Book Review: George William Rutler: Calm in Chaos: Catholic Wisdom in Anxious Times (Ignatius Press, 2018)

Many countries, seeking to collect as much as possible about US President Donald Trump (facing reporters in the Oval Office above) to construct their “US policies” may have heeded derisive US news media reports concerning him. Such stories may have led some foreign capitals to believe  wrongly that Trump was incapable of accomplishing much on foreign and national security policy. Events have proven those sources are unreliable. Often, books of genres outside of foreign and national security policy can provide real answers on issues of interest concerning not only Trump, but thinking in the US. With this in mind, greatcharlie calls attention to Calm in Chaos.

US President Donald Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in US relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach, there will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. He has faced a galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. Many countries, seeking to collect as much as possible about Trump to construct their “US policies” may have given to the temptation to infer and extrapolate information from derisive US news media reports of recent events concerning the US President. Stories in the US news media that pilloried Trump over domestic political matters, for instance that Trump was a Russian spy and that his presidency was in genuine jeopardy, may have led them to erroneously believe that his ability to do big things on foreign and national security policy was restrained. The Office of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the Presidential Election and Related Matters found no collusion between Trump and the Russian Federation, there were no indictments concerning such collusion, and that there would be no more indictments. Just as the US public, all worldwide who may have accept that false story about Trump now know that his critics and detractors were wrong.

A correct understanding of Trump’s approach to foreign and national security policy cannot be founded by using loose, politicized information from overt sources that are now perhaps far less credible. Confident that theory takes precedence over fact, many critics and detractors insist incredulously that Trump colluded with Russia’s intelligence services. Time might be well spent now by analysts in an effort to understand the archaeology of what happened to formerly most reliable sources of public information in the US, and what was the causality for their great turn toward the direction of anger and display such a lack of restraint. Mentalities involved might be considered. Perhaps, it might all be chalked up to being an odd pretense, a collegial game, or even a banal amusement in which players would vie to be one make the most iniquitous statements about Trump. Although the harshness of some critics could convince one that they would be willing “to eat his heart in the marketplace.” Perhaps, it could be some seemingly incurable trauma resulting from Trump’s 2016 Presidential Election victory. There is also the possibility that it is all the result of some ingenious telepathy from Hell! Occasionally, some books of genres unrelated to foreign and national security policy can provide, in an indirect way, real answers for many of those issues. Such books could  potentially stimulate thinking that may lead the betterment of relations between the US and many countries. Indeed, one should not be limited by labels. With all of this in mind, greatcharlie is reviewing Father George William Rutler’s book, Calm in Chaos: Catholic Wisdom in Anxious Times (Ignatius Press, 2018), as part of its mission of contributing to the debate on foreign and national security policy worldwide.

At first blush, it would be easy enough for some to simply label the book as a compilation. Calm in Chaos is 228 pages long and divided into 35 chapters. Each chapter is a separate essay composed by Rutler. The majority of chapters indeed include essays on matters consequential matters concerning the Catholic Church specifically. As with Rutler’s other books, there is a moral purpose to Calm in Chaos. The book will typically be categorized in bookstores under the genre “Christian literature”. That would indeed be appropriate. Here are a few chapter titles for those essays: “The Pity of Christ”; ”Liturgical Confusion: Challenging Reform”; “Translating the Mass: The Liturgical Experts’ Long Tassels”; “Advent: In My End Is My Beginning”; “Pentecost and the Prerequisites for Devotion”; The Canonization of Teresa of Calcutta”; “Dignitas: The Manners of Humility”;The Idea of a Catholic University Fifty Years after Land O’ Lakes”; “The Curate’s Egg: A Reflection on Amoris Laetitia”; and, “The Problem with Pews”.

Understandably, many of chapters concerning the Catholic Church may not resonate with many sweet, worthy, good readers who are not members of it. However, there are other chapters, as aforementioned, in which Calm in Chaos, offers a bit more. A good number of chapters also concern political, social, and even foreign policy issues concerning mainly the US, but also other industrialized  countries of the world, and the manner in which those issues relate to faith. Rutler’s essays were mostly written during the respective heights of their topics’ importance or urgency.  Some remain as relevant today as they were before. That relevance is what compelled greatcharlie to review Calm in Chaos to its readers, and why greatcharlie urges prospective readers not to short shrift Rutler’s book. The following is a sample of chapter titles for those particular essays: “President Trump’s  Warsaw Speech”; A Populist Election and Its Aftermath”; “The Tailors of Tooley Street: Reflections on the Ivory Tower and Reality”; “The Paris Horror: Real and Explicable”; “Tolerating Terror”; The Mindless Iconoclasts of Our Age”; “Prophecy and Prediction: Best Left to the Professionals”; “Looking Down on Africa”; “On Praising Famous Men”; and, “State Education”.

