Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Theology of the Trench Coat

"All healthy men, ancient and modern, know there is a certain fury in sex that we cannot afford to inflame, and that a certain mystery and awe must ever surround it if we are to remain sane.” - G K Chesterton

Below I have copied a transcribed portion of an interview with Christopher West, who, after a bit of a sabbatical, is apparently back with a vengeance.

My friends, read what West says below and tell me (even if you know nothing of the Theology of the Body) if this sounds right to you. Tell me if you smell something a little funny. Tell me if this doesn't remind you of a kind of "grooming behavior". I'm not saying West is "grooming", but I am saying that if the wrong kinds of folks buy into this kind of language and what seems to be an apology for sexual license, they can use it for "grooming".

Let me say that I agree with the general points he's making: sex is good, the body is good, and the marital act is good. It's wrong to be a libertine and it's wrong to be a prude.

But Song of Songs is not about sex. Michelangelo's artwork is not about naked bodies. Pornography has no baby in that bathwater.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel once told a story about a religious brother and a religious sister (a "monk" and a "nun" in shorthand speech) who were living together in one house as - according to them - "brother and sister", sharing their mutual "love of neighbor" with one another, and thereby expressing their "spirituality" platonically while cohabitating.

"Now, you may buy that load of hooey," Fr. Groeschel observed, "but I'm from New Jersey and I know better."

So let me talk to you as if we were both from New Jersey.

Christopher West for all the world sounds like he's preaching an elaborate come-on line. "God is all about love, baby, and He made our bodies so we should not be ashamed of them. It's a warm night, let's go skinny dipping. Can I read to you from the Song of Songs? It's all about the girl's breasts. Don't be shocked. There's nothing better than an orgasm, and only people who don't love God like you and I do are afraid of expressing our love through orgasms. I can look at you and love you and I can say you turn me on. I can say that because I see God in you. Do you see God in me? If you don't you're a prude. And if you're a prude you're displeasing God! Let me pour you some more wine."

And God help us if we buy this load of hooey.


Quotes from Christopher West in an audio interview with Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts - with comments by me in red a la Fr. Z.:

[14:41] "And this goes right back, Kris, to what Jesus spoke about in His teaching, when He said there are wheat and weeds that grow together. And we need to learn how to discern that. It's not just that there are weeds in the world and there is wheat in the Church. No. There are weeds in the Church, and there is wheat in the world. Careful: there are wheat and weeds in the Church and there are wheat and weeds in the world - this is probably what West means, but his syntax is ambiguous here - which I suspect reveals an agenda. And we need to be discerning, we need to recognize that all sin is, is a twisting of something good. ... All the devil can do is take what God created, all of which is very good, and twist it, distort it, and mock it. And in the new evangelization, we have to be willing to look for the good that is present even behind what is evil. ..."

Right, so far as it goes. But such an argument can easily be used to make a case for evil.

[16:00] "The way we overcome evil is not just by taking that evil and throwing it out the window, so to speak. Why? Because there's always a baby in that bathwater. There's always something good behind the evil that we have to reclaim, that we have to take back. On this topic, we could look at pornography, for example. Pornography is a great evil. It is destroying marriages, it is destroying families, it is wreaking havoc in our culture. And yet, we must not overreact. There is something good behind it. What is good behind it? The human body in its nakedness. Behold, it is very good!"

Sounds great, but I'm from New Jersey - and so are we all.

Yes, the human body is very good, but speaking as a normal man, I can not "behold" the naked body without there being lustful consequences - and I speak for all of us.

What bothers me here is the pastoral need for this. In a culture saturated with pornography, in a culture that sexually abuses children and pushes pornography onto them, in a culture where (as West accurately points out) pornography is destroying lives and marriages, what possible reason can there be for singing the praises of the good at the heart of pornography?

And West is very wrong, pastorally speaking and practically speaking, in saying that we must not jettison evil simply because there's a good somewhere in the evil. Down this road lies rationalization of sin and slavery to sin.

The sad fact is every time I desire to sin, I begin by rationalizing it in this way. "Well, it's not ALL BAD." And everyone I know who lives a life devoted to sin rationalizes it in this way. "I may be a child molester, but children are good and so why should I avoid being around children simply because I tend to sin? I'm simply seeking the good!"

Watch out. This man is selling us not only bunk, but he's packaging it in a way that will do untold harm.

