Monthly Archives: June 2012

How a member of the “Christian Left” Thinks

I try, I really do. I really try to give an open mind to people who claim to be “Christian Left,” “pro-life Democrats,” etc., but it just doesn’t work. To be a part of the Christian Left, it seems that one must:

1. Turn a blind eye towards, if not condone, all the moral filth promoted by the Left in general, while condemning members of the Christian Right for being political allies of some people who are greedy or racist.
2. Support Socialism, even though the Popes have unequivocally and consistently condemned it.
3. Repeatedly insist, “Judge not lest ye be judged” when it comes to abortion, contraception, homosexuality or divorce yet simultaneously (and at the same time) insist that everyone who supports a conservative position is secretly racist, sexist or greedy, even if the latter’s words give no indication of those positions.
4. Clairvoyantly insist that all who profess to be pro-life or pro-family are just covering up deep-seated hatred for women, gays, or humanity in general.
5. See “racism” in any political cartoon, joke or photoshopped image regarding Barack Obama, yet say that even the most offensive depictions of George W. Bush or Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum are excusable because “rich white guys deserve it.”
6. Ignore statements like, “It’s Constitutional, m*****f****s” or even defend such statements as acceptable political speech yet say that “You’d have to be an idiot to think Obamacare’s giving you anything for free” is offensive and crosses the line.
7. Ignore if not support horribly sexist comments about Sarah Palin, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Ann Romney, etc., but say that Rush Limbaugh crossed the line by saying an unmarried girl who claimed to spend $1000 a year on birth control is a “slut.”
8. Again, while supporting “freedom of choice,” “same sex marriage,” etc., you insist on condemning “hate speech” and labelling any statement of traditional Christian morality, even from the Bible itself, as “hate.”
9. Make no comment when liberals say, “Republicans are nothing but a bunch of hatemongers,” but when a conservative friend quotes Russell Kirk or Dietrich von Hildebrand and tries to philosophically explain his position, and the liberals just jump in and say, “See? Another hate-monger,” you tell the conservative to cool it.
10. Most of all, to be a member of the “Christian Left,” you must support the notion of “progress,” even though if you’re truly a believing Christian you’ll know there’s no such thing: the only “progress” in human history happened 2000 years ago, and there is only the choice between accepting Christ’s grace through the Church and the Sacraments and not accepting that grace. There is individual progress in holiness, but the world can never have “progress,” especially when “progress” is defined as moving *away* from the principles of Christendom.
“Progressives” condemn the Christian Civilization of ca. 400-ca. 1800 as “the Dark Ages,” by definition condemning the Christianity that informed those times, so how could any Christian be a “progressive”?
“Progressives” ascribe to a false Marxist view of history, or at least to the Hegelian system upon which Marxism was based, which runs contrary to the Christian view of history elucidated by St. Augustine, so how can any Christian be a “progressive”?

Cardinal O’Connor on “The Spirit of Vatican II”

It is my own repeated reminder to all who will listen that but a minority of Catholics have a familiarity with the actual documents of the Second Vatican Council.  I fear that the same lack of familiarity characterizes many who speak glibly of the spirit of the Council, dismissing with near-contempt those who suggest what the Fathers of the Council actually said.  This, twenty-eight years after the publication of the documents!

(O’Connor, “Foreword,”Trojan Horse in the City of God [1993 edition], pp. x-xi)

Cardinal O’Connor on “the Post Vatican II Church”

“In no way, of course, would de Lubac ground his fear in any of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, he speaks of the deliberate efforts to establish a ‘post-Conciliar Church,’ that is, a ‘new Church.’ It is not unfair to say that such efforts have exploited the Council and have disguised themselves as authentic interpretations of the Council. . . .
Yet many contemporary writings about the Council, [von Hildebrand] observes, can sadden us and fill us with grave apprehension. . . .. It would not be unfair to ask whether von Hildebrand’s critique of distorted interpretations and the invasion of the Church by secularism, which might have been accurate in describing the early years of turbulence following the Council, is apt for 1993. I believe it is equally apt for 1993, unfortunately because so many of his warnings were ignored and ridiculed in 1967.” (John Cardinal O’Connor, “Foreword.” _Trojan Horse in the City of God (1967)_ by Dietrich von Hildebrand, Manchester, NH: Sophia IP, 1993, pp. ix-x; all other quotations from _Trojan Horse in the City of God_ on this blog are this edition).

_Dead Poets Society_: or “Let’s Guess Which of These Depressed Teenagers is Going to Off Himself First”

Recently watched _Dead Poets Society_. Not sure what to make of it: conflicted on Keating’s methodology/literary theory; contemplating the question of a non-Catholic committing suicide due to the world telling him the pursuit of money is all there is; wondering how many of the faculty at such boarding schools would be homosexuals; fascinated by the mockery of monastic life embodied in Protestant and secular boarding school. . . .

