Monthly Archives: December 2013

I have a confession to make

and it’s going to shock a lot of people. . . .

We talk a lot about “labels” in the Catholic blogosphere: conservative, traditionalist, liberal, progressive, and so forth. Usually, we talk about how vaguely defined they are, and I have made it one of my goals in life to reclaim the work of figures like Russell Kirk in giving them clear definitions. Some say we shouldn’t have ‘labels,’ that we’re either faithful Catholics or not. I disagree: there is a wide range of thought within the spectrum of orthodox thought. Just as a Catholic can be Benedictine, Carmelite, Franciscan, Ignatian, etc., in terms of spirituality, or philosophically follow Augustine, Anselm, Albert, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Scotus, Pascal, Woytyla or even (yes) Descartes, and remain orthodox, so too do our labels about theories of interpretation of law (both ecclesiastical and civil) have a role.

However, the label I wish to discuss today is that of a “Catholic geek.” It’s a term that I thought I had coined about 10 years ago, and have since found it to be used quite commonly. Some have argued that the term “geek” has lost all meaning itself, since it’s now “popular” to call oneself a “geek” or “nerd”, although merely liking science fiction does not a geek make. Arguing whether “Han shot first” (or even knowing what that means) makes one a geek. Knowing what “BBY” means makes one a geek. A history teacher I know was once grading papers and expressed surprise that a student identified the “Great Schism” as happening in “4250 BBY”. I said, “That’s 4250 Before the Battle of Yavin!” And then, she went on to tell me she had Googled it and “found a site called ‘Wookiepedia.'” Apparently, the student had tried to Google the answer and found the “Great Jedi Schism.” I said, “Yeah, I read Wookiepedia all the time. It’s the _Star Wars_ site on Wikia.” She said, “I don’t know what’s more depressing: that my student Googled and answer and thought that was real, or that you know what BBY means.”

Even Lucas admits that Han Shot First

That’s what makes a “geek.”

Anyway, just as some ask whether a “conservative Catholic” is a Catholic who’s conservative about doctrine or poltiics, and just as there is debate about what “Catholic literature” means, so too there is ambiguity about whether “Catholic geek” means “a geek who’s a Catholic” or “someone who’s geeky about Catholicism.” For example, I recently received a PM on Facebook from a fellow who said, straight out, “I have Asperger syndrome, and have chosen Catholicism as my interest.” I wasn’t quite sure whether he meant that he *was* Catholic or that he had an intellectual curiosity about the faith. Since most people I know who call themselves “Catholic geeks” tend to fit both descriptions, it seems to be a negligible difference.

However, there’s one thing that seems to unite all “Catholic geeks,” and here’s the confession I have to make, and it risks damaging my self-identification: whether they’re “geeks who are Catholic” or “geeky about Catholicism,” all “Catholic geeks” love Tolkien.

I don’t.

I try, but I just can’t.

It’s not that I dislike Tolkien’s work. I just can’t get all fired up about it, and don’t blame Peter Jackson: after Rankin & Bass, he’s the reason I like Tolkien at all. There’s something about his style that just doesn’t appeal to me.

When I first picked up _The Hobbit_ after reading all the C. S. Lewis I could get my hands on, which like many others I intuited I should, I couldn’t make any sense out of it. Lewis’s writing is light and easy and friendly. Tolkien makes up all sorts of complicated words and uses lots of Dickensian description. I’ve always loved the Rankin & Bass _Return of the King_ but could never quite get into _The Hobbit_, and kept forgetting why. Then came the Jackson _Lord of the Ring_ trilogy, and, while I found it extremely long and hard to sit through, I appreciated it. However, while I have always wanted to see the extended versions (I think I’ve seen _Fellowship_ but not the others), it’s never been a “must see” for me, because I know it will be a chore to watch. When the movies inspired me to read the book(s), it took me years to get through (but there are several reasons for that–I really did enjoy it and tore through it when I sat down to read it).

When _The Hobbit_ was announced, I was kind of enthused. Then I scratched my head to learn it was going to be *three* movies. Then I read all the negative reviews, and I decided I didn’t want to see it in the theater. I have insisted for the past year that I haven’t yet seen _An Unexpected Journey_, but apparently I did: I guess I watched it with my father-in-law the night before I left for Charleston for my descending aorta surgery, but slept through most of it and had the memory wiped out by the anesthesia–as I hardly remember anything from those days before the surgery.

So, when my in-laws came for Christmas, they begged me to see _Desolation of Smaug_, and I insisted, “I still haven’t seen the first one!” They were like, “but you have!” Thinking I meant lack of access, rather than lack of interest, my brother-in-law kindly bought my a blu-ray copy for Christmas, gave it to me on Sunday, asked me to watch it that night so we could go on Monday(!)

I found it slightly better than I’d expected–there *were* about 20 minutes of good dialogue in the whole movie, but it also reminded me why I never liked _The Hobbit_. Some are complaining about the stuff Jackson *added* to the book, trying to make it more like “Lord of the Rings”, but much of what bothered me was apparently out of Tolkien, since it’s in the Rankin * Bass version and reminds me why I find it so forgettable: or else, a good half hour to an hour of dwarves burping and being rude, then the scene with the trolls around the campfire, and the part about Goblin Town. I may have picked all of those up in March, but I’m pretty sure they’re in the cartoon a well. It’s really kind of gross.

