Category Archives: New Age

Symbols mean things

I’m a big supporter for formalism/”New Criticism.”  I always forget who said which, but often, when writers are asked what things in their books “mean,” they say things like, “I wrote a poem, not a puzzle,” (pretty sure that’s TS Eliot) or “If I wanted to write an essay, I’d write an essay.  I wrote a story” (Flannery O’Connor, paraphrased).
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_The Last Jedi_: _Star Wars_ is finally honest

When I first introduced my kids to Star Wars, I followed up with an explanation of Dualism, Gnosticism, the “Ray of Truth” concept, and authentic versus dangerous forms of spirituality and spiritual gifts.

C. S. Lewis argues against Dualism that  we cannot define “Good” and “Evil” without an external standard to define them.  If “Good” and “Evil” were truly opposite “forces,” they would not balance; they would cancel each other out.  Even if there were two equally powerful “gods,” one good/one evil, to know which was which there would still have to be a “God” to tell us which was which (e.g., the JW idea that Jesus & Satan are brothers).

“Only Sith deal in absolutes,” Obi-Wan tells Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, and that is the fundamental paradox at work in a Dualistic narrative.  The interesting irony is that the more honest Star Wars is about its flawed philosophical underpinnings, the more the fans complain–first the prequels undermined the narrative that the Jedi and the Republic are “good,” a narrative already flawed from Obi-Wan’s lies to Luke.  I think they’re viscerally reacting against the implicit and now explicit rejection of objective standards.

“Good guys, bad guys: made up words.  It’s all a machine,” says “DJ,” the early Han Solo-esque hacker who takes his money and runs.

Dualists and moral relativists always want to have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.  They want “good” and “evil” to be relative terms when it suits them and then appeal to morality or to vague concepts like “hope” and “energy” and “good thoughts” when it’s convenient.

So we’re supposed to support the Jedi because they’re the “guardians of peace and order,” yet the Sith also insist they want peace and order.  From a Thomistic standpoint, and from what we see of the Republic in the films, the Sith make the stronger claim to promoting “peace and order.”  And the “good guys” seem to ambiguate between whether they want “peace and order” or “freedom,” since the two concepts cannot coexist.  Hobbes tells us what “freedom” means: the war of all against all for all.  It’s the “Outer Rim,” ruled by warring gangsters.  The only way anyone can functionally have absolute freedom is to enslave others to some extent.

In the Force religion, as in Modernism and all other permutations of Gnosticism, we hear about “Hope,” and “Freedom” and “Peace,” but we hear no explanation for what these words mean or imply or why they are good things.

We love Star Wars because it seems to be about “good” versus “evil.”  However, in The Last Jedi, we’re told to “let the past die,” to destroy all the books, to look within for wisdom.  This was really the most honest movie in the Star Wars franchise in terms of expressing what we’ve been hearing all along.

“Why did he do it?”

A young woman goes to college.  She comes from a decent home and family that has its issues like any family.  She maybe has a genetic propensity for autism or bipolar or something that wasn’t quite caught because his parents were able to manage it with love, discipline and counseling from time to time.  She was never really engaged in her faith, and whichever comes first, the usual college combination–skipping Mass, “partying” and collectively anti-Catholic ideology among professors and classmates–cause her to abandon the Church.
She meets a boy. He considers himself an atheist.  They base their relationship on sexual attraction and what bands they like but say religious, philosophical and political matters are irrelevant to their relationship.  They *might* discuss a bit of modern philosophy or New Age “mysticism,” and they might talk pop psychology.  They start fornicating.  Then they decide they “love” each other.  They use contraception, unknowingly conceiving and aborting several babies.  At one point, one of the babies escape all the “Plan B” mechanisms and manages to implant.  Worried about her career, she has an abortion.
Then they decide that maybe they should get married.  They “wait” to have children till they’re “ready.”  They spent 10 years living for careers and vacations and things, having a relationship based on a self-centered “love.”  Maybe they self medicate with booze or cigarettes or worse.  Maybe they go to the professional drug dealers and get Prozac or Ritalin.
After a few years, they decide they’re “ready” to have kids.  They have their boy and girl.
They say they’re going to raise their kids “open minded” and refuse to have them baptized.  Maybe they expose them to bits and pieces of Islam, Buddhism, Wicca, any anything but Christianity.
Believing that children need lots of “stuff” to be happy, wanting their kids to have whatever they believe they were deprived, and believing that they have to limit themselves to 2 kids, so they want the most of the experience, they fill their kids’ lives with toys, video games, movies, etc.  But they also fill their kids’ lives with workaholism and competitiveness: sports, scouting, fine arts, clubs, and lots and lots of homework.
Their son can’t keep up, and starts acting out.  Quite often, the child in this all-too-familiar scenario is probably just stressed.  “I don’t want to give him an MRI,” says the doctor.  “That might have dangerous side effects, and it’s really expensive.  Let’s see how he does on Ritalin first.”
So the kid goes on Ritalin.  He’s on the equivalent of 2-4 cups of coffee a day.  He focuses better at school and his many activities, but his schedule is still stressful with no time for true relaxation or recreation.  He still needs to burn his energy, and he’s stimulating it chemically with a drug that produces rage as a side effect.  So he starts bullying other kids.  And he starts trying to channel his rage through video games and movies.  Oh, and since he’s chemically stimulating his dopamine and endorphins, he loses his ability to feel satisfaction from oxytocin.  He just starts craving more dopamine and endorphins, so more video games and more movies.
Now, if he was relatively neurotypical and just stressed, this would be bad enough.  If he even legitimately had ADHD it would be bad enough.  But what if he actually has something else, like bipolar?  So the the effect of the stimulants is even worse.
They try different meds over the years, never actually doing medical tests to see if and what meds he needs, even though they have tests available that in many cases the DSM says to do first.  Hundreds of dollars a month in prescriptions and doctor visits are so much more cost effective than a few thousand dollars at one time to actually find out what’s wrong.
Meanwhile, the daughter goes on similar spiral, but this, as Aslan might say, is not her story.
Meanwhile, the parents who didn’t put much thought into values before they married start to do so.  They realize they have little in common.  They rarely spend time together.  Going off “the Pill” to have kids then going back on changed her hormonal reactions to him and vice versa.  They’re burdened with stress of money, jobs, the kids’ demanding schedules and the kids’ mental and behavioral issues.
Maybe the mother decides to start taking the kids to church, and they fight about that.
There’s some anger and abuse.  One or both commits adultery.  They divorce.
Now the kids, as Maggie Gallagher documents in _Abolition of Marriage_, have lost their trust in relationships.  They both come to think of marriage as something temporary and mutable.  They have lost their one mooring in life.
The son starts expressing his anger at his Christian classmates, arguing all the time in favor of atheism, abortion, etc.  The daughter becomes sexually active.  The son starts using marijuana and other drugs.  All those resume-building activities begin to implode: grades collapse; he starts dropping out of his activities.  He spends most of his time watching violent movies and pornography and playing video games.  All the activities meant to “build social skills” never taught him to make friends.  His original genetic propensity, whether it’s for autism or schizophrenia or bipolar, is now largely irrelevant except that it’s compounding his lifetime of stress, betrayal, materialism, overstimulation, drugs, etc.  He doesn’t know how to approach girls, and girls find him creepy.
His parents have tried to give him everything the world has to offer but they’ve deprived him of the most important things a  human being needs: God and a stable family.
Depending on who reaches into his life at this point, and whatever his earlier issues, he grabs onto whatever sense of hope and acceptance he can find.  We could go several ways from here, but this all-too-common story lends itself to several results.
But our particular instance is following the path to hate and violence.
He’s been inoculated against Christianity, of course, by his parents and by the schools.  He’s been taught that Islam is a “religion of peace,” so he starts reading the Koran.
He’s been taught that socialism is a great thing and capitalism is bad, so he starts reading Marx.
He starts reading  Hitler.
Eventually, the violence he imagines becomes reality.  Maybe his mother has found true Faith in her middle age, and desperately tries to get him to come to church with her as she tries to atone for her younger lifestyle.  Maybe he is interested in a girl who’s not interested in him.  Maybe he’s had a girlfriend who recently broke up with him.  Maybe he’s been taught by the media, the movies and the few books he’s read that Christians are the real enemy.  Maybe he’s just filled with hate for all the institutions he’s come to mistrust.
Thousands upon thousands are in his situation.  Many turn to suicide.  Many turn to matricide or patricide.  Many murder the girl they’re interested in.
Many join gangs and commit gang murders.  Many just retreat into themselves and into the games and drugs, committing a slow suicide.  Many live lives of abuse and fighting without actually killing.  Many find Jesus and overcome the hate.
So what makes one person “snap”?
If any of these few circumstances could clearly explain why people commit mass murder, then it should happen far more often than it does.  If guns are the reason, it should happen far more than it does. If guns are the reason, then there wouldn’t be suicide bombers and fertilizer bombs and madmen driving trucks through crowds.
If, as the Joker claims, all it takes is “one bad day” to make someone like him, why aren’t there?
There’s a movie called Conspiracy Theory where a guy says all notorious assassins owned the same book, and to the extent that it’s been reported, all the notorious mass murderers in the US in the past 20 or 30 years have had one thing in common: hatred of Christianity.  Many of them have shouted or posted “Allahu Akbar.”  Most of them seem to have some sort of admixture of Communist, Anarchist and Nazi leanings.
As long as a person has some faint fear of God, he’s going to have a line of conscience.  Once we strip that line of conscience away from him, it doesn’t matter what tool he uses, he will find a way to kill as many people as possible before he kills himself.  He might do it in the name of “The Revolution,” or “The Master Race,” or “Satan” or “Allah,” but he will do it.  Should we put tougher restrictions on certain kinds of weapons?  I don’t know.  It seems to me the government should do a better job of enforcing the gun laws that are already on the books.
But to address the real problem is to address, across the board, the moral and spiritual rot of our society and requires each of us to look at our own responsibility, not for our political choices but for our moral ones."Occupy Rome" Protestors Desecrate a Statue of Our Lady

