Pardon my skepticism but does anyone else find the effusive praise in the handout to Greek Orthodox parishioners last Sunday overbearing? The author tries so hard to convince us of Patriarch Bartholomew’s stratospheric virtues that the entire piece has an “Our Dear Leader” feel to it. It reads, I am sad to say, like propaganda.
Strong words? Yes, but only because the endless strings of ebullient praise muddles other very important points. While Pat. Bartholomew’s stand on the protection of the environment should be applauded, and while he has done much to raise awareness that environmental care is an issue to which Christians can contribute, it does not follow that all of his actions surrounding “creation care” (as some of the participants in the Mississippi River Symposium refer to it) are sound.
For example, as part of Pat. Bartholomew’s environmental program in the United States later this month, he plans a visit to Georgetown University to deliver a talk co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a George Soros funded think-tank originally developed as Hillary Clinton’s cabinet-in-waiting, but now a center of far-left cultural activism. We can say, and CAP would probably agree, that CAP’s sole function is to promote the ideas of “Progressives” — the far left — including moral issues that an Orthodox Christian could never adopt and still remain true to the moral tradition.
Of course, this is America and support of these issues is fair game. America has no institution of moral adjudication so the vexing moral questions end up being debated loudly in the public square, including think tanks. But should the Ecumenical Patriarch be lending his moral authority to CAP with a speech? I don’t think so. It simply is not appropriate for a religious leader of his standing to do that. I object not only because the positions CAP holds on the great moral questions are different than my own. A visit to, say, the Heritage Foundation whose views are closer to mine would be just as inappropriate.
Why throw in with CAP? Why align yourself so closely with George Soros (no friend of religion, nation-states, or free markets)? Why risk the diminution of an already fragile moral authority by lending it to those who hold religion in disdain, and whose policies contradict the Orthodox moral tradition?
You can be sure that Pope Benedict would never make such a blunder, but then the Pope seems to have a better grasp of moral leadership than the EP. The Pope recognizes the crisis in Western culture is primarily moral and has spoken out forcefully against the cultural rot. We don’t see the same breadth and consistency from the EP. In fact, all too often we see the lauding of politicians who in their public lives foster the culture of death. The EP will do that again in his visit to Washington next month. Compromise trumps conviction time and again, at least in some parts of the Orthodox Church.
Perhaps the overbearing praise attempts to cover these persistent lapses. But that too, is a miscalculation. We are Americans. We don’t do well with monarchical pretensions. And while many hierarchs still govern their flocks with the medieval sensibility that the mitre confers a divine right of kings, Americans (responsible ones anyway) understand that ideas have consequences, and that a bad idea is still a bad idea even if a hierarch promotes it.
For example, Pat. Bartholomew urges passage of the UN Protocols on Climate Change. I wasn’t aware that the Phanar had a Ministry of Science, but someone needs to tell them that global warming is hardly settled science. Further, global warming is as much an economic issue as a scientific one. Again, the Pope wisely distances himself from global warming, realizing perhaps that fads sweep through the scientific community as easily as they do the larger culture.
Although some in the media have taken to calling Benedict the “the Green Pope” for his recent pronouncements, the Vatican’s witness on the environment is more carefully thought out than the Phanar’s. Most significantly, the Vatican has taken great care to distance itself from any environmental movement that threatens the sanctity of life. It also ties its environmental ethic to human and social development. In other words, Benedict and his advisers understand that environmental questions are bound up with economic and social factors — and all are profoundly moral issues.
Could it be that the EP just does not understand American culture? It doesn’t seem likely. Pat. Bartholomew is an educated and well-traveled man. He must have some sense that although Americans can be patient with the trappings of authority, we don’t follow a leader just because underlings make appeals to his putative virtues.
Who is at fault here then? His handlers? Could it be that the author of the piece and other advisers, really believe that talking to CAP is a good move for the EP; that it won’t in the long run diminish his authority; and that support for policies like the Copenhagen Protocols won’t in the long run make him appear he is speaking to issues out of his league?
It’s hard for me to believe that the ignorance would run so deep; that they can’t see that the road the EP is following might win him some support in the short run, but will inevitably lead to a lessening of his authority down the road. On the other hand, perhaps they don’t understand from where moral authority is drawn. If that’s the case, they will confuse political with moral authority and we are in worse trouble than we think.
Whatever the case, the entire enterprise seems woefully misguided. No amount of effusive praise can cover bad ideas and the author is foolish to think we can’t see through it. The Ecumenical Patriarch needs to think this one through again.