Saturday, August 16, 2008
It will feel - feel, mind you - to concerned women and men of the Catholic faith that worldly powers more vast and powerful than the Church are at work swaying massive voting blocks with this and that set of carefully chosen messages and sound bytes gleaned from focus groups and PR "experts". The existential dread involved in this is very real and very present. Epistemological and ontological certainty has nothing to do with it. The outlines of what is going on can be read with great insight in the classic study by Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power.
But at the heart of each person within earshot of the political ads and massive demonstrations of support for presidential candidates is hard-wired our default awareness of the primitive sacred involved in this cultural ordering of power. And for one to understand fully what is happening in the soul of the United States, one must delve into the cultural anthropology of René Girard.
But one must also be conscious of the fact that by trying to set oneself apart from the cultural structures of the sacred, one "marks" oneself as an outsider and, as such, one becomes a potential victim of the crowd. William Golding aptly depicted this "outside-ness" in his character of Simon in Lord of the Flies.
As the ostensibly political process becomes more polarized, it becomes more dangerous to seem aloof from it, or to appear to try to understand the mimetic details involved. This is particularly so if one shares such info with a staunch supporter of one candidate or other. Being caught in a doubling rivalry with a supporter of the other candidate "makes sense". But to stand outside the fray can invite the accusatory gesture from one or other or both supporters of opposing rival parties, as Girard points out is already understood by the New Testament (cf. Matthew 22:21 and Luke 23:12).
The mystifying power of the primitive sacred contains various degrees of understanding, however. In other words, of course there is hypocrisy up and down the spectrum of seeing through the façade, and the making use of its power. The cleverest politicians know that people fear being victimized as they simultaneously promote this or that victim de jour who fits the bill to insure their successfully getting into office. But unseen by these strategists - or uncared about - is the number of victims created by championing this or that victim.
Since we know all this is going to take place regardless of whether we like it or not, given the fallen nature of humanity collectively and the mimetic contagion/fear of being victimized by individuals, here is a solution:
Reach out for the One Source of epistemological, anthropological, and ontological certitude: the Catholic Church. Yes, it makes astonishing truth claims. Yes, it says there is sin and indeed all of us are sinners. Yes, it assumes that it is hard becoming and remaining a follower of Jesus Christ, whom it claims is the Savior of the world. And yes, there are hard and fast walls separating truth from falsehood.
But wouldn't you really, truly like to know that truth is not up for grabs by the "winner" of the November election? Or the next? Or any election?
Balderdash, tripe, and piffle.
Keying off René Girard's mimetic theory, the great French psychiatrist, Jean-Michel Oughourlian ( Puppet of Desire, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World) knows that we are interdividuals, porous to one another's desires. Madison Avenue knows it well. Shouldn't we, too?
With this in mind, LifeSiteNews.com worries, Should We Fear Imitation of the Joker?
Some have pointed to the extreme violence in the film, but my concerns go well beyond that. In a Canwest News Service review Jay Stone refers to Joker as a "psychotic butcher"; Jenny McCarthy in her August 2 review in the London Telegraph wrote, "The greatest surprise of all - even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic - has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film." One reviewer even called the film "torture porn." (My emphasis)What LifeSiteNews.com rightly worries about is what Girard calls mimesis - that unconscious influence, indeed contagious copying of the other's desires at the heart of mimetic theory. What I express in my review of the Dark Knight film voices a similar indicative warning. Sure, screenwriters are "just giving audiences what they want," but they also raise the ante by making each film monster like Joker MORE torture-loving, MORE hideously violent, MORE insidious, cruel, and admirably (?) clever.
The story's focus is the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger of Brokeback Mountain fame. The Joker is portrayed as a man engaging in a purity of evil rarely seen. An anti-Christ type figure, he engages in evil for evil's sake and not for any material motive, and is totally unconcerned about his own well-being.
So youth seeing the film will see the evil of the Joker, be repulsed by it and turn away from it, right? Wrong.
But don't blame us - we're just screenwriters. We just give the public what they "want". Nota bene: With the diminution of the influence of the Christian faith in the West, the rise of paganism is a default reality. So movie houses become theaters of the cruel, monstrous, and violent. Just like the Roman Circus. Just like the Joker's plots and schemes. Just like reality TV.
