I had a neighbor a few years back, a middle-aged Jewish woman with health issues who stayed to herself. Her daughter and my daughters played together, so we ended up loosely acquainted. She barely spoke English, plucked from her native land by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and dropped (presumably at random) in the middle of Indiana. If she was receiving any ongoing support, we couldn’t see it. My daughters made a point to check on her every few days, helping her with gardening and household chores.
I only visited her at home once in the years we lived nearby, to help carry something in that the girls couldn’t lift. I tried to minimize my direct engagement since I am, after all, Matt Parrott. The local Jewish community was acutely aware of me, and I didn’t want her dread of a frightful “anti-semite” piled atop her worries. I had little to worry about, as she was about as alienated from them as I am. I called the HIAS, not as a political activist but as a concerned neighbor, politely suggesting that she may have fallen through the institutional cracks.
They blew me off, of course. A few months later, we learned that her daughter had found her dead in her apartment, an entirely tragic and preventable death. There’s so much more that I could have done, and I do regret that. But where was her community? Where was her synagogue? Where were the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations ostensibly dedicated to social work?
They were too busy lining up the next wave of immigrants, too busy with their “social justice” activism, and too busy with their own lives to help this woman in need. These people care deeply about “immigration”, as an abstract political cause celebre. They could give a damn about the immigrants themselves.
This woman happened to be Jewish, and her community happened to be Jewish, but it’s not really about Jews. Just about all of America’s religious organizations follow the same script. It’s always about “outreach”, “missions”, and exciting attempts to “change the world”. After all, adopting Haitian orphans, bringing [insert denomination] to [insert exotic locale], campus outreach, and such are exciting. In-reach, taking care of our own, is lacking in vision, uplift, and breadth of mind!
Who wants to watch the Game Show Network for a couple hours in a senile old neighbor’s dark and filthy apartment once a week when one can be evangelizing perfect strangers with exciting problems? Who has time to buy cat food and vanilla wafers for their diabetic aunt when Joseph Kony is running amok in Uganda as we speak?
My frenemy Maria Gwyn McDowell speaks contemptuously of the Orthodox Christian Churches’ failure to keep up with this aspect of Modernity in her response to our excommunication, sneering that, “I recall a perfectly vibrant ministry to men and women transitioning out of homelessness that was shut down because ‘we really should be focusing on our [ethnic group] shut-ins.'”
I, for one, am glad the Church made the choice it made and am skeptical of how “vibrant” the homelessness ministry actually was. Ultimately, all charity which does not directly involve an intimate personal relationship between the benefactor and recipient invariably becomes a hustle. These naive Third World aid projects unwittingly prop up warlords, undermine traditional local authorities, drive local farmers out of business, encourage helpless dependency, and exacerbate the population density problem. All too often, “helping” the homeless amounts to enabling their evasion of the chemical dependency, mental health, or family issues which brought them to the shelter in the first place.
In a recent post by The Anti-Gnostic, Traditionalism’s Unprincipled Exception, draws attention to this distinction between Orthodoxy and American religion-as-usual.
Contra Niche has remarked that Christian mission probably has a conversion-to-contact ratio well below ten percent. With those numbers, Orthodoxy would be better off taking every dollar and resource devoted to evangelism and instead directly subsidizing young, Orthodox families so they’ll fill the pews with their kids and aunts and uncles and grandparents.
All this talk about Local Churches, kinship and inter-generational tradition gets uncomfortable pretty quick. Orthodox converts certainly want their “smells and bells” street-cred, but being secular Americans first, they also want what Laurence Auster termed the unprincipled exception to their rock-ribbed creed.
I’m deeply skeptical of the Evangelical Orthodox effort to change the traditional Orthodox Christian model of seamlessly integrating one’s familial, ethnic, and national identity with the Church. I think Faith sticks more firmly when it becomes more than a mere doctrine or position, but an intrinsic part of who you are, and not merely a disposable patch of flair on our raceless, placeless, faceless multicultural global cosmopolitan uniforms.
The Orthodox in America are scrambling to catch up with the globalist program, an unmitigated disaster which has left us a nation of irreligious, alienated, isolated, unhappy, and selfish wretches “Bowling Alone” with no sense of identity or belonging. They’re way too late to the party, anyway. The market for churches that operate on constant outreach and evangelism is saturated. Now, a Christian Church which abandons all that cause-mopolitan and marketing bling of the evangelical megachurches in favor of genuine tribal identity and community, that’s a hip new angle.
1. Maria Gwyn McDowell claims that she was not sneering.