Are Samuel Alito and Steve Bannon singing from the same hymnody?
No doubt, neither man wants to see his name in a sentence with the other. However, based on a sceptical connection between speeches delivered by both men, one back in 2014 and the other just last week, it seems reasonable to ask about the relationship of the two speeches, and their shared implications for the United States polity.
Reading from The Guardian, December 7, 2016, we find these words:During a 2014 conference hosted by the very conservative Human dignity Institute at the Vatican, Bannon laid out his belief in ‘traditionalism’. To him, it signifies, among other things, a third-way attempt to counter the ‘crony capitalism’ of neoliberalism, and the ‘state sponsored capitalism’ of the Soviet Union and China….He argues that a form of ‘enlightened capitalism’ defined western political economies from the second war until roughly the downfall of the Soviet Union. This type of capitalism was predicated on the Judeo-Christian tradition, which, for reasons Bannon does not explain, was adequately able to represent the culture and economic interests of the working class. However, increasing secularization in the west eroded the Judeo-Christian tradition. This set the stage by the 1990’s for enlightened capitalism to be supplanted by a new form of political economy, namely neoliberalism. The defining feature of neoliberalism, as Bannon describes it, involves the establishment of an international class of political and corporate elites- the ‘Davos Party’- who presumably lack the values necessary to represent the economic and cultural interest of anyone else besides themselves….A return to Judeo-Christian traditionalism will allow for the necessary economic forms that will pave the return to enlightened capitalism, which in turn will ‘wipe out’ the racist elements of the right-wing partiers. It will also provide the necessary virtues, Bannon argues, to resist the global threat of ‘radical Islam’. …He aims to destroy the political establishment and infuse the re-established state with Judeo-Christian traditionalism…..(H)e references none other than Julius Evola, one of the intellectual godfathers of European fascism who promoted a spiritual type of racism-whose reception in Russia under Putin has inspired a traditionalist movement from which Bannon believes there is much to learn. The most bothersome feature of Bannon’s talk is the fact that a Catholic group at the Vatican responded to it with enthusiasm…
And while the thrust of his argument, in this piece, is economic, the thrust of Alito’s recent address, also in Rome, is about morality.
slate.com, July 29, 2022, reports in a piece entitled, Alito’s Speech Mocking Foreign Leaders Has a Deeper, Darker Message” by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern.
Last Thursday, Justice Samuel Alito gave a talk in Rome sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative. Alito mocked western leaders like Boris Johnson, Emanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and Prince Harry, for their criticisms of his majority opinion in the Supreme Court Decision on Roe, effectively gutting that constitutional right of women to choose an abortion established for nearly a half-century.
Hayes Brown, writing in msnbc.com, July 30, 2022, writes:
“Alito’s actual lamentations were saved for the decline in religiosity in the United States and Europe. ‘This has a very important impact on religious liberty because it’s very hard to convince people that religious liberty is worth defending if they don’t think religion is a good thing that deserves protection, he said.’…(Salon’s Amanda Marcotte is quoted in the Brown piece:
The cultural clashes that Alito referees as a Supreme Court justice have often pitted conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, against those in favor of expanded rights for everyone regardless of sex, sexuality, gender and race….The more both Republicans and the Christian establishment reject these basic rights, the more they can expect to be rejected themselves, especially by younger people, Marcotte writes. And Brown continues: Moreover, the recourse that Alito all too often favors appears to be less a protection of religious freedom than an imposition of one religion as the baseline of morality and public policy.
Both speakers had a highly respected Roman Catholic audience; both received favourable receptions; and both, while coming at the cultural/political file from different directions, are nevertheless, evoking the Roman Catholic church as the embodiment of and the enforcer of public morality, and traditional Judeo-Christian values, for different reasons. Their shared goal, however, is the enlisting of the Roman Catholic church in the preservation of “traditions” that are not and cannot be ascribed exclusively to the Roman Catholic church.
Indeed, many who previously held Judeo-Christian values as ‘foundational’ and the sine qua non of western civilization, especially in North America, have moved away from their previous support and respect.
Alito’s speech converges, in time, with the visit of Pope Francis to Canada on what the Vatican calls a ‘pilgrimage of penance’ to apologize for and to ask forgiveness for the genocide on indigenous children in residential schools, operated under the aegis of both the Government of Canada and the Roman Catholic church, as well as two other mainline protestant churches. While issuing his apology in several sites, the Pope never once uttered the words that would have conveyed something all indigenous people were expecting: that the church itself (and not isolated individuals within the church) was indeed responsible for these abuses. Further indigenous people expected, and continue to demand, the revocation of the Doctrine of Discovery.
What is the Doctrine of Discovery?