Part of me is tempted to say it’s the “inspiring story of a time back when teachers were fired for being too liberal,” but Russell Kirk would probably have argued that the faculty are the “liberal” ones in the sense that they’re promoting an economic progressivist, materialistic view of human nature, and Keating is the conservative for promoting the ‘permanent things.” The school talks of “tradition” but only a superficial tradition that is, again, a mockery of Catholic Tradition separated from the Church as mere cultural artifice–interesting that the last line from the Latin teacher is, “The entire school is aedificum,” which serves as a kind of double-entendre.

Keating’s problem is that he fails to realize that poetry precisely *is* about tradition. When the student says early in the film that the purpose of language is “communication,” that is the start of every one of my classes–that we use language to communicate, to try and “become one with,” that language is a form of Communion, and we use literature and poetry to communicate the thoughts in our souls that we cannot express in straight-up language. Where Keating argues that poetry is about *non-conformity,* I precisely argue that it *is* about conformity in the sense that we use poetry to try and get our minds aligned with one another–that’s what meter represents.

And I find it ironic that the headmaster scoffs at the notion of skipping the “Realists.” You would think that the last thing a school would want to teach after a suicide scandal is literary “realism.”

God Spoke through my SmartPhone

OK, so this is weird. I have copies of all my religious mp3s on my Android “phone,” including a free MP3 audiobook of _Imitation of Christ_ I downloaded some time back. Each MP3 file is like 20 minutes long. Around noon, Mary was at the desk, and I was on the corner of the bed, and the phone was at the opposite end of the room. All of a sudden, we heard _The Imitation of Christ_ play for like 3 or 4 sentences, in a very clear-cut, point made snippet. ‎

“If you withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and idle running about, from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find enough time that is suitable for holy meditation.” Bk 1, Ch. 20

I picked up the phone. There were no recent calls; no alarms; and no sign of the MP3 player playing.

Now, when I *looked* at the phone right after it went off, I saw no indication of an “alert” on the phone–no indication of a call, alarm or text message or email. Mary *did* have an alarm set for around that time, but the alarm says “Alarm”. There is NO option on the phone for an “Imitation of Christ” ringtone. When you go to the list of ringtones, it says, “Alarm Rooster,” and you click on Alarm Rooster, and the rooster crows. But on *that* alarm, if you play the ringtone, it plays the clip.

And, again, you can’t pick a short clip out of a 20 minute MP3 and assign it as a ringtone, and even if it were possible, neither one of us did it.

“When Children Rule the World”: Andrew Lloyd Webber Revisits the Gospel in _Whistle Down the Wind_

It has been years since I’ve listened to Baron Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Jim Steinman‘s _Whistle Down the Wind_, though I like several of the songs (I read somewhere that the Boyzone single of “No Matter What” is ALW’s most commercially successful song of all time, at least by a particular performer; and “When Children Rule the World” was an instant Christmas standard, and performed at the 1998 Olympics). Anyway, the story is *very* powerful. Based upon the Hayley Mills movie which, in turn, was based upon a novel by Hayley Mills’ mother, ALW & Steinman (king of the “power ballad”) change the setting to Louisiana in the 1950s (ALW’s favorite decade–I often think of a possible crossover between characters from all his shows set in the 50s).
The story tells of a family of 3 children (Swallow, Brat and Poor Baby) who find a convict (“the Man”) in their barn. He has cuts in his hands and feet. When they ask who’s there, he exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” taking Our Lord’s name in vain, and then faints. They think he’s answering them, and are convinced he’s Jesus. The children of the town spread the news among themselves but keep it secret from the adults (“When Children Rule the World” and “No Matter What”), who are on the prowl for the escaped killer. Meanwhile, a group of snake handling preachers come to town for a revival (“Wrestle with the Devil”). There is a clear contrast between the snake handlers “putting God to the test” and the children, who are exemplifying what Jesus *really* meant when He talked about handling snakes. And by believing that The Man is literally Jesus, the children are exemplifying the teaching of “Whatever you do to the Least of my brothers.”

At the climax, Swallow, who has developed feelings for “Jesus,” has a Phantom of the Opera-esque moment with “The Man” (“The Nature of the Beast”). He tells her there’s no hope for him. He tries to tell her the truth of who he is. He tells her that he stabbed his own feet with a pitchfork to go to the infirmary and escape, and that he cut his hands on barbed wire. She refuses to believe him. “You’re lying!” “Would Jesus lie?” “He were if he were pretending to be a man!”

Meanwhile, outside, the angry townsfolk and police surround the barn. The children form a wall around it to protect “Jesus.” The children sing the third reprise of “When Children Rule the World,” over and over, in protest as the adults scream and sing about “protecting the children” and “wrestling with the Devil.”

Meanwhile, inside, both Swallow and The Man truly wrestle with the Devil regarding the possibility of the Man’s salvation, their feelings for each other, and Swallow’s faith in “Jesus.”

