God and the Light Bulb

28 03 2008


Listening to Catholic radio today, I caught the tail-end of a program on G.K. Chesterton. As usual, I was really interested in the program in order to mine it for the one line zingers that Chesterton is infamous for. One such zinger was his saying that science could no more tell you what to think than the telephone can tell you what to say, or something to that affect. I can concede that Chesterton very much had his finger to the pulse of the throbbing pains of modernity, though I have never found his prose very pleasing.

Nevertheless, I find it hard in general to sympathize with Chesterton and all of his Anglo-Saxon Catholic chums. It is not that I do not admire the intellectual battle they had to wage in a predominantly Protestant and liberal environment; a place where Catholicism did not come second nature . What I most find uncomfortable is the sheer joy of curmudgeonry that circulates in these and other cirlces, one that is reactionary for the sake of being reactionary. Oftentimes, being really good at criticizing modernity is just a better way of being modern; it is the trap of escaping the spider’s web by tearing yourself to pieces. Modernity enjoys critique, especially auto-critique. Having had my “education” in liberal Berkeley, it is many times the most vehement liberal who will put the gold star on your forehead for saying that modern liberalism is a farce. They know it, they might even admit it openly. But they don’t particularily care. And your arguments against them end up pleasing no one but yourself. You can flaunt the fact that you are not “them”, but in flaunting it, you are just being more “them” than they are.

An acquaintance of mine recently committed a very public apostasy. He came to me to try to give him reasons not to do it. I tried my best, told him to do certain things, read certain books, say certain prayers, etc. But in the end, he stopped believing in God, and truth be told, it was very anti-climactic for me at least. At one point after he did the deed, I jokingly lamented that there were no Inquisitions around to make him change his mind, and not necessarily with reason. Then I realized that our religiosity, though “sincere”, in the end can itself seem farcical. Yes, we have to live in the realm of Faith, and in the realm of Faith, my friend is in danger of burning in Hell for all eternity for denying Jesus Christ. But in the short term, he is a graduate student in one of the best schools in the country and is doing quite well it would seem socially and emotionally. A far cry from my grandmother’s world where people are struck dead for not fasting on Good Friday!

Thus, we are faced again with the quip of the modern atheist: God is an invention of people who don’t have electricity. And maybe there’s a point to that. As much as we theist propagandists want to peddle the benefits of objective and divinely revealed truth to modern people, they seem to do just fine without it, and we ourselves do so as well in most  of the compartments of our lives. For all of our harping against subjectivism and relativism, people do indeed feel a sense of epistemological certainty in their lives that they may have not had before. Science may not be able to answer the questions of why we are here and when life begins, but it sure can put food on the table and make our cars run. And let’s face it, it’s not as if in the good ol’ days people were thinking about the nature of objective truth and ethics when they were slathering the side of their huts with cow manure. (In my family’s case, it would have been stomping it in a pit to make adobe.) For all the things that modern science cannot tell us about the universe, it has given us certainty. All you have to do is go to the wall nearest you and flip a switch.

I am not saying that it’s right. I am just, as the saying goes now, keeping it real. Even if it is a false sense of security, it is still a real one for most people. Modern man is not lost in a pit of relativistic chaos; he is quite happy in this chaos, and science gives him a semblance of order that, let’s face it, religion was very sketchy in providing. We too are infected with the bug, and even the way we speak of Faith, even in our most counter-revolutionary modes, we echo the world of personal choice, personal expression, and of Faith as an intellectual luxury that can be invested in and cultivated as one cultivates a stamp collection.  Many may find this cute, but I no longer see the charm in it.

We have to learn to read it all differently.



40 responses

9 09 2011

Always trying to kill a very small mosquito with a very big sledgehammer.

7 04 2008
Jon Noguera


Levi would have replied if his circumstances were a bit different. He didn’t really have much time. I told him about your comment yesterday during his party and it interested him but with everything else going on, I bet he forgot about it.

Levi just left for the Air Force today in the afternoon. He jumped in the military van after kissing his girlfriend goodbye and was off to the airport. I’m his best friend. That’s really why I know all this.

Good news though: He’ll be back online after six weeks, but by then, things happens so this won’t be the top of the news. A reply that late would be silly, but worth it.

2 04 2008
Jonathan Prejean

I think that this idea phrased in this way is far too cerebral.

And I think that reflects a personal flaw that I have an unfortunate habit of embracing too frequently.

Perhaps I should say that “ought” is built into reality, and the Mayan recognizing the “ought” in his way, just as I might in my own cerebral way. The drive is moral, whether the corresponding intellectual understanding is there or not. It’s just that most moderns have become so conditioned to separating “ought” from “is” that it’s like breathing, while it probably never would have even occurred to most pagans to try to do such a thing.

2 04 2008
Lee Greenwood

I think you are too down on the United States from a cultural point of view.

One example is sacred music. The New Liturgical movement that is linked on your right is an example. The hatred for the song “On Eagles Wings” (which is from the Pslams) has devoted a lot of ink or at l east a lot of cyberspace and was completely devoid of charity or even politeness. They make fun in traditionalist circles, including you occassionally, the modern liturgical music (much of which is bad but not all) and specifically the “worship and praise” “crowd” (or is it praise and worship?)

