Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Maturity, Intimacy and the Psychology of Sex

Sex is a symphony, while physical desire is just the horn section.  When we're "horny", we're simply sitting too close to the horn section to hear the rest of the orchestra.  In other words, sex is much more than mere physical desire.

I'm not trying to pull a Christopher West here and slap a suspect quasi-spirituality on to sex.  I'm saying that sex has much more to do with who we are as total persons than it does with pleasant feelings in our naughty bits.  And while the physical aspect of sex has the potential to overwhelm us, the way a loud horn section can drown out a whole orchestra, there are themes of a richer and deeper subtlety being played by all the insturments, even when we can't hear them.

Let's call this the "psychology of sex", that aspect of sex that has to do with the psyche rather than with the soma - for the somatic aspect of sex is merely the tip of the iceberg.  All of us know the psychology of sex intimately and could give examples of it, even though all of us tend to make the mistake of thinking that sex is more about bodies than it is about souls.  The "psychology of sex" is that part of sex that seeks not so much the physical pleasure of orgasm as the psychological pleasures of attention, validation, power, control, intimacy, communion, recreation.  Note that this is a jumble of things, some of which are potentially trivial, some potentially dangerous, but all of which are far more "spiritual" and complex than mere biological desire.



His name is Harry Schaumburg, and what strikes me about him are two main things.  First, his realization that true intimacy is a far cry from false intimacy; that we are fallen people who tend stubbornly to choose false intimacy over true intimacy; and that false intimacy is an attempt at control, a building of what I would call an Unreality, a (seemingly) Controllable-Substitute-for-Reality that avoids the anxiety of following God's will and design in our lives, replacing it with our own short-cut to bliss.  A "short-cut to bliss" is another way of saying "sin".  Schaumburg seems to understand the anatomy of sin quite well, especially the sin of false intimacy, and he also understands what the alternative to this false intimacy looks like.

His articulation of the alternative is the second thing that strikes me about him and his insight.  True intimacy, Schaumburg tells us, consists of a kind of maturity.  This maturity is most evident in (of all places!) the daily and hourly hum drum of married life.  In fact, Schaumburg tweets ...

True love and authentic intimacy are built, not found! So start building spiritual, relational and sexual maturity.

And in his interview he alludes to what are certainly the most neglected parts of the New Testament in the Catholic Church of the 21st century - the 5th and 6th chapters of Hebrews, which are about the obligation to become spiritually mature and to be weaned from the infantile nature of our current and rather insipid form of happy-clappy emotion-based worship, progressing to an adult level of understanding Christ, of thinking with the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16), and of living with the heart of Christ (see Ez. 36:26).

But nobody wants to be told to be mature and to grow up - even though St. Paul elsewhere tells us his goal in preaching and evangelizing, paid for by stonings, shipwrecks and imprisonment, is "so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ." (Col. 1:28)  Dear readers, when is the last time you could characterize anything that happens at Mass (other than the sacrifice itself) as "mature" (especially the pre-adolescent quality of the music), or as tending toward any sort of maturity, of building up the Body of Christ in any serious way?

Note as well that Schaumburg, in calling for a True and Mature Intimacy, is diametrically opposed to what the Pop-Theology-of-the-Body crowd calls for.  Schaumburg rightly defines the apex of true intimacy as a healthy loving marriage (i.e., a family), while the Westians pour forth a kind of puerile sex talk that titillates and that implies the identification of spiritual ecstasy with orgasmic ecstasy, almost never mentioning what I have called the daily and hourly hum drum of married life (see also the Holy Family for a hint of what abides hidden and holy in the hum drum).

At any rate, it is good to see that there are some Christians out there who get it, and who understand that sex is not the meaningless physical activity that the secular liberals keep telling us it is, nor is it a kind of occult tool that the neo-Gnostics tell us it is, but that it is, in fact, a key to developing the fullness of our beings in communion with our spouses through sacrificial love.  St. John Paul II, of course, said this a while back, though his message, and his awareness of how this is analogous to our communion with Christ, has been either ignored or misinterpreted ever since.

Meanwhile, when it comes to sex and intimacy, we could all do a bit of growing up.

... see the Holy Family for a hint of what abides hidden and holy in the hum-drum




Friday, February 20, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nutty Times

Here Ross Douthat writes the best piece I've yet read on Fifty Shades of Grey.  He points out that sexual anarchy, like political anarchy, devolves not so much into chaos, but into a world where the strong prey upon the weak.  He writes ...

This is the sexual revolution of Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt and Joe Francis and roughly 98 percent of the online pornography consumed by young men. It’s the revolution that’s been better for fraternity brothers than their female guests, better for the rich than the poor, better for the beautiful than the plain, better for liberated adults than fatherless children ... and so on down a long, depressing list. 

