“Here we are now, entertain us!”

2 01 2010

Or: the First Evangelization was free. The New One is going to cost ya’

I was witness to a combox meltdown on another Catholic blog recently, opening up some wounds from my Scott Hahn post a few weeks back. I wrote:

Of course, what we all are here, Mr. Shea, myself, and the host blogger, are entertainers. Let us not pretend that we are otherwise. None of us has a commission from the Church to write, none of us has a “right” to make a living off of how we write. Inevitably, that is what Chesterton was as well, and unlike perhaps our host blogger, I regard Chesterton as no sacred cow. (Though I did use his writings for something I wrote for New Oxford Review.) We are the products of markets and ratings, we are only read insofar as we “sell” (except I make it a point to give my stuff away). My “niche market” includes Catholics, Protestants, Wiccans, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, kids who play with witchcraft, etc. If people want to imply that I suck, they are in their rights to do so, just as they are in their rights to say that the latest episode of the Simpsons sucked, or the last episode of Battlestar Galactica could have been better, etc. Let’s not pretend to have some sacred commission by which we are immune from criticism just because we touch on religious topics. We rise and fall by the rules of entertainment, and nothing else.

Indeed, I find Shea bemoaning the fact that people are “whispering” behind his back a bit baffling. Are people whispering behind James Cameron’s back if they give an unfavorable review of Avatar on their blog? (Haven’t seen it, probably never will.) Just because a blogger writes on religious topics, and maybe even has a few clerical endorsements (this blog has had a few), doesn’t mean that attacking him is the equivalent of attacking the Pope, or an ecumenical council, or a licensed (clerical) theologian. Yes, in the end, we are entertainers. We create markets for ourselves. And if people don’t like it, then don’t read. Simple as that. To be indignant about people dissing your product is sort of the equivalent of Kanye West blowing up at people if they don’t like his latest album.

The deeper issue is whether people should be making money off of any of this in the first place. I am well aware that lay people have made a living doing things for the Church, particularly in the arts. Lully more than likely got paid for composing his Te Deum, and Rafael for painting in churches. But can we really say that at any point in the history of the Church that there were mercenary theologians who wrote books to help “evangelize” the masses? Did St. John Chrysostom worry about royalty checks from people publishing his sermons, or did St. Bernard go on a speaking tour to promote his commentary on the Song of Songs? Yes, we live in a different time, a time when there are not enough clergy to run the Church. But imagine the shape Catholic theology would have taken if it were always subjugated to the law of the markets, of what sells the most books, of what best articulates the tastes and distastes of the zeitgeist. Would we all be comfortable with that? It is my understanding that many venerable Catholic writings have been canonized precisely because they told people what they DIDN’T want to hear. Only God knows if they would have been “best sellers”.

We do live in an age of ephemeral yapping, and if I thought that I needed to make money off of that fact, I would have to seriously reflect on if I were living righteously. Mr. Shea and other such Catholic writers (even I?) are marketing themselves as brands. If I like their stories, their skills as a raconteur, and their tastes, I identify with them, and I defend them to the death like I defend the local sports team. Personally, if there is a fan club for this blog, I would much rather have it be my own team of “melancholy cheerleaders”. (Please don’t defend me to the death. I can take care of myself, thank you very much.) But to pretend that we are some sort of parallel magisterium while being governed by the rules of the market is about as childish as a lively session of locker room gossip.

Oh yeah, go Saints!


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16 responses

8 01 2010
James Dominic James

Julian of Norwich and whoever wrote The Cloud of Unknowing, then forward to Thomas Traherne, and finally on to the 20th century English Dominicans, total golden age: English is just fine. I understand people wanting to learn Greek, Latin, French, German, and Spanish first. But English is still good.

… So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

And what about Lord Byron? He coats us thick with truth about deceitful and manipulative hypergamous women, their rotten and death-stinking hearts, and the bad and randy men for whom they ache and play the whore. All truth is of the Holy Ghost and so Byron, at times, perfects the intellect. And he perfects it in English. Tra-la!

5 01 2010
The Shepherd

C.R.E.A.M

5 01 2010
gary

“Money changes everythiiiiing…”

5 01 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I have been sketching in my evil mind the personal implications of the question of why we should expect stuff from the Church for free. In my case, the possibilities would be endless. AG asked me why I am not paid for singing at the Gregorian chant schola at the local church. They pay the organist, and I am the only one singing during some Masses, and I am not just singing elaborate choral arrangements of “On Eagles’ Wings” and “One Bread, One Body”, but some pretty hard-to-sing stuff that would throw off some professionals. Good question. Next Sunday, I am going to march into the sacristy while Father is vesting and DEMAND that I be compensated for getting up at six a.m. on a Sunday morning and being exploited like that. If he won’t pay me, instead of beginning the Mass with the introit, I’ll start belting out this little ditty:

“C’est la lutte finale
Groupons-nous, et demain
L’Internationale
Sera le genre humain”

And of course, I gave X amount of my life to the Church as a monk and a seminarian. I should get a lawyer and sue the monastery and seminary for all the long hours of changing out the lamps, baking cookies, cutting the grass, and translating things into Spanish. All of that work, and no severance package? I think Amy Welborn is with me on this one. I have to make some phone calls.

And none of you should expect to be off the hook! I have written probably more than 1,500 posts since I began blogging. Don’t think I am not going to show up at your door to collect my fair wage.

Getting my money from Inside Catholic is just the beginning. What do people think? The Gospel is free?

4 01 2010
Enbrethiliel

+JMJ+

Neither is James Cameron, if we think about it, but I’m a huge Terminator fan! 😛

3 01 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Mark Shea really isn’t that important. Really.

