Again on “committed Christianity”

22 07 2010

…the Christian of the future will by a mystic or will not be at all.

-Karl Rahner

Joseph Komonchak is a smart man. I enjoy reading his posts on the Commonweal site. I know that he is older than me, and I know that he sees things quite differently. I suppose in the post cited above, I was most impressed by how well he was able to crystalize everything I dislike about the “new Catholicism” in such a short post. I especially was appauled by this Yves Congar quote:

We have not yet sufficiently communicated, or developed, the positive biblical grounds on which a new chapter in the history of the Church has really begun, in continuity, however, with the living tradition of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the classic centuries. The fate of the Church, it seems to me, is more and more tied to a spiritual and even a supernatural life, that is, to a Christian life. I think that today the only ones who can stick it out [tenir le coup] are Christians who have an inner life. In Tridentinism, there was a kind of conditioning (in a non-pejorative sense); there was a sort of enveloping, of a framework that one entered or stayed within, whereas today…, it is impossible, I think, to maintain a Christian life without some kind of inner life. And here I like to cite a rather curious remark of Fr. Emile Mersch, that Belgian Jesuit who did so much for the theology of the Mystical Body: “It’s because they lack a skeleton that certain animals surround themselves with a carapace.: Today I think the great carapace of Tridentinism has in great part dissolved, flaked off in some way, so that the need for a kind of inner frame is very urgent.
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Why the American left will lose

21 07 2010

In a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I found the following phrases either on t-shirts or bumper stickers:

People Eating Tasty Animals (PETA)

Gun control means using both hands

If you want to know if you can trust your government, ask an Indian.

And that was just a selection of numerous other phrases one can find going around the American South. A look into a local Books-A-Million bookstore in Mississippi found about a half a dozen books on why Obama is really a socialist, as well as Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. We also found good deals on children’s books, but that is neither here nor there.
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More movie moments with la Pelona

21 07 2010

I had another strange eoncounter with la Santa Muerte recently. AG and I went to eat dim sum with friends this past weekend. As usual, so much social activity was too much for us, so we returned home and switched on the T.V. As usual, we had two hundred channels of nothing to watch, but out of sheer nostalgia, I paused at the Spanish-language station when I saw they were showing an India María movie. For those who are rusty in regards to their Mexican popular culture of the last four decades, la India María was a comedic character created by María Elena Velasco that embodies the Mexican equivalent of “black face”, though the veiled racisim here is a little more innocuous. María is just a poor Indian woman confused with urban life and the newfangled ways of the people she encounters in the city. But she proves to be more cunning than everyone else, and manages to save the day in spite of herself. I can’t tell you how many times as a child growing up in the 1980’s I was forced to attend movies or watch on T.V. Velasco’s slapstick antics.

Well, serendipity struck twice, since the above scene was the one I encountered when I turned the channel to the Spanish station. It is a macabre scene in the 1976 film, El miedo no anda en burro (literally, “Fear does not ride a donkey”). She encounters a man playing the organ with, of all things, a picture of la Santa Muerte over the keyboard. Not much explanation is given regarding the placement of the picture. Nor does the picture seem to be more than a personification of death in the context of the movie. But the image is very much the one that is venerated by her devotees. Just another interesting piece of my armchair urban anthropology on a Saturday afternoon.

The stupor of modern life

20 07 2010

AG and I love to watch and discuss the show, Mad Men. So I was pleased to find the following essay by Heather Havrilesky concerning the upcoming fourth season of the show (found through the Conservative Blog for Peace). Cutting through the excessively florid prose that almost borders on pretentiousness, I found that the following passages capture why this show appeals to a certain educated sector of the American public:

Americans are constantly in search of an upgrade. It’s a sickness that’s infused into our blood, a dissatisfaction with the ordinary that’s instilled in us from childhood. Instead of staying connected to the divine beauty and grace of everyday existence — the glimmer of sunshine on the grass, the blessing of a cool breeze on a summer day — we’re instructed to hope for much more. Having been told repeated stories about the fairest in the land, the most powerful, the richest, the most heroic (Snow White, Pokémon, Ronald McDonald, Lady Gaga), eventually we buy into these creation myths and concede their overwhelming importance in the universe. Slowly we come to view our own lives as inconsequential, grubby, even intolerable.

Meanwhile, the American dream itself — a house, a job, a car, a family, a little lawn for the kids to frolic on — has expanded into something far broader and less attainable than ever. Crafty insta-celebrities and self-branding geniuses and social media gurus assert that submitting to the daily grind to pay the mortgage constitutes a meager existence. Books like “The 4-Hour Work Week” tell us that working the same job for years is for suckers. We should be paid handsomely for our creative talents, we should have the freedom to travel and live wherever we like, our children should be exposed to the wonders of the globe at an early age…

While “Mad Men’s” detractors often decry the empty sheen of it all, claiming that it has no soul, clearly that’s the point. The American dream itself is a carefully packaged, soulless affair. This is the automobile a man of your means should drive. This is the liquor a happy homemaker like yourself should serve to your husband’s business guests. As absurd as it seems to cobble together a dream around a handful of consumer goods, that’s precisely what the advertising industry did so effectively in the ’50s and ’60s, until we couldn’t distinguish our own desires from the desires ascribed to us by professional manipulators, suggesting antidotes for every real or imagined malady, supplying escapist fantasies to circumvent the supposedly unbearable tedium of ordinary life.
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The crossroads

