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Thursday, January 29, 2004
Courtesy of Fr. Jim Tucker:
What Common Breed of Dog Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Fr. Jim also has an Index of his favorite posts. They're all well worth reading -- you should bookmark it.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 09:54 Hours [+]
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
I wanted to be Londo!
Congratulations, you're Michael Garibaldi, former head of security for Babylon 5.
Which Babylon 5 Character are you?
Take the Babylon 5 Quizby Paradox.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 12:33 Hours [+]
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Salon on The Passion: Two Pods Down
Courtesy of Dale Price's Dyspeptic Mutterings we learn of this witless piece of trash in Salon magazine. Dale says he hasn't time nor interest to fisk this at length. As we ride along with Dale, we strike our best pose as Tonto or Sancho-Panza, and proceed with the dissection. There is a short preface by a Cintra Wilson, the author of the piece, followed by her interview of the Reverend Mark Stanger, who is Canon Precentor and Associate Pastor at "San Francisco's premier mainstream Episcopalian church, Grac[i]e Cathedral." In a variation on the fine tradition which sent missionaries into the darkest and most benighted places on earth in the service of the Gospel, Reverend Stanger has just returned from a daring sojourn in the wilds of South Barrington, Illinois. There, Reverend Stanger witnessed shocking and primitive rites of The Passion, an ur-legend around which the suburban tribesmen arrange their hunts and harvestings. Ms. Wilson's article and questions are in blue, Reverend Stanger's travelogue are in brown, and my commentary in black.
The pope gave it two thumbs up. No, the pope didn't give it two thumbs up. Who cares? It's the first movie PR campaign shameless enough to suggest that the pope had any opinion about it at all. Mel Gibson played the pope like a cheap lute.
Yes, we know they're all ultramontane at Salon! They're just frothing over the insult to the Pope's dignity over there, let me tell you. Why, one staffer has even taken down the caricature of the Pope as a gay leatherboy from his cubicle in a show of solidarity!
"The Passion of the Christ," Gibson's new film about the last hours in the life of Jesus, doesn't open until Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25), but it has already inspired stones to be cast across hectares of controversy.
Yes, and rumor says there are whole acres of controversy out there in flyover country, where they're so irreverent as to scoff at Jimmy Carter's exhortation to use the metric system. But I appreciate the use of that old proverb, "Casting stones over the hectares of controversy." It sure beats the new faddish ones like "sewing the Hydra's teeth."
Mel Gibson is a Catholic Traditionalist, an offshoot of Catholicism that rejected the papacy
Uh, no, Cintra, the offshoot of Catholicism that rejected the papacy is called Protestantism. Traditionalists don't reject "the papacy." Next time, try putting the Encarta CD inside the computer. It doesn't work well stuck to your forehead.
. . . . and the reforms of the Vatican II in 1965, which, among other things, repudiated the charge of deicide against the Jews.
And, among other things, approved a new liturgy. And, among other things, made significant adjustments in the way Catholics ought to think about freedom of religion, the state, non-Christians, Protestants, the economy, and so forth. And, among other things, was the beginning point of many changes in Catholicism that lots of people (not just Traditionalists) think have gone awry. But we all know Mel Gibson's film is the most hate-filled blast directed at Jews since Fr. Coughlin's broadcasts, and so their continued hatred of Jews just has to be why Traditionalists are disgruntled with Vatican II. We're seeing a new method of bigotry here, folks. Usually people judge the individual by the group. But Cintra's showing us how to judge the group by an individual.
In light of this -- and Gibson's father having made various inflammatory, crackpot-conspiracy statements about the Holocaust, 9/11, Jews and Freemasons -- anti-Semitism charges against the film may have been inevitable, but they are perhaps not undeserved.
Yes, no one was even wondering about anti-Semitism in The Passion until Mel Gibson's father made inflammatory, crackpot statements. Only then, and quite naturally, did anyone suspect that The Passion was the culmination of Mel Gibson's father's lifelong mission to get his views about Freemasons and Al-Qaeda made into a movie about Jesus. And coyness doesn't become Salon's feminism, Cintra. "Perhaps not undeserved"? Faugh! People have been saying that Mel Gibson's the reincarnation of Leni Riefenstahl ever since the project was announced.
Unable to get the film funded through traditional big-studio means, Mel Gibson ponied up $20 million to 30 million of his own cash for "The Passion." Icon Productions is distributing it for Newmarket Films, but pre-promotional efforts have gotten a whole new twist: a frighteningly well-organized Christian group called Outreach has undertaken a grassroots-style promotion of the film through its Web site ThePassionOutreach.com. Outreach has been responsible for invitational screenings of "The Passion" to select Christian and conservative leaders across the nation. . . . The Outreach Web site reveals instructions for a church-based PR blitzkrieg for the film that reads like a cross between "How to Rule Mankind via Bodysnatching Pods From Space" and the new Taco Bell menu:
Frighteningly-Organized Christians? Select conservative leaders? Nationwide activity? Bodysnatching Pods from Space? Here I was, thinking only members of the Gibson family could make inflammatory, crack-pot conspiracy statements that can be tied into The Passion. Now we find out that those things are part of the office pool at Salon.com. "Hey Cintra, I picked Space Pods for the reason behind Bush invading Iraq! Well you're gonna loose, Camry, because I got Right-Wing Taco Bell Chicken Conspiracy and fifty bucks!" On second thought, Cintra, you'd better leave that Encarta disk plastered to your forehead -- it's the only thing keeping the Frighteningly-Organized Christian Brain-Control Waves from turning your mind into a burrito.
"IS YOUR CHURCH READY? At Outreach, we believe that The Passion of The Christ movie may well be the best outreach opportunity in the last 2,000 years ... The overwhelming feedback has been that the film represents a tremendous opportunity to reach the unchurched with the message of salvation."
Yeah, it probably does. Is the thought of all those Pod-People scaring you, Cintra? Just lie down next to this Bible and take a nap . . . that's a good girl . . . . you'll wake up feeling refreshed and good as new! No, those tendrils are normal, so very normal . . . . .
The Web site features "Outreach tools" and strategies with corporate-catchy names that are intended to aid the faithful in helping proselytize for the film through their participating church. That includes: "Passion Saturation Mailing: Focus on those parts of your community God is calling you to reach. Mail a The Passion of The Christ ImpactCard to the selected carrier routes in driving range of your church."
Cintra, without removing the CD from your head, borrow someone else's copy of Encarta and look up "Amish," as in "not all Christians are." How could we all be Amish? Amish people can't use intergalactic spacecraft to bring genetically-engineered Bible Pods to Earth. It would mean using electricity, among other things, and the Amish don't use electricity. They use their inborn capacity for telekinesis instead, but inbred telekenesis can't generate enough power to get you all the way from Planet Bible in the Vega Sector to Earth.
"Passion Prayer Walk: Carefully choose a neighborhood you believe God wants you to reach. With multiple prayer teams, walk every street and pray for every house, asking that God would reach each person with the message of the cross through exposure to The Passion of The Christ. Leave a DoorHanger and/or evangelistic booklet at each home encouraging them to see the movie and inviting them to attend a Passion-related event at your church."
The Horror! Christians walking door to door, praying for people, and leaving them literature! Kind of puts the skids to your Frighteningly-Organized Christian Brain-Control Wave theory, though, doesn't it?
Mel's team has invented a Brave New World of promotional advertising: Force-feed a star-power-fueled "Passion" to your friendly neighborhood pastor, then tap into the free labor of the faithful, zealot-y congregation! Way to recoup through Jesus!
No, we're trying to Rule Mankind with Bodysnatching Fajita Pods, remember?
The Rev. Mark Stanger, canon precentor and associate pastor of San Francisco's premier mainstream Episcopalian church, Grace Cathedral, was one of the lucky Christian leaders invited to one of Outreach's pre-screenings of "The Passion."
Get that, folks? He was invited, as in "come, see, say what you think." By the way, what does "mainstream Episcopalian Church" mean? Does it mean they refuse to bless unions between vertebrate and invertebrate?
Stanger took his mother to Barrington, Ill.,
But was she really his mother, Cintra? She'd been acting awful strange after that nice couple left a Bible at her home, and she now has this voracious appetite for Chicken Quesadillas . . . . .
. . . . to see the tightly guarded film, hosted by Gibson himself, who gave a Q&A afterward.
Not so tightly guarded, however, so as to exclude Episcopalian ministers with San Francisco addresses.
I am lucky to call Stanger a friend,
But is he really Stanger, Cintra? They left Bibles under the theater seats, you know. And hasn't he been smearing refried beans over his body and staring at the moon for hours? I realize it must be terrifying and very stressful to think that you might be the only real human left . . . . you need a nap. Here, just lie down by this nice Bible and sleep awhile. When you wake up, you'll feel right as rain! No, I don't see any tendrils. You're just overwrought. Now close your eyes . . . . . there we go . . . . .
. . . . so we dished the dirt about the event. Apparently, not only do the Jews have a legitimate gripe against "The Passion," but so do the Arabs -- yet, according to Father Stanger, the Christians come off worst of all.
But don't they always? I don't think I've ever read anything that has Christians coming off well, have you, Cintra? The only time Christians were spoken well of was ancient Rome, the lions said they tasted good. Ha ha ha! Everything we read about Christians is disgusting! So that just proves it. They're despicable. Not only that, but they hatch inside your body after being implanted there by leathery eggs . . .
Cintra: Where were the screenings?
Stanger: There were two showings, and they were at the two premier modern suburban Evangelical churches in the country. One was at Saddleback Community Church in Orange County; the other, where I went, was at Willow Creek in Barrington, Ill.
Thet's cuz you're from Sayncisco, so's they maht knoew yew ot thair in Ornuj Kowntie, and some ‘at sees yew would nudge his sister and say "Waaf, lookee thar! Thet's the feller what thinks we kaint be murried lessn we's both main! Dja' reload the shotgun in th' truuk after yew shot that Democrat?" One can understand Reverend Stanger's desire to view the film amongst a more distant tribe of primitives. The Orange County band has already been cowed by his lighting a roadside flare and declaiming that Shango, God of Thunder, would be very angry if they hurt him. The savages of Willow Creek, however, wouldn't have had the opportunity to discount that trick and so he could still use it to escape if need arose.
Cintra: Somebody told you it was a real red-neck, weirdo community, right?
Stanger: This guy I know said he wouldn't set foot in there -- not without shots, at least. These places are highly successful. [Willow Creek] is like a modern hotel conference center, with a food court ... the worship space is a huge auditorium, with multi-screens, that seats 4,500 people. As someone from a fairly sensible church, I really felt uneasy in the crowd. I could really see how church freaks some people out. I couldn't put my finger to it, but there was this atmosphere of giddiness and anticipation...
That's quite understandable. Anyone would be nervous among people who believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and redemption via a human sacrifice. My God, some of them might even believe in a flat tax! A sensible Church doesn't have food courts and video screens. It has properly-trained Labyrinth Facilitators and a Gift Shop where you can buy $195 "Finger Meditation Tools". Anything else is just crass.
Cintra: Star-struck craziness...?
Stanger: Yeah, and also everyone there was white. Any identifiable clergy that I saw were male. There may have been female clergy, but it seemed to be male clergy with their wives in tow, or male clergy with their clergy buddies, or a lot of young male youth-leaders.
As carrion flock to a kill, the presence of heterosexual white men is proof that a great evil has occurred. More interesting than that predictable prejudice, however, is Reverend Stanger's unique brand of feminism. There "may have been female clergy," but it's for sure that ordinary heterosexual brood mares don't count for much in Reverend Stanger's world. For him, mere "women" are just towed objects which are barely-visible in their husbands' shadows. True "females," the kind Rev. Stanger must pay attention to and speak with, wear Roman collars because they've been examined and found to be sentient tool-users by the Association of Clerical Illumninati. And, no doubt, if they've been upgraded to lesbianism one can even discuss some basic theology with them provided that one speaks slowly, in short sentences, and refrains from frightening hand gestures. Such is life under the Episcopalian Uplift . . . . .
Everyone was white? Of course, it's to be expected. On the one hand, the film is just a commercial exploitation of the latent Klan tendencies which reside in anyone who can say the Nicene Creed without rolling their eyes. Therefore we're sure that White Riders were lurking in the parking lot with baseball bats and shotguns to deter Willow Creek's black population from watching the film. On the other hand we also know that black people, who have suffered from white male heterosexual Christian bigotry just like Jews, wouldn't be caught dead in a cultural environment where Christ's divinity and His sacrifice -- the foundation of white Christian male heterosexuality -- are being celebrated. For. Rev. Stanger, black people are either bone-in-nose primitives who would see The Passion and can be kept from doing so only by white racism, or they're acceptably-trained people who can "pass" in society as being just as liberal and dismissive of the Crucifixion as he is. That Willow Creek Church is located in a community whose population is 82.34% white has absolutely nothing to do with the racial composition of the audience, except that it proves the existence of white bigotry because, without it, South Barrington would have a large black population neatly divided into bone-in-nose primitives who would see The Passion and can be kept from doing so only by white bigotry or well-trained people who can therefore "pass" in society as being just as liberal and dismissive of the Crucifixion as Rev. Stanger . . .
Cintra: Do you think they were mostly Evangelical-style Christians?
Stanger: I would think so.
This isn't wise, Reverend. In the bush, one's life may depend on instantly distinguishing the terrible Redneckus Evangelica Agressiva from the more harmless Yuppusbigot Suburbiana. I realize taxonomy can be difficult, especially if an adventurer must remain alert for the sudden eruption of pogroms and lynch mobs. But the examples of great men, such as Patterson and Jim Corbett teach us that the vigilant use of expert knowledge is indispensable for the would-be Bwana.
Cintra: This film is being touted as the most factual representation of the crucifixion possible; Mel Gibson has called it the most authentic and biblically accurate film about Jesus' death.
Stanger: It's absolutely not.
‘Cause he says so. And he says so because the most authentic and biblically accurate films about Jesus' death are (in no particular order) Cry Freedom, Spartacus, and Silkwood.
Cintra: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each give different views of the crucifixion.
Stanger: Mel Gibson in his remarks after the film took a potshot at contemporary biblical scholarship -- he called scholars "revisionists" who think the gospel writers had agendas. They absolutely didhave agendas.
Sorry, can't let you get away with that whopper. Nobody decries some modern biblical scholarship because it says the Evangelists had agendas. People decry modern biblical scholars' ideas about what those agendas were -- like faking the Gospel story to make Jesus look like God when in fact He wasn't, really, just a sort of naive and bumbling peasant who happened simultaneously to give us a rationale for every sophisticated and elegant idea the Left has ever had.
: It's hard to know if [the film is] historically accurate,
Unless, of course, we're saying that it's "absolutely not" accurate. That we can say with the same assurance we bring to other dogmatic truths, like the necessity of Nancy Pelosi's reelection.
. . . because Gospel writers were not trying to do an eyewitness report -- they were producing theological, practical documents of faith to answer questions that were appearing in their communities a half-generation and a generation after the death of Jesus.
A "half-generation and a generation"? How about, "to answer questions that were appearing during their own lifetimes and during the lifetimes of other people who knew Jesus." Nah, not a good answer -- it makes the Evangelists sound like they were willing to expose their writing to the judgment of Jesus' contemporaries and those to whom His life would have been a matter of living memory. In fact, however, they were just making up a story that fit what they wanted people to do. Hence the code phrase, "documents of faith" -- in a theological tradition like Stanger's, that means "making up reasons why 1 Timothy 3:12 doesn't exist."
"So it was as if the gospel writers themselves were movie makers. They were trying to interpret things in a way that their people could understand it. They're works of art, theological works, not eyewitness reports. But even a CNN eyewitness report has an agenda.
Stop telling that whopper about "agendas"! Not eyewitness reports? Not eyewitness reports? "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!" John 19:26. But John, the "disciple whom he loved" wasn't really there -- he was on location filming Easy Rider. Even Rev. Stanger has an agenda -- like telling people that the Gospels are cultural metaphors ("trying to interpret things in a way that their people could understand it") that can be changed as the culture changes.
Cintra: So, Mel Gibson seems to be arguing that the gospels are factual documents.
That's what proves Gibson to be an idiot. He ought to have made a work of art, a theological work, a faith statement that tries to answer questions appearing in communities a long time after Jesus' death and . . . er, uh . . . well . . . . Gibson's work isn't historically accurate, which we can prove by using the Gospels as historical records and . . er, uh . . . well . . . . FREE TIBET!!!!!
And that all of the references to the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, were proof of fulfillment of prophesy, whereas it's most likely that in order to make sense of the events surrounding Jesus' death, the gospel writers searched the Hebrew scriptures to find things.
To find things? What kind of things? Things that . . . . matched what happened in Jesus life? Why, if they could have done that, it would mean that all the references to the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, were proof of the fulfillment of prophecy! But that's ludicrous since, as everyone knows, only Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Helen Caldicott's Nuclear Madness qualify as prophecies! No, no -- the Evangelists searched Hebrew Scriptures for depictions of the Messiah and then made up "faith statements" (only crass people call them "bald-faced lies") to make it look like they referred to Jesus. That was their agenda, you see, just like Rev. Stanger's agenda, which is to convince people to shun The Passion because it doesn't match up with a non-existent historical record. And we expect Muslims to take Christianity seriously? Hell. If this really was an example of Christian thought, Muhammad's dog wouldn't take Christianity seriously.
Cintra: So, after the crucifixion, writers of the New Testament were looking back at the Old Testament and finding connective threads to make sense of what they were writing?
Stanger: Yes, exactly, the way anybody looks into their own faith tradition to make sense of traumatic events in their own life. Also, some of these [New Testament authors and their communities] were already being persecuted themselves for their beliefs. So, the way to make sense of that is to show Jesus as a model of patience under suffering.
With effort, one can see how Rev. Stanger finds the parallel that lets him project his own lunacy back into the early Church. The Evangelists were undoubtedly "traumatized" by Jesus' death (He was also resurrected, but we can discount that entirely as a simple myth) and their own alienation from "normal" society. So they tried to make sense of it through the Gospel. In a similar, though not identical, way Rev. Stanger has been traumatized by contact with the Gospel and his own alienation from 1,900 years of Christian witness, and so he tries to make sense of it through the Jesus Seminar. But the parallel breaks down inasmuch as the Apostles and Evangelists risked imprisonment and death for their beliefs, while all Rev. Stanger risks is the occasional safari to suburban Chicago or a drop in stock transfers to Grace Cathedral. Death, so they say, concentrates the mind wonderfully. While Rev. Stanger's problem is to validate his politically-correct lifestyle option by selectively-ideological quotations from Scripture, the Apostles' and Evangelists' problem was to decide if they really needed to get killed over this Jesus business. Given that most of us tend to be as self-indulgent and intellectually-flexible as Rev. Stanger, we must suspect that something happened in the lives of the Apostles and Evangelists to make them stand out from the common run of humanity. There's a wild rumor running through the EC-USA that God is distinguishable from the common run of humanity. If there's any truth to that rumor, Rev. Stanger might want to consider more closely the reasons why (a) St. Stephen boldly proclaimed the truth and factual accuracy of the Gospel story in the face of impending death, while (b) Rev. Stanger wouldn't even risk a few rude looks by spouting off in the lobby of a suburban Illinois church.
One of the ways [Gibson] tries to produce an air of authenticity in the film is to have the principals speaking Aramaic, the dialect of Hebrew that Jesus would have spoken, and the Roman soldiers and Pilate speaking Latin.
What a trickster! While some fringe scholars believe the Romans spoke Latin, and other kooks maintain the Jews spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, we can't really be sure of that. Telling audiences that these languages were actually spoken can only create the appearance of accuracy!
But very chillingly, in the interview after the showing, Mel Gibson said the reason that he had [his cast] speaking those original languages -- and I didn't misinterpret him, because he told a long story to illustrate it -- he said, "If I was doing a film about very fierce, horrible, nasty Vikings coming to invade a town, and had them on their ship with their awful weapons, and they came pouring off the ship ready to slaughter -- to have them speak English wouldn't be menacing enough."
Sure, because the actors portraying Vikings are supposed to be in character and believable -- how frightening will it be if Mel's Vikings leap from their longboats yelling "Move it, youze guys, we gotta pillage and loot before the bars close!" You don't believe me? Go watch John Wayne play Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. You can't be awed, frightened, or inspired because it's just painfully funny. All you can do is think silly questions to yourself, like "Why is Sgt. Stryker wearing a furry hat?" or "Why aren't there saloons in Mongolia?" If I were a director trying to bring the point home about the use of languages and believability, that's an example I might use myself. If Rev. Stanger was a gossipy, waspish fellow who had no compunction about taking things out of context and using them for the purposes of detraction, that's just the kind of complaint he might complain about, too.
Cintra: How did that hit you?
Stanger: I almost puked. It was so xenophobic: The good guys speak English; the bad guys speak these other languages. It wasn't a consistent view, because in the film Jesus was speaking the same language as his tormentors, but even so, I think it was meant to cause confusion and awe in the audience, to have these horrible people speaking either a Semitic or an ancient language like this.
So let me get this straight -- Mel Gibson's movie is pukingly xenophobic because pukingly xenophobic movies show the good guys speaking English and the bad guys speaking foreign languages -- even though nobody speaks English in Mel Gibson's movie. Mel Gibson's movie uses foreign languages to show that its characters are horrible people -- even though Jesus (who, at last report, isn't supposed to be a horrible person in any of Mel's edits) is shown speaking a foreign language. Just about every criticism I've read of The Passion features this kind of malign stupidity. The man watched the movie and this is what he comes up with?
Cintra: Did you feel like that the use of these ancient languages was a veiled anti-Semitic comment?
Stanger: Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim. Some of those words in Aramaic sound a little bit like Arabic -- Arabic is a Semitic language too. [In the film, it came off like] nasty foreigners were doing this thing to our beautiful Jesus.
So The Passion caters to xenophobic American nationalism by showing us an Incarnate God who doesn't speak English, who instead speaks languages that are or sound like Hebrew and Arabic. The Passion is Anti-Semitic because it tells Christians that God created their faith with those awful languages thereby encouraging some of us, by dint of our American xenophobia, to hate our Semitic-speaking God and His Hebrew religion. There are only two ways someone can end up using this sort of logic -- if he simply must find anti-Semitism in The Passion by any means necessary, or if he's been spending too much time with his local Labyrinth Facilitator.