“Pro-life, homeschooling committed Christians who abstain till marriage then stay married to the same person are freaks”

I tolerate a lot, maybe too much, when it comes to TV and movies, but I appreciate seeing the consequences of actions, even if the writers depict those consequences unwittingly.

20 years or so ago, when Ellen Degeneres and her eponymous sitcom came out of the proverbial closet, ABC said that LGBT were about 10% of the population and deserved to be represented on TV.  Now, most studies have said that even if those who have “experimented” to some degree or other are included, LGBT are at most 6% of the population, and really more like 3%.  Interestingly with all the propaganda in recent years, that number has risen a whole half a percent!  Amazing how the number of people who are “born” a certain way increases.

But, fine, 4%.  Yes, there are people who identify that way and yes they should be depicted *honestly*.

But a year or two after the Ellen controversy, when the Catholic League lead a coalition of pro-life, pro-family, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations protesting Nothing Sacred, ABC said, “We can’t have what amounts to 10% of the population dictating to us.”  Yet *that* coalition represented the views of 50% of the population.

Close to 70% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under at least some circumstances, yet to most TV shows, pro-lifers are a minority and freaks.

I read an article once about the unrealistic depiction of sexual relationships on TV that pointed out for example how many characters known on TV shows as “losers” who can’t find a girlfriend actually have more sexual relationships, particularly in a short time, than even relatively promiscuous people in real life.

How often, outside of sitcoms and a couple reality shows that may be exceptions that prove the rule, do you see couples who are happily married and stay married?

How often do you see people on any fictional TV show who are committed Christians and serious about their faith and love their faith?  Even The Middle and recently cancelled Last Man Standing depict religion as something important but still a kind of chore or ideology (though Mike’s monologues on Last Man Standing sometimes make up for it quoting the Bible and even the saints).  Characters who are in any way serious about religion are, again, freaks and weirdos (which, yes, many people who are serious about religion in real life are also, and should be, but not the way we’re depicted).

How often do you see families on TV with more than 3 kids that aren’t “blended”? (and yes, child labor laws come into play).

I could go on with examples, but if it’s a question of “equal representation,” all the demographics I listed are a higher percentage of the population than LGBT yet they hardly ever show up and are treated as weirdos and bigots when they do.

Meanwhile, in the inverted Natural Law, where Neuhaus’s Law is in full effect, sex is meaningless recreation.  People on TV don’t even wait for a commitment, much less marriage, sex is a “test”–and saying “I love you” is a big “event” that comes after a couple have already engaged in sex not as an act of consummation of love but as a fulfillment of desire.  And, yes it has been this way on television for decades, and in “real life” without the Biblical moral framework, but what strikes me is how, in recent years it hasn’t even been a semblance of concern for decency or depicting any kind of negative view of sexual promiscuity, but an overt sense of saying, “This is perfectly normal, and it’s Judeo-Christian morality that’s aberrant and bizarre.”gs5x4j0

“Is it the End or the Beginning?” David Lynch and George Lucas, Pt 3 (of 3?)

I have had more thoughts about the mystery of Twin Peaks the show itself, but I wanted to explore another thought I’ve been having all season, regarding the nature of “art” versus “entertainment,” and the tension of the “artist”/”entertainer.”

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It is one thing to consider oneself an “artist” and produce work to express oneself and whatnot, without concern for profit.  Even so, if you’re going to “express yourself,” you still need to use symbols that people understand.   On the other end of the scale is the “entertainer,” who uses talent strictly to amuse audiences and make money.  There is little reason to look on each other with mutual disdain.  But most creative types, whether artists, writers, musicians, or filmmakers, operate somewhere in between, and when one operates in a mass market context, there is a certain contract at work between creator and audience.  A few weeks ago, I found a blog that a younger viewer wrote several years ago, discussing how Lynch was known for completely rejecting the principle that he owed anything to audiences, and while some say that makes him a “great” director, this lady argued (and I’d agree) that that ultimately makes him a bad director.

In the 1980s, give or take, there were four great young cartoonists who often get compared to one another in terms of their impact and the extent to which they followed Charles Schulz as role models: Jim Davis, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson.  Davis is often used by critics, fans and other cartoonists alike as the embodiment of a “sell-out”: he embraced commercialism and licensing early on.  While Charles Schulz took years before he began licensing Peanuts and allowing the animated spin-offs, which he carefully supervised, Davis recognized Garfield as a cash cow (cash cat) and cashed in, maintaining a similar legal control to that which Schulz enjoyed but generally allowing a great deal of flexibility..  On the other extreme was Watterson: who introduced the world to Calvin and Hobbes in 1985, consistently refused merchandising or animation, and suddenly retired after 10 years, saying he’d said all he needed to say and becoming something of a reputed recluse (though those who know him say he just kept such anonymity in his career that no one knows who he is when he’s out and about), occasionally popping up for guest stints at other comics or writing a public message here and there.

