Gaelic psalmody

30 10 2009

Saw this on Facebook somewhere. Sorry for the lack of attribution.

The Church as Machine

29 10 2009


It has been two and a half years since I posted the following essay, but I still think it makes some good points. While I have expanded quite a bit on what I think the answer is, I think I conceive of the problem in similar terms: a mechanistic and technocratic drive in man that infiltrates even religious thinking itself.

Originally posted here

Recently, I finished reading Pierre Hadot’s newest book, The Veil of Isis, which is a thought-provoking reflection on the concept of Nature from Heraclitus to the present. More specifically, Hadot uses the fragment of Heraclitus, “nature likes to hide itself”, to trace how man has approached the world around him from ancient Greece to the present day. As a paradigm, he uses the two mythological figures of Prometheus and Orpheus to analyze how poets, philosophers, and scientists have either viewed nature as a mystery to be revered or a specimen to be dissected. The book thus centers on the dichotomy that emerges between veiling and unveiling, personified in pagan iconography of the veil of the goddess Isis/Artemis/Diana.
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To Night

28 10 2009


Night, parent goddess, source of sweet repose, from whom at first both Gods and men arose,
Hear, blessed Venus, deck’d with starry light, in sleep’s deep silence dwelling Ebon night!
Dreams and soft case attend thy dusky train, pleas’d with the length’ned gloom and feaftful strain.
Dissolving anxious care, the friend of Mirth, with darkling coursers riding round the earth.
Goddess of phantoms and of shadowy play, whose drowsy pow’r divides the nat’ral day:
By Fate’s decree you constant send the light to deepest hell, remote from mortal sight
For dire Necessity which nought withstands, invests the world with adamantine bands.
Be present, Goddess, to thy suppliant’s pray’r, desir’d by all, whom all alike revere,
Blessed, benevolent, with friendly aid dispell the fears of Twilight’s dreadful shade.

-from the Orphic Hymns as translated by Thomas Taylor

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring

27 10 2009

AG and I watched this movie recently, and were quite impressed by it. Directed by Kim Ki-duk, the film follows the life of a monk growing up in a Korean Buddhist hermitage, falling into grave sin, and returning to begin the process over again. As you can see from the clip above, this movie was beautifully shot, and it touches upon the themes of desire, suffering, and liberation. It is also, as you can tell from the title, based on the idea that life is a cycle from which man attempts to break free. There are too many powerful images in this movie for me to really analyze, so I highly recommend that the reader see this film.

The myth of “interiority”

26 10 2009

india cross

I read the other day a post on the Lonely Goth’s blog concerning the Khrist Bhaktas or Indian devotees of Christ who are not baptized into the Church. Apparently, according to an article linked to on this site, a great number of people who make pilgrimages to Christian shrines and fills the pews on Sunday are not technically “Christians” as we would call them. They are devotees of Christ who do not seek baptism, since “receiving baptism is perceived as relinquishing one’s entire social and cultural patrimony and becoming assimilated to an alien culture”. Some Catholic priests even encourage this type of devotion to Christ, saying that they are there not to baptize people, but to “preach the Gospel”.

“Syncretic, cowardly compromise”, you might be thinking. The funny thing is, however, that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, that bête noire of integrist Catholicism, when he was working in the Lord’s vineyard in French-speaking west Africa, almost did the exact same thing with many of the Muslim and animist populations. Realizing that many people due to tribal or marital circumstances (polygamy was common in many places) could not seek baptism, he created a class of “believer”, a sort of perpetual catechumenate, for those not quite ready to take the plunge of becoming an “official Christian”. His aim of course was to convert everybody, but he was realistic about what that really meant in practice. By creating a “third way”, he and other missionaries felt that some people were at least leaving the door partially open to the Church, and that such a committment should at the least be acknowledged by the hierarchy.
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23 10 2009

New to the blogroll

22 10 2009


From The Lonely Goth’s Guide to Independent Catholicism

Found this essay, on fairies in early modern Scotland, from of all people, David B. Hart, and from all places, First Things. Seriously, I like what they are smoking over there, because this essay is completely jaw-dropping. Maybe the world is finally coming around after all.