This is because lust (as opposed to sex in general - sex is a good thing, but lust is a desire for sex without any resrtaint) is all about power.  Lust is not about physical pleasure, it's about physical, emotional and psychological control.

Which brings me to a real Nutt case.

Fr. Maurice Nutt, Redemptorist


After my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church, back in 2000, our parish priest suggested that we prepare for Confirmation by attending RCIA, the "Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults".  Foolishly I agreed.

It was nine months long and a total joke.  It was run by a liberal nun in a pants suit and her cadre of parish supporters, and it made sure that absolutely nothing Catholic was taught to any of us.  It was a shocking wake up call that the Church so lovingly described by Chesterton and Belloc had taken quite a few steps backward.

One of the things Sister Liz (that was her name, God rest her rebellious soul) made us do was go to a Mass at "the Rock" church on the near North Side.  The only difference between what went on in RCIA at our parish and what was going on at the Rock church was, while the latter made me just as miserable, it didn't last nine months, but only for about two or three hours.

That's right.  The Mass went at least that long, because the pastor, a certain Fr. Nutt, a charismatic preacher, was working the crowd for all the "amens" he could get, and took about a thirty minute recess for "the sign of peace" in the middle of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The "sign of peace" became a party with high fives and shouts of laughter and Fr. Nutt traveling all over the nave, visiting every single parishioner and yukking it up.  While the consecrated host sat patiently on the altar.

In my opinion, he was clearly and obviously an egomaniac.  Had I still been an atheist, and had Fr. Nutt been given a TV show where he was shouting at people and "faith healing" them, I would have chalked him up as just another brash and shallow phony, like the televangeslits of my youth who so turned me off to the Christian Faith.

Not long after that, Fr. Nutt disappeared in one of the first sex scandals to hit the archdiocese of St. Louis.  (See details below).

Now, fifteen years later, he's worming his way back to respectability.  He was recently invited to speak at McKendrie College in nearby Lebanon, IL.

SNAP has issued an open letter to McKendrie's president, James M. Dennis.  It's worth quoting in full ...

Feb. 19, 2015
Dear President Dennis:
We are appalled that a priest who’s been accused of sexually harassing at least three young men was allowed to speak at your university last month. We believe you owe your students, staff, alums and the public an apology and an explanation. And we believe you should punish those who are responsible.
Please keep in mind these undisputed facts about Fr. Maurice Nutt:
--Fr. Nutt was sued by at least three adults (not kids, whose memories may be more suspect),
--Fr. Nutt’s accusers were police officers (presumably somewhat more credible than just any adult),
--Fr. Nutt was also accused in at least one lawsuit of inviting an officer to watch child pornography, and
--At least two of sexual harassment lawsuits settled out of court,
--Fr. Nutt resigned his post as a St. Louis Police Commissioner,
--Fr. Nutt took “an extended sabbatical from St. Louis and his parish after the officers' allegations were made public,”
--Fr. Nutt kept a very low profile for several years,
--Fr. Nutt was later sent to work next in a low income minority community in Memphis, and
--though he’s a St. Louis native, Fr. Nutt has not been allowed to work in St. Louis since.
Now, consider these serious and credible allegations against Fr. Nutt (as reported by the Associated Press):
--One officer said Fr. Nutt “assaulted him by touching and trying to kiss him,”
--Fr. Nutt threatened to have an officer fired if he reported the sexual harassment,
--At least two officers alleged that Fr. Nutt had made unsolicited intimate overtures to them,
--One officer accused Fr. Nutt of boasting that his power on the police force could positively influence the officer's career,
--Fr.  Nutt told one officer “to begin meeting regularly with him at the church for priestly counseling sessions,”
--After the first meeting, the lawsuit claims, “Nutt took (him) from the church's meeting room to Nutt's home, where (he) was invited to watch pornographic movies showing sex acts involving men and boys,”
--After he "refused Father Nutt's overt sexual advance," the lawsuit alleges, Nutt "became increasingly aggressive" in later meetings, inappropriately touching and trying to kiss (him), and
--"All of these advances were unsolicited and unwelcome," the lawsuit said.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reports that Fr. Nutt “made more than a dozen late-night phone calls to two officers, touched one of them on the thigh and made overtures to both. The officers reportedly made charges without knowledge of the other's complaints.”
Yet this man was held out as last month a decent man and acceptable speaker at McKendree University? Why would you endanger your staff and students like this? What if, now or years from now, Fr. Nutt sexually exploits or harasses an 18 year old McKendree student or a 22 year old McKendree staffer he meet and befriended on last month’s visit to your campus?
Don’t pull the “forgiveness” claim here. Forgiveness is a private choice. Giving a speaker a forum at a college is a public act. And when that opportunity is given to a man who allegedly sexually harassed his underlings – and invited one of them to watch child porn - that’s an irresponsible act. (We can forgive a drunken school bus driver. But it’s morally wrong to give him keys to another school bus. And we can forgive Fr. Nutt. But it’s morally wrong to give him access to young people who are uninformed about his past misdeeds.)
No one’s claiming Fr. Nutt should be hungry, homeless or unemployed. But neither should he be given chances to be around vulnerable young people or held up as some sort of role model for them.
Fr. Nutt had no business being on your campus, much less in such an exalted role.
And please don’t try to chalk this up as some sort of “slip up” or “oversight.” This decision involved either deceit or recklessness.
Either there was deceit - a college staffer knew about Fr. Nutt’s past and kept it hidden. Or there was recklessness – a college staffer didn’t bother to “google” Fr. Nutt before bringing him to campus.
In either case, apologies and explanations, by you, the president, are in order. You can’t “un-do” Fr. Nutt’s visit. But you can ameliorate the harm and danger caused by it. The best way to do this – and to prevent future similar actions that endanger your students – is to publicly discipline those responsible for bringing Fr. Nutt to your campus.
We look forward to hearing from you.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790,SNAPclohessy@aol.comdavidgclohessy@gmail.com)
Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314-503-0003, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)
***