 

Somewhere in between is Breathed, who has “retired” several times–Bloom County became Outland originally so he could do Sunday’s only and supposedly have more creativity; Outland became Opus as he reverted back to form but still wanted to keep an episodic format.  And a few years ago, he made another comeback, reviving Bloom County as a webcomic posted at his leisure, sometimes in color, sometimes B&W, sometimes a mix, and exploring whatever topics he wants unencumbered by the constraints of syndicates and newspapers.  Breathed, like Davis, embraced, and continues to embrace, merchandising but kept more creative control and, other than one or two outings, has never embraced animation.  He’s also explored screenwriting and children’s literature.

I see a certain parallel at work in the directorial careers of George Lucas and David Lynch.  Both are known as young directors who showed promise straight out of film school in the 70s.  Both are known for exploring New Age/Neo-Gnostic/Pseudo-Eastern mysticism/philosophy in their works.  Indeed, David Lynch was almost the director of Return of the Jedi.  However, many critics and fans might balk at the comparison, since Lucas is to Lynch as Davis is to Watterson.  My own critique of my own analogy would be that Watterson at least made a creation that people could understand beyond a select subgroup of a subgroup that probably all share the same MBTI type.

Lucas made his name, and his fortune, very early on as a master of licensing.  In  his initial agreement with 20th Century Fox, in fact, he got himself licensing rights that the studio didn’t think were worth anything–few movies before Star Wars were adapted into toys, or had hit soundtracks or had spin-off novels and comic books.  Much like the older office product and computer companies that passed on Apple and Microsoft, Fox passed on the merchandizing rights to one of the first true blockbusters, making Lucas a billionaire.

However, the success of Star Wars came from collaboration: Gary Kurtz, Lawrence Kasdan, and studio executives took Lucas’s initial ideas and shaped them into the franchise as we know it.  A few years back, the earliest known script was adapted into a comic book series called The Star Wars, and showed Lucas’s original treatment to be far closer to a blend of the original trilogy and what became The Phantom Menace.

Many years ago, I read an observation somewhere online that “Ewoks were the first sign of genius turned to insanity.”  Except maybe Lucas always was insane–it was the collaboration and “studio interference” that made him look like a genius.  The more power he achieved, the more autonomy he achieved as a producer and director, and the more audiences rejected his “vision.”

On the other side is Lynch, who was never that commercially successful but directed a few slightly more mainstream pictures like Dune and The Elephant Man (if one can call either of those mainstream), while producing “arthouse” films (few of which I’ve seen or been able to make it all the way through without significant muting and FFing).

Lucas used his financial empire to free himself from “studio interference.”  Lynch used his “artistic reputation” and “devoted fanbase” to somehow con studio after studio into funding his projects until a series of commercial failures made him more or less go into retirement, and when CBS/Showtime came knocking about reviving Twin Peaks after fans demanded a follow up to “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” he notoriously fought for more money and more time to “tell his story,” then didn’t tell much story at all.

So “Lynchians” tell us that Twin Peaks would have been a much better show if the network hadn’t interfered with “Lynch’s vision.”  Supposedly, Lynch and Frost never intended for Laura Palmer’s killer to be revealed, though they always intended for it to be her father, though it’s also unclear if they ever had any intention or understanding of how long the show would last.  Many people blame the sharp ratings decline in the latter part of Season 2 on the fact that Lynch had little to do with it, but some of the writers and directors involved with the show at that point say they were still following his orders on a lot of things.  However, as some have pointed out, the show’s creators made a huge error in not building enough interest in the ensemble. Laura Palmer was supposed to be a MacGuffin, but she ended up being the only character most people cared about.  If they had to use the “unsolved murder” conceit to keep people tuning in, they weren’t doing a very good job.

Ironically, though it was months from our perspective, on the show’s timeline, with every episode corresponding to approximately a day, the murder of Laura Palmer was solved in little lesson than a month.  Given how long murders and disappearances often go unsolved in real life, particularly headline grabbing cases like JonBenet Ramsey, a month was relatively fast, and the notion of the unsolved crime–which other shows handled with slightly more success later–was an interesting spin.

Merely doing something “different” does not make something “art.” Indeed, T. S. Eliot, to whom I just yesterday compared Lynch and have done in the past, argues that art requires doing something different in the bounds of what’s come before.  A lot of what seems “weird” or “different” in Eliot is that he’s writing of modern urban life the way the Romantics wrote of country life or of the past.  He twists traditional metaphors and uses fragments of literary quotations and allusions he expects his readers to be familiar with.  To the extent that he works, Lynch does some of that, but more often than not he seems to turn conventional techniques so far upside down as to be unrecognizable.

But as I’ve argued many times, much of what makes Twin Peaks is hyper-realism.  The oft-maligned storyline of Ben Horne thinking he’s a Confederate general is a slightly exaggerated depiction of what happens in real life: when white American men feel defeated by society, they relive the Civil War.

Nevertheless, the other part of it is that Lynch creates a world that operates according to the principles of his belief system, and that’s where people say “It’s weird.”  David Bowie’s Philip Jeffries getting reincarnated as a coffee percolator seems strange, but is that any stranger than a dead person getting reincarnated as a carpenter ant, or as the fish that Pete Martell found in his teapot? Is Philip Jeffries the fish in the teapot?  Shirley Maclaine got criticized by people who speak fondly of their jumbled pop understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism for saying that Holocaust victims were being punished for sins they committed in past lives, but that’s what karma is, according to Hinduism.  Similarly, Lynch is drawing from a lot of disparate non-Western ideas that are collectively Gnosticism, and when viewers balk, I think they’re balking at the inherent flaws of the Gnostic world view when presented without the usual corporate filters.

What most people find appealing in Star Wars and Twin Peaks is the extent to which, by authentically expressing the Gnostic worldview, they express the rays of Truth in Gnostic/New Age/Neo-Platonic/Buddhist thinking.  Where they start to get uncomfortable is precisely where those worldviews diverge from Christianity.

This is another parallel of art and liturgy.  It’s said that traditional liturgies can be reverent when said by sinners because they were written by Saints, but the Ordinary Form is only referent when offered by Saints because it was written by committee.  In the arts, committees can take bad ideas and make them into better art, or they can take good ideas and make them into bad art.  Artistic freedom only creates true success if the artist is, if not necessarily a Saint or even a Christian, he or she at leawst tries to operate with Truth.

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“Is it the End or the Beginning?” A Tale of Three Artists: Eliot, Lynch and Koontz, Pt 2 of 3

…With a mandatory touch of C. S. Lewis.
[SPOILERS for both Twin Peaks and some recent Koontz novels; usual warning]

My previous post addressed the series finale of Twin Peaks as such (given the age of the creators, the time it took to make this season, and the 18 hours spent supposedly telling this story that could have been told in half the time, it likely is the series finale).

I addressed Lewis’s argument that we should not read too much into a work of fiction that isn’t there, and suggested that Lynch’s point is to criticize his own fans, and TV/movie viewers in general, for doing the same.  He essentially says, “This is all just a fantasy.  Stop making more of it than it is.  These aren’t real people.”

Now, some thoughts on the whole “David Lynch is an artist” “argument” and the notion of “fans’ expectations.”  To this, I bring in Lewis’s criticism of the view that a poet could just say “I’m a poet,” and that makes his view of poetry superior to the view of “non-poets.”

