October 23rd, 2014A New Catholic Literary Revivalby Joseph Pearce
Recent years have seen a significant increase in the quantity and quality of new Catholic fiction and poetry. This being so, it is gratifying to see that several new literature awards are being launched in response to this new Catholic literary revival. As Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, I’m pleased to announce that we have initiated the Aquinas Award for Fiction, the first of which will be presented at a conference at Aquinas College in Nashville next autumn.
The Aquinas Award and several other awards are featured in this article, just published in the National Catholic Register:
October 22nd, 2014Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex - oh, and Loveby Kevin O'Brien
Most modern people don't think highly enough of sex.
That sounds crazy, but let me explain.
One of my regular readers gets regularly mad at me when I make the analogy between adultery and "gay sex". Her point is that a sexual orientation is something you just can't help, and it defines who you are, and it has nothing to do with sin. She rejects the Catholic teaching that a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered and should be resisted with the virtue of chastity.
But, interestingly, when Facebook friend Mark S. Schmittle posted this comment ...
Chastity IS sexuality - the proper expression of sexuality, either in marriage, virginity or celibacy. The peace, joy, and love that result from a chaste life had to explained and promoted as the only true alternative to unchastity which brings tragedy, poverty, chaos, mistrust, and the objectification of human beings as things to satisfy our passions
... she replied ...
Gosh Mark - you're kind of right. I never saw it stated like that before - but you're right.
So it occurred to me that my blog posts are written to an audience that I assume is well grounded in Catholic moral theology. But maybe it's a good idea to take a step back and try to explain the sort of stuff I've been taking for granted for a long time now, since not all of you are as steeped in this as I am, and explain how only the Catholic Church really gives a damn about sex these days.
First of all, though it's incredible that it needs to be pointed out to people, sex has a purpose. What could that purpose be? Hmmm. I wonder. Gosh, could it be making babies? And also (considering our emotions and our souls) the expression of a total giving of one person to another?
Most moderns today reject the obvious and blatant purpose of sex. Having been infected with a kind of spiritual Ebola that is more contagious than the real Ebola, modern people have adopted the most bizarre of all bizarre religious beliefs, and one that's based not only on blind faith, but on a faith that's devoted to blindness - the belief that there is no such thing as function, purpose, meaning or design anywhere in the universe.
So therefore a penis may go into a butt-hole. No big deal. It's not designed to go anywhere else, is it? The anus is not designed for defecation, and the penis not designed for urination and procreation. No way. We can make use of our bodies in any way we want. We could even eat through our noses if we wanted to, because the nose is not necessarily made to smell. It could inhale and ingest yogurt and cream cheese, if we wanted it to. Stop being so judgmental!
And if you believe in the sacrifice of reason to blind faith, you can swallow the modern denial of purpose and design. But yet once you've made that sacrifice, you are unable to see the obvious fact (which is not even a conclusion, but a simple observation) that any use of the sexual organs outside of their design is "disordered". "Sin" is simply a disorder - seeking a good in the wrong way or in the wrong amount or under the wrong circumstances. "Sin" is what we call the rebellion against the Order that gives us peace.
But maybe these devotees of the Modern Faith of Purposelessness, if they can't admit to a biological design can admit to a psychological one. In fact, they do. They push it. They might be reluctant to admit that any kind of sex is OK at any time, but they will argue that sex between two (or more) people who "love" one another is fine, if the sex is an expression of love, even if it involves anal intercourse (though they don't like to use that term, as it's clearly not the most ideal expression of "love" and it makes even them a bit squeamish).
But here we must celebrate, at last, a common cause. We admit that sex is not just for making babies, but is also for expressing love - it's just that the only definition of "love" that makes sense is the definition that has grown out of that event that happened on Calvary 2,000 years ago.
Love is sacrifice: it is the complete and total self-giving of one person for the good of the other. It is an act that involves the full engagement of our entire being - heart, mind, body and soul - and every aspect of our intelligence and will.
The most clear manifestation of love in the world is therefore marriage and the family. Celibacy and devotion to God through consecrated virginity and the priesthood or religious life is another expression of love, but that is the exception. The ordinary and most clear manifestation of love is the lifelong commitment of one spouse to another, a living sacrifice that creates a bunch of kids, arguing siblings, Christmas dinners, annoying in-laws.
And even within the miraculous circle of this everyday thing, the family, chastity is the virtue that prevents sex, even within the confines of marriage, from becoming lust.
Lust is the objectification of one person by another, the use of another person as an object. Lust is the opposite of love. We therefore guard against it with the virtue of chastity not because sex is bad but because it's good - it's so good that we must keep it from becoming what we know it always tends to become if we let it - a monster that devours, rather than a gift that gives.