Fr. Nutt's website is here.

And no matter how you slice it, sex can not be compartmentalized.  It is an expression of who we are and how we relate to God and to others.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey and the Islamic State

"Lose Control" the poster says.

I think there is a connection between Fifty Shades of Grey and the Islamic State, and it's not the obvious one: the fact that devout Muslims, like devout Christians, would see sexual perversion and pornography as decadent and sinful.  No, there's something deeper than that.

Concerning Fifty Shades of Grey, I recently wrote to a friend of mine ...

The young secular women I know see absolutely nothing wrong with it.  It's porn with a story, which is the kind of porn women like.  [Men prefer their porn without a story; women prefer theirs with a story].
Having not seen it, I can only judge from what I'm hearing.  It is, first of all, shocking that perversion has become so mainstream that normal suburban young women get a thrill out of the degradation of women that BDSM portrays.  ... 
The movie also shows up the contradiction at the heart of liberalism.  The left wants both uninhibited lust and also respect for the dignity of women.  You can't have both.  You can't even have men with dignity under these conditions.

Of course, defenders of the movie say that the story is about a consensual relationship, that if a woman submits to being degraded and abused, it's OK as long as she does so willingly.

But that's exactly the point.  Masochism is thrilling because it's a form of willful submission.   It's like riding a roller coaster.  You can have the excitement of being swept up and down and side to side while being safely locked in to your seat.  The vacillations of the ride itself are beyond your control, but choosing to experience these thrills are within your control, and that bar is in place, giving you an assurance of safety.

It is that willful submission that is the key to the link with radical Islam.

***

Joseph Sciambria writes of how horrifying and pathological the real world of BDSM actually is, and Chris Hedges grapples with his disturbing realization that all pornography tends toward child porn, and is ultimately about not only the degradation of women, but about dehumanization and the abuse of the innocent, but both articles miss the allure that this sort of thing has, even for otherwise normal people.

Joseph Heschmeyer comes closer in arguing that Fifty Shades is a reaction against gender neutrality and an indication that young women are longing for men who take control, even if that control is expressed as sadism.  And here Graeme Wood comes the closest, while not writing on Fifty Shades at all, ending his long piece on the Islamic State by quoting from George Orwell ...

Fascism ... is psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

The emotional appeal of the radicals of the Islamic State is that they take their religion seriously, and that it is a religion that calls for radical submission and that promises both a temporal and an eternal fulfillment.  It is a religion that appeals to a deep need in human nature.  It is a religion of black and white, with zero shades of gray.

But what we are learning from the soccer moms who masturbate to BDSM porn-with-a-story is that it's not the gray that appeals to them emotionally.  It's something of a far darker and a far deeper shade.  It is something, in fact, that would not be dark, nor would it be deeply buried, if it were properly channeled and worked out in the world.

This masochistic urge, this desire willfully to place ourselves in a situation where our will is limited and constrained, is deeply and mysteriously connected to submission (which is what the word "Islam" means), to the desire to humble oneself before something or someone greater.  When that need is frustrated, it turns very dark, and men like Hitler and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - and the fictional Christian Grey - take advantage of it.

For when we have no god to submit to, and no men to admire, the world slides from gray to black very quickly.



Sunday, February 15, 2015

Heresy Explained



This is from Dale Ahlquist's new book All Roads.