So when Mel Gibson said in the interview that the reason for the other languages was to highlight the brutality, that kind of freaked me out. I could see how it would work on an unsophisticated audience.
But he didn't say that. Reverend Stanger doesn't even say Mel Gibson said that. Reverend Stanger told us that Mel Gibson talked about how he would use a foreign language to show the menacing brutality of marauding Vikings. There are no Vikings in The Passion, marauding or otherwise, because Mel Gibson didn't accept Reverend Stanger's implied suggestion that the film would have somehow been less xenophobic and anti-Semitic if Jesus had been given blonde hair, blue eyes, and the ability to speak English like they do in Minnesota and Wisconsin. From that, Reverend Stanger comes up with, "Mel Gibson said he wanted to use Hebrew and Semitic languages to show the brutality of all Semitic people." To the contrary, all Mr. Gibson has done is show us that the audience at Willow Brook had only one unsophisticated member -- namely Rev. Stanger who, isolated in the comfy blue cocoon that is San Francisco, thinks Americans shoot TOEFL applicants on sight.
It's probably the same feeling that people in Guantánamo Bay have, having had soldiers barking at them in English for two years.
Zzzzziiiingggg! Salon.com scores a direct hit on the well-known connection between Mel Gibson, Space Pods, and Guantanamo Bay! But seriously, folks, isn't this rather racist of Rev. Stanger? I mean, isn't he using the foreign-ness of English to depict all Anglo-Saxons as brutal people? Isn't he proving Mel's point!!!!
Cintra: Did you feel in the storytelling there were any particularly glaring omissions or otherwise historically inaccurate stuff?
Stanger: Not really, except that Jesus' crucifixion was made too singular. This was an ordinary event.
Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those unsophisticated people who think Jesus was a Divine Person of the Holy Trinity. Here, let me write as if I got paid by Salon: "Such historical records as exist suggest that the Roman Empire crucified only one person who is believed to be hypostatically-united to the Godhead. But many scholars disagree. They point out that surviving documents do not record the utterances of every person the Romans crucified, and decisions by some Christian groups like the Episcopalian Church to regard the statements of Jesus' first followers as optional indicates that other thinkers may well qualify for God-like status."
Jesus was one of dozens of insurrectionists that the local Roman occupiers would have crucified,
In fact, if you look at pictures of Him in a certain light, Jesus almost looks like . . sighhh . . Che! "And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection . . . But the chief [canon precentors and associate pastors] moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. . . . And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified." Mark 15:7-15. How ironic -- men who follow their own lusts (political or otherwise) over the Gospel still prefer secular revolutionaries! Plus ca change, plus la mem chose! Sorry -- PLEASE DON'T SHOOT ME!!!!!!!!!!
but [Gibson] tried to make his suffering especially agonizing and horrible. That was the other subtext -- I thought there was an unspoken assumption that somehow, for Jesus' death to have meaning to believers, it had to be more horrible than any other kind of suffering and death. The film doesn't really say that, but that's the idea, and that's why it has an "R" rating -- for the violence. The protracted scourging.
"I thought of an unspoken assumption that white heterosexual males are indifferent to human suffering, and realized that I could continue making that assumption while watching the movie, and therefore saw how that's part of the movie."
Cintra: You felt it was gratuitous violence?
Stanger: I thought it was sickening. At the screening they were handing out boxes of Kleenex -- they should have handed out barf bags.
Glad to see that at least one of my predictions has come true: "The Passion will be . . . criticized for its gory imagery by the usual crowd of slow-wits and flibbertygibbets." Ya gotta laugh, too -- I mean, the guy says he was unmoved, that he didn't need to wipe his eyes watching Our Lord's tremendous suffering, that all he wanted to do was throw up at the ickiness on the movie screen --- and he says it right after sneering at white Evangelical men for being generally numb about human suffering!!!! Tell me, Rev. Stanger, if the maximum suffering leaves you unmoved, would you be able to cry for Our Lord at the thought of Him being less tortured, scourged fewer times, and shot in the head rather than spending agonizing hours on the Cross? I thought not.
Cintra: Oo! Oooooo!
Stanger: There was no reason for this [violence], spiritually or theologically.
Funny, though, if you think Jesus was perfect man and perfect God, it stands to reason (in a troglodytic sort of way) that even His suffering would be the most perfect suffering of any man and therefore greater than any other human suffering could be. If you persist in your atavism, this will actually give you some comfort, in that God isn't asking you to do something He hasn't done Himself. And if you ignore all warnings, they'll dismiss you as canon precentor and associate pastor at Grac[i]e Cathedral.
Do you remember in the movie "Gladiator" that short shot where he comes home to find his wife and family crucified, and there was also a report that she had been sexually assaulted beforehand?
Can't say I was mesmerized by it, no.
"It was brutal and ugly and horrible, and you didn't need 20 minutes of blood flow to get the message across. I thought "The Passion" was really perverse and really depraved.
Well, he ought to thank God that Gibson didn't show Jesus eating with the wrong fork, or refusing to bless a homosexual marriage. For Episcopalians of Rev. Stanger's sensibilities, that would have been too much perversity and depravity to bear.
There's a lot of criticism against the film that it gives a bad picture of Jews -- I think it gives a worse picture of Christians. Holding this up as somehow emblematic of something central to our belief -- this preoccupation with both sin and blood sacrifice -- is just absolutely primitive.
My my . . . what a truly anti-Semitic thing for Rev. Stanger to say! Go read Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Reverend. They're in that dusty book you got as a present at your seminary graduation. There's lots of preoccupation with sin and blood sacrifices -- by Jews, millenia of Jews, millions and millions of Jews, all of whom are now revealed to be depraved, perverse, and primitive in Rev. Stanger's ethnologically-sensitive view of humankind. Perhaps it's not that dirty in Rev. Stanger's soul. He might be imagining all of them as English-speaking people like Charlton Heston. Then he could love them, at least a little bit.
The violence is literally gut-wrenching. My pious mom was there and she felt a knot in her gut from the violence, but she also felt the movie was poorly made. She called it "plodding."
Cintra: [Cackling] How old is your mom?
"Oo! Ooooooo! . . . Cackling"? Who's interviewing this guy? Did Wormwood had a pen name?
She's 76. She was there for the star power. She definitely wanted to see Mel Gibson. That was the other scary thing about the event -- to have 4,500 Christian leaders in one room who were just star struck and gaga.
It made me think of . . . Nuremburg! And to think Mrs. Stanger's boy braved it all! The stars, the air-conditioning, the heated cars!!! It's a miracle he came back alive, I tell you -- a miracle!
Cintra: Do you think this film has the potential to reignite the charge of deicide against the Jews?
Stanger: Oh, I think it definitely could. It made a big deal of Pilate trying to save Jesus, which doesn't appear in all the Gospels.
Uh huh . . . .
Hmmmmm . . .. must not be in Pagels, that's what he means.
Cintra: In the version you saw, did the Jewish priest Caiaphas intimidate Pontius Pilate into going along with the Crucifixion?
Stanger: Yeah, pretty much.
But that doesn't mean The Passion is in any way accurate, because it doesn't coincide with all
Scholars are objecting to this section and saying it distorts the fact that the Romans were the occupying power.
If people want to read something sensible about this whole thing, Raymond E. Brown -- he died about a year ago -- was a great, great Catholic scripture scholar. He wrote a mega-work called "The Death of the Messiah" in 1994 -- two volumes, 1,600 pages. But then he digested [it] down and did a little tiny popular work, a $5 paperback, 71 pages, called "A Crucified Christ in Holy Week." I think that would be the sanest possible book anyone could ever read.
I've never read anything by Raymond E. Brown. But for some reason the only time I see his scholarship used is by people who think like Cintra and Stanger. That leads me to be skeptical about the sanity involved.
Cintra: This film had some extra details that came from the visions of whoever, which I've never studied...
Stanger: She was a 19th century mystic, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich. Gibson was quoted as saying his script drew from diaries she kept of her visions -- scholars got bent out of shape that he threw in some extra-biblical details derived from her writing.
I may be grasping at straws, but I predicted that The Passion will be . . . . shunned by the "Omega Crowd" because of its reliance on the "unbiblical inventions" of a Catholic mystic. Now Mark might be referring to the deleted Cross-making scene, which had Our Lord's cross manufactured in the Temple per Sister Emmerich's visions. But I hear "extra-biblical" sort of frequently in my conversations, and always from Christians who're annoyed with the idea of miracles happening to Catholics at any time after the Ascension. Anyhow . . . .
There are a lot of tormented people who really concentrated on sin and suffering. Even in the Old Testament, in the Psalms, there was an evolution from bloody sacrifice to "a sacrifice of praise," a sacrifice of praise and thanks.
There are lots of people tormented by cancer who really concentrate on cancer, and lots of oncologists who really concentrate on it as well. That doesn't make them neurotic, Rev. Stanger. While I'm glad (in a lesser-of-two-evils sort of way) that you're willing to consider Jews capable of evolution, could you explain why the Jews were getting ready to sacrifice and eat lambs when Jesus and the disciples came to Jerusalem? Some of us dirty-fingernail types think that what happened was that the idea of praise was added to the idea of propitiatory sacrifice in view of what Jesus' supreme oblation would do for mankind. We'd appreciate an explanation of your contrary answer, namely that the Jews underwent Uplift.
I don't see the point of magnifying the violence of his arrest, torture and death. I find it perverse and strange and really vulgar.
Well, gosh, Rev. Stanger, what else can you expect from the false Jew-God and His depraved Hebrew-speaking untermenschen? It's not like they worship your Deity who -- according to what you've said so far -- (a) can be thought of as close to us if we allow that He speaks English and not Hebrew, (b) hates messy sacrifices for the primitive Jewish atavisms they really are, and (b) isn't fixated on that whole guilt/sin/redemption business like the neurotic Tribe. If you keep it up at this rate, we'll soon see you and your fellow canon precentors patrolling the area around Grac[i]e Cathedral with stun guns and axe-handles lest some hook-nosed Semite defile one of the faithful.
As Ray Brown says, the Gospels are pretty straightforward.
Did he say that in the 1,600 page book or the 71-page paperback?
They arrive at Golgotha, and then it says, "Then they crucified him." They just say it in a little short sentence.
OK folks, we have to do this the hard way . . . . .
They don't say, "They yanked one of Jesus' shoulders out of the socket and they bounced the cross around face down after he was nailed to it." I think some of that came from that wacko woman's vision. People who are psychologically disturbed push that into their religious imagination. Religious imagination is very fertile, and it feeds on human need, so you have to be really careful.
Yeah, that wacko breeder . . . so worthless she wouldn't even try becoming a priestess! We all know how psychologically unstable women are, how needy they are, how hysterical their imaginations can be. Why, the poor dears are always getting their pretty heads in an uproar over the slightest things! The old ones, the ones of mindless simple piety, they can be handled. But when they get hysterical, turning wild and wanton like the Dionysian revelers of old, using their fertility and uttering prophetic imaginings about the Mother Goddess, there's no telling what mischief they'll get up to. Why, one of them might even inspire a film like The Passion, which all sensible men must rebuke for its shameless and bigoted stereotyping!
Cintra: So Mel's vision is morbidly preoccupied with sin and retribution?
Stanger: Oh, absolutely. And he said so in the interview afterward: "To forgive human sin, there had to be a blood sacrifice." The idea that God is so pissed off that God needs blood to satisfy him -- that is such a primitive notion.
So primitive, only Jews could believe it! Does this guy have a Swastika tatooed on his forehead? No? You mean it's wrong to leap to conclusions about someone being an anti-Semite? You mean we shouldn't project our stereotypes on people just because of who they are? Well, someone go read that page of the book to Rev. Stanger, because if he keeps on railing about The Passion like he's been doing, he'll end up answering Gibson by producing history's first tolerant anti-Semitic snuff film.
Cintra: Throw the virgin in the volcano.
Stanger: The whole idea of Jesus as a life giver, or someone who can transform hearts, or who comes to give abundant life, or the Jesus of John's Gospel, who comes to say, "I come to give living water that will bubble up within you," you know, an almost Gnostic notion -- it so goes against this thing, the Doctrine of the Atonement, which Evangelical Christians and Protestants have read back into the Gospels more heavily than is really there.
Now I actually agree with this, except for the part where Rev. Stanger claims Jesus as the founder of his own Bay-area gnosticism. If you want to read a disproportionate conception of the Atonement, read no further than the Westminster Confession or Calvin's Institutes. Catholics, on the other hand, have read the Gospels for precisely as much of the Doctrine of Atonement as actually exists, neither more, nor less. But then Rev. Stanger would call that a typical example of Catholic triumphalism and, if the implication of his comments about Jews and women are any guide, accuse me of having a years' worth of ammunition and food in my basement against the day when the Pope orders me to obey the Jesuit Oath.
Cintra: How was the preoccupation with sin illustrated in the film?
Stanger: The "devil" was a kind of androgynous creature, but most people read it as a woman, and called her "The Temptress" -- she was whispering to Jesus on the night before his Passion, saying "Nobody. Nobody can take on the sin of the whole human race. It's too great. Nobody can. You can't do it." And Jesus does!
"The devil was androgynous, but I know it was a woman! Moreover, I know what most people were reading into it and saying to each other! It's so wonderful to be part of the Universal Mind! I can see for miles and miles . . . . Wheeeeeeee . . . . . "
Watch it, Rev. Stanger, there's a mighty big bump at the end of the ride.
Cintra: He paints his face blue, puts on his kilt, and he goes for it!
Stanger: And when the devil isn't shown as an androgynous or female figure, the devil is shown as a taunting child, which really freaked me out. Really horrible.
You mean Gibson portrayed the Devil as horrible?!! How . . . how judgmental of him!!!!
Cintra: Damien in "The Omen II."
Stanger: Exactly. The parts that are kind of overlooked are Jesus saying, "Love your enemies"; "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword" -- those lines are in there, but...
"Those lines are in there, but they're not in there. Gibson's an anti-Semite, except his film isn't consistent with anti-Semitism. And I'm a Reverend!"
Cintra: Kind of glossed over in favor of the heavy blood and guts?
Thanks, Cintra! I was at a loss to explain how lines in the movie aren't in the movie, but you sure pulled my chestnuts out of the fire! Glad you could stop screeching and spinning your head long enough to help out!
Cintra: So, Mel was reverting back to Book of Jeremiah, burn-in-a-lake-of-fire, angry God of Abraham stuff?
Stanger: Oh, yeah. If you believe in monotheism, there is only one God. There's not an Old Testament God and a New Testament God. And there's not a Muslim God and a Christian God.
But only if you believe that stuff.
"To Mel Gibson's credit, afterward in the interview -- the auditorium got pretty quiet; I almost got up and cheered -- he said, "I believe that through the merits of Jesus' sacrifice, even the people of the Old Testament were all saved." So David is a saint, and Elijah is a saint. And even people who don't know Jesus are able to be saved, but through him. I know that sounds condescending, but it's still a fairly generous remark and that's really the best of Catholic tradition.
It's condescending to suggest that only the God described by your faith can save those who worship in another faith if you DON'T believe "monotheism stuff." But anyhow, that sure is the best of Catholicism, Rev. Stanger, and yeah, the mercy and good news does make you want to stand up and cheer. But don't you wonder how someone, like Mel Gibson, who believes that could make a vicious anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Woman film that reeks of exclusivist triumphalism? No. He's just a bigot and that's that. You're so eager to have people not see this movie that you say all these terrible things about Mel Gibson -- he plays on xenophobia, his gory and violent imagery encourages race hatred, his film harkens back to the old dark days when we killed them all and let God sort them out --- whom you've just admitted doesn't believe in the ideas that make all that horror possible in the first place. Could there be another reason you don't want the film seen? A reason that's not as morally hygienic as the ones you've proposed and then shot down with your own words?
Cintra: Still, the God Mel described then sounds like a God that is a lot more friendly than the one portrayed in the film.
Stanger: I think ["The Passion"] was meant to be a shocker and a moneymaker. And I don't think it's going to make money, and I think that's why they've had to suck people in. At this showing, there was no room to not like the film. We were supposed to all like it. We were supposed to all be weeping into our Kleenexes. We were supposed to all see this as the greatest opportunity of all time, and then Lee Strobel, "former atheist," who wrote "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith," said ["The Passion"] was "An anointed piece of art." That God "selected" Mel to do this.
I wonder if we can disregard the Pieta because Michelangelo meant to shock and make some money. I wonder if that means it's not an anointed piece of art, that God didn't select Michelangelo to sculpt it. I guess so, because even though The Passion may not be the cinematic equal of the Pieta, the alternative is believing that God selects people to do things in fulfillment of a Gospel which is truly real, which isn't a mix-and-match collection of propaganda statements that justify anything we want to justify. That world's just too terrible for some people to accept. Fortunately, you only have to accept it if you believe in that monotheism stuff.
Cintra: That's spooky. Frank Rich made an interesting point in his New York Times column: that the audiences that have been selected to see this film before the release are all very conservative Christians like the Senate Republican Conference, the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, and Rush Limbaugh -- but it hasn't been shown to critics or Bible scholars or Jewish groups. Do you think Mel knows he has something to worry about, here?
Yeah, like more Stangerite blathering accompanied by your mindless vowel sounds. Seriously, though, don't you think Rev. Stanger qualifies as a "critic"? He certainly thinks he qualifies as a "bible scholar." If you don't think he qualifies, then what's your definition of "criticism" and does it involve putting ten or fifteen rounds in the clip? And don't try saying that Stanger got invited because they thought he was part of Jack Van Impe's ministry -- the man's address says "Episcopalian" and "San Francisco" for crying out loud.
Stanger: I just don't think it's very well done. I think if someone wants to get into some interesting cinematic treatments, they should go see "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" by Passolini. Or even the old Hollywood blockbusters. ["The Passion"] reflects a very morbid kind of theology.
. . . a morbid, perverse, and terrible theology which says "through the merits of Jesus' sacrifice, even the people of the Old Testament were all saved.' So David is a saint, and Elijah is a saint. And even people who don't know Jesus are able to be saved, but through him." How revolting! Of course, you only have to believe that if you're into monotheism. Fortunately, Rev. Stanger and the bunch at Grac[i]e Cathedral believe differently -- they're guaranteed entry into heaven because they're voting for whoever runs against George Bush!
If the idea is to just provoke, it may do that. I thought it was a lot of dull, unless you like watching protracted torture scenes.
". . . where comely women characters don't get molested before they're crucified, I mean."
Cintra: So you didn't feel like it was going to be a tool of great conversion or anything.
Stanger: No, not at all. It's 100 percent Hollywood trash. There's so many stories that can illumine the meaning of suffering and redemption and forgiveness, and renewal of life, and they're not all in the Bible.
Not only illumine -- they can even illuminate!! And there are lots of stories, like the story of Gilgamesh:
'Gilgamesh, where are you wandering?Hell, that's San Francisco's motto! And don't forget the glory that was Athens: ‘The strong do what they will; the weak suffer what they must." How cheerfully redemptive! And let's not leave out that theme-park of a century, the 20th, which turned its back on morbid monotheistic theologies and ended up chock full of forgiveness, redemption, and the renewal of life!
Cintra: What would be your advice for would-be moviegoers?
Stanger: I'd say don't bother. I think it's a big bore.
Oh. I thought it was a dangerous anti-Semitic piece of American chauvinism that will inspire pogroms and the sacking of Jerusalem by the 4th Infantry Division. You got a funny idea of boredom there, Rev. Stanger.
I think a 5-year-old who has to get cancer surgery and radiation and chemotherapy suffers more than Jesus suffered; I think that a kid in the Gaza Strip who steps on a land mine and loses two limbs suffers more; I think a battered wife with no resources suffers more; I think people without medical care dying of AIDS in Africa suffer more than Jesus did that day. I mean, I don't want to take away from that . . . .
But, of course, you do take away from it, for everyone. True love, love worth anything, requires solidarity in suffering. If God wants five-year-old children to suffer more than He's willing to suffer, then He doesn't completely love them. As He finds them unworthy of His complete love, so they should in justice find Him unworthy of their complete love. The shattering continues in other areas than religion, of course, because everyone thinks he suffers more than his neighbor, and many people do suffer more than their neighbors. Why should any of them completely love their fellows by solidarity in suffering, especially when God Himself refuses to do it? If God withholds His complete solidarity in suffering from those who are blameless, how much more proper for us to withhold solidarity from those we blame? Congratulations, Rev. Stanger, you've just legitimized a world where rich people don't have to show solidarity with poor children suffering from cancer; where Israeli orphans don't need solidarity with Palestinian orphans; where healthy white American heterosexuals can ignore black Africans with AIDS; and where husbands shouldn't value solidarity with their wives. Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends, and greater love hath no man than Jesus' love, for Jesus (unlike Gilgamesh) didn't have to die at all. If He did so much, then we should do all we can, to love one another. They must not be very big on love at Grac[i]e Cathedral if they made you a canon proboscis or whatever the heck it is . . . your gospel is the root of all selfishness.
. . . but this preoccupation with the intensity of the suffering, I think, has no theological or spiritual value.
Yes, well, you can think that way, since you're not into that Jesus monotheism stuff.
Well, if nothing else, I've certainly proved another of my predictions, which is that The Passion will be . . . . talked about incessantly by people who haven't seen it.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 21:36 Hours [+]
Saturday, January 24, 2004
Now This -- From a Far More Accurate Quiz
You are Roscoe P. Coltrane. You do have morals,
they're just easily forgotten. If your boss
tells you to do something, you jump to it. You
are kind to animals, especially basset hounds.
What Dukes of Hazzard Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 22:04 Hours [+]
Uh huh, yeah, sure . . .
You are Pope John Paul II. You are a force to be
Which Twentieth Century Pope Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 06:41 Hours [+]
Friday, January 23, 2004
(Viz. Certain Points of Our Previous "Joint Declaration")
We have received, and hereby reply to, several comments from two readers about our Appeal to the Warring Houses of Montague and Capulet. The comments are in blue, our replies in black.
"[I h]ave read the two sides for a long period of time so understand why you wrote what you did. But one thought crossed my mind in reading it--that being, if I recall correctly, The Capulet is a full-time student and also works. While The Montaque does his writing not as an avocation, but as a full-time vocation which is how he supports himself and his family. If I have those facts correct, it seems to me that The Montaque would have more reason to sustain his form of apologetics in the hopes of maintaining his job and income. In other words, he sees his livlihood on the line. Do you see this as a possibility SAM?"
