August 20th, 2014Twelve Angry Men and Shakespeare’s Catholicismby Joseph Pearce
I've just received an e-mail from a correspondent in Australia about the play, Twelve Angry Men. The sort of evidence that is encapsulated in the paragraph he quotes is not only applicable to the case for Shakespeare's Catholicism but is the same principle for the evidence for Catholic Christianity that Newman employs in The Grammar of Assent. It's the healthy marriage of reason with common sense!
Here's the text of the e-mail:
I am currently teaching Twelve Angry Men to my two senior classes, and discovered this interesting online argument (http://www.avclub.com/article/did-i12-angry-meni-get-it-wrong-83245) about the evidence in the play. The author argues that the jury in Twelve Angry Men came up with the wrong verdict. The line of argument ties in well with your thesis about Shakespeare’s Catholicism – namely, each piece of evidence in a vacuum can be challenged; however, as a body of evidence, it is a compelling case.
The paragraph copied below encapsulates this idea.
None of this ultimately matters, however, because determining whether a defendant should be convicted or acquitted isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—a matter of examining each piece of evidence in a vacuum. “Well, there’s some bit of doubt attached to all of them, so I guess that adds up to reasonable doubt.” No. What ensures The Kid’s guilt for practical purposes, though neither the prosecutor nor any of the jurors ever mentions it (and Rose apparently never considered it), is the sheer improbability that all the evidence is erroneous. You’d have to be the jurisprudential inverse of a national lottery winner to face so many apparently damning coincidences and misidentifications.
August 20th, 2014The Unchosenby Dena Hunt
We’re seeing the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, which, according to just about everyone there, have nothing to do with the shooting of a black robber by a white policeman, and we’re seeing the hideous massacre of Christians and others in northern Iraq by an army of Islamists—and this is just today’s news. The same news comes from Gaza, firing literally thousands of rockets into Israel and constructing tunnels by which to kill more, especially in schools, hospitals, and other sites where victims are most defenseless. This is not conquest, this is not a religious argument, this is not racism. It’s not a political or ideological revolution. There is no order to it, no organization, no sense of purpose. The looting in Ferguson has no aim to acquire money or consumer goods. It has no aim at all. This is not a descent into the law of the jungle—where animals kill in order to eat—this is a descent below that, where there is no law at all, no purpose except to take for the sake of taking, to kill for the sake of killing.
In fact, no sort of analysis works here—not racial, religious, political, economic—nothing. Why? Because we try to understand it in terms of deprivation. The haves vs. the have nots—whether the object is money or land, power or prestige. We want to see it that way because it would make it possible to solve, we could simply provide what is apparently lacking—give them a chunk of Israel, give them money or goods, give them power (dominance) over their neighbors. In fact, that’s how the world—not just the U.S.—has been trying to deal with this kind of murderous rage.
What they’re angry about is history, past and present (aka reality). Their anger cannot be appeased because its true object is invisible. They’re angry with God. Why? Because he made them what they are. God made them Cain and not Abel, Ishmael and not Isaac. He made them the Unchosen. The murderous violence is not due to anything anyone has done to them for which apology or reparation could be made, anything that’s been taken from them that could be returned, any earthly injustice that could be righted somehow. There is, in fact, nothing other people can do to appease them.
This kind of rage can’t be healed from the outside in. No one in the world can remedy their injury. There is no help. There are only two choices…
I will give vent to my righteous wrath. If the coat of many colors is not given to me, I will take it from him to whom it was given. I kill in the name of justice for myself because I have no other choice. If God will not favor me, I will not favor him, I will make my own God.
Though I am unchosen, I may still choose. My will was not taken from me. And I choose to love him who did not choose to love me. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs may eat of the crumbs that fall from the table.”
The consequences of the first choice are played out in the daily news. The consequences of the second choice are: “’I tell you, I have not seen so great a faith in all of Israel.’ And from that hour, her child was healed.”
August 20th, 2014I’m Just Down the Road from Ferguson, Missouriby Kevin O'Brien
In fact, here's the cake in Ferguson, Missouri that Karen and I photographed in June. It's in the revived downtown, which is filled with local shops, black and white owners, a charming area.
