Wednesday, May 21, 2003

OK, People, Very Funny, Ha Ha...

I suppose it was a mistake for me announce the imposition of The Johansen Protocol at the end of my blog "Reforming The Culture, Part II". And some of you have leapt upon the opportunity to exercise your wit in pointing that out.

Of course, by posting things the way I did, everyone was drawn to comment on that rather than the more substantive post on the culture that preceeded it. So I've re-arranged it: If you want to wax wittily on the Johansen Protocol, feel free, below. But I'm putting the Culture II post here, and hopefully that will encourage more substantive commentary.

The "Burma Shave" bit was pretty funny...



Reforming The Culture, Part II

Against my better judgment, I'm going to respond to a commentor on Monday's blog. I've been advised by several other bloggers to simply ignore this person, but I'll indulge him with a response this one last time. This commentor has been wont to excoriate me and others, like Mark Shea, who assert that the Laity have some responsibility for The Situation. Firstly, nowhere have I ever said that the laity is "fundamentally" responsible for The Situation. Both clergy and laity have been to a certain extent compromised by the dominant culture. It is taken for granted in the dominant culture that there is, at bottom, nothing wrong with giving in to Appetite. And as I've said before, the problem is that once I've made it OK for me to give in to my appetite, I have no logical leg to stand on to say that it isn't OK for you to give in to yours. Hence it shouldn't surprise us that priests (some of whom eventually became bishops) who've made it OK for people to contracept, cohabitate, or engage in homosexual activity, were unable to muster the moral fortitude to condemn and punish pedophilia. To say that either bishops or laity are "fundamentally" responsible is a chicken-and-egg scenario. Both are influenced by and to have some extent accomodated themselves to the culture. And the bishops that some are so fond of denouncing came from the same generation that either welcomed or passively accepted the wholesale embrace of appetite that characterized the 70's and 80's.

The culture does influence attitudes and behaviors. Not that we're "amoebas" who simply absorb everything. But to counteract a poisonous environment requires constant care and vigilance, a vigilance which has been lacking at all levels in Catholic society. The priests and bishops who gave us things like Building Your Own Conscience have been walking in lockstep with lay "catholics" like those in Boston who have decided that the church needs to be more "up to date" on issues like contraception, homosexuality, women's ordination, etc. Both the clergy and laity imbibed the culture and have been poisoned by it. They enabled one another to be lulled into torpor and complacency.

As to the "powerlessness" of the laity with regard to their pastors: Poppycock! While the laity may have no "formal" say-so in the appointments of pastors or bishops, anyone with any experience of the real world knows that formally defined power isn't the only kind of power. I know priests who were transferred by their bishops when groups of disaffected parishioners banded together to complain about that priest's insistence on preaching the hard truths of church teaching. I know priests who were not allowed into their own parish or diocesan schools because the feminist nuns who ran the place didn't want the priest infecting the kids with sound doctrine. I have heard priests tell me that they "used to" preach or teach about things like contraception, but "don't bother" anymore because, after being shouted down too many times, they realized that "people won't receive that sort of thing."

Why is the culture important? Because, as I wrote before, it is the "incarnation" of, the way people live and experience, their beliefs and ideals. It can either re-inforce and augment the Faith, or undermine it. People learn not only by formal instruction or catechesis, but by picking up on the cultural cues around them regarding what's Really Important. It is a tone-deafness of the first order to deny the importance of those cultural cues. For example, I think it can be convincingly demonstrated that the practice of slavery is contrary to the Gospel. It is not specifically condemned in the gospel, but surely the gospel's message about humanity's redeemed nature and dignity in Christ implies the rejection of slavery. Yet we do not see the apostles or their immediate successors demand the abolition of slavery. Why? I would contend that, being immersed in a Greco-Roman culture which took slavery as given, they didn't even think to question it. It took the society's steeping in the Gospel for some 1300 years (which is when the explicit questioning of slavery begins in earnest), and the development of an explicitly Christian culture, for people to begin to figure out that slavery was contrary to the Faith.

Do we need culture to keep people Catholic? Strictly speaking, I suppose not. People obviously can and do remain steadfast under the most dire circumstances. But it requires heroic virtue to maintain the faith under those circumstances, and the Church has always made it clear that in a just and well-ordered society, it should not require heroic virtue simply to persevere in the Faith. Did the martyrs of the first two centuries need a Catholic culture to keep the faith? Obviously not, but alongside the martyrs who gave their lives for Christ were many lapsi who caved under the pressure of persecution. There were so many of them that St. Cyprian of Carthage had to write a treatise about the situation called De Lapsis. Did the magisterium fail those lapsi? I think not. On the contrary, the Church worked hard at inviting those people back into the fold. But how many, once having been lost, stayed that way? The Church has taught consistently that a well-ordered society, both in it's governance and in its cultural order, should aim to make it easier for Joe Six-Pack to live a holy life. A Catholic culture does this by providing the raw material for a Catholic imagination.

If anyone doubts the desirability of Catholic society with a Catholic culture, look at the culture around you. Do you really want more of the same?