Rutler was reared in the Episcopal tradition in New Jersey and New York, Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years, and the youngest Episcopal rector in the country when he headed the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. However, in 1979, he was received into the Catholic Church and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. A graduate of Dartmouth, Rutler also took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1988 he was a regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Thomas More College and Christendom College awarded him honorary doctorates. For ten years he was also National Chaplain of Legatus, the organization of Catholic business leaders and their families, engaged in spiritual formation and evangelization. A board member of several schools and colleges, he is Chaplain of the New York Guild of Catholic Lawyers, Regional Spiritual Director of the Legion of Mary (New York and northern New Jersey) and has long been associated with the Missionaries of Charity, and other religious orders. He was a university chaplain for the Archdiocese. Rutler has lectured and given retreats in many nations, frequently in Ireland and Australia. Since 1988, EWTN has broadcasted Rutler’s television programs worldwide. Rutler has made documentary films in the US and the United Kingdom, contributes to numerous scholarly and popular journals and has published 34 books, referred to by some as classics, on theology, history, cultural issues, and the lives of the saints. Currently, he is the pastor of the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel in New York City.

One can encomiastically state that Rutler possesses an immense intellect. If one has not come across the name of such a prolific writer as Rutler previously, it is likely because he has never involved himself in the global circus of public relations and other usual methods of projecting oneself with people as most writers. This author’s coup de foudre with Rutler was watching the broadcast of a segment of “The Parables of Christ”, a series Rutler created for EWTN Catholic Television Network. Ever since then this author has been an avid reader of his work, stumbling after him, seeking to learn as much possible from all he graciously offers. This author would like to believe that traces of Rutler’s writing style can be detected in greatcharlie’s essays. Suffice it to say that in any theoretical bildungsroman of this author, Rutler would feature prominently.

There are those who possess an uncertain picture of the world, who may be prospecting for answers on a way of living and hoping to discover a moral anchor. Some may have a zeal for God, but may not have sufficient knowledge of God to move down the right path. Rutler, a Catholic priest, without engaging in a blatant, fire and brimstone attempt at evangelization, would surely suggest that they would do best by turning toward the Catholic Church which can provide sure foundation for their enrichment, enlightenment, and salvation. They will receive all of the seed and fruit that comes with the knowledge of God the Father.

However, such individuals, not knowing where to turn, are instead often easily led along a garden path to what is really a false discipline that requires “looking at the world on a case by case basis” and possessing a certain “open mindedness” to new things, even things that would have previously been labelled, at least in sophisticated, industrialized societies, as taboo. At least for the moment, there is an insistence by purveyors of this approach to life that anything which smacks of being doctrinaire must be rejected. While what is offered may seemingly cauterize the initial tension, it all lures one in the wrong direction, away from truth.

Indeed, a custom-designed conscience, elevated just at the common denominator, has been created by film and television studio heads, publicists, entertainment news media moguls, who are the figurative high priests of a ever celebrity based culture engulfing the US. Their goal is to keep the focus of the US public on banal amusements and the consumption on gossamer fantasy.  Once venerated mainstream network nightly news programs in the US are married to entertainment news programs and game shows that promote celebrity, wealth, power, and self-indulgence. For the most part, the US news media itself has become liberal-leaning, occupied by irascible commentators and experts who unapologetically present through politicized commentary what they perceive as the rights and wrongs of the society. Due to some odd nuance, it is all labelled as news. The traditional targets of corporate and government power are no longer the main focus. Trump, himself, is priority one. News media outlets of today would undoubtedly offer a far less elevated reason for their beliefs. Those thoughts would be most likely unwelcome to the ears of the more thoughtful, those of true faith.

There is a reality that a certain type of individual has found a place in centers of power in the US. They have worked hard to actually eradicate those spiritual values that were amplified in the US Constitution and the development of the society for a type of artificial world view. In many ways, it is a stealthy simulacrum of the Communist notion of humanism where anything goes as it is all a product of the human mind and not the Creator, God the Father.

