Friday, November 26, 2010

The Battle Analyzed

The temptation in this secularized world is to fly to the opposite extreme and become a fundamentalist, a Puritan or a Jansenist. The way to avoid that is simply to note how miserable such people are – and how miserable the liberalists are – the very people against whom the reactionaries are reacting.

There is an irony here that is meant to keep us humble. It is that the greatest sinners are the greatest victims of their own sin. Chesterton speaks of the innocent outer circle and those who mislead them, the “supremely guilty inner circle”. In the attempt to dismantle the Catholic Church, the more one looks into it, the more one sees the “supremely guilty inner circle”, the Satanists, communists and pederasts, who made a conscious choice to mislead the useful idiots about them. These na├»ve followers, the outer circle, good-hearted and well-intentioned (but foolish) people as a rule, were led astray by a small group of men utterly and deliberately devoted to sin, perversion and death.

And yet even these supremely guilty few were themselves victims of forces beyond their understanding.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Formed in Formlessness


I have just begun a very interesting book called The Heresy of Formlessness by Martin Mosebach, translated from the German by Graham Harrison and published by Ignatius Press.

The style is delightful and the writer writes with a self-conscious continental attitude that says, “I’m an artist and I see things differently and therefore I am licensed to write about them from a poetic point of view.”

So far his argument seems to be that the value of the liturgy is our unthinking participation in it; that the more conscious we are of the liturgy itself or of the character of the celebrant, the more difficult it is for us to worship. Thus the “form” of the liturgy is something we should automatically pour ourselves into; that if we begin to mess with the “form” of the liturgy, we make the mistake of thinking that somehow it’s all about us and not a gift from God.

And along the way, there are some brilliant quotes, such as …

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"We sit in the pews and ask ourselves, was that Holy Mass, or wasn’t it? I go to church to see God and come away like a theater critic."

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"If I want to know what a man believes, it is no good to me to go through his 'club regulations' – if you will pardon the expression [meaning the Catechism]. I must observe the man, his gestures, the way he looks; I must see him in moments when he is off guard. … That shows what faith is: the things we do naturally and as a matter of course."

[Mosebach then talks about some ordinary church ladies who begin to become particularly careful about preparing for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, even though they have not been taught to do this. Thus he notes the sincerity of their faith. He then compares this with the careless melting down of communion patens by those who are suffused with the spirit of the Ordinary Form.]

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"I repeat that I am not a theologian: but to me – someone who’s task is to portray people and reconstruct human motivation – if someone allows all the communion patens to be melted down , he can not possibly believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament. We believe with our knees or we do not believe at all."

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"A man on his knees because he believes his Maker is present in a little white wafer: this is still a stumbling block in many places, and we must thank God for it."

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Indeed, it took a while after my conversion - many years - to come to the conclusion that these liberal suburban Catholics who surrounded me act the way they do, as a rule, because they don't really believe.

Now I will certainly be accused of judging their hearts, which I do not mean to do, but I must echo Mosebach here.

Why did the principal and teachers of our Catholic grade school set up a Thanksgiving Mass dedicated to the Great Earth Spirit? Because they don't really believe.

Why do those in the pews spend their time chatting and laughing and scheming against each other? Because they don't really believe.

Why does our so-called Director of Religious Education teach absolutely nothing about the Catholic Faith? Because she doesn't really believe.

Why do many people do all they can to twist the Church so that Christ endorses their lives of consumption, perversion, affluence, contraception and promiscuity? Because they don't really believe.

Of course, as I say, we can never read another's heart - but Mosebach is on to something. If we melt down communion patens - indeed if we stop kneeling, if we replace worship music with bad pop, if we turn the adoration of God into a narcissitic celebration of self, if we gay up the entire approach to God so that it's all emptiness and perverse affectation, then we "can not possibly believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament" - or in the truth of Christ and His continued presence in the world.

And this I speak as a fully licensed poet, as, in Mosebach's words, "someone who’s task is to portray people and reconstruct human motivation."

On the one side we have the great patrimony of the Church, the teachings of the ascetic and mystics, the narrow way that Bl. John Henry Newman saw and explained so well; and on the other we have the sacrilege of the modern world and all that it gives us in our insipid homilies, our terrible music, our ugly architecture, and our utter devotion to self and sin.

I hate to sound like an old fuddy duddy here, but I am one, and a licensed one, at that.

Anyway, back to the book ...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Condom-Nation


First, I was given the great privilege of recording the official audio version of the Holy Father's new book, Light of the World as published by Ignatius Press, which can be ordered on audio CD or downloaded here.

And I said two weeks ago to Jim Morlino, my co-reader for the audio book, "The Pope's comments about condoms will be the comments the press will run with." It did not take much prophetic insight to predict that.

The situation is simple: All the Holy Father is saying is that if a man who is steeped in sin to begin with and is having sex for reasons contrary to God's will and the Natural Law, then if this particular man begins to have a pang of conscience that says, "Perhaps getting physical pleasure is not what this is all about. Perhaps I should be concerned about my partner here. Maybe I should use a condom so as to protect my partner from the ravages of disease," this is clearly (as charity and common sense will tell you) a movement in the right direction.