There are a couple of issues here which also tie into a defense of Catholicism (and modern Post Vatican II Catholicism) not only from Traditionalists but also from the Orthodox Ocholophobist. The key defense that even if the “happy-clappy” crowd is wrong from a liturgical perspective, it is certainly not intentional and these people ignorant of Gregorian Chant and Palestrina et al (or would it be etc) have a desire to worship and praise God an petition God and have intent (Intent and ability being key elements of the Gospel.

Specifically back to music:
1. Most people don’t know about liturgical music from the comprehensive and deep level of the New Liturgical movement.
2. I have seen no effort to bring Gregorian Chant or music education to low income, poor or minority parishes. I am active with a number of parishes including fundraising and have never seen outreach to these “poor” parishes.
Even if most African Americans are not Catholic in the United States, they still are “mission territory” but even if you ignore African Americans as they are not Catholic what about the largest or at least largest growing percentage of Catholics in the “Hispanics” (mostly Mexican and/or Mexican Americans).
The Church (Catholic/Roman) would be cut in HALF if Hispanics ceased to exist. Most of the “Traditionalist” outreach (at least in the United States) is an upper educated Anglo Catholic (by culture if not by ethnicity per se) and has very little to do with Arturo’s charismatic Grandma or Tia.

I grew up partially in a Protestant environment and that Protestant environment taught me to believe in God, accept Jesus as my Savior and basic Cristological tenants that did not change as I more fully accepted Catholicism, to believe in the Bible and read it, and have basic moral beliefs and pray and try to interact well with others. That may be sterile or basic or without mystery but it was a start. It was good. Catholicism did build on my already Theistic and Christian beliefs. Arturo and others are too quick to criticize the Evangelical converts to Catholicism as lacking depth or perspective. Some of these Evangelical (or other Protestant) converts to Catholicism are Hispanic or other traditionally Catholic ethnicities.
Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Jimmy Akin etc–all have real and deep conversion stories even if Anglo-Protestant in culture and not fully understanding all the “paganism” of Hispanics, or Traditionalism of Old Europe.

I grew up singing songs like Jesus Loves Me (This I know for the Bible tells me so), and Ein Feste Berg (albeit it not in German)(A Mighty Fortress is our God), or the hand and feet stomping Father Abraham had many sons, or some of the Jewish quasi Christian King of Glory comes a Nation rejoices, The Jericho walls come tumbling down with commensurate hand motions, the folksy I am the Ressurrection and the Life.
A little time in the Black Church “experience” I think a good rendition of “O Happy Day”, or “Living Testimony”, Turning things around, or other Black Gospel songs represent “real” music, “real” talent, authentic tradition, and both well intentioned and decent result of bringing one closer to God.
This is not to minimize Palestrina, or Victoria or the later Mozart, Bach (who was Lutheran), Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn etc etc
There was once a debate on fisheaters whether or not to play Bach because he was Lutheran and thus a schismatic heretic surely damned to hell as there is no salvation outside the Church. There was also a criticism of Hark the Herald Angels Sing Christmas Carol by the brother of the founder of Methodism Charles Wesley (although I have seen it performed in a Tridentine High Christmas Mass)

Even after I “came back” to Catholicism of part of my family some Churches had (inappropriately) Beetles during communion recession (I think Let it Be) and Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over troubled waters. No, I do not think that is good or even in keeping with St. Augustine’s De Musica (although Augustine in the West, nor any of the Eastern tradition would even allow instruments.
But not as bad, and I think good and brought me many spiritual moments were very dedicated Spanish singing that were probably folk songs, or Mariachi Masses that were packed with people, or Charismatic Masses with many conversions and a strong orthodox (theological) focus and a focus on the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Virgen Mary. The much hated by Traditionalists One Bread, One Body (and the Spanish) by Fr. Foley SJ has caused many a tear and many a prayer rising to God and reflected moment in the heart (Maybe not the Dominicans singing the Lamentations of Jeremiah but nonetheless something good)
Or the Fr. Jabusch hymns (who I met at the University of Chicago and is a good and holy man although I am not a big fan of his hymns)
Or “On Eagles Wings” at many a funeral of good orthodox and pro-life Catholics who have their funeral music sung well being denigrated without any charity and love (even if liturgical and musical correctness)

There is an arrogance with many Traditionalists and condascension to any form of English hymns (beyond High Anglican ones many of which are not spiritual to me at all) or any Protestant experiences in music (which are authentic and could potentially be carried over post conversion of Catholicism just as paganism was and did) In the Traditionalist world there is no room for the African American (Black) religious/spiritual experience and even denigrate (yes it has some potential problems regarding human nature but not necessarily) Amazing Grace (a beautiful song with profound meaning in the US), or Swing Low Sweet Chariot–songs talking about Polish battles are OK but not freedom from Slavery. What about a more exuberant, physical (non sexual at least ostensibly), clapping, joyful singing experience that is a clear part of African American culture?? or is the Extraordinary Rite of the Latin Rite the only way to really get to God or be Catholic?

There is real culture in the United States of America. There are real folk traditions, foods, and folk songs–yes they are being swallowed up by modern mass consumerism and big everything and centralized everything but that is a fault of modern capitalism and the global economy and Hollywood and not USA per se or the people.