It annoys me when I take my kids to a museum to learn about art and the curator says, “Well, art can be whatever you want.”  No, it can’t.  It has to have rules.  It has to express something.  If a person writes the word “appeal” and means “apple,” that expresses something different.  If a person draws a picture, it has to be something the viewer can understand before it can convey any message.  Most modernism and postmodernism is just the Emperor’s New Clothes: everyone saying “It’s genius! He’s a genius!  It’s amazing!” and dismissing anyone who disagrees as an uncultured buffoon because the “art” is not about expressing something so much as providing an avenue to elitism: a tendency Lewis saw in Eliot and condemned among the intelligentsia in “Lilies that Fester.”

When an entertainer/artist has a long and relatively successful career, he inevitably changes.  Either he gets “more commercial” or “more artistic.”  Either he gains confidence in putting more of his worldview into his work or perhaps he changes/matures in it.  Thus, I often speak of the three camps of Eliot fans: those who prefer the “Prufrock/Waste-Land Era,” those who prefer the “Four Quartets Era,” and those who see them as a continuum.  When I taught literature, I would point out how two writers can use very similar situations with slight differences to demonstrate their worldviews.   Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allen Poe, for example, can use a similar circumstance to show hope and despair, respectively.

MIKE’s line on Twin Peaks: the Return: “Is it past or is it future?” recalls the famous line from Four Quartets: “In my end is my beginning.”  To the secular reader, Four Quartets is a meditation on time and destiny, while the Christian reader sees Four Quartets as Lord of the Rings: a sophisticated Christian epic deeper than a mere allegory.

Others have pointed out the parallels between Twin Peaks and Four Quartets, and someone even captured this screenshot:
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To date, I’ve read Brother Odd and Odd Thomas, and have started Forever Odd.  My wife has read many Koontz novels and told me about them, as well as interviews, discussion groups, Amazon reviews, etc., and speaks of how many “longtime Koontz fans” are disappointed by more overtly books like the Odd Thomas series and Innocence, even though the titles should be huge spoilers.
From a Catholic perspective, Saint Odd and Innocence have the happiest endings a story possibly could, like every C. S. Lewis novel.  From the perspective of someone expecting a classic horror story or a classic romance story, however, they’re disappointing.

“David Lynch fans” look at Twin Peaks: the Return and say “It’s genius,” like the Emperor’s subjects in Andersen’s fairy tale, or the snobs at Lewis’s proverbial cherry party, because they don’t want to be counted among the philistines who “don’t get it.”  Some, however, admit they don’t get it, that it should be different from a “typical Lynch movie,” or even that it is different in the wrong way from one.

However, I’d say Lynch is conveying a message.  He’s conveying the message he wants to convey, and that’s why some people dismissively say “It’s existentialism,” because it is.  To the existentialist, life is ultimately despair, and you piece it together by enjoying cherry pies and chocolate bunnies.  It is “about the bunny,” Lynch would answer Lucy.   To the Platonist and Hindus, we’re all spirits in another realm controlling bodies that are essentially avatars, reliving our lives till we get them right.  This is one possible interpretation of the tulpas in Twin Peaks.  Another is that the finale shows the “Balance in the Force.” Whether they’re all dream-selves of the same dreamer, or reincarnations/avatars of the same being in the Red Room, or something else, the lesson that evil is inevitable and needs to be balanced, not stopped, is in keeping with the Dualistic worldview of Gnosticism/Platonism/Hinduism-Buddhism/New Age/etc.

There is something Catholic in the notion that we can’t “destroy” evil.  We can’t have a magic fist that bashes the Devil into smithereens.  We can’t go back and undo the evil of the past without destroying the future because the past dictates the future.   Once Barry Allen saves his mother, the cosmos can never be completely the same, even if he goes back to let her die again, and Barry has to live in the personal hell of knowing how many times he’s changed everyone’s lives.  This seems to be the almost-tacked on lesson of Twin Peaks, not because Cooper needs to learn it but the viewer does.

Koontz gives us a similar blend of horror, mystery, humor and romance with the lesson that all this misery points to Heaven.  As Chesterton would say, Lynch gives us the gargoyles–with fragments of the Temple.  Koontz gives us the gothic cathedral.  Both draw from Eliot, and both get in their long time fans the same polarized reactions as Eliot did.

Twin Peaks: Is it the End or the Beginning? Pt 1 of 3

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched Episode 18 of Twin Peaks: The Return, and intend to do so, stop at 17; if you have watched 18, or don’t care about spoilers, proceed]

T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis had Part 18two great published arguments: Eliot’s response to Lewis’s Preface of Paradose Lost (and Lewis’s reply), and their similar exchange over Hamlet.
In the former case, Eliot took the stance that only poets are qualified to analyze poetry.  Lewis attacked this self-justifying elitism.  In the latter case, Lewis expressed disagreement with criticism that treats a work of fiction as something real: the title of the essay is “Hamlet: the Prince or the Poem.”  Shakespeare critics debate Hamlet’s psychology, what he’s studying school and other details extraneous to the text as if he were a real person.

Now that Twin Peaks is (presumably) over, many are saying it’s probably the most sophisticated troll/prank in history.  25+ years and 18 hours of sitting through catatonic insurance salesmen, musical sequences, bizarre CGI sequences and people driving in the dark mixed in about 8 hours of actual story to be left scratching our heads.

Some are saying David Lynch is a genius.  Some are saying those people and Lynch are idiots.  Some are saying Lynch is an evil genius.  The latter group are probably right.

Somewhere in the original run of Twin Peaks, Cooper says something like “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?”  In Fire Walk With Me, Philip Jeffries says, “We’re all living in a dream,” a quote Cooper reiterates in Episode 17 of The Return.  The question has been posed other places in season 3/The Return.  When some of us speculated that the finale would turn out to be a dream, or something of the sort, some people said “David Lynch is too much of a genius to do something so cliche.”

Well, he did.

And now people are still insisting he’s a genius.  “It’s existentialism,” some say.  “Well, existentialism leads to suicide,” I say.  [More on that later].

So what happened?

The Return features the return not only of the original cast but some of Lynch’s favorite actors.  One of Lynch’s favorite movies is Sunset Boulevard, to which he makes frequent allusions/easter eggs, such as the name of Agent Gordon Cole, or the presence of the street sign in Mulholland Drive, a movie named after a street in LA known for being the home of wannabe stars as Sunset is known as known as the home of established stars.

Lynch originally created Mulholland Drive as a television pilot, and said it was supposed to be a Twin Peaks spinoff, telling the story of Audrey Horne after the explosion.  In a reverse of Twin Peaks, which was shot as a movie with a hasty ending in case the series wasn’t picked up, and the ending was cut out and recut as a dream on the show, Mulholland Drive was shot as a pilot and then re-edited as a standalone movie with a hasty ending.

Either way, Lynch said to think of it as how Twin Peaks was supposed to end, so especially when Audrey “wakes up” in Episode 16 (never to be heard from again), it was predictable that The Return would end in a similar fashion to Mulholland Drive: the hero is a different person, in a different reality, with memories of the idyllic world we just spent most of the story becoming familiar with.  There are mobster brothers, weird assassins, etc.  Mulholland Drive, like Sunset Boulevard, is a commentary on the film industry and its audience.  Twin Peaks may be seen as a commentary on television and its audiences.