The cake is to the right, above the bench.
The situation in Ferguson is complex, and I'll add what I can as a lifelong resident of the St. Louis area.
St. Louis has long been a very segregated town. The city of St. Louis is an independent city, not in any county. Though my father grew up in North St. Louis, for my whole life North St. Louis has been black and South St. Louis white. Now, however, pretty much the whole city is black, with a few white enclaves here and there. Rehabbers who come in and "gentrify" city neighborhoods are white and very liberal and childless.
St. Louis County surrounds the city of St. Louis on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. North St. Louis County is mostly black; South St. Louis County (where I live) is mostly white. 25 years ago Ferguson was a white working lower-middle-class neighborhood, comprised of North St. Louis city residents who moved to the suburbs when what is called the "white flight" began. The black presence in Ferguson is fairly recent, and is apparently comprised of the next generation of migrants from North St. Louis, who are now black. This is why the Ferguson city counsel and the police force is still almost entirely white - the change in racial mixture in Ferguson is fairly recent. And for whatever reason, the blacks have not yet caught up politically there.
On the Illinois side of the river, there are a number of communities which are either all black or all white, including all black East St. Louis, which is consistently listed as one of the most violent cities in America. Belleville, Illinois is the exception, as Belleville is mixed, though the neighborhoods in Belleville are either all black or all white.
There seemed to be much more racial tension in St. Louis a generation ago, though if you look at Facebook groups dedicated to the situation in Ferguson or to comments at the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you'll see there's still plenty of racism seething below the surface.
I was out of town all of last week when this situation first exploded, and from what I can see it's pretty complex. There are a number of factors that play into it - racism, poverty, unemployment, outside agitation, a history of police brutality, the extreme militarization of the local police force - who are untrained and who are embarrassing my military friends, the lack of political leadership, the fact that most protesters are peaceful but the violent ones are causing a ton of trouble, the effect of the shocking images of a kind of civil war in the streets, and the shooting that started it all - which could be justified or could not be justified, as only an impartial examination of evidence will tell.
Meanwhile, here are a few other views of the Ferguson cake. Here are all my posts on the Cakeway to the West project. Quite honestly, we've put our picture taking on hold, as most of the remaining cakes are in neighborhoods that aren't too safe to begin with, much less at a time when this much rage is brewing.
The cake is near the lower left in this shot. It appears storm clouds were gathering over Ferguson, even then.
August 20th, 2014Sacred and Satanic Violence: The Place of the Demonic in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connorby Kevin Kennelly
Flannery O'Connor was thrice blessed: she was Catholic, she was southern and she was an Irish American. She also was one of the great writers of the 20th century combining an extraordinary ability to put words together in a pleasing way with a talent for developing stories and mesmerizing readers. Many of her writings are deeply Catholic. And she was a top drawer Thomist. The inestimable Ralph Wood, a scholar of the first order affiliated with Baylor University has written a thorough and fascinating piece dealing with "the place of the demonic" in O'Connor's writings.
August 19th, 2014What I saw in Quebecby Marie Dudzik
As Americans, the progressive version of history we are taught in schools wants us to believe that our ancestors were glad to throw off the shackles of the Old World. The Pilgrims were forced out of their homeland and the colonists of New England were happy to give good riddance to King George and old England. But the Canadian province of Quebec tells another story, one of a people so proud and enamored of their European homeland that they sought to create an extension of France, a New France, as Quebec was once called. I found this out first hand this July as I travelled to Quebec on a pilgrimage. Our chaplain was newly-ordained Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC, a priest of the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius in Chicago and Canadian transplant.
Willa Cather writes in her novel about the early settlers of Quebec, Shadows on the Rock:
When an adventurer carries his gods with him into a remote and savage country, the colony he founds will, from the beginning, have graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit. Its history will shine with bright incidents, slight, perhaps, but precious, as in life itself, where the great matters are often as worthless as astronomical distances, and the trifles dear as the heart’s blood.