It is in Rutler’s essays that examine political, social, and foreign policy issues that concern the US from which the reader is provided with a discussion that would certainly better one’s understanding of a prevalent views within the US public. Rutler brilliantly, methodically lays out his reasons for not being agreeable with that shift, the “new morality” dominating the public forum. One should not expect Rutler to observe the world through a lens that presents the world before him as a green verdant countryside and his view of the path for man on Earth is a tree lined mountain road. Conversely, Rutler really does not mind getting to the root of the social and political background of matters. Ever true is the adage that in order to study the disease fully, one must search through the swamp. Paradoxical to common thinking, Rutler, as with other religious, are not isolated from where the ills of world exist but rather bring themselves closer to them as that is where their work must be done. That is where the Word of God is surely needed most, and Catholic priests as Rutler are the “fishers of men.” To that extent, Rutler in his writing, has often shined high beam lights on what has become orthodoxy within this avant-garde spirituality being propagated. It is the foundation upon which the core beliefs a hair raising new culture continues to build.

Perhaps as a product of cautious instinct or cynicism, it might intrigue some to discover with the Catholic Church being portrayed very often now in a negatively light, that a new book that includes essays of Catholic priest critiquing aspects of political thinking and policy making in the US might come on the scene.  Indeed, the Catholic Church has been existing under a cloud of scandal centered around the private behavior of a number of priests and the remiss of church officials in responding for decades to allegations of crimes committed. For a spate, there were stories recounting victims’ abuse from priests appearing in newspapers and on television news seemingly every ten seconds. For the Catholic Church, it is now a matter of great moment. The problem is not an easy knot for it to untie. His Eminence Pope Francis has indicated that he intention act ex cathedra in all cases revealed, uncovered, and reexamined by the church. Certainly, there was a terribly misguided understanding of personal and collective loyalty to the church. On the other hand, in this author’s view, it was a jarring blow scored by evil against the church in the fight, the spiritual combat, between good and evil here on Earth. It is the same fight for the souls of people that has been ongoing since Adam and Eve. For the Catholic Church, is a war being fought not for expedience, but with the ultimate goal of total victory. That struggle will not end until the final victory that will arrive with Second Coming of Christ.

Rutler appears to have by instinct the methodology to serve well in the cause of spiritual combat. Rutler’s essays to some extent serve as reports from the frontlines of the war against evil, presented from the side of the righteous and ordained. What readers should discover in reading Calm in Chaos is that the sanctity and dignity of the Catholic Church, its virtues, reside in men such as him. They are accessible via a nearby parish church or cathedral of the local diocese.

It is always interesting to watch a craftsman at work, a professional at work, making full use of his powers along the lines of excellence. Calm in Chaos is one more elegant display of Rutler’s absolute mastery of the use of the English language. Great and popular writers, other published professionals, and the burgeoning aspirant alike are tantalized by his talent, literacy, and articulation. There is something about the cadences of the prose, the qualities of the descriptions, There is a tone of voice that creates a marvelous feeling of calm. By its quality, Rutler’s writing holds the reader, whether the reader wants to be held or not. It is all immediately recognizable to his loyal readers. Rutler uses what this author describes as concentric circles of discussion, building an understanding of an issue from the social, political, historical, philosophical in addition to the theological.

Rutler is erudite on all subjects concerning theology, the living history of the Catholic Church, but he also an incomparable repository of knowledge on the history of Europe. Readers become instant beneficiaries of his munificence as the book a abounds with lessons through. Readers will finish the text with a nearly complete colleges level history course on top the ideas shared in each essay. Having long ago found the great and the good in literature, he shares passages graciously when they relate well with the subject at hand.

Rutler is a master at the use of the humorous anecdotes. However, the intent is never to lampoon, the de rigueur use for humor. This is appropriate for there can be no better way to stimulate the understanding of that there can exist a juxtaposition of two ideas than through good nature humor. In the midst of discussing some very grave matters, he occasionally insinuates his dry but very entertaining humor and historically accurate stories when background on issues at the heart of his discussion. One would surely be out of court to even think Rutler’s intention is to write in a way that would manipulate his readers, or worse, try to twist anyone’s arm with fire and brimstone. Rather, he writes in a way that might have readers who have encountered his ideas for the first time say after encountering them much as the Ancient Greek Philosopher Epictetus suggested: “Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are and what you represent. Let me try you.” (Discourses, Book II, chapter 18.)