Our criticism was directed only at how he handles discourse with (and about) the Capulet and vice versa. Nothing more and nothing less.
I was just curious: Shawn has described (Catholic webmaster & apologist) Gary Hoge as (paraphrasing): "a model in behavior that we should all emulate." Yet Gary cannot get along with Tim Enloe. They had pleasant dialogue for several years & called each other "friends." Now he is one of the myriad Catholics that are in Tim's doghouse. So how do you explain exceptionally-amiable, mild-mannered Gary's failure with Tim?
Our criticism was directed only at how our Catholic friend handles discourse with (and about) the Capulet and vice versa. Nothing more and nothing less.
We think the reader's line of argument is inapt, because the person conducting it will unintentionally and unavoidably appear to be "dead agenting" the otherby saying in effect "See, he had a fight with someone who's beyond reproach. So that's proves it's all his fault between us." If our criticism has made nothing else clear, it is our belief that neither the Catholic Montague or the Protestant Capulet are beyond reproach in this situation.
"It is a great fallacy to generalize our own (successful) experiences and conclude that others have not learned what we have . . . ."
Unless, of course, we happen to be right about that. :))
". . . which is why they can't get along with individual x. In short, I regard psychological or temperament analysis alone as far too simplistic to even have much explanatory value. Therefore, I look forward to your answers to my questions above, because I can't say that I totally "get it" yet, as regards your theory.
That's why we're sure the Catholic Montague and our Protestant Capulet will profit from our "joint declaration"; it does not rest solely on "psychology." It rests on all kinds of things, like manners and common sense, which can be applied without reference to psychology.
"But you have not explained in enough depth. Why would Gary be a target of "dead-agenting" and not y'all? If the theory is personality-based, it makes no sense to me that Gary would be relegated to the "stupid" category, since he is not all that different intelligence-wise from you and SAM. So what do you think accounts for the radically different reaction?
Our criticism was directed only at how our Catholic friend handles discourse with (and about) the Capulet and vice versa. Nothing more and nothing less.
As noted, we think the reader's line of argument is inapt, because the person conducting it will unintentionally and unavoidably appear to be "dead agenting" the other by saying in effect "See, he had a fight with someone who's beyond reproach. So that's proves it's all his fault between us." If our criticism has made nothing else clear, it is our belief that neither the Catholic Montague or the Protestant Capulet are beyond reproach in this situation.
"Do you believe I possess any of the following traits: intellectual dishonesty, extreme untrustworthiness in dealing with sources & citations, lack of rudimentary understanding of my subject matter, "anti-Protestant" bigotry, insincerity, Jack Chick-like apologetic abilities, martyr complex, deliberate historical revisionism, & a belief that all non-Catholic opinions are worthless & not to be taken seriously?"
We view the prospect of weighing every scrap of potential data on this matter an endeavour that would waste a lot of our lives in light of how long this acrimony has been publically manifested. Even if it were possible for us to do so, we would still decline out of a conviction that it would be an example of "paying tithes on mint and anise and cumin and having left undone weightier matters of law."
Again we must note that our criticism was directed only at how our Catholic friend handles discourse with (and about) the Capulet and vice versa. Nothing more and nothing less. We are sure that our Protestant friend has dealt uncharitably with our Catholic friend during their interactions. We are also sure that our Catholic friend has dealt uncharitably with our Protestant friend during their interactions. We sympathize with both of them, and so we do not entertain the false hope that we can or should adjudicate their prior interactions and current grievances.
Instead, in view of our convictions about our friends' mutual difficulties, we prefer to declare all prior conflicts between them as moot and point out that the definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result. For this reason, we exhort our friends to make a new beginning here and -if they must dialogue- do so without the tactics each used in past correspondence. If this is not possible to do, then do not dialogue at all.
"2nd, would such false accusations towards either of you, relentlessly for 4 years (never being corrected or retracted), make YOU a bit angry, & possibly lead to overly-angry replies at times, & ugly, unedifying exchanges?"
Our criticism was directed only at how our Catholic friend handles discourse with (and about) the Capulet and vice versa. Nothing more and nothing less. We can, however, without departing from our theme point out that our Catholic and Protestant friends' decisions to interact with one another for over four years in a mutual climate of bitterness, bickering, and bloody-minded bombast have done nothing to remedy the situation of which they both complain. We suggest only that their heads will immediately feel better once the wall-banging stops.
"Btw, I have NEVER EVER made these charges myself, excepting the understanding one, & that only in a very limited, specific application."
We are glad to hear it. Our criticism, however, was directed only at how our Catholic friend handles discourse with (and about) the Capulet and vice versa. Nothing more and nothing less.
"Oops, I forgot one more trait I have been accused of very recently. I'll quote this directly, lest someone think that I exaggerate in describing it . . . . "
See our previous comment.
"Do you and SAM believe this is a true judgment of me . . . .?"
See our previous comment.
"And of course (it should go without saying) I have also NEVER said this about my critic, nor WOULD I ever . . . ."
We are glad to hear it. However, we must again point to our previous comment.
I consider it a severe condemnation of one's heart & motivations, & quite sinful.
Again, our criticism was directed only at how he handles discourse with (and about) the Capulet and vice versa. Nothing more and nothing less.
"And nothing needs to be said by me about Mr. Armstrong's comments here. Perhaps SAM or Shawn will step in and mediate."
Indeed we shall. Here is our first ruling:
With apologies to them both, we hereby prohibit further comments by the Capulet or the Montague on this blog about one another or the "joint declaration." The reason is simple: y'all are starting to mill around like two motorcycle gangs in a parking lot. Therefore, as any competent law-enforcement authority would order dispersement in such a situation, we in like manner do so with our two readers on the subjects we have previously enunciated.
If they wish to ignore our advice, they have their own internet venues in which to engage in an(other) unsightly feud. We note, however, that they are simultaneously attempting -- at last report -- to reach some sort of modus vivendi and we commend them for those efforts and encourage even greater undertakings by them both in that direction.
Nonetheless, we issue this judgment jointly, declaring furthermore that it is to remain intact, stable, and valid in perpetuity all things to the contrary notwithstanding. So let it be written. So let it be done.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 15:14 Hours [+]
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Read the Dossier -- It's Only Wrong Half the Time!
Earlier, I had predicted that "The Passion will open in a few dozen theaters around the country." Instead, The Passion will open on 2,000 screens nationwide. I'm delighted to be wrong. On the other hand, I also predicted that "At least one major movie studio will make . . . a film about the Crusades which will show the dangers inherent in Christian religious bigotry." Sure enough, we learn that director Ridley Scott will do for the Crusades what Alien did for chest pains by making Kingdom of Heaven via 20th Century Fox studios. According to a story in The Washington Times:
The script depicts [the Crusader's King] of Jerusalem, as "the archvillain." A further group, "the Brotherhood of Muslims, Jews and Christians," is introduced, promoting an image of cross-faith kinship. "They were working together," the film's spokesman said. "It was a strong bond until the Knights Templar cause friction between them."But people who are dumb enough to spend time learning from sources other than Variety, Entertainment Tonight and their cocaine-dealer's latest gossip disagree. Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University, says the film's plot is "ridiculous . . . rubbish . . .complete and utter nonsense." Amin Maalouf, author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, tactfully says of the film: "It does not do any good to distort history, even if you believe you are distorting it in a good way. Cruelty was not on one side, but on all."
Whatta buncha eggheads . . . they don't even know Jerry Brukheimer's home number and they think they can talk like that? Didn't Ridley make G.I. Jane, the definitive comment on war and humanity? Didn't he trump Jane Austen as a cultural icon by filming Thelma and Louise? Just how much money is Jonathan Riley-Smith and Amin Maalouf gonna make anyone? Huh? HUH? Ridley Scott knows better. Always has, always will:
Mr. Scott's spokesman said that the film [is] . . . "trying to be fair, and we hope that the Muslim world sees the rectification of history."Oh yeah, it'll be a "rectification" all right, just like the rectification of the Vuldronaii when the Traveller came as a very large and moving Torb. Then of course in the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex supplicants they chose a new form for him, that of a Sloar. Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day . . . . . .
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 17:54 Hours [+]
Items of Interest
Courtesy of Domenico Bettinelli's Bettnet Blog we learn that Peggy Noonan has revisited the controversy over the Pope's reaction to Mel Gibson's The Passion: The Pope's reaction to the film "really is as it was," and all stories to the contrary are apparently generated by bureaucratic spin-control.
We also learn that Gustaaf Cardinal Joos of Belgium estimates that the number of authentically homosexual persons (i.e., persons with deeply-rooted same-sex attractions) is very low as opposed to the number of people who may choose the manner in which they will sexually express themselves. From the story:
"I am willing to write in my own blood that of all those who call themselves lesbian or gay, a maximum of five to 10 percent are effectively lesbian or gay," Cardinal Gustaaf Joos, 80, told the Belgian weekly P-Magazine.The Cardinal was, in much more pithy and direct language, stating something very similar to the points made in the Dossier's recent essay on the letter by some Chicago priests protesting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's recent statement in opposition to gay marriages:
[The Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith says]:According to the Cardinal, most people who say they are gay or lesbian are really saying that they've chosen sexual concupiscence in a gay or lesbian manner, and their greater degree of freedom makes them more culpable than men and women who can have no licit outlet for desire. One can disagree with Cardinal Joos' estimate of the number of such persons, but the phenomenon of bisexuality justifies his essential premise: Not all homosexual acts are unavoidably compelled by a unidimensional sexual orientation, nor do all persons who might describe themsveles as gay or lesbian in response to variously-worded questions have such deeply-rooted same-sex attractions as to prohibit them from living normal sex lives.Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a serious depravity["] . . . This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." . . . Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided". They are called, like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity.Why should anyone, let alone a priest, be offended by this language? It's what the Church says about everyone: "[H]uman nature . . . is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called 'concupiscence'." Are we supposed to be "offended" by the notion that we have disordered inclinations? If so, it's small wonder that people almost killed Jesus a number of times before Calvary; his "invitational" message of a disordered humanity which must repent of its depravity and follow Him must have seemed unutterably "vile and toxic."
In addition to the Cardinal's stress on Church teaching, that a same-sex attration is not per se sinful and that only choices to pursue those attractions are sinful, it's interesting to see him apply a similar distinction to the word "pervert." The Cardinal talks about people with deeply-ingrained same-sex attractions, but he confines the word "pervert" to those who can choose the gender of their sexual partners and choose the same gender. Now lest the Cardinal's words expose him to unfounded suspicions of his orthodoxy, it should be pointed out that he makes no statement whatsoever that can be construed as approving of homosexual acts by men and women whose personalities do not allow them to sexually respond to members of the opposite gender and who are, therefore, not -- by the undeniable implication of the Cardinal's words -- "perverts." The Cardinal only refuses to intrude categorical pronouncements about the moral dimension of homosexual acts by such persons from the (temporary) frame of his interview, and wisely so; as to gays and lesbians whose orienations are not variable, the principles of moral theology can be properly applied only during confession or spiritual direction, not during interviews with the mass media.
Reuters, however, follows the fashion we have come to expect of the mass media in these matters. Its headline reads: "Most gays are perverts," Belgian cardinal says."
But that is not what the Cardinal says. That is not even close to what the Cardinal has said. Why should Reuters want to claim that is what he said? There are many reasons, but mostly they boil down to a single principle.
People, broadly speaking, are simply not interested in listening to what the Cardinal -- or the Catholic Church -- have to say about human sexuality. They are not interested in the Church's thoughts about artificial contraception. They have no time for the Pope's wise counsel against the practice of lust within marital relationships. They could care less about the grounds for the Church's opposition to serial polygamy a/k/a "divorce." They do not want to pay attention to what the the Church says about the evils of abortion, and they have long been yawning about the Church's opposition to fornication. Recent developments by which gays and lesbians are obtaining full, open participation in society's sexual turbulence are not new, or even groundbreaking. They are just a continuation of the slothful inertia that has settled into a society which simultaneously believes that the decadence of our sexual behavior is so important that no one may dare rebuke it and so trivial that only a compulsive moron would spend any time thinking about it.
The people, broadly speaking, are interested in knowing only one "fact," and that "fact" is what Reuters put into its headline: The Catholic Church has declared war on human happiness for reasons which no sane man would bother finding out. People who are being murdered and robbed are not interested in the detailed psychological operations of the criminal mind. People fighting a war against a depraved and inhuman foe have no time for empathetic examinations of his motives. So Western people give Catholicism's sexual morality the same degree and type of interest that they gave to exploring the details of Leninism. So Reuters can only hear the Cardinal say "most gays are perverts!"
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 16:05 Hours [+]
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
How They Get Here and What I Say to ‘Em
I have a nifty internet thing that lets me find out what search words people use to land on my blog. Apparently I have a diverse readership with eccentric interests. To save them the time, I thought I might post some standard answers to the more regular queries. The queries are in blue, my answers in black.
"Opus dei and tobacco industry." Cool!
"Catholic priest predicti." Sorry, don't know that liturgy.
"Archbishop michael courtney diocese burundi murder." Didn't do it.
"Athletic skin disease." Don't touch me.
"British Secret Service agent jobs." Down the hall, first door on your right.
"Homily on the purpose of man." Not ready to give it yet.
"Homosexual in Armenia." Neither.
"Catholic chalice and bacterial germs." Doubly redundant.
"Secret origins Camino Santiago." I only know the public ones.
"Innocent III try to achieve religious uniformity." Indeed, may God bless him!
"MTV dismissed Summa." Yep, that's MTV's purpose.
"Orthodoxy v. heterodoxy protestant Baptists." Trick question. Next!
"Today's model's of the gatling gun." Where can I buy one? I'll give one to Shea.
"McElhinney bombay." Interesting idea. I'm for it.
"Medieval gothic bedrooms for teenagers" Too rash - scold 'em first, then try dungeons!
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 17:42 Hours [+]
Monday, January 19, 2004
An Appeal to the Warring Houses of Montague and Capulet
In conjunction with Rerum Novarum the Dossier hereby publishes a Joint Declaration on a certain internet controversy which has recently flared up again.
In divers ways and at sundry times, events have proved to your humble servants at Rerum Novarum and SecretAgentMan's Dossier that the passionate and principled defense of one's religion can often lead to acrimony, mutual contempt, and bad blood. Among principled and passionate men, the grievances sustained seldom dissipate. Instead they develop into a Montague/Capulet struggle or, in our good American vernacular, into the feud of the Hatfields and McCoys.
Inevitably, a certain restlessness begins to inhabit sympathizers of the two sides, which sometimes manifests itself in various discussions about what, if anything, should be done. Those who desire intervention and those wish to remain aloof are unintentionally subjected to varying and sometimes mutual suspicions about their orthodoxy or their orthopraxis. We have in mind an actual instance, but will discuss it obliquely, covering matters with a thin veil in the hope that readers will see be able to see each side afresh and without undue attention to a canon of historical events or actual personalities.
Consider on one side a relatively young and intelligent Reformed amateur scholar and, on the other, a somewhat older, intelligent Catholic amateur scholar. For years, a battle has raged between them in discussion formats, message boards, chat rooms, weblogs, etc. Having stood by quietly throughout all this, for various reasons it now seems appropriate to address the issue with, if you will pardon the term, a manifesto of sorts. Let us begin with the genesis of this feud.
If the participants were to be asked when it began, each would probably give a different answer. We think they bear a mutual responsibility, for whether by coincidence or design, their "battle manuals" rely heavily on imitating Hannibal's famous "double envelopment" at Cannae. In like manner, as soon as our friends engage in conflict, they fling one division of argument toward their opponent. (Respective theories replete with corroborating theses intending to prove the superior merit of their cause.) Simultaneously, they launch a second attack on their opponent's inward self, with blistering direct assaults on his perceived intellectual shortcomings or equally-galling indirect assaults on his integrity.
When such tactics are carried out repeatedly over years, these individual conflicts have grown into a "total war" that, however often it employs the tactics of Carthage, is waged with all the determination of Cicero's famous cry, Carthago Delenda Est! That having been said, we turn to discussing our friends and their antagonism.
The Reformed antagonist has a tremendous pride in his religious tradition. When he sets it against the narrower outlines of his former perspective, he sees a "treasure buried in a field." Not content with the field, he has sought to extend his enjoyment of Christ's riches through study. It is an understatement to say that he has a genuine desire to learn. And his capabilities have been noted not only by your humble servants, but by several of his acquaintances in the Catholic apologetics sphere.
Those of us familiar with his writing have for some time wondered when he would see the flawed nature of some of the intellectual company he was keeping and this has, in fact, happened. Now, after having spent time amongst the tents of other Protestant partisans who do not share his historical acumen or his passion for truth, he has begun to chart an independent course among like-minded Reformed Christians who are more interested in building bridges than burning them.
We may say this even though we are fully aware that our friend believes historical acumen and a passion for truth will eventually direct the Christian away from the Roman Catholic Church that we know and love. Despite this possibility, we are compelled to hold as Catholic doctrine that our friend is "impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek . . . religious truth." We also recognize that he has been vigorous in pursuing truth even to the point of considerable personal costs at the hands of some of his fellow believers and former companions.
More to the point, we believe that despite our disagreement with his views on many signal issues, his research still must "be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth." Therefore, while we see errors prohibiting us from fully embracing him as a brother in the Church of Christ, they give us no cause to reject him as though he were the kind of "false brother" so rightly excoriated by St. Paul's letter to the Galatians.
Friendship neither means nor requires wholehearted endorsement. Accordingly, we must observe that our friend's dialogues often contain a lamentable rhetorical residue from years spent among the more chauvinistic and polemical members of his tradition (broadly conceived). We refer particularly to his animus towards those of our friends and brothers whom he calls Roman Catholics or, in an even more pejorative way, "Roman Catholic apologists."
Our friend is a seasoned veteran of Catholic / Reformed discussions on an astounding variety of subjects with a bewildering array of interlocutors -- including dozens of discussions with your humble servants. He has seen the garden-variety arguments, and even presentations of much greater pith and sophistication, but believes they remain "weighed in the scales and found wanting." We do not quarrel with the possibility that such a judgment is conscientious, and believe that to be the case with our friend. But we would lament the fact that he often renders these decisions by means of a methodology which is a version of what may be called "dead agenting."
Essentially, "dead agenting" is the second prong of the "Carthaginian tactic" described above, an attempt to discredit a person or an organization in order to lessen or even destroy their ability to influence others. As Catholics will be familiar with the tactic as vigorously employed by some Protestant, Evangelical, or Reformed Christians -- or, for that matter, as employed by some so-called "Traditionalists" -- we pause to point out that our friend merely uses a form of "dead agenting."
Often, the "dead agenting" tactic involves spreading malicious falsehoods about the persons or views which are theologically or intellectually opposed to the person or organization using the tactic. Our friend does not do these things though many of his former companions frequently employ them to their fullest extent. "War to the knife," as Nathan Bedford Forrest would say,"and knife to the hilt." That is not laudable, it is not meet, and we deplore it.
And so while we admire our friend's Christian chivalry and restraint, we note an echo of the practice remains in his frequent attempts to dismiss the views of many -- if not most -- of those he calls Roman Catholics by referring to their "ignorance," "stupidity," or "blindness" with what often appears to be blithe disregard for (a) the existence of "simple faith";(b) the possibility of misunderstandings that attend written correspondence; and (c) the simple overarching fact that a devout, powerful and sophisticated theology like Roman Catholicism may for simple human reasons gain champions who, while devout, are sometimes unable to employ powerful or nuanced argumentation in their attempt to give account of the hope they have.
We realize our friend's irritating habit may be encouraged by the besetting frequency of deficient Catholic "challenges" to Reformed orthodoxy and his concomitant and quite understandable lack of time to stamp out every fire in the theological forest. We also understand the need to decline an unworthy argument without appearing to concede any aspect of the issue, even if we may not always understand the frequency or manner with which our friend sometimes does this.
To his great credit, our friend recognizes that history, pace most people's presumptions about it, presents the serious student with complex and sometimes conflicting mosaics of fact, inference, and proof. But we suffer from confusion when he approaches superior historical defenses of Catholic orthodoxy with a dismissive manner and flaming excoriations of blinkered naivete; his universal condemnations effectively shelve in practice the laudable insights he has gained about the nature of history -- those very insights which, he justifiably points out, have led him to reject inferior "Roman Catholic" historical arguments.
The result is that while our friend derides "simpleminded," "stupid" and"ignorant" arguments by "Roman Catholics" because they claim that history "obviously" proves the divine origin and maintenance of Roman Catholicism, he simultaneously argues (and we can only hope he does not notice it) that history is so "obviously opposed" to "RomanCatholicism" that only charlatans or idiots would support their"Roman Catholic" faith by appealing to historical events.
We share our friend's belief that history is neither a vast collection of unilateral proof texts nor an unending swamp of useless antinomies; we believe Christ is present in history just as He is with us always, even unto the end of the age. But we wish that his increased appreciation of the always-edifying and sometimes-bewildering invitation of history to the Christian mind would make him avoid easy and caustic dismissals of historical theses simply because they further the defense of a tradition to which he does not give assent.
We regard his unawareness of this difference as the unnoticed continuation of a bad habit learned from unworthy and former companions who generally regard history as merely a source of fodder for chauvinistic Jeremiads and partisan polemics. That Catholics also suffer (and make others suffer) from the same vice is no justification for continuing it oneself.
We think it is not an exaggeration to say that, under the current circumstances, our friend might well see himself as among the few who are seeking to protect and advance the ideal of a Christian society against an onrush of historical barbarians -and in cyberspace certainly contra mundum if you will. And that brings us to the next individual, our friend the Montague.
Our Catholic antagonist has, like his Reformed foil, tremendous pride in his tradition. More, perhaps, because for him (and for us) it is not just tradition, but the Sacred Tradition of the Apostles and the fathers and doctors of the Holy Catholic Church. Unquestionably overjoyed at having found the "pearl of great price," he naturally and commendably wants to shout about it from the rooftops as well as spend his own life contemplating and learning even more about its value. As a result our friend seeks dialogue with people of every conceivable viewpoint, following the daunting model of St. Paul who sought to please all men in all things, not for his own profit, but the profit of many.
This is an admirable goal indeed, all the more admirable in the eyes of your humble servants, neither of whom has the temperament or the particular genius required to pursue it. So our friend writes and debates prolifically, with what is generally a calm and amicable tone -- although every rule admits of occasional exceptions, for even St. Paul lamented that "the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."