The original settlers of Quebec brought those graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit, and have left them behind for the modern traveler to discover. There are the beautiful cathedrals and chapels, the hospitals and schools, and the solid fortress-like wall that still surrounds Quebec City. These are the buildings that make visitors from the United States say going to Quebec is like going to Europe without the jet lag. But for those who are not just visitors but pilgrims, there is more to see, and that takes using more than just the eyes. What I saw in Quebec was a place that was built by those who were proudly French and fiercely Catholic. It is not just the buildings that make Quebec special, it is the people who founded and built the settlements that grew into towns and cities. Their spirit still remains for those who care to see, and it was a French, and therefore Catholic spirit. Willa Cather gives us the source of this spirit:
The Ursulines and the Hospitalieres, indeed, were scarcely exiles. When they came across the Atlantic, they brought their family with them, their kindred, their closest friends. In whatever little wooden vessel they had laboured across the sea, they carried all; they brought to Canada the Holy Family, the saints and martyrs, the glorious company of the Apostles, the heavenly host.
Our pilgrimage took us through a relatively small area of Quebec, from Montreal up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, but that area was packed with history and homage to that Church the settlers brought to Canada. When on pilgrimage it is customary to ask before going into a church or building, “What are we going to see here?” But on this journey, the question became, “Who are we going to meet here?” It was not a collection of places, but a collection of saints we encountered, a Canadian litany: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Jesuit martyrs St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and St. Charles Garnier, St. Marie of the Incarnation, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, St. Bishop Francois de Laval, St. Andre Bessette, Blessed Catherine of Saint Augustine and Blessed Frederic Janssoone.
There were old friends there too. St. Anne guides sailors safely into harbor, St. Joseph watches over the city of Montreal from the Oratory St. Andre built in his honor on Mont Royal, and the Blessed Virgin is honored as one who helps in time of trial as Our Lady of Bon Secours, as Our Lady of the Cape watching over the St. Lawrence, and as the patroness of multiple churches, cathedrals, and basilicas named in her honor.
With so great a cloud of witness around us, one might think that Quebec is the last bastion of Christendom in North America. Not so. Quebec is still part of the progressive, politically correct experiment that is Canada, and we were told stories of churches being converted into condos or shops. They were not demolished; their architecture was precious in the eyes of the city planners, but not in the hearts of those who should have been worshipping there. In that respect too, it is like Europe without the jet lag: beautiful buildings originally built for the glory of God but now used only for the pleasure of man.
Someone on the pilgrimage commented that Montreal was livable because it was a vibrant city; the sacred and profane seemed quite content together, but Quebec City was too touristy to be taken seriously. Quebec City is, in its way a relic: its UNESCO status has frozen it in time, and many come to look, to walk the cobblestones, to peer over the ancient walls, and muse on it as a quaint souvenir before returning to their plugged-in and plastic world. But despite the losses, the heart of New France is still faintly beating, both in the big city and in the midst of ye olde towne. It is there with the few who pass the tourists in the churches and make their way to the spots cordoned off for prayer. It is there in the smiles and greetings of people who saw Fr. Nathan walking the cobblestones in a cassock, perhaps the first time they had ever seen a priest habited so. It is there in the early-morning procession to an adoration chapel, modern workers singing an ancient Latin hymn, spending time with Our Lord before spending time at the office.
Evelyn Waugh commented that good cigars, fine wine, and beautiful houses are the fringe benefits of civilization. To me that means the enjoyable things of life, of culture, and specifically of Western Culture come only after the heavy lifting of creating, perpetuating, and defending that culture is done. Quebec looks like Europe because that’s what the settlers created it to be. What we see today as tourists are those fringe benefits the French settlers brought with them. What we needed to see as pilgrims was the heavy lifting that went on to create those lovely cities on the banks of St. Lawrence and acknowledge the burden that we need to shoulder today to keep that culture alive.