Anyway, this is all a part of the "seamless garment", the unified teaching of Christ that the Church continues to pass on (sometimes in spite of herself, and in spite of the desires of her bishops, popes and cardinals). There's much more to be said, such as marriage prefiguring the Second Coming of Christ to His bride the Church, as well as admitting that homosexuals can clearly love one another, and love one another deeply, while recognizing that they can't express that love in a disordered way, by indulging in an act that degrades them if they abrogate it to themselves for a selfish purpose, when it is made for something other and something greater. But I've said enough, and I'm certain that every single thing I said will be misunderstood, so I might as well shut up.
Except to say - only the Catholic Church thinks enough of sex to insist that it can only be the expression of full and sacrificial love between a husband and a wife who have given themselves to one another completely and for life, a gift of body and soul, of flesh and spirit, a gift that makes more life, little babies, new people, a gift that lifts us to our highest plane physically on this earth, a gift that gives a foretaste of the ecstasy that the cross entails.
Only the Catholic Church really cares about sex.
October 22nd, 2014Great Talks by Ralph Wood on Lewis and Tolkienby Joseph Pearce
Last night I had the honour and pleasure to give a talk here in Nashville to members of the Catholic Medical Association on the theme of “Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Rings”. I was told that I was following in the footsteps of the wonderful and inestimable Ralph C. Wood who had spoken several months earlier on C. S. Lewis to the same group. During his visit he also spoke at Aquinas College on The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately Dr. Wood’s visit preceded my own arrival at Aquinas College so we weren’t destined to meet on this occasion. The last time I met Professor Wood, whose work I greatly admire, was at the national Chesterton Conference in Reno, Nevada two years ago.
My disappointment at missing Dr. Wood’s talks was mitigated by the fact that all three of the talks that he gave during his visit to Nashville were videoed and have been uploaded to the Catholic Medical Association’s website. This being so, I thought I’d share them with visitors to the Ink Desk:
October 22nd, 2014Marriage, Divorce and the Modern Mindby Kevin O'Brien
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article over the weekend that examines the case of a divorced couple, with the ex-husband seeking an annulment over the ex-wife's objections.
The ex-wife, a Protestant, is not at all bothered that her husband divorced her and "re-married", contrary to the clear teachings of Jesus Christ. The thought of renouncing the vows you make to the person you promise to love for the rest of your life is apparently no big deal (by the way, for each of them it was their second marriage). What bothers this woman is the thought that her second marriage "never happened".
Her argument seems to be, "We promised to love each other and remain together until the day we died, and that was a valid promise, dammit! even though we've both broken that promise and are sleeping with other people (and I'm fine with that) - other people that we're promising to love and live with for the rest of our lives (as we did our first spouses). Anyway, all of that breaking of vows and lifting your leg and pissing on marriage is no big deal. What bothers me is if some jack ass in the Catholic Church is going to tell me that the marriage that we both desecrated by breaking our vows and moving on to other people never happened! It sure the hell did, which is why we both walked away from it!"
Welcome to the modern world.
October 22nd, 2014Here it is…by Dena Hunt
About two years ago, I posted a suggestion that the Church get out of the marriage business as soon as possible. I proposed that it’s actually a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state that clerics of any sort should have the authority to perform legally binding ceremonies, which are actually a function of government and not of religion. (The emphasis here is on “legal,” not on “marriage.”) Couples could have a religious ceremony if they want one and if the clergyman is willing to perform it, but the clergyman should not have any legal authority to make such a ceremony binding in any way. All couples would have to enter into a government-composed binding contract in order to be legally married.
I remember that a couple of comments were appalled by the idea that the Church should surrender any influence at all on public civil life. Here’s the reason:
October 22nd, 2014Arguing with G. K. Chestertonby Joseph Pearce
Having had the foolhardy audacity last week to argue with C. S. Lewis about “love”, I have picked a fight this week with another giant, G. K. Chesterton, this time about the “common man”.
Watch the fight here:
October 20th, 2014Tolkien on Lewis’s Christianityby Joseph Pearce
I write from Nashville, where I’m currently teaching my class on “Modern Christian Writers”. Today we were tackling Chesterton’s Man Who was Thursday. Returning to my office from the classroom, I came across an e-mail in my in-box enquiring about Tolkien’s attitude to Lewis’s conversion to Anglicanism. The exact wording of the e-mail is given below. My brief response follows.
I have a friend that asked a question that I wondered if you had an answer to? If not, that's okay.
Tolkien's reaction to CSL's *not* becoming a Catholic when he converted. Can you point me to any resources, please? Thanks!