I do think that, as did Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Church gave up to much to Modernity and that Tradition has much to give modernity and not the Karl Rahner view that modernity should change the Church. Certainly, the aberrations that are seen on YouTube of a priest dressed as Barney during Mass (yes it is true I didn’t believe it until I saw it), or Clown Masses, or Tranvestites “nuns” should never be allowed. I actually prefer the Tridentine (Extraordinary/Traditional Latin Mass) despite my diatribe above–but I do not think it is the only way or that other forms of “Praise” and “Worship” are not possible. I think Catholics (Latin) should learn more about Eastern Rite Catholics and the Divine (and other) Liturgies (St. John Chrystostom, St. James (Antiochene), St. Basil, Holy Qurbana etc). But there is a lack of mystery, silence, physical beauty in Catholic sanctuaries, separation, sacred space. However, the drinking songs that were converted to hymns by John Wesley (who was still an Anglican vicar at the time and there was no Methodism per se) do and did work. A solemn approach to Luther’s a Mighty Fortress is Our God is very spiritual and powerful (even if the author was a constipated, masturbating, schismatic, egotistical demon influenced heretic–jk) Life Teen Masses have helped many teens I know. The Spanish Masses and Mariachi Masses are packed and many of the people attending are good and get a lot out of Mass and believe Jesus is truly present and are very devouted to Mary.

This does not mean there should not be change or education. However, I think that it does mean that do not throw the baby out with the bath water and recognize the benefits of Evangelical and other forms of Protestantism (as does Louis Boyer in his Spirits and Forms of Protestantistm at least from a theological, pietistic, and historical perspective at least from the history of Europe)
Also, if you want people to sing Gregorian chant–do not rant about it on Blogs and keep on “singing to the choir” (literally) but teach it to the kids in Churches everywhere and for charity to low income people (who may be innudated by popular culture and the kids to rap and hip hop which affects patience which affects understanding more reflective music) and to teach the Extraordinary Rite and Gregorian Chant (and Classical Music) to Hispanics who are inclined to it because they are Catholic and have a Latin based Language (at least possibly inclined to it or ostensibly).
I see little outreach from the Traditionalist community beyond already devout Catholics and kind of little fortresses (albeit growing) with little minority participation (read: Blacks and Hispanics going to the Extraordinary Rite or singing Gregorian Chant). I think part of the lack of participation is lack of outreach and the other part is a lack of welcoming and lack of love and charity.

1 04 2008
Arturo Vasquez

“That is why modernity is antithetical to religion. It is the pretense that logos is separable from ethos, the idea that morality and telos are not built into existence itself, that destroys everything it touches. After all, what is recognition of the sacred but recognizing the moral purpose of the things around us?”

I wouldn’t quite put it that way. I think that this idea phrased in this way is far too cerebral. A Maya Indian considers a particular grove sacred not because of any “moral” reason as we moderns would conceive it. The average person did not used to “behave himself” because he had always in his mind the “teleological ground” of all of his actions. He more often than not used to behave himself since he was supposed to obey cultural norms and taboos, and because he often feared divine puinishment for transgression.

I guess I could expound on here the mass “monasticization” of the conscience that occured particular in some authors coming out of the Counter-Reformation. This may follow the whole idea that an unexamined life is one that is not worth living. I would say, however, that if we separate the God of philosophers (“ens causa sui”) from the God of the saints (“the One” hidden in mystical darkness) from the God of my grandmother (the one who strikes people dead for not fasting on Good Friday), we divide God to the point that He becomes a non-existent entity. This is probably the dilemma of God in the modern world: no longer is the Lord King over all parts of our life, nor can He be. It is a return to the situation of the primitive Church, though a little worse now.

And you are right. Nietzsche is a little snivelling jerk who occasionally has a good zinger. It is acutally kind of sad to read him. He is one who is always on the outside looking in, and no amount of rhetorical posturing could hide the fact that he felt sorry for himself for being weak.

31 03 2008
Jonathan Prejean

Catholic theology has explanations for this as well, but I’ve come to find a psychological explanation more and more probable.

Try as I might, I have been thoroughly unable to come up with any explanation for psychology itself. It’s not clear to me how one can account for a purely immaterial entity like an intellect could even possibly exist absent a divine cause, unless existence is fundamentally inexplicable, which would in turn make the whole notion of science pointless. I’m compelled simply by sheer consistency with the notion of “explanation” simpliciter to be theist. I’m not even sure what an “explanation” really is without God. I find it bizarre when atheists throw out the concept of “explanation.” What does one explain? Why does one care?

I think I can diagnose the problem in modernism. If truth and beauty are opposed to one another, then in the end, it is untrue to be beautiful. The sociopath is the truest human being of all, because he genuinely lacks empathy, meaning he knows the truth better than all of us. His lack of empathy is what the truth demands. It isn’t so much the case for me that I think atheism compels this, since most atheists are not sociopaths. What it suggests to me is that most atheists love what they call the truth far less than they claim to love it, because if they loved the truth in preference to all else, then they should be able to discard these artifacts of empathy, this false love for other things. They should be able to make themselves sociopaths; they should WANT to be sociopaths, albeit socially successful ones.

