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The Color Wheel

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Written by Basil on 09/25/2004 1:43 PM. Filed under:

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The other day, the topic of politics came up while I was standing post with three shipmates. I indicated that I still didn’t know who I was going to vote for, but, “I’m definitely not voting for Kerry.” One of my fellow watchstanders looked at me like I was a dunce, “Well? What does that tell you?” That’s just the point, it doesn’t tell me anything.

Recently, Dr. Peter Bouteneff wrote an essay entitled, “Orthodox Christians and the Presidential Election” It was originally posted on BeliefNet. Though the article is too short for such a complex subject, Dr. Bouteneff’s reasoned, temperate and moderate essay has sparked a firestorm among some conservative Orthodox writers.

The Priests Patrick Henry Reardon and Johannes Jacobse have been particularly vexed by Dr. Bouteneff’s essay. Priest Patrick has posted two entries on Touchstone Magazine‘s “Mere Comments” blog: “More on the Confusion of the Orthodox,” and “Still More on the Confusion of the Orthodox.” The latter article quotes Priest Johannes’ article on the subject, though without a link citing its source. Both follow-up on an article on the same site by James Kushiner, “Orthodox Confusion.”

These articles attempt to remake the thorny issues facing our society into simple political issues with high-contrast answers. I find this false dichotomy rather less than helpful. I particularly disagree that there is a significant difference between the two political parties with the highest profiles: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party nominee for Vice-President, writes an article that compares President Bush’s voting record with Sentator Kerry’s. On a variety of significant points, the two are indistinguishable.

Priest Patrick then begs the reader, “Permit me, please, one other comment rendered in all charity,” and proceeds to question the ability of the largest Orthodox seminary in North America to train priests, implying that the seminary’s moral clarity (and, by extension, Dr. Bouteneff’s) is lacking. I question the moral clarity (and the pastoral compassion) of a priest who can only see complex issues in two colors.

Update: In the comments to an article on the Orthodoxy Today blog, Dr. Bouteneff offers a rebuttal to criticism.

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8 Responses to “The Color Wheel”

  1. James Says:

    I’ll be glad when this election is over and (secular) politically conservative people can stop reaching into my private/holy space and demanding I’ll burn in hell if I don’t vote for the Republican candidate du jour. I thought the article by Bouteneff was fairly accurate, but what do I know?

  2. Erich Says:

    Ripping off my wife’s blog are you? Shame! Seriously, though, I do like the article. He sounds very similar to my priest on this issue. I also think it’s a bad idea for the Church to dictate on issues like these. I just watched a movie though, where the Vatican was criticized for not taking a harder line against the Nazis. From what was known though, and even from today’s perspective, would it have been consistent to condemn the Nazis for their acts w/o condemning the Soviet Union for theirs as well? Point is, these issues are complex and neither of the main candidates is a good person to vote for, from my perspective. Still, vote I must it seems.

  3. basil Says:

    That criticism against the Vatican is old and tired, and it has been ably rebutted on several occasions. One should note that Dr. Bouteneff’s article is the thoughts of a layman who holds a position at a prominent Orthodox seminary, not a statement from a synod of bishops. The bishops, without directing voter choices, have been unequivocal in their condemnation of abortion and other crimes against life.

  4. johanna Says:

    E.L. Doctorow on Bush
    From the Sept 9th issue of the Easthampton Star

    I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

    But this president does not know what death is. He hasn’t the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can’t seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.

    He does not mourn. He doesn’t understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

    But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

    They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life . . . they come to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.

    How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war’s aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice.

    He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.

    Yet this president knew it would be difficult for Americans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem to have a mind for only one thing — to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and their friends.

    A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children. He is the president who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the 40 percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills – it is amazing for how many people in this country this president does not feel.

    But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in coal mines to save the coal miners’ jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.

    And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

    But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

    But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

    The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.

    Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

    The novelist E.L. Doctorow has a house in Sag Harbor.

  5. Erich Says:

    I like most of what he has to say.

  6. basil Says:

    Johanna, I modified your comment slightly by copying the text from the Easthampton Star website and linking to the original article.

    I am moved by the article, though I would like to point out a few things that my particular vantage point sees that have been overlooked by most media outlets.

    The press blackout on photographing the returning coffins is ostensibly for the sake of privacy for the grieving families. I’m sure Doctorow is aware of this and posits his own understanding of the intent as a sed contra, but I thought I would put the stated reason out there.

    Second, the “Mission Accomplished” flap. How unfortunate for Pres. Bush that this has become such a symbol of everything negative about the War in Iraq, when it was not originally about that at all. That particular banner is flown from the bridge of ships returning from a mission that has been completed. The Lincoln‘s mission had been accomplished, and that’s what the banner means. There was some question by public relations people in the Administration whether it was wise to leave it up, and I think the President had the last say, saying to leave it up. It’s possible he was naïve and thought that things would go smoothly after that. In any case, his order to leave it up was specifically directed at thanking the crew of the Abraham Lincoln and not at the message it would send to the world.

  7. Daniel Says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to debate the issues, and thank you for the clarification on the “Mission Accomplished” banner. However, I must disagree with your assessment that President Bush “was naïve and thought that things would go smoothly after that.” The speech he gave that day is quite clear that he understood perfectly well that the road to a rebuilt Iraq was going to be long and hard.

    From the

    basil Says:

    Daniel, well said. I was not saying he was naïve, only anticipating criticism in that vein. I think he has been clear from the beginning that the road he has committed us to is very difficult.