"'What is evil is not the human body', John Paul II says. What is evil is the lust in our hearts that makes us look upon the human body as merely an object, or a thing."

And what is evil is not cocaine or heroin or meth. What is evil is our desire for the high they give us and the domination our desire for this high gets over us once we begin to use them.

[At this point, West goes on at length about how Michelangelo's nudes were all about the glories of sexuality. I won't quote this bit of sophomoric art criticism at length, but he gets things very wrong here, and even twists John Paul's words on the subject.]

"Now, of course, we're in a broken world. We can't return to the Garden of Eden. We left our innocence behind. But John Paul II is proclaiming with boldness that the death and resurrection of Jesus really can give us eyes to see the body in a holy and sacred way."

This is a terrible dis-service to Bl. John Paul and to his teachings. Our eyes - once fully redeemed - will eventually have this capacity, but West here is "immanentizing the eschaton" as a friend of mine puts it. In other words, he's feeding us a load of hooey. Think about what he's implying, that somehow true Christians have, or should have, the capacity to look at naked bodies without lust, giving nothing but glory to God.

Mr. West, if the teen-aged and college girls in your typical audiences were sitting before you naked, would you be able to "behold" the goodness of their bodies? Would their nakedness be a good thing for your marriage or a bad thing for your marriage?

Or should I ask your wife?

[22:35] "The Church had to intervene and say, no, no, no. We do not worship icons, but nor do we destroy them. We must learn to see the icon as a window into the divine mystery. And in the world today, Kris, I think we're facing the same kind of tension. The world is idolatrously worshipping sex. But on the other extreme, you have Christians who are guilty of a kind of iconoclasm. They're rejecting the body and rejecting sexuality, and are just fearful of it.

Agreed. But, really, Mr. West, how many of the high school and college students in your audiences need to be lectured that they should not be fearful of sex?

[36:42] "Kris, I say in my book that it's a very sobering thought to recognize that the sole goal of the pornographic vision of the body, the sole goal behind it, the enemy behind it, his goal is this: to blind us to the true glory of God revealed in our bodies, and thus keep us from the wedding feast of the Lamb. That's his goal. If he can blind us to the true splendor of our bodies, if he can blind us to the true glory of God revealed through our sexuality, it will very effectively prevent us from understanding who we really are as men and women, and what we're ultimately called to.

No, the goal is simply to get us addicted to sex and perversion, to get us to objectify each other, and to destroy the sacrament of marriage and ruin love. If the wedding feast of the Lamb is tarnished by this, it's tarnished because sex addicts begin to see sex in everything.

Including Scripture.

"That's what the Song of Songs is all about. The Song of Songs is smack dab in the middle of the Bible for a reason. ..."

This is simply a literary misreading, a theological misreading, and a great blunder to boot.

The Song of Songs has nothing to do with salvation via sex, and almost nothing to do with sex period. Anyone who would read the "naughty bits" in that book and see them as validating West's worldview that sex and the naked body are essential to our salvation is not a balanced person.

[39:18] "And the whole purpose of sexuality, the whole purpose of marriage, the whole purpose of the union of husband and wife in that intimate embrace, is to give us here on earth an icon that's meant to point us to heaven. ... Why is our culture worshiping sex? Because we've lost sight of our ultimate union with God. And when we lose sight of our ultimate union with God, the icon becomes an idol. How should we respond as Christians? Not by burning the icon. That's a heresy called iconoclasm. Rather, what we really need to burn, what needs to be set on fire, is our hearts. ..."

Now on the surface there's nothing wrong with this. West even rises to a kind of inspired rhetoric in this last paragraph.

What bothers me is the lack of balance in all of this, what bothers me is what's between the lines, what bothers me is the impression that this man is preaching liberation from impurity by means of indulging the very things that incite impurity.

He calls for us to set our hearts on fire.

Well, what bothers me is the kind of fire - the kind of burning - Christopher West endorses.


A final note. West is making the case for the normalization of pornography. He's making the case that pornography is an icon that leads us to Christ. He's saying Debbie Does Dallas is the same sort of thing as a statue of Our Lady.

He may not be saying this literally, but that's where his argument leads, and that's where I believe he's taking us - more or less deliberately. (He has, after all, publicly stated that one of his heroes is pornography king Hugh Hefner).