Like our Reformed friend, our Catholic friend is a veteran of debate. But his love of challenge is in some ways his Achilles' heel, particularly when he meets a likely Hector or Aeneas. We already lamented the variation of"dead agenting" which our Reformed friend is sometimes inclined to employ. Therefore, fairness bids us to consider our Catholic friend's tactical repertoire.
For one thing, he has a bold willingness to exploit the mental dimensions of struggle that implicitly accompany warfare. But this sometimes encourages him to conduct campaigns which are as relentlessly strident as the continuous play of brilliant lights and excruciatingly-loud music outside a fugitive's lair. It also sometimes results in remorseless barrages of the"shock and awe" variety which leave no opportunity for attack untaken. This is not ameliorated by the fact that our Catholic friend has a certain joie de combat which anyone experienced in the area of apologetics knows can blind one to the counterproductive result that such an approach may have.
A blaring and relentless frontal assault is not always the most effective means of dialogue, as St. Paul's abysmal failure at the Areopagus proved. Still, because it involves itself with personal factors, our friend's approach is often indistinguishable from a mockery of persons. It is in this regard a form of "dead agenting" which confines debates to a circle that is narrowly drawn around the individual, making what ought to be discussed as his argument's preceived failings into a simultaneous discussion of his preceived personal failings. This raises an issue of prudence or, if you like, proportionality,that our Catholic friend ought consider more fully than we think he has. We have often thought, and said to our friends, that they are two people whose personalities and styles of communication prohibit the simultaneous existence of mutual peace and extensive interaction between them. Even St. Paul, who started out with the hard sell (Cf. Acts 17:16ff and Galatians 2:11-21), later on mollified and refined his approach. (As he became more experienced and saw what worked best in reality and not in the abstract.) Examples of this more refined understanding can be found in 1 Cor. 10:23ff and Romans Chapter 14.
To the credit of our Reformed friend, he sometimes seems to concur with this evaluation. Our Catholic friend, however, sees this as at best a minor aspect of the matter. We must disagree with them. If we felt that this was a minor matter, we would not have addressed it here publicly - which we only do because private admonishments have proven to be in vain.
Our Catholic friend's motto often seems to be Farragut's, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." He goes out with his sword held aloft, swinging at windmills as though they were giants. That is essentially what it boils down to since our Catholic friend's approach to our Reformed friend seems exclusively dedicated to the "Areopagus strategy."
The predictable result is that our Catholic friend relentlessly pushes certain issues without a full appreciation of their nature and consequences, thus goading our Reformed friend to wrath and he, we might add, can give as good as he gets in the "remorseless disproportion" department. Nor is that all.
For you see, after, and even during, such exchanges, our friends mutually theorize that the problem lies in the other person having a personal animus against them that exceeds anything they direct at other, similarly committed, apologists. We are inclined to agree with half of both their judgments, and say that their disagreeable interactions are predictable and foreseeable events which ought to be avoided but which are more often sought.
Regrettably, this is often done by our Catholic friend who, tossing aside his normal and customary amiability commits himself, like a Haig or Joffre, to one more "big push" in the hope that prior experience will mean nothing and that this time an all-out barrage and frontal assault on the credibility and merits of his opponent's viewpoint will gain more than a few hundred yards.
This approach by our Catholic friend leaves us wondering whether there is perhaps an element of self vindication implicit in his approach, a desire to prove that prior efforts were not amiss, that all those past opportunities for amicable friendship did not die in vain.
We think it is an unintended effect of this approach that it commits the same error we have already noticed in our Reformed friend -- its universally-condemnatory style has the effect of maintaining that disagreement can only be sustained by ignorance (willful or otherwise) and even a certain intellectual cowardice which, oddly enough, is sometimes claimed to be "proved" by an unwillingness to continue a discussion that some might find grating, unpleasant, and ultimately unprofitable.
In brief: the whole thing ends up looking like the fabled Montagues and Capulets -- dueling men who have every certainty of what they are fighting for and yet very little idea of what they are fighting about.
There are a lot of intricacies that go into dialogue but the most foundational of them is charity. It seems to us that our friends' interactions do not properly follow that queen of theological virtues. Our intention with these musings is not to "denounce" or "shame" anyone, only to lay out the situation from the vantage point of two men with weblogs who have enjoyably sparred with both our friends over the years on many different subjects.
We enjoy our friendships with both of them and variously applaud their efforts to manifest the truth of Jesus Christ in their work, their studies, and their apologetics in accordance with the dictates of their consciences. But to the extent they fall victim to the temptations and poor choices We have outlined above, we say what was said to the Montagues and Capulets -- a plague on both your houses, we will not join either side of your frenzied war.
We hope that this declaration on our part will have some degree of influence in, if not getting these two to bury the hatchet after (at least) five years of public bickering, then at least achieving a more irenic atmosphere for the rest of us.
At the very least, we enjoin our friends in the name of friendship to read no more criticism or rebuke of one or the other in these words, or attempt in any way to accept only the most pleasing half of what we have said. Both of you have gone into battle with beams in your eyes, and it would not be meet of you to fix that beam once again by misusing or misattributing either our words or their intent.
 The Catholic is a former Evangelical Protestant while the Reformed Protestant was at one time affiliated with Protestant Fundamentalism. By"amateur" we refer strictly to the informal, voluntary nature of their work for their faiths and nothing more.
 "Carthage must be destroyed!" During periods of truce or peace, Cicero would end every one of his speeches to the Senate with these words, to remind them that Rome and Carthage were locked into a struggle that could end only when one of them had been utterly, completely, and irrevocably ground into the dust.
 Not without, perhaps, some feeling of animosity toward the narrowness of his former outlook.
 Second Vatican Council: Declaration Dignitatis Humanae ¶2 (1965)
 Id., ¶ 3.
 Galatians 2:4.
 Daniel 5:27
 Which is one reason why we have never spoken kindly about them at anytime. (And why we deplore the actions that at least one of them is using on our Reformed friend at the moment.)
 We refer here to the phenomenon described with such eloquence and brilliance by John Henry Cardinal Newman's Grammar of Assent.Essentially, the Cardinal's essay demonstrates that a believer need not fully -- or even adequately -- articulate the theological / historical /philosophical underpinnings of his faith in order to actually believe and benefit from that faith.
To use a gross example, someone whose intellect is afflicted with a congenital defect may be extremely limited in his ability to appreciate the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ. That does not bar him from saving faith in our God, but it does forbid anyone to uncharitably deny him the respectful fellowship which must exist among believers or conclude that the limited understanding he expresses is all there is to the Christian faith.
Since we all employ "simple faith" on some matter or other, we trust that our example will be salutary on this point, particularly since our friend has often expressed his own disdain for a brand of "hyper Calvinism" which demands sophisticated theological knowledge as a prerequisite for salvation.
 As we might thus be led astray at this point from our chief point into quarrels about means and ends, it is enough to say that we understand there is not enough time in anyone's day to respond to all the challenges that can be issued and that we all must pick our discussions carefully.
 Matthew 28:20.
 Romans 7:19.
 Which is unfortunate particularly since our friend's tremendous experience with all varieties of evangelization and persons should clue him in that a different approach is needed here.
 This approach predictably is viewed by our Reformed friend as a"calling out" if you will: a need to prove that he is no coward by contributing his own impressive efforts to make the discussion undoubtedly grating, unpleasant, and ultimately unprofitable.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 17:47 Hours [+]
Monday, January 12, 2004
My Casa Is Not Necessarily Your Casa
It's with regret that I say I've come to a similar conclusion as Fr. Bryce Sibley's A Saintly Salmagundi that a fellow named "Don" won't (hopefully) be commenting here on the Dossier any more. Looking over his comments, which had nothing to do with the subject at hand, nor anything to do with reasonably engaging another mind in conversation, I just don't feel like putting up with his habit of relentlessly crowding four, five, six, or more diatribes into the comment boxes on my blogs. If this were a message board it would be different, but this isn't a message board. Sorry, Don, but your right to free speech doesn't extend to my internet living room. You've got your own website on which to display your monomania and, just to show there's no hard feelings or hostility to freedom of speech (on one's own nickel, of course), here's the link (courtesy of Saintly Salmagundi) for anyone who's interested: Donny Cavazos' Website.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 11:25 Hours [+]
A Common-Sense Holocaust
Courtesy of Rerum Novarum we read: "Saying "life begins with the mother's decision," the retired general [Wesley Clark] told the Manchester Union Leader he would never, as president, appoint a pro-life judge." Since Herr General's statement is true, one might be tempted to think that it's beneficent and unarguable. I mean, you really can't deny it -- human life does begin with the mother's decision. For voters who can't think past sound bites and slogans, the Feldmarshall's apparent common sense might make him an attractive
Suppose a mother decides the child is human during the second month of her pregnancy. According to Herr General that makes the child human. But suppose that she decides to change her mind during the third month of her pregnancy. Now, also according to Herr General, that means the child is no longer human. The only time at which the pro-abortion St rmabteilung will allow the humanity of an unborn child to be a fact (as opposed to an open choice) is the time after which the political order has forbidden the mother to have an abortion. So, for them a being must be respected as human only if the mother chooses to regard it as human and, secondarily, only when the political order chooses to accord it the human right to life. Achtung! General Clark has just earned his jeweled baton, and all the young ladies who're thrilled by his belief in their power just earned Bund Deutscher Maedel aprons! Don't worry, that doesn't mean we have to be "anti-family". We can always award Mutterkreuzen to women who've chosen to make their babies human. But we must keep saying, over and over again, that it can't happen here. And of course it can't, because "it" can only happen to the Jews and, well, we've chosen to regard them as human. For now, anyway.
One of the great ironies of the abortion Holocaust is how the Sturmabteilung has managed to successfully tag Christians with the "Nazi" label. When we point out that "the mother's decision" to bring human life into existence is made when she has sex with a man, and demand that the result of her decision be respected by law as a human being, we're accused of destroying freedom just like the Nazis destroyed it. They say we're turning women into brood mares, just like the Nazis did. They overlook a tiny difference. We oppose abortion because it ends a human life, and we believe this because God has told us so. Yes, the Nazis appealed to God, but their idea of God was a metaphor for themselves -- they referred to God when they meant their own ability to choose who was human and who was not. Our God will not allow that. Our God demands that we respect unborn children as human persons whether or not they're Jews -- or the "product" of rape and incest. You know we're guilty when we contradict what our God tells us. It's a funny thing, how difficult the world finds judging the German people's guilt for the Holocaust but how easy the world finds judging a German Christian's guilt.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: "We cannot profit by the fruitless modern pretense that the question of religious sanction for law is whether the laws will serve God. The question is, was and always will be: Which god will the laws serve?" Herr General and those who follow him are idolators. "Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community -- however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things -- whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds. Mit Brennender Sorge, ¶ 8 (1937). May God have mercy on us if we elect Wesley Clark.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 10:11 Hours [+]
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Tim Enloe Makes My Head Hurt Again
Tim asks: I have a question for non-polemically driven (i.e., non-apologist) Roman Catholics (especially Shawn M. and SecretAgentMan!!!): His words in blue, mine in black.
Years ago some Catholics told me that it was historically demonstrable that "every heresy involves a magnification of one particular point of doctrine out of proportion to all the rest."
I think that's a good point about heresy, although I don't know what the fellow meant by "historically demonstrable." The Catholics with whom you (regrettably) seem to spend most of your time employ history the way your solo scriptura Protestants employ the Bible. Sometime I hope to have a discussion about whose perspective is producing that phenomenon. :)
Well, if that's a true maxim, then doesn't it hit the target those Catholics were aiming at -- the ultra-rigid Reformed understanding of the Gospel -- and the entire Roman Catholic concept of the Papacy?
You mean the entire concept of the Papacy? Everything -- from priest as alter Christus through conferral of the pallium to the independence of the papal states right up to infallibility and universal jurisdiction? I can't see how, but say on . . . .
That is, RCs appear to magnify their peculiar doctrine of the Papacy out of all proportion to everything else.
Over at your blog a fellow named Puritan Divine commented, "what they really mean (and the ‘They' could apply to either the R[oman] C[atholic]'s or the Reformed's you've been talking about) is: ‘[E]very heresy involves a magnification of one particular point of doctrine out of proportion to all the rest as long as you aren't talking about our system of doctrine, which is already flawless.'" I quarrel with his use of the word "flawless," inasmuch as I find the "rule of disproportion" valuable and since I don't think it requires me to say that Catholic doctrine is "flawless" by any possible standard. I do have to say it's flawless by some standard, but not by any possible standard. The qualification is especially neccessary, I think, once one realizes that "system of doctrine" refers not only to dogmatic propositions but also to a host of collateral areas such as (a) theological estimates of a dogma's impact on other, as yet unsettled, issues, (b) the praxis of catechesis or homiletics, etc.
That having been said, I think Puritan Divine's put his finger on an important issue. To identify heresy according to some characteristic disproportion (as opposed, for example, to the much-simpler method of referring to an authoritative condemnation of the proposition in question) one has to have a thorough understanding of the dogmatic system that forms the exemplar by which "proportion" can be gaged. That's hard enough when addressing fellow communicants; witness the internal (and interminable) debates between Sedevacantists, Traditionalists, "Liberal" Catholics, "Conservative" Catholics, etc. But when someone tries to take the "rule of disporportion" and apply it across confessional lines -- especially as part of an apologetic that tries to demonstrate the errors of another confession -- the rule becomes so excruciatingly difficult to apply that most attempts result in verbal hurricanes of incomprehensibility.
So when you say that "RCs appear to magnify their peculiar doctrine of the Papacy out of all proportion to everything else," you're speaking across confessional lines and I'm entitled to ask "what's everything else?" Does it include the "sola's" rejection of a discrete mediating and magisterial priesthood within the Body of Christ? If it does, then of course one can say that "the Papacy is being magnified out of proportion to everything else." But if "everything else" includes a discrete mediating and magisterial priesthood . . . . you see the problem. Whose idea of "everything else" do we start with? That's one of the reasons I keep saying that the differences between Catholics and Protestants are fundamental, which makes those differences more, not less, difficult to understand. It's not as though we're debating whether priests should be allowed to say the Novus Ordo in Latin. That kind of dispute can be (relatively) easily resolved on a theological level according to existing mutual commitments to identical principles. (The political level is another matter, as it always is). When Catholics and Protestants discuss Christianity, they're pitting so many inconsistent theological/philosophical/cultural "sub-systems" against one another that most of the conversation tends to be rash and dominated by mutual caricatures.
Doesn't this condemn them by the terms of that slogan? I mean, when I have some Catholics tell me that if they were to find out that the present RC concept of the Papacy's nature and role in the Church was not true, they might have to abandon Christianity altogether and become agnostics, am I supposed to believe that Catholics have all this really wonderful perspective on Christianity that Protestants don't have?
Tim, one of the problems here is trying to employ informal apologetics discussions like ours (discussions which are already plagued by the problems noted above) as though they were high-value theological and historical exchanges that satisfy the need to study another confession as a prerequisite to identifying its errors. Not having participated in your discussion with those Catholics, I have no idea what they meant. They might have meant that they value the papacy so greatly that if it were thrown down they'd leave Jesus behind in the wreckage. That's disproportionate, but having identified the disproportion, can we conclude without more that it's inherent to Catholicism rather than a manifestation of a particular flaw in those Catholics' understanding of the universe? Even if we take disproportion as a sure mark of heresy, we're still left with the question of whether a given disproportion proves that the individual is a heretic or that his (ostensible) confession is a heresy. Shawn at Rerum Novarum alludes to this when he writes: "There is quite the possibility that the Catholic doctrine of the papacy -- emphasized apart from coordinating doctrines -- can lead to heretical outlooks. In fact, I *know* it can so I will not merely note that it is possible.
I think it's likely that those Catholics meant something very similar to what I heard from a Protestant over on Gary Hoge's board. If I remember correctly, she said that if sola scriptura were proven false, so many things she's learned about Jesus would be called into question that she could no longer be sure about the truth of anything. Now I don't think that lady made an idol out of the Bible, or that she inflated the Bible beyond all reasonable proportion. I think she was using sola scriptura as a shorthand term for a kind of "Christian gestalt," a commitment and an experience which can't be summed up by a distinctive, but which can nonetheless be identified by means of a distinctive. It's quite possible that the Catholics with whom you were speaking used the papacy (which is, so far as I'm concerned, the Mother of All Distinctives) in that fashion. That "human factor" is another pitfall in using apologetic debates as though they were a source of calmly- and systematically-presented theology.
I have about ten unfinished posts to you. One of them involves a comment you made awhile back to the effect that Catholics are always going on and on like dentists' drills about how "interconnected" and "organic" all of our theology is when, in fact, that's not really the case at all because our theology obviously contains a lot of discrete distinctives jumbled atop each other without any necessary pattern. Among the many half-finished things I had to say was that this is far too rash if only because the natural tendency of the human mind is to impose order on chaos. If a system of theology lacks an intrinsic integrity then, so long as the willed commitment to uphold it remains, people will damn well make it have integrity, and people are pretty good at doing that. Just ask Steve Ray about William Webster, or William Webster about Steve Ray -- they'll unanimously agree that people are good at forcing theological propositions into semblances of integrity and organic unity that can be so difficult to deconstruct that one must often refuse to debate the appearance on its own terms and instead demonstrate how much mendacity was involved in creating the appearance. No one's got time tonight to hear (or write) a Grand Explanation of How the Papacy Fits Into It All (or, as Tim would have it, How It All Fits Into the Papacy), but this is worth going into because this basic, natural human tendency strongly argues for reading a claimed necessity of believing in distinctives like sola scriptura or the triple tiara as shorthand for a real necessity of believing lots of other things as well.
Talk all day long about how it's the Papacy that guarantees all the important doctrines don't get messed up, but how is this any different from a radical SOLO Scriptura Protestant who convinces himself that there is no Church at all in the absence of exquisitely defined propositional understandings of justification and the ordo salutis?
I think Shawn's reply suggests one difference -- namely that submission to the papacy involves simultaneous participation in independent theological and human realities which persist in time, whereas the solo scriptura Protestant's conception is disconnected (on its own terms, no less) from the stream of human experience. At least the Catholic can get jerked around by someone else, which (as any married person will tell you) can be a traumatically-beneficial experience, whereas the solo-scriptura Protestant is a Church of One -- he needn't act until he satisfies himself about the necessity of action. I think the questions you might really want to ask are: How is the Pope's understanding of Catholicism different from a solo scriptura Protestant's -- and if it isn't any different, and if Catholics have to do what the Pope says (gross oversimplification on my part) why aren't all Catholics effectively solo scriptura Protestants on the Pope's example? And here I realize the need to finish the last installment of Orestes Brownson and Homosexual Bishops which directly addresses that question.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 02:13 Hours [+]
Friday, January 09, 2004
Returning from a Vanity-Driven Google Search . . . .
I feel obliged to point out that I am not the "SecretAgentMan" who posts on the "We Will Beat Bush" website. Nor do I have anything to do with the "SecretAgentMan" game based on the DaVinci Code.
I am, however, happy to say that I've made it, since I've been mentioned by Irish Elk -- and on a "manly" subject, no less!
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 17:51 Hours [+]
Pastoral Failures Regarding Homosexuals? Undoubtedly, But Whose Failures?
Recently, the National Catholic Reporter told us about a number of priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago who penned a letter of "protest" about the Church's teaching on homosexuality. The Reporter's story can be found here, and the text of the letter can be found here. I've also quoted the letter below in blue, and responded to it in black. The letter does a very good job -- albeit unintentionally -- of pointing out where the problems lie in presenting the Gospel to homosexuals.
"As Catholic pastors, we have become increasingly disturbed by the tone and, in some cases, content of documents and statements from the Vatican, bishops' conferences and individual bishops on issues categorized under the heading of "homosexual" or "gay/lesbian." We respect the teaching authority of the Church. Because of this, we find particularly troubling the increase in the use of violent and abusive language directed at any human person. Such language is inappropriate. This is especially so when addressing members of the community of the faithful. These divisive and exclusionary statements from the Church are contrary to sound pastoral practice.""
Well, that depends on the objectives of pastoral practice. I certainly think the language of the Church regarding homosexuality is contrary to some possible objectives, but not to all of them. Unfortunately, it will be seen that the fathers' letter leaves us very confused about their pastoral objectives.
"The life journey in faith is unique and sacred, including the personal integration of sexuality and spirituality. Condemnations leveled at sincere Catholics attempting to make sense out of their journey are inappropriate and pastorally destructive.""
The validity of this observation depends on the approach to integrating sexuality and spirituality being considered. If one believes that his sexuality must be conformed to a divine revelation, he will propose different terms for this "integration" than if he believes divine revelation has already been given in the form of his sexual preferences. There are, for example, any number of sincere people who deny that lifelong monogamy is part of human "nature," and they can deny it quite plausibly using evidence produced by every relevant area of social study. But if suppose we examined all this this evidence in the context of the Fall and Redemption of man; the sincere case for "natural" promiscuity becomes not only less persuasive, but actually irrelevant to our decisions about what marriage is. When marriage is viewed in that light the Church, when she points out the realities of man's fallen nature and describes repentance and grace as the necessary conditions of marriage, is the only voice in the dialogue that actually makes sense about man's journey toward sexual and spiritual fidelity.
I agree that the Church's clergy would be faltering in their mission if they confined their teaching on homosexuality (or human sexuality in general) to narrow legal categories of licit and illicit acts without any further exploration of and ministry to the human condition. But even in these deeper and more nuanced discussions we can't escape the fact that some human paradigms and sentiments -- however sincerely held -- are unable to sustain a harmonious friendship between man and God. The priests' letter, however, is ambiguous because they don't seem to understand this fact. They entirely fail to acknowledge that sound pastoral guidance rooted in the Church's teachings will inevitably condemn some sincerely-held and contradictory beliefs, and that one can perfer the Church's teaching over the views of dissenters for reasons that have nothing to do with bigotry.
The fathers' ambiguity is even more disturbing when one notices their implicit assumption that all homosexuals address Church teaching in the same way. From the letter's viewpoint there are no actual human differences among prelates, priests, or parishioners. They can all be neatly separated into two groups, "the hierarchy" which says such-and-so about homosexuals and "homosexual brothers and sisters" who all predictably and identically react the same way to what the hierarchy says. It's astounding to see the degree of ideologized naivete required for this dichotomy present among men who have spent decades in the rough-and-tumble of parish life. Does anyone know Catholics who can be so neatly sorted? Someone might think he does, but if so let him say the word "sinful" in connection with the death penalty or progressive taxation, or ask another Catholic whether he can (or should) vote Republican or Democrat. He will soon find out that the uniformity of Catholicism has a very odd way of producing an almost infinite variety of human responses. Even what follows isn't a comprehensive description of Catholic responses to Church sexual teaching; but it's enough to point out that the fathers have some very straight-jacketed views of the Church and their flocks.
