Saturday, March 01, 2008

Read It But Don't Weep

Perry Robinson of Energetic Procession has announced the availability for purchase of Joseph Farrell's dissertation, God, History, and Dialectic. There is an interesting discussion of this event between me and Jonathan Prejean of CrimsonCatholic in the comments to this post; I recommend that readers have a look.


Anonymous said...

You do know that Farrell also writes on Nazi flying saucers and the like?

Scott Carson said...

Hey, it's a dirty job but somebody's got to do it, otherwise nobody's going to take the threat from Nazi flying saucers seriously.

I remarked, as long ago as October of 2006, that Farrell subscribes to some rather unorthodox ideas in domains such as physics, but it does not follow from that, of course, that his theological views are as insane as his physics.

The man is clearly eccentric, as any reader of his book on Maximus the Confessor will know, but it is a rather unbecoming fallacy to toss about such a distasteful red herring as this in a respectable forum. To do so anonymously is to compound dialectical error with the further vice of cowardice.

CrimsonCatholic said...

it does not follow from that, of course, that his theological views are as insane as his physics.

While I agree with the principle, I think they are in this case. I've read the Giza books just to see if it were the case that both were insane. Based on his take on paleophysics, the various references to Christianity, and his rejection of the "Western" critical textual method, the two conclusions (theological and scientific) appear to be rooted in the same fundamental goofiness. IMNSHO, one might glean that from his historical fiction. If there were a metropolitan of Babel, it would be Farrell. His is an idea beyond the possibility of feedback from reality, speculation without evidence or experiment, and I do not plan to fund that sort of nonsense any further than I already have.

The problem I see is that Farrell's anti-Catholicism doesn't seem to be different in kind from John Hagee's anti-Catholicism or the romantic view of the Confederacy, for example. It's just a matter of degree. Zionist conspiracy theories aren't much different than Frankish conspiracy theories in the end. And Hagee's madness has a pedigree in historical Protestantism, just as Farrell's has a pedigree in anti-Western Orthodoxy. One might argue that the Protestants misunderstood Catholicism just as badly as Mark of Ephesus et al. did. But if that's the case, then one might as well not beat up Hagee for uncritically accepting crazy beliefs either. Farrell may be more polite and educated, but I don't think that excuses him for being wrong.

At this point, I just regret that so many smart people have been sucked into pseudo-scientific, quasi-mystical gobbledygook about "dialectic" and whatnot. Everything I have seen suggests an extremely selective disregard for the clearest historical counter-evidence, and I don't know how to deal seriously with people who can't deal in reality. Hagee and Farrell suffer from the same brand of delusion, and I'm not inclined to give Farrell a pass because he's more educated and articulate. Well-spoken insanity is still insane, and possibly the more diabolical for it.

I mention all of this because you strike me as a guy who is willing to call "bullshit" on anybody, be it a "very promising young scholar and theologian" for his "redolence of Bultmann," a priest for his "dreamy-eyed longing for one of the most despicable periods in American history," or your own employer for dragging people halfway across the country when they don't have a chance of being hired to fulfill a diversity quota. Unlike the previous commenter, I am not hiding behind any cloak of anonymity, and I am not attempting to poison the well. I think Farrell's uncritical acceptance of both his own sheerly speculative premises and the unfortunate prejudices of his historical subjects (e.g., Photius) is just irresponsible, and it is the same M.O. at work in his historical and scientific works. Moreover, if Asher Black's assessment at Energetic Procession is correct, the current spate of anti-Western Orthodoxy, with its concomitant urination all over the prospects of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism, comes "not from the fire started by Fr. John Romanides ..., not from all the anti-Augustine thinkers out there, but from the planting of these things all over the English-speaking world by [Farrell]...." I would add on a personal level that there are two guys whom I happen to like a lot who are, in my view, squandering the best years of their intellectual life on anti-Western bigotry. We can write off Farrell, Hagee, and every other historical revisionist as "eccentric," but it hasn't been your habit to do so, and I'd encourage you not to give Farrell the benefit of the doubt when he has done little to deserve it.

At least consider that the noticeable stultification in thought on the issue of the filioque and the "beyond being" stuff, which you yourself have noted more than once, is directly connected to Farrell's work, based on a similar uncritical and revisionist methodology. Farrell's pseudo-profundity has been the lead lemming for more than a little of this intellectual cliff-diving.