That said, there was some good dialogue: Gandalf’s statement to Bilbo about true courage being the ability not to kill seems to sum up much of the theme of all four books (_The Hobbit_, _The Fellowship of the Ring_, _The Two Towers_ and _The Return of the King_). By the ending, I was a bit more eager to see _Desolation_ once it comes out on home video, but it was not enough to overcome my post-surgical lack of interest in movie theaters.


On Phil, A&E, Freedom, and Urban versus Rural America

Some of my left-leaning Facebook friends (yes, I do have a few) have been posting memes about the alleged hypocrisy of the “red state” folks regarding the recent controversies about Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame being fired by A&E and some people talking about it as a “freedom of speech” issue.

This is from the page “Being Liberal.” For lack of a better word, “Duh.” That’s not what we’re saying.

Here’s another from “The Beer Party”:

Again, I’d agree, insofar as what *some* people are saying, but most people I’ve read are acknowledging this.

In fact, I’d say there are some interesting parallels between the “Dixie Chicks” controversy and Phil Robertson. First, the difference, in part, is that the Dixie Chicks were not fired by their publisher; Phil Robertson was. Secondly, the Dixie Chicks are singers. I don’t generally like it when singers or actors take positions on “issues,” or force their audiences to support their “causes,” regardless if I agree with them. However, Robertson is in that strange amorphous zone known as “reality TV,” which is about as “real” as professional wrestling. He entertains people (I’ve never seen his show) with a certain persona, and it has become clear over the past few years that a) he’s a Christian, b) he’s a conservative, c) A&E doesn’t like that, and d) audiences do.

The Dixie Chicks took some flack for mocking the president, and in *that* respect it’s hypocritical of “Red Staters” in terms of criticism of Bush versus criticism of Obama. Their careers have gone on just fine. They never got fired. However, the situation is the same in that both cases involve the media not “getting” the “Red State”/”Flyover State” public. It’s an issue that goes back for decades, if not for all of history, in entertainment: “Town Mouse and Country Mouse,” as it were. “Country Come to Town” is a subgenre of American literature. In the 1960s, the TV industry produced lots of “rural comedies” like _The Andy Griffith Show_, _Green Acres_, _The Beverly Hillbillies_, etc., that were supposed to ridicule “country bumpkins,” but people *identified* with the characters.

Then there was the “rural purge” and the rise of liberal ideology-promoting “urban comedies”, mostly from Norman Lear. When _All in the Family_ came along, there was a Hollywood stereotype of an urban blue-collar conservative in Archie Bunker as exaggerated as the redneck stereotypes of the rural comedies, pitted against the liberal hero, son-in-law Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner), forever known to the public as “Meathead,” which symbolizes the public’s reaction to the show: they liked Archie and hated “Meathead,” the opposite of Lear’s intention.

Flannery O’Connor’s discussion of how professors interpret “A Good Man is Hard to Find” applies here:

I’ve talked to a number of teachers who use this story in class and who tell their students that the Grandmother is evil, that in fact, she’s a witch, even down to the cat. One of these teachers told me that his students and particularly his Southern students, resisted this interpretation with a certain bemused vigor, and he didn’t understand why. I had to tell him that they resisted it because they all had grandmothers or great-aunts just like her at home, and they knew, from personal experience, that the old lady lacked comprehension, but that she had a good heart. The Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence, and he knows that a taste for self-preservation can be readily combined with the missionary spirit.

That sums up the conflict that has always existed between the “elites” in the “big cities” of the Northeast and the “Left Coast,” versus the “Red State” “rednecks” (a term which, interestingly enough, used to refer to Southern Democrats, farm workers who had “red necks” because of working in the sun).

That gets us back to this Phil Robertson fellow. His recent interview with GQ has been well discussed. In short, he talked about his sinful youth, as he has done before, and how he “found Jesus,” and how he believes (rightly) that we all need Jesus’ grace to be healed of our sin. Then he paraphrased the “controversial” passage of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

* Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes* nor sodomitesc
nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

(emphasis added)
As my friend Kevin O’Brien has pointed out, homosexuality seems to have “Most Favored Sin” status in our culture. Or, as Jay Leno apparently put it, ” Gay people are upset with him. Then he went on to criticize adulterers, drunks and swindlers, and now Congress is mad at him. So the guy just can’t win.”

I’ve never watched _Duck Dynasty_ and I’ve never read _GQ_, but from the quotations of the interview that are all over Net, I don’t see the problem.
Yes, some of his phrasing was a bit crude, but that fits with his persona and intended audience (both on his show and _GQ_).  It was also arguably “The Emperor’s  New Clothes” principle: he’s in trouble for stating the obvious.  Again, he said it in the context of “sin is illogical.”  He probably could have made a better argument for “theology of the body,” but I don’t know enough about him to know if that was (as some say) his own lack of sophistication or his intentional persona.