The Black Lodge spirits are beings who live off of other people’s fear and suffering, are they just TV viewers?  They manifest as people who could have any face or any name.  They live in trailers and middle class homes.  They sit in leather armchairs.  They live in apartments above convenience stores.  They live in a dark motel.

In that sense,  Lynch seems to agree with Lewis.  In the final scene, Cooper (or the man who thinks he’s Dale Cooper) and Carrie, another Laura, like many a fan over the years, arrive at the infamous white house and knock on the door.  A woman answers.

Her name is Chalfont, and she bought the house from someone named Tremond, and knows nothing of Laura, Sarah or Leland Palmer.  The significance of this is that the lady who answers the door is the real owner of the house.  Thus, the two central characters become the obsessive fans, trying to bring to life the fictional reality they’ve come to love, and Lewis would likely point out that today’s obsessive fans are no different from the people in Shakespeare’s day who would jump on stage and draw their swords or the generations of literary scholars who’ve argued whether Hamlet was really mentally ill or just faking it.

Seen as a dream, we have several clues, like Mulholland: if the ending is the “real world,” the dream world is constructed by “Richard’s” memories of different people and places.  It struck me that the dopplegangers are called “tulpas.”  In Eastern mythology/mysticism, a “tulpa” is basically a parallel self that we encounter in dreams.  So the multiple Coopers, Lauras, Dianes, etc., are tulpas in shared dreams.  “Who is the dreamer?” Monica Bellucci asks Gordon Cole in a dream: Dale the almost naively optimistic, pop Buddhism practicing, coffee and doughnuts loving, Sherlock Holmes lawman; Mr. C., the callous, murderous, sociopathic criminal; and Dougie, the dimwitted, bored, unfaithful husband and father.  We see elements of all three in the “Richard” we encounter in the show’s final half hour.  Are they just the lives he lives in his dreams at night, a kind of Walter Mitty?

Perhaps he’s a real FBI agent tracking down a missing person from decades ago.    More

Or else, The Return is Flashpoint: Cooper, like Barry Allen, changed the entire universe to save one girl’s life.  As soon as he altered the past at the end of Episode 17, I thought, “Wouldn’t BOB just kill Ronette Pulaski, then?  How is BOB going to be stopped? Why not go back a year earlier and save Teresa Banks?”  One action can, as Prufrock muses, “disturb the universe.”

*Or,* as I reflected several years ago, the whole point is Nirvana: Cooper has to “bring balance to the Force,” which does not necessarily mean a Western/Judeo-Christian understanding of the triumph of goodness.  The beings in the Red Room are the souls, which inhabit different bodies in different times, living different lives.

All of these interpretations lead to the same “lesson”: evil can never be completely destroyed, except in our fantasies.  “Dale” spends 25 years in the Black Lodge–if he ever actually leaves.  “Richard” is a middle-aged FBI agent who’s so jaded he shoots some guys for getting rough with a waitress and then puts their guns in a deep fryer, casually pointing out that they might just explode.  Both suffer the consequence of trying to take on evil directly.  There is an inverse Catholic truth to this which I will explore in my next piece, but it says something to the jaded Lynch, disappointed in the poor reception his films or the original series received from audiences.

The outline for Twin Peaks season 3, had it aired in 1991-1992, would have seen Cooper leaving the FBI and settling down in Twin Peaks.  That ending did not happen because

On Cult and Culture

The problem with “Culture Wars” is we don’t know what culture *is*.  If we truly want to win back souls to God and the Natural Law, we must do it through redeeming the culture itself.

Chesterton says that the history of Western civilization is a conflict between three worldviews: the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian and atheistic-nihilistic. He illustrates this with a parable of a people on an island who worship the sun. They build a round, mathematically perfect, temple. Over time, they come to understand God as transcendent of Nature and nature as corrupt, dangerous and not quite so perfect as they previously thought. So they add a spire to their temple, pointing to the sky, and gargoyles to the outside to show that the world is dark and scary but there is hope in Heaven. Over time, they lose their faith in God completely and create a temple of complete grotesque to demonstrate it: they take away the spire and replace all the gods and saints with more gargoyles.

Chesterton saw 100 years ago what the Twentieth Century was producing and has produced in spades since.

These threads can be seen in smaller amounts in each major historical period and each particular Western civilization’s history.  Generally, though, the Greeks and Romans produced art and literature which saw both nature and the gods as orderly and beautiful.  Their dramas reflected the need to return to order when civil order was disrupted.

The so-called “Dark Ages” produced literature, art, music and architecture focused entirely on God, and human beings who were flawed in an immoral world.  This was the period of Gothic architecture: terrifying and imposing on the outside; uplifting and glorious inside.

The Renaissance saw a general return to the classical worldview.  The visual arts became less stylized by the rules of iconography and more stylized by a desire to reflect human perfection as understood by the ancients.  Music was made a bit more complicated than the simple, utilitarian chant of the Middle Ages, reflecting the Classical understanding of music as a form of mathematics.  Architecture was not directly classical per se but some Greek aspects were returned to architecture.  The greatest Renaissance writers drew from classical mythology or the rules of classical drama.

Then the 17th century brought a Puritan flair to the visual arts, while music focused on God.  Thus, Bach could say everything he wrote was a prayer–because even instrumental music was understood to express a code that, like a Gothic cathedral, raised the soul up towards God.

The 18th century saw the period we call “classical” or neo-Classical: architecture that was mathematical and balanced, per Greek principles as then understood.  The visual arts, like those of the Renaissance, evoked classical norms.  Pagan imagery began to be revisited.  Music was more strongly mathematical and less otherworldly.

Then came the period we call Romantic.  Interestingly, C. S. Lewis considered Jane Austen as the last truly Western author.   The Romantic (i.e., “of Rome”) period in Protestant Europe involved a quest for the “past,” but it was a blend of the “Past” of paganism as well as the “past” as well as a fascination with Catholicism and the purported tendency of people in “Romance” (i.e., Latinate) countries to engage in lots of adultery and fornication, lending to the terms “Romance” and “Romantic” becoming associated with affairs of the heart rather than a group of cultures.  Interestingly, this is the same time the term “Latin America” was coined as a way to unite French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies against the new United States and the remaining British colonies.
Literature evoked the beauty of nature as well as the quest for God.  It also evoked a fascination with the creepy old buildings, the mysterious Catholic past (now thoroughly ensconced in the Protestant imagination as a form of pagan witchcraft, masquerading as “Christianity”) and thus gave us the term “Gothic” as no longer meaning a style of religious art and architecture coming from Germany but now a form of “Romance” focusing on the grotesque and even macabre.

After the Romantic period there was a general shift towards nihilism, which is what Lewis gets at in “De Descriptione Temporum” when he says the above about Austen.  Someone once said that “music died with Nietzsche’s God.”

Romanticism gave way to “Realism,” which still had a bit of the Gothic hope in its negative portrayal of life, but that quickly gave way to the gargoyles of “Naturalism” in art and literature.  Music came to be atonal and discordant.

This is why simple worldliness of much “contemporary” music, like that of modern art and architecture, is ill-fitting the grandeur of God.  Though the attempt to redeem the modern world has its place, slapping “God” and “morality” onto otherwise postmodern literature and music is like Chesterton’s islanders, after burying their temple in gargoyles, saints and angels on top of the gargoyles rather than getting rid of the gargoyles.