That is why modernity is antithetical to religion. It is the pretense that logos is separable from ethos, the idea that morality and telos are not built into existence itself, that destroys everything it touches. After all, what is recognition of the sacred but recognizing the moral purpose of the things around us? Fortunately, most people balk at actually turning into sociopaths, people who completely deny moral purpose in creation. Most modernists turn into sniveling pseudo-intellectuals like Nietzsche actually was rather than the psychopathic supermen he endorsed, so they are made victims of their own cowardice and the self-destruction of their own wills. It is a providential blessing that evil tends to work that way, of course.

I would be more impressed with people who becomes atheists over their commitment to critical perspective and the truth if they would go “all in” and actually try to evangelize people to a psychopathic ethos. Short of that, I have to conclude that they lack the courage of their convictions.

Anyway, compared to that sort of darkness, even the most feeble sacramental light is stronger. The only disagreement I might have, and it is a mild one, is that I would say anything that makes the saints both past and present more real to us can be effective at showing that light. One needn’t use old forms of worship and veneration to convey this sense of real moral purpose in our lives, although they can certainly be helpful. Whatever makes us aware of charity (not sentimental “warm fuzzies,” but genuine regard for the good) can do the same thing.

31 03 2008

Awesome post, reading the comments are almost as interesting as the post itself. One thing though, what about the Tridentine mass is inherently more reverent and fearful than the Pauline mass. If people truly had the sense of gravity about accomplishing the cult to propitiate an wrathful diety I don’t think the priest wouldn’t be mumbling the thing in 15 minutes.

31 03 2008

I am too busy, I just want to show up.

31 03 2008

Everyone! Start now! Make a Marian shrine where you live, outside is best, but if you don’t have land, then inside the house. Talk to your priest about daily vespers, offer to help! Sanctification of the world is not a job for other people.

31 03 2008

What are confraternities and Archconfraternities?

I like Byzantine Catholic vespers very much.

I love processions of the Blessed Sacrament and Statues, especially outdoors.

I am not as familiar with Benediction and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament but do like the Pangea Lingua but don’t hear/see it a lot or on a regular basis or at many Churches but some groups do it (like Opus Dei centers)

31 03 2008


In addition to your list, I would also add:
Solemn Vespers on Sunday with Exposition and Benediction of Holy Communion

Daily Vespers and Compline with Exposition, Benediction and daily opportunities for confession

Processions that will require streets to be closed


Angelus or Regina Caeli Bells rung

Allow confraternities and Archconfraternities to flourish

30 03 2008

Pyschological and Catholic theological explanations are not necessarily contradictory.

30 03 2008

I’m of course only a guest here, even if I’m also the subject du jour, so pardon me for my third substantial comment in the last 24 hours…

Florina, dogma wasn’t the problem for me; it was rather the attraction. So long as I could believe the major things, I was enraptured by the whole world of audacious detail the Church preached.

And I have seen holiness as a transformative and inspiring power, both first-hand and second-hand; but my knowledge of human nature has expanded to the point where even this holiness seems better explained in natural psychological terms. The most radical avatars of this kenosis (Mother Teresa, Therese of Lisieux, and the examples in my own life) seem to be driven by interior anguish, doubt, guilt and darkness even (and especially) in their most luminous moments to others. Suffering molds character, self-inflicted inner suffering most of all; and the particular nature of the “bad conscience” keeps its bearer on the path of humility we marvel at most in our saints.

Catholic theology has explanations for this as well, but I’ve come to find a psychological explanation more and more probable.

30 03 2008

Sorry for the grammatical errors.

30 03 2008

I am reminded of the story of a certain Fr. Solanus Casey who used to be driven by a certain man who did not have faith. Fr. Casey would never initiate conversations dealing with religion but would only answer questions the man had about the faith in great simplicity and charity. After several months the man became a Catholic and he credited Fr. Casey’s approach with helping him making that act of faith.

I am also reminded of Dorothy Day who brought many people to the Church through a life that was not “dogmatic” but was in essence a simple application of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and in this sense she gave a tremendous witness in the modern world.

Of course I am saddened that someone would leave the faith but perhaps you (Patrick) never saw holiness applied in the world. By holiness I don’t mean the cookie-cutter kind where it seems to make one completely disconnected with the world but one which sees everything through the eyes of the faith and lives the Christ-life as if it was second nature.

Perhaps the greatest example that was ever given to me was from a older married couple. The gentleman was what one would consider an “intellectual” but who lived the Catholic life so integrally and whose marriage was one of utter devotion. He was also not “dogmatic” although he was steeped in doctrine and quite honestly the words he often said went over my head (much like this blog…lol) but his example struck right to my heart and I partly credit the example he gave, along with his wife’s (may she rest in peace), for my conversion. Indeed for them living the faith was second nature and they didn’t have to rationalize everything….they simply lived it.

Is the faith this incredibly complex?

30 03 2008

(Beware: I can’t resist a little grenade-throwing at this point. Better to skip my comments.)


I think people are too pessimistic about the total abolition of the pagan element in the Western mind. Maybe most are too far removed from it.

