Monthly Archives: March 2014

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David Alexander, aka “The Man with the Black Hat,” has done me the honor of quoting me in his piece on the first anniversary of His Holiness Pope Francis.  When he asked me if he could quote a reply I made to one of hsi Facebook posts (basically a summary of my entire “take” on Francis), I agreed, assuming he was assembling a bunch of quotes from different people.  I was honored when he quoted me as extensively as he did and as basically the only such quotation he used.  Please return the favor by reading his piece, but basically I was saying, which David elaborates on, that people either criticize or praise Francis for supposedly not being as academic as his immediate predecessors, but the problem, to my mind, is the opposite: when I read Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I feel like I’m reading teachers–really smart teachers who use big words, but teachers nonetheless–when I read Francis, I feel like I’m reading a scholar: someone who knows his stuff and assumes you do, too.  Put another way, as people like to treat them like The Only Three  Popes Who Have Ever Existed, and find “common themes,” and using Francis’s “field hospital” metaphor, JPII was our Bachelor’s advisor; B16 was our doctoral advisor; Francis is the hospital director managing our residency.  He expects us, rightly or wrongly, to know everything the others tried to teach us and is talking about application.

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What if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?

A powerful speech.  Even if you don’t usually watch videos online, you really should listen to this one.  It speaks for itself, especially regarding judging others.  It’s a talk by genetics pioneer, Down syndrome researcher and outspoken pro-life leader Dr. Jerome Lejeune, whose Cause is being initiated, telling a powerful story about the dangers of judging based upon appearances, and the problem of eugenics:

One of the best analyses of the “Disney Issue” I’ve ever read

This review of Frozen by one Brian Brown is one of the best articles on the topic of children’s movie themes in general I’ve ever read.

Brown talks about people’s obsession over superficial things like magic (even G. K. Chesterton addressed Christians who censored superficial stuff) and yet disregarded the more substantive themes of Disney movies, like the New Agey “follow your heart,” “believe in yourself” nonsense, which Frozen completely undermines.  Says Brown:

The cumulative effect is a story with moral complexity and truth that destroys anything Disney has ever done, but is very much in the Pixar tradition (if, even there, above average). There are people out there (though they don’t seem to be writing reviews) who let the film speak for itself outside of the context of an anti-Disney bias—and I suspect they saw something like what I saw: a film that made them think, for 100 glorious minutes, that maybe great fairy tales aren’t dead.

So often people get worried about the epiphenomena and not the underlying subtext. As kids go, it can of course work both ways. Sometimes, adults wrongly assume that subtext goes above kids’ heads, and sometimes wrongly expect them to see it: it all depends upon the kid and the material in question, which is why our basic rule is usually that anything new has to be watched with us or by us first. In this case, we made a huge exception to that rule. I had seen enough positive reviews of Frozen that I felt it was OK to let my kids go to it with their uncles and aunt after Christmas.

When they became addicted to “Let it Go,” I read the lyrics and began to worry. However, they all, from 6 to 12, did a fantastic job of articulating why the song was not talking about morality per se and was, in the context, about superficial rules.

Indeed, since the movie does not explain where Elsa’s powers come from–the Troll King asks and her father says she was born with them–it could be seen as an allegory for genetic disorders.  As it is, I kept thinking of “corporate synergy” not in terms of Disney-Pixar but Disney-Marvel.  Elsa could be seen as almost a cognate to Loki, a Jotun raised in Asgard or Rogue, the “X-Men” mutant who kills people (and in some cases, steals their superpowers) if she touches them.  Barring fictional superpowers, the rift between Elsa and Anna, caused by Elsa’s “genetic disorder,” if you will, being a risk to Anna, could be easily inverted.  Take, for example, someone with ostogenesis imperfecta or hemophilia being raised in a totally protected environment and cut off from others for her or his own protection.  Or consider someone with a mental or neurological disorder who can’t control his rage or who has violent seizures.

This, by the way, gets to the problem with some who have tried to see the movie as having “homosexual subtext” because of its rejection of the sheltered princess falls in love with the first guy she sees” archetype, Elsa’s enforced celibacy and the behavior of the living snowmen in the movie.  The homosexualist movement has pushed the notion that gays have a monopoly on “being oppressed” to such an extent that anyone depicted as “different” in Hollywood “must” be “gay.”  This is true on both sides.  Christians only play into their argument when they assume that a genderless snow monster named “Marshmallow” is “gay” because of a credits-shot showing it dancing in a tiara–or, in real life, when they freak out about a boy having a My Little Pony lunchbox.

Apparently, Walt Disney himself began trying to develop Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” in the 1940s.  One of the big issues was how to approach the title character, who is arguably either morally neutral (literally a force of nature) or evil in Andersen’s story (usually even in most adaptations I’ve seen).  What made _Frozen_ was the notion of taking out Andersen’s boy character Kai and making his story elements part of Elsa and Anna.

