Friday, January 31, 2014

Getting in Character for Christ

I am on a blogging hiatus for the time being.  So I will feature a few repeats, as we tend to do in show biz.

Here's an article from last spring about Lying, Acting, and Getting in Character for Christ.


Here I am stranded at a Super 8 in Western Connecticut, having driven for nine hours with the wipers on full-speed, as Maria Romine and I make our way to the Portsmouth Institute Conference through the torrential downpour of Tropical Storm Andrea - the mountain highways of Pennsylvania and New York covered with water, the huge semi's spraying us at every moment.

My prudence kicking in, I decided we'd bail out (I-84 Eastbound is a parking lot at this point anyway) and finish the trip in the morning before my 1:00 pm show.

One of the things we do to pass the time in the car is listen to the radio, and yesterday we caught a couple hours of Catholic Answers Live.

And something struck me - not a passing semi, but almost.


I love the work they do at Catholic Answers, but they don't always get things right, and even when they do, there's something potentially wrong about the whole mindset - as necessary as their apostolate is.

You see, it's tempting to think this is all about knowing what's on the list and checking the items off; but on the contrary, it's not about that at all.  It's about inner transformation expressing itself outwardly.  The list isn't a list, it's an indication of who Christ is and how He lives.

In other words, we're supposed to get in character, and if we don't, it doesn't work.  I've written about this before, and it makes more sense to an actor than to a normal person, so let me explain.


When you're an actor and you're struggling with your role, not every line you say will fit what you think your character would say.  Rehearsals become a challenge and you start blaming yourself and fretting, until suddenly - bam!  You get the character from the inside, and everything makes sense.  You then no longer have to fret about blocking or pacing, or anything else - the "read" you give all of your lines has a consistency and you actually begin to enjoy yourself on stage because you can abandon trying to work the details from the outside; the details take care of themselves and flow organically from the character you've created.

Let me show how this works - or doesn't work - in Catholic circles.


Scott P. Richert (of yesterday wrote a solid piece in Crisis Magazine about Lying, in which he comes down on the side of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism of Trent, the Modern Catechism, Mark Shea, Abby Johnson, Yours Truly and
others in assenting to Church Teaching that Lying is always and everywhere wrong, and may never be done, not even for a good cause (for a comprehensive explanation on this subject, see my sticky post about Lying).

In his article, Richert notes an odd fact.  Those who are affirming Church Teaching are arguing from principle.  Those who are apologizing for Lying are arguing from anecdotes and hypotheticals.

Part of the problem is that the debate has largely been carried on at the level of anecdote and hypotheticals.  If lying is always wrong, the defenders of Live Action cry, what about the story of Rahab?  What about the Egyptian midwives?  Are you saying you would have handed Anne Frank over to the Nazis?  Do you really believe it’s wrong to tell your wife that the dress she loves doesn’t make her look fat?
Anecdotes—even ones drawn from Scripture—are material against which moral arguments can be tested, but they are not a substitute for moral theology.  And—it cannot be stressed enough—no single anecdote, or even a series of anecdotes, even ones drawn from Scripture, is sufficient to prove a moral argument false.  When Augustine and Thomas Aquinas fleshed out their cases for why lying is always wrong, they had to deal with the stories of Rahab and the Egyptian midwives, and they did.  (Both, Aquinas argues, were rewarded for their faithfulness to God, not for their deception.)  But their arguments against lying (and the Catholic argument in general) start, not with anecdotes or hypotheticals, but with first principles: You cannot do evil that good may come of it (cf. Romans 3:8); the Devil is the Father of Lies (cf. John 8:44); you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free (cf. John 8:32).

And so one of the most confounding elements of the debate on Lying is how even when we argue from first principles revealed by God and taught infallibly by the Catholic Church, our opponents respond with an endless stream of examples that side-step the proofs we've provided.


But what does this have to do with Catholic Answers?  Is it simply that Catholic Answers tends to err on the side of the Lying Apologists, or that their staff fails to provide the caveat that the theological answers they give are potentially fallible, being but the opinions of theologians and commentators - who, although admittedly orthodox (more or less), are sometimes speculating on certain issues; for, speculate they must, given the variety of  questions they receive?

And what does this have to do with Acting and getting in character?

I'll answer both questions with this: YOU'RE A PHARISEE!

That's the most common accusation we receive from the Defenders of Lying.

But it's really exactly the opposite.  My fellow defenders of Church Teaching and I are attempting to think with the mind of the Church, to "get in character" with Christ.  This doesn't mean we're holy or that we're better Christians than the Lying Apologists (in areas that don't involve defending Lying); what it means is there's an approach to Christian Life that apparently most Catholics don't get.

You see, it's not about checking items off a list.  It's not about, "What may I do and what may I not do if I'm a Christian?  What may I believe and what may I not believe?"  That question is certainly important - which is why Catholic Answers provides such a vital service - but if that's you're whole approach as a Christian, you're coming about it from the wrong end.

It's when you nitpick about what does and does not constitute "lying", or about (for instance) what is and is not crossing the line with lust or pornography, or about what is and is not an act of torture - it's when you do such things that you're being a Pharisee (cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is filthy) - and you're opening yourself up to Christian Minimalism.  Thus (for example), the whole approach of trying to defend Cardinal Dolan's hypocrisy by making sure we understand it's not technically a sin is beside the point.  Christians are called to so much more than merely avoiding sin - and if that's the level we aim for, we won't even hit that.  The irony for a Christian Minimalist is that if you deliberately set the bar low, you'll find you'll always be below it, always striving even for the bare minimum, which will always be beyond your reach.  "Christian Minimalism? I aspire to reach it!"

When I was an atheist teenager, boys wanted to date the girls from the Catholic high school in town because that was exactly the attitude of some Catholic girls - if something wasn't technically a sin, they would do it - and they were able to rationalize anything shy of "going all the way" as being technically a chaste act of virginity.

This is what comes from seeing life in Christ as hitting marks on a checklist.  Faith becomes external; morality becomes lax; the standards are lowered; and we find we have no interior transformation, for we are not cooperating with God's grace to "get in character".


Let me leave you with this (for the Chinese delivery Maria ordered is almost here at the Super 8) - when Abby Johnson, who has been through so much transformation in her life - from Planned Parenthood Director to Pro-life advocate - from adamantly pro-abortion zealot to faithful Catholic - when Abby yesterday publicly announced that she does not personally support Lying or any other sin that might advance the pro-life cause, she said she did so after months of prayer on this very issue.

Ask yourself this - why the prayer?  Why the desire to pray?  Why the transformation?

This is not about hitting the mark or aiming for the bare minimum.  It's about getting in character.

And the character is Christ.


Michael said...

Hey Kevin, going back to the lying topic, I read something mentioning Solomon in the comments;

is the whole Solomon thing similar to the situation with God's command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

I know you're busy, but I'd like to know your opinion; how do these situations differ?

And is it a moral good to be 'sneaky' like Solomon?

P.s. Kevin,
thanks for writing the blog, it's made a significant impact on my life (I've stopped 'white lying'/sinning because of it), you've also scared me away from any Westian idea's I may have fallen fate to as a more new Catholic.

You and your family have been and will be in my prayers for a long time to come.

Michael said...

Sorry I think the link answers my questions.