It's good to know that Archbishop Chaput has removed himself from the board of Christopher West's lay apostolate. Perhaps the other bishops will man up and start speaking out about the dangers that are dripping from West's worldview.

[I have since written several follow-up posts to this, which you can read by clicking here.]

Faith at Work and Working the Faith

Over the weekend, while driving to perform shows, my actress and I listened to audio recordings of EWTN's The Journey Home, one of my favorite television shows, hosted by Marcus Grodi (whose novels I just recorded as audio books, but more on that in an upcoming post).

One of the Journey Home segments was an interview with Kevin Lowry (pictured here) and his father Douglas, two Canadians converts who had fascinating stories to tell.

The highlight of the interview for me was when the elder Lowry threw out, almost as an aside, his definition of "love", which I can not repeat word for word as I was driving while listening and so could not take notes. But it went something like this ...

LOVE - The persistent and freely willed decision to sacrifice one's self for the good of another.

Dr. Lowry emphasized the "persistence" of this act. Love is not just a feeling or a mood, but a deliberate commitment to persist in offering one's self for the good of another.

And anyone who's married knows how hard this can be - and yet how transcendent such a decision is, particularly when you're on the receiving end. To know that you have a wife (as I do) who would always and everywhere give of herself in small ways and big ways for your own good is to know love.

But not only is the love between husband and wife part of "marriage" - our faith itself is a "marriage". Christ is the bridegroom of the Body of Christ, His Church, which is being prepared for His coming. Thus we must imitate Christ in offering ourselves for Him; we must make the decision to love Him, to persist in offering ourselves for His sake and for the sake of our neighbors - for He is the husband of His Church.

And, as in marriage and the love of our spouse, the real challenge of our love of God is the daily ups and downs we face. Making great sacrifices even unto a dramatic and bloody martyrdom is sometimes easier than not snapping back when the missus is crabby - but these little things are the true test of our love, for he who is faithful in little things will be faithful in big ones.

With this in mind, perhaps the greatest challenge for most of us is persisting in love, persisting in our faith, at work - at our daily calling in the secular world.

Thus, Kevin Lowry has written a book called Faith at Work - Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck. This is an easy read, and a book written with chapter summaries in the form of bullet points and questions to engage the reader so that he might begin to apply the Faith in an area where we're supposed to keep our mouths shut.

The book is filled with little gems, such as the lesson Kevin learned early in his career from Sam, the managing stockholder of the company where Kevin was working, "a gruff, yet gold-hearted man," who had "built up a substantial firm from nothing over a long and storied career." Kevin writes ...

"One day, one of the administrative assistants lost her purse, and Sam found her crying in the lunchroom. Despite deadlines and other pressing needs, Sam dropped everything and assisted the desperate woman in finding the purse. It took hours, but finally the wayward purse was found.

"That story circulated throughout the firm and became part of the legacy handed down to successive classes of newly minted accountants. In fact, this firm legend taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever absorbed in the business world: the importance of taking a sincere, personal interest in others".

Indeed, as Kevin points out, this is the best way of "witnessing" at work, particularly when employees are supposed to avoid talking about religion.

"When we enter the workplace, we aren't always in a position to quote Bible verses or to illustrate our points with citations from encyclicals. But we're always able to conduct ourselves with virtue and honor."

And what's impressive here is that Kevin Lowry not only writes about these things, he practices them. Kevin works for Marcus Grodi's Coming Home Network International, and I've been dealing with him regularly during the course of our audio book project. He is delightful and kind and I come away with the feeling that I'm not just dealing with a business relationship, but with a caring relationship, with a Christian, with a man who sees his work as a form of service, a way of loving others.

Of course in much of the business world, and especially in show business, this is really rare. For instance, in show biz, actors have a strange love-hate relationship with their audiences. While we are dependent on them to buy tickets and to come see our shows, to watch what we do and give us the approval we're so hungry for by applauding wildly and cheering, we talk about "killing" them or "knocking them dead", and there exists a kind of brutality in backstage chat regarding these audiences, our primary "clients".

So it's quite tempting to use others as "objects" the way we "objectify" our careers, as mere means to an end.

But the techniques suggested in Faith at Work are a way around this, a way to keep our faith alive in everything we do, a way to persist in love.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Problem of Love and Frozen Banana Stands

The problem is love.