Scott Carson said...

Ouch! Man, that's gonna leave a mark....

Well, your criticism is well-taken, though I would not, myself, want to equate thinking that Western Christendom has fallen into heresy with thinking that the Roman Church in particular is the anti-Christ. It seems to me that if Farrell really is on the same plane of moral discourse as someone like Hagee, then all religious differences are reducible to differences of degree rather than kind, and there is no substantive difference between someone like John Hagee and someone like Reinhold Niebuhr, which strikes me as rather a stretch.

I'll pass over in silence the "promising young scholar", since in that particular case I was merely teasing, and not really "calling bullshit" in any but a playful sense. But with respect to your other comparisons, I think there's more to be said than you say.

Quite possibly Jim Tucker is not a vicious racist, but he is certainly a racist of some kind, whether or not he himself thinks so, and in view of the dangers of racist thinking his views are noxious in a way that Farrell's simply are not, unless you are seriously thinking that anti-Western theological discourse stands fair to boil over into internecine strife of some kind. Nor do I think that Farrell's brand of theological myopia is really as dangerous as the administrative myopia that creates palpable harm in misleading job candidates about their chances at a given place of employment, unless you are seriously thinking that the (rather small contingent of the) Orthodox Church wields power over a significant number of job applicants in a manner parallel to that of university and other administrations.

And I really think that it is a mistake to lump John Hagee in with Protestants generally, as you seem to me to do when you write

Hagee's madness has a pedigree in historical Protestantism, just as Farrell's has a pedigree in anti-Western Orthodoxy. One might argue that the Protestants misunderstood Catholicism just as badly as Mark of Ephesus et al. did.

Some Protestants understand Catholicism better than others, and relatively few of them see it in the way that Hagee and his ilk do. One has to wonder why that is, and I rather doubt that it is due to theological considerations alone, or even principally. Some Protestant suspicions of Catholicism are just plain goofy. When I was an Episcopalian I knew a woman whose mother actually thought that Episcopalianism was too close to Catholicism to be any good, and after a Eucharist service she said to her daughter "You can't fool me, I saw the way he was waving that little slip of paper over that cup on the altar!", as though the moment of consecration was some kind of hocus pocus intended to pull the wool over the congregation's eyes. That sort of thing is due to ignorance, too, but I think it is a far different, far more benign, sort of ignorance than what one finds in Hagee.

So when Farrell starts writing about Tesla studies, flying saucers, and the like, I'm more inclined to hear the sort of ignorance that is just goofy, rather than the more sinister Hagee style ignorance. When Farrell claims that the Western Church has fallen into heresy, I hear ignorance again, but not the same sort as Hagee's. To the extent that Farrell thinks that a significant portion of the Church has fallen into heresy, I actually agree with him, I just think it's a different part of the Church than he thinks it is. Call me delusional, but I don't regard myself as crazy or dangerous for thinking that a rather sizable portion of the fold is in heresy. I think that the Church herself actually agrees with me. But I am in a very different place than Hagee, who thinks that the Church itself has fallen into heresy, though he does not know that this is what he thinks. In that sense he is doubly ignorant and arrogant.

Granted, Farrell thinks the same thing, if for different reasons. But in spite of the fact that he and other Orthodox have basically given up on the whole project of ecumenism, I don't see him as plumping for quite the same message of hatred and rejection that Hagee is obviously pushing, and in that he is surely qualitatively different from Hagee.

The biggest danger that I see coming from folks like Farrell is the danger that you allude to in passing, the extremely unfortunate disaffection of some of the best and the brightest. These are people who, as Mike Liccione might say, "ought to know better", but they are in the grip of a theory. I'm sure that you know those two guys a lot better than I do, since, if they are the two guys I'm thinking of, I don't know them at all other than from blogging, but I myself would hot have characterized their attitude towards the West as bigoted so much as misguided. Granted that bigotry is a species of the genus of "ways of being misguided", what reason would I have to say that their species of misguidedness is the same as Hagee's? Is it merely the fact that both have strong negative feelings about Rome? That both have strong positive feelings about an ideology that they think entails those strong negative feelings towards Rome? I suppose there are some areas of genuine similarity there, but I don't see those two guys calling anybody a whore or the anti-Christ (maybe I just missed something along the way). I'll grant you that, in some ways, the two views are equally irritating to those who know better, but to say that I'm equally irritated by, say, Protestantism and socialism, is not to say that my equal irritation is brought about by equal causal structures. If I were forced to choose one, I'd rather be a Protestant than a socialist any day. That's not to say that I would willingly choose to be either, of course, only that they seem sufficiently different that the choice is not simply a coin toss.

