Christians on earth as opposed to those who have already died—for a fringe traditionalist website by the same name. Although Bannon has no connection whatsoever with the website or its theories about Catholic doctrine, Somerville concocts a nefarious link between the two, attributing the website’s ideas to Bannon himself.
Actually, I base my “entire thesis” on everything I have read about Steven Bannon apart from his religious views, and about eight years of study of ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe groups and not on the 2014 reference alone. Furthermore, “Church militant” is not a common expression among Catholics. Indeed it is uncommon. Indeed, it is generally a phrase one hears only among folk who reject post Vatican II teaching. The second Vatican Council sought to retire this term from Catholic parlance. It is an extremely charged term in Catholic circles. 
Cleaning up after Steve Bannon must require great effort, and my heart goes out to any poor soul who should inherit so ethically compromising a task. But in her ignorance, the Breitbart staffer misleads in the extreme.
In the fake Breitbart story my opinion piece, the staffer claims that Steve Bannon didn’t know anything about the site. That is highly unlikely. Every Catholic who uses a computer and follows Catholic news at all knows about the website. A Catholic who is using the term “Church militant” and who knows a little something about media would know about this site. If Bannon does not know about Michael Voris and his Church Militant website, Bannon is as stupid as his boss. 
Finally, I did not “attribute the website’s ideas to Bannon.” 
I voiced an informed opinion, which is very different from alleging anything. 
One of the things artists, writers and critics learn early is that it is the low hanging-fruit of the lazy critic is to comment negatively about what’s not there. The Breitbart fake story (but real hissy fit) implied a failure on my part to inform readers that websites and the people who read them are not the same thing. Allow me to correct this now; groups of people gathered in shared belief are not equivalent to the websites that promulgate their beliefs. Got it? 
The Breitbart fake story also implied a lack of understanding what the term “Church Militant” means, a criticism most who know would find funny given my fascination with ecclesiastical particulars. (I study Catholic theology and history, translate Latin poetry and sing in a Gregorian Chant schola. Not only do I graspthe full meaning of “ecclesia militans”—I over-grasp it. I sing about it. In Latin. On a regular basis. ) 
Now that I have pointed out just a few of the several lies in the fake Breitbart flak-catching piece, I’d like to opine on what happened. 
Why would big bad Breitbart go after a blogger? Why did a Breitbart staffer “piggyback” on my opinion blog piece to build a fake news story? 
Because I hit a nerve. Because the ultra conservative Roman Catholic fringe has been hiding in plain sight in American politics for a long, long time, and with Bannon we are beginning to see how dangerous their ideologies may prove to be.
What is difficult for those who are not Catholicism nerds to see is that Steve Bannon appears to have ties to lots of ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe groups that share a conception of the Catholicism that dates back to the time of the Inquisitions. Bannon’s Public Relations team may prefer that we see him as associated only with the broader “Church Militant” movement and not website by the same name. That’s fine, but here’s the thing; I have been following “The Church Militant” website for years! It encapsulates—-not entirely, but for the most part—-what the contemporary ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe believes.
It is no secret that Bannon also has ties to white supremacists. He may prefer the term “Alt-Right” to “Neo-Nazi.” But we do the philosophical math. We notice that the names are different but the messages are the same. We know that a rotting rose by any name stinks. Bannon may wish to distance himself from the the creepy Church Militant guy—-and really who could blame him? But the truth is that people who talk about the Church Militant are alluding to the same messages the Church Militant website promulgates. These happen to be consistent with many of the same kinds of things Bannon says in his secular maniac speeches. 
I have found that Catholics on the ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe have the following in common: They have contempt for Jews. They tweak the social teaching of Jesus of Nazareth to justify greed and predatory financial practices. They deny climate change. They are misogynists.They are Islamophobic in the extreme. They favor war. They want to increase the Roman Catholic fold. Their beliefs, fly, in my opinion, in the face of almost everything the Jesus of Nazareth of the Old Testament taught. 
I inferred from a critique of my essay that appeared on a ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe website, that I wasn’t clear enough about explaining that sometimes words formed from the root “militare” refer to metaphorical soldiering (as in striving, questing) and not literal combat. We poets call that “metaphor.” 
But let’s look at the word “militant.” 
Due to the so-called president’s idiocy, Bannon now holds one of the most powerful positions in the Trump cabinet. 
This means that a political operative with zero national security or foreign policy experience will now have the same status as the heads of the Pentagon and State Department — and will in some ways outrank the nation’s top military officer and the head of the entire intelligence community. 
And what of this Bannon? (Watch the video) Bannon crazed, waxing prosaic and maniacal about rallying “the church militant” for the bloody battle to come. Does this not appear to be a man itching for a war? Bellicosity incarnate?
Outa my way, Jesus. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bannon Wants a War and He Will Use Jesus to Get One: President Bannon, Trump & the Ultra-Conservative Roman Catholic Fringe

Conservative Christians displayed great readiness, in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, to dispense with Jesus for reasons of political expedience. Evangelicals backed the least Christian GOP candidate in the running. Their Trump, a twice-divorced candidate credibly accused of sexual assault and marital rape is a “Christian” with no religious practice, who was ― right up until campaign time ― a life-long proponent of abortion. The Tea Party, Christian Right, Moral Majority and conservative Catholics have a long history of name-checking Jesus at every opportunity. We see through that now. We now know the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t count. We now see that Jesus was a mascot. Steve Bannon, alt-right Catholic, is the embodiment of the ultra-conservative Catholic Church of no Jesus.