3 01 2010
Gentleman Farmer

I’m stunned, Mr. Vasquez. Perhaps you could flesh out your notion of an “apostate language.” But I agree with you that St. John of the Cross should be read. As for English, the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in that apostate language, unless I’m mistaken.

If you don’t care for Mark Shea or Scott Hahn (as I don’t), then you ought not buy their books or read them. But then you couldn’t dispute them on the merits of their writings, and would be left instead to complain . . . . oh. Well.

I paid Baronius Press for my copy of the Douay-Rheims, as well as for my copy of Father Gabriel’s “Divine Intimacy.” I gather you think they ought to have given them to me.

3 01 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Corapi is a priest, and has a commission from the Church to do what he does. Anyone who has been under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience would know the weight of such vows.

As for pre-Vatican II people, it should be known that I think quite a few of them were bad news: Pius Parsch, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer. So no, I really don’t feel the need to discuss Frank Sheed. That doesn’t mean I won’t get to him one of these days. I just see no need to read him now. And quite frankly, I have little desire to read English Catholic authors, since English is essentially an apostate language with few options in terms of who you can read in terms of the Catholic Faith (unless you get stuff in translation). There’s always San Juan de la Cruz, Fray Luis de Leon, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz just in the Spanish speaking world. I don’t have to “get by” with Chesterton and Co. And I find it a pity some people feel that they do.

3 01 2010
Tom

Why *not* talk about Sheed? I’m still not understanding this. Everyone brings Chesterton up in these discussions but it’s really Frank Sheed who got the personality-based apologetics “industry” going.

Why *not* talk about priests who are in the “business” of giving missions across the country, who advertise their missions on the basis of their personalities and “gifts” and personal stories? Why *not* talk about Corapi who, when he was doing a lot of missions, would not go into a parish unless they could guarantee him a $10K take, and whose website sells almost everything and gives hardly anything away for free and is largely rooted in the cult of his personality and his “conversion story?”

http://www.fathercorapi.com/

Why *not*?

Corapi is a *far* more intriguing case than Shea.

3 01 2010
AG

Tom,

Arturo already discussed the work of artists, and that of lay theologians vs. clergy/religious in the post above.

Your disinterest in discussing this in a broader way, as shown in your failure to read the initial post, just shows that it’s all about hating Arturo and loving Hahn and Shea, not about the deeper issues.

3 01 2010
Tom

Why not talk about Frank Sheed? Because you’re complaining about branding, about Catholic evangelists profiting in some way from their work, about personality cults. Frank Sheed is one of the first figures to represent all of this and in a much bigger way than Mark Shea, decades before he or Scott Hahn were born.

Your disinterest in discussing this in a broader way just shows that it’s all about hating Mark Shea and Scott Hahn, not about the deeper issues.

3 01 2010
Enbrethiliel

+JMJ+

Ack! I didn’t know the video would appear in the comments box like that! It’s kind of disturbing, and I’ll understand if you edit it out. =(

3 01 2010
Enbrethiliel

+JMJ+

Arturo, the Avatar/James Cameron analogy came to mind for me, too! I feel like a movie blogger who wrote an anti-CGI article (not even naming Avatar or Cameron personally) and then got the “King of the World” himself to show up in the comments box! (How apt an analogy if we remember Mr. Shea’s title of “Holy Roman Emperor Marcus Sheavus I” . . . Does he still use that?)

PS–How about Let Me Entertain You by my favourite “tortured Catholic,” Robbie Williams?

3 01 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Way to talk past an argument. Moving on…

And why should I care about Frank Sheed? Even if he is the post-Vatican II apologist-writer avant la lettre, I don’t think that takes away from my argument here. But whatever.

3 01 2010
Tom

Why don’t you go back a bit and address it beginning with Frank Sheed? He spoke, wrote books, started a publishing company, and was very much a “brand.” He even put his own name on his publishing company, along with his wife’s family – giving it the cred of association with Newman, etc.

What about him?

And I think you need to go further with the artist analogy. Should composers who write music for use in Catholic liturgies not receive payment or royalties? Some would say no, they shouldn’t. (Which opens up the can of worms of the USCCB and copyright issues and restrictive copyright issues at that….but that’s not the point here.)

Should sculptures and stained glass artisans not be compensated?

Those who sew liturgical vestments?

One could make the argument that they shouldn’t – that in an ideal world, all of these tasks would be done by religious or something, and there would be no commercial dimension to it.

But this isn’t an ideal world.

I really don’t understand your point. Someone like Shea writes a book that people find useful – say, his book about working his way towards accepting the authority of the Catholic Church out of evangelicalism. I can’t think, offhand, of any contemporary religious who has written such a book or any prominent priests or bishops or religious who seem to care about or address the issue. Say people like the book and want to get it – should it be given away? Perhaps. But even if Shea doesn’t make a dime, it does cost money to print it. Who funds the printing of the book? And say if people are so interested in Shea’s trajectory they would like to hear him speak more about it. Should they not invite him to come speak to them? Should he just pick up the airfare himself, travel across the country, pay for his own hotel, lose a couple of days of time away from his family and away from the possibility of doing other work, and do it all without compensation? Perhaps he should. In an ideal world. Or perhaps he should just decline to speak. I suppose he could do that too. Perhaps they should look among their own community for someone closer to home who has experienced the same kind of journey. I suppose they could do that.

I don’t understand why someone like Shea or Fr. John Corapi or Fr. Mitch Pacwa should be condemned for charging for their books and talks when the guy who sells a cheap plastic holy water font or glow-in-the-dark rosary can sells his stuff at a 50% markup and it’s all the glories of Catholic culture and stuff.

Seriously, I would like your take on Frank Sheed. He’s really the one who started it all. Modern communications cost $$$. Period.

3 01 2010
FrGregACCA

Go Packers!

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