The Man is Jean Valjean before the bishop. He’s Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit. Indeed, I wonder if ALW and Steinman set it in the American South because they recognized the similarity to O’Connor’s themes.

Early in the story, the children lament that “I Never Get What I Pray For,” complaining about their childlike “Santa” prayers, in conjunction with their real sorrow over their mother’s death. The little boy, “Poor Baby” (his “real name” is Robin, though that’s not used, and he’s “Charles” in the original story), keeps saying he wants a Christmas bonfire, because without a bonfire, Santa can’t see their house, but they’re so poor, his father cautions that they can’t afford a bonfire, and therefore Santa probably won’t bring any presents.

After repeatedly asking them why “he” let their mother die, and why “he” let Poor Baby’s new kitten die, the Man repeatedly tries to explain, in his nihilistic way, that everyone dies (through the stories of “Annie Christmas” and “Charlie Christmas,” which, he says, will be in the “Next Testament”). Both “stories” end with the children chanting, “And the moral is? And the moral is?” “I DON’T KNOW”

Finally, the children accept that “Jesus” has been trying to teach them to figure things out for themselves. They reason that their mother died because she’d been so sick for so long, and it was the only way to release her from her suffering.

I don’t know Steinman’s religious background, though his collaborations with “Meat Loaf” tend to be of a rather dark, nihilistic sort. There is a challenge in dealing with the musical, that the composer is given primary credit but the lyricist really writes the “story,” and we often never hear of the person who writes the “book,” if different. For example, most people associate _West Side Story_ with Leonard Bernstein, not Stephen Sondheim.

Lloyd Webber considers himself a believer–I’m not sure how devout the thrice married Anglican can be, but he has written at least two very good liturgical pieces–his award-winning _Requiem_ and the setting of the “Benedicite” he wrote for his third wedding (the melody of which he reused in _Sunset Boulevard_ in several tempos). His famous collaborations with Tim Rice–though he’s actually worked more with Don Black and Richard Stilgoe–worked because of their differences in views. Lloyd Webber despised Eva Peron; Rice loved her. When it came to _Jesus Christ Superstar_, Rice was an agnostic; ALW was a believer.

_Whistle Down the Wind_ deals with several of Lloyd Webber’s favorite dramatic themes (and reuses a few musical themes): the importance of believing in oneself in spite of society’s disapproval; the dangers of going along with the crowd; finding the beauty or goodness in those society despises.

Again, though I’ve never seen it (other than a few YouTube clips), nor studied a detailed libretto, listening to it the other day, I had vivid ideas of the scenes. I could see The Man and Swallow, in their great moment like the Phantom and Christine or even Norma and Joe.

In any case, the Man escapes, but the barn catches fire. Swallow comes out. The authorities go in. They come back and are astonished that the man has vanished with no sign.

Swallow’s father says that she must realize he wasn’t who she thought. “He wasn’t Jesus.” “How can you be sure?” she asks. For, indeed, he *was* Jesus.

If _Superstar_ is about seeing the humanity of Our Lord, and seeing the Gospel from Judas’s perspective, then _Whistle Down the Wind_ is about seeing Our Lord in humanity, and seeing the sinner from God’s perspective. For to the Father, every human being is His child, and therefore Jesus, and that’s how Jesus asks us to see each other.

In O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the grandmother’s ability to see the killer as her son, to consider the possibility that she could love him unconditionally, leads the Misfit to shoot her, in part because he recognizes such perfect goodness in her in that instant that he knows he’ll send her to Heaven: “She’d have been a good woman if it’d been someone there to shoot her every moment of her life.”

Something similar is at work here, though not the same, for The Man is confronted with childlike innocence.

I have quoted before the words of a wonderful priest, the late Fr. Gregory Kirsch, JCL, VF, whom I wish I had been able to know better in this life: “I get so sick and tired of answering the door to another drunk wanting money, but I know the time I don’t answer, it’s going to be Jesus.”

It’s always Jesus. One of the challenges of our lives is to learn to see Jesus in everyone, particularly if that person is baptized (note that in one of Our Lord’s teaching on charity, He mentions giving a cup of water to a *brother*), but even if the person is *not*. We are called, after all, to love our enemies. The children in _Whistle Down the Wind_ do all that and exemplify the Gospel in its entirety while the “good adults” of the town, in the name of “protecting” the children and promoting Christian virtue, seek out to destroy the very person Our Lord says they should love and embrace.

In the end, in a profound recognition of Providence, “Poor Baby” points to the burning barn and says, “Look! I prayed for a Christmas bonfire, and we got the biggest bonfire of all!”

“You gotta wrestle, wrestle with the Devil in a heart beat”–but you don’t do it by handling snakes or hunting down wicked men to kill them. You wrestle with the devil by confronting the wicked face to face and daring to see that they are God’s children, that they are your own family, and daring to love them in spite of whatever horrors they’ve committed.