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.

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Is God a Cosmic Sadist?

Question: “Why would a loving God send people to Hell?”
Answer: People choose Hell over God.
Question: “Why would anyone choose Hell over God?”
Answer: Because they’ve spent their lives preparing themselves to make that choice.”
Question: “How could a Christian make that choice?
Answer: By formulating and clinging to a false notion of God that makes us recoil when we see the reality, or by allowing ourselves to be so attached to sin that we don’t want to be relieved of the attachment even in Purgatory.
Question: “Well, why did God make it so hard.  Doesn’t that make Him some kind of Cosmic Sadist who just wants to torture us?”
Answer: That’s a mystery.  The Old Testament basically says that’s what God is, at least from our perspective, and we just have to accept it because He’s God and we’re not.  New Testament atonement theology doesn’t help much, and there are many interpretations that try to get us out of that trap.

The simple answer is love, and the personalism of St. John Paul II.  Yes, God could have made us differently than He did. He could have made the angels differently than He did.  Maybe He has made other life-forms that are different–He certainly seems to love diversity and possibility.  But the fact is, He made us, and He made us such that, just as each specific kind of plant or animal needs certain nutrients and environmental factors to thrive, so people function to our fullest potential when we live according to God’s design and intention for us.


The New Testament tells us over and over that God has “imprisoned all in disobedience” that He might show Mercy to all, that He prizes the sheep who stray and come back more highly, and so on.  Again, it might seem like a weird way to set things up, but the more we understand it as a relationship of love, the more sense it makes.

To be free to love we must be free to reject, and I believe strongly that Christ gives us the freedom to reject Him. I believe that we have to pray to Christ to shape our understanding and our will to accept Him, just as spouses must both try themselves and pray for the grace to improve ourselves to be better people and to love our spouses for who they are, not who they want them to be.

I believe we set ourselves up for rejecting Christ when we form images of Him that conflict with Who He really is and refuse to allow those images to grow. In marriage, we start off with an idealized Other whom we love. As we grow, we realize the Other doesn’t always match that Ideal. The Ideal gives way to the Real, we try to make ourselves more like the Other’s Ideal, and one day hope that we will be together, perfected, in Heaven, where the truly Ideal and the truly Real meet.
The same is true of our relationships with Christ, but the difference is that He is unchanging.  We are mutable and weak, and blessed with the gifts of ignorance and unknowing that He gave us to give us the opportunity to grow.  However, we start with an “ideal” of Christ that we tend to cling to.  If we take our mistaken view of Christ, whatever its basis, without trying to grow in our understanding, we end up like Javert, confronted with the reality of Christ and too proud to admit we were wrong.
In this sense, the ancient Christian tradition, reflected in both Catholic and Orthodox sources, tells us that it might sometimes be easier for a pagan or an atheist who has gone through life with an attitude of sincerely seeking God, to embrace Jesus when she meets Him than for a self-proclaimed Christian who is too self-confident to admit being wrong.
This is also why we must caution ourselves against the extreme of presumption–we use the rather extreme example of someone who has lived a life of erstwhile holiness potentially “snapping” and committing a murder-suicide, but the far more realistic example is that we are too attached to *something* to let it go for Christ when called to do so.
Paradoxically, one of those attachments can itself be scrupulosity.  We can often be the worst Javert’s to ourselves–indeed, in the book, Javert resigns his position, writes a confession, and commits suicide because he has broken the Law by not arresting Valjean on sight.  He cannot forgive himself for being forgiving–the ultimate paradox of the damned.
The possibility of damnation does not make God a Cosmic Sadist–though, as C. S. Lewis, St. Francis de Sales and the Book of Job all tell us, even if God *is* a Cosmic Sadist, we don’t have any choice in the matter so we might as well play by His rules.
At judgement, we put God in the Dock, as Lewis says–we judge Him.  We say, “I can’t accept Your Mercy,” or “I can’t accept Your Justice,” or both.  In Lewis’s Great Divorce, souls are first tempted — not with the more obvious ones but tests of pride, impatience, etc.–and then greeted by Saints they have the biggest grudges against.  This is similar to the Orthodox theory of the “toll booths”—that personal judgement is a journey, where we must stop and confront different temptations that plagued us in life, and if we don’t built up the resistance to them now, we won’t be able to resist them then.  As well as the tollbooths, like in Lewis’s story, the soul is called to both by the Damned and the Saved, and if the soul has kept bad company in this life, she will be drawn to the appeal of the Damned to join them.
It’s like the joke about the millionaire who is told he can decide between Heaven and Hell and after seeing Heaven, he is taken to Hell for his three day preview.  He spends three days at a luxury resort, with every pleasure imaginable, and all his friends and family are having a big party.  So he decides that Hell has been misrepresented and tells the angel he wants to stay in Hell.  He finds himself in torment, with his friends and family chained nearby, cursing him and each other, and the handsome concierge now revealed as Satan, and he asks what happened.  “That was sales pitch.  You purchased.”
The other mistake we can make with every conception of judgement, even the “tollbooths,” is that we think, “Christ forgives everyone.  He will forgive me.”  We presume that we haven’t bought into Satan’s sales pitch.  We presume we will be able to withstand any temptation in our final journey or that we won’t find ourselves agreeing with all the celebrities and internet combox atheists who say that they’d rather be in Hell because all the interesting people are there.
We have to shape our minds, our lives, our desires to make God, as He has revealed Himself to be, desirable to us, and to recognize when the World is trying to make us think differently of Him.