There are homosexuals (and heterosexuals) who accept -- and even love -- the Church's teaching on sexuality, however burdensome and sorrowful it must be for them in this life. These men and women unite themselves to Jesus Christ in a special way, for He too knew burdens, lonliness, and sorrow. What our country, awash in sexual depravity, has gained in God's mercy as a result of these men and women's fidelity is likely beyond description this side of the Last Judgment. There are also homosexuals who (like many Catholic laymen) suffer from varying degrees of ignorance, confusion, or rebellion over teaching which they abstractly know must be accepted but which they still can't always (or even largely) make into a solid framework for their lives. There are also men and women in the Church who, regardless of their sexual orientations, have absolutely no interest whatsoever in conforming their sexual/romantic lives to the Church's teaching, and who instead brashly demand that the Church "integrate" herself into their sexuality and spirituality by contradicting her own treasure of divine revelation. They demand a specific contradiction in which the Church abandons God's revelation about the unhappiness of a sexuality lived without reference to His law, and therefore, without the benefit of His grace. Even more dangerously, they demand general contradiction which substitutes man's present, fallen condition for God's revelation in the order of priorities which should govern Christian thought about sexual morality.
Knowledge of these very human experiences doesn't appear in the fathers' letter, which instead gives us a trite and stereotypical division of Catholic humanity into an imaginary power group and its constituency of fungible homosexual units. Authentic pastoral concern cannot be realized in such a myopic and ideologized framework. Authentic pastoral action must find ways to affirm saints in their fidelity, encourage strugglers and doubters to persevere, and provide a clear diagnosis of spiritual ills and an unambiguous direction to the rebellious. None of that can be done effectively without "condemning" some things in some ways that have specific, meaningful consequences for the lives of Catholics.
The letter's inability, one might even say studied unwillingness, to address these facts causes some justified sense of skepticism about the pastoral abilities of the priests who composed and signed it. One wonders if they're not unintentionally operating as "managerial" priests, mid-level ombudsmen whose function is to smooth over any perceived conflict between an organization's priorities and a constituency's perceptions of ill-service. Ombudsmen always risk straddling their respective fences whenever that task means reducing unhappiness with a product that is, in fact, not what the consumer wants. Within that situation one can easily understand an urge to create a happy obfuscation, to ply the consumer with saccharine assurances of eventual satisfaction while upbraiding "corporate" for putting its foot wrong by making inopportune and counterproductive statements.
Seen in that perpsective, the priests' ambiguity makes a kind of sense, although it would also mean they're willing to entertain the appearance of schism if not its actual existence. It would also mean that the fathers see themselves as "triangulators," men whose positions and actions are not grounded in a fixed internal sense of orthodoxy but instead merely react to external factional pressures which have to be constantly juggled and cajoled in order to "keep the lid on." One need only imagine an actual shepherd dealing with his sheep in this fashion to become very concerned about the quality of "pastoral guidance" which these priests are providing and equally cautious about accepting their criticisms of their fellow (and superior) shepherds.
"As priests and pastors we are speaking out to make clear that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are all members of God's family, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus and deserving of the same dignity and respect owed any human being. Recognition of the inalienable dignity of the human person is the only path toward justice and reconciliation. We affirm the goodness of all homosexual persons."
But this isn't entirely true. Human dignity and the concomitant obligation of personal respect aren't man's property; they are God's gifts to mankind, freely imparted in His act of creation and Redemption: "The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude." The Church steadfastly refuses to make human dignity and respect contingent on the will of men; that's why she condemns (and can condemn) racism, abortion, and the entire Culture of Death -- all those evils depend on making human dignity the outcome of political judgments and social conventions rather than what it should be, the foundation of those judgments and conventions.
We must respect human dignity as a irreducible gift God has entrusted to man's stewardship just as He's entrusted all His other gifts to us. Fundamentally and properly understood, respecting human dignity is not a "right" men assert against one another. It is a continual obligation men owe to the eternal God who has created human dignity in us and enjoined us to respect one another because we respect Him. So did Jesus Christ identify a link between the commandment that we love God with our entire persons and that we love one another as we love ourselves: by recognizing and honoring the expression of God's divine love in ourselves and our neighbors, we recognize and honor God Himself and thus move closer to the purpose of human life and the true source of human happiness.
A continual obligation to God means a continual obligation to do what God wills. One can't do God's will by endorsing or accepting things that are contrary to His will, His call to human happiness in the divine beatitude. Doing that in the name of "respecting human dignity" divides God against Himself. It means accepting some of His gifts while rejecting other things He has given us so that all our gifts might be enjoyed and brought to fruition in Him. Our ability to think (in whatever degree) must be respected as a part of our God-given dignity, but God didn't give us intelligence so that we could seduce each others' spouses or devise the perfect murder. Elevating the idea of "human dignity" above the God-given conditions in which that dignity is realized transforms Christ's commandment to love one another into accepting and approving of human choices without asking about their conformity to His will. That doesn't just try to make God into a non-entity. It tries to make Him a conspirator and accomplice in every crime we might commit.
So when the fathers say, "[w]e affirm the goodness of all homosexual persons," they're encouraging a very dangerous obscurity in our contemplation of homosexuality. If the fathers mean to affirm the goodness of homosexual persons as bearers of the imago Dei, heirs to the kingdom of Christ, that's well and good. We should affirm the goodness of every human person because each of us (however sinful) bears the image of God and the hope (however remote) of divine beatitude.
But if the fathers meant to say that, they shouldn't be so angry about the Church's calling a homosexual orientation intrinsically disordered in relation to God's will, or homosexual acts intrinsically immoral because they are against God's will. We can't divide God against Himself, accepting some of His gifts (like the imago Dei in homosexual persons) while rejecting other things He has given us (like His teaching about our sexuality). By suggesting that the Church must affirm the goodness of homosexual persons and not use pejorative (or even ugly) words to describe what they may choose to do, the fathers are implicitly elevating the dignity of homosexual persons above the God-given moral conditions in which that dignity has to be realized.
No one with an authentic pastoral concern for the growth of homosexual persons in the Catholic faith can let the need to affirm the dignity of human persons become a commandment to regard what a homosexual person may do, say, or believe as inconsequential, unobjectionable, or irresistible. The Church has to talk about the morality and immorality involved with homosexuality for the same reason the Church has to talk about the morality and immorality involved with all of our choices -- our human freedom means nothing unless we use it to come away from evil and draw closer to God.
"We root ourselves in the U.S. Bishops' statement "Always Our Children." Additionally, we re-affirm the understanding of the goodness of the human person as put forth throughout the papacy of Pope John Paul II. Further, we want to state clearly that ministering to and with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is mutually beneficial, as is all ministerial activity. Pre-judging where any believer's journey will take them is inappropriate. Walking with them, as we do with our heterosexual brothers and sisters, is the appropriate Christian response."
This is well said, considered in and of itself. But the letter's ambiguities about the morality vel non of homosexuality continue to plague our understanding of what the fathers mean. When they say we should walk with our homosexual brothers and sisters "as we do with our heterosexual brothers and sisters," do thet mean that we can't make a distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals in any case? I can heartily appreciate a truly-pastoral unwillingness to pursue the intricacies of scholasticism in order to find justification for imposing a harsher penance on a homosexual who has committed fornication than on a heterosexual who has committed adultery. Sin is sin. It is always wrong, always ugly, and always being committed somewhere, sometime, by someone; we have little reason for sorting our pew-seats among tacitly-identified cliques of righteous and unclean parishioners.
The fathers' anger at Church teaching about the wrongfulness which attends homosexuality is confusing; apparently, they think the "appropriate Christian response" of "walking with our homosexual brothers and sisters" means acting as though the place of heterosexuality in Church teaching can be interchangeably occupied by homosexuality, and this without the need for any special or additional moral commentary. The Catholic Church has never considered homosexuality something to be "walked with" as though it were an inconsequential variation on the pattern of Adam and Eve. If the "appropriate Christian response" is Church in which homosexuals are "walked with" no differently than (or "as though they were") heterosexuals, then Catholicism is not authentically Christian. If that's true, the fathers needn't have troubled to write so much: They could have announced their resignation from a ministry dedicated to an inauthentic realization of the Gospel in one sentence. The fathers' unwillingness to recognize this fact, and to make honest choices as a result, is disturbing. If they can't do that, how are their parishioners going to accept the truth and make honest choices about their sexual -- or confessional -- identity?
"In the recent past, individual bishops, bishops' conferences and the Vatican have assumed a tone of such violence and abusiveness toward these sons and daughters of the Church, we can no longer remain silent."
This is nothing but hyperbole. Still, if you have a point to make, hyperbole can help. I have no cause for complaint here.
" Has any other group of people within the Body of Christ been so assaulted and violated by such mean-spirited language?"
This is a classic example of a leading question: "Have you ever beaten your wife as badly as you beat her today?" Christian invective can get pretty fierce. One reads St. Peter referring to some people within the Body of Christ as "unlearned and unstable."  The Marcionites fell, at least by implication, under Polycarp's description of their founder as the "firstborn of Satan." "The axe of the Gospel," wrote St. Jerome, "must therefore be now laid to the root of the barren tree, and both it and its fruitless foliage cast into the fire, so that Helvidius -- who has never learnt to speak -- may at length learn to hold his tongue." The word anathema, used throughout Church history for groups which were (until then) within the Body of Christ, can be fairly described as "mean." That all points out the limits of the fathers' hyperbole: They beg careful questions such as whether language that can be called "mean" and "violent" can at the same time be appropriate, and even charitable.
It also highlights the continuing presence of the fathers' ambiguity about what homosexuals ought to expect from the Catholic Church. If one thinks human dignity means a right to a high regard of one's own goodness, any statement which suggests the presence of badness will be easily mistaken for "mean-spirited" sinfulness. Of course the fathers need not have violated the commandment against idolatry to create this ambiguity; the simple belief that homosexuality is intrinsically good would justify their sentiments, however incorrect that belief would be. But since neither idolatry nor sloppy presentations of Church teaching are sound pastoral practice, we again have to wonder about the source of the problems these priests' parishioners are experiencing.
"Examples from the most recent Vatican document show all too clearly the demonization of these children of God, referring to homosexuality as a "troubling moral and social phenomenon," "a serious depravity," "the spread of the phenomenon," "approval or legalization of evil," "grave detriment to the common good," "harmful to the proper development of human society," "intrinsically disordered." Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational?"
We've seen that the fathers' letter maintains a studied ambiguity about whether homosexuality can be lived by the laity and "walked with" by the Church as though it were morally identical to heterosexuality. It's therefore extremely interesting to see that the fathers' sweeping and histrionic indictment of the magisterium is actually focused on just one Church statement -- the recent condemnation of "homosexual marriage" by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ("CDF") titled Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (hereafter, "Considerations"). Given the content of Considerations, it's difficult to see why the fathers express so much outrage.
Catholic priests and bishops have been insisting (with varying degrees of charity) on the impossibility of homosexual marriages since before Eusebius of Caesarea preached in 319 A.D. that God had "forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men." The constancy of this prohibition, merely repeated in Considerations, cannot have been a surprise to these priests; one wonders if, instead, Considerations hasn't come as a surprise to their (now angry) parishioners. Ombudsmen always take risks whenever they try to reduce unhappiness with something that is, in fact, not what the customer wants. Is this priestly rebuke of Considerations an attempt to ply dissatisfied parishioners with suggestions of eventual and satisfactory "change" while upbraiding "corporate" for putting its foot wrong by making inopportune and counterproductive statements? That the question can be plausibly asked indicates that these priests are not as conversant with arts of pastoral guidance as they suppose; true pastoral guidance leaves no doubt about its inspiration or its goals.
It's instructive to examine the terms taken from Considerations which the fathers say are "demonizing children of God" merely because they are attracted to their own sex:
" . . . troubling moral and social phenomenon . . .Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon -- even in those countries where it does not present significant legal issues. Considerations, ? 1" . . . a serious depravity . . . intrinsically disordered . . ."Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a serious depravity . . . (cf. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". This same moral judgment is found in many Christian writers of the first centuries and is unanimously accepted by Catholic Tradition. Id. ?4"". . . the spread of the phenomenon . . . approval or legalization of evil . . ."Faced with the fact of homosexual unions, civil authorities adopt different positions. At times they simply tolerate the phenomenon; at other times they advocate legal recognition of such unions . . . [or] favour giving homosexual unions legal equivalence to marriage properly so-called, along with the legal possibility of adopting children. . . . Where the government's policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil. Id., ? 5"grave detriment to the common good"If, from the legal standpoint, marriage between a man and a woman were to be considered just one possible form of marriage, the concept of marriage would undergo a radical transformation, with grave detriment to the common good. Id., ? 8"harmful to the proper development of human society"Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society, especially if their impact on society were to increase. Id., ? 8
Of these five quotations, three aren't talking about "homosexuality" at all. While the fathers point to the CDF's use of the word "phenomenon" so as to strongly suggest the CDF is making a kind of grotesque analogy between homosexual persons and plague bacilli, they do so at the price of appearing moronic, if not deceitful. When one reads the CDF's references to "the phenomenon" in the context of paragraphs 5 and 8, one easily sees that they don't refer to "the phenomenon" of same-sex attraction but to the "phenomenon" of same-sex "marriages" which are either irregularly formed or regularized by the secular law. Only by tolerating confusion between what homosexual attractions and what can be done with respect to those attractions (a tactic which certain critics of the Church delight in using when and as it suits their purpose) can these passages even possibly be read as referring to every homosexual person.
More to the point, the word "phenomenon" is neutral. It's certainly more neutral than the terms of Biblical judgments about homosexuality. No doubt some of the fathers would argue this fact alone justifies their rebuke of the CDF. By using neutral language, they would say, the CDF has rendered homosexual persons into objects, denying their human dignity and legitimating a brutal disregard for their rights and souls. Very well, then we may ask them: If the magisterium is not to use pejorative terms like "depravity" or "disordered" in referring to same-sex attraction, and if the magisterium is not to use neutral terms like "phenomenon," when referring to it, what sort of word will do? Why, they must answer, favorable words like "commitment," "friendship," and -- (why not?) -- "love such as David had for Jonathan." The agenda would then be a little more clear -- the Church errs when it describes homosexuality (either the attraction or anything done in furtherance of it) on other than favorable terms. But even without that confirmation, the fathers' uproar over Considerations' language indicates that they either haven't sufficiently thought through the implications of what it means to "respect the teaching authority of the Church" or that we must think about what the fathers apparently mean by "respect" and "authority."
Unfortunately, it is we who must do the thinking; it is the word of God Himself which these priests have called "vile and toxic":
Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. Romans 1:26-27 (NAB).For this reason, the Catechism says that "homosexual attractions and acts" -- not homosexual persons -- "are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life." Non-Catholics are free to conjure all sorts of variant bibilical interpretations, readings which allow not only what some imagine to be David's love for Jonathan but also the love any David can have for any Jonathan. Priests who claim to "respect the teaching authority of the Church" do not have this imaginative liberty. The fathers' description of Scripture and the Catechism as "vile" and "toxic" is either the product of an unstable judgment or a direct challenge to Christ Himself. Either prospect should inspire a good deal of caution about accepting these priests' judgments about what is and isn't "pastoral."
Considerations' remaining references are unobjectionable if one has accepted Jesus Christ as the divine teacher of mankind and the Holy Catholic Church as His divinely-appointed servant. If that's true, it follows that one must consider the legalization of homosexual marriage an "evil" in the same way one must consider our divorce laws' legalization of serial polygamy an "evil." For the same reason, one should hope to restrict the spread of attitudes which promote the foundation of human communities on homosexual relationships just as one would hope to retard the legal/social conventions by which children are prematurely and improperly sexualized via television and public education -- both "phenomena" are "grave detriments to the common good" and "harmful to the proper development of human society."
The fathers archly inquire if anyone would consider the language used by God, the Catechism, and the CDF to be "invitational." I certainly do. I find it odd that priests who are, as they themselves protest, concerned for the development of homosexual persons within the Catholic faith would somehow find the Church's "invitational" language obnoxious. The only reason I can see for their disgust is a belief that anything the Church says about homosexuality and homosexual actions should be taken as a complete description of a homosexual person's "being." The Church, of course, says otherwise:
"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."Why should anyone, let alone a priest, be offended by this language? It's what the Church says about everyone: "[H]uman nature . . . is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called 'concupiscence'." Are we supposed to be "offended" by the notion that we have disordered inclinations? If so, it's small wonder that people almost killed Jesus a number of times before Calvary; his "invitational" message of a disordered humanity which must repent of its depravity and follow Him must have seemed unutterably "vile and toxic."
The fact is that God calls everyone -- God invites everyone -- to abandon our particular brands of disorder, shamefulness, perversity, and unholy lust so that we can receive life in the Kingdom. Only a frightened and arrogant glutton would insist that he can accept God's invitation without changing anything besides the teaching that says his fondest affections are actually disordered vices. But critics of Church teaching on homosexuality do precisely that whenever they insist, as the fathers have done, on ignoring Catholicism's distinction between a homosexual person, a homosexual attraction, and a decision to engage in homosexuality. The only reason anyone would want to ignore that merciful and wonderful distinction is if he believes that the celebration and fulfillment of a person's homosexual inclinations is such a divine and vital part of human life that the teaching of God's Church must be judged against it rather than the other way around.
"For many gay and lesbian Catholics, this most recent series of attacks has forced them, out of self-respect and self-love, to withdraw from active participation in the Church and question how they can remain members of a Church they experience as abusive."
The "abusiveness" of Church language about homosexuality is no more "abusive" than the Church's description of anyone else's intrinsically-disordered inclinations to evil. This rebuke is, therefore, a very odd one from priests who, one should expect, are dedicated to helping us triumph over our disordered inclinations rather than helping us cherish a particular species of disorder. Other than the managerialism mentioned above I can't think what might prompt a priest into such cosseting unless it's a very misplaced idea of Christian sympathy.
I remember when the Holy Father condemned lust in marriage. One didn't see many heterosexual married Catholics perceiving that as an "attack" and leaving the Church from self-respect and self-love. Granted, few people understand the Church's teaching on sex within marriage. But then few people (including, apparently, the priests who wrote this letter) have grappled seriously with the Church's teaching on homosexuality. Where one finds parallels with homosexuality, I think, is with people who are "forced" by "attacks" on the idea of dissolvable marriages to leave a Church they experience as "abusive" because self-respect and self-love require them to marry, divorce, remarry, divorce, etc. More poignant is the plight of people who hear the Church say that what they were originally told were valid marriages (often of long duration and sometimes accompanied by large families) were actually not valid marriages in contradiction of their own sincerest beliefs and desires. No doubt some of these people are simply angry over the Church's refusal to spite their partner by refusing him or her permission to marry another, but the varieties of human experience counsels that not all (or even many) of them become angry from such unworthy motives.
It's difficult to identify the point at which one should no longer be sympathetic with people in these situations; it must be especially difficult for priests whose hearts are rightly consumed with affection for their parishioners. But I think sympathy must end when people begin speaking and behaving as though the Church has no right to trammel upon -- or even destroy -- their temporal happiness. The entire concept of discipleship depends on abandoning one's rights to dictate the terms of one's own happiness. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26-27 (DRV). The Church calls men in this world to destroy many things which are delightful to them. She calls on industrialists to destroy unacceptable sources of wealth. She calls on governments to destroy intrinsically-evil means of power. She demands that artists forego opportunities and experiences which are as attractive as they are ultimately destructive of human dignity.
The Church does these things because she knows that industrialists, presidents, and artists -- like homosexuals, like all of us -- suffer from intrinsically-disordered orientations: "[H]uman nature . . . is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called 'concupiscence'." Granted, homosexuals do not have the kind of temporal power enjoyed by industrialists and governments and so homosexuals are susceptible to Church discipline with a particular and disparate immediacy. That is one of the reasons some homosexuals clamor for the Church to recognize in them same kind of institutionalized power which she must recognize in states and industry. Still, the redemption of the human person through the teaching, prayer, and sacraments of Christ's own Body isn't contingent on the similar redemption of every other, or any other, group or person. "[H]e said to another: Follow me. And he said: Lord, suffer me first to go and to bury my father. And Jesus said to him: Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Luke 9:61 (DRV).
We can't expect corporate industrialists to obey the Church and forego exploitative methods of making money if we claim for ourselves the right to disobediently dictate the terms of our own happiness. We can't demand that our governments heed the Church and stop inflicting the death penalty in ways that violate human dignity if we claim an independent right to decide the meaning and purpose of our lives. Sympathy must stop when war is, however tacitly, declared against the Church's ability to rule over us. For a Catholic, indulging fantasies about an individual's superior right to interpret and apply God's teaching about anything, most particularly about ourselves, is not discipleship. It's hypocrisy, and these priests are unintentionally making it into a virtue. By all means, let the Church be held to herself, and her leaders' actions also be measured by her rule. But once we take "self-love" and "self-respect" as things sufficient in themselves to justify rejection of Church teaching as "abusive," we've turned our backs on God altogether no matter how much we might pat Him on the head occasionally and trot Him out as a metaphor for our own choices.
"It is not possible to minister to and with the needs of our homosexual brothers and sisters with language of this tone as a foundation."
This is not a straightforward and reliable criticism about anything, because the fathers' criticisms can't be honestly understood as being confined to simple complaints about style and rhetoric: They themselves admit their criticisms are also directed at the "content" of Church teaching. If there is something about the "tone" of Church teaching on the evil of concupiscence manifested in homosexuality that can be changed while clearly and forcefully conveying the content of Church teaching, surely the fathers ought to be able to explain what that is. I doubt they can do so, and they themselves don't even try. If there's a way to tell someone that his most intense glimpse of human happiness is contrary to the goodness, beauty, and holiness of God without the risk that your message will be experienced as "toxic," "abusive," and "vile," no one's found it in 2,000 years. For that reason alone one ought to expect a little more moderation and a little less hysteria in the fathers' appreciation of how the CDF and God have handled the same dilemma.