Shortly after I became a Catholic, I was talking with a Catholic woman who said she had always wanted to find out more about the different Protestant churches.  I told her that all she had to do was take the Catholic Church and start cutting parts of it away.  That is basically what each Protestant sect is.  Each has kept something, but has left out smething greater.  Some have, for instance, kept the Bible, but have left out the atuhority of the Church, which gave us the Canon of Scripture.  In some cases, they have kept the sovereignty of God, but left out free will.  They have kept heaven, but left out hell.  They have kept the Virgin Birth, but left out the Mother of God.  And they have kept the homily, but left out the priest.  What most Protestant converts finally realize is that their church has something it still calls an altar, but nothing called a sacrifice, which is the only thing an altar is used for.
Chesterton marvelously illustrates this idea in - where else? - one of his Illustrated London News essays.  He says that a man who builds a pile of stones and burns a sacrifice to his god is obviously doing a religious act.  It makes sense that over time, others would come and participate in such a ceremony, and that he might give them benches to sit on and build a roof for them to keep them out of the rain, and he might turn some of his prayers into ordered chants that can be repeated, and he might take the opportunity to address the other people and explain what he is doing, and write down the prayers and the chants in a book and place the book on a lectern from which to read it to the others.  But in any case, no matter what is added to the religious act, it is clear what the religious act is. 
So what do the reformers do?  They don't tak away all the additions.  They leave the had benches and the lectern.  They take away the real religious thing.  They take away the altar.  They take away the sacrifice.  They take away the God.
In most cases, it is not what heretics add that gets them into trouble; it is what they take away.  It is not so much that they believe a lie, but that they settle for something less than the whole truth.  They prefer the tiny bit of truth they have kept to the gigantic truth they have left behind. 
 
 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When the Devils Win



I had just come from an experience that preyed upon me in ways that are hard to describe.  I had seen a common sight - the true Faith knocked down and a false one set mockingly in its place.  I often see this at suburban Masses, but today I saw it up close, outside of Mass.  I won't go into details, but it had disturbed me.

At any rate, I was walking and feeling better, but something was nagging at me, a little devil, the kind of devil who has gained the world but lost his soul.  Devils who do this get very smug.  If you show any kind of faith around them, they smile condescendingly at your naivety.  If you show any kind of enthusiasm, they patiently endure your childishness.  They sneer at hope, since the only emotion for the truly sophisticated is a tired cynical ennui.  Belief and trust in anything is simply the symptom of immaturity and a lack of education, you see.

And, of course, the world drags you down on its own.  We don't even need the help of devils.  The daily and hourly grinding away of inertia, the assault of selfishness that persists at every waking moment - the persistent selfishness of others and the stunning and dumbfounding selfishness we find in our own hearts, if we admit it.

I was walking and rehearsing my lines.  I am appearing in six different productions in the next six weeks and I have to keep my lines fresh, and the best way for me to do that is to go on hikes in the woods or long walks in the city and recite my lines aloud.  Today I was in the city, and I found myself beside a Mormon church, sitting high on a hill above the sidewalk.

And that's just another mild assault.  On the one hand, the Mormon faith is outlandish, contrived, ridiculous, clearly made-up; on the other, Mormons are very concerned about their families and have held to Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of pornography, masturbation and contraception far better than Catholics have.  Weird as they are, they are generally good people - but ... but there's something creepy about that church on that hill, about that belief; something creepy about that devil who smirks at my faith and who sees no difference between the shocking thunderbolt of the New Testament and the L. Ron Hubbard-ish inanity of the Book of Mormon.

And the sky was gray and the neighborhood in decline.  The older houses are sometimes abandoned and even the Protestant churches are closing and consolidating due to lack of attendance - but who can be fed at these Protestant churches?  Who can be fed at most Catholic Masses, the way they're typically run?  And that big Mormon church up on that hill - that big ugly Mormon church and the who-knows-what is going on in there.  Is this where all faith leads - was Freud right that all religion was an illusion, moronic wishful thinking?  Or is it worse even than Freud imagined - far from stretching our souls even by means of a wish and a desire to embrace the truth, beauty and goodness that is all about us and that transcends us, does religion actually drag us down, fill our heads with soporific condolences that are, in truth, ugly bulky lies that do nothing but burden us and blind us?

All religions are the same, after all, aren't they?  They are all equally true - which is a kind of way of saying they are all equally false.  "Believe" if it helps you; "to believe" is an intransitive verb, isn't it?  It doesn't matter what you believe in - just believe. We all need help, after all - drink, drugs, sex, power, money.  Even love is false, or that stirring of hormones and chemicals that we call love.  Just keep on keeping on as the universe itself slowly winds down and all things in it swirl with a funny sucking sound down the eternal drain of existence.  If there is a God, he pulled the plug out long ago.

Above all, be nice - even to those people who take good things and twist them to their own uses.  Because that's all any of us does with anything, isn't it?

