Updating myself at Redeemed Reader

J. B. Cheaney writes for World and for children.  With fellow children’s lit author Emily Whitten, she has a blog entitled  Redeemed Reader | Kids books. Culture. Christ.  They discuss kiddy-lit, yes, but also lots of other things, from homeschooling to our current cultural condition.  Anyway, they did an interview with me, which they are posting in two parts.  In addition to discussing classical education and vocation,  I take the occasion to update some of what I wrote in my books Reading Between the Lines and Postmodern Times.

Homosexuality & abusing priests

A $2 million study of the priest child abuse scandal, paid for in part by the Roman Catholic Church,  takes the politically-correct position that homosexuality had nothing to do with it.  Louie Verrecchio, himself a Catholic, disagrees, based on the report’s own data:

On May 18, researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice released their long-awaited final report, “Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.”

The research team, led by Karen Terry, Ph.D., gathered an impressive amount of information from which they drew a number of conclusions; the most unsettling of which is the claim that homosexuality is unrelated to the abuse (particularly of adolescent males, the primary victims in the crisis.)

Though 81 percent of the victims were post-pubescent males, researchers downplayed the homosexual connection by suggesting that this simply reflects the fact that offenders had greater access to boys. The report also proposes the possibility that, “Although the victims of priests were most often male, thus defining the acts as homosexual, the priest did not at any time recognize his identity as homosexual.”

A less politically correct conclusion, it would seem, is to acknowledge that the offending clerics were perhaps unwilling to take “ownership” of their struggle with homosexuality. In any event, this line of argument appears to be little more than a red herring.

According to Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a consultant to the Vatican Congregation for Clergy and a leading expert on clerical sex abuse, how an abuser may “recognize” himself is not entirely relevant; rather, the homosexual acts alone testify to “deep seated” homosexuality.

“We are identified by our behavior,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said in a recent telephone interview. “The attempt to distance the homosexual acts in question from a personal struggle against SSA (Same Sex Attraction) on the part of the abuser is inconsistent with clinical data.”

Information found in the report itself also strongly suggests that the abuse is directly related to homosexuality. For instance: “This excuse (that the victim initiated physical intimacy) was particularly common for priests who were accused of abusing adolescents, who referred to the abuse as a ‘relationship.’”

Does this scenario, in which an adult male imagines that he is involved in a sexually active consenting “relationship” with an adolescent boy, describe a heterosexual crime of convenience? So determined to deny the obvious, the John Jay researchers are at pains to have you believe that it does.

The report also reveals that abusers often “groomed” their victims over a period of time prior to the onset of abuse; where grooming is defined as “a premeditated behavior intended to manipulate the potential victim into complying.”

This information effectively undermines the “crime of convenience” explanation for the preponderance of adolescent male victims. It also clearly indicates a direct connection to homosexuality, but the John Jay researchers resolutely insist otherwise claiming that the abusers were simply men who “appear to have had certain vulnerabilities to commit abuse (for example, emotional congruence with children or adolescents), experienced increased stressors from work (for example, having recently received more responsibilities, such as becoming a pastor), and had opportunities to abuse (for example, unguarded access to minors).” 

via John Jay Study: A $2 million exercise in political correctness :: Catholic News Agency (CNA).

The abusers had “vulnerabilities to commit abuse”?  They were vulnerable?  So  they were the victims?

HT:  David Mills

Nature & Grace in “The Tree of Life”

The movie that took the top prize at Cannes is entitled The Tree of Life.  Most critics laud the beauty of its scenes from nature but were puzzled by it all.  But Rev. Robert Barron, priest and theology professor at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, sees the Book of Job–which is directly referenced in the film–as the key.  His review in the Chicago Tribune is worth reading for his own reflections on that Book and on the way it resolves the Problem of Evil:

What could possibly tie together the following scenes: a flock of birds cavorting in breathtakingly harmonious patterns, the meeting of flowing lava and crashing waves, a larger dinosaur dominating a smaller one, a young boy throwing a baseball through a window just because he is forbidden to do so, a depressed middle-aged man sitting in a coldly modernistic office building, and a meteor crashing into the primordial earth?

If I am at all correct in my reading of Terrence Malick’s meditative film, “The Tree of Life,” in which those and many other seemingly disparate scenes occur, what ties them together is that they are all ingredient in the plan and purpose of God. I realize how pretentious that can sound, but this is a filmmaker (and a film) with very grand ambitions indeed.

The movie opens with a quotation from the book of Job: “where were you when I founded the earth…while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38: 4,7)?

These are some of the first lines of the magnificent speech that God delivers to Job, the righteous man who had been beset with every imaginable suffering and who had challenged God to explain himself.

Malick’s film opens with a couple (played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), who have been informed that their 19 year old son has died and who are experiencing a Job-like confusion and indignation: how could God have done this to them and to their son?

