Who is Saul Alinsky?

Therese Bussen

Gradual infiltration of ideas so as to shape culture without its members even realizing it: This is what one man in the 20th century set out to do — and at the time, he even did it with the initial help of the Catholic Church.

The man was Saul Alinsky, a Chicago man born as a Jew who later became agnostic. He studied criminology at the University of Chicago, where he got involved with the mafia. He went on to become the founder of modern community organizing, and began that work with a vision of care for the poor, implementing his strategies in the Diocese of Chicago. His ideologies and community organizing strategies would go on to influence the social and political movements of today.

Father and son duo Richard and Stephen Payne of Arcadia Films co-produced the documentary A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing on the life of Alinsky and just how far “his tentacles spread” into the philosophical inner-workings of our country — infiltrating the Catholic Church and sowing seeds of the political polarization we see so widespread now.

“He was really central to the profound upheavals within the Church in the care of the poor,” said Richard. “His whole vision of reality breaks the fundamental principles of Catholic moral teaching, which is that the end does not justify the means.”

The documentary film A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, which chronicles the life and influence of Saul Alinsky, will be the focus of this year’s Gospel of Life Conference Oct. 21. The film’s producers, Richard and Stephen Payne, will speak at the event.

Alinsky’s approach, according to Richard, is one that is gnostic, a heresy that says you’re saved by your ideas.

“The Church in Chicago bought into that and supported his work and it had a profound impact in the 1960s on the Church’s project for the poor. He had developed nation-wide affiliates and community organizers,” Richard said.

“He had great influence on organizations,” Stephen said. “[Many modern movements] are funded by Alinskian-trained individuals, people who stoke the flames of violence…it stokes anxiety and frustration in poorer communities.”

“Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they studied Alinksy. She knew him and she thought he didn’t go far enough. The tentacles [of Alinsky] are quite vast,” he added.

Alinsky didn’t come up with it all on his own, though. Richard explained that “several movements shaped his life historically” and influenced his Marxist ideology.

“In 1919, Lenin developed the Marxist institute, which moved away from the overt brutal forms of Marxism (Soviets or Nazism) to an underground movement,” Richard said. “The Frankfurt School played an essential role in the sexual revolution; they drew on Freud’s pansexualism and merged in the late ’30s and ’40s with movements that would later create the gender revolution.

We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved. The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“In the movement of the Frankfurt School, they bought the idea of gradualism, that it will take a long time to infiltrate [culture]. They were violently anti-Catholic,” Richard continued. “The Fabian Society in England, a movement that was initiated in the 19th century, [is another] — their symbol is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which means moving under public awareness and cloaking things by redefining the language. These movements came into the country in a post-World War II period, where people were strangely influenced more and more by European movements.”

These movements deeply influenced Alinsky, who in turn impacted the modern movements and ideologies of today.

“It’s fundamentally a gnostic movement, where people are saved by ideas, and there’s the oppressors and the oppressed, and they’re attacked by force, and it usually ends up in violence,” Richard said. “It’s based on this engagement of a confrontation of oppressor and oppressed, that’s so fundamental. It’s created the polarization we see now.”

Their film lays these historical facts out in the lens of the Catholic worldview, and they’ve created a follow-up 10-minute short film that goes into more depth about the modern movements today and how they came from Alinskian thought.

But hope is not lost, Richard and Stephen said.

“We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved,” Stephen said. “The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“The whole film is based on Matthew 7, that ‘underneath is a ravenous wolf’ — but we discern this by fruits,” Richard added. “That’s where we go with the film, we point out where the fruits lie.”

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing aired in September of 2016 on EWTN, won multiple film awards and continues to air on the Catholic network occasionally. It can also be watched online at alinskyfilm.com and is available for rent or as a download for purchase.

Richard and Stephen Payne will speak extensively on Saul Alinsky, show a trailer of their film, and reveal an exclusive follow-up short film on A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing at the Gospel of Life Conference, taking place at St. Thomas More Parish on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. The event includes Mass and lunch, and other speakers including Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life and Father Daniel Ciucci.

Early-bird registration costs $50 and closes Oct. 18; the student rate is $15, and walk-ins cost $55, but with no lunch provided. Registration is capped at 500 attendees.

For more information or to register, visit gospeloflifeco.org.

Photo: Associated Press

COMING UP: Relationship, not sacrifice is at the heart of Lent

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When we began Lent on Ash Wednesday, the Lord said to us, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2:12-13).

During Lent we strive to unite ourselves with Jesus’ experience of conquering temptation in the desert and pursuing the Father’s will, so that we can fully experience the joy and victory of Easter. The Scriptures and Fathers of the Church consistently recommend three forms of penance that help us on this journey: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

But before we can fruitfully carry out these forms of purification, we must rend our hearts. In the Jewish tradition, ripping one’s garments – known as keriah – is done when mourning a relative who has passed away. Today, some Jews specifically rip their clothes over their hearts if the deceased is one of their parents. The Scriptures mention this expression of grief several times, including Jacob mourning his youngest son Joseph when he thought he was dead, or King David rending his garments at hearing that Saul had died.

Even more important than this outward expression of grief is returning to God with our whole heart, tearing it away from any unhealthy desires and attachments. In his 2018 message for Lent, Pope Francis offers some insights into the ways people develop unhealthy attachments today by reflecting on the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus warns, “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12).

The Holy Father echoes Jesus’ warning that there will be many false prophets who lead people astray. One kind of false prophet, which he calls snake charmers, are those “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others … with momentary pleasures” like dreams of wealth or the belief that they are self-sufficient and don’t need others. Pope Francis also alerts us to “charlatans” – people who offer “easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.” Their traps include drugs, disposable relationships and the temptation of a “thoroughly ‘virtual’ existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless!”

But despite these snares laid by the Devil and his false prophets, God the Father declares through the Prophet Joel that he is “gracious and merciful … slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13). God’s mercy and love for us can transform our hearts, if we are willing to open them to him and deepen our relationship, especially through the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

When it comes to prayer, pursuing a deeper relationship with God means going beyond our first inclination, which is to make ourselves the focus of our prayer and to even boast of our accomplishments. Instead, we should ask God to help us know him better, to experience a greater intimacy with each person of the Trinity. The great Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila, calls this kind of prayer “mental prayer.” “In my opinion,” she said, “mental prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”

If we pray in this way, then our fasting and almsgiving will naturally flow from us as acts of love for Christ in others, rather than being a set of tasks or Lenten requirements to fulfill. Our hearts will be rent, and not merely our garments.

Fasting is another way for us to draw closer to God. Saint Augustine observed this when he wrote, “Fasting purifies the soul. It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart contrite and humble, (and) scatters the clouds of desire … .” By denying our appetites and giving up distractions, we can more clearly hear God’s voice and place ourselves at his service.

The final practice of Lent that conforms our hearts more to Jesus’ Sacred Heart is almsgiving. Pope Francis notes in his Lenten message that almsgiving “sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.”

This other-centered approach will help us to draw closer to the heart of Christ, particularly if we follow the advice of Saint Mother Teresa. “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving,” she was known to say.

As we seek to rend our hearts this Lent in preparation for Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter, let us remember that God desires to draw each of us closer to him. He is waiting for us to seek him out so that he can pour out his mercy, love and kindness upon us.