Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bp. Williamson: Unabomber Theology Revisited

A previous installment of Fringe Watch discussed the apocalyptic views of Bishop Richard Williamson and his endorsement of political extremism. Although largely marginalized since his heyday as a US seminary rector in the '90s—and removal/demotion in the SSPX to a post in Argentina—Bp. Williamson is nevertheless an important case study. His career is illustrative, both in the sorts of ideas he espouses and the people he networks with. He has been an important catalyst in extreme traditionalist circles and lent clerical "authority" to those whose views dovetail with his own.

Apocalypse Soon?

An example of extremist cross-pollination is seen in the recent interview with Dr. David Allen White by Stephen Heiner (who is affiliated with the Angelus Press). Dr. White is known for his lectures on literature and culture. He is also a long-time associate of Bp. Williamson, and while he does not touch on some of bishop's more radical political views, he embraces his general outlook of doom and despair.

After a jejune criticism of the papacy of Benedict XVI, which seconds Bp. Williamsons' rejection of all negotiations with Rome, Dr. White muses upon the subjects of technology and culture
To my mind one of the great essays written in my lifetime is Solange Hertz's essay "Hell's Amazing Grace." In this essay she talks about electricity itself as a satanic invention that stands in opposition to God's true light....

But the invention of electricity has allowed us to turn night into day, winter into summer, and summer into winter, with air conditioning and heating. It has allowed us to feel as if we have the world at our fingertips. It's a brilliant essay. It occurred to me recently that we are now totally dependent upon power and electricity for every aspect of our lives. All that Satan needs to do is turn out the power, and then his false son can step forward to perform the great miracle of restoring the power to us if we fall down and worship him.

And I think even many good souls, perhaps even traditional Catholics might be tempted to worship him if it meant they could get their garage door opener back and have the fridge back, so the beer will be cold again, and have their TV and Internet back.
Anyone familiar with Hertz's long-running columns in The Remnant will remember her as one of the most bizarre writers in traditionalism, especially noted for attacks on technology and belief in geocentricism. It is perhaps no surprise that Dr. White should endorse Hertz as she has long been a favorite of Bp. Williamson's who promoted her writings during his long tenure as rector at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary (along with the works of Holocaust Revisionists). Another quality which endeared Hertz to the bishop was her strident anti-American views, going far beyond political criticism, and generally identifying the United States with the Antichrist.

As an aside one should note that Dr. White (like Bp. Williamson) is supporter of publisher John Sharpe. What is very typical of Bp. Williamson's outlook is the technophobic apocalypse embraced by Dr. White. The evils of modern machinery were repeatedly detailed in the bishop's seminary newsletters. The theme is one of a millenarian collapse, not the restoration of society as promoted by St. Pius X. It is in line with the religious-political manias studied by Prof. Norman Cohn (The Pursuit of the Millennium). According to Cohn, some key themes of radical eschatology are: 1) the idea that "redemption" will come about in terrestrial terms; 2) that it is imminent (it will come soon and suddenly); and 3) that it is total.

Along these lines one is reminded of Pope Benedict XVI's description (in Truth and Tolerance) of Marxist inspired liberation theology. Sin is "institutional" and so this "state of affairs... can only be overcome by a radical change in the structures of the world, which are sinful structures, evil structures." Yet, as the Pope explains, it is wrong to think of redemption as an "experience" or a political event that operates like a deus ex machina—similar to the old Marxist view of the impending collapse of capitalism—that will conveniently and rapidly deliver us from evil, as opposed to the slow process of spiritual growth and sanctity.

The vision of doom espoused by Solange Hertz and Bp. Williamson focuses attention not only on something "exciting," it also focuses attention on themselves as harbingers of a message far more important than the run-of-the-mill Gospel preached in your average church, or even as understood by your average traditionalist, whom Dr. White seems to disparage. (The joy these people experience in predicting social ruin is quite palpable.)