Oh, there are many for whom it hasn’t been abolished. But the difference between your grandmother and you is that you have been exposed to a world of modernity she never had to incorporate, a self-consciousness toxic to the pagan in the spirit. It is certainly possible to live without ever experiencing that self-consciousness; but is it really possible to experience and then forget it?


I found your comment interesting on several points.

I often find it entertaining when some Christians go on these long rants about how dreadful and dark it is for the atheist, and how deep down inside they are really lost and hurting. It’s just some dramatic verbal masturbation.

I used to do this a lot, and I think it was because of my strong doubts that I had to paint the alternative as so horrible. When I see Christians doing so now, I can’t help but wonder whether they’re trying to ward off their own apostasy.

Christianity forced me to deal with the doubts I had about myself, and the doubts I had about reality. These didn’t go away when I became Christian. It’s when I converted, that they really were just getting started.

And since leaving, I’ve found many of my self-doubts to be illusory and silly. I leave it to you to ponder whether these doubts, failings and anxieties were discovered or created by your faith.

29 03 2008

To clash science and religion, I think, shows ignorance of both. Scientists are not out there to disprove religions or to disprove God. One thing science have done out there is show us how God actually created things. Surely God did not bring scientist up in this world to destroy Him. Where is the religious faith in God? Some of them believe that God has been pushed in a tiny corner of everybody’s home, or pushed in a small part of this planet! Maybe their God is actually god?

29 03 2008
29 03 2008
29 03 2008

Sorry, gotts ass another 6 cents worth

1) 2 Peter 1:3-15
2) ‘God doesn’t require that we succeed, only that we try’ Mother Terasa
3) Everything we do is just a drop in the ocean but if we don’t do it the ocean isn’t full.

God bless you again, gef

Fight the good fight or don’t fight at all

29 03 2008

Arturo is my pagan god. He is in the pantheneon of Wiccan dieties.

29 03 2008

I agree with the truck driver guy, very high order thinking. I leave my $0.04.

1) 1Corintians 1:18 -31
2) If you calculate the time it takes for God to experience a human life time it is about 7 seconds……Hell is HOT and forever is a long time.

God Bless You, Gef


29 03 2008
blog browsing « Catharsis & Hamartia

[…] This is probably the coolest blog I’ve read in my life. If you don’t read it you’ll […]

29 03 2008

This was an awesome read.

29 03 2008

I enjoyed the post. I’m interested in reading through all the responses, but I liked what you had to say. As a poster above said, the worst thing is falling away. My bible study group read a section of Hebrews on that. It’s strong, thinking of friends going that way.

The ending reminded me of a mode of thinking that people, including me, commonly fall into. It’s good for these things to be brought to realization.

29 03 2008
Arturo Vasquez

All the gods are dead. Long live the gods….

I think people are too pessimistic about the total abolition of the pagan element in the Western mind. Maybe most are too far removed from it. Growing up in my family, it was still very much there, as in the devotion to Juan Soldado by my deceased grandmother, or both of my grandmothers’ “curandera” ways (and yes, one of them became a charismatic). It is not a question in my case at least of being cut off. It is more a question of being sawn in two, and trying to piece yourself back together. My mother is older than Vatican II. My grandmother, way older. And my great-grandmother, (que Dios la tenga en Su gloria) probably didn’t know that Vatican II happened (she died when I was a teenager). So it is not akin to middle class British ex-Christians trying to imagine what pagan religion was like. All I have to do is ask and remember.

One subtitle to a link on Iamblichus on this blog is “dreaming of a pagan reformation” for even Iamblichus had to return to the radical roots of what he believed. And if even the pagans had to do it, so much more do we have to do it. It is not a question of recovering something that is not there, it is rather recovering something that we are in danger of forgetting.

In the end, the sacred is an endangered species in the West. It is not extinct. I just think that many, even those in the Catholic intelligensia, are not doing what it takes to preserve it.

29 03 2008


Hello again! I must say it was a bit of a surprise to find myself here as a byword and example, but I’ve all but invited that; and I don’t mind the concern you and others show for my fate, even if I think it’s misplaced. (Incidentally, Arturo, if you’re interested in another grand talk, I’d be eager to discuss the cosmos with you again.)

I’m inclined to think that you and I agree on the key way in which ‘modernity is toxic to any form of religion’, as you put it: that modern self-consciousness which strips away the veil of mystery in experience. It’s not even the scientific impulse at work, but a vague awareness of how one actually appears from an external perspective— perhaps it’s the exposure to others who don’t share the pieties and mysteries of one’s own culture, the feeling of being an outside perspective on others, a feeling which eventually turns back on the observer.

The ‘modern’ Christian can’t kneel before the Blessed Sacrament for very long before the thought crosses his mind that he’s mumbling before a piece of bread; of course he scourges himself for this impiety, but his ancestors never seemed to worry about this problem in the first place. He has to be able to articulate and defend his theology; he can’t simply believe without having a good reason (because then he’d be like the crackpots he sees), he has to believe that he’s convinced of its truth.

Of course, we diverge in our reactions to the dying God in modernity. I embraced this deadly self-consciousness, recognized my ways of thinking as self-deception, and ultimately renounced the Faith, while you bound yourself all the more to the Faith and embarked on the aesthetic project of this blog, carving out a premodern space in the psyche insulated from the ravages of that modern self-consciousness. Or at least, that’s how I see your dreams of a new ‘Catholic paganism’.