I want to talk about Star Wars Theories

Not about spoilers for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, mind you: the theories themselves, their existence.

It now seems a long time ago (for some of us, it was) that Disney bought LucasFilm  and announced not only a new “trilogy,” but a set of tied in one-off films in the manner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so there will be at least one Star Wars movie a year for the foreseeable future.

Even before that, though, Star Wars was, of course, a very popular topic online, generally of course why the “original trilogy” was good, why Empire Strikes Back was great, why the prequel trilogy was bad, or else how the original trilogy has some weaknesses and the prequels have strength.

A common theme that shows up is that the “Dark Side” of the Force are actually the good guys.  The prequels show the Republic and its Jedi secret police to be corrupt and incompetent.  The Empire just wants to bring order and governance.  The destruction of Alderaan was, in the galactic perspective, a legitimate military target.
The Rebellion wants to restore the chaos.

More importantly, Yoda, the “oldest and wisest of the Jedi” allows a Sith Lord to not only escape his notice but to work closely with him for *years* without getting a hint.  Yoda and Obi-wan are a couple of  liars who deceive Luke about his father *and* his sister (spoiler alert!).   Almost everything Obi-wan says in the “first” movie is revealed to be a lie by the end of Return of the Jedi and definitely by the end of Revenge of the Sith:
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lukes-lightsaber

Are these moral ambiguities merely plot holes?

Or is there a deeper problem with the series’ Gnosticism?

C. S. Lewis, after St. Augustine and many others, argues that the inherent flaw of a Dualistic worldview is that we’re told that “good” and “evil” are equal, opposing forces, and there’s no reason to say, “this side is good” and “this side is bad,” other than subjective perspective.

The same Obi-Wan Kenobi who described Vader as “Twisted and evil” earlier told Vader, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” (itself one of the statements used in evidence against the Jedi as the “good guys”).

On the other hand, when Darth Tyrannus is talking to Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones, he is telling the truth: the Republic is under the control of a Sith Lord; the Republic is riddled with corruption.

Many Star Wars fans argue that the terms “good” and “evil” should not be applied, that it’s “light” and “dark,” because the Force is not even dualistic: there is one Force, not a “Good Force” and a “Bad Force”; just one Force with two sides.  The Force can be accessed using different emotions, like the Lanterns in the DC universe.  The “light” side uses emotions generally considered “positive,” and the “dark” side is fueled by anger, revenge, hate, etc.

Watching The Force Awakens, while I enjoyed it and believe it has many strengths, I tended to agree with the L’Osservatore Romano review that evil is not clear in the film.  It’s kind of gloomy and pessimistic–which makes sense in a movie that’s supposed to be the inversion of “A New Hope,” but there’s also an even greater sense of that lack of clear lines of what is good and what is evil, because the characters lack a clear motivation or guideline.

The “Force” does not give moral laws; it just gives powers.  In real life, this is the problem of a dualistic worldview.  As soon as you say, “That is evil,” unless you mean it as, “I find that unpleasant,” you’re really saying there has to be one God who tells us what is evil.

“Just believe in yourself”

“God just wants me to be happy,” says the contemporary Christian singer about her divorce and remarriage.

“Believe in yourself,” says the new age guru.

“The real Bruce Jenner,” say the headlines.

“Born that way,” says Lady Gaga.

Apparently, Jesus says “Affirm yourself, put down your cross, and follow your heart”?

Oh, no, wait.  That was, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”

Perspective

When I was a teenager, I rejected youth group because there wasn’t anything particularly Catholic about it.  At the time, I knew nothing of The Reform of the Reform movement.  Though my temperament was generally traditional, I was more concerned with traditional theology and piety than liturgy.  Going to youth group functions, though, and encountering nothing particularly Catholic–just socializing and some smattering of New Age spirituality, I didn’t see the point.  And where my rejection was in favor of spirituality over socialization, I saw my peers rejecting the shallowness in favor of more appealing social activities elsewhere.  

Later, as I read articles from Crisis, Adoremus, etc., about Haugen-Haas liturgical songs, I took the position, expressed by some of the writers, that such music, when not heretical, can have a place in a parish hall,  one’s private music collection, or even in devotional exercises at church, but not in the Mass or the Office.  

For the past year, our eldest has been attending a middle school youth group with some of her homeschool/AHG friends.  On first Fridays, they have a holy hour.  They open with O Salutaris and close with Tantum Ergo and Benediction.  This makes it heads and tails above the “Holy Hour” we attended once in another city, where they used an illicit, politically correct “translation” of Vespers and sang Amazing Grace for Benediction.  

The priest who leads it is a very orthodox young priest from Poland.  He hears confessions.  They have music and Bible readings.  While they use contemporary music for the devotions, the actual liturgical parts are chanted.  A. goes to confession every time, and has read one of the Bible readings on at least one occasion, even though it’s not our parish.  

Given that the options for devotions during a public Exposition are fairly broad, and seeing the effect it’s had on A., I’d have to say that, beyond my initial discomfort, given my experiences, it’s minimally a “pick your battles” situation, but more like “way to go,” that they are getting it right.  

Ca. 1991-1997, I’d have been happy they were doing adoration at all.  Ca. 1997-2005, I’d have been angry.  Ca. 2005-2011, I’d have been disappointed and maybe mocked it but ultimately shrugged my shoulders (as I did with VBS).  Post-dissection, and definitely post-Dark Night, I’m far more accepting of things and trusting of the Holy Spirit.

Merry Christ-Mass!

“Happy Holidays” is one thing; “for the holidays,” or “for the Holiday” when the context is clearly Christmas is another. “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father” (Mt 10:33). “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14); “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16)–and you won’t even say His name on His birthday? But you *will* use it as a cuss word?

Will the real Fatima.please stand up?

It dawned on that, everywhere I look, I see people who need Fatima’s message, yet even most who “promote” it get it wrong.
For many, Fatima is “about Vatican II,” when, if anything, Vatican II was about Fatima.
For many, it was and is about a magical formula for the “consecration of Russia” that will lead to the magical “conversion of Russia,” and in turn to an “era of Peace.” Those prophecies are open to interpretation until they can be seen through the lens of history. Sr. Lucia said St. John Paul fulfilled it. If he didn’t, it’s too late, anyway.
Russia’s errors have spread through the world: not just the Communism that is encroaching on the US thanks to so many money-hungry “Catholics” voting for Obama, but also abortion (the USSR was the first country to legalize it).
The reason we have not seen mass conversions and world peace is not because the Pope failed to say the right words at the right place and time with the right bishops. It’s because laity, priests and religious fail to answer Our Lady’s call to conversion of heart:
sacrifices (in the manner of the Little Way);
true contrition and monthly (at least) Confession;
Frequent, sincere and meditative praying of the Rosary;
Devotion to and respect for the holy Eucharist
Wearing the Scapular or Miraculous Medal.
How many people do these practices at all, much less with the depth and sincerity Our Lady called for.
Francisco didn’t see her the first few times. He was below the age of reason and yet she still said he was guilty of too many sins and needed to say many Rosaries to see her and to avoid Purgatory. Yet we presume we’ll all be instant Saints.
She showed them souls falling into Hell like snowflakes, yet we hold to a watered-down universalism.
She said souls go to Hell mostly for sins of the flesh, which are as disgusting to the Devil as they are to God, and that, “Fashions will be introduced that will offend my Son greatly.” Yet we fall right into the filth with the rest of the Culture of Death.

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What does it mean to be “Positive”?