What is sufficiently strong to hold back this rising tide of neo-pagan religion of the cruel and inhuman? Refer here. No love of heritage, notions of past greatness, or patriotism is strong enough. Only the sacramental truth, goodness, and beauty of what Our Lord established on his disciple, Cephas. At least, we'd better hope so.
Remember that, regardless of who says the closing “prayer” at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Let us not, I beg you, slay ourselves by our irreverence, but with awe and purity draw near to it; and when you see it set before you, say to yourself: ‘Because of this Body am I no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, to converse with Christ’.
Shrine of the Holy Whapping offers a choice GKC quotation on the defense of heraldry and a keen precursory understanding of the problem of equality from a mimetic theory point of view. I guess I'd better get out and reread Napoleon of Notting Hill.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
1. Schizophrenic Catholicism is neither Catholic, nor responsible, nor patriotic. “We have obligations as believers,” the archbishop writes. “We have duties as citizens. We need to honor both, or we honor neither.”
2. Postmodern secularist skepticism about the truth of anything is soul-withering; in C.S. Lewis’s phrase, it makes “men without chests.” The current social, political, and demographic malaise of aggressively secularist Europe is an object lesson, and a warning, for America: “A public life that excludes God does not enrich the human spirit. It kills it.”
3. The new anti-Catholicism in the U.S. is not built around antipathy to the papacy, the sacraments, consecrated religious life, or the other bugaboos of those who once ranted about the “Whore of Babylon.” Rather, it’s an assault on religiously informed public moral argument of any sort, an attack against “...any faithful Christian social engagement.” So we can’t rest easy with the fact that the Catholic Church plays a considerable role in American society. There are forces in the land that would banish Catholicism, and indeed classic biblical morality, from a place at the table of democratic deliberation ...
Read all here.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The marginalisation of doctrinal norms in today's Church has largely happened by way of the unofficial canonising of an alternative infallibility - 'experience', which must of course mean not experience globally (there is no omnicompetent subject to entertain such experience) but some particular somebody's experience of something in particular. The idea that an individual's experience of gender or race or social location can become the final arbiter of truth and falsehood in the Church is no more acceptable than any of the other historically recurring attempts to make of private inspiration a supreme court for adjudicating the gospel. It is not experience we should trust but the transmutation of experience by Scripture and Tradition.
Joseph Bottom at First Things laments the demise of Latin:
So what, you may ask? Here's my prediction: Latin will make a comeback, not only as the language of the Church and a growing respect and reverence for TLM. It will, again, become a force in the West as unlikely and unlooked for as, well, say, the singling out of an elderly gentleman and his aged wife in the land of Ur to become the father of many nations. Or a gaggle of slaves coming to the edge of a body of water and walking across its bed dry shod. Or a virgin girl giving birth to a God-man with heavenly messengers in attendance and the equivalent of bikers (shepherds) coming to pay homage. Or a criminal dying in humiliation coming back to life and walking through walls like we walk through campfire smoke.
The decline and fall of Latin is so nearly complete that it’s hard to remember just what it is that we have lost. In a radio interview this spring, Silvio Berlusconi remarked, “My Latin is good enough that I believe I could even have a lunch with Julius Caesar.” It’s appropriate, I suppose, that the prime minister of Italy has luncheon-level Latin. The pope’s command of the language is pretty good, too, I hear, despite the fact that he started out life as a German. But outside of this pair in Rome, does anybody else still know the language of the Caesars? I mean, anybody on a prominent public stage?
There was a time, and not so long ago, when knowledge of Latin was taken as a fundamental mark of culture: that which distinguished genuinely educated people from, say, journalists and sociology professors. But those days are as gone as gone can be. When Rudyard Kipling published descriptions of Latin classes in his school stories, Stalky and Co., in 1899, he was writing of a time when the entrance exams for the British imperial service and officer corps still gave thousands of marks for the mandatory Latin section. Nobody is held back now for anything by a lack of classical languages.
Be not tempted to despair. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Remember?
Sunday, August 10, 2008
A clear instance of what Bailie calls "luciferian logic" - Archbishop of Canterbury compares gay relationships to marriage. Note the way Rowan Williams argues from a whatever-has-changed-must-be-God's-will-ism:
"The Church has shifted its stance on several matters – notably the rightness of lending money at interest and the moral admissibility of contraception so I am bound to ask if this is another such issue," he says.
"If I am really seriously wrong on this, I can only pray to be shown the truth."