I am being taken to task at Monomakhos, both by the site’s editor and by Mr. John Couretas, communications director for Acton, for raising the issue that there was a significant difference between the text of Metropolitan Jonah’s talk “Asceticism and the Consumer Society” and the talk as actually given. It has been suggested that I have a “major axe to grind,” but that’s not true. In fact, what I have provided to the readers of this blog is a service (two services, actually). I hunted down the audio of the main portion of the talk, cleaned it up a bit, and made it available to all. I transcribed, as carefully as I could, the audio to text. Readers are encouraged to listen and read the actual talk and compare it with the posted text and then make up their own minds. If you don’t think my questions are fair, you’re free to disagree, either privately or in the comments.
As for the general suggestion that delivered talks always depart from the prepared text to some degree, I am well aware of this phenomenon. However, one must consider that the text posted by Acton is approximately 2,600 words (according to Microsoft Word), while the actual address contains approximately 4,560 words, an increase of 75% in the word count. Nearly half of what His Beatitude said to the audience at Acton is not reflected in the text of the Talk of Record. The address was remarkably well received. Perhaps what the participants found so amazing was among those 2,000 words not in the posted text rather than in words that were never uttered at the microphone in the first place.
I offer no conspiracy theory. When asked whether I thought something was amiss, I said, “I don’t know.” I even spelled out my thinking, carefully, placing my cards on the table for all to see. I think Mr. Couretas’s statement that, “In the course of his talk, Jonah cited Orthodox Christian theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s definition of secularism” in the context of “delivery on…June 16” is, at best, inaccurate. Nowhere in the “course of his talk” as delivered on June 16 did His Beatitude mention Alexander Schmemann. (Listen or read for yourself.) The point concerning Schmemann (or worship, another near non-topic in the actual address) is not the issue, but rather that a specific statement referencing something that was never said was added in a description of the address. This is not part of the construction of a conspiracy theory, but rather highlights the necessity of striving for accuracy in reporting. In fact, as I have written before, accurately presenting what is said and done is key to good leadership and understanding.
I’ll close with some questions: Would readers be better off not having the actual address? Am I to be faulted for making a more accurate transcription of a well-received talk available free of charge to all? Am I to be faulted for pondering why the published talk and the actual talk are markedly different from one another?