What is the solution to the problem of love? Scripture shows us some solutions as offered by man since the fall.

Onan's solution is the favorite of the modern day. Onan was called to raise up progeny for his dead brother (see Genesis 38). This call to give of oneself for the good of another, this call to will a gift of self, this offering of self-sacrifice, is love. But Onan, like your contraceptive using Catholic neighbor, like the fornicating teens you see bleary-eyed at noon on Sundays at the breakfast cafe, like the Yuppies downtown who want Cappuccinos more than kids, spilled his seed. He went through the motions but made sure his "act of love" was certain to be sterile. Onan would have been hailed as morally responsible in our era, an era that encourages consumerism and self-indulgence rather than producer-ism and self-giving.

Onan is the archetypical metro-sexual, the first modern urban man. We'd put him on all the talk shows.

God struck him dead.

Fast forward to Matthew 25, the other end of the Bible. Here Our Lord gives the Parable of the Talents. Three stewards are given talents to invest while the Master is away. Two of them invest and reap a double reward. One takes his talent, digs a hole in the ground, and buries it. Here we see an early Gollum, a proto-Scrooge; here perhaps we see even ourselves. He tells the Master he buried his talent out of fear. Well, in avoiding fear he inherits fear and is sent to hell.

I have often wondered what would have happened in this Parable if one of the stewards had said, "Well, Lord, I took the talents you gave me and invested them in a frozen banana stand on the beach. I worked day and night, put up flyers, rented billboards. I even dressed in a full-size banana suit and passed out from heat stroke, but the only ones who came were the paramedics and even they didn't buy any bananas. I'm really sorry, Lord, but not only are your talents gone, I also mortgaged my house and they're taking that away from me too." Would he have received a "Well done, good and faithful servant?"

The answer is yes.

You're only sent to hell if you bury the talents, not if you invest them and lose them. In fact, it is impossible to invest them and lose them.

Somewhere in between Onan and the Talents we are told why. Isaiah 55:

So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

Now I've had a few talents in my day. I've buried many and invested many. No frozen banana stands, but I've started and run a singing telegram business, a dinner theater production company, and (most foolishly) a touring troupe that evangelizes through drama. In each case I've learned that the business world is unpredictable, you will be required to work harder than you ever thought possible, you won't be investing just money but every aspect of your life and every fiber of your being, and if you look for your reward to be worldly, you will be miserable and unhappy.

It's kind of like love.

For a long time in my youth, I read a lot of psychology, including much of Freud, the collected works of C. G. Jung, and a lot by folks like Rollo May and others who took a kind of philosophical approach to the human soul. The one thing they're really all writing about is love. For Freud, love was "libido", which was simply sexual desire. For Jung, "libido" was psychic energy, or interest in anything. May talked a lot about Eros, by which he meant something more than just lust.

What they all saw was the Problem of Desire. How do we get what we want? What if what we want is something we can't get or should not have?

Of course, historically, the Stoics and the Buddhists have solved this problem by rejecting Desire, by digging a hole and burying it.

The Modernists, by contrast, have gone in the other direction. They have looked not to the Parable of the Talents, but to the story of Onan mixed with the first part of the Prodigal Son - Masturbation meets Dissipation - or "follow your desire but frustrate the end toward which your desire is drawing you" - which is, if you think about it, Puritanism and Paganism wed.

All of this is quite interesting, but nowhere in history or philosophy or religion do you really find an answer to the problem of Love ... until you get to the Cross.

Christ neither rejects desire, nor does he indulge it. He takes upon Himself the self-centered twisted evil of our fallen desire and crucifies it. He offers Himself for us, feeds Himself to us, and shows us how to love, shows us that love and pain, love and self-giving even unto death, will always go together, will lift us out of the holes we dig for our talents and ourselves, will lift us out of our graves.

The Law that is written in our hearts gives us the channel or the boundaries in which to pour ourselves. While many a middle-aged married man thinks an affair with his 22-year-old secretary will solve the Problem of Love and make him happy, this would instead be a spilling of seed. While many a sensitive youth thinks that staying out of trouble and hiding behind a screen name will save him, this would instead be a burying of talents.

Instead, the old guy is called to love his missus, the old gal he's with, though this may be as appealing to him as Onan's call was way back when. The young guy is called to get off the internet and maybe get his heart broken in the real world, and learn that even if you love your banana stand, you're going to get hurt.

