Rod Dreher is famously orthodox. He's also enthusiastic about why that's not going to change anytime soon, at least in the direction of Catholicism.
Dreher's latest for Time cites lots of good evidence against the church of "God is love." From his catechesis at a university parish to the next 13 years of hanging on through "therapeutic" and "saccharine" homilies, Dreher's experience of (what he terms) American Catholicism was par for the course. His analysis of what went wrong—that this was the church of "Christ without the Cross"—is also spot on. And so, in the wake of the major sex abuse crisis a decade ago, and feeling that "American Catholicism was not pushing back against the hostile age at all," Dreher "finally broke."
It's hard to point a finger. Orthodoxy is, after all, a beautiful tradition. It's also one that calls to mind very acutely the necessity of constant conversion—the fact that we must align our everyday lives with the sacred mysteries of the Incarnation. Orthodoxy is a paradigm of piety and, so far as I can tell from my trasteverian post, the bane of platitudes. For a thoughtful person—especially one seeking refuge—it's a pretty easy sell.
Thus, it's Dreher's thumb-to-nose sign off that makes me wonder just what part of Orthodoxy I've failed to appreciate. In professing to "admire" and "understand" Pope Francis's message of mercy, Dreher predicts that it may be the ultimate undoing of important doctrinal reform, which characterized the previous two papacies. Far from being shaken, however, the author reminds us that his involvement with the church of "God is love"—with American Catholicism—is history: "[T]hat is no longer my problem."
I'm a big fan of the Eastern (and especially Russian) tell-it-like-it-is mentality. Yet I doubt that Dreher is doing justice here in two regards: first, by failing to see (or at least to acknowledge) the profound interconnectedness of orthodox piety with universal ecclesial wellbeing; and second, by continuing to prop up as some sort of hypostasis the concept of "American Catholicism"—that is to say, the small-C church of "God is love."
But a response to Dreher's snub is not best offered as a syllogism. And I don't intend to give one now. The splendor of orthodoxy—in the broader sense—is that it's most compelling when left unspoken. It should strike anyone who professes faith in Christ that a crisis of belief for all but a handful is incompatible with denying the "problem" of evangelization. It should also be at least notionally distinct, to one as intellectually and culturally tuned as Dreher, that the church of "God is love" is not the Church of "God is love." In a word, that "American Catholicism" is fundamentally different from Catholicism, insofar as the latter is de facto coextensive with the universe, and not with any particular nation or people.
I, like many other Catholics, esteem Orthodoxy for its beauty. This includes at times a certain bellicose approach—not so much ad extra but ad intra, directed toward the conversion of heart that occurs through the mundane, the familiar; all the beautiful things Dreher loves, and for good reason. On the other hand, I am left unimpressed when Orthodoxy is used as a vehicle of belligerence—hostility—aimed at perpetuating a rift that, as Christians, none of us should wish to settle for. "There is, of course, no such thing as the perfect church," Dreher says. And on this point I disagree with him profoundly. While individual Christians are, even collectively, quite imperfect and sinful, the community of believers united by the Spirit is, amongst other things, holy. If we limit ourselves to mean by "church" simply a local expression of faith, then Dreher's claim holds water. But then, such a church is hardly the sort worth living and dying for. It is easily made a means to an end—an instrument of war—rather than an end itself.
If the true Church is the Body of Christ, how then could it turn out to be anything less than perfect? And how could it end up as anything more than the simple reality that "God is love"?