I won’t argue against it, because you’re more than clever enough to evade my criticism: you’re quite clever enough to evade your own, at least for now.

29 03 2008

By the way–I like kissing hands of priests, kissing statues, and kissing icons–BUT people (even Catholics except older Mexican and Italian and Polish women) look at me like I am crazy (except some traditionalists on kissing hands)
even many Eastern Rite and Orthodox priests pull there hands away
and try to kiss most non Traditionalist Latin Rite priests hands–you may get punched
As Arturo likes to point out–we live in a very Anglo-Protestant culture even if we are Catholic–and that Anglo-Protestant-Puritan–and now secular culture makes these practices seem odd or bad and certainly embarassing for most Catholics

Devotion to Mary, however, outside some Modernist circles (and even then sometimes as the great feminine energy or female God archetype it is present)–devotion to Mary is still great in Catholic circles and even in ugly suburban gymnasium Catholic Churches without many statues and mediocre (at best) Masses (and certainly not mysterious) have May Crownings and talk about apparations and Hail Marys prayed in their schools and at even if no statues at the front usually at least one inside and one outside garden statues to Mary with young people praying and Rosaries in hand.
I see young Anglo or “White” girls wearing Rosaries as jewelry and even young Hispanic gang”bangers” wearing Rosaries (I have even seen gangmembers make the sign of the Cross outside Churches)

We live in an iconoclastic (in terms of religion) American culture.
We live in a very Protestant influenced American culture (even before Vatican II) Vatican II was influenced by Protestantism

So, it is hard in white America (outside the hard core Opus Dei or Traditionalist circles–although even Opus Dei does not kiss the hands of priest in the United States but does have “hard core” Marian devotion)
to kiss the feet of statues of Mary because even Catholics will think we are idol worshipping or doing something tht V2 got rid of.
Again, try kissing the hand of most US American white priests
Even the orthodox (theologically) Irish priests don’t let you kiss their hands

Having too many saint cards, or as Arturo calls them kitschy statues is the common place of recently arrived Hispanics or old ethnic women
if young people (or even middle aged) they are crazy or too religious

There is not a common culture as there was before Vatican II or may have been present in Catholic countries where Catholicism was intrinsically linked to the culture or even the government

29 03 2008

More devotion to Mary.

More tracts about saints lives.

A more mysterious mystical ritualistic Mass.

Kissing hands of priests.

Marian shrines outside.

A sense of hierarchy.

More use of Dionysian models.

Meditation leading to God.

That is thourougly Christian, and not necessarily pagan.
Orthodox Christians and some Traditionalists still do the kissing of the hands.
Opus Dei is big on Marian devotion even kissing the feet of statues when entering a room especially the dark Spanish one.
There are outside Marian shrines in backyards of immigrant and even second and third generation Italtians, Irish, Polish, and even your Mexican peoples all over as well as some St. Francis, and burying St. Joseph to sell your home, and prayers to St. Anthony to find things, and prayers to guardian angel to wake up on time.

I am not sure about your criticism of frequent communion, patristics and lay apostolate (some lay apostolate has brought the biggest revival of the Church like Opus Dei, the Regnum group of the Legionnaires (criticisms legitimage), Communion and Liberation). I actually think (I know the Traditionalists disagree) that the Charismatic movement (especially popular among your Mexican peoples) is positive–somewhat “pagan” from your perspective—and very theological in the sense of giving into the will of God and expecting miracles and the supernatural (or for the Aquinas lovers some other words like preternatural)–and the Catholic Charismatic movement at least has a Eucharistic and Marian focus. It has converts and a large following and a real faith. The faith of the Mexican women in the Catholic Charismatic movement is equal to Anglo Catholic who is well versed in GK Chesterson.

In terms of liturgy there are many groups doing excellent liturgies (sometimes even in the Novus Ordo/Misa Normative/Ordinary Rite)
1. Most Eastern Rite Catholics do a good job and some do a great (I was going to say extraordinary but that may be a confusing word now)
I am most familiar with Ukrainian and Melkite (Arab) Catholics.
Full prostate bowing, beautiful iconostasis, exotic (for the Westerner) chanting a clear mystery with plenty of Temple Judaism and “pagan” influences (Psuedo-Dionysis, your Syrian friend Iamblichus, and Mystery religions, Mithraic cults, Zoarastiansism etc)
2. Plenty of Good pre-Vatican II (Extraordinary form of the Latin Rite)
a) Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP)
b) Institute of Christ the King (or perhaps Soveirgn King) ISCK?
c) Society of St. John Cantius (or now canons regular)

Just look to the right of your website for links to beautiful liturgy, art, architecture, and not just past but right now.
The Reform of the Reform liturgical website has all sorts of updates all around the world.
So if you live in a major urban area there are plenty of mystical liturgies to go to and even in suburban and rural areas although albeit harder to find.

I am hopeful. I think your athiest friend will find darkness and religion can provide meaning–even if it also has the Dark Night of the Soul.
And in Catholicism there are actual real verifiable and dramatic miracles–personally I like the Eucharistic miracles, the uncorrupted bodies although the healings at Lourdes or numerous other places or bilocations, holy odors, levitation are good too.