Fr. Nathan spoke of this in his homily during the last Mass of our pilgrimage. He said we must be missionaries in our own land, just as those saints and blesseds we met spent their lives bringing Christ to those they met. There is still much heavy lifting to do in our own homes and lives. In a real way we are still adventurers living in a remote and savage country, and in addition to the rosaries, the holy cards, and the blessed oil we needed to bring back with us the courage of the Jesuits like Jogues and Brebeuf, the abandonment to Providence of Marie of the Incarnation, and the countercultural witness of Kateri Tekakwitha.
We moderns live off the capital of our ancestors. In Quebec City the horse-drawn carriages carry tourists down the narrow cobblestone streets where they end the day with a luxurious dinner and a pleasant sleep at a quality hotel, enjoying a view an original settler would be at home with. But we can’t expect to spend capital forever. Without paying back into the fund of culture we are destined to usher in a new Dark Age. There is no feasting without fast days. There is no contented sleep without times of watchful prayer. There are no beautiful churches without priests to offer sacrifice and faithful to assist. The pilgrimage is over, but we are all still pilgrims working our way towards our homeland and trying to bring along with us as many as we can. In our modern wilderness, we can use the words of Fr. Brebeuf’s Christmas hymn for Canadian natives to let all know that they are called to share in that homeland that is heaven: “O children of the forest free,/O sons of Manitou,/The holy child of earth and heav’n/Is born today for you./Come kneel before the radiant boy, Who brings you beauty, peace, and joy:/Jesus your King is born,/Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.”
All the saints and blessed of Quebec, pray for us!
August 19th, 2014You Can’t “Program” Salvationby Kevin O'Brien
In Flannery O'Connor's short stories, the grace of God is shown to operate in shocking and disturbing ways. For Flannery, the door to salvation opens the moment our own selfish walls are cracked (usually violently), allowing God's grace to rush in - along with horror and remorse, which are aspects of Awe and of the Fear of God. Indeed, horror and remorse can quite literally be the closet we come on this earth to experiencing God's love.
For instance, in her story "The Comforts of Home", at the climax of the action, the protagonist Thomas aims a gun at "the slut", a disturbed and enticing young woman who has invaded the carefully controlled and circumscribed arena of his home, where he lives alone with his mother. For Thomas, "the comforts of home" are the greatest good. He has a "program", which is to eliminate from his young life anything spontaneous, anything unpredictable, anything that his own narrow and selfish ego can not control.
Thomas fired. The blast was like a sound meant to bring an end to evil in the world. Thomas heard it as a sound that would shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks were stilled and nothing was left to disturb the peace of perfect order.
But you can't "bring an end to evil in the world", and certainly not with the barrel of a gun, and indeed not with any "program". Thomas learns that as soon as he fires the pistol ... but I won't ruin the ending of the story for you. Nor can you force upon your life "the peace of perfect order" - for such a peace is never a man-made thing.
The reason we can't defeat evil with a mere program or find true peace with a mere programmatic approach to salvation is that God is not the dead idol crafted by our own hands that we typically make Him out to be.
And this has a lot to do with the messed up world of Catholic Dating. But I'll explain that in a minute.
In O'Connor's story "The Lame shall Enter First", the protagonist, Sheppard, is a social worker, and an atheist. He believes that evil can be eliminated through reason. His faith is in telescopes, microscopes, evolution and the program. For him, the program is an institutionalized form of love, a kind of heartless charity that selflessly seeks to build a paradise of "perfect order" by means of caring for those who are suffering with a kind of condescending concern, the genuine but rather thin concern of a social worker.
As part of this program, Sheppard allows a troubled teenage juvenile delinquent to move in with him and his ten-year-old son (his son is someone Sheppard entirely neglects). But this delinquent, for all his troubles, is the closest we come to a Christ figure in the story. Ironically, Sheppard (who doesn't believe in Jesus) sees himself as a kind of Jesus, a kind of benign selfless deity, when in reality he is supremely selfish in his devotion to the program, which is meant ultimately to serve his own narrow ends, though he can't see that until the very end of the tale.
In an early confrontation between Sheppard's son, who defends his father, and the troubled teen, who's recently moved in, the reader, at least, begins to perceive this, and we see it through the perceptive eyes of Johnson, the delinquent.