The obvious and fullest answer I can give is to suggest that your friend purchases my book, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Saint Benedict Press), which covers Tolkien’s views on Lewis’s religious position in some depth.
October 18th, 2014On St. Luke’s Feastby Dena Hunt
I’ve heard that St. Luke’s Gospel is the favorite of women. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s my favorite and I’m a woman. Men prefer St. John’s, so I’ve been told, which might be a little surprising, since St. John’s is called the “poetic” Gospel.
I never knew why I liked St. Luke’s best, but one minor bit of obscure history may help a little to explain it. The testimony of women is notably absent in the New Testament. That’s because the women’s testimony was never permitted – never deemed credible – in the Jewish society of Jesus’ time. It may be noted that Mary Magdalen’s testimony that Jesus was risen, that she had seen him and spoken with him, was disbelieved by the apostles, still in hiding, on that Easter morning.
Jewish men didn’t take seriously anything a woman might have to say. Even my beloved St. Joseph apparently required angelic confirmation of the cause of Mary’s pregnancy; her word was perhaps not enough.
St. Luke, however, was a Greek. And maybe because he was not a Jew like the other Gospel writers, he felt free to believe the testimony of a woman. Hence, we have the story of the Anunciation, the Nativity, the Visitation and St. John the Baptist’s birth; also, the Presentation and the Finding in the temple—all of which could only have come from Mary. None of this is to be found in the other Gospels. Were it not for a Greek’s willingness to take a woman at her word, we’d never know about Gabriel, we’d never know about the Incarnation of God’s Son..
I always feel a paternal influence from my beloved St. Joseph (also the name of my grandfather, Joseph Hunt, who died when I was three), but I have great affection for St. Luke, who would have had the courage to believe me, a woman.
October 18th, 2014Approaching what is Real: Don Quixote, God, and the Rest of Usby Kevin O'Brien
For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal, and had offered divine honors and religious service to created things, rather than to the Creator--He who is for ever blessed. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)
As we drive around the country performing murder mystery dinner theater shows, my actress Maria Romine and I listen to audio books. We've lately been listening to Don Quixote, the unabridged version, read very well by George Guidall.
It's a 40 hour long production, and we're only about five hours into it. But we're listening to parts that I've never read (my printed version is abridged).
We've come to the "pastoral interlude" where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are spending time with some shepherds. We are beginning to learn that Don Quixote is not the only madman who's a bit too idealistic for his own good. While Don Quixote has been inspired to become a knight errant, a group of well-fed suburban yuppies have been inspired to become shepherds and live out a kind of pastoral romance while not at the shopping mall.
In this interlude, we hear Don Quixote wax eloquently on the "golden age", a mythical era of chivalry that sounds as if it is set in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Then we hear one of the yuppies who's living as a shepherd wax eloquently on his "lady", the disdainful woman he's pursuing, whose scorning of him leads literally to his death. We also hear from the pursued lady herself, and while Don Quixote bravely rushes to her defense, her own idealism - a kind of haughty virginity, a sort of smug isolationism - is as strained as the rather contrived love of the yuppie shepherds who dote on her. Their romance is not quite love and her celibacy is not quite purity.
And that's the way we often are, even when we're at our best. The reason this novel is brilliant is that it examines the complexities of idealism and cynicism. Don Quixote, the yuppies, their lady - all are really quite mad in a way, and yet all are following ideals - ideals that they can't quite seem to make work in the real world. (Kind of like all of us!) And somehow everyone around them gets sucked in to the yarns they're spinning - and yet this is not entirely a bad thing.
What does this have to do with the Faith?
I write a lot on about Unreality. This is my word for our proclivity to live a lie, a comfortable and apparently controllable lie, rather than living the truth. We know what it means to "get real" with someone; getting "unreal" is just the opposite. Unreality is marked by things that are contrived, artificial, and somehow dishonest or untrue. Examples are Oregon Catholic Press music at Mass, bad art and architecture in the churches, the extremely artificial and contrived weirdness of "Christian Courtship", the false camaraderie of certain groups, cheesy literature and drama (such as Hallmark movies and certain self-consciously Christian films) - and also so much of what we see in the secular culture, especially our favorite fantasy that sex and gender are whatever we choose to make of them, our insane insistence that sex has no correspondence with nature or with reality - and our illusion that meaning has no correspondence with life, that meaning is imposed on life, not discovered in life, etc.
This is all dreadful stuff. And in a way, Unreality is simply a word for sin. Indeed, the Laws of Morality and Faith that God has revealed to us are simply the roadmap to Reality (and Heaven) and the Commandments are the "Do Not Enter" signs to prevent us from taking the road to Unreality (and Hell).