Perhaps we should name Arturo a Cardinal to implement his Marian Shrines, Mystical pagan liturgies, holy cards and biographical tracts, devotion to Mary, kissing of hands etc.

29 03 2008
Conan DeWitt

Arturo –

Okay, fair enough. As I said before, I am friendly to the thesis that the structures of traditional (pagan) cultures are in many respects more conducive to the practice of the faith than the social forms of the modern world. Let’s grant that supersition and mysteria are allies of faith and not its enemies.

But here’s the problem….paganism no longer exists. It is all well and good to wish for a neo-pagan Catholicism, but that “neo” will always mean that it is never what traditional “paganistic” Catholicism once was. We have no contact with that world, and it is lost to us forever. Rebuilding some semblance of what it was can only occur within the context of the self-driven-choice paradigm of contemporary society. Your reference to Wicca is instructive here, since Wicca is not real paganism. It is a reconstructed artifact of what some Englishman thought paganism looked like, from the comfortable vantage point of postwar Britain. Wicca would be incomprehensible to your average 1st-century pagan, and its contemporary practitioners are simply exercising another “lifestyle option” that fits their particular combination of wants and desires.

Look over the details of your reply…”Maybe what I really want”….”I think we need”….critiques of the Mass……references to “making a Catholicism”…such phrases and ideas would be completely foreign to our ancestors in the faith, because they are fundamentally the language of modernity, the language of self-aware choice, the language of critique, evaluation, and judgment. Even in judging modernity, we use the framework and language of that same modernity. We have no other option. Traditional practice of the faith as our ancestors understood it is simply not available to us anymore. We are all moderns now.

I do enjoy your comments. Thanks for the thoughtful post and reply.

29 03 2008

“Many want to build a Catholic Calvinism with ritual rather than a “Catholic paganism”.

Ah, yes. Jansenism is still alive and well…

28 03 2008

Truly enjoyed your sermon Arturo. You are a very good writer.

28 03 2008


I don’t understand any of this

28 03 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Oh yeah, and another thing (furiously shaking my fist)… just kidding.

I obviously don’t think that RC traditionalists are off the hook either, since, as I have implied before, there is just as much a sense of consumerism and fundamentalism in that movement as well. I find the attitude of most traditionalists very strange especially when it comes to liturgy. Many want to build a Catholic Calvinism with ritual rather than a “Catholic paganism”.

28 03 2008
Arturo Vasquez


I am well aware that we have to make churches of the temples of modernity. Still, I think that the pitfalls of doing it in this day and age have to be pointed out. I for one think that modernity is absolutely toxic to any form of religion, but not in the way most people formulate it. At least St. Augustine was converting pagans, and pagans make good Christians because they have a sense of religion. We do not.

Maybe what I really want is a re-building of a Catholic paganism. That sounds aweful and nearly blasphemous, but I think that it is the correct thing. We’ve spent the last 100 years in the Catholic Church trying to work on the education of the laity; a deepening of faith and a de-mystification of the liturgy, spirituality, the clergy, etc.. We used to look at the Church through veil of mystery. Growing up, I still remember the cry-room in St. Mary’s Church in Gilroy; it almost seems that we were looking at things through a white lace veil. It’s funny how all of the movements that culminated in the Second Vatican Council (Frequent Communion, the Patristic resourcement, lay apostolates) were only followed by people leaving the Church in droves. Yes, we can argue that people were going to do it anyway, but that is neither here nor there for our present situation. I think that, in the end, if people see too much, that is, if they feel they have seen all that can be seen, they will lose interest.

There is not enough FEAR in the things of the Church anymore. I think that this most manifests itself in the liturgy. I know I will get in trouble for writing this, but here goes: the Mass of Paul VI will only make the problem worse. Even if you dress it up, even if you bring back all of the trappings. The reason is because liturgy is not something that is supposed to be edifying or informative. It is supposed to be something sacred that is performed with fear and trembling.

The Mass of Paul VI will always be play-acting; it will always be a matter of election in terms of what can or cannot be done. The real sense behind the idea of sacrifice is that everything that you do is absolutely necessary and unchangeable, and to not do it one runs the risk of certain things happening or not happening, like dropping dead or the sun not coming up tomorrow morning. It is in this sense childish and superstitious, just as any pagan service is childish and superstitous. That is not the atmosphere of the Mass coming out of Vatican II. The atmosphere of Vatican II is that God is some benevolent gentle old man in the sky who is going to be happy with whatever you do in church, be it a solemn High Mass in Latin or the guitar Life Teen Mass with all that comes with it. And the priest can do this or not, can sing this hymn or that hymn, this preface or that preface, this Eucharistic prayer or that Eucharistic prayer etc. Maybe there is nothing wrong with this; I won’t be a judge in that regard. But don’t be suprised then if no one takes it seriously. Liturgy may have been hurried, sloppy, incompehensible, and all the other things that people accuse the old rite of being. But at least it was taken seriously and people had the sense that they had to do every little thing.