"He's good," [the son] mumbled. "He helps people."
"Good!" Johnson said savagely. He thrust his head forward. "Listen here," he hissed, "I don't care if he's good or not. He ain't right!"
In many ways, that's what I've been saying about the Devout Christian community in these series of posts. They're good but they ain't right - meaning, among other things, right in the head.
Michael Lichens comments on Facebook ...
I grew up as an Evangelical when "I Kissed Dating Good-Bye" was added to the canon. I still remember being turned down for a coffee date because, in the woman's own words, she wasn't sure if I was the one God wanted her to marry. My reaction was something like, "Dude, I just want to get coffee and maybe see a Chris Farley movie."
The result: many of the guys in my youth group days remain unmarried or got divorced and many more are quite jaded. Courtship was promised as a panacea but it ended up not correcting the problems of secular culture while adding some new and fun problems of its own. The only thing it seemed to do was placate paranoid parents for a few years.
I also went to a small Catholic college where the vast majority of the kids were homeschooled and found that this stupid Evangelical fad had been adopted in some Catholic homes wherein girls would even tell potential men that they needed to call their dad before a drink could be consumed with the young lady. Just bloody weird.
"Just bloody weird" means (in Flannery O'Connor short story speak) "they're good but they ain't right."
Why is this? Why is it that devout Catholics or devout Protestants, who are certainly serious about their faith, end up missing the mark so badly in their contrived efforts to be good? Why do they end up being sort of good, but never quite right? Why, just a few weeks ago on this very blog, did I choose the primary advice I was giving to my newly Catholic friend Dave Treadway, a devout former evangelical I was sponsoring into full communion with the Church, to be this ...
The Spirit of Unreality is the greatest threat to devout Catholics these days - the temptation to make God and His Church into a kind of idol, something that we can control and make use of for our own narrow ends.
It's because we trust more in our program than we do in the grace of God. The grace of God is disturbing and unpredictable. It's alive and shocking. It calls us out of our comfort zones and sometimes makes our precious little plans fall entirely to pieces.
This is not to say that God operates without His own program. But his program is a living and awesome thing. God does not challenge evil by shooting at it with a gun, in order to "shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks" are stilled. When God loves, it's a love that goes far deeper than that of an atheist social worker, who believes that a disembodied charity can lead to a man-made New Jerusalem on earth.
After all, there are limits to the carefully controlled and programmed or programmatic love that the social worker shows his client / son, as we learn in a scene where the teen confronts his Sheppard, the boy (Johnson) lying in bed, his face turned against the wall in anguish ...
"You make out like you got all this confidence in me!" a sudden outraged voice cried, "and you ain't got any! You don't trust me no more now than you did then!" The voice, disembodied, seemed to come more surely from the depths of Johnson than when his face was visible. It was a cry of reproach, edged slightly with contempt.
"I do have confidence in you," Sheppard said intensely. "I have every confidence in you. I believe in you and I trust you completely."
... but he doesn't. And in many ways he shouldn't, at least in the context of the story's plot. But the point here is that his love isn't really real - there's an Unreality there. It doesn't go as deep as it should.
And, symbolically, when Johnson confronts Sheppard, it's Jesus confronting us sinners.
We protest, we devout Christians - we protest loudly - that we do indeed trust Our Lord and His disturbing presence among us. But, when we get right down to it, do we really?
In one of her essays, Flannery hit the nail on the head, when she described us as closet Manicheans who are convinced that grace cannot penetrate fallen nature ("The old heresy of secular vs. sacred," as Reilly Washburn identifies it). Some of my readers objected to that assessment, but if we really believed that grace could operate in nature, we would believe that even something as ordinary and simple as coffee and a Chris Farley movie did not have to be guarded against with a kind of spiritual prophylactic; we would not think that Eros was Satanic or that (as Christopher West suggests) a couple should only marry once they can "love" without feeling sexually attracted to one another.
If we trusted God and believed that His grace could operate in and redeem nature - in fact if we could open our eyes and see that it was doing so all the time all around us - then we could also trust that coffee and a movie and other ordinary things could open up to us gifts of life and God's surprises that we ourselves need not program, orchestrate or stage manage the life out of.