People are saying he implies that homosexuals engage in “bestiality” because he presents a (very true) slippery slope argument about society’s tolerance of sin.

He is accused of “equating gays with terrorists” because he says he loves all people, regardless of who they are or what they do.  He is accused of “hate speech” by saying that he doesn’t judge anyone’s souls but wants everyone to know  Jesus.  Oh, and, while he was clearly fired for offending the GLBTQXYZ lobby  (which at most accounts for 18 million Americans, is most realistically 9 million and that includes statistics on anyone who has ever had a “same sex relationship”), some people have accused him of “racism” for saying that when he was a farm worker (again, a literal “red neck”) in the 60s, he didn’t see his African American co-workers being treated any worse than whites–at worst, an ignorant statement but hardly meant in hate.

But, again, even if it means cancelling what is supposedly the highest-rated show in the history of cable, TPTB are so literally hell-bent on pushing their agenda that they will sacrifice views and even advertisers rather than sacrifice their agenda.

So, no, this is not, strictly speaking, a First Amendment/Free Speech issue.  It’s a free market issue.  A&E had every right, theoretically, to fire Robertson, and the viewers and advertisers had the right to react according to their positions.  Robertson will do fine.  He’s a millionaire.  He has already garnered a national following and is circulating the “mega-churches.”  This publicity has increased his status.  He reportedly already has offers from Fox News and Glenn Beck’s “the Blaze” network.  He’s going to do fine, just as the Dixie Chicks have done fine.

What worries me, and many others, is the double standard the media apply to these situations.  Look at all the controversy about suppression of speech online (again, it’s “Facebook [or whichever entity] has the right to suppress users’ speech”).  Where does that end?

“Mary, Did You Know?”

Mary, did you know that some blasphemous jerk would write a song about you?
Mary, did you know that thousands of ‘Christians’ would curse, deride and doubt you?
Mary did you know that people who claim to follow the Bible literally would completely dismiss the verses about you?

The song asks:
“Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.”
Yes, she did know, but He had already delivered her and made her new at the moment of her conception.
Luke 1:28 (how can anyone be “full of grace” who is in sin?); Luke 1:42 (“my spirit rejoices in God my savior”–how can He be her “savior” if she is not already “saved”?); and Luke 1:42 (“blessed are you among women”) tell us this. The sinlessness of the Virgin is recognized in the Orthodox tradition and even in Islam, yet denied by a relatively small group (Protestants) who have co-opted the name “Christian” from Catholics and Orthodox in the past 500 years, such that we now have to prove to them that we are “really” Christians. The only dispute between Catholic and Orthodox theology is the point at which her sin was removed: her immaculate conception having been dogmatically defined by Bl. Pope Pius IX, quoting the arguments of Bl. John Duns Scotus, OFM.
Yes, it was a retroactive action of the salvific grace of the Passion, in a Mystery, just as she is “daughter of her own son,” but I think we can be pretty sure that the intent of an Evangelical song-writer is not to build faith in the Immaculate Conception.

Again, the song asks, “Mary, did you know . . . when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God. . . .
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great [inappropriate use of the English translation of the Tetragrammaton, resulting in the singer’s inadvertent proclamation of himself as God]”
Again, it’s in the Bible:
Luke 1:32 (“He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High”);
Luke 1:43 (“the mother of my LORD,” or “KYRIOS” in Greek, “ADONAI,” in Hebrew, which, of course, means God);
As for the collective question of what Mary “knew,” and if she knew all the great works Jesus would do, just read the Magnificat. Being free from original sin, Mary’s mind was not clouded from understanding the Scriptures the way the rest of our minds are. That is why she accepted Gabriel’s message so readily, knowing that being an unwed mother would put her at risk of stoning, making an act of faith that echoed Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:1-19).

Luke 1:45 (“blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”) and 11:28 (Jesus echoes Elizabeth’s words and says that Mary is blessed because she heard the word of God and observed it), Luke 1:48 (“all generations shall call me blessed”), Luke 2:19 and 51 (“Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”), Luke 2:34 (“and you yourself a sword shall pierce”), John 19:26-27 (Mary is our mother, too, and a beloved disciple takes Mary into his home).

Protestants take the few verses that vary on Luke 11:28 and Mk 3:34-35 as indicating that somehow Mary did *not* “hear the word of God and keep it,” yet that is clearly confirmed by the aforementioned verses in Luke 1 & 2. She *did* hear the word of God and keep it in her heart.

Many fundamentalists have tried to argue that the Mother of Jesus somehow strayed away from Him. I have been told that Mary was indeed a great sinner. Yet we see her standing by her Son at the Cross–not even off in the crowd, but near the Cross.

So, yes, Mark Lowry, Mary *did* know. This seemingly pious lyric is really an insult to the Theotokos, a contradiction of the Holy Bible, and a denial of the truth of the Immaculate Conception.

It’s bad enough to hear it on the radio, at the mall, etc., but, what’s worse, this song gets “performed” at many Catholic parishes, even at Mass, and people are offended when anyone points out that it is heretical.

Based upon a post I wrote in 2008.