Vegetables and Grace

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Grace is received according to the mode of the receiver.

So are vegetables.

Some people naturally love vegetables. Most people don’t.

Most people love a few particular vegetables. For me, my favorites are broccoli and spinach, which I’d eat an entire package of on my own if I could but I take Coumadin so I’m only allowed to eat small amounts of them. Ironically, a few months ago I ate a whole bag of broccoli by myself and sent myself to the ER with a clot.

If we don’t have any desire to eat vegetables, we need to have our desires adjusted before we can eat them.

If we grow up eating vegetables, it is easier to love them as an adult. Often, if we grow up eating both, or having our vegetables coated in twinkies, as someone recently suggested, then we are really being taught that vegetables are not desirable.

If we have a desire to eat vegetables but a greater desire to eat junk food, we might eat *some* vegetables but not all the vegetables that are being served to us because we spoiled our dinner by filling up on junk food.

If we fill up completely on junk food, we have no room for vegetables.

So it is with grace.

Our Father in Heaven is offering us a smorgasbord of spiritual vegetables. Our Lady of Victory told St. Catherine Laboure that the precious stones falling from her hands on the Miraculous Medal–the stones which Mel Gibson symbolically has her casting to the earth in The Passion of the Christ, are the graces that go to waste because people aren’t willing to receive them.

Original sin and concupiscence are such that most of us are disinclined to accept His Grace.

Some people are born more naturally receptive to grace.

Some people are born with an inclination to particular graces from God, rather than having a well-balanced spiritual diet, gorge themselves on one kind of grace to the detriment of their overall spiritual life (such as a preference for Scripture or a particular devotion, a scrupulous devotion to COnfession, fasting excessively, doing charitable works without prayer, etc.).

Some people are raised in holy homes and taught to shun the world.

Some people are raised by holy parents who try to teach them the right way, but the enemy sows his seeds of spiritual junk food anyway, and the parents themselves don’t realize the subtle ways they’re teaching that God is second in their lives or that faith is not desirable in itself.

Most people don’t even try to accept God’s grace, and if they try, they get their souls so full of sin that they can’t, and they need to get that out of their systems, one way or the other, before they can take in the graces God is trying to offer them.

The Four Questions 99% of Protestants can’t answer

After a few discussions in the past 24 hours, I am revisiting the Socratic questions that always seem to stymie our separated brethren.

Preface: St. Paul tells us to hold fast to all the Apostle’s teachings, whether by “letter” or “word of mouth” (2 Thess 2:15). Our Lord speaks of the Church having the power to Loose and Bind (Matthew 16:18-19) and frequently speaks of giving us a Church but never speaks of Scriptures as anything other than the Hebrew Scriptures. St. John tells us Jesus said and did many other things that are not recorded in the Bible (21:25). St Peter says that nothing in Scripture is personal interpretation but is to be guided by the Church (2 Peter 1:18-21).
1) So where, in Scripture, is Sola Scriptura? The usual response is some verse about how important Scripture is, but never one that proves it is *exclusive*.
2) Where does the Bible say one must specifically have not just a general foundation for an idea but a specific chapter and verse citation? (Answer, nowhere, since chapters and verses were a Medieval addition and aren’t even consistent among Medieval texts)
3) If one truly believes in “sola Scriptura,” why quote any books or ministers? Is it not really just picking and choosing the Tradition one prefers and calling it Scriptural?
4) Last, but not least, if you are opposed to “secular knowledge,” “images,” etc., what are you doing on the Internet?