As all these thoughts were passing through my head, as I glanced at the ugly Mormon church high above me, I said aloud a line from a special on J.R.R. Tolkien that I'm about to film at EWTN (one of the six shows I'm performing in the next six weeks) ...

The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used. 
Suddenly, caught by the level beams [of the setting sun], Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. “Look, Sam!” he cried, startled into speech. “Look! The king has got a crown again!”
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
“They cannot conquer for ever!” said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell. 

They cannot conquer forever.





Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lyle Talbot and Show Business



In April we will begin performing my comedy murder mystery Cleaver It to Beaver - which means that I have to write it soon.

This also means that I have to research the series on which my mystery will be based, Leave It to Beaver.  Yesterday we watched an episode featuring Gilbert Bates, a neighbor of Beaver's and a sometimes friend / sometimes enemy.  Gilbert is portrayed by Stephen Talbot, whose real-life father Lyle Talbot also appeared on several episodes of the series.

"Lyle Talbot!" I thought.  "I worked with Lyle Talbot!"

Well, sort of.

I held the curtain for him when he'd make his exits and entrances for Camelot! at St. Louis' Westport Playhouse in 1980.  Talbot portrayed the magician Merlin.  He was 78 at the time, and my mother was excited to hear that I was working as a stagehand for a show he was in.  He was, apparently, at one time a kind of matinee idol - at least that's what I gathered from my mother's admiration of him.



Indeed, Talbot's career spanned the better part of the 20th century, from traveling tent shows to early talkies in Hollywood to appearances on any television show you can imagine.  Talbot made his first film in 1931, and over his career worked with Mae West, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, the Three Stooges, and even appeared in a few famous and famously bad Ed Wood movies.  He was the first screen actor to portray Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor, and the first to portray Commissioner Gordon of Batman and Robin's Gotham City.  He was a founder of the Screen Actors' Guild, and appeared in television shows from the days of the George Burns & Gracie Allen Show to Charlie's Angels and Who's the Boss?

Talbot lived to be 94 and one of his sons founded salon.com.  He was married four times, but the fourth one lasted for 40 years.

Lyle Talbot and I may have crossed paths only as he was making his way on and off stage for a six-week run in a show that closed 35 years ago, but having even a remote connection with someone with such a storied history is something that can only happen in show business.

Talbot as Commissioner Gordon with Batman & Robin.

Talbot as Lex Luthor

Lyle Talbot as I remember him.  You could see he'd make a great Merlin the Magician.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Kevin's Faith Journey

I will be appearing on St. Louis Faith Journeys on Covenant Network this week, telling my conversion story - from atheist to Catholic.  The show is carried on fourteen radio stations throughout the Mid-West and South.  Click here for a list of stations, and here for the broadcast schedule.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Grooming and Abuse - Sexual and Liturgical



It was one of the worst Masses I've ever attended.  It was almost sacrilegious.

To begin with, the tabernacle was off to the side, and in front of it were the backs of several chairs; for the focus on this church is not Jesus, but the priest.  The priest, who looked resplendent in his green gown, was clearly on stage, clearly performing.  He would joke with the deacon and the altar boys.  While preparing for the Eucharist, for example (during the "hymn for preparation"), he was ribbing an altar boy, who was carrying a paten, making the kid smile broadly and laugh, and making me sick to my stomach.

When I got there, before the Mass began, I knelt on the floor to pray (for the pews had no kneelers).  The church was packed with middle-aged to elderly people who were all talking very loudly to one another, all at once.  A giddy carnival atmosphere prevailed.  It was a party without the little cocktail wieners - right there, in a Catholic church, in front of the hidden (but present) Blessed Sacrament.  People were laughing and talking at the top of their lungs and I was tempted to stand up and shout in my loudest voice, CAN'T YOU PEOPLE SHUT UP?

Then the band started.  The band consisted of a woman singing very loudly in a stylistic cross between Broadway show tunes and full-fledged opera, with a very cultivated (and ridiculous) vibrato that she apparently thought made her sound sincere.  The instrument that dominated was a cheesy 1970's electric organ played in a very schmaltzy and annoying manner, with the volume turned up to 11.  The band was right beside the altar, very much a part of the show.

The priest gave the air of being a predatory homosexual, but the women in the pews loved him, as he was handsome and carried himself with a kind of fake dignity that his dazzling green vestments accentuated.  You could tell he was aware of this.  His deacon behaved much as he did, and would stare into space when the prayers were read, acting as if he actually saw the God that "Father" was praying to.  At other times he would smile and laugh when "Father" was joking with him and poking the altar boys.