If, as in the works of Whedon, Rice, Carpenter, and others who use vampirism and witchcraft as symbols of homosexuality, or as in previous Disney movies like _Pocahontas_ and _The Hunchback of Notre Dame_, the “bad guys” in the movie were ostensibly Christian, I could maybe see the argument, but here, all the superficial signs are that the characters are themselves Christian:

1.  Unlike “Aurora,” “Belle,” “Ariel,” “Prince Charming,” etc., the characters  have saints’ names: Elsa (Elizabeth), Anna, Kristoff, Hans (short for “Johann”), Sven (Stephen), and even the snowman Olaf (Patron Saint of Norway, probably most commonly known today because of The Golden Girls).
2.  Early in the film, when we’re seeing the girls grow up on separate sides of the castle, Elsa refers to her only friends being the paintings, and she says, to a painting of St. Joan of Arc, “Hang in there, Joan.”
3.  Many have commented on the choral music in the film, which is based upon a Norwegian hymn:

Sweet is the earth,
glorious is God’s heaven,
Beautiful is the souls’ pilgrim song!
Through the fair
kingdoms of Earth
We go to paradise with song.

Pope Francis and Fred Phelps

Pope Francis holding a Monstrance at Eucharistic Adoration

One of these days, I’ll get around to updating my banner

This week, “Who am I to judge” was back in the headlines as Pope Francis gave a homily on Luke 6:36-38:

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.

More recently, however, His Holiness showed another example of what he does *not* mean when he warned the Mafia that they’re in danger of Hell.
Meanwhile, in an example of what “judge not lest ye be judged” most definitely *does* mean, poor Fred Phelps, Sr.. Phelps’s story is a tragic example of the path of heresy: starting out with zeal for the Lord but losing the love he had at first (Rev 2:4). He started as a reknowned civil rights activist known for participation in the _Brown v. Board of Education_ case and moved on to peace activism but somehow, while apparently retaining those positions became known for a strong “anti-gay” polemic (that is to say, “anti-homosexual,” rather than “anti-homosexuality”). His “congregation” Westboro Baptist became known for protesting various funerals, ranging from soldiers (see anti-war, above) to prominent homosexuals to children, with their notorious “God hates [sinners]” signs.

It was hard to find a pic that did not feature one of his repulsive signs.

So, what of Fred Phelps?

Objectively speaking:

1. He promoted hate, making a career (both as a disbarred lawyer and as a “minister” without any ties to any “denomination” or “hierarchy”) out of attacking various individual and social evils with straight-on hate rather than authentic zeal or love. He “lived by the sword” and by “judging others,” to the extent that his own family will not have a funeral for him because they don’t “worship [or pray for] the dead.” Again, most certainly if someone lived the opposite of “judge not, lest ye be judged,” it was Fred Phelps.
2. He was anti-Catholic, attacked the Church Jesus founded, and presumably, as someone who claimed to know the Bible, read and ignored John 20:23 and James 5:16 (“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”) How can one who is Baptized and claims to know the Bible be forgiven of mortal sin without the Sacrament of Reconciliation? He not only preached that pretty much everyone was damned to Hell but also helped keep people away from that powerful Sacrament, and he discouraged praying for the poor souls in Purgatory.
3. Oddly united just about everyone in hating him back or pitying him. From atheist and “gay rights” leaders to conservative Christians, many people outside his own congregation have called for treating his death with compassion and forgiveness, while others are calling for counter protests like, “God hates Fred.” Already, cartoons and memes are appearing joking about him potentially being in Hell.

Certainly, if there’s anyone we can say with certainty is in Hell, it’s Fred Phelps, right?

Wrong.

We can’t do that.

I always imagine personal judgement as the personal encounter described by St. Teresa of Avila and by St. Faustina, Jesus coming to the person and the person reacting either with love or with fear and loathing–or perhaps C. S. Lewis’s version where the person is greeted by the person they would least want to see in Heaven who is there (_The Great Divorce_ is a must-read).

I look at the life of Fred Phelps and wonder how it’s possible, objectively *or* subjectively, for him to face personal judgement and embrace the love and forgiveness of Christ? I imagine rather the response of Javert, the response of Judas after the Last Supper in the 1973 _Jesus Christ Superstar_ movie, where Jesus tries to give him a blanket, even after he has publicly denounced Jesus and left the company of Apostles, and Judas recoils.


Nevertheless, I also have to hope that his reaction is different. I have to hope that he repented even in those split seconds of death and was snatched from the Devil’s grasp, because otherwise, what hope to I have? What hope do any of us have? Fred Phelps may have been greeted by the souls of every saved person whose funeral he picketed, and how did he react? What if he reacted by asking forgiveness?

So what if, when you or I have our time, we find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus–and with Fred Phelps, or Adolf Hitler, or Judas Iscariot? Someone we were absolutely convinced was beyond asking God’s forgiveness yet wasn’t? How would we react? Would we ask, “How could You forgive *HIM* and not me??”