How does a thrice-married man manage that “practicing Catholic” thing? Doctrinal prohibitions against receiving Catholic sacraments while divorced and remarried do exist, but they are often negotiable, and wealthy men have always managed to obtain plenary indulgences and annulments. Newt Gingrich obtained a clean slate via Roman Catholic conversion and his extra-marital sex partner (now his third wife) who sings in the choir may wind up as U.S. Embassador to the Vatican. Roman Catholicism does redemption splendidly.

Furthermore, if the company he keeps is any indication, Bannon appears to run with Catholic extremists who wear their redemption with pride. Jason Horowitz’s feature in the February 7th New York Times (“Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican”) offers a glimpse at Bannon’s special interest in The Church Militant. To get a good sense of what most contemporary Church Miltiant folk believe, one can read the words of the founder/leader of The Church Militant website, Michael Voris, who underwent what he calls a “reversion” to Roman Catholicism after more than decade of sexual sinning with men and women. God and the deaths of his mother and brother cured Michael Voris of his concupiscence, and he went on, post-redemption, to become the voice of The Church Militant. There’s no zealot like a “revert.”

People can believe what they believe, but I believe the Church Militant’s politics interest Bannon as much as their religious perspectives do. “The only way to run a country,” Voris has said publically, “is by benevolent dictatorship, a Catholic monarch who protects religious life.” The Church Militant’s perspectives on Judaism might help to explain Bannon’s curious disposition toward Jews. He denounces what he calls “Rabbinic Judaism” as fake religion. Voris believes that the Jewish religion died after the destruction of the first temple and that Catholicism is the true continuation of “the covenant.” But Israel is the cradle of the one true faith, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The greater good of defeating Islam demands that anti-semitic Catholics collaborate and compromise with Jews.

Trump, who clearly has little interest in anything spiritual, may see, in Bannon’s ultra-Catholicism, the same kind of promise Putin sees in the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s no accident that the performance that landed Pussy Riot in the slammer took place in a Russian cathedral. The Russian Orthodox Church has been squarely on the side of Putin, and both have in mind the vision of purging the world of Islam. The Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches are closely linked, doctrinally and theologically, so Trump’s Putin love and Bannon’s alt-right Roman Catholicism may result in stronger political ties develop between the Church of Rome and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church Militant today—like most ultra-conservative fringe Roman Catholic groups—strains to redefine Catholic social teaching by reaching back to arguments and theology that pre-date the Second Vatican Council. (The name for the group derives from “ecclesia militans,” a term that is not essentially militaristic, but which is used to characterize the earthly church.) Bannon may or may not be, may or may not want to be associated with Voris et al, but all of these ultra-conservative fringe groups, which have much in common (though among themselves they are quite fractious) tend to be antisemitic and islamophobic in the extreme.

And the Church Militant is not the only extremist Catholic group with which Steve Bannon has been associated. His friend Thomas Williams was described in a January 10th New York Times piece as the former “face of the conservative Legion of Christ religious order.” Bannon and Williams met while the latter was consulting on Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. (Gibson belongs to another ultra-conservative fringe group.)

Moral theologian Thomas Williams fathered a child in (about) 2005, kept it secret for several years and wound up leaving the priesthood eight years later. Prior to leaving the priesthood, Williams left the Legion of Christ when its founder and “general” Marcel Maciel Dellogado (a close friend of Pope John Paul II) was removed from ministry following a scandal. Pope Benedict XVI removed Maciel from ministry in 2006 when an investigation revealed Maciel’s secret women and children, sexual abuse of children and seminarians, drug use and fiscal impropriety, came to light. One of Maciel’s sons claimed, after Maciel’s death, that his father had sexually abused him. Bannon’s moral theologian friend currently serves as Rome Bureau Chief for Breitbart.

Roman Catholicism is complex and its changing intricacies are usually of little interest to people outside of the Church. The reaching back to pre-Vatican II teaching (much of it literally medieval) should worry us all. As a child preparing for my first Communion in 1964 or 5, for example, I was taught that unbaptized babies who died headed straight for Limbo. Formation has changed dramatically, and theology has evolved since then. But not for the Church Militant:

The goal of the Church Militant is to fight Satan in all his many disguises, which also include the sacred cows of the liberal leftists, many of whom are entrenched inside the Church. In this fight to the death, there is no retreat. We die fighting and achieve eternal life.

Many Western Christians are quick to dismiss such sentiments as fanatical madness when young Islamic men articulate them, but Bannon’s Church Militant embraces this “Christian soldier ” view of things. This claim to know God’s specific preferences lends itself to an “end justifies the means” approach to salvation. Fight fire with fire is the idea. Catholicism can defeat Islam is the battle cry. For these Catholics, it’s not just life in the material world that hangs in the balance, but also, eternal souls are on the line. And the Church Militant guy has a fantasy about an all-Catholic vote: “The only way to prevent a democracy from committing suicide is to limit the vote to faithful Catholics.”

It’s no accident that Bannon and the “alt-right” are aligning themselves with the ultra-conservative fringe of Roman Catholicism. Bannon wants a war and he will use Jesus to get one. Bannon and Trump will stand in line with Israel, the lunatic Catholic fringe, dishonest moral theologians and Putin ― as well as with any other necessary “strange bedfellows” for the chance to throw Baby Jesus out with the Baptismal water, because when it comes to prejudice, greed and the making of war, Jesus just gets in the way.