So perhaps, in order to help me to understand the nature of your complaint/comparison a little better, it would be useful to hear what you think the principle dangers of Farrell's view are, beyond mere partisan strife. In Hagee's case, I think I would cite the propagation of a much more virulent sort of hatred and rejection as the principle dangers, with the further danger of possible legislative and policy-making decisions that could easily involve all of us in a rather abrupt and unexpectedly unpleasant immanentizing of the eschaton. Do you have something similar in mind in Farrell's case?

CrimsonCatholic said...

To clarify a couple of matters, I didn't think that you were condemning Ben Myers with anything like the severity of Hagee or Fr. Tucker, so I'm sorry if I left that impression. I just meant to say that you shot straight with him, even if it was "going to leave a mark." And I certainly didn't mean to imply that Hagee was a mainstream Protestant in his beliefs or to tar all Protestants with the same brush. I only meant that Luther and Calvin weren't strangers to that "whore of Babylon" and "synagogue of Satan" rhetoric.

As to Farrell, I can pinpoint the moment the Farrellites lost me; it was when I read an article linked off of Asher Black's Filioque webpage (the same Asher Black who is currently publishing GHD). I scrolled down to this article on The Frankish Papacy's Involvement in Judeo-Masonry (my favorite gem of anti-Semitism: "The hidden hand of Talmud and Kabbalah is revealed wherever the Jewish people are made the objects of veneration and sanctity"). Asher Black's link section includes the disclaimer "At the same time, we freely list and annotate resources we may have serious qualms about - we don't accept the fallacy of guilt by association - nor does any rational creature." But I assume that to say "see especially X" is not indicative of any such serious qualms. And besides, if what's sauce for McCain's goose is sauce for Asher Black's gander in this instance. It doesn't suffice to indicate disagreement when the person in question has specific ideas that make him appear crazier than a bedbug, and you haven't gone out of your way to deal with that. And this is a close confidant, even a disciple, of Farrell's.

Perhaps you think that this brand of Franco-Roman conspiracy is a bit more extreme than the strain endorsed by Romanides and Farrell, so I picked another serious political example just to point out that it isn't just Hagee who has odd opinions about world politics.

I read this letter that John Romanides wrote to President George H. W. Bush in 1992. To be fair, he doesn't actually accuse the Pope of collaborations with Nazis; he just implies it:
"The Frankish bishops described herein by Saint Boniface in 741, as well as "Saints" Lanfranc of Canterbury (1070-1089) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) were, by civilised standards, common criminals. Yet the latter two, and others, who support their positions on killing by religious orders in the name of Latin Christendom, are still considered great saints by the Vatican. This raises the question of whether the Vatican simply tolerated or also supported the World War II massacres of Serbs by Croats and of Jews by Nazis. So long as the Vatican does not officially reject the practises and theories of such 'saints,' the Balkans will continue to be in turmoil, especially when coupled with the Islamic Jihad."

Romanides ties this back to his Franco-Roman conspiracy theory:
"However the Croats became Latins after the Roman Papacy was abolished and replaced by the current Franco-Latin Papacy, having at the time also come into dependency on Ostmark East Franks and the Hungarians. The Serbs, together with the Romans of the West Balkans and Southern Italy, reacted by joining the church jurisdiction of New Rome. The Saxon and Celtic bishops of England also refused to accept this Franco-Latin Papacy and were exterminated by the Normans."

I assume the fact the one takes this stuff sufficiently seriously to write a letter to the President indicates that one's belief has political implications, even though it doesn't have the traction here that it would in Greece. To me, this whole "Franco-Latin papacy" idea is about a basic anti-Teutonic animus that dates back to hostility between the Byzantine empire and the Franks. It is Romanides's quackery that causes him to see the modern situation as "Dark Age Crusades in modern garb under the cover of Western Civilisation," when he is the one living in a (mostly mythical) past of his own devising. The fundamental notion is not just that Catholicism (the "Franco-Latin papacy," as Romanides puts it) is wrong, but that it is so wrong that it inherently produces these bad results. It isn't merely the accusation that people are in heresy, but that Catholic dogma actually *produces* socialists and Nazis, as if they are entailed as a logical consequence of the dogma.