To provide a taste of the fascinating discussion that readers of greatcharlie will find in Calm in Chaos, the following chapters are briefly summarized: “A Populist Election and Its Aftermath”; “The Tailors of Tooley Street: Reflections on the Ivory Tower and Reality”; and, “The Paris Horror: Real and Explicable”. In “A Populist Election and Its Aftermath”, Rutler meditates on some immediate responses to the Trump’s 2016 election victory by the incredulous supporters of his opponent, former US Senator Hillary Clinton. He explains that some who trusted pundits shocked that “their perception of the American populace was an illusion.” He further states: “Their rampant rage would have been tamer if they had not been assured, to the very day of voting that the losers were winners.” Some many were unable to bear reality. Rutler directs some commentary toward those who criticized Trump with iniquitous statements and who are now self-styled experts on everything concerning the US President and everything on which he is engaged. Rutler mentions, in particular, conservative commentators who predicted Trump’s failure and lamented over the gauche, vulgar, shockingly ignorant, oafish and immoral” nature of his untutored rhetoric “as though the White House has long been a temple of vestals.” Rutler explains that those same conservatives “now offer advice to the president elect, as fair weather friends, underestimating the storm, hoping that general amnesia will wipe away their lack of prescience.” Those now reliant upon their commentaries, would do well to reconsider that choice. Caveat emptor!

In “The Tailors of Tooley Street: Reflections on the Ivory Tower and Reality”, Rutler discusses the response toward Trump’s Presidential Campaign and his ultimate victory from the prism of the “Ivory Tower”. He explains that the “Ivory Tower” label covers the academic towers, editorial offices, think tanks, foundations, and blogs. He discusses what may be the basis for their unwarranted sense of certainty regarding the correctness of their predictions about Trump prospects. Rutler notes: “those who claim to speak of the people, by the expletives, and for the people may not really know the people. As part of his diagnosis of the problem that be devils those occupying the “Ivory Towers”, Rutler explains that “they have been talking so long to each other, listening to the same lectures and attending the same conferences with the same people, insulated by funding from intersecting foundations, that they think they are the people. Confined to such an existence, Rutler further states about them generally: “they overestimate themselves when they publish ‘open letters’, ‘declarations’, and ‘appeals’ to mankind.” Questionable judgment would be exercised if those in foreign capitals might decide to fashion a decision vis-a-vis foreign policy or diplomacy with US based on the meditations from such experts.

In “The Paris Horror: Real and Explicable”, Rutler admits in the essay that he was hesitant to discuss the matter in detail in light of the terrible suffering of those who were killed and injured and their families. However, he notes that at that the chorus of shock nearly became cliché. In his view, the slaughter inflicted by ISIS was unreal and inexplicable to those “hiding under their beds.” Rutler explains that the problem was not helped by the practice of national leaders in the West who camouflaged the danger of Radical Islamic terrorists by shrinking away from calling them radical Islamic terrorists. He states “It cannot be defeated by national leaders ushering in foes intent on making those naive leaders cuckolds. If the dupes of the West do not understand this, the nobler Muslims do. King Abdullah II of Jordan has said: ‘Groups such as Darsham  [the Islamic State group] expose themselves as the savage outlaws of religion, devoid of humanity, respecting no laws and no boundaries. We are facing a third world war against humanity’.” Moreover, Rutler says that nature abhors a vacuum. Paris was not innocent of the same moral tone of the sensual obliviousness, lewd cabarets, and deconstructed philosophy of Weimar Berlin which the National Socialists exploited by proposing to replace it with pure altruistic supermen. With the idea of bringing “change”  similar to that of the National Socialists, ISIS claimed that it targeted Paris because “the city is the lead carrier of the cross of Europe. That similarity to National Socialists also took the form of ISIS calling Paris “a capital of prostitution and vice.” Rutler warns of the burgeoning therapeutic culture that trains adolescents and young adults “to feel good about themselves even if it means denying that barbarians are at the gates.” Rutler writes: “During the Paris horror, coddled and foul-mouthed adolescents on American campuses were indulging psychodrama tickets claims of hurt feelings and low-esteem to the bewilderment of the bloated academic bureaucracies.” ISIS, Rutler explains, cares nothing for their hurt feelings, and is not intimidated by their placards and balloons  and teddy bears. He goes on further to note, “The bodies in Paris had not been carried away before these simpering undergraduates complained that the ISIS attacks had deflected media attention from their sophomoric petulance.”

If at times this review of Calm in Chaos seemed a bit soupy, please pardon greatcharlie’s indulgence. However, it is a wonderful book and such was, without pretension, the only way to review it. Without hesitation, greatcharlie wholly and heartily recommends Calm in Chaos to its readers. Again, If not to read the book due to religious interest, it would be worth reading to see what appears to lie at the base of many positions on urgent and important social and political issues issues within political circles and the the US public, and how one might take one’s own deeper look into such matters. It is assured that after the first read, any reader would go back to it again and again.

By Mark Edmond Clark

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