"Do not quench the Spirit," Paul tells us (1 Thes. 5:19).
But we do that all the time, we devout Christians.
Perhaps it's because we think that sin is the center of the story, when that's not the case at all.
But more on that later ...
August 18th, 2014Inaugural Lecture in Nashvilleby Joseph Pearce
Next week, on Thursday, August 28, I will be giving my inaugural lecture as Director of the Center for Faith & Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville. The title of my talk will be "The Evangelizing Power of Beauty: Converting the Culture". If you live in the Nashville area or know people in the area, please try to attend and promote the event. Here are the full details:
August 18th, 2014Who is Man?by Joseph Pearce
Continuing my current preoccupation with questioning the definitive meaning of the most important things, such as civilization and Christendom, I continue this week with one of the most crucial of all questions: Who is Man?
August 17th, 2014Alfred Hitchcock on Faith and Moralsby Daniel J. Heisey
In December, 2012, Father Mark Henninger, S. J., wrote in The Wall Street Journal about his experience in early 1980 celebrating Mass at the home of Alfred Hitchcock. Father Henninger sought to correct recent statements claiming that to the end of his days Hitchcock (1899-1980) was not religious. Yet, Hitchcock had grown up Catholic, attended a school run by Jesuits, and had been married and buried within the context of the Catholic Mass.
As Father Henninger pointed out, Hitchcock had helped to create the impression that he was not a religious man. Apparently to preserve his privacy, Hitchcock publicly rejected claims that he had a priest come to his house for the sacraments. In his book-length interview with François Truffaut, published in English in1967, Hitchcock had said, “I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”
The setting was Truffaut asking Hitchcock, “How do you feel about being labeled a Catholic artist?” Hitchcock had replied, “I don’t think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one’s early upbringing influences a man’s life and guides his instinct.” Later on he explained that “my love of film is far more important to me than any considerations of morality.”
It is an understandable reaction: an artist wants to be known for his art. Would one ask Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo whether they wanted to be thought of as Catholic artists? However much Catholic faith and culture permeates their work, the work comes first. Nearly always when the religious sense is put first, the art suffers.
For Hitchcock, that principle seems to have informed his dissatisfaction with his movie I Confess (1953). Probably the most obvious example of Hitchcock using film to explore Catholic themes, it focuses on a young Canadian priest, a veteran of the Second World War, who has heard the confession of a murderer and is then framed by the murderer. Hitchcock was intrigued by the dilemma, since the priest could not violate the seal of the confessional. Protestant and secular critics, however, thought the premise far-fetched, and Hitchcock told Truffaut, “we shouldn’t have made the picture.”
Truffaut rightly disagreed with Hitchcock about I Confess, but let us consider a less obvious case. In March, 1963, Alfred Hitchcock told an interviewer from The New Yorker that of all his films his favorite was Shadow of a Doubt (1943), yet around the same time, when speaking with Truffaut, he said that it was not his favorite, while not saying which movie did hold that honor. Whether it really was his favorite film, it marks the first time Hitchcock used an American location for looking into what Truffaut called the three basic elements making up any film by Hitchcock: “fear, sex, and death.”
In Shadow of a Doubt, a man is on the run after having killed several wealthy widows. He travels across the country from New York to Santa Rosa and hides in the home of his sister and brother-in-law. The latter, a mild-mannered bank clerk, has a hobby of reading murder mysteries. Irony and tension build, and suspicion comes closer and closer to the murderer. “It’s quite possible,” Hitchcock told Truffaut, “that those widows deserved what they got, but it certainly wasn’t his job to do it.”
That same message occurs near the end of Hitchcock’s film Rope (1948). There, the character portrayed by James Stewart tells one of the two young murderers, “Until this very moment, this world and the people in it have always been dark and incomprehensible to me, and I’ve tried to clear my way with logic and superior intellect . . . , but now I know we’re each of us a separate human being with the right to live and work and think as individuals, but with an obligation to the society we live in.”
