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.

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.

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 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 "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 . . .

The Interview

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.

Stanger: Exactly.

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! 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 . . . .
The Gospel of John

"And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." John 19:12.

The Gospel of Luke

"Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed." Luke 23:20-23.

The Gospel of Mark

"And they cried out again, Crucify him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified." Mark 15:13-15.

The Gospel of Matthew

"Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. . . . Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified." Matthew 27:22-26.
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 nine of the Gospels, which we can prove by comparing it to all six of the Gospels, and realizing that it's a work of art which is anti-Semitic because it has God speaking that filthy Hebrew language and making the Jews into primitive blood-sacrificing neurotics who are obsessed with sin.
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 . . . . .
The Gospel of John

And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha
Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.
Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

The Gospel of Mark

And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.
And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.
And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.
And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,
Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.
And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.
And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

The Gospel of Matthew

And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
And sitting down they watched him there;
And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

The Gospel of Luke

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.
And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,
And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.
And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
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?

Stanger: Yeah.

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?
The life that you are seeking all around you will not find.
When the gods created mankind
they fixed Death for mankind,
and held back Life in their own hands.
Now you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full!
Be happy day and night,
of each day make a party,
dance in circles day and night!
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.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Now This -- From a Far More Accurate Quiz

Roscoe P. Coltrane
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
Uh huh, yeah, sure . . .

John Paul II
You are Pope John Paul II. You are a force to be
reckoned with.

Which Twentieth Century Pope Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, January 23, 2004

A Clarification:
(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.

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."

The Knights Templar, the warrior monks, are portrayed as "the baddies" while Saladin, the Muslim leader, is "a hero of the piece," Mr. Scott's spokesman said. "At the end of our picture, our heroes defend the Muslims, which was historically correct."
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 . . . . . .
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.

"All the rest are just sexual perverts," Joos added.

"I demand you write that down," said Joos, who was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul late last year. "I don't care if they all come protesting at my door. I won't open the door."


"Real homosexuals don't wander in the streets in colourful suits. Those are people who have a serious problem and have to live with that. And if they make a mistake they will be forgiven. We have to help these people and not judge them," Joos added.

"The Church...rejects homosexuality, not the homosexual," Joos said.
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]:
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."

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. [footnotes omitted]
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.

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!"

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!

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.[1] 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![2] That having been said, we turn to discussing our friends and their antagonism.

The Capulet

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."[3] 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."[4] 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."[5] 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.[6]

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."[7] 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.[8] "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"[9];(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.[10] 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.[11] 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.

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."[12]

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."[13]

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.[14]

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.


[1] 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.

[2] "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.

[3] Not without, perhaps, some feeling of animosity toward the narrowness of his former outlook.

[4] Second Vatican Council: Declaration Dignitatis Humanae ¶2 (1965)

[5] Id., ¶ 3.

[6] Galatians 2:4.

[7] Daniel 5:27

[8] 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.)

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] Matthew 28:20.

[12] Romans 7:19.

[13] 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.

[14] 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.