“Turn The Radio Up,” the first single from Barry Manilow’s 2001 Here at the Mayflower, was his first top 40 hit on the Billboard A/C charts since 1989’s “Keep Each Other Warm.”
Often compared to “Daybreak,” it’s a catchy tune of the “inspirational” sort, but in the context of recent thoughts, Something occurred to me listening to it yesterday:

turn the radio up
hear the melody
turn reality down
there’s too much talk about blues
to much of the time
turn the radio up
hear the harmony
turn the negative down
turn the radio up
everything will be fine

Primarily an emotion-based message, it works like any platitude in certain contexts. If “listening to the radio” is taken as a metaphor for rather than distraction from prayer, it works.
However,

worryin’ don’t do no good
so throw your cares away
come on people life’s too
short a stay
hey hey
everybody now

Again, a worthy though on its own, but there’s a subtle problem: feeling well is what counts, not being good.

Now the one that struck me, in terms of how words are ambiguated:

don’t give in
no matter what they say
out with the negative
you find the positive way

“Positive” has come to mean, “feels good,” while “negative” is “feels bad,” versus meaning “adds something” or “does something” on the one hand or “takes away something” or “does nothing” on the other. Technically, in one sense of the “negative way,” the essence of Carmelite spirituality, the approach to problems Barry is suggesting–shutting out the world and praying–is the “negative way,” the way of negation.
In a different perspective, though, the sense of “positivity” here, the annoying way of the optimist, the positivity of the person who smiles with not true joy or humor, is a bad negativity: listening to other people fiddle while Rome burns, so to speak.
To be detached for God is as “positive” as it gets. To be detached and not care-whether one’s expression is a frown or a smile-is truly negative.
That is why, when one suggests, “As Catholics, we need to be more positive,” meaning, “We have to do stuff, not just complain,” some people get angrier and think you mean “Shut up and do nothing and post cute cat pictures.”
It’s also why, in “support groups,” if you talk about the actual problems you’re there to get “support” for, people say, “you’re being too negative.”

Liberals say . . .

The Constitution means whatever they want except what it says.  Animals have rights, but people don’t. Babies aren’t babies unless you want them to be. Gender means whatever you want. Sex and marriage are about self-gratification and not procreation and child-bearing. Life is about pleasure and should be “terminated” if it isn’t pleasurable. Money can be created ex nihilo but the universe wasn’t. If you suggest it’s more important that kids learn in school about how their bodies actually work than about dinosaurs, evolution, and various forms of pleasure seeking, you’re “anti-science.” And they call us “wing-nuts”. . . .

Why Kenny Rogers and John Lennon were wrong

“The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep,” said one.
“Imagine all the people living for today,” said the other.

Our neighbors like to have bonfires on the weekends and play the radio.  Usually, they do it in fall and our relatively mild winters, but, given the bad winter we’ve had, coupled with yard debris, they’ve been having them the last several weekends.  When we were leaving for Mass, the repulsive “Imagine” started playing on the radio at the neighbors’.  I quickly started the car engine, knowing it was on Casting Crowns.  I thought about switching to Fr. Antonio Vivaldi’s _Four Seasons_, but figured I’d rather hear content to get Lennon’s book of Marx out of my head (so to speak; “Imagine” came out nearly a year after “American Pie”).  I didn’t, and it fit in with the weekend’s meditations.

“Imagine all the people living for today”??
That’s exactly why we’re in the mess we’re in.  That’s what Thomas Hobbes famously describes as the state of nature: the war of “all against all” because everyone is “living for the moment,” and “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

"YOLO? No, bro"

Living for today is a good thing if you’re focused on the eternal “today” that is our destiny.

In his address at the 1998 Seattle C. S. Lewis Institute, Peter Kreeft quoted Voltaire saying that too many people had their minds on Heaven and Hell and not on France.  “I don’t know where Voltaire is now,” said Kreeft, “but, wherever he is, he’s not in France.”

Me with Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard

Me with Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard

Liturgically, this weekend’s theme of course was resurrection in anticipation of the upcoming Easter.  Saturday, we also celebrated the Memorial of St. Vincent Ferrer, known for his preaching on the Last Things, for promoting the following:

Prayer of St. Vincent Ferrer to be Sinless at the Hour of Death

Lord Jesus Christ, who willest that no man should perish, and to whom supplication is never made without the hope of mercy, for Thou saidst with Thine own holy and blessed lips: “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, shall be done unto you”; I ask of Thee, O Lord, for Thy holy name’s sake, to grant me at the hour of my death full consciousness and the power of speech, sincere contrition for my sins, true faith, firm hope and perfect charity, that I may be able to say unto Thee with a clean heart: Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth, who art blessed forever and ever. Amen. 

As we usually do, ironically, when I actually make it to Mass with my family, we went to the “last chance” college Mass, with a very kindly priest of the Holy Father’s generation who tends to overemphasize, as it were, “Niceness.”  He gives pleasant, uplifting homilies but never really challenges people.   He has a lot of good qualities, but I found his homily a bit lacking in the caution that should come with these themes.

“I am one of those who believe this life isn’t all there is.”
I should hope so.
He emphasized, “But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Rom 8:10).

He kind of left out the conditions “if” and “because of righteousness” and went with, “Christ is in all of us, so we’re all going to be together.”  He phrased it in that “ambiguous” manner that typifies his era, but he definitely promoted presumption.
I don’t know if it was posted because of St. Vincent, or the Sunday liturgy, or just an act of Divine Inspiration, but a blogger who goes by Tantamergo at “Dallas Area Catholics” posted a great piece on praying for a Happy Death, particularly praying for the opportunity to be conscious, as St. Vincent recommends above, so we can invoke Our Lady in our dying days, with various examples from Saints to that effect.
Thus, it was dismaying coming into Mass with those things in mind to hear Father say how most of his family were dead, and they’d all died of cancer, and he hoped to be fortunate enough to die in his sleep or suddenly!
No, the best we can hope for is not to die in our sleep; it is to die fully aware so that we’re not further punished for putting off our repentance.

Reports claim that Yellowstone is getting closer to eruption, and the animals are fleeing.   Others say that the supervolcano theory hasn’t been proven, that the animals are just engaging in normal migration, etc.  I say that, obviously, if they knew it was going to happen, they wouldn’t want to trigger mass chaos by saying that a mass extinction event is coming.  Either way, whether it’s Yellowstone, cancer, a heart attack, a gang playing the “knock out game,” or the proverbial bus, we must all heed Our Lord’s warning to store up treasure in Heaven, not on Earth.  Whether we die tomorrow or 90 years from now, we’ll still face the same personal judgement and the same two options for Eternity.  We worry so much about preparing for “retirement,” or how to survive various disasters, but do we worry about what will happen if we die a sudden and unprovided death?

Daily examination of conscience
Daily devotion to Our Lady and to Our Lord’s Passion
Self-sacrifice and almsgiving
Frequent recourse to the Sacraments
and, most of all
Praying daily that we and our loved ones will experience a “Happy Death,” with complete Confession, the Anointing, Viaticum, and the Apostolic Blessing (collectively, “Last Rites”).

These must be everyone’s priorities.