The priest made a point of saying, "My sisters and brothers" when addressing us, as though that somehow made any sort of difference.  His homily consisted of him talking about insights he had gained from his psychotherapist.  Cringe-worthy as that is, I could have endured it, had the insights been less lame.  It made me wonder how much money he had paid for therapy if what he was telling us was the best he had gleaned from it.  As with every homily these days, there was nothing overtly heretical about what the priest said, but nothing of any value either - absolutely nothing.  I've gotten more spiritual depth from Oprah reruns.  But people were very quiet and reverent when the priest was speaking ... the only time they were reverent during the entire ceremony.

When "My sisters and brothers, let us share with one another a sign of Christ's peace" was announced, the woman in front of me giggled and bubbled (as she did whenever the priest or deacon said anything at all), and turned about with a kind of sugar-high dizziness to shake my hand (they must have been serving cookies at this party, in addition to cocktail wieners).  I shook it, but the frown on my face was probably off-putting.  I'd been frowning for about an hour at that point.

***

Meanwhile, a blogger on the internet is busy analyzing a case of sexual abuse and institutional failure in the Episcopalian community.

Joelle Casteix at the Worth Adversary writes (my emphasis) ...

In 2003, Headmaster Nick Stoneman had a choice.
His drama teacher had been found with child pornography on a school computer. This same teacher—Lynn Seibel—had admitted to being complicit in “Naked Dance Parties” with male students in school bathrooms. Seibel was also rumored to have conducted a special AP (Advanced Placement) class in penis enlargement. What is the headmaster of one of the nation’s most elite boarding / day schools to do?
Shattuck-St. Mary’s (SSM) in Faribault, Minnesota is considered a “feeder school” for the National Hockey league. Their alumni list is a “who’s who” of the professional sport. Tuition is $29,000 a year for the day students and $43,000 for students who live at the school. There’s a lot at stake. Plus, Stoneman had no idea how many students had been “peeked at,” groomed, or molested by Seibel. He also had no idea if Seibel had created pornographic images of any of SSM’s students.
It gets worse. There were other teachers at the school who had molested students. While we don’t know how much Stoneman knew in 2003 ... by 2012, Seibel and another teacher, Joseph Machlitt, would be criminally charged for molesting SSM students. In 2008, a third, Leonard Jones, would kill himself after one of his victims confronted Jones about the sexual abuse.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Stoneman’s 2003 dilemma.
He had two options: The first would be to call the police, cooperate with any and all investigations, reach out to alumni who may have been abused, and ask for help from the community to make sure that predators like Seibel never have access to students again. Sure, he would take a PR hit and parents would be upset. But if he dealt with the issue head on, he could easily win the support of parents, especially if he took charge to ensure that the school was a safer place.
The second option would be to keep things hush-hush and pay off Seibel to make him go away. I’ll give you one guess what he did. (Seibel went on to teach in Rhode Island and act in small roles in Hollywood before he was arrested and convicted of molesting SSM students in 2013.)
So, why would a headmaster—whose personal mission should have been the education, emotional encouragement, and safety of the children in his care—make this kind of decision? It’s simple. He loved and feared the institution more than he cared about the children in it.
He took the dangerous “long view” and thought, “Gee, most of the kids who knew Seibel will graduate in a couple of years. But the school will be around for a lot longer. This is a small problem that the school will live through. The kids come and go, but the school’s legacy is eternal.” In his heart of hearts, I bet he actually thought he was doing the right thing. He was so indoctrinated into the “institution,” he completely forgot what the institution was supposed to do.

Read the rest here.

***

What's the connection between these two stories, the annoying Mass I went to on Saturday and the scandal at the Minnesota prep school?

I think there are several connections.


  • When an institution does not do what it is supposed to do, it can easily get hijacked by scoundrels who use it for their own selfish purposes, whether those purposes include molesting young people, creating a personality cult, making money, etc.

  • Lay Catholics have become, for the most part, "sheep without a shepherd".  While our popes have been preaching with courage and vigor, our bishops have in effect abdicated, and many of our pastors are feeding upon the flock instead of guarding it.  In this way we are similar to adolescents.  Teen aged boys at a boarding school can either be trained, and their energies channeled, so that they learn and are well formed and begin to mature, or they can be seduced into "naked dance parties" in the bathroom with their drama teacher.  In the same way, adult parishioners can either be taught to be respectful and to be in awe of a God that they should take seriously, partaking of a Faith they should mature in, or they can be allowed to become chatty and petty and self-centered and shallow, growing queer over a man in glowing green vestments that, if he were not a priest, they shouldn't even consider buying a used car from.  Human nature cuts both ways, and people are shaped into the molds their shapers mold for them in.  Allow naked dance parties in the bathroom at your boarding school, and you will get them.  Allow the Mass to become a contrived and frivolous show, and you'll get it.