In short, the only mature psychology is the psychology of Christ.

The only answer to the Problem of Love is the Cross.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Lord of Failure

Think about this: the cross was a means of terrible, ignominious defeat. But this sign of defeat has become the means of victory. There is no defeat or worldy despair in which Christ is not present. He is the Lord of Failure. He has taken on all of our mis-shapen, twisted disappointments, and through Him not even unrequited love, not even abandonment, not even meaninglessness can triumph. What triumphs is the cross - and the cross is the persistence of love in the midst of annihilation and death.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Republicans will Never End Abortion

My friend Scott P. Richert has an excellent article on about.com Catholicism entitled Put Not Your Trust in Princes.

In it, he makes the perceptive point that Republicans will never end abortion in this country, any more than Democrats ever will, "because Republican politicians, just as surely as Democratic ones, have no desire to lose an 'issue' that reliably brings them millions of votes in every national election." He illustrates this by showing the anti-life antics of both George W. Bush and most of the current Republican contenders.

And yet Scott remains optimistic about ending abortion in this country.


Read his article to find out!

Novena to St. Paul - the Whole Thing

Well, I had intended to post each day's prayers for the novena leading up to the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25) on each separate day for nine days prior to the Feast, but, naturally, I was way too busy with shows, travel and crises at home and abroad to hit the mark.

Here, then, is the entire novena. For private use.


Glorious St. Paul,
Most zealous Apostle,
Martyr for the love of Christ,
Through your intercession may God grant us a deep faith,
A steadfast hope,
A burning love for our Lord;
So that we can proclaim with you,
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ
who lives in me.”
Help us to become apostles
Serving the Church with a pure heart,
Witnesses to her truth and beauty
Amidst the darkness of our days.
With you we praise God our Father:
“To Him be the glory, in the Church
and in Christ, now and forever.”

First Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you who were "the greatest of sinners" "died to sin" , and were "buried with Christ in Baptism." May we, like you, "put to death all that is earthly in us", for "how can we who died to sin still live in it?"

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, free us from slavery to sin.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition.

(pray CONCLUDING prayers daily; see below)

Second Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you remind us that dying to sin entails rising again, "that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life." Thus we must "be renewed in the spirit of our minds, putting on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth."

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, make us anew.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition

Third Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you tell us to die to sin, to rise again in Christ. Freed from sin and remade in Christ, we become servants of God. "But now that you have been freed from sin and have become God's slaves, the benefit you reap is sanctification, and the result is eternal life."

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, sanctify us, make us holy - for Your holiness leads to life everlasting.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition

Fourth Day


St. Paul the Apostle, dead to sin, renewed by Christ, made holy by his grace, may we always remember your words, "you are heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ, provided that you suffer with him in order that you may also be glorified with him."

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, may we join You in taking up our cross daily and suffering with You, in order that we might be glorified with You.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition.

Fifth Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you "fought the good fight." You did not "run aimlessly or box as one beating the air" . You "chastized your body to bring it into subjection" , knowing that fighting the good fight is a spiritual battle. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Let us, therefore, as you advise us, "take unto [ourselves] the whole armour of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, give us the armor of God that we may win the spiritual battle.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition.

Sixth Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you said, "For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.'" And you also said, "Am I trying to please men or God? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, give us the zeal to please You, though in pleasing You we might displease men.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition.

Seventh Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you who encountered the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, even after His ascension, recognized that He remained yet among us. His Body constitutes the Church. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” you told us. And His body is also the Eucharistic sacrifice, which you described to the Corinthians. “This is my body, which is given up for you. Do this in memory of me,” as you tell us Jesus said. And you bore in your own body “the marks of Christ” . Beyond that, you write, “And I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the Church,”

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, make us aware of Your body in the Eucharist, and make us willing to join in the completion of this perfect offering of Your sacred Body and Blood as members of Your mystical Body, the Church.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition.

Eighth Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you ask, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" and you remind us that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men," for "His strength is made perfect in weakness."
Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, give us the wisdom not of this world, but the wisdom that is foolish to this world; and make Your strength perfect in our weakness.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition

Ninth Day


St. Paul the Apostle, you were blinded on the road to Damascus, and saw from that point forward by the light of Christ, for "a light has shone in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." And yet though now we "see through a glass darkly," then we shall see "face to face" For upon your conversion, God sent you to us, "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light."