Truffaut noted that in Hitchcock’s movies there was always the pervasive role of the idea of original sin. Although a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s films is that of an innocent man suspected of a crime he did not commit, Truffaut saw that “he is generally guilty of intention before the fact.” As an example, he cited the voyeur played by James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).
When talking about his schooldays, Hitchcock told Truffaut about his odd situation and about the moral sense he developed. “Ours was a Catholic family,” he said, “and in England, you see, this in itself is an eccentricity.” At Saint Ignatius College, “a strong sense of fear developed—moral fear—the fear of being involved in anything evil.” He transformed that Catholic eccentricity and that fear of evil into some of the finest films ever made.
In all his cinematic work, Alfred Hitchcock was deeply concerned about human integrity. How someone dealt with temptations and trials was what made a story interesting. In theological terms, not only was original sin a factor, so was free will. All of us face such scenarios to a greater or lesser degree every day, but rarely do they reach a level worthy of a tale of suspense. As Hitchcock often said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”
One day, before offering Mass at Hitchcock’s home, Father Henninger asked Hitchcock if he had seen any good movies lately. Hitchcock said no, adding, “When I made movies, they were about people, not robots. Robots are boring. Come on, let’s have Mass.”
Robots bore because, even if they find working with humans very stimulating, they lack the human capacity for love, sin, and redemption. They share no nature with Christ. According to Father Henninger, during those Masses at his home, Hitchcock gave the responses in Latin, and, the dull bits of life cutting out of the theo-drama, upon receiving Communion “he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”
Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno. He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.
August 17th, 2014Iraq—The Failure of Modernityby Stephen Brady
Is ISIS, the fanatical Islamist militia currently advancing across the ruins of Iraq and Syria beheading and crucifying “infidels” a throwback to the Dark Ages? Or is it instead an aspect of the very Western “modernity” the US and its allies sought to bring to the region by armed force? Is that “modernity”, indeed, quite what its advocates think it is?
Those are the challenging questions raised by John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics in his essay broadcast in July on the BBC radio programme A Point of View, the text of which is available here:
Professor Gray is a leading critic of what he terms “the Enlightenment project”, the idea, famously encapsulated by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 work The End of History and the Last Man, of the inevitable global triumph of free-market globalist liberal democracy.
In this essay the good Professor argues compellingly that ISIS – or the Islamic State, IS, as it has now rebranded itself, perhaps conscious of the irony of the self-proclaimed vanguard of radical Islam advancing under the name of an ancient Egyptian pagan goddess – beneath its 7th Century trappings, is “in many respects thoroughly modern”.
Prof. Gray notes how efficiently IS uses the methods and technology of a 21st Century corporation. As he notes:
“Like al-Qaeda before them, these jihadists have organised themselves as a highly efficient company. Initially funded by donations from wealthy supporters, they've rapidly expanded into a self-financing business. Through kidnapping and extortion, looting and selling antiquities, siphoning off oil in territories they conquer, seizing gold bullion and other assets from banks and acquiring large quantities of American military hardware in the course of their advance, Isis has become the wealthiest jihadist organisation in the world. According to some estimates, it's worth well over $2bn.“
As others as well as he have noted, IS uses social media with an adroitness a corporate advertising department can only envy. Bloody threats and glorious victories are tweeted frequently and posted on Facebook (no doubt getting lots of “likes” in Islamabad and Luton) and beheadings, crucifixions and massacres of prisoners put up promptly on YouTube. The Islamist terror group also diligently and publicly documents mergers and acquisitions with and of other Islamist groups and tribal militias, and keeps firm and well-documented control of its balance sheet. Slick regular corporate reports are posted on the Internet, detailing each month’s beheadings and suicide bombings, thus keeping the shareholders – the wealthy Saudi and Gulf sheiks who originally bankrolled the organisation – abreast of headcount and how many bangs they are getting for their buck.
As Professor Gray perspicaciously observes, “There's nothing mediaeval about this mix of ruthless business enterprise, well-publicised savagery and transnational organised crime.”