Writing in cbc.ca, July 30, 2022 Mark Gollom, writes:
The doctrine, dating back to the 15th century includes a series of edicts known as papal bulls, that were later used to justify colonizing Indigenous lands….(Gollom continues) …But Steve Newcomb, an Indigenous scholar who has spent much of his career studying the Doctrine of Discovery, says he believes the Pope’s potential hesitation to rescind the doctrine comes from his reluctance to remind the world of the type of language used by his predecessors. ‘They issued languages of that sort that has had a destructive devastating impact for centuries on all of our nations and peoples, Newcomb said. ‘Because what it does is it rips the veneer off the Vatican to reveal the true nature of the institution,’ he said. Newcomb also suggested subsequent edicts released by the church following the papal bulls of 1493 (ostensibly abrogating the doctrine) had little impact, and that the original doctrine of discovery served for decades as the basis of ‘the most horrific genocidal acts against the original nation. He (Newcomb) said, despite its statement to the UN on 2010, the Vatican continues to try to evade responsibility for the doctrine. ‘They have never publicly acknowledged what’s in those documents. They simply want to refer to the titles of the documents, but not the substance. ….
If we use the lens of the current Papal visit, the refusal to state publicly that the ‘church’ as an institution, is responsible, accountable and thereby a candidate for the penitential, as an institution, along with the Doctrine of Discovery, and its history, as a lens through which to begin to examine the addresses of both Bannon and Alito…it seems eminently reasonable to “see” and to both contemplate and reflect upon a ‘red flag’ of growing hints of a theocracy in the United States. And that theocracy, regardless of the premises on which it is postulated, as nevertheless an exclusive, historically powerful and impactful, considerably arbitrary, hierarchical, and unidirectional institutional ‘influencer’…
Before this piece is relegated to the trash, as an Anti-Roman-Catholic screed, let’s take a deep breath. All institutions, in decline, reach for what can be depicted as extreme measures, positions that will seem to those being threatened, to restore a kind of lost lustre, lost gild on the historically and religiously once revered lily. In the midst of a pilgrimage of penance, while articulating that individuals within the church, (along with government officials, and governments as well) are responsible and accountable, it is also reasonable to observe that the Pope may need to draw a boundary line between those individuals and the ecclesial institution, in order to protect the larger reputation, honour, and even the sanctity of the church.
That proposition, however, to borrow a cliché from the vernacular, has already sailed. And the proposition is applicable, not only to the Roman Catholic church, but also to other protestant churches, (Anglican and United, for starters), for many theological and operational aspect of their birth and existence. The Garden of Eden story, for example, interpreted by many mainline churches, begins a process of human depravity, in desperate need of recovery and forgiveness. The notion of sin, as a starting place, almost like a cultural DNA for many, is not merely inhibiting but downright disparaging, denigrating and demeaning. While writers, like Tolstoy and others, have asserted the divine spark within each human, the institutional church has been locked into a punitive, judgemental and alienating/ostracizing theology not becoming a deity worthy of the name and worship.
The tension, too, between the manner in which and by which God speaks to humans, as a cornerstone of the dynamic relationship between man and God, is another of the militating features of taught, practiced and incarnated theology. Whether the God-message is intended to individuals or to the church and society as an entity, is a perhaps micro-irritant, yet nevertheless, serves as a launch-pad for the individualism that dominates North American capitalism. Another feature of most, if not all mainline churches, is the determination to prosletyze, to convert those considered heathens to the religion, whether that religion is considered a surrogate for civilization, or for moral purity and perfectionism, or for social and political endorsement, or for highly entertaining liturgies with even ‘prosperity gospel’ sermons. Paul may have had some legitimacy in sending out disciplines two by two, to bring people into the fold of the new church; yet, that too is highly suspect, given the measures, tactics, strategies and propaganda (truth-twisting) that has seeped into those ‘selling practices’ over the centuries.
If the people who are ostensibly “leaders” in the North American polity, on both sides of the 49th parallel, are interested in seeding a new, hopeful, life-sustaining and life-giving theology that embraces what we already know about various faiths, they, working with the faith leaders, begin conversations toward a spirituality and a belief system that is free from the dogmatic abuse of power, in the name of God, and also free from the notion that humans are primarily evil, sinful and ‘going to Hell, unless they are saved.
Clearly, even by the most minimal expectation of the notion of redemption and forgiveness, the Roman Catholic church’s current iteration, as well as the expectations suggested, if not actually imposed on the institution by both Bannon and Alito, suggest that coming clean of institutional responsibility, accountability and transparency, as well as the concomitant forgiveness and re-integration into the family of humanity, not to mention the reconciling process with Indigenous peoples has barely even begun.
And, even a massive reparations payment to First Nations people in Canada, if indeed it ever transpires, will not, just as the tokens of other symbols (such as the withdrawal of the Doctrine of Discovery) if offered, suffice as an adequate transformation of both the church and the theology of sin it embodies and enforces.
Whether through the colonization of the indigenous people or the domination of millions of minds and hearts and spirits, or through the deliberate and cunning definition of boundaries of ‘guilt’ and judgement, the church(es) have more than their share of confessing and engaging in the act of penance, not only from an individual perspective, but also from an institutional perspective.
Or, has the time for such a transformation passed?