Nuns on the Pill: Habitless Nuns who Support Obamacare

“Sister” Donna Quinn, head of some group called National Coalition of American Nuns, is outraged that Notre Dame and other institutions are starting to act Catholic:
“It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women”
What kind of demonic filth is this, coming from someone professed to perpetual continence?
What is “autonomy,” much less “reproductive autonomy”?
And the comments (from which mine, asking the questions, was apparently deleted) are so absolutely blasphemous (and devolve into the usual “Whether Jesus even existed” garbage you see on any secular liberal site) –suggesting that Jesus was the product of “In Vitro Fertilization,” etc.

St. Scholastica, pray for us.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.
St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the malice and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power, cast into Hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

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: If you don’t Profess Jesus Christ, You Profess the Devil

When one does not profess Jesus Christ – I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

Pope Francis, in his first homily, 3/14/2013
Fr. Wade mentioned this in his EWTN homily today, and it struck me as an interesting jab at the contemporary “Interfaith” movement, as well as contrasting some of the other quotations from our new Holy Father that have made bigger headlines (i.e., his needlessly “controversial” statement that some atheists might make it to Heaven based upon their personal consciences).

1984 Came 30 Years Later. Welcome to the Brave New World.

I remember reading a couple commentators back in the 90s who suggested that Huxley was the most correct of the authors of early and mid-20th century dystopias, in terms of how our society had lost its moral center and become completely hedonistic, but now in terms of other aspects, Bradbury and Orwell look to have been right. Indeed, we seem to be increasingly speeding to the USA depicted by Ray Bradbury in _Fahrenheit 451_. I never read _1984_, but here is a website that compares Orwell’s predictions to our time (and many of them overlap with Bradbury’s). Some of the things Bradbury and Orwell got right:
1) Becoming a military state by convincing the populace it needs to fear THE ENEMY (“Terrorists”)
2) Planes flying overhead
3) A populace benumbed by wall-sized TVs
4) Reading becoming more and more rare, books abridged, etc. Bradbury predicted that mass censorship would not come top-down but bottom-up with the people demanding they be saved from the “burden” of reading. ”

Since we both read the novel in 2010, my wife has often commented on the very name of “Kindle” as suggestive of book burning. In theory the digitization of text should be a good thing. Every new technology seems to provide another way for increasing human knowledge. In Disney’s “Carousel of Progress,” the 1940s family talks of how wonderful TV will be for providing everyone a chance to watch the opera and study Latin. We all know how that turned out. Look at Christan Classics Ethereal Library or one of the various Great Books sites. In theory, you can fit a ton of information in pure TXT format into what is today a relatively small amount of space. Supposedly, the entire print collection of the Library of Congress would take up about 10 TB (about $500 worth of hard drives), but even in the 90s, a reasonable “Great Books” collection could fit on a CD in TXT or even PDF format. In theory, a person could fit a complete and quality education onto a single smart phone and carry it for life. So, in theory, digitalization of text should be preserving culture, but not if people aren’t reading it. Listen to ads for Kindle and Nook: the “e-readers” now advertise all the different fun things you can use them for *besides* reading.

“Where orthodoxy becomes optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” —Neuhaus’ Law

In “Lilies that Fester,” C. S. Lewis argues that when education becomes a means to a job, and government pays for it, then government becomes a means of brainwashing by the business managers and the government.

So, in the past 20 years, paleoconservatives/traditionalists have been pushed out of the education discussion in this country (and turned to homeschooling), while a conspiracy of liberal and neoconservative forces have promoted “common core standards of learning” in almost all states (then Gov. Bill Clinton was one of the first to jump on that bandwagon along with George HW Bush and Bill Bennett). The standards movement has proven to amount to exactly what C. S. Lewis warned about: especially because it’s not so much about what students are expected to *know* as what they are expected *not* to know. For in order to *teach* the “expected standards,” teachers must *not* teach other things. When I was growing up, you never could finish everything in the textbook in one year, and the teacher picked what you learned. This provided what one of my college professors described as one of the most important elements of an education, “to learn from as many lunatics as you can.” The teacher’s personality and interests are *supposed* to influence the education.

Not anymore.

Now, the teacher is told *exactly* what to teach, and all that material *must* be covered, and they provide far more material than can realistically be covered and learend in one year just so they can avoid teachers talking about what they *don’t* want. And it’s very clear, if one reads the high school standards of any given state, how the standards reflect political agendas for either party. For example, in South Carolina, students are NOT supposed to learn about official persecution of Catholics in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now, they’re getting to where over 75% of “required reading” in high school English will be nonfiction.

This besides the abandonment of text, is one of Bradbury’s concerns: gradually, fiction itself is becoming forbidden in our culture. I’ve argued this for a few years regarding “reality TV.” Even though “reality TV” itself is often rigged, if not outright scripted, it provides simplistic entertainment while avoiding intellectual or imaginative stimulation. Best to have people numbing their minds to the shouting matches on CNN, MSNBC or FOX, and feeling “informed,” when they’re actually being brainwashed. If not, then watch _The Real World_ or _Jersey Shore_ or whatever the latest “hit reality show” is. And if people *insist* on entertaining themselves with fiction then make sure it’s obscene comedy, titillating sex, or abject violence, with as little plot as possible–and then make them *think* they’re “intelligent” for enjoying listening to someone spewing profanities.
Bradbury missed the violent video games, but he rightly imagined the “interactive” entertainment that makes people think they’re involved when they’re being brainwashed. He also predicted people having multiple abortions and multiple divorces.

A commenter in my article about _Les Miserables_ insisted that the movie should be banned for its “graphic” depictions of sexual activity. I first noted how the depictions are graphic in a slightly different way, but questioned how they are any worse than a lot of what’s on TV these days. I also noted how, while the scenes are meant to show the disgusting nature of prostitution–they’re not to titillate or to glorify but to make people see the disgusting, repulsive nature of prostitution. He said he failed to see the distinction. I suggested he read Flannery O’Connor but noted how he probably would be opposed to her, as well. He said that comment was rude. I asked if graphic depictions of homosexual rape are better than graphic depictions of prostitution. I’m wondering if he’ll respond.

O’Connor holds that the closer fiction is to real life experience, the more it must lead us to God. Of course, as some of us argue, real life experience can have many meanings. I read a joke on FB today: “I’ve noticed how shows that describe themselves as containing ‘adult situations’ rarely show people doing chores, going to work or paying bills.” Kevin O’Brien over at Theater of the Word is often using Hallmark movies as an example of bad film making. I’m often protesting when he says that. Certainly Hallmark Hall of Fame is a bit more quality than Hallmark Channel Original movies, though I enjoy both. And Hallmark Channel Original movies, I admit, are a nice kind of low-thought entertainment which Flannery O’Connor might herself criticize for being overly “nice” in a distorted way. However, in their own way they serve as a more authentic representation of human life than most of what Hollywood produces or certainly a lot of “reality” TV.

So, anyway, now the “standards of learning” are being used to NOT teach kids Homer or Shakespeare or O’Connor or Orwell or Hawthorne or Austen. Russell Kirk said, “deprive a boy of Homer, and he will turn to Mickey Spillaine or Ian Fleming, or worse.” Well, even Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillaine will soon be proscribed.

For over 100 years, people from across the disciplines and ideological spectra have seen something on the horizen in Western civilization, given each generation’s decreasing morality and increasing construction of technological terrors (to paraphrase Emperor Palpatine). Yet while Ray Bradbury said to prepare for it by reading and memorizing, while the mystics have said to prepare for it by turning our hearts to God in prayer and fasting, so many of those who actually pay attention are preparing by stockpiling food and guns.

Better start memorizing, folks.