Still, the fathers are probably right as to the impossibility of ministering to some, perhaps many, of their homosexual parishioners. "Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard; and who can hear it?" John 6:60 (DRV). It must be very difficult to minister to someone if your ministry requires standing for things that will be perceived -- however charitably or neutrally they are in reality -- as "toxic," "vile," and "abusive." Here are other burdens for these good priests to carry, for the Church has trammeled on what would otherwise be sources of their own happiness as pastors. Like the widow who wants to know if her husband is in Heaven, these priests' homosexual parishioners cannot be told what they most deeply (and understandably) desire to hear; they cannot be told things which any decent and compassionate priest would love to be able to tell them.
There is a cost to discipleship, intimately connected to the very purpose of discipleship -- to become something that is unexpected and, at times, distinctly uncomfortable. "If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." John 15:19 (DRV). No doubt a ministry to a corporate boardroom or the guest list at Playboy Mansion would be impossible given the "tone" of what the Church has to say about capitalism and sexual license. But a Church which has only positive and assuring words to say about capitalism and orgies wouldn't be worth following. It wouldn't be able to protect man from himself, a necessity which should also cause us to be wary of "affirming the goodness" of people without making any distinctions about how they can be good and how they can be bad.
"The Catholic Church is most catholic when it is inclusive and embracing, and least reflective of the gospel of Jesus when it is exclusive and rigid. For this reason, we also want to affirm the many pastoral and positive statements by certain bishops and bishops' conferences (e.g. "Always Our Children")."
This confuses the Church's call to evangelism with a criteria that judges the Church by human standards, as though "catholicity" were a matter of demographics. Catholicity can't be judged according to how many diversities of opinion or lifestyle are spared contradiction or rebuke. If it were otherwise, being "catholic" would only mean "having a pulse." The Church of Christ is not "most catholic" when it allows anyone to think and do anything. The Church of Christ is only "most catholic" when it's universally preaching the universal truths of God to the universe.
That's why the priests' repeated appeal to "Always Our Children" (hereafter "Always"), a pastoral statement of the United States Conference of Catholic bishops to the parents and priests of homosexual persons, is so bizzare. After reading the fathers' vilification of the CDF's statement prohibiting homosexual marriage, one would expect that the fathers praise "Always" because it somehow contradicts the CDF. To the contrary, the texts of the documents match almost perfectly. In "Always," the bishops note that "our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation," which directly contradicts the priests' own assumption that describing a homosexual orientation as "disordered" or as an "evil" somehow denies the dignity of the homosexual person. Like the CDF and the Catechism, "Always," makes a distinction between a homosexual orientation and sinful choices to express that orientation in sexual acts: "By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose." (There is no statement by the CDF or the Catechism that a homosexual orientation is, by itself and without any choice on the part of the person who has it, a sin).
The bishops go on to say that a homosexual person has the power and freedom to use his sexuality for "evil." Homosexuals are reminded that "the chaste life is possible, though not always easy, for it involves a continual effort to turn toward God and away from sin, especially with the strength of the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist." They say that this continual conversion requires realizing two truths:
First, it is God's plan that sexual intercourse occur only within marriage between a man and a woman. Second, every act of intercourse must be open to the possible creation of new human life. Homosexual intercourse cannot fulfill these two conditions. Therefore, the Church teaches that homogenital behavior is objectively immoral, while making the important distinction between this behavior and a homosexual orientation, which is not immoral in itself.If the CDF must be rebuked for saying that homosexuality is "objectively disordered," it's difficult to understand why these priests don't rebuke the NCCB for saying that acting on that inclination is "objectively immoral." If the CDF must be censured for saying that Catholics should oppose the spread of homosexual marriage, it's difficult to understand why the NCCB shouldn't be censured for directing parents and priests of homosexual persons to counsel them to live chastely. If the CDF is to be castigated for attempting to deny homosexuals' rights to marriage, the NCCB should be condemned for explaining that the Church will rightly "deny public roles of service and leadership to . . . homosexual[s] . . . whose public behavior openly violates its teachings."
The only reason I can see for the priests' favorable attitude about "Always" lies in a criticism of the document by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz:
[T]his document fail to take into account the latest revision in the authentic Latin version of The Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality, but it juxtaposes several quotes from the Catechism in order to pretend falsely and preposterously that the Catechism says homosexuality is a gift from God and should be accepted as a fixed and permanent identity.Bishop Bruskewitz refers to this section of "Always":
A deep respect for the total person leads the Church to hold and teach that sexuality is a gift of God. Being created a male or a female person is an essential part of the divine plan, for it is their sexuality ? a mysterious blend of spirit and body ? that allows human beings to share in God's own creative love and life. "Everyone...should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2333).Bishop Bruskewitz's criticism is inaccurate. Paragraph 2333 is directed at men and women, who are told to accept their sexual identity and realize that manhood and womanhood are complementary and "oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life." But "Always" also identifies the gift of sexuality as the gift of being created a male or female person. The real problem is the USCC's tagging the quoted sentence of the Catechism onto the paragraph in such a way as to render the document vulnerable to heterodox suggestions in the reader's mind that homosexuality is a third identity given by God to be celebrated and approved like masculinity and femininity. But this kind of vulnerability is as far as "Always" goes; the document certainly doesn't establish an "alternative" teaching that contradicts the CDF's description of our obligations to oppose the phenomenon of homosexual marriage; withhold approval and celebrity from the phenomenon of homosexual orientation; or regard homosexual acts as depraved and evil.
The priests' appeal to "Always" is one of the most disturbing things about their letter. If the fathers are to read "Always" as contradicting Considerations, the Catechism, and Scripture, they must first make "Always" into a toybox of vague phrases, statements ripped from contexts, and plastic suggestions vulnerable to heterodox manipulation. In short, they would have to accept the truth of Bishop Bruskewitz' rash criticisms, which do set "Always" in opposition to the CDF and the Catechism -- except that, unlike the good Bishop, these priests would be approving of what Bishop Bruskewitz (wrongly) found in the document. Astonishingly, one of the letter's authors tells us that this is precisely how the fathers read "Always":
A principal drafter of the letter, Fr. Richard Prendergast, pastor of a suburban parish, said he was moved to take action in part by the experience of a lesbian couple in his parish. They had adopted a baby from an orphanage in a foreign country. She was considered developmentally impaired when she arrived in the United States. Prendergast said that now, 18 months later, the couple has "loved her back to a normal level" of development. "To call their loving of that child an abomination is outrageous," he said. The problem with these hyperventilations is that neither Fr. Prendergast nor any of his colleagues will be able to point out where, exactly, the Catechism or the CDF has ever said that loving and caring for a child is an "abomination." One can make that leap only by intruding the morality of a lesbian marriage into the scene, like a drunk allowed into an art gallery, and then complaining about how everyone admires painting and tolerates drunks but no one wants to appreciate the beauty of ripped canvas. It's very difficult to understand Fr. Prendergast's comments outside of a commitment to rewriting the Gospel so that homosexuality and heterosexuality become equally-magnificent expressions of God's love. That's a frightening prospect, because it would mean that Fr. Prendergast and his colleagues have effectively been betraying their parishioners' pastoral rights to authentic Church teaching.
"The Church's theology, including her moral teaching, is always in dialogue with the broader lived experience of her members, which shapes and rearticulates the ancient deposit of faith. We encourage a new atmosphere of openness to dialogue which includes the lived experience of many Catholic members. We recognize the blessings of countless homosexuals in a variety of relationships. We believe their experiences must be listened to respectfully."
Yes, of course, but to what end? Are the fathers arguing that we can profit from the lived experience of homosexual Catholics to "rearticulate" the Church's authentic and immutable teaching on human sexuality, or do they want us to "rewrite" that teaching? The fathers' earlier ambiguity on this point continues.
"While we do not know the reasons for the increasingly violent and abusive language, we deplore it as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ and ask that it stop immediately."
As noted, the fathers have done nothing to explain why the Church is using "violent and abusive language" when it describes concupiscence manifested in homosexual attractions as "intrinsically disordered" or homosexual actions themselves as "intrinsically immoral." That being the case, one can only read this request as either nonsense or an request that Church to stop teaching mankind about sexuality.
"Furthermore, we request that all those in official positions of teaching authority in the Church refrain from any more statements directed AT the gay and lesbian members of the Body of Christ, and instead begin an earnest dialogue WITH those same members of the Body of Christ."
This entirely ignores the fact that Considerations, like the Catechism (or, for that matter, the Bible) isn't directed "AT" gay and lesbian people any more than it's directed "AT" the rest of the human race. The Gospel being the Gospel, what sort of "dialogue" is the Church supposed to have with homosexuals that doesn't involve talking about the disordered nature of their inclinations and the immorality of homosexual acts? Apparently the Church isn't to have any such kind of dialogue, because it would be castigating homosexuals with language that the Church refuses to use with murderers, pimps, and drug-dealers.
Another signer, Fr. Robert McLaughlin, also a suburban pastor, said, "It seems so simple that you don't talk to anyone the way the church talks to lesbians and gays. We don't even talk to mafia dons that way. Can't we respond to people in pastoral language?"Fr. McLaughlin has managed to be absolutely correct and entirely wrong at the same time. The Church doesn't talk to homosexuals the way it talks to mafia bosses:
USA TODAY -- Pope John Paul II was on an anti-mafia crusade through Sicily Sunday as he paid tribute to magistrates killed by the mafia. He urged young Italians to have the courage to reject organized crime. "God once said, `Don't kill.' Man, any man, any group of men, the mafia, can't change and trample this most sacred law of God!" the pope said as he lashed out at mafia bosses, warning they face the wrath of God unless they forsake their ways. The pope reportedly spoke in a voice shaking with rage and his outburst - at the end of his second visit to Sicily in his papacy - was the Roman Catholic Church's strongest condemnation of organized crime. Before returning to the Vatican, the pope met with the parents of murdered Judge Rosario Livatino. The mafia is believed to have ordered Livatino's slaying after he refused to let the mafia sway him in issuing a sentence.The Church doesn't sponsor a Day of Remembrance and Commitment in Honor of Victims of Homosexuals in which the people are exhorted to "oppose homosexuality," and homosexuals are described as forming "regime of terror and 'culture of death.'" One doesn't see the Pope (or any bishop) "shaking with rage" as he threatens active homosexuals with the wrath of God unless they live chastely, and one can search Considerations and the Catechism in vain for such thundering language. No, the Church definitely doesn't talk to (or "AT") homosexuals the way it talks to mafia bosses.
What the Church does do, as Cardinal George of Chicago pointed out in response to the letter, is use "philosophical and theological language in a society that understands, at best, only psychological and political terms." These priests are experiencing pastoral problems because their Church is speaking rationally and reasonably to people who are too uneducated, too selfish, or too unstable to realize that their "rights" and their "feelings" aren't the center of the universe. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Cardinal George says this theological language "does not help us in welcoming men and women of homosexual orientation." He's probably right. The purpose of the CDF and the Catechism isn't to make men and women of homosexual orientation feel "welcome" in the Church or, for that matter, to feel anything at all. Their purpose is to clearly and accurate describe Church teaching, and this brings us back to a "pastoral" perspective.
Welcoming sinners into the Body of Christ is a job for priests. Priests shouldn't be fanning fears and nursing grudges in their homosexual parishioners by translating the Church's theological/philosophical statements into personal psychological rebukes and nightmare persecution scenarios ("Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational?"). Fr. McLaughlin, Fr. Prendergast, and their colleagues ought to know better than that. Their insistence on a course of action which must, as a necessary by-product, torture parishioners with lunatic descriptions of Church teaching (that, for example, the love of a child is an abomination if you're gay; if you're gay you're altogether and unredeemably sick and disordered; if you're gay you have to be excluded from all human society) is a form of pastoral abuse as ugly as anything which they try to lay on Cardinal Ratzinger's doorstep.
The Church isn't to blame because God chose to design men and women so that homosexual attraction isn't "objectively ordered" and homosexual marriage isn't "objectively moral." When the Church points out what God has done, she's not talking "AT" gay and lesbian people any more than she's talking "AT" heterosexuals when she condemns fornication and adultery. It's quite normal for someone to wish that the Church wouldn't talk "AT" them. I've certainly wished that the Church wouldn't talk "AT" me when it condemns the sins to which my disordered inclinations lead. No less a saint than Augustine experienced irritation at God's talking "AT" him about his sins: "But, wretched youth that I was . . . I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, ?Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.' For I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished."
The Church should have no objections to beginning an earnest dialogue with homosexual Catholics about why homosexuality isn't good, isn't normal, and why homosexual attractions are invitations to a life plagued by misery and mortal sin. But the priests' letter, together with their comments in the National Catholic Reporter, leave little doubt that this isn't the kind of "dialogue" they have in mind. They seem to want permission for their flocks to live Augustine's wretched youth, knowing that something's wrong but not having the courage to do anything about it. The fathers forget that Augustine's youth was wretched because of his fear (itself a product of the Fall) that God really wanted him to be miserable and unhappy. Watching priests wholeheartedly encouraging that same tyrannous fear in their flocks, calling for a "dialogue" that really is nothing more than a conspiracy to resist the truth, is a miserable spectacle. If one wants to identify a major cause of needless suffering among homosexuals in the Catholic Church, one need look no further than priests like Fr. McLaughlin, Fr. Prendergast, and their colleagues.
"For our part, we pledge to treat all who seek to continue their faith journey with us with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation."
This pledge, unfortunately, suffers from the ambiguity which dominates the fathers' letter. If they're pledging to comfort their parishioners with promises of God's love and the resulting possibility of wholesome chastity then they're good priests. But if they're promising to perpetuate an anti-Gospel that describes Scripture's message about homosexual acts as "vile" and "toxic" they're not exactly tributes to St. John Vianney's legacy of pastoral concern. Cardinal George made an apt, if understated, comment about the signatories when he said: "If you yourself cannot resolve that tension between welcoming people as they are and still calling them to leave their sinfulness . . . or if you yourself do not accept the church's moral teaching on the use of the gift of sexuality, it would be all the more important for us to talk."
"We join the countless men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, who seek justice, mercy and compassion in and through the Catholic Church."
Yes, that's fine with me, although I might wish for "truth" to have been included in the list. Without truth, justice cannot be known, mercy cannot be asked, and compassion cannot be shown.
"We extend an invitation all who share our concern to duplicate this letter, sign it, and send it to their pastor, local bishop, National Bishop's Conference or the Vatican."
Again, for what purpose? Having read what I've read, I can only surmise that the fathers want positive proof that Gresham's law is applicable to theological and pastoral discussions.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 1700.
 "And one of them, a doctor of the law, asked him, tempting him: Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets." Matthew 22:35-40 (DRV).
 2 Peter 3:16.
 "[W]hen Marcion, after whom the Marcionites are called, met the holy Polycarp on one occasion, and said 'Recognize us, Polycarp[?]' he said in reply to Marcion, 'Yes indeed, I recognize the firstborn of Satan.'" The Letter of the Smyrneans or Martyrdom of Polycarp, J.B. Lightfoot, trans. The entire text can be found here.
 St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, ? 1. The full text can be found here.
 The full text of Considerations can be found here. Henceforth in the notes, the document will be referred to by that shorthand title.
 Eusebius of Caesarea, Proof of the Gospel, 4:10. I am aware that Christians of other confessions might dispute my identification of Eusebius of Caesarea or any other early-Church personage with the Roman Catholic Church. Since, however, I'm dealing with Roman Catholic priests writing to Roman Catholic Bishops about the nature of Roman Catholicism, I think I may be pardoned for failing to include apologetics on this subject.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 2357.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 2358.
 Considerations ? 4.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, ? 405.
 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Marriage and Family, "Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers." The full text can be found here.. As in the text, references to this document will be to "Always."
 Bp. Fabian Bruskewitz, "On Always Our Children." The full text can be found here.
 NCCB, "Always."
 Bishop Bruskewitz's response is filled with hasty condemnations that do his magnificent (and deserved) reputation little justice. He contends that "Always" is "wicked to counsel parents not to intervene, but rather to adopt a ?wait and see' attitude when they find their adolescent children ?experimenting' with homosexual acts. Parents have a grave moral duty to prevent their children from committing mortal sins when they can." But that's not what "Always" actually counsels:
The second way to communicate love is to seek appropriate help for your child and for yourself. If your son or daughter is an adolescent, it is possible that he or she may be experimenting with some homosexual behaviors as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual identity. Isolated acts do not make someone homosexual. Adolescence is often accompanied by anxiety or confusion about sexual identity. Sometimes the best approach may be a "wait and see" attitude, while you try to maintain a trusting relationship and provide various kinds of support, information, and encouragement.I think the fairer reading of "Always" is that a parent is to "wait and see" if a child's homosexual behavior is a transient attraction that can be healed and replaced by a more mature and developed sense of sexuality and faith before reacting as though it's really a deeper and more permanent problem that requires a lifelong familial coping process.
Further, Bishop Bruskewitz would have us read "Always" as addressing "experimenting with homosexual acts" such as intercourse, which is mortal sin, when the document's actual phrase ("some homosexual behaviors") may involve things (like saying "I love you" to a friend of the same sex) that might be disturbing in context but whose sinfulness is far more difficult to determine. Bishop Bruskewitz likewise overlooks the fact that the performance of a parent's "grave moral duty" to "prevent sin" by children (of any age) may be limited to "providing various kinds of support, information and encouragement." Assuming that this means helping a child live paganism's dream of responsible and fulfilling homosexuality rather than using catechesis, prayer, and urgings to faithful chastity is -- regardless of our justified suspicions about the NCCB's enthusiastic fidelity to the magisterium -- a rash judgment.
Sometimes Bishop Bruskewitz's criticism of "Always" borders on the nonsensical. He writes, "[t]he document says to parents, ?Do not blame yourselves for a homosexual orientation in your child'. Many scientists and psychologists say that the orientation is likely and often due to certain parental defects, which are usually unconsciously present, and proper therapy requires that these matters be confronted." Yes, indeed, but since Bishop Bruskewitz himself says these parental defects are "usually unconsciously present" and since sin requres knowledge, assent, and voluntariness, it's difficult to understand why the NCCB erroneously suggests that a parent shouldn't judge his failings as though they were blameworthy sins. It's also worth noting that the same paragraph of "Always" says: "Do everything possible to continue demonstrating love for your child. However, accepting his or her homosexual orientation does not have to include approving all related attitudes and behavioral choices. In fact, you may need to challenge certain aspects of a lifestyle which you find objectionable."
 Robert J. McClory, "Priests Protest Language on Gays," National Catholic Reporter, 1/9/04. The full text can be found here.
 "Lay people have the duty and the right to acquire the knowledge of Christian teaching which is appropriate to each one's capacity and condition, so that they may be able to live according to this teaching, to proclaim it and if necessary to defend it, and may be capable of playing their part in the exercise of the apostolate. " Code of Canon Law, Can. 229 ?1 (1983).
 Robert J. McClory, "Priests Protest Language on Gays," National Catholic Reporter, 1/9/04. The full text can be found here. Henceforth "Priests Protest."
 USA Today, "Pope Strongly Condemns Mafia Durign Second Visit to Sicily." 5/10/93. The article is only available by payment. I have quoted it in full.
 ZENIT, "A Day to Rally Support Against the Mafia," 3/22/01. The full text is available here.
 "Priests Protest."
 St. Augustine, Confessions, Bk. VIII, Ch. vii, ? 17.
 For a very good explanation of what "dialogue" actually means, see I. Shawn McElhinney's essay on the subject, On the Intricacies of Dialogue
 "Priests Protest."
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 14:55 Hours [+]
I Just Want To Be Sure that Everyone's Seen . . .
Peter Shulman's War.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 07:39 Hours [+]
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Huh, whaddaya know?
What Classic Movie Are You?
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 18:37 Hours [+]
Even More Movies for Reb . . . .
Category: Rip-Roaring Adventure
Continuing our list of recommended movies for Reb, we turn now to lighter fare, the swashbuckler (and variations thereof). For those who have emailed me complaining about the absence of some of their favorite films, please note that I'm not trying to compile a definitive list of the "greatest" movies. Raiders of the Lost Ark isn't here, for example, even though it's a great adventure movie. It's absent because everybody already knows Raiders is a rip-roaring adventure film, one of the best ever made, while I'm trying to recommend some (possibly) lesser-known movies. So, without further ado:
The Challenge (John Frankenheimer, 1983). Scott Glenn (Urban Cowboy, The Right Stuff) plays a washed-up boxer hired to return a Japanese samurai sword, lost during World War II, to its rightful owner. Upon his arrival in Japan Glenn finds himself embroiled in a modern-day war between two rival Japanese clans who claim the right to own The Equals, a perfect pair of samurai swords passed down through generations. One clan, which holds to the old and traditional ways (and is, of course, the rightful owner of The Equals), is headed by a character played by the legendary Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai, Tora, Tora, Tora). Another, headed by a forgettable (at least by me) actor who nonetheless conveys proper amounts of malice and strength, has chosen the corrupt path of modern industrial life. Glenn becomes embroiled in the conflict and redeems himself by following bushido ("the way of the warrior") wherever it leads -- in this case, to a climactic, exciting, and brilliantly-choreographed duel inside the evil clan's corporate headquarters. If you want to see the film that was really plagiarized by The Last Samurai, this (and not Dances with Wolves) is it.
Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953). William Holden (one of my favorite leading men) plays Sefton, an American aviator who lives well inside a WWII German prison camp by trading for contraband -- often with the Germans themselves. Amidst a plethora of great character acting, Sefton gains the camp's hatred and then admiration as he clears himself of suspicions that he's spying on the prisoners for the Germans. This film inspired the long-running television comedy Stalag 13, but the film's war-time earnestness and intriguing mystery is to be greatly preferred over the campy televised cartoon.