One final point: if he did repent of his mortal sins, he definitely had a lot of Purgatory in store to clear away his attachments.  Pray for him, since by his own doing he has taught his family and friends not to.

For further reading, an older post I often link at times like this:
“Absalom and the Prodigal Son”

Discussion: is Jesus a “Saint”?

When I ask questions like this, I usually get responses that are sarcastic, condescending, etc., assuming I’m being rhetorical or sarcastic or that I’m expressing ignorance about basic catechesis.

I’m asking philosophically.

What is a “Saint”?

I was thinking of this in terms of patronage: there are some particular causes for which Jesus (or His Holy Face, Wounds, Sacred Heart, manifestation as an Infant, etc.) is listed as “patron,” which doesn’t make sense to me. Then there’s what we say about Litanies embodying the difference between Jesus and Saints: “have mercy on us” or “hear our prayer” versus “pray for us.” Yet there are traditional devotions, particularly in the East, which address Our Lady by asking her to “Hear us” or “save us”, and we know there are some “prayers” in which saints can directly assist us without having to technically “pray to God for us.”

Then there’s the title of “Saint” itself: the angels, for example, are “saints” in that “saint” means “holy one,” a citizen of Heaven. We usually use “saint” to distinguish humans in Heaven from Angels. Yet Jesus is eternally the God-Man.
So, while it would obviously be redundant to call Him such, I wonder if, in a theological sense, Jesus could be counted as a “Saint”?

Of all the stupid examples of “Common Core” I’ve seen

This has to be the dumbest:

The correct answer is simple: “There is not enough information.” The very first word problems I ever remember were focused on simply knowing how to read the problem and whether there was enough information, not enough information, or too much information. It’s on every standardized test: “D. There is not enough information to solve this problem.”

I’m as pro-homeschooling/”parents are the primary educators of their children”/subsidiarity anti-educational bureaucracy as the next paleocon. I’ve seen some legitimate complaints about “Common Core,” besides the complete destruction of local authority and academic freedom, such as math problems where the solution is “the most correct,” rather than simply “correct.” One of the first such examples was something like 357 + 249 =
Students were asked to use multiple methods of estimation to show that the answer could be estimated at 500, or estimated at 600, but the “most correct” response was 606-or whatever the particular numbers were in the example. Recognizing the importance of estimation as a step, I still think it’s stupid to confuse the issue by using “multiple answers” in one problem, and saying that the “correct” answer is “the most correct.” After all, if math is subjective, then everything is, and if that’s how accountants and bureaucrats do math, that explains both our government and corporate America.

Nonetheless, many examples of how bad “common core” supposedly is seem to say more about the people presenting them. If I see a hand-written example of a “Common Core Assignment,” and the person can’t spell properly, it kind of diminishes their credibility. It would be nice to see the original assignment photocopied, as presumably in this case.

Many of the “Common Core” math strategies that get criticized are the same strategies that have been used successfully for years by private tutoring services and charter schools–the same ones that NCLB-type (neo)conservatives advocate as being so much more effective than “failed” public schools.
Similarly, (neo)conservatives complain about how we’re failing to “compete” with schools in other countries, or how kids in the US were expected to know far more by the time they finished 8th grade 100 years ago than they’re required to know today, how to get into college 100 years ago you needed Latin and Greek but now people graduate college without basic English, etc., yet suddenly it’s “Why is my kid being required to know this in elementary school when I didn’t learn it until middle school or high school?”
Those kinds of self-contradictory arguments only serve to undermine our cause, especially when they come from homeschoolers.
People get so reflexively angry about “Common Core” that they want to search out any fault they can find and then shoot the messenger when told that the fault they’re finding isn’t in the problem.

As the saying goes, “There are three kinds of people in this world: those who are good at math and those who aren’t.”
I’d say it’s more like, good at math, good at elementary math but not higher, good at higher but not lower, and just not good at math. I’m in the third category. My brain isn’t wired for memorization, partly because I want to understand how things work. Common Core seems to be targeted at explaining processes, so kids are better prepared for higher level math, but it doesn’t work for those whose brains are wired for memorization, and that is the real problem with “Common Core,” No Child Left Behind, and everything in between: you can’t standardize education because you can’t standardize people.

“Share this and Your Prayers Will Be Answered”

While there is something to be said for accompanying our prayers with promotion of devotion, we must also be careful of turning prayer to superstition. Even, and especially, if they refer to “God,” “Angels,” or Saints (Therese seems to be particularly a victim of this), emails/memes/etc. that make “promises” if you share them and/or, worse, threats if you don’t constitute violations of the First Commandment, per the Catechism:

Superstition

2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.41

. . .
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.

Irreligion

2118 God’s first commandment condemns the main sins of irreligion: tempting God, in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony.

2119 Tempting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed. Thus Satan tried to induce Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple and, by this gesture, force God to act.49 Jesus opposed Satan with the word of God: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”50 The challenge contained in such tempting of God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt about his love, his providence, and his power.51

2120 Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us.52