But, he goes on to argue, IS’s modernity goes deeper than that. “Though (IS leader) al-Baghdadi constantly invokes the early history of Islam, the society he envisions has no precedent in history. It's much more like the impossible state of utopian harmony that western revolutionaries have projected into the future. Some of the thinkers who developed radical Islamist ideas are known to have been influenced by European anarchism and communism, especially by the idea that society can be reshaped by a merciless revolutionary vanguard using systematic violence. The French Jacobins and Lenin's Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guards all used terror as a way of cleansing humanity of what they regarded as moral corruption. ISIS shares more with this modern revolutionary tradition than any ancient form of Islamic rule”
Professor Gray might indeed have gone on to point out that this revolutionary tradition itself sprang ultimately from one aspect of what he himself dubbed “the Enlightenment project”. In this case the hubristic humanist idea that, if human nature is determined by human society, when the Perfect Society can be created it willipso facto achieve the Perfection of Man. Indeed, said Perfect Society is the natural human condition, if only mankind was liberated from wicked oppressors holding them back.
As history has shown, what the revolutionaries actually ended up doing, when their achievement of power failed in itself to achieve the expected dawning of Utopia, was wading in human blood trying to impose by force the widely varying ideas of Social Perfection each fanatic revolutionary sect had come to espouse, always ending in failure and some very unpleasant demonstrations of the innate moral weaknesses of humanity when left to its own devices.
But the good Professor does go on to drop a douche of icy water on the complacency of those smug Westerners who no doubt would have been happily nodding along to his argument thus far. For he points out that the Islamic state owes its rise, as well as its strategy and ideology, to another offshoot of the very same Enlightenment Project: “Western military intervention gave Isis its chance of power. While Saddam was in charge, there were no jihadist movements operating in Iraq - none at all. With all the crimes Saddam's dictatorship committed, it was a regime that applied secular law and had made some steps towards emancipating women.” It also respected the country’s ancient Christian communities, protecting them from persecution – indeed Saddam’s deputy, Tariq Aziz, was a Christian. Professor Gray continues: “In my view, toppling Saddam was bound to unravel this secular state and the Iraqi state itself.” As we now observe it has unravelled, very thoroughly…
Why was this toppling done? The Professor is sceptical about cynicism here – he believes that it was not all about Iraq’s oil. Western leaders, unfortunately, also had nobler motives: “The politicians and opinion-formers who clamoured for the invasion believed that all modern societies are evolving towards a single form of government - the type that exists in western countries. If only tyranny was swept away in Iraq, the country would move towards democracy and the rest of the Middle East would follow. Until just a few months ago, some were convinced that a similar process could take place in Syria.”
As events have demonstrated, this isn’t exactly what actually happened, nor was it remotely likely to happen. As the Professor was saying long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, whose fruits the people of that unhappy country are now enjoying, was launched: “this has never been more than an ideological fantasy. The modern world isn't evolving in any single direction. Liberal democracy is only one of several possible destinations.”
Indeed. Professor Gray could have gone on to make the point explicitly that Messrs Bush and Blair shared with Herr Marx and Gospodin Lenin the same delusion that if only “the people” could be “set free”, if the tyrants could be toppled or the expropriators expropriated, mankind would at once rush rejoicing into an Earthly Paradise, be that one of perfect communism or perfect free market liberal democracy, a delusion that is rooted in the same 18th Century soi-disant Enlightenment from which both Marxism and Liberalism sprang. Perhaps this is why many of the arch-cheerleaders of imposing “freedom” at the point of a cruise missile and a drone strike, the neo-cons, found their own personal metamorphosis from one to the other so unproblematic.
Professor Gray has put his finger on the deep implication of that Enlightenment delusion as it unravels in the disaster now unfolding across the Middle East. Two decades after it was published, Mr Fukuyama’s thesis of the inevitable triumph of global free-market liberal democracy, “The End of History and the Last Man”, lies in ruins. It has inspired a train of events unleashing massacres, murders and sectarian slaughters that have indeed made some local progress towards achieving the Last Man. But people remain people, obstinately clinging each to their own beliefs and cultures, and History stubbornly refuses to End.