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: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.