I think practically speaking we need more statues of saints in our churches and not less. We need to develop again a Dionysian sense that all things from God come to us via mediation and hierarchy. That means calling priests Father and a sense of hierarchy, like kissing a priest’s hand. I think Marian devotion needs to explode a thousand fold, to the point of putting up shrines to Mary in front of churches in very public places. We can hand out Bibles, but also hand out scapulars and holy cards. I think we can also hand out tracts with the lives of the saints. In other words, we shouldn’t think that our audience is mainly people who are obsessed with Calvin’s TULIP and Luther’s sola fide. If we take ecumenism seriously, we shouldn’t be obsessed with poaching the faithful from other denominations. There is a mass of people who do not know Christ, and if they do they know Him it is through an evangelical Protestant cultural lens. That may be all well and good, but maybe we can try another approach.

In other words, be Catholic DAMMIT!, and stop worrying about “informing the public” about the Biblical bases of Petrine primacy. Everybody should be evangelized, I am just more interested in evangelizing the kid who is in danger of becoming a Hare Krishna or experimenting with Wicca. I think they would bring something to the Church that I think is most lacking right now, and that is genuine artistic and cultural minds. And I speak here not of people who try to imitate proper Puritanical fluff like Christian rock or Protestant devotional art. I speak of genuine geniuses of the Catholic imagination: composers, film-makers, writers, painters etc. Only they will be able to make a Catholicism that is thouroughly modern yet traditional.

Win people with wonder, not with information.

Sorry. That was a rant. But take it for what it’s worth.

28 03 2008
Mark Krusen

Wow, this discussion is way beyond my level of education and the vocabulary and use of commas and periods and such. But as a soon to be ex Truck Driver I know the simple fact for me is. “That God lives inside of me” anything that is important beyond that, feeds on that. If I can remember this one thing and feed off of it. I will hopefully be ok in the end. My $.02 gentlemen. I’m justa saying!

28 03 2008

I have to disagree with you. Religion does help us in other parts of our lives–especially family life. It certainly provides meaning to many while (aethiests and others) do have higher levels of angst in the modern society.
There are scientific studies on the link between religion and health. There are studies on the link between religion and community and mental health.

I think Arturo diminishes the real benefits of religion and compartmentalizes the issues himself. Arturo sometimes demeans that which he holds dear.

28 03 2008
Conan DeWitt

Arturo –

While I am sympathetic to the ideas you present here, I can’t see that there really is any way out of the modern predicament. I tend to agree with the idea that the structures of traditional cultures are a more secure foundation for the practice of the Faith. But traditional cultures no longer exist. We are all a moderns now, every one of us inescapably bound to the foundations of the modern consumer-state society. As you have repeatedly highlighted here, even those who are the most profound in their denunciation of the modern world do so as a consequence of their own personal choice in life, as the direct, conscious cultivation of an individual and particular set of “cultural” decisions.

Even for those who rightly choose the Church as a countericon and ark of salvation from the ruins of modernity, do so from within the terms proposed by modern world. No one in the modern world is capable of hearing the Gospel in its native language, so to speak. We all must hear in translation, in the language of choice, and consumer, and commerce, because that is all we know. This is why I generally disregard the snobbery of those who dismiss pop apologetics. What else is there, but to address the modern world within the language it knows? St Augustine of Canterbury used the pagan temples, and so should we. Just because pop apologia does not contain the fullness of the truth of the Catholic faith does not mean it is without its role in the economy of salvation.

This is not to say that modernity is somehow neutral to Christian belief. St Augustine did cleanse the temples and consecrate them. Even those who learn of God within the terms of the contemporary world must be brought by God’s mercy to learn a better, deeper, and truer language, the language of the Church, the language of the Holy Cross. Those who do not move from the language of modernity to the language of the Cross will always be in danger of heresy or atheism. Your example of Patrick is illuminating in this regard, as a casual reading of his blog seems to suggest the mind of someone who never quite moves beyond religious consumerism. Atheism will always be more intellectually satisfying option than religious consumerism. After all, God is a pretty lousy vendor of religious experience. As you point out, he needs to do a lot better job of serving His customers, if he’s going to compete with Science in the marketplace of belief. And as levisorenson reminds us, on the level of pure experience, the atheist’s world is not necessarily darker or more hollow than the believer’s. Alas for us all, that there is a deeper, more fundamental plane of existence beyond mere experience…..

28 03 2008
Matt K

The saddest thing is not to have never known the truth. The saddest thing is to have known the truth, and then to have forgotten it.

28 03 2008


I often find it entertaining when some Christians go on these longs rants about how dreadful and dark it is for the atheist, and how deep down inside they are really lost and hurting. It’s just some dramatic verbal masturbation.

As Christians, I don’t think we’d be worrying about believing a lie over the Truth; if the lie was oh so dark and dreadful, and the truth was instant existential bliss.

My life as a Christian has been a lot more difficult than my life as an atheist and a pagan. Not because of science or any of that mess. (Science is so full of itself sometimes, and other times it’s certainly on to something). Christianity forced me to deal with the doubts I had about myself, and the doubts I had about reality. These didn’t go away when I became Christian. It’s when I converted, that they really were just getting started. For me it has been walking into something mysterious, unknown, and frankly sometimes dreadful.

Unfortunately, there has been a strain of Christians who have really spread the secular modernist epistemology in a Christian package, and that is, I think, why we are in some of the philosophical predicaments we are in today.

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