That is essentially the idea here: that Catholic dogma has built-in defects inherited from barbarians (read: Teutonic culture) that causes us all to behave like barbarians. It is based on this conspiracy theory about the Franks coopting the papacy in the 11th century. And because we Westerners lack the enlightenment of the East on Greek philosophy, we have simply latched on to the worst aspects of "Hellenism" from which the Eastern Church was purified, particularly in the acquisition of Aristotle in the West.

Now one might say that that was Romanides and not Farrell, but I think it relatively clear that Romanides's political understanding and the position of Farrell on the so-called "Second Europe" found in this excerpt from GHD simply isn't that different.

This is sort of reasoning is not analysis (how does one reason from calling St. Bernard a saint to suspicions of collboration in the Holocaust?). It's just name-calling, and name-calling with a disturbingly ethnic character. I'm not going to excuse the deals the papacy made with the Franks and the abuse of the Eastern Church during the Crusades. But there is a HUGE difference between viewing that as a significant lapse in judgment (in the same way that I take you viewing much of Christianity as having lapsed into heresy) and some conspiracy theory that views it as the pernicious influence of a barbaric ethos in the very psychology of being an obedient Catholic. That is, in my view, the result of the same pseudo-scientific rendering of ancient history that Farrell practices, and indeed, it is the sort of name-calling that Farrell himself licenses.

The fact that these folks are fewer in number than Hagee is simply one of the God-given blessings of self-restricting insanity: even if lots of people are crazy, it's hard to convince them to be your particular strain of crazy. On the other hand, I can't see any way around the notion that this whole "history and dialectic" routine is, in fact, crazy. When you see things like "filioque is the sum of all heresies," "ecumenism is a cabal (literally) between liberal rabbinic Judaism, Freemasonry, and the Pope," and vague adumbrations about fictional entities like the "Frankish papacy" and the "Celtic Orthodox Church," that's crazy.

If people want to make some purely metaphysical or even historical argument about the untenability of some specific theological belief (as David Bradshaw does), I have no qualms about listening, because I can respond to that and disagree based on some real facts. I can say "no, you've got Aquinas wrong" or "no, that doesn't follow." But when this historical speculation completely severed from close textual analysis and specific historical evidence of intellectual derivation starts coming down the pipe, the place starts looking like a pig sty, and I have no desire to wallow in the muck. And that's what you get with Farrell: a bunch of mudslinging about the Second Europe that basically accuses the Western mind of being "aberrant" without evidence. Maybe they're right; maybe Orthodoxy really does hold this stuff as dogma in the Synodikon or whatever. But that is hardly to Orthodoxy's credit if true.

Scott Carson said...


Well, I had initially intended to respond by saying that Farrell isn't Asher Black, and that my link was to Energetic Procession precisely because I didn't want to link to Black's site, but now that you make all of these fine points I rather regret recommending anything at all. I did not find anything in Farrell's book on Maximus that struck me as so historically off-base as the stuff you're talking about here, but you've convinced me that, after all, the difference between Farrell and Hagee is indeed really only one of degree and not of kind. I'm going to modify my initial posting and leave these comments up as a warning to others.

Thanks for your diligence!

CrimsonCatholic said...

I concur with your assessment of Farrell's translation of Maximus, although the introduction to his translation of Photius's Mystagogy certainly hints at some of these ideas. The difference is that it doesn't then go on to draw the loopy psychosocial conclusions or to make revisionistic assertions. It is the extension of these relatively reasonable historical and theological points far beyond their reasonable application that concerns me about the method. And I thank you for listening to those concerns and for taking them seriously.

Anonymous said...

I'm the poster who wrote the first post. I wrote it as a tongue-in-cheek remark.

It's curious to me how someone can write "historical speculation" on the Nazis, the pyramids etc; etc; and a work of theology based on sound scholarship at the same time.

The Franko-German conspiracy thesis is held by quite a few Orthodox. Many have been deeply affected by Romanides directly and indirectly. It has affected the correct understanding by Orthodox of what happened from the ninth century to the schism of 1054.

An example is the introduction to the Mystagogy of St Photios by Fr. Justin Popovich where Pope Nicholas of Rome is described as having an evil lust for power and domination and so forth. The Photian schism is all due to Nicholas.

That may be true but it also may not be.