Secondly, a comment by the blogger himself, on the book, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism:

The author makes an ugly and sharp high magic/low magic distinction (also going back to his Neoplatonic sources – the old distinction between theurgy in which magic is transformational and sacramental and witchcraft in which magic is directed towards instrumental goals). I think this betrays serious class bias, since only the most elite have the luxury to divorce their practice of magic entirely from practical concerns in order to realize this absolute distinction. It also amounts to a kind of slick polemic – my magic, the magic of the right and authorized group of people, is spiritual and good, but everyone else’s magic is mere technical trickery and a manifestation of technological will-to-power rather than spiritual Gelassenheit. (He didn’t claim to have read Heidegger or directly reference him, but the basic Heideggerian opposition between techne and Gelassenheit and critique of modern technological society seems operative in much of his work). In the end, it’s not necessarily that I thought anything the author came up with was wrong or dreadfully uninsightful. It’s just that the implicit spirituality came across as tedious, over-codified, and ideologically-overdetermined – pretty much exactly how I feel reading medieval scholastic commentaries on Indian philosophy like the Tattvasamgraha.

This is something that I have also perceived as a problem in the Neoplatonic system: the completely hierarchical, ordered descent of all things from the One, and the stark distinction between theurgical or sacramental acts and their dark, “superstitious” counterparts. Basically, if we like you and you are from a civilization we consider “civilized” (i.e. you’re white), you practice theurgy, or at the very least, you have a “real religion”. If we don’t like you, and you are black or brown, what you practice is demonic and dangerous. Athena and Zeus, good. Yemanja and Erzulie, bad. Get how this works?

Similarly, if a priest prays some weird prayer in Latin, baptizes bells, or excommunicates locusts, that is God-given, real religion. If a curandero sweeps you with rue or a Creole treater whispers a French prayer over you, that is superstition. No wonder people think religion is such bullsh*t. The categories that we often consider obvious these days are really very arbitrary.

Interesting quote about God

21 10 2009


What is it that motivates today’s Christians? It really is not God… It is rather their egos that motivate them, their social diversity, their worship, their relationship to Revelation, and the restoration of the unity of the Church. All of these are indeed important aspects, but they will not become stale only so long as the salt of the passionate relationship with God preserves its freshness.

-Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Why we need Nicholas of Cusa”

I agree with this statement, as I agree with much of von Balthasar when he speaks of the thought of others. I think there is unnatural, enclosed subtext in much of Christian discourse that is really unsure of how much it can encompass the totality of human experience. And this has to do with an understanding of God, fundamentally. For if God is only conceived of as a function of my own ideological and political necessity (either as the ens causa sui upholding a particular social order, or a “fire in the bosom” affirming my own presuppositions regarding my personal experience, or what have you), we are not really thinking about God, but of a particular axiom needed to uphold our own superstructure of choice. That is a problem of both the left and the right, and it crosses confessional lines.

Stuff from around the Internet

19 10 2009

Found at this site. No real comment.

No offense intended to Father, but really, since when have the “average Catholic laity” been obsessed with the meaning of life questions? And while I don’t really agree with the Spaniard, sometimes I can sympathize with the agnostic soundman’s condescension: “you poor naive Americans”. [Remember, I am just as American as all of you. The only difference is that my ties to the “old country” are much stronger.]

Finally, the article Sharing the Real Mary by David Mills. He seems to be a convert asking some deeper questions regarding the relationship between faith and culture. The comments of others are quite interesting, though they range from pious churchwoman-speak, to more sophisticated comments, to one cradle Catholic who says he has no devotion to the Virgin and finds nothing wrong with this. I found the last type of comment very annoying, and just demonstrative of how “naive” and ahistorical American Catholics outside of certain regions can sometimes be. Maybe they need to spend more time in botanicas…

On the margins of theology – III

19 10 2009


photo credit

On magic (black, white, and various shades of gray)

Veracruz is known as the “witch capital” of Mexico. Many of the esoteric movements in underground Mexican Catholicism are believed to have started there. For those who know their history, you will also know that it was near Veracruz that Cortes first landed, beginning the conquest of all of Mexico and its subjugation to the powers of altar and crown. The reasons for the reputation of Veracruz, however, do not have to do solely with survivals of autochthonous tendencies in the religious consciousness of the people. Equally important are the contributions of European and African elements. If anything, some of the more bizarre practices in Mexican “folk Catholicism” have less to do with indigenous belief than with the survival of religious elements that the Spaniards brought with them from the Old World.
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