19 07 2010

From the blues to Brazil and beyond

If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘ fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want


This vignette was told in conjunction with the story of bluesman, Robert Johnson, who according to another site, “claims he sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads in exchange for becoming the greatest musician ever. He is — and was dead at 27.”
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On listening to Bach played on the piano

16 07 2010

I used to be a “real” traditionalist. That means that I never would intentionally listen to Bach played on the piano. “There were no pianos in Bach’s time”, I reasoned, “so what was the point of listening to him being played on an instrument he didn’t even know about?” But as in many things in life, I ceased being so much of a dogmatist and by chance listened to some keyboard recordings by Glenn Gould and others of Bach. What can I say? I didn’t “love” them, but I didn’t dislike them either. Now I could care less if the French Suites or a fugue is being played on a harpsichord, piano, or whatever. Perhaps it is because, I have realized that, at least in the aesthetic realm, beauty does not come merely from evoking the past, but from invoking that thing in the past that touched timelessness: absolute Form.

Sometimes being a snob gets in the way of beauty. You just have to let things be.

Maya Deren on technological sorcery

15 07 2010

Indeed, the best condition for magical action is not the primitive community with its collective emphasis, but the modern community, with its individualistic emphasis, and it is here that one may experience the pre-eminent spectacle of the magician at work. He conceives his plans in almost solitary secrecy, or with a few cohorts; he is feverishly protective of the exclusive right to exploit the power of his discovery or invention; he is frequently concerned with an almost occult effort to divine that special twist of public taste which makes for a hit or a best-seller; he is devoted to the idea of a magic combination of words in a certain just-so order, which is a catchy slogan; he labors to create a skillfully obsessive image of material or sexual seduction, and is not above accomplishing this with a maximum of artifice and connotative sleight of hand; he is involved in a complex and formal series of cabbla-like manipulations involving “contacts”, publicity incantations, and even what might be accurately termed the cocktail libation. Moreover, this is all pursued in the interests of personal aggrandizement and entirely irrespective, in a profound sense, of the public welfare. The hexes, elixirs and fetishes of primitive magicians are paltry achievements compared to the vast powers of such modern magicians.

-from The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

AG and I watched the above film, and it reminded me of this quote. Of course, Deren writes this to get the point across to here Christian and post-Christian readers that the society of Haitian voudou (in which sorcery is actually something looked down upon) has nothing on modern society, where manipulation is not just accepted, but is a way of life. This is not a new observation: Giordano Bruno’s real sympathetic magic has more to do with modern advertising and social propaganda than Neoplatonic theurgy. “The bond of all bonds is love,” according to Bruno, but that love can be used to make people do what you want.

I look into some pretty questionable things: folk Catholic prayers, botanicas, white magic, black magic, and so forth. But I really do think Deren is right. We look to those systems like voudou and santeria and see the hand of the devil. But our society manipulates desire all of the time, convinces people to go into debt to buy things they really don’t need, and transports images that present us with things that we shouldn’t really enjoy, but we don’t see the “sorcery” behind this. Who then are the poorly catechized ones? The real “Christo-pagans”?

Quotes for the week

14 07 2010

The picture above just serves to express that my wife makes the best gumbo in the world, but that is not necessarily a picture of it.

When I started, I hadn’t wanted a restaurant. What I wanted was the know-how of people who ran restaurants. I didn’t want to be a chef: just a cook. And my experiences in Italy taught my why. For millennia, people have known how to make their food. They have understood animals and what to do with them, have cooked with the seasons and had a farmer’s knowledge of the way the planet works. They have preserved traditions of preparing food, handed down through generations, and have come to know them as expressions of their families. People don’t have this kind of knowledge today, even though it seems as fundamental as the earth, and, it’s true, those who do have it tend to be professionals – like chefs. But I don’t want this knowledge in order to be a professional; just to be more human.

-if you want to know the source, you have to click here

Today many U.S. Catholics and Jews think like Protestants. They believe that religion is something we choose as individuals rather than inherit as communities, and they view it primarily in terms of faith rather than practice. None of this comes from either the Catholic brain of Aquinas or the Jewish mind of Maimonides. The progenitor of this faith-based understanding of religion (who also happens to be the patron saint of religion rulings at the U.S. Supreme Court) is the American Protestant thinker William James, who famously defined religion as ‘the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine’.”

-Stephen Prothero, via this link

On this one, I was reminded of St. Thomas’ opening argument in the Summa in which he writes something to the effect that those who have faith have an easier road to some truths than those wise men who had to work out natural theology for themselves. Why can’t this be applied to cradle Catholics as opposed to converts? Why is it in some circles being a cradle Catholic is considered to be some sort of disadvantage? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. What a great grace it is to be born into a collective situation where at the very least you are pointed in the right direction.

To this effect, I post this quote, just to be provocative:

We have more to learn from the worst cradle Catholics in the world than from the best converts. And don’t give me any of that “We all have a lot to learn from each other” waffling as if I don’t know that there are exceptions–which I do–because then you’ll clearly have missed the point and succeeded only in embarrassing yourself.


The Primitive Mentality

14 07 2010