Praise for Theodore Kaczynski

Having established the intellectual milieu of "Catholic" radicals, one can see how Bp. Williamson applied this grim philosophy to events happening around him. In 1996, not long after the publication of the manifesto by the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski), Bishop Richard Williamson turned some heads when he stated that
principles are more important than personalities, and the message is, strictly, for good or ill, independent of the messenger. The author of the Unabomber's Manifesto might have since become a Saint without its contents being changed by one word (June 6, 1996 letter).
Such an assertion is staggering. It involves a divorce of intent and conduct which is impossible from the point of view of classic moral theology. It is on par with leftists who argue that the Stalinist Russia’s aims were noble even if it fell short of those in practice. Yet Williamson is no crude practitioner of agitprop. He attempts to disarm critics of his consciously shocking missives by reminding us that
the end can never justify the means. However important the Unabomber's message, nothing gave him the right to maim and kill innocent victims in order to get it before the public.
This does not prevent him from identifying with Kaczynski's alienation—in the same way that he sympathizes with the aggressive artistic protests of Oliver Stone and Pink Floyd (recurring themes in his newsletters). Thus “without accepting” their ultimate nihilistic manifestations, “one cannot help having a measure of understanding for their resorting to such desperate means.” What exactly does this mean? It appears disingenuous, a sort of vicarious thrill on a level with telling a man to watch blue movies but not to commit adultery. Williamson anticipates the protests of scandalized readers. He puts critics on the defensive, picturing himself as the shrewd cleric pitted against the clumsy lay person, and making it clear that anything short of his solution is an exercise in spiritual mediocrity.
[D]o you wish to save your rebellious teenagers’ souls? I am sure you are well aware that if you talk to them of St. Ignatius of Loyola or St. Theresa of Lisieux, you do not even get to first base. But just breathe the name of Pink Floyd, and see how their ears prick up! This is our world, and there is no other in which we have to save our souls! If only the honorable professors and respectable bishops were tackling the questions tackled by the Unabombers and the Oliver Stones, then your children might look up instead of down, but since nobody “decent” seems to address their concerns, who can be surprised if they feed from the gutter? Rock music is one long, unheard, scream for help!
For decades, radical trads like Bp. Williamson have pilloried hip ecclesiastics for their craven attempts at “relevance” and fawning emulation of pop culture and psychology. Yet they engage in the same tactics. The double-standard can only be explained in terms of an ideological rather than a theological worldview. The opposition are condemned because of their ends. But their means are praised when employed by one’s “own side,” no matter how ruthless (e.g., Communists condemn the atrocities of Nazis, and vice versa, without batting an eye).

But what makes Kaczynski’s desperate eschatology so compelling that we are bidden to overlook his bloody-minded methods? The answer is that he possesses some superior (gnostic) insights. Meanwhile the herd-like masses are deemed by Williamson to be "technophiliacs." A year later, the bishop would remind us that when “‘sane’ people are crazy (inhuman), it seems to take ‘crazy’ people to be sane (human).” And while the Unabomber does not have the solution, “he faces the problem.” For Kaczynski, and for Williamson, the looming threat to individual meaning is the “industrial-technological system” (or “IT”). He thus summarizes Kaczynski’s manifesto:
Nor can any minor adjustment or compromise reconcile IT with freedom, both because IT has to regulate human behavior closely in order to function at all, and because all parts of IT are interdependent....

...if IT survives, then the future looks grim: either, for the sake of efficiency, machines will be in total control and no man will be free....

...However, IT is not unstoppable. The positive alternative we need is WILD NATURE, free of men, or with wild men.... The means of IT's overthrow are a revolution not merely political, but economic, technological and world-wide, for IT cannot be overthrown piecemeal. Above all, let our revolutionaries have the one clear goal: IT must go! All means to achieve that goal can then be pragmatically adjusted. \
Karl Marx, in his Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, offered the view that: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” If any one thought is axiomatic of “salvation politics,” it is this. The underlying assumption of millenarian ideologies is that function determines being. This is true not only of Marxists, but other utopians, like Fascists and National Socialists, for whom some form of pristine social or biological order will eradicate evil and the causes of evil.

Although it has been over a decade since Bp. Williamson set forth his Unambomber theology, the influence amongst a gnostic-minded set of survivalist "trads" remains as strong as ever, as seen in Dr. White's ill-considered musings on the state of the world.