Lord Jesus, through the intercession of St. Paul, open our eyes and turn us from darkness to light.

And, Father, through the intercession of the Apostle, grant my petition.

CONCLUSION - to be prayed daily.

Most Holy Trinity, through the intercession of St. Paul, Convert, Apostle, and Martyr, grant us the grace to be imitators of him as he is of Christ, always remembering ...

"If I have not love, I am nothing .. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in what is right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. ... And now these three remain, Faith, Hope and Love. But the greatest of these is love."

Conservatives and Anarchy

Paul Adams has written a wonderful piece over on the Ink Desk entitled America and the Irrelevance of the Tea Party in which he points out the affinity between so-called "conservative" and the moral anarchy toward which their philosophies and policies are leading them and us.

I commented on Paul's piece in the combox at the Ink Desk:

The fact is that the philosophy of Materialism continues to effect all aspects of our lives. I don't mean Materialism in the popular sense of "consumerism", but Materialism properly so-called, the doctrine that everything that exists is but a mere aggregation of atoms, free will and reason being but illusions created by the interplay of molecules.

This philosophy is what is behind the libertarianism of the modern "conservative". It is the notion, as you suggest, that individuals are the atoms that compose the social unit, atoms whose wills are arbitrary and meaningless, which means, of course, that the conglomeration of these disparate wills is just as arbitrary and meaningless.

Materialism is a form of nominalism - there is nothing but individuals, no types, no generalities. This kind of thinking obliterates "nature", including "human nature". It leads to a world where nothing connects to anything, which is more or less what T. S. Eliot called "hell".

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Cult of Chance

I am reading as many books as I can by Fr. Stanley Jaki, in preparation for my one-man show, Science and Religion, in which I will portray Fr. Jaki at the Portsmouth Institute Conference next June.

One of the fun things about reading Fr. Jaki is that he makes intriguing off-handed comments in all of his books that you wish he'd elaborate on more, but you find you have to read more of his books to get a sense of what he's saying.

Take this aside from his Miracles and Physics (Christendom Press, 1999)

Miracles should seem to abound even today except for those who take refuge in bad philosophy of which its present most fashionable kind is steeped in the cult of chance. Only they fail to give a definition of chance which is more satisfactory than the handy use of that word to cover-up one's ignorance.

What a great phrase - The Cult of Chance. Fr. Jaki means by this the devotion to Chance as the catch-all for materialists and agnostics and Darwinists, who ascribe to "mere chance" or the "random combination of matter" everything we see around us.

What causes evolution? Chance mutations. What causes consciousness in man? Chance chemistry and random firings of neurons. What determines our fate? Chance.

But Fr. Jaki tantalizes us with the implied challenge to define Chance. Jaki himself does not do so in the paragraph from which I quote. He merely points out that the idolators of the god Chance fail to define the word, using it as a catch-all, a buzz-word to cover ignorance.

In fact, it's worse than that. The acolytes of Chance are not merely using a word to cover what's missing in their thinking, they are making what's missing into what's there, into the source of all that's there.

So before you read further, accept Fr. Jaki's implied challenge. Define Chance.

Here's my own definition, an easy one, and one helped along by St. Thomas Aquinas and his meditations on Chance. And though it's a two-word definition, I think it's an accurate one - accurate enough to reveal the sleight-of-hand behind the Randomists, if we can coin a term for those who worship that which is Random.

The definition is this. Chance is unintended events.

Now the first thing to note about this definition is that it begs the question, "unintended by whom?" St. Thomas points out that strictly speaking nothing is "unintended" by God, for example. Nothing is outside of either His positive will or His permissive will.

But leaving God outside of the question, this definition would mean "unintended by man" or "unintended by any agent capable of intentionality".

When we roll the dice, for example, the result we get is determined - determined by a jumble of causes that we can not control. The jarring back and forth of the dice, the surface of the table they land on, the atmospheric pressure - thousands of causes will determine the number the dice display when their jarring ceases. But these causes are (practically speaking) beyond our control; thus the effect is beyond the scope of our intent.

We can know something about the probability of the event, based on a mathematical analysis of the history of previous roles of the dice, extrapolated into the future. But we can not intend the result of a particular number on the dice, the way we can intend to pick up a flower or pass the mustard to the person who asks for it. (If we could, we would clean up at Vegas). Events that we have willed to do (and that turn out the way we willed them) are not chance events. Events that are beyond our will - though caused by who knows what - are (from our perspective) chance events.