Is the Pope saying the use of artificial birth control is virtuous? No.

Is the Pope saying that if you use a condom you are allowed to have promiscuous sex? No.

Is the Pope saying that it's better to be sexually active and use condoms than it is to abstain? No.

All the Pope is saying is that in this particular case, condom use, subjectively speaking, is a movement in the right direction for THIS PARTICULAR MAN. It is still a sinful act, objectively speaking, but it may indicate the work of God's grace in the heart of the sinner.

Likewise, if a prostitue begins to fall in love with her john, she is still a sinful prostitute, but if feelings of tenderness start to enter the equation, it is a movement in the right direction, and may lead her to repentance.

If a thief decides to steal less frequently from here on out, he is still sinning when stealing, but if he is trying to lessen the harm he is causing, he is moving in the right direction.

It's obvious. It's simple. But no one will get it. The noise will drown out the common sense. The book will be discussed by those who will never read it. The quote will be dissected by those who have never heard it. Judgment will be rendered by the right wingers who hate the Pope for being "liberal" and by the left wingers who hate the Pope for being "traditional". The circus will continue.



And what is lost in all of this is the concern for souls expressed by a shepherd of souls.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Philosophy of Acting starring Con Artists, co-starring New Age Pickpockets


So, Lord, I’m supposed to do this? I’m really supposed to write some sort of Philosophy of Acting?

I mean, yes, there’s what I ran into a few weeks back and posted on, the rejection of humor by the Puritans. And indeed I realized that there’s more there than just a lesson on comedy and humility. The Puritan rejection of humor is ultimately a rejection of all dramatic art, as well as a rejection of all literary art. Yes, even novels. For a good novel presents characters in all of their humanity, the great mish-mash of ape and angel, sinner and potential saint that every real-life-character is. This is offensive to the Puritans, who want to cut out the heart of salvation by dehumanizing the process, by taking out the “human” (i.e. sinful and foolish) element, an element redeemed by God but not crushed by Him. In quenching the man, Puritans are quenching the Spirit. In this way the Puritans have much in common with the secularists who love dehumanization for the power it gives them – which is the secret thrill behind Puritanism as well.

And in that is something that’s key to what an actor does. An actor has to have Sympathy. Sometimes this sympathy is expressed in the ability to imitate another, to catch a way of speaking or walking or brooding that another has. But more than that, sympathy is an utterly Christian virtue: it is a “suffering-with” another, an understanding of another, a pouring out of one’s heart to another. And an actor must have an element of this to portray any character. Such sympathy is also the key to a true sense of humor, even a satiric or lampooning sense of humor. Without sympathy, humor can become mean and bitter, the derisive laughter of children mocking a victim on the playground. Without sympathy, jesting becomes derision and caricature becomes contempt.


Compare this with the humor of Charles Dickens, whose novels contain characters that are always rounded and sympathetic, even when they are most ridiculous and absurd. It is this fullness of appreciation of our fellow men and their foibles, it is this understanding of sin that seeks not to condone sin but to transform it in the context of the dramatic story being told, that most offends Puritan sensibilities.

And yet Puritans are not the problem within the world of show biz. Within the acting community, we don’t see Puritans, we see Libertines – Libertines who are what I was before my conversion, hungry for spiritual purpose with an inkling that such a purpose could be found on stage.

But how are such devotees of the craft treated? How is their spirituality channeled in the acting world?

First it is either ignored, or else it flows into sexual libido where they find both great opportunities for pretending and also the everlasting drama of the real life backstage soap opera of the promiscuous or perverse. Their energies are usually canalized into the self-serving hedonism and egotism that actors are justly famous for.

But what is inspiring me to write this, Lord, what is goading me, getting under my skin, what is annoying me, is this.

A lady contacted me a few weeks back who is hoping to start at her parish some sort of acting troupe that would meet regularly and focus on the spirituality of acting. I encouraged her to do this.

But yesterday she sent me the proposed agenda for the troupe, and one of the things it includes is reading so-called “spiritual” works, one of which is The Power of Now by someone who calls himself Eckhardt Tolle. This book, from what I gather, is nothing but excrement bound. Endorsed by The Oprah, Tolle’s spiritual insights include such tired commonplaces as “the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening [is] the next step in human evolution.” This is bound up in “transcending our ego-based state of consciousness. This is a prerequisite not only for personal happiness but also for the ending of violent conflict endemic on our planet". ( link ) Excuse me. YAWWWWNNNNN.



Tolle also bravely advances the unheard of notion that all religions are not only the same, but that all religions are barriers to spirituality, except the liquid religion in the snake oil bottle Tolle is touting. Oh, wait. That’s not bravely advancing an unheard of notion; that’s simply parroting the spirit of the age, the spirit that has given birth to the culture of death.