  • But these things don't arise merely if they're simply allowed or tolerated.  Naked dance parties with your teachers don't spring up on their own, and suburban parishes do not automatically slide toward the kind of garish and gaudy circle-jerk sessions that I saw on Saturday.  Yes, these things will happen if you allow them to happen, and if you don't take pains to prevent them or correct them - but they typically happen after a long process of grooming.  Things get this bad deliberately, when bad people in positions of authority seduce and lead astray.  I would suspect it took the drama teacher at Shattuck-St. Mary's a long time to get his victims to a point where they would get naked for him in the bathroom.  He must have put a lot of effort and manipulative skill into that.  Grooming is not easy!  And the kind of show the priest I saw on Saturday presided over, a show centered on him and his need for attention and adoration - this is something these parishioners likewise had to be groomed for, over the long haul.  And so, while there's always a tendency for these abuses to happen, there's always some sort of abuser taking an active role to make them happen.

  • There comes a point where an annoying Mass becomes a sacrilegious Mass.  There comes a point when a school with a few bad teachers becomes a school where students are abused.  In both cases, the powers-that-be have the authority to do something about it: bishops can set the tone in their dioceses and correct wayward parishes; headmasters can fire bad teachers and turn criminal ones over to the police.  But these things almost never happen.  Why?  Because bishops are self-centered narcissists (as a rule) and most lay Catholics have been trained not to care, and because (in the case of Shattuck-St. Mary's) sports and success trumps everything - even the safety of children.

  • But if we ever put children's safety ahead of sports, or reverence ahead of glad-handing and showmanship, this kind of thing would stop in its tracks.  If the parents and headmasters at Shattuck-St. Mary's demanded education and safety ahead of prestige, things would change.  And if normal Catholics began desiring the cross of Christ ahead of their own mawkish idols, things would change at Mass as well.

Now it should go without saying that I am not equating sexual abuse with liturgical abuse.  The former is much more horrific - but the latter is also quite damaging, corrupting the core of who we are and how we relate to God.

But in both cases, victims are being groomed not only to accept abuse, but also to come to think of it as normal.

It is not normal.  It is the great fruit of the Culture of Death.




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Two Wisdoms



If you read scripture, you start to notice something lacking in modern Christianity, especially in our Catholic homilies.  You notice that our Faith is no longer radical.  It no longer gets to the root of the problem.  Here's one example of radical Faith from the epistle of James ...

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.
My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. (James 3:7-12)

What we do, says James, flows from who we are.  We can no more do good things, or even say good things, if we ourselves are not good at the root.  

New life in Christ, which begins in us through Baptism, is an ontological change.  It is a death to our old selves and a birth to our new selves, remade in Christ.  From that point on, all that we do must be the fruit of the Spirit, the work of God within us, a work with which we willingly cooperate and bear forth.  Our fountains must stop sending forth bitter water - for the source of our fountains is no longer bitter, no longer deadly and sinful; the source of what springs forth is now life and light.  We become the branches grafted on to His vine (see John 15:5), and the fruit we bear are the good works our new natures generate within us, for "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)

But if we are false Christians (as all of us are, to one degree or another), our vines bear figs, and the works we do reveal our true unsanctified nature - until we mortify what is dying and death-ward in us, and until we allow the grace of God to remake us.

This all sounds wonderful, but it's all very painful, for it necessarily entails the cross, dying to selfishness so that we might live to love.  Maybe this is why we don't hear the message of radical conversion or ontological change preached - since the cross is secretly despised.  Or maybe most Catholics are simply Inconsequentialists and can't even imagine a connection between Being and Acting, between Identity and Daily Living.  We have become so Unreal in our modern world that we have a persistent tendency to believe that what-we-are and what-we-do are always and everywhere separate.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And that is the radical challenge of life itself.

But what interests me is not so much the fact that this central message of ontological change is ignored, even in the Catholic Church which guards it, but how the fact of this change plays out psychologically and practically in our lives.

James continues ...

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. [in other words, you must be wise within in order to do wise things without; however James quickly points out that there are two types of "wisdom"] But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.  Such wisdom does not come down from above, [James now goes on to describe "such wisdom", the first kind of wisdom, the wisdom that "does not come down from above"] but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.  [He now begins to describe the characteristics of the other wisdom, the wisdom that does indeed "come down from above"] But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (James 3:13-17)

If you'd like an example of the first kind of wisdom, of wisdom that is "earthly, unspiritual, devilish", producing "disorder and wickedness of every kind", look no further than Facebook - and not the Facebook in which people share photos and keep in touch with their friends; the Facebook where people argue and discuss issues and ideologies.   Eric Voegelin, following Plato, makes a distinction between dialectics, which is argumentation, discussion and investigation that seeks to discover Truth; and eristics, which is arguing to win, discussing to defeat your opponent or to defend your ideology, using the intellect to acquire and shore up power, and not to seek and discover Truth.  Eristics are the tactics of Pride; Dialectics are the tools of Humility. The one seeks to turn Truth (and God) into a tool for human use; the other seeks Truth (and God) humbly, to wonder at it and to worship it.