Defining Chance clearly, then, reveals something interesting.

What it reveals is that nothing can happen by chance.

What I mean when I say that nothing can happen by chance is that quite literally nothing can happen by the agency of or caused by chance - for the phrase "by chance" implies that Chance is an agent, that Chance does something.

Chance does nothing. Chance, in a sense, is nothing. Chance is our word for a lack of agency. To say, "This was caused by a lack of agency" is like saying "this was caused by a lack of cause". What we mean when we say "this happened by chance" is "this event was caused by something that is beyond the scope of our intent".

Chance thus refers to the event, not the cause, except insofar as the word refers to our lack of possible participation in the cause.

Of course this opens up the shady area of the intent of creatures without free will. When a tree moves nutrients throughout its structure, this movement is not an "unintended event", though assigning "intent" to a plant is stretching what that word typically means.

The point here, without going further, is simply that "chance" refers to results that happen outside of a perceived deliberate agency, and the hallmark of all living matter is a kind of intentionality or deliberate doing - so all events intended and caused by a living agent are not chance events.

Thus, to say that evolution is caused by random or chance mutations is simply to say that evolution is caused by nothing deliberate. And this is tantamount to saying, "We don't know what causes it".

But how many evolutionists are honest enough to say, "Evolution is our word for the slow development over the eons of living things from simplicity of form and function to complexity of form and function, and we have absolutely no idea what causes it." Instead you'll hear them gloat, "We all evolved by chance."

Thereby covering their ignorance with pride and making a Something out of nothing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Advice to Aspiring Actors

A friend of mine who's done lots of community theater emailed me about her first audition for a professional acting troupe. She did not make call-backs, and might have had a shot at chorus, but because she didn't know tap, they didn't consider her.

It struck me that my reply is filled with so many gems of wisdom, I was obliged to share it with my readers.

I wrote ...


You see, I can tap. It's one of those weapons you collect in your arsenal, just in case, like you, you miss the call-back for a principal role, but want to end up in chorus. And I memorized BABY GOT BACK by Sir Mix-a-Lot twenty years ago, just in case I needed filler material during a show - an emergency item from my bag of tricks. I did it tonight and it was the highlight of the show, for some reason. This is why I learned the ukulele and the nose whistle. You never know when you might have to pull something out of thin air to keep the audience from turning on you.

If you really want to take another swing at it, the key is audition all over, everywhere, every audition. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Turn the parts down if you don't want them, but audition anyway, for practice. After about a dozen auditions, you'll know exactly what to do to nail it.

So, to sum up ...

1. Learn tap

2. Learn an obscure rap song and how to play two cheap musical instruments you can carry with you anywhere. Have them handy in case you forget your lines in the middle of a show or the audience starts to turn on you.

3. Audition everywhere. Of course, this will tick off the people who cast you when you turn them down, but once you get good, you'll start to make enemies anyway, so you might as well begin now.


... but of course the greatest gem of wisdom I did not pass on. Stay out of show business and do something sane.

Above: The author plays a showboat on the Mighty Missouri River in the Old Days, pulling something out of his bag of tricks.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I May Not Know Much About Art, but I Know What I Don't Like

Above: Colonel Sanders O'Hara and his daughter Scarlett on board My Old Kentucky Dinner Train.

Comments at my previous post have inspired me to elaborate a bit about one of the major stumbling blocks in Literary Criticism.

We were at the Missouri Governor's Mansion performing our comedy murder mystery Gone with the Passing of the Wind.

The Governor's Mansion is quite beautiful, and both the guests and the servers were in full formal attire. Indeed, the servers were milling about in tails offering drinks to the guests on silver platters - just like you see in those old movies. We were told that the servers were State prisoners on a kind of work release.

The show begins with me as Scarlett O'Hara's father, whom I play as Colonel Sanders. After giving the "top ten list" of his "eleven secret herbs and spices" (which includes "Number Ten, Grease" and "Number Six, Methyl-hydrogenated-polysorbate-butane") the Colonel bemoans the Lost Cause.

"One day," he exclaims, "the South will rise again, and we're gonna make the world safe for slavery!"

Now this is a joke.