10 Lies About Homeschooling You Need to Ignore

Source: 10 Lies About Homeschooling You Need to Ignore

_Riverdale_ Challenges Obama’s Rhetoric

I haven’t been blogging much lately, both because of doing more micro-blogging on Facebook and saving my “big writing energies” to focus on my many ongoing major projects.

However, one of my raisons d’etre popped up the other day and I had to mention it.  A very pro-life episode of the CW’s new show _Riverdale_ seems to have gone under everyone’s radar (Ep. 8 “The Outsiders”).  Produced by Greg Berlanti of _Gotham_, _Arrow_, _Flash_, etc., it does to Archie Comics what Berlanti’s other shows do to the DC characters: essentially _Twin Peaks_ meets _Dawson’s Creek_ with the characters from “Archie.”  Not knowing much about the characters other than their status as cultural archetypes, and intrigued by the premise, I started watching the show and read up on the characters to know what was going on.

Cut ahead to episode 8.  There is a teen pregnancy central to the storyline.  I was annoyed at first by the story where the girl was sent up to a stereotypical “home for troubled teens” run by nuns who are depicted as a mix of traditional habit-wearing nuns and the kind Dean Koontz described as “social workers who don’t date.”  Compare to the similar plotline on last year’s _X-Files_ revival.  In the first several episodes, the girl’s mother (played by Madchen Amick of _Twin Peaks_ fame, who will also be reprising the role of Shelley Johnson in next month’s “Season 3”) has been shown to be obsessed with social standing and a hypocritical veneer of righteousness while being very cold and strict towards her daughters.  The pregnant daughter has been shown as angry at her parents for sending her away to “that place,” but when her mother softens and offers an olive branch, she asks about her father.

The word “abortion” is never used, to great effect.  The girl tells her mother that before sending her away, her father offered to pay for her to “see a doctor.”  The mother confronts her husband, recalling how he paid for her to have an abortion when they were teenagers and aghast that he would do the same to their daughter (again, the word is never used–perhaps to avoid “controversy” yet effectively showing the horror/pain at even referring to it by name).

The father practically quotes Barack Obama verbatim and says, “I didn’t want her punished for her mistake.”
“Get out. . . . Get out before I do something we’ll both regret.”

“I thank God…”

When we tried brick-and-mortar school, one of the things that frustrated me, especially with Catholic school, was the competitiveness of it all. We teach humility and self-mortification. We teach the parable of the publican and the Pharisee. Then our kids go to school, where they are told to worry about “success,” compete with their peers, get “good grades,” etc. But don’t bully anyone and make them feel small.  Then we take activities that should be “fun” and make *those* about pride and competition. Really, all “success” comes from “privilege,” but we needn’t be negative about it.Back when Rush Limbaugh was starting out, he’d say, “I have talent on loan from God.” It was intended to sound arrogant while making a point: we *all* have talent on loan from God. I was privileged to have a stay at home mom and a schoolteacher father. I was privileged to have Marfan syndrome.

Yet people put on airs and insist they’re better than everyone else because we have “better jobs,” or “better degrees” or enough money (or time) to “eat healthy,” etc. There’s an _Andy Griffith_ where Opie gets in trouble for not contributing to the school’s fundraiser “for the poor” and it turns out he’s saving money to buy a coat for a little girl in his class who can’t afford one.  Another time, he wants a job for spending money and finds out the other kid trying for the same job is helping support his disabled father.  We find it so much easier to be charitable to the “Other.”


We give awards for being healthy or rich or putting ourselves above others, or for the easy philanthropy of voter drives and blood drives and fundraising. We do not recognize the kid with CF who finished the school year at all in spite of weeks in the hospital. We do not recognize the girl who dropped out of school to have a baby instead of having an abortion. We do not recognize the kid who falls asleep in class and doesn’t finish his homework because he’s working FT after school to help support his family. And, of course, if you can’t afford the money for the “award” or the “proper” clothes,


Do we have the false thankfulness of the Pharisee or the true thankfulness of a child?