The Wisdom that dialectics seeks is "from above".  The worldly wisdom of eristics shows its radically different source by springing forth at its fountain the "bitter water" of "envy and selfish ambition" (i.e, the kind of attitude in comboxes, especially on Facebook, which can only be described at "gnarly").

This has been the main lesson I have learned from the internet.  Most people do not argue in good faith.  Most Catholics will sacrifice their Faith to their ideology in a heartbeat.  That's because Faith is from above; but ideology is not.  Ideology is from below: worldly, concerned with power, pride and control.  At the heart of all this Unreality I talk about on this blog is this same worldly wisdom, the wisdom from below, the eristic lust for power and control.  Such a dark and selfish lust is behind even those dreadful and cloying pop songs that we are forced to listen to at Mass.  We don't want to live in a fiction that's sweet and harmless; we want to live in a fiction that gives us the illusion of power and domination, no matter how sweet and harmless our airy separation from reality may seem to be.

Even the contrived and weird artificiality of the Devout Catholic dating world and Pop-Chastity movement has a darker design than is first apparent.  It seeks to kill and strangle Eros, for Eros prevents us from reigning like petty tyrants, keeps us from doing what we want to do: manipulate, emasculate and imprison the most important thing in our lives, which is love.

***

Now, obviously I'm not simply pointing the finger at others.  I attempt to articulate these things because I am victimized by them so often, since I pour forth plenty of "bitter water" from the source of my unsanctified spring, sinner that I am.

But I have noticed, as perhaps have you, that there are odd times when I do the right thing, not in order to win or to dominate or to control, but out of a sense of peace, out of an unworldly wisdom, a wisdom that is not of my own making, a wisdom that is first of all "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy."

I don't typically act this way, as I am more habitually sinful than virtuous.  But sometimes I do.

Maybe sometimes you do, too.

When you do, recognize the difference.  Recognize that the purity and willingness to yield that sometimes motivates you is utterly different from the eristic drive to power and strife, which more typically motivates all of us.

The one is from above.  The other is not.







Monday, February 2, 2015

Maybe the World Doesn't Hate Us Because We're Christian - Maybe It Hates Us Because We're Stupid and Incredibly Narcissistic



Yeah, OK, "Devout Catholic" is great, "Young Catholic" is great, "Chastity" is great.

But give me a break.

This is from The Chastity Project ...

“The first few months we dated, I never knew he drank. I would have never guessed it because, after all, he went to mass every Sunday. One time, he invited me to go out with his friends. He kissed me when he was drunk. I felt so dirty after. No girl grows up dreaming one of her first kisses would be in a dive bar with a wasted boyfriend."

The article goes on to point out the dangers of alcoholism and binge drinking, and God bless them for that.  But the above quotation, which the author claims is from a "true story, retold with permission" reeks of the kind of Unreality that you only find at suburban Masses.

I'm assuming the "retelling" is what makes me retch.  I hope so.  If it's a direct quote, we're in trouble.

I mean, are there really young Catholic women who think that going to weekly Mass means absolutely anything at all when it comes to judging someone's character, or even how serious a person is about his Faith?  And are there real people who really say, "He kissed me when he was drunk. I felt so dirty after."???

How far this is from Reality - from any maturity, from anything but a weird kind of 1950's version of a Hallmark movie - this is what bothers me.  Yes, alcoholism is a problem, and chastity is a key virtue, and it's great that some Catholics take their Faith seriously ... but this is not an example of taking your Faith seriously.  This is not an example of being "mature in Christ".

This is an example of a puerile banality that is far more make-believe than fiction.

And even if this is a fictional quotation, made up by the author, we're still in trouble.  On what planet does this kind of contrived and artificial approach to life and dating actually work?  Who is this quotation trying to reach, trying to appeal to?

And, by the way, why on earth would you go to a "dive bar" if getting kissed there is so offensive to you?

It would kind of be like this ...

The first few months we dated, I never knew she was a guy in drag.  I mean, she carried a rosary.  The hairy legs were a give away, but still.  And then when she lifted up her skirt and showed me her mail genitalia at that gay bar on the East Side ... well, who wants your first glimpse of the naked flesh of your lover to be at a seamy gay bar on the East Side?  I felt so cheap.  No guy grows up fantasizing about his first moment of intimacy occurring at a gay bar on the East Side. 

... only worse, only more stupid, only more mindless, only more inane.

Maybe the world doesn't hate us because we're Christian.  Maybe it hates us because we're stupid and incredibly narcissistic.