Edvard Munch - Anxiety - Google Art Project.jpg

Converse, Wranglers, Harley Davidson motorcycles, Brooks Brothers shirts, and most L.L. Bean products have certain things in common: They are traditionally manufactured in the United States, and they no longer are.

When Converse announced that it was updating its classic high-tops, loyal customers ignored the new shoe. Kicks haven’t been produced in the United States for years anyway, and had been demoted from “Americana” to “classic” years ago.

When Wrangler stopped manufacturing jeans in America because it became expensive, there was similar outcry. Now, some Western outfitters supply alternative, American-made cowboy cut jeans at greater prices. They sell, too.

When the godless, heathen Communists who run Harley Davidson tried to make motorcycles overseas, Earth stopped rotating on its axis.

When Brooks Brothers came under foreign ownership and began to import or modify American-made classics, people died of infarctions. In the age of ugly manners and exhibitionism, bad taste struck its final blow in the Holy of Holies. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. And switching of clothiers.

These groups of consumers overlap, by the way. Some of the people who were angry at Converse were angry at Wrangler; all of the people who were angry at Wrangler were angry at Harley; and without Anglicans, Brooks would have gone out of business centuries ago. We all believe the same narrative, and that narrative is largely true: Things were better once. Then something changed. It can never be set right again, and now we don’t live in Mayberry anymore.

Click on some of those links. Read product reviews. The vitriol of a betrayed customer base is insane.

What it all means

In every case, a custodian of a tradition violated our trust. That sounds like insecure, petty consumerism because it is. But that doesn’t let those institutions off the hook. They had a higher responsibility than profit because of their station in society. People lost jobs. In some cases, these institutions bailed on US manufacturing when it wasn’t even financially necessary. Customers would have paid more for the American made product! And they did. Elsewhere.

This tendency is growing drastically in every aspect of life, and it’s starting to be manipulated. Look around you. Every kind of hate group and radical political movement seems to be gaining membership by tapping into this deepening anxiety about… well, everything. Our society is firmly post-truth. Worse, most complainants don’t remember what Mayberry was like. Their version of a world now gone is usually inaccurate, unhealthy, frozen in time. There were no internet trolls in Mayberry! Further, many who join fringe groups are really just attracted to a narrative of betrayal and resistance. It shows in their worldviews and in the unkind company they keep. When these groups are religious, it gets sick.

After Vatican II, a number of sedevacantists refused to surrender the old Mass. A vocal minority have influenced other trads to believe in a “Judeo-Masonic conspiracy” to destroy the Church. Hyper-Charismatic groups are known for their own fear-mongering. In the last 30 years, Orthodox converts have also strongly developed this tendency; they have harassed or intimidated many of us for not converting to their Western, consumerist version of “Holy Orthodoxy.” These people didn’t learn to act this way in a healthy environment.

If you ask around, you’ll find that many members of this last group in particular were raised on the fringes of Fundamentalism or spent time in New Age cults. Against all Godly prudence and country common sense, Eastern hierarchs have long accepted mass conversions from these groups (it looked good), and then marveled at the abuse and financial malfeasance for which some proselytes have been responsible.[1] I think I know why:

As long as mankind has existed, individuals have lived together. Their shared, organically-derived customs, developed over time, facilitate life in community. These constitute tradition, a language which is practiced in the community. The many and interconnected precedents set by custom form the living tradition of a society, the language by which its members communicate. Those individuals and institutions who remind a community of its customs are its custodians.

A community can have only one living tradition. The life of the community within its tradition is its meta-narrative. If a generation does not pass down the living tradition to its progeny, they become grounded in the self alone and the meta-narrative dies, introducing anomie, or a lack of norms, into society. The state of anomie is the loss of the only shared language that can exist between two or more people. Without it, people cannot communicate even if they speak to one another.

The loss of the meta-narrative is accompanied by grief, loneliness in a crowd and anxiety about how to live. Anomie increases as custodians die. Remnant communities remember the meta-narrative at least in part, and attempt to resurrect the meta-narrative out of nostalgia. This can never be done completely, but can heal the ruptured meta-narrative enough for its survival. It is not even desirable to resurrect all customs, as some respond to challenges that may no longer exist. Their return would be toxic, as these customs could never again develop organically.

Within remnant communities are custodians and some young people who are angry at the anomie that has lowered their standard of living. The most reactionary members of remnant communities try to re-live the meta-narrative before it has fully healed, or even appropriate the traditions of others. Unknowingly, they produce alternative languages (ALs) by formulating new “customs,” while resurrecting dead ones that no longer fit into the grammar of the old language. The communities of practice for this new language are toxic reactionary movements (TRMs).