God’s answer to Job is puzzling, for it does not directly address the matter at hand; instead, it unfolds as a grand tour of the cosmos, in all of its strangeness, beauty, and complexity, culminating with a detailed description of the virtues of Leviathan (probably a whale) and Behemoth (perhaps a hippopotamus).

Malick’s film mimics the speech of God in the measure that it takes us away from the suffering couple to a visually stunning sequence of scenes depicting dynamics within the cosmos, from the birth of stars and the splitting of cells to the demise of the dinosaurs and the ballet-like movements of a jellyfish swimming toward the surface of the ocean.

The author of the book of Job and Terrence Malick both are suggesting that the “answer” to this most painful and searching of questions is found through the widest possible broadening of one’s perspective, so as to see what God is up to everywhere in his creation.

On Malick’s telling, the universe—from its primordial beginnings to now—is marked by a play of two forces, nature and grace. Nature is strong, conflictual, hard-edged, and violent; whereas grace is gentle, loving, and forgiving. Both are constantly in play, constantly in tension with one another, and somehow both are part of God’s design.

One of the most striking images in the film–the meeting of lava and ocean wave that I mentioned above—is a particularly apt symbol of the way that nature and grace come together to produce something beautiful.

Having made his literally “cosmic” point, Malick sharpens his focus and returns in flashback to the young couple now just beginning their family. The father, played with convincing understatement by Pitt, is a decent man who loves his children, but he is, first and foremost, a disciplinarian, eager to make his boys tough and self-reliant. He is the embodiment of the principle of nature.

The mother, delicately evoked by Chastain, is the avatar of grace. She is playful with her children, exuberant, lively, sensitive, quick to forgive.

It would be quite wrong, I think, to read them simply as evil and good, respectively. Both parents awaken something positive and negative in their children; each calls out to the other for completion. . . .

What I find particularly fascinating—and it brings us to the theological heart of the film—is that both nature and grace are grounded in God and are part of his providential design. The brutal and the gentle; the violent and the peaceful; the competitive and the cooperative come together in a way that produces the rough order that we see in the cosmos and in human affairs. Thomas Aquinas, very much influenced by the book of Job, said that God is a “wise provider” who permits certain evils in order to bring about a greater good in the totality of his creation, and I think Terrence Malick is making much the same point in “Tree of Life.”

Perhaps just a word in closing about the title. In the third chapter of Genesis, we hear that Adam and Eve, after having eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, were expelled from the Garden of Eden and denied access to the Tree of Life.

What prevented them from participating in life, in other words, was the attempt to gain a knowledge of the play of good and evil that belongs to God alone. Grasping at perfect knowledge, they fell.

A basic message of the Bible is that, in the play of good and evil, in the tension between nature and grace, God is up to something beautiful, though we are unable to grasp it totally. The way to life, therefore, is a path of surrender and acceptance. I think that “Tree of Life” is communicating this same difficult but vital lesson.

via The Seeker: Tree of Life glorifies God.

This sounds like a movie (which has not yet been broadly released) that is more of a Christian work of art than the typical problem+conversion+happy ending film that generally defines the genre.   The nature/grace dichotomy, which Thomists are so fond of, finds an interesting application here.   Missing, though, is the true high point of Job:  “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Christless Christianity

On Sunday, Pastor Douthwaite at our church gave one of the best comments on the Harold Camping fiasco.  From his sermon on John 14:

Thomas and Philip didn’t quite understand all that Jesus was saying. They ask questions. Their knowledge isn’t quite right or complete. But don’t mock them or think less of them for this – for who among us understands all this? Especially the mystery of the Trinity which Jesus here is teaching. But give Thomas and Philip credit for this – though they didn’t fully understand, they looked to Jesus for the answers. They clung to Him tenaciously.

That’s not only a good example for us, it is what a certain Mr. Harold Camping missed this weekend. I’m certain that you’ve heard of him. The media has paid an unusual amount of attention to him and his prediction that the end of the world was going to begin yesterday. I don’t want to go into the details of all that he said. But you know what he missed? Christ. Not that he’s not a Christian. I’m not saying that. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But in all his study of the Bible, he looked for numbers and clues and codes and all sorts of things . . . but he missed Christ. And that’s what the Scriptures are all about. They’re not about hidden clues, secret teachings, mysterious numbers, and being able to calculate days and times. They’re all about Jesus. About his death and resurrection. That dying and rising with Jesus is the truth, and the way to eternal life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Camping is not alone in spinning a Christless Christianity.  I have read “Christian” books going into all kinds of profound theology and teachings about Christian living that did not so much as mention Christ.  I have heard sermons, even evangelistic sermons, that left out Christ.   I have heard expositions of the Bible that said nothing about Christ.  I have heard personal testimonies and evangelistic witnesses that leave Jesus out of the picture.  I have looked at lots of Sunday school curriculum and “Christian” children’s books that are pure moralism, without a shred of Jesus and His gospel.  Since the root of “Christianity” is, you know, “Christ,” how is this possible?  Don’t you have a different religion if you leave Jesus out of your Christianity?