The Johansen Protocol

Amy Welborn's policy that any correspondence directed to her about her blog is per se bloggable is known in blogland as the "Welborn Protocol". Well, I don't know if Amy called it that herself (I suspect not), but I have no qualms, after the latest round of comment-box bloviation, about naming this new policy after myself:

Henceforth, any commentor in my blog's comment box whose comments elongate into more than two consecutive comment boxes will be warned. A second infraction will result in that person being BANNED from my comment box. Consistent and habitual running over into two consecutive boxes will also raise my hackles, earn my ire, or otherwise incur my displeasure. Once someone is banned, I will have to be highly mollified to re-admit the offending commentor, as I will be exceedingly wroth. If you have more extensive comments to make, send them to me in an e-mail and I will gladly consider publishing and responding to them. If you habitually have more than that to say, do us both a favor and get your own blog. They're free, after all.

The comment box is there as a convenience for my readers to offer their reactions and observations. When one person monopolizes the comments with lengthy excurses upon favorite hobby-horses, it violates the intention of the comments function, inconveniences other readers and commentors, and generally annoys everyone.

So let it be written, so let it be done!

Monday, May 19, 2003

Reforming the Church Means Reforming the Culture

Last week, Mark Shea asked "how we get these eminently practical ideas for reform off the pages of a blog...". I am all in favor of authentic "reform" (eliminating cronyism in the selection of bishops, allowing more consultation of the laity, etc.). But if we think that any sort of tinkering with structures or mechanisms is going to solve the problem, we're deluding ourselves. As I pointed out last year and as Mark points out today, we have the bishops and priests we've got today because that's what many of us wanted. Vatican II was supposed to "open the windows" of the Church so that it could more effectively be a leaven in the world. But the result has been that we, in all too many cases, have simply accomodated ourselves to the dominant Culture.

There used to be, even in the U.S., an identifiable Catholic culture. It wore different ethnic faces, but there was a common thread throughout it all. Can it be said, in any meaningful sense, that there is an identifiable Catholic culture today? I think one would be hard pressed to adduce the evidence.

Movies like "The Song of Bernadette" or "The Scarlet and the Black", which were identifiably Catholic, were made by major studios and put into general release. Books like "The Devil's Advocate" (by Morris West), which dealt with Catholic themes, were best sellers. I would submit that there is nothing comparable going on today.

Why is this important? Because culture is the way our beliefs and ideals are "incarnated" in our lives. Our beliefs and ideals are shaped by our art and literature, and in turn shape them as well. And it seems to me that in the seventies that Catholics in the U.S. simply turned over the Culture to forces at best indifferent to, and at worst hostile to, the Faith.

I am not simply waxing nostalgic here. I know that some of the cultural expressions of the Faith a generation or two ago were mawkish or sentimental. But much of it was also profound and insightful. Books like "The Devil's Advocate" (yes, it's one of my favorites) treated the Faith with complexity and intelligence. Even movies like Otto Preminger's "The Cardinal" dealt with moral dilemmas in a nuanced way. And nothing like this is available today.

I think the only reason that can be given as to why Catholic culture has atrophied is that in large part Catholics stopped wanting it. And in large part our priests and bishops stopped encouraging and promoting it. It doesn't even occur to many Catholics today that the Faith can be interesting and engaging in their movies and literature. And so we have at least one, and possibly two generations of Catholics who do not have a Catholic cultural imagination. And that has profound effects in how they live their faith. Remember: the culture shapes our beliefs and ideals as much as it is shaped by them.

So, to return to Mark's question, how do we reclaim and reform the Culture? Well, by supporting and promoting arts and entertainment that are informed by a truly Catholic vision. One excellent opportunity to do so is by getting the word out about the upcoming movie "Therese : The Story of St. Therese of Lisieux". St. Therese, as the movie's trailers say, is an ordinary girl, who became an extraordinary soul. She is a saint who, I think, still speaks to our world today.

I received this e-mail about the movie today:

"As you may be aware, our friend Leonardo Defilippis has produced a delightful family motion picture called Therese, about the "Little Flower," St. Therese of Lisieux.

His plan is to release it to U.S. theaters in October, around St. Therese's feast day. However, the number of theaters in which it's shown - and thus the impact that St. Therese can have on people's lives through this movie - will largely be determined by the popular interest shown in the film NOW. In other words, the more interest Catholic families demonstrate in the movie at this time, the more widely Hollywood is likely to distribute the film in October. So if you'd like to help, here's what you can do.

Hollywood is monitoring the film's website closely to see how many visits it attracts. The site is exceptional and even contains video clips from the movie. So please visit it often, and also email this article to your friends so they can do so as well. It's important that we Catholics show our support right now for this particular kind of filmmaking.

St. Therese is an incredible patron for our time, and many souls worldwide are likely to be touched by seeing this movie...But its power to inspire the mainstream public will only be realized if Hollywood sees a level of interest in the film that warrants the widest possible theatrical release in October.

...So please, now that God has blessed Leonardo's vibrant apostolate and opened the door to the production of a major motion picture on the life of a Catholic saint, let's do what we can to help promote it. Many more such films will likely follow if this first one generates sufficient interest by the movie going public."

The website for this upcoming film is http://www.theresemovie.com/ . The site is beautifully done and shows great promise for the quality of the film. If we want to help bring about the "New Springtime" for the Church, we need to support efforts such as this to take back the Culture. Visit the Therese site often, and spread the word! If we Catholics can't be bothered to leaven the culture, who will?