TRMs are best known for their obsessive re-enactment of rituals, which are often explicitly recorded due to their complex choreography. TRMs fail because the cannot script healthy, everyday life in the same way. TRMs divide remnant communities and bring them into disrepute with their deeply engrained, stilted and destructive habits of life and mind. In response, remnant communities must continue to revive their metanarratives, and graft them to the present. If they fail to do so, they die.

Christianity is a cluster of remnant communities. Parts of the Charismatic movement, Sedevacantism and Convert Orthodoxy (CO) are our TRMs. The rigidity, heresy and abuse sometimes seen in TRMs are the result of the phony lifestyles they construct in failed attempts to follow pre-existing, healthy patterns of life. Each TRM has its own AL. Hyper-Charismatics replace the Faith with hysteria and apocalypticism. Sedevacantists have the Tridentine Mass and anti-Semitism. CO has the Divine Liturgy, anti-Semitism and Tsarist politics.

Yet one’s life is not spent theorizing about a utopia that never existed. What is Mayberry like? Who lives there? What do they do with their lives? Sit at their computers and rant? Unfortunately, yes! TRMs are characterized by rage and paranoia because they aren’t real communities, but echo chambers with 4Chan spirituality. TRMs idealize the past, but can’t handle the present. TRM members obsessively repeat liturgies, not for the Holy Mysteries, but to magically invoke a feeling of security that was taken from them. They only believe in a pale imitation of the traditions they think they’ve been immersed in.

My experience

Like many native-born Americans, I was introduced to CO for the first time at an Orthodox bookstore. Everyone was nice, though at least one Anglo liked to complain about “the Serbian youth these days.” He didn’t know any Serbian youth. Over time, I learned that everyone on staff was a former convict, cult member or addict. All “got saved” through Orthodoxy, but still had serious emotional issues. Once, a convert became so emotional as she described her Chrismation to me that she burst into tears. I had just met her.

She also made an offhand remark that Western churches don’t baptize. In light of the practice of some Protestants, you have to be quite isolated to think that way! People like this presumed to teach me about intense ascetical techniques like hesychasm. All went by exotic chrismation names. After a while, they started to aggressively pressure me into conversion. It became so uncomfortable that I stopped visiting the bookstore and meditated on my purchases instead. I expected “full homely divinity.”

Edifying discourses

There was no balm in Gilead. A vita of St. Maximus the Confessor was dedicated to all Orthodox who opposed the “heresy of ecumenism.” Seraphim Rose, a convert monk, wrote one book in my collection to defend St. Augustine from accusations of heresy, commonly leveled at him by converts. The book was clearly written for the sort of people he influences: People like himself! By the time my college-town priest decided to convert, I was losing my wits! (I even felt guilty for reading novels, because imagining the action could be prelest! There was no Christian way). When I expressed doubt about entering a Church that attracted and cultivated such dysfunction, I was shamed for being judgmental.

Now, I realize that even if the Eastern Church is the only true one, I would only have converted to the watered-down, consumer version of it (CO) instead of the genuine article. I don’t reject Orthodoxy; I just don’t know what it is. I also avoided a toxic subculture that could have destroyed me psychologically. My media experience taught me enough about marketing that I never fell for the pitch. Further, I tested the spirits. The Holy Fathers taught me something after all.

One last thing

I hope I can be forgiven for dwelling on the fringes of other traditions. While not all or even most Charismatics, Sedevacantists or Orthodox converts behave in the way I’ve described, enough of them do so that one who joins such churches must exercise great discernment. Charismatics have always worried about “spiritually abusive” churches. Some trad Romans are, frankly, obsessed with conspiracy theories. Some Orthodox parishes and monasteries, unable to shake off their old habits, have effectively been cults within a mainstream church. That’s why their members are harassing and menacing us with such frequency. Here’s the kicker: For all our manifold sins and wickedness, Anglicanism doesn’t, to my knowledge, contain a subculture of such ferocious bigotry. We would do well to learn why.

Anglicans should feel grateful, not proud, that we generally lack this problem. Many who defect from Anglicanism to Rome or Orthodoxy do so because of this very rigorism. They would have formed sick groups within Anglican structures had they not “gone over.” Our reputation as a Bridge Church provides a unique outlet for the insecurities of certain members of our community. Thus, we can focus on healing our infrastructure and discerning what is so good about Anglicanism that people should want to join us. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth!

Next, Church history will give us some insight. Please stick around!

[1] Scan, a resource on Eastern Rite abuse, for American names like Samuel David Allen. One of the more prolific child molesters associated with US Orthodoxy, he was received from a Gnostic cult, the Holy Order of MANS, with no vetting. Also research the practices of Ephraimite monks, and Christ-of-the-Hills Monastery, Blanco, Texas. “Convertitis” perpetuates a cycle of abuse that should never have become our problem.


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