P.S.:  This is the reason to discuss Camping and not just to ignore him, as some of you were recommending:  To discern how his particular spirit may be manifesting itself in other contexts closer to home.   That’s the theme of this post and the one below.

Cults of personality

Anthony Sacramone reflects on the Harold Camping non-rapture phenomenon, including some warnings about how Christians often get caught up in a cult of personality:

You might be saying to yourself, “Sure, a buncha fundy, dispensationalist cranks with clever marketing skills. Tough luck on their ignorant, desperate disciples.” But ask yourself something: If your pastor, preacher, teacher, elder, priest were to walk into an open manhole tomorrow, only to be replaced by some less-winsome personality, would you leave your church? If so, leave now.

Better yet: if your pastor, preacher, teacher, elder, priest were to be led out in handcuffs tomorrow, or discovered to have run off to Acapulco with the 16-year-old daughter of the youth minister, would you consider leaving the Church, full stop? If so, leave now.

Evangelical churches seem to be particularly susceptible to superstar preachers, because of the emphasis on preaching. We want to hear a new, fresh take on the old wooden Cross. We need some spiritual Red Bull to keep our enthusiasm up, but too often we wind up with just the bull. . . .

So the next time you hear that your guy (or, in some cases, gal) will not be leading worship on a particular Sunday, ask yourself if your heart sinks a little, and whether you even reconsider showing up for services until he/she makes his/her return. If so, ask yourself why — and in whom you have been putting your faith. May 21 may not have been the end, but of the making of many self-styled prophets there is definitely no end.

via Promises, Promises » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Athenians vs. Visigoths

Thanks to Joe Carter for posting this commencement address (which he never gave) by the late media scholar Neil Postman. Read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts that set forth the basic paradigm:

I want to tell you about two groups of people who lived many years ago but whose influence is still with us. They were very different from each other, representing opposite values and traditions. I think it is appropriate for you to be reminded of them on this day because, sooner than you know, you must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other.

The first group lived about 2,500 years ago in the place which we now call Greece, in a city they called Athens. We do not know as much about their origins as we would like. But we do know a great deal about their accomplishments. They were, for example, the first people to develop a complete alphabet, and therefore they became the first truly literate population on earth. They invented the idea of political democracy, which they practiced with a vigor that puts us to shame. They invented what we call philosophy. And they also invented what we call logic and rhetoric. They came very close to inventing what we call science, and one of them—Democritus by name—conceived of the atomic theory of matter 2,300 years before it occurred to any modern scientist. They composed and sang epic poems of unsurpassed beauty and insight. And they wrote and performed plays that, almost three millennia later, still have the power to make audiences laugh and weep. They even invented what, today, we call the Olympics, and among their values none stood higher than that in all things one should strive for excellence. They believed in reason. They believed in beauty. They believed in moderation. And they invented the word and the idea which we know today as ecology. . . .

The second group of people lived in the place we now call Germany, and flourished about 1,700 years ago. We call them the Visigoths, and you may remember that your sixth or seventh-grade teacher mentioned them. They were spectacularly good horsemen, which is about the only pleasant thing history can say of them. They were marauders—ruthless and brutal. Their language lacked subtlety and depth. Their art was crude and even grotesque. They swept down through Europe destroying everything in their path, and they overran the Roman Empire. There was nothing a Visigoth liked better than to burn a book, desecrate a building, or smash a work of art. From the Visigoths, we have no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics. . . .

Now, the point I want to make is that the Athenians and the Visigoths still survive, and they do so through us and the ways in which we conduct our lives. All around us—in this hall, in this community, in our city—there are people whose way of looking at the world reflects the way of the Athenians, and there are people whose way is the way of the Visigoths. I do not mean, of course, that our modern-day Athenians roam abstractedly through the streets reciting poetry and philosophy, or that the modern-day Visigoths are killers. I mean that to be an Athenian or a Visigoth is to organize your life around a set of values. An Athenian is an idea. And a Visigoth is an idea. Let me tell you briefly what these ideas consist of.

To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question—these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.

To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind’s most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence in distinguishable from another. A Visigoth’s language aspires to nothing higher than the cliche.

To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order. The modern Visigoth cares very little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for their own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday’s newspaper.

To be an Athenian is to take an interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word “idiot.” A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community.

And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefore, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. No other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.

Now, it must be obvious what all of this has to do with you. Eventually, like the rest of us, you must be on one side or the other. You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Of course, it is much harder to be an Athenian, for you must learn how to be one, you must work at being one, whereas we are all, in a way, natural-born Visigoths. That is why there are so many more Visigoths than Athenians. And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea. There is a direct link between the cultural achievements of Athens and what the faculty at this university is all about. I have no difficulty imagining that Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms. A Visigoth would merely scrawl obscenities on the wall.


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