And sometimes you have to explain a joke, which I will do now and which perhaps we should have done that night. The joke is a parody of Woodrow Wilson's rationalization of World War I, in use up until this day, that U.S. foreign wars are an attempt to "make the world safe for democracy". And so, in one line, Colonel Sanders O'Hara is poking fun both at 20th & 21st Century Imperialism as well as the less than noble institution of slavery that served as the primary issue behind the Civil War.

A week later, the director of the Mansion called us. "We received complaints about that joke," she said.

"From whom?" I asked.

"From the servers."

The servers.

In other words, the prisoners.

Indeed, most of the servers were black, and they were offended, thinking that I was somehow endorsing slavery (of course, the character I played was, but I wasn't). This is a prime example of -

Confusing the depiction of sin with the endorsement of sin.

The fact that a character in a silly little play I wrote is a racist does not mean that I am a racist, or that the play endorses that character's point of view. In fact, had the prisoners gotten the joke, they would have realized that that line is in that play specifically to make fun of racism. This is why I enumerated as one of my complaints against a Protestant worldview in my last post, "they think that art or fiction that depicts sin is itself sinful, regardless of the context in which or the purpose for which the sin is depicted".

So we have the humorlessness of the prisoners, passed along by their keepers, the politically correct and equally humorless State of Missouri (a slave state until the War, incidentally).

But we see this all the time, especially in Catholic Fiction. One of the reasons our literary output does not attract readers beyond the Catholic Ghetto is that publishers and writers these days tend to be squeamish about the role of sin in a story, and for that matter in Salvation History. We cringe at Flannery O'Connor because we really don't think Jesus Christ would lower himself quite so much as to save the utterly despicable characters in her tales.

This comes from a lingering Puritanism. It is another example of what's in the Protestant air we breathe, and air that has molded even our Catholic lungs.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

We Doth Protest Too Much

I've figured it out. It explains so much. A great many of my Catholic friends are simply Protestants. They object to and Protest not only many basic Catholic teachings, but the whole tenor and worldview of the Catholic Church. Included in this are a great many self-consciously "real Catholics" and "uber-Catholics".

Now of course it's tricky "judging" another person's Catholicism. Technically speaking, every baptized person is Catholic, whether they know it or not - though most are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. This is because there's no other Church to be baptized into.

So I'm not talking literally here. I don't want to make the mistake Mr. Voris et. al. are doing in saying "I'm a REAL CATHOLIC and you're not."

So with that in mind, and using a bit of literary license, there is a Protestant worldview and a Catholic worldview, and most of my Catholic friends are steeped in the former.

They believe that a good end justifies a bad means; they endorse torture; they think that art or fiction that depicts sin is itself sinful, regardless of the context in which or the purpose for which the sin is depicted; they believe individualism trumps obedience to authority; they believe rational criticism is suspect; they are anti-intellectuals; they think activism is more important than prayer or faith; they give lip service to chastity, but they are deeply suspicious of it; they are libertarian and believe that government should not even build and maintain roads (some of them have actually said this to me); they can't tell good writing from bad; they do not understand what the fullness of Reason is.

Anyway, these are all hallmarks of the Protestant worldview.

And, to our shame, we Catholics, many of us, are marching under this banner.

We Have no King but Caesar

2012 has dawned, and "Real Catholic TV" is still calling itself "Real Catholic TV", despite their bishop admonishing them not to.

So let me get this straight.

"Real Catholics" disobey and mock their ordinaries when it suits them - a la Fr. Pavone and "freefrpavone.com" - or simply ignore them - a la Michael Voris.

By the same token, "Real Catholics" defend their bishops from just criticism and from calls to follow more closely the teachings of Christ - a la Bishop Finn.

Point out that Bishop Finn, successor to the apostles, should follow the Christian truth that he preaches, defending the most innocent and helpless among us, and "Real Catholics" will threaten to beat you up. Point out that if bishops should follow canon law and deny communion to unrepentant pro-abortion politicians (which they should), then lay leaders of apostolates should follow canon law and not call something Catholic that is not Catholic (Voris' rants are sometimes quite far from Catholic, "real" or "surreal") - point this out, and you'll be lynched.

So how do we know what to do?

Should we defend our bishops or disobey them?

Should we follow canon law or flout it?

The answer: politics trumps religion.

We have no king but Caesar.