The War Lord (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1965). IMHO, this film and Lion in Winter are the only really good movies Hollywood's ever made about the Middle Ages. (Until, that is, my prayers are answered and Mel Gibson makes a film about Charles Martel and the Battle of Poitiers). Charlton Heston plays Chrysagon, one of the indomitable Norman nobles who wrote so much of the age's history. Guy Stockwell (Dean's brother) plays Draco, Chrysagon's hot-headed and irresponsible brother. As a reward for years of faithful service, the two are given a small fief in the Saxon marshes, slightly reviving the brothers' fortunes after their family bankrupted itself to ransom their (decased) father from captivity. Chrysagon falls in love with a Saxon maiden and, unable to control himself after years of deprivation and hardship, determines to exercise his "rights" under prima nocte on her wedding night. All goes without incident, except on the morning Chrysagon cannot bring himself to part with her, causing the enraged Saxons to ally themselves with the marauding Frisians to rescue the girl with predictably thrilling results. Great battles ensue as the barbarous Frisians and Saxon villagers try to storm the nobles' tower. Richard Boone gives one of his patented "I'm so rough sandpaper would say ‘ouch'" performances as Bors, Chrysagon's loyal retainer. One of the reasons I like this movie is that it portrays human life in a barely-Christianized Europe, something which many people (like the authors of a "complete" history of Christian missions I read recently, who begin their history of Christian evangelization in 1517) never really think about. Unfortunately, this is achieved in no small measure by the inclusion of a dithering priest played by Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes). Prima nocte is "Sir Priest's" idea and he's more than a bit cowed by his Norman overlords, but that's not a fatal flaw since such monks did in fact exist.
Farewell to the King (John Milius, 1989). Nigel Havers (Chariots of Fire) plays a British officer sent to recruit a tribe of natives on Borneo to fight the Japanese during WWII. Upon his arrival, he finds that the tribe is ruled by "Rajah," an American sailor played by Nick Nolte who deserted from the U.S. Navy. Havers' character, a thinly-veiled immitation of T.E. Lawrence, goes through internal conflicts between his duties as a British officer and his increasing loyalty to Rajah and the tribe. The tribe fights the Japanese, but only after "Rajah" concludes a treaty via Havers' character with Douglas MacArthur. Nolte delivers some wonderful lines for us second-amendment fans during the negotiations for the treaty. "What do you want? Freedom. And what else? Guns -- so they can't take our freedom away. Anything else? Grenades, mortars and artillery so they can't take our guns away!" The war takes a bitter turn when the Japanese, in desperate retreat, devastate Rajah's village killing (and eating) the women and children; the tribe's "army" sets out on a gruesome mission of extermination. The movie features some very haunting battle scenes as the Japanese, led by a menacing officer who rides an eerie white horse, are dogged by the vengeful tribesmen who've been taught the stirring Irish "Rising of the Moon" by Nolte's character. The bittersweet ending should not be revealed. For people who, like me, love to spend time in John Milius' world this film is one of the best ways to burn a few good cigars.
The Wind and the Lion (John Milius, 1975). John Milius' purpose in life was to direct all the great adventure films that went to earlier men like Michael Curtiz and Cecil B. DeMille. In this movie -- made, it should be noted, at the zenith of disco, in the year South Vietnam finally fell, and just a few months before that peanut-farming sillypants from Georgia flopped into the White House -- Milius takes a small incident from U.S. history and turns it into a leonine hymn to America, simplicity, manliness, and the warrior virtues. In the real Pedicaris Incident, an insignificant satellite of Morocco's U.S. Diplomatic community was kidnapped by a quasi-prophet called the Raisuli; Teddy Roosevelt's Republicans cried their famous phrase, "This government wants Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead!" and promptly sailed back into office (after paying Pedicaris' ransom). The film, of course, is a great improvement over reality. In Milius' hands Pedicaris becomes the recently-widowed Mrs. Pedicaris, fetchingly played by the beautiful Candice Bergen. The Raisuli, played by Sean Connery, becomes a patriot longing to protect the old desert ways of the Riff from the corrupting influence of European society. Teddy Roosevelt, played to the hilt by Brian Kieth, is the fiery apotheosis of an Awakening America determined to bypass European dithering and assert the inviolability of justice by rescuing the fair widow. Thus are we treated to one of the greatest chest-thumping, flag-waving, heart-pounding scenes in American cinema, as the U.S. Marines land in Tangiers and shame the decadent Europeans by taking the situation well in hand. But the character of the Raisuli is too charismatic to remain an enemy, and Milius' film soon has him allied with the Americans in a desperate struggle against European duplicity! If you, like me, are the kind of fellow who's memorized George C. Scott's opening speech in Patton, you're gonna love this film: Chauvinism just don't get any better than this.
The Naked Prey (Cornel Wilde, 1966). Based on the famous story "The Most Dangerous Game," Wilde plays a member of a safari expedition which refuses to pay off the natives and gets massacred almost to the last man. The last man is the white hunter/guide, played by Wilde, who is sufficiently respected by the tribe that they give him a chance to save his life. He's stripped naked, given a knife, and allowed a head start equal to the distance of an arrow fired from a native bow. The rest of the film is a series of hairs'-breadth escapes and brilliant tactics, as Wilde desperately attempts to reach the safety of his own civilization. One of the finest things about this movie is that it tells a riveting story with hardly any dialogue at all.
Hell is for Heroes (Don Seigel, 1962). This film teeters between a WWII adventure story and an earnest commentary on bravery. Steve McQueen plays an outcast soldier thrown into a unit of outcasts who are detailed to hold a large section of the Allied lines against a superior German force. There's a lot of trickiness and anxious moments as the Americans try to convince the Germans that they're occupying this captured bit of the Siegfried line in strength. Part of that effort is a young Bob Newhart, who puts his comic talent at portraying one side of a telephone conversation to good use by pretending to talk to headquarters on a landline the Germans have tapped. ("Uh, sir, it's about the morale film you sent us . . . . Yes, sir, I know there are other priorities. It's just that the battalion's seen that movie ten times. They're becoming surly.") Eventually, the Americans have to attack the German positions anyway, with the alienated loner McQueen in the lead.
The Hunter (Buzz Kulik, 1980). Steve McQueen plays a character "based on" the real-life Papa Thorson, a legend in the bail-agent community. While he's out catching a series of oddball bail-jumping bad guys (his cornfield-chase scene with a, uh, dynamic, pair of fugitives is a lot of fun, and was filmed in the actual field where the real event took place), one of his former captures is stalking his pregnant live-in girlfriend thereby providing us with the climactic episode. This is not great cinema by any means. In fact, it really doesn't have a plot -- just a series of conflict-resolution episodes. The acting's not that great either -- LeVar Burton plays a young kid who Thorson takes under his wing with all the gusto of a serious valium habit. But the good guys win with style and McQueen's wizened presence makes it a great way to down a few beers.
The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979). This film is about a very small New York City gang which travels to a kind of gang United Nations in Central Park, there to hear the ominous Cyrus (leader of the city's most powerful gang, the "Riffs") explain his plan to take over the city. But just as he's on the verge of uniting gangland in a jihad against the established order, Cyrus is killed by a maniacal member of another gang who puts the blame on the Warriors. Stranded miles from their "turf," the gang has to fight its way back across the city to reach the safety of its Coney-Island home. Most people I know don't like this movie because it glorifies gangs, lawlessness, and bad manners. They're right, it does all those things. But I watch it as a kind of parable on Romans 2:14 because the gangs, having not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, thereby becoming a law unto themselves. The film's ridiculously over-the-top, glorified depiction of gang life shows these fellows having some attenuated relationship with loyalty, bravery, crude ideas about justice, and even a primitive sort of chivalry. In fact, without those things the story can't happen at all, and yet the whole morality play occurs in a realm that has already declared its secession from civilization and the social order. So I like to think of the characters showing the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another. But then, I'm a really weird person.
Flight of the Phoenix (Robert Aldrich, 1965). Jimmy Stewart plays a veteran desert pilot carrying a bunch of travelers across the Sahara desert. A sandstorm forces the plane to crash, and the survivors (played by an assortment of great actors including Richard Attenborough, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Peter Finch, and the unforgettably-faced Ronald Fraser) have to find a way to reach civilization or die. They have a minuscule amount of water, and are surrounded by hostile nomads. One of the group, played by Hardy Kruger, claims to be an aeronautical engineer and persuades the men to build a jerry-rigged airplane out of the crash's debris. As they struggle to complete this desperate project, dehydration and stress begin to tear them apart. Wonderful character acting, coupled with a number of unsentimentally-resolved sub-plots (like the conflict between Kruger's technocratic engineer and Stewart's cranky seat-of-the-pants veteran pilot), make this a fascinating and entertaining film. The cinematography is wonderful -- you feel hot and thirsty even though you're equipped with a 32-ounce mug of cola and have the AC on full. Great family movie, if you have older children. Unfortunately, it's being remade into a "new, improved" version starring Dennis Quaid (ugh!); the new release will undoubtedly be superior. They've put sultry blonde Miranda Otto in the cast in order to thwart sexism (and, no doubt, to film some sex scenes), and it's been set in the Mongolian Desert this time (thus simultaneously avoiding insulting the Arabs with the earlier film's references to hostile tribesmen while, at the same time, finding a place where it's safe for Americans to shoot a movie). I can't stand remakes. They're always about "rescuing" the original from some social/artistic evil.
The Prisoner of Zenda (Richard Thorpe, 1952). From the 1894 novel by Richard Hope, the film follows the adventures of Rudolph Rassendyll (Stewart Granger) who, while on vacation in the quasi-Balkan country of Ruritania, is noticed to bear a distinct likeness to Ruritania's King, Rudolph V. Turns out the Rassendyll's are the "bar sinister" branch of the Elfburg family who provides Ruritania with its royalty, and every fifth generation or so the Elfburg features adorn a Rassendyll's face. With the help of some crafty nobles, Rassendyll masquerades as the King in order to thwart a coup attempt by the evil Duke Michael. James Mason plays Duke Michael's chief henchman, Rupert of Hentzau. Mason is really at his best in this movie -- he plays the evil and decadent Rupert with enough charm so that you like him even when you should be hissing and throwing popcorn at the screen. In fact, when you end up throwing popcorn and hissing you realize you like him even more! Lots of plots, counter-plots, close calls, Sigmund-Romberg uniforms, horseback chases, castle-burgling, and sword fighting. To cap it all off, the movie has a (and bed-less) romance between Rassendyll and King Rudolph's fiancé, Princess Flavia, played by the wonderful Debrah Kerr which ends the only way it can when people do the right thing. I think this is a great family movie.
The Four Feathers (Zoltan Korda, 1939). The best of all the "Four Feathers" movies (1915, 1921, 1977, and 2002) -- although the 1977 made for TV production starring Beau Bridges, Jane Seymour and Harry Andrews isn't too bad, either. John Clements plays Lt. Harry Faversham who is, not to put too fine a point on it, a yellowbacked coward who resigns from his regiment before it's sent to war against the insane Khalifa. Faversham's friends -- and his fiancé, Ethne -- each give him a white feather, a token of their disdain. Ashamed, Faversham tries to win back his honor by following the regiment in mufti; he saves each of his three friends and returns home to win back Ethne's love. This is a wonderful story, because it doesn't have the soft, easy morals of modern tales. In a modern movie, Faversham would be the only noble character and it would be the others who must repent of their sinful judgmentalism. Why is this better than the 2002 movie? Well, Miklos Rosza wrote the score (I've got every Rosza soundrack I can lay my hands on), and you can't beat C. Aubrey Smith refighting his old battles on a tablecloth with walnuts and wine glasses.
The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston, 1975). John Huston tried to get this movie made for decades. Finally, Sean Connery played Daniel Dravitt and Michael Caine appears as Peachy Carnahan, two British soldiers who've decided to desert and take over the legendary kingdom of Kafiristan, which lies somewhere to the north of Afghanistan across the Khyber Pass. (Christopher Plummer makes a nice appearance as Rudyard Kipling). Their original plan is to awe the natives, find the gold, and scoot. But in a battlefield accident Dravitt's life is "miraculously" saved when a native arrow can't penetrate the dog tags under his tunic; the natives begin to think he's the reincarnation of Iskander, the mythical God-King of Kafiristan (who grew out of Alexander the Great). Like Alexander, Dravitt becomes king of Kafiristan and falls in love with a beautiful native girl (played by Shakira Caine, Michael's wife thank you very much Sandra Meisel now go debunk the DaVinci Code or something.). He and Peachy almost end their friendship since Dravitt wants to remain and rule Kafiristan while Peachy wants to enjoy the good life their new-found riches will buy them back in India. I can't say more without spoiling things, except to note that one of the distasteful features of the film is its warm and wonderful depiction of Masonry as a bond of universal brotherhood. But the film has something that almost makes up for that, a really neat hymn sung by the two friends; it's a combination of the tune of "The Minstrel Boy" with the lyrics of "The Son of God Goeth Forth to War." Here it is:
Try singing it. Better yet, try singing it during the recessional as the rest of the parish wheezes through some trendy AmChurch "fluffenlieder." You'll like it.The Son of God goes forth to war,
K2 (Franc Roddam, 1992). Michael Biehn plays Taylor Brooks, an arrogant, ego-centric mountain climbing attorney. (He's the kind of jackass who lets you know that his life's philosophy is drawn from Sun-Tzu's Art of War). Matt Craven plays Harold Jameson, Taylor's unassuming mountain-climbing partner. When Taylor and Harold save a mountaneering expedition from diaster, they intrude themselves (courtesy of Taylor's pushiness) into the expedition's attempt to scale K2, the second-tallest mountain in the world. Taylor's selfish, devil-take-the-hindmost drive and Jameson's cooperative, solid competence eventually bring them to the summit after everyone else in the expedition has either died or stayed behind to care for the ailing team-leader. Once at the summit, disaster strikes and Taylor must choose between certain personal survival and a chance to save Jameson's life. Predictable and cliched? Yes, but only if the last movie you watched was filmed in 1955. Set against modern culture, Taylor's choice represents a breathtaking, shocking moment of moral clarity (which is why the film was reviewed as "predictable and cliched" by everyone). Although the only force impelling Taylor to goodness is mere "buddyhood," it's still worth watching -- and letting your kids watch as well.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 18:16 Hours [+]
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
More Movies for Reb
Continuing with my list of recommended movies . . . .
Category: Man, Morals, and Society
Midnight Express (Alan Parker, 1978). Based on the true story of Billy Hays (played by Brad Davis, who also played the American runner Jackson Schultz in Chariots of Fire), who was arrested and sentenced to a life sentence in Turkey for attempting to smuggle hashish out of the country in the 1970s. Subjected to unspeakable conditions of imprisonment, Hays eventually escapes after accidentally killing a guard who was trying to rape him. (That guard, "Hamidou," is played by Paul Smith who was also the Beast Rabban in David Lynch's production of Dune). The movie features some extremely graphic violence, nudy, homosexual episodes (one of which is Hamidou's attempted raping of Billy, the other is Billy's rebuffing an advance by a Swedish prisoner) and another scene of immorality when Billy is visited by his girlfriend. So it's not a movie for children or teenagers. The reason I enjoy it, however, is that everyone roots for Billy and everyone's glad when he escapes. Even assuming Hamidou's death isn't Billy's fault, no one who watches the film thinks Billy (who is already clearly guilty of smuggling hashish) ought to be extradited back to Turkey to be tried and punished for his escape. Why is that? Is there a source of law higher than the state, so that we may rebuff Turkey's claim to further punish Billy? If so, where does that law come from? How do we apply it to men like Billy who are obviously guilty, and yet who obviously do not deserve to be treated as he was.
Night of the Generals (Anatole Litvak, 1967). From the famous novel by Hans Kirst, Omar Sharif plays Major Grau, a German military policeman assigned to solve the brutal rape/murder of a Polish prostitute. A witness who was hiding as the culprit left the prostitute's apartment saw the man's clothing: The murderer had a red stripe on his pants, the insignia of a German general. Grau relentlessly investigates the suspects -- the psychotic SS General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), the pompous and cowardly General Gabbler (played by Rocky Horror narrator Charles Grey), and the nihilistic, drunken General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasance) -- across WWII Europe. The film succeeds in making Grau's quest seem slightly ridiculous and entirely quixotic amidst the German reduction of the Warsaw ghettos, the plot to kill Hitler (Christopher Plummer has a brief appearance as Field Marshal Rommel), and the invasion of Normandy. That's all to the good, because the devaluing of humanity through war is one of the main themes of Kirst's book, and it's handled brilliantly by the film mostly through understatement and a few quips by Grau. ("Yes, I've no sense of proportion. It's been pointed out before.") I like the film because it shows the inevitable corruption of human values that war produces and because of Major Grau's eccentric tribute to the rule of law. Still, we can ask ourselves if Major Grau is truly a hero, or just an envious man enslaved by an idee fixe? In the modern world, how easy is it for us to tell the difference? The film has some (modest, by today's standards) depictions of sexual immorality (fornication, adultery), but the sexual crimes are described afterwards or alluded to rather than shown happening. (E.g., a policeman in the prostitute's apartment pulls back a sheet, Grau grimaces and holds a handkerchief to his mouth, but we never her body)
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957). Billed strictly as an anti-war movie, I like its depiction of the forces that sweep justice and truth aside. It's 1916, and General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) orders General Mireau to attack an impregnable German position. The mission falls on Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) who leads the attack. When it fails, Mireau blames his mens' cowardice and orders three representative soldiers court-martialed. Dax defends them, and uncovers evidence of Mireau's blundering. General Broulard offers Dax a bribe in the form of promotions and medals. Is courage only needed on the battlefield? Is savagery only found in bloody trenches, or can it exist amidst clean linen in an elegant chateau? Paths is wonderfully curious because it doesn't discriminate between the obvious brutality of man and its more subtle manifestations -- we get to see the slaughter of the men in the trenches as a simple part of the slaughter of humanity in their officers' minds.
The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968). This film is so wonderful, it deserved all its oscars! (Best Actress for Katharine Hepburn, best screenplay adaptation, best soundtrack). It also should have won the oscars it got nominated for (Best Actor for Peter O'Toole, Best Director, Best Picture, and best costumes). It's Christmas Day 1183 A.D. and the whole family's together -- King Henry II (O'Toole) has let his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn) out of prison and gathered his three sons (who are all scheming to take his throne) around him to celebrate the holiday. The actors playing the sons have interesting careers -- Anthony Hopkins plays Richard (later called the Lionhearted), Nigel Terry plays John (later bad King John of Magna Carta fame), and his character's a far cry from his fiery performance as King Arthur in Excalibur. John Castle plays the scheming Geoffrey (Castle also appears in productions as diverse as the graceful BBC miniseries Lillie and the ubelievably-stupid Robocop III). Timothy Dalton (whose smugness has always kept him from living up to his promise as the Great Villain a'la James Mason) plays Philip Augustus, King of France. The whole film involves a weekend of intrigues, double-dealings, and plots as the three "boys" vie to become next in line to (or take outright) the throne, Eleanor takes revenge on Henry for her own bitter disappointments, Henry tries to eat his cake and have it regarding the mess he's made of his kingdom, and Philip tries to see what's in all of it for France. The dialogue is fast-paced, elegant, and at times extremely brutal. The movie suggests that politics and persons can never be separated and, therefore, that the redemption of the human person is the only way to achieve good politics. As Eleanor exclaims: "We are the origins of war . . . not history's forces nor the times nor justice nor the lack of it nor causes nor religions nor ideas nor kinds of government nor any other thing! We are the killers; we breed war. We carry it, like syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little? That's how peace begins."
Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987). This movie was touted as Oliver Stone's Grand Remonstrance to the Greedy Reagan Years. Fortunately, this is one film where Stone falters in conveying his political message, largely because Michael Douglas' character Gordon Gekko ("Greed works . . . greed is good") is offset by the forceful Terence Stamp as Sir Lawrence Wildman, a titan of industry who's actually a titan of, uh, industry. Douglas' character represents the worst of capitalism -- his labor produces nothing but ruined companies, paper wealth and usurious riches. Wildman's efforts create employment and goods. The contrast isn't drawn as well as it ought to be, but it's there and it keeps the movie from degenerating entirely into a mindless Leninist passion-play. Charlie Sheen plays the main character "Bud," a young hustling stockbroker who gets ahead by breaking the law for Gekko. Charlie's father, the estimable Martin Sheen, plays Bud's father, who is a Righteous Working Man at the company Gekko is trying to take over. This would have been a much better movie if a well-drawn contrast between Gekko (useless capital) and Wildman (productive capital) had been paralleled with a real conflict between Bud (useless labor) and his father (worthwhile labor). Instead, the economic issues are handled with liberal cocktail-party bromides ("How much money is enough? Huh?") and Bud (whose character ought to have been the forum where all issues are resolved) comes off as just a confused, petulant and snarky kid who hasn't grown up and probably never will. I include the movie because, even though you have to read between the lines a lot, it's the only one I know of that contrasts these two ideas while allowing that there's some value to property and productive labor.
Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980). Timothy Hutton plays Conrad, the youngest son of an affluent Chicago marriage (Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore). Conrad's older brother was killed in a boating accident, and Conrad suffers from depression and suicidal impulses because he feels guilty for surviving and because he senses that his mother wished he'd died rather than her favorite child. Despite everyone's best efforts to pretend that things are "just fine" after Conrad returns from being committed after a suicide attempt, the pressures continue to mount until the family explodes. Everything is done perfectly here, the "explosion" is tight, contained, and understated in the best bourgeois manner. No one gives great, astounding speeches about the meaning of life -- all the conflicts are understated and approached indirectly -- the characters truly behave like "ordinary" people. The ending is an encomium to living in truth, even if the appearance of truth isn't ideal or perfect. The reason I like the movie is that it shows what happens when people have no source of love outside of themselves -- they run dry and become cold like Moore's character, cowardly like Sutherland's character, or self-destructive like Conrad's character. The ending makes a nice finish to the lesson, since despite seeing the family tensions resolved we're still left uncertain about the character's future.
Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989). This film, set in a small multiracial neighborhood in New York City, was intended to be about race, and it just about beats you over the head with racial "issues" every other minute. (There is, however, a magnificent montage where a character from every ethnic group in the neighborhood berates another ethnic group, ending with a Korean grocer who delivers a bizzare, bigoted tirade against Jews). These people are so busy being ethhic one wonders how they find time to reproduce or hold jobs, and oddly enough that's what makes the film worth watching. The main characters seem trapped in their ethnicity, in stereotypes of their own or others' invention, becoming really human only when they succumb to "temptations" and step outside their usual places. The pizza delivery boy ("Mookie," played by Spike Lee) is tempted to be responsible and a good father by a relationship with a hispanic girl. The pizza parlor's owner (played by Danny Aiello) is tempted to love his store's black patrons by an infatuation (depicted harmlessly) with Mookie's sister. But these moments get swept away by the neighborhood's tides of selfishness, pride, fear, and "ethnicity" and the film ends very violently as the neighbors burn down the pizza parlor in an orgy of self-destructive rage which stuns everyone with its rapidity and viciousness. I enjoy the film (occasionally) because, in a way similar to Ordinary People, it suggests what happens when people have no source of identity other than their societies. They can't love "the other" without ceasing to be themselves, and so make a state of unending hostility a necessary condition of self-preservation.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 11:51 Hours [+]
Monday, January 05, 2004
Courtesy of Mr. Otto Hiss' elegant blog, the "Otto da Fe," we learn that the Most Reverend Reginal Cawcutt has been assigned as pastor to St. Patrick's parish in Mowbray, South Africa. Bishop Cawcutt was involved in the "St. Sebastian's Angels" website a few years back. Some of his comments from that involvement are available on line. Many of them are just scatalogical/sacriligeous drivel like these emails:
. . . . I went to Paris two years ago wit the kids from Cape Town = the heat and just everything else was totally impossible. At the last minute they told the bishops we did not have to wear our cassocks (but of course we could be on the platform with JP only if we wore cassocks) - so the smart guys without cassock were "merely" in the front row of the 2 million kids. I went in jeans and T-shirt ! and had some gasps from my fellow episcopals. Of course all that was just one week before Diana did her thing [i.e., died in a car wreck]. Mebbe Ratz will "do his thing" after al those screaming millions of kids will be fornicating in the Vatican gardens - as they bonked [yes, that's what it means] in the night in Paris - damnit man they spent the night before the papal mass sleeping in the park in sleeping bags! . . . .And every once in a while they're even funny, like this confused entreaty: ". . . Would someone please tell me what "Call to Action" is. Has to be interesting. . . . ."
Mostly, however, they display an utter and cold contempt for the Catholic Church produced by an extreme sense of alienation:
. . . Then this week we have a three day regional bishops meeting - holy hell - these things never end - like John said - f**k the bishops! Yeah I seem to be allergic to them or summing! . . . .Reading these messages I can see something to the argument that by treating homosexuality as a plague of evil, the Church drives homosexuals into a kind of twisted anti-Church subculture. The sore, rather than being lanced and treated, is merely covered and left to fester. (We all have "sores" by the way, there's nothing particularly special about homosexuality in that regard). I'm no expert, and anyone who knows better is free to tell me where I'm wrong, but it seems as if the Church can properly handle seminarians who suffer with everything from alcoholism and oedipal complexes to stuttering, yet when it comes to homosexuality (i.e., the amorous attraction to another of the same sex), a seminarian or priest has two choices. He can hide in isolated fear, or he can figuratively leap into the arms of "St. Sebastian's angels" who have, for lack of any other solace, remade an entire religion in the image of their own lusts. They call it the "lavender mafia," and maybe there's something in that besides a reference to unsavory methods and unholy aims. After all, didn't the modern mafia begin as a self-protection society for outcasts in a strange and inhospitable land?
I really don't care if my parish priest is a homosexual. I really don't care if, when he falls from grace, his mind turns to images of teenagers "bonking" in the Vatican gardens. Men need a Redeemer, and our Redeemer died on a Cross while we were yet sinners; we should expect men caught in sin to look grotesque and pathetic, their thoughts to be twisted and violently contorted. Didn't our Redeemer look that way when He died? Didn't He bear our stripes? No, none of that fundamentally bothers me. In fact it seems rather ordinary and shabby, made all the more pathetic by its appearance in public on the Bishop's pornographic little website. Anyone who would really be shocked to his foundation to hear of thoughts and desires like those flitting through the mind of a cleric hasn't spent much time examining his own conscience. Or spent much time in a lawyer's office, for that matter. Spend enough time with men "as they are" and you start realizing that the truly disgusting people are the ones who believe sin's ugliness only disfigures their neighbors.
What I can't abide is Bishop Cawcutt's hatred of the Church, a hatred so unreserved and cold that it's almost unbearable to read:
. . . f**k the bishops! . . . another f***king talk [i.e., a homily] . . . prayers tomorrow as I confirm yet another bunch of little b*st*rds . . . f**k Rome . . . the "simple" priests [ought to] cause more sh*t??? . . . despite wot holy mother church says. . . . we need a new church . . . kill him ? pray for him? why not just f**k him??? any volunteers - ugh!!! . . . I will cause lotsa sh*t for him and the Vatican. . . do have a p*ss next time you cross the Tiber for me! . . .JP is in Poland at the mo - mebbe he will die there? I shall listen to the news broadcasts in hope! . . . .Bishop Cawcutt is screaming at the Church. His images are frightful, violent, and usurious. The man's so dried up and angry he couldn't nuture a fern, let alone a soul. No one hates like this in an instant. It takes years for this kind of pathological loathing to grow. How much of it is self-loathing transferred onto the immovable source of Bishop Cawcutt's condemnation? Not much, at least not much any more --- that kind of hatred always changes, eventually emerging like some dark and venomous butterfly from its cocoon, full in itself, its own reason for existing.
On the whole, I think these emails show us there's an entire area of priestly (and lay) life which is being studiously unattended to by the Church, and that this numbness ends up producing Cawcutts by the dozen. Cawcutt is a bishop -- with the stroke of a pen he could be made a Cardinal, and vote on the election of a Pope. Would he "only" use his vote to elect a pope with the best chance of creating "a new church"? Is that all he'd really do? Hatred brings its own inertia, its own priorities. I doubt very much whether a Reginald Cardinal Cawcutt could remain untempted by the chance to hurt the Church in any possible way rather than vote for his own "beneficent" intentions. By this time, and by his words, I doubt he could tell the difference. His emails show us his view of a Church that was once beautiful, then the hateful cause of his own suffering, and which is now abominable in her own right. No, I don't think a conclave would be safe in Cawcutt's hands. For that matter, I don't think any other ecclesiastical function would be safe in his hands: What does he tell "the little b*st*rds" in the confessional? That's not because he's a homosexual, or even because he's capable of imagining bishops' mitres hung on parts of the male anatomy. It's because he's filled himself with an angry impulse to smash, destroy, and ruin the Church which has (he thinks) been responsible for his own suffering, for the ruination of his priestly life. Like a father's abuse or a cop's brutality, Cawcutt's calling has become an instrument of vengeance. That's a tragedy in a man, but it's a catastrophe in a priest.
A Church -- or any institution -- which allows men in this condition to exercise significant authority and influence in its work is doomed, usually to its own destruction. The Church can't be doomed to destruction -- alone among all institutions, she has been given a divine guarantee that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. But the Church can be doomed to just about anything short of destruction, and "just about anything short of destruction" is pretty darn bad. No, the Church can't remove every bad priest, every errant bishop. In fact the Church shouldn't try -- we should leave the eradication of sin by the republic of godliness as a project fit for wild-eyed Calvinists and other chiliastic adventurers. But there comes a time when malicious self-love causes more than the weakness of Peter, when it becomes the violent antagonism of Judas. A Church concerned for its survival ought to know when that time is and, when it has come, act without hesitation.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 16:34 Hours [+]
Saturday, January 03, 2004
So Reb Says to Me . . . .
"Hey SAM, in your spare time would you mind posting a permanent list of recommended movies?"
Now, as Reb knows, I am always eager to give her more of something other than what she's asked for. Herewith the first installment of a partial list of recommended movies. They're not all famous, and most of them will no doubt be very eccentric and screwy recommendations, but here they are. They're the "must haves" of my DVD collection, movies which I can watch three or four times a year without tiring of them. I'd like to provide more commentary, but then I'd be spoiling the endings and I absolutely hate it when people do that!
Category: Courtroom Dramas
Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov, 1962). Adapted from the Herman Melville story. A very young Terence Stamp (Wall Street, Red Planet) plays Billy Budd, an innocent sailor pressed to join the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Budd is relentlessly goaded by Claggart, the evil master-at-arms fightningly played by Robert Ryan (The Longest Day, The Wild Bunch) until Budd triggers a heartbreaking confrontation between the demands of justice and the need for order. Peter Ustinov (Quo Vadis, Death on the Nile) directs and plays the ship's captain.
Twelve Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957). OK, OK, it's a classic and you've probably heard of it. Still, it's got a magnificent cast (Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden) in this presentation of the American justice system's fundamental mythos that ordinary men can be extraordinarily wise once they abandon their prejudices and use their reason. The movie's most wonderful moment, however, occurs as Henry Fonda's Mr. Davis leaves the courthouse; populist supremacy isn't about parades and free beer, and Davis doesn't even expect it to be. The ending underscores something else -- the fundamental mythos might work tolerably well in a society full of 1957 Davises, but that model's not in stock anymore.
Judgment at Nuremburg (Stanley Kramer, 1961). A sprawling drama packed with great performances that make the Alec-Baldwin-plagued Nuremburg look like the stupid, puny and two-dimensional film it really is. Spencer Tracy stars as a retired American judge sent to Nuremburg to preside over the trials of "small fry." The "small fry" happen to be German judges, among whom is Ernst Janning. Janning is a brilliant legal scholar, a drafter of the Weimar constitution, an international symbol of the rule of law. Is he also a criminal? If he is, then what law could he have broken? Interesting parallels are suggested, but never explored, between the political pressure put on German defendants by the Nazis and the pressures put on Allied judges by their governments during the trial process. Riveting performances by Maximilian Shell as Janning's defense attorney, and Montgomery Clift as a man sterilized under Nazi eugenics laws. William Shatner also appears (with merciful brevity) to give us the clearest view of the effeminacy that lies just under the surface of his every performance. Unfortunately, the film dodges the central issue -- where does the law come from -- in favor of empty pieties about decency and responsibility. But the movie still lays the question right out in front of you like a dead cat on the coffee table, so it's hard to avoid thinking about it when the film's over. Cui custodiet custodies: In a world where Holocausts happen, should men ever be their own guardians?
The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982). Paul Newman plays Frank Gavin, a broken, alcoholic lawyer who's been handed the biggest case of his life by an old friend. Incompetent physicians at a prestigious Catholic hosptial have destroyed a woman's life, leaving her permanently brain-damaged. (The film features lots of cassocked villainy on the part of the Diocese, which tends to be offensive until one replaces the film's situation with pedophilia, thereby making it uncomfortably hard to complain about the portrayal). Through a combination of fear, drink, and incompetence Gavin foregoes a settlement offer and forces the case to go to trial without his star expert witness. James Mason, playing the attorney who represents the hospital and the negligent doctors, proves once again that he was born to play evil characters. The movie's explosive ending is preceded by Gavin delivering what is, IMHO, the greatest on-screen jury argument in the history of film. Essentially, showing the film is a wonderful way to begin meetings of Slothaholics Anonymous -- don't ever be afraid of hard scary things, because hard scary things will generally make you closer to the man God wants you to be.
QBVII. (Tom Gries, 1974). A television miniseries based on the Leon Uris novel of the same title. Anthony Hopkins plays Adam Kelno, a Polish physician who leads a life of dedicated humanitarian service until Abraham Cady (Ben Gazzara) publishes a book about the Holocaust that accuses Kelno of committing medical atrocities. Kelno sues for slander, and the case is heard in Queen's Bench VII. The evidence shows why we're not to judge the objective state of another's soul, and the jury's verdict is surprisingly Solomonic.
Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder, 1957). From an Agatha Christie play, Charles Laughton portrays Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a brilliant but eccentric barrister who's constantly attended and fretted over by his nursemaid, Miss Plimsoll. He has to sneak his cigars and brandy, which adds some loveableness to his leonine demeanor. Robarts is called to defend the witless Tyrone Power, who's been accused of seducing and then murdering a rich widow. Power's German war-bride is played by the magnificent Marlene Deitrich, who starts out as a devoted alibi witness and then starts putting more holes in Robart's case than the 3ID put into Iraqi tanks. Memorable line from Laughton: "My Lord, may I also remind my learned friend that his witness, by her own admission, has already violated so many oaths that I am surprised that the Testament did not leap from her hand when she was sworn here today!" Oh, I wish lawyers could speak that way in court today!
Compulsion (Richard Fleischer, 1959). A practically-teenaged Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap) and Bradford Dillman play characters based on Leopold and Loeb, two famous murderers of the interwar years who killed a small boy just to prove they could get away with it. They couldn't, and their trial became a national sensation with Clarence Darrow appearing for the defense. Of course, a Clarence-Darrow-like character defends the two boys on screen in the person of Orson Wells. Wells' character (Jonathan Wilk) has a hopeless case in a courtroom packed with men eager to see his clients hang. But Wilk still tries to work a courtroom miraclem through sheer force of personality and eloquent appeals to philosophical wisdom. The movie is a standing rebuke to every "package and plead ‘em" defense attorney. It's worth watching as a reminder that the reason we're so disgusted at what criminals do is that they're our brothers and sisters who deserve better and owe the world more than the lives they've lived.
Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959). James Stewart plays a small-town lawyer (Hip hip hooray!) hired to defend a man (played by Ben Gazzara) accused of murder. George C. Scott plays the big city prosecutor (Boooo!). The trial turns around whether the dead man raped Lee Remick, Gazzara's wife. Good depictions of cross-examination, although the attorneys' wit (or attempts at wit) would land them both in jail in today's super-serious, excruciatingly-efficient, "international-beef-processors" courtroom environment. It also shows the attorneys engaging in some, uh, "sharp practice" on occasion: among other scenes we get to see James Stewart "woodsheding" a witness (an old slang term from the days when lawyers used to coach their witnesses in the woodshed behind the courthouse). Stewart gets just about as close as you can get to scripting testimony without being open to indictment or disbarment. The most accurate depiction of a trial on film, IMHO. One of the highlights is that a real judge (Joseph Welch, who also represented the U.S. Army during McCarthy hearings) played the judge in the courtroom scenes. And the soundtrack's by Duke Ellington.
Breaker Morant (Bruce Beresford, 1979). Based on a true story (so you know it's true!), the movie involves the career of three officers in the Bushveldt Carbiniers during the Boer War. They receive "informal" orders from Lord Kitchener, commander of the British forces, to shoot prisoners. As the war winds down, and the British are taking heavy criticism for their treatment of the Boers, the Carbiniers become an embarassment. The three officers are court-martialed for following their orders. They're defended by an inexperienced solicitor from Australia played by Jack Thompson (who also played Sonny, the defense attorney in Clint Eastwood's production of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). The trial scenes are well done, the presentation of evidence on each charge is neatly interwoven with the "real" episodes in the form of flashbacks. In addition to Thompson embarrassing the British by behaving as though their own regulations meant what they said, we see that the law doesn't always mean what it says nor do trials always end up with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I like the movie because (once you get past the anti-Brit theme) it highlights the human problems that arise when the positive law deviates from the natural law.
More to come . . . . .
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 02:07 Hours [+]
Friday, January 02, 2004
I'm a What??!!
According to the quiz at Beliefnet.com:
You are a traditionalist Catholic. You wish the church would revive the time-honored customs and strong institutional discipline that prevailed before the Second Vatican Council. Your favorite hymn is probably "Immaculate Mary," your favorite pope is Pius X, and your idea of a great Catholic movie is "The Bells of St. Mary's."Well, close. I do wish the Church would revive the time-honored (and sacred, by the way) customs and strong institutional discipline that prevailed before Vatican II. But my favorite hymn is "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." "Immaculate Mary" is my second favorite, and my third favorite is "Long Live the Pope". My favorite Pope is Leo XIII and I'd just as soon watch Mortal Kombat III as the Bells of St. Mary's. My idea of a great Catholic movie includes The Mission, The Cardinal, Boys Town, Major Benson, Angels with Dirty Faces, Lillies of the Field, Joan of Arc (either Ingrid Bergman or Leelee Sobieski) and The Scarlet and the Black. Maybe that's why I only scored 84 out of 100 points, missing "You are a neo traditionalist Catholic" by four points.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 12:13 Hours [+]
Meanwhile, the World Continues to Rid Itself of Turbulent Priests . . .
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2004 (Zenit.org).- At least 29 Catholics were killed in 2003 while carrying out their missionary work, including lay people and an archbishop, says the Vatican missionary agency Fides.
The most recent deaths were those of German Father Anton Probst, a religious of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, killed on Dec. 24 in Akono, Cameroon, and Irish Archbishop Michael Courtney, apostolic nuncio in Burundi, victim of an ambush Monday.
There were four more missionaries killed in 2003 than in 2002, and four fewer than in 2001. Fides, the organ of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, explained that the list is incomplete, since it is only a fraction of the number of Catholics who died because of their faith.
The list includes the names of four lay people, 20 priests, one religious, and three seminarians.
Colombia, where six missionaries were killed, proved once again to be the most dangerous country to carry out missionary work. There were four other deaths in Latin America: two missionaries in El Salvador, one in Brazil, and one in Guatemala.
Seventeen died in Africa: six in Uganda, five in Congo, and one each in Cameroon, Burundi, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia and Kenya.
Two died in Asia: one in India and another in Pakistan.
Here is the list published by Fides:
-- Father Dieudonné Mvuezolo-Tovo from Congo, coordinator for Catholic schools in Bas province, Congo, shot dead on March 11 by a man in military uniform on the Tshimpi Matadi Road.
By Thine acceptance of these sacrifices, O Lord, increase Thy mercy towards Thy departed servants; and give to those whom Thou hast endowed with baptismal grace the fullness of everlasting joys.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 01:04 Hours [+]
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Sort of accepting Shawn McElhinney's invitation, I offer my reactions to some of William Safire's prognostications for 2004 plus some of my own. Safire's words are in blue, mine in black.
"Iraq will (a) split up, like all Gaul, into three parts; (b) defeat the insurgents and emerge a rudimentary democracy; (c) succumb to a Sunni coup.
Safire picked (b). He's part right and part wrong. Iraq won't "defeat" the terrorists because in order to defeat terrorists you have to kill every single one of them, and not only them; you have to go on and kill every single one of the people who'll want to become "avengers" and "carry on the noble work." RPG-toting savages, however, will only encourage the Bush Administration to hastily shove the Iraqis into some sort of ramshackle democracy amidst media blathering about British imperialism, post-WWII Japan, and other irrelevant pseudo-precedents. Just as Kerensky saw no enemies to the Left, Iraq's new leaders will be unable to see enmity in anyone who quotes the Koran. So the democratically-elected government of Iraq will be presented with a dire choice -- succumb to a rising tide of Shiite revanchism, or rip up the "constitution" and govern by force majeure. The latter option would require U.S. military support. But by 2005 the United States will be as incapable of saving an unpopular Iraqi regime as it was of honoring its treaty commitments to South Vietnam thirty years before. That leaves Iraq with a "rudimentary democracy" in which the Non-Jihad Jihad Party will bid against the Not-Baathist Baathist Party to lead Iraq's re-entry into the Arab world's struggle against the Great Satan and its Hebrew outpost in Outremer. Short-term outlook: Lots of good press for Bush. Long-term outlook: Buy stock in French and German high-tech companies.
"11. The U.S. Supreme Court (a) will decide that the rights of alien detainees in Guantánamo have not been violated; (b) will deadlock, 4-4 (Scalia recused), in the Pledge of Allegiance case, thereby temporarily affirming the Ninth Circuit decision declaring "under God" in the pledge unconstitutional; (c) in Tennessee v. Lane will uphold a state's immunity to lawsuits, limiting federal power in the Americans with Disabilities Act."
Safire picked "all." Two out of three ain't bad. The Supreme Court wouldn't touch the Pledge of Allegiance with a barge pole. I'm betting it will issue a ridiculous, self-contradictory and tortured opinion that will reverse the Ninth Circuit's decision while leaving everything else undecided. I anticipate lots of hilarious to-ing and fro-ing as the solons who run America's school districts try to write "inclusive" and "neutral" pledges that will express the shimmering, insubstantial essence of the Supreme Court's opinion to the satisfaction of the vengeful imps known as District Court judges.
"12. Howard Dean will (a) sweep Iowa and New Hampshire and breeze to a boring nomination; (b) lose to Gephardt in Iowa and do worse than expected in N.H., leading to a long race; (c) transform himself into the centrist, affable "new Dean"; (d) angrily bolt and form a third party if the nomination is denied him."
Safire picks (b). I think Dean will win Iowa and New Hampshire and become unstoppable, the right and left halves of his brain firing off so many subatomic particles of populist arrogance and delerious philosophy that critical mass will be reached on the podium in Boston, where Dean will proclaim himself the embodiment of all religious truth and offer eternal life to the American people.
"13. The "October surprise" affecting our election will be (a) the capture of bin Laden in Yemen; (b) the daring escape of Saddam; (c) a major terror attack in the U.S.; (d) finding a buried bag of anthrax in Tikrit."
Safire picks (c), but it's a trick question. The October Surprise will be (a) the Bush Administration's orchestrating the capture of Bin Ladin to generate electoral momentum via an outburst of American nationalism; (b) the Bush Administration orchestrating Saddam's escape to generate electoral momentum via an outburst of American nationalism; (c) the Bush Administration allowing a major terror attack to generate electoral momentum via an outburst of American nationalism; or (d) the Bush Administration planting and then pretending to find a bag of anthrax in Tikrit to generate electoral momentum via an outburst of American nationalism. (We could get all four surprises, assuming that the present degree of journalistic integrity is maintained by the American media and that Rush Limbaugh is incommunicado due to an October relapse). Whatever happens, it'll be absolutely and incontestably true and you'll be able to hear all about it on 60 Minutes, which will obligingly soft-pedal (if not ignore) Howard Dean's offer to heal Christopher Reeves by the imposition of hands.
"14. Debating Cheney on TV will be the Democratic running mate (a) Wes Clark; (b) Bob Graham; (c) Bill Richardson; (d) Dianne Feinstein; (e) John Edwards; (f) Carl Levin."
Safire picks (b). I look for Dean to go with the stolid and respectable Clark, who can provide a tissue-thin assurance that the Holy Dean Child will have adult supervision in the Situation Room. Look for the media to soft-pedal (or ignore) Dean's simultaneous promise to achieve world peace by drawing all men unto himself which ends in a garbled squawking noise that rhymes with "bike path."
"15. The next secretary of state will be (a) Richard Holbrooke; (b) Paul Bremer; (c) Donald Rumsfeld; (d) John Kerry."
Safire picks (b). I pick "who cares." We haven't let a Secretary of State influence foreign policy since Kissinger took off his imaginary powdered wig, got into his imaginary gilt coach, and retired to his imaginary Schloss overlooking Central Park.
More short-term predictions (some of them are sure bets, some not):
1. The Vatican will not issue a major new document that "clamps down" on liturgical vagaries. It may, however, issue a major new document that reflects about liturgical use and practice.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 03:01 Hours [+]