Tolle was (of course) inspired by Buddhism and is (naturally) devoted to Nothingness and feels (you can see this coming) that emptying of self is key – not emptying of self for the sake of the Truly Real (God), but emptying of self for the sake of the great Illusion that Nothing is Real – in other words, a sacrifice for the sake of the Lie. Tolle is a new age con artist, the type we’ve seen before, the type you could easily parody on stage. His story is typical – troubled childhood, bouts of depression, a sudden realization that Nothing is everything and everything is Nothing, a change of name and identity, a hint of Prussian mercilessness, a pop culture deification in his success that makes him a victim of the false gods he serves, and so forth. It’s a story I could tell in my sleep. It’s a story we see again and again in this day and age, and it’s a story that’s dragging souls to hell, with Tolle the pied piper leading his followers to where he’s headed himself.

Now, speaking of Sympathy, one must feel for this poor guy and his poor insipid idiotic followers. But why on earth would this be required reading for a Catholic Theater Group? Why on earth, if the actors want to study spirituality, don’t they plug into the great, beautiful and true patrimony of spirituality that we have in the Catholic Church? There stands Hamlet, showing his mother two pictures. “You’ve turned from this,” he says, pointing to a picture of St. John of the Cross, the Little Flower, St. Francis de Sales, “to THIS?” he says, pointing to a picture of a used car salesman wearing a yin-yang necklace at a Joyce Meyer meeting.

So, Lord, if you want me to write something more on the Philosophy of Acting, I can at least begin with this.

Actors, the devotion you feel in your hearts for your craft, the self-sacrifice and abnegation you practice for the sake of what you love, the willingness to suffer so that the show must go on, the Spirit that thrills you on stage, He who inspires you, He for whom your hearts are hungry is not your acting coach, not your co-star, not the fame or applause that excites you, not the author of the latest Oprah book-of-the-month club paean-to-suburban-Buddhism, not even the little blonde chorus girl or boy in the back row. He for whom your hearts are restless is He who is calling you to the vocation of St. Genesius. And He is neither Nothing, nor the illusion of Maya, nor the quenching of your rational soul. He is Truth. He is Love. He is Real.

Turn from the lies that surround you and turn to Him.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Death of Drama


John C. Wright has written several posts lately beginning with this one in which he, among other things, claims that post-modernist drama is an oxymoron, that drama can not be an art form for a post-modernist: no dehumanizing thinker can create dramatic art.

He's right, of course, because drama is all about the consequential. Drama is about how certain actions to lead to certain things (and not to others), and about examining what this innate mystery in all action tells us about reality, humanity, and God. But in the post-modern world where nothing leads to anything, where all meaning is contrived and imposed, drama itself ceases to have meaning - its entire reason for being is undone. You can not produce in an art form that exists to explore the consequences of action, nor can you explore the relationship between human character and action, when we no longer believe in either - character or action. The current philosophy denies that acts by their very nature lead to results and sees every aspect of human character (including gender) as being arbitrary and hence meaningless.



I spoke about this at the American Chesterton Society conference in 2009 in Seattle, in my talk Chesterton and Drama, a talk which I hope to rework this week for a more in depth blog post, particularly in reply to some of Wright's musings.

But before I get around to that, in the tradition of being dramatic, here's a teaser. At one point in my presentation I talked about Chesterton's views on good drama vs. bad drama ...

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Chesterton contrasts good drama with conventional drama, or what we would call "melodrama". “Though vice is punished in conventional drama,” he says, “the punishment is not really impressive, because it is not inevitable or even probable. It does not arise out of the evil act.”



In making this point, Chesterton refers to a play by Harley Granville-Barker called Waste. It was a play in which a woman dies from what Chesterton euphemistically calls an “illegal operation”, in other words an abortion. George Bernard Shaw praised the play, saying that an “illegal operation” and the deaths that ensued from it arose more truly from acts of unchastity than the more outlandish consequences that arise from unchastity in melodramas – pistol shots or poison. In other words, Shaw was saying that a drama is better, and more faithful to its purpose as an art form, when it depicts a consequence of an action that comes forth by the very nature of that action. Chesterton agreed with this. Adultery and fornication are more likely to produce things less lurid and more tragic (or sometimes more comic) than pistol shots or poison - though in the case of the “illegal operation” Chesterton thought it too difficult a subject for the audience to bear, and the repulsion it caused not fit for civilized literature.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

Thus Chesterton thought Macbeth to be the perfect tragedy, for in Macbeth the nature of sin and the consequences that spring from it are presented with a clarity and swiftness that are unmatched.

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More on this later.

Wright's posts are intriguing, though his definitions of comedy, tragedy and melodrama are rather glib (compare, for instance, Chesterton's insight into the limitations of melodrama just quoted), but Wright is approaching the subject not so much as a literary critic but as a critic of the modern malaise - something he's good at. And he has given us some food for thought on what drama is and why the current age is seeing - in the midst of all the movies and TV shows and video clips on youtube - the Death of Drama.

As they say on television ... to be continued.