Adultery, for instance, is an example of an act that's dripping with Unreality and that always, somehow, leaves a bit of Hell in its wake. Love and sex between a man and a woman are designed in such a way that sacramental fidelity and self-sacrifice over the long haul bring untold contentment as well as new life. Fidelity leads to Reality (and, in a way, to Heaven) because God has made Fidelity at the heart of what is Real. Therefore cheating, though fun, will end up in shipwreck and misery (in other words, Hell) - for someone, at least, is bound to suffer the consequences of the Unreal - even if it's the innocent children who are caught up in it all. In other words, something like adultery is our way of denying the way things are actually made (Reality) and asserting our own fantasy against it (Unreality), and the pain we suffer (the Consequential) is simply the symptom that we've been doing things wrong, going the wrong way down a one-way street. God's "judgment" is simply the consequence of denying the Truth and Living a Lie. Unreality is always, then, a form of sin; and sin is always an assertion of a kind of Unreality.
But, as the book Don Quixote shows us, we are made to spin yarns and to imagine great things that never were, like the golden age of chivalry. If we were all "realists" or cynics, we would all be materialists and atheists, for it takes a kind of poetic vision to see the reality of God and of His Kingdom. Our capacity for Unreality may be the misuse of our creative and imaginative function - but without that capacity, we would not be able to apprehend the image of God: not because God is Unreal (He is, on the contrary, the source of all that is most Real), but because our imaginative function is our spiritual "nose" as it were, our ability to sense that which is beyond the immediate.
Fiction is made to lead us to Fact. But as fallen men, we often misuse our fictive function, for we'd rather become gods than serve one.
Indeed, we often misuse the three major gifts that God has given us that separate us from the beasts - Will, Reason and Imagination. This trinity of gifts - Will, Reason and Imagination (by the term "Imagination" I mean to include what Tolkien calls "sub-creation") - this trinity of gifts corresponds with the trinity of reality: the Good, the True and the Beautiful. It is the business of our Will to conform what we do to what is Good; it is the business of our Reason to conform what we think and understand to what is True; and it is the business of our Imagination to conform what we dream and desire and make to what is Beautiful. All three functions support each other, since the objects toward which they are designed are inextricably interconnected. What is True is always Good, what is Good is always Beautiful, what is Beautiful is always an aspect of what is True, etc. We are not ourselves designed to negate this design. We are not made to use our Will to assert ourselves against the nature of morality, nor are we made to use our Reason to misunderstand the truth that surrounds us, nor are we made to use our imaginations to invent things to fulfill the desires of our hearts that are merely shortcuts or sops, things that give us passing pleasure but that are untrue, unreal. God gives us these gifts - Free Will, Reason and Imagination - to be ordered to Him - for even though we may misuse them, without them we cannot truly serve Him.
So let me sum this up by speaking in a quixotic manner - and I think, perhaps, I am speaking for many of you.
Sometimes in pursuing my most ardent ideals, I find that I am merely tilting at windmills - or worse, I am hurting others by holding them to the impossible standards that I myself cherish, but that I myself fall shy of, too. In addition, I waver between cynicism and idealism. I am often tempted to see my steed as a broken down nag, my lady as the more or less compromised streetwalker that she is, my daily devotion to theater as the rather sordid performances in wineries for drunks and rednecks that these performances often are; or vice-versa, I see in my broken down nag the steed she really is; I see within the streetwalker a hidden lady of dignity and glory, and I see in my drunken audiences immortal souls being lifted up in laughter, being raised for a moment a slight bit closer to the One who made them. And somehow all of this is true - the dreary reality on the surface and the stunning Reality behind and within it.
And so we pray
Dear God, may we always long for You as the hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1), seeing in You the source of the living water for which we truly thirst (John 4:10). Do not let us fill ourselves with that which is unreal and which will not sustain us. Show us our sins that we may repent of them and turn toward You. Give us the grace "to turn from these unreal things, to worship the ever-living God" (Acts 14:15) - for thy Kingdom is always more real than the false and haughty man-made towers we build (Gen. 11:1-9). Purify our Will to do what is Good, our Reason to see what is True, and our Imagination to desire what is Beautiful and holy. And always remind us that the world we are tempted to love too much is also a bit less than fully real, that all of creation is but a "shadow of the things that are to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:17).
October 16th, 2014Hobbit-Sized Saxonsby Joseph Pearce
A friend of mine in England has just started a hobbit-sized business making miniature figures of Anglo-Saxon warriors. Tolkien would certainly approve! If you're able to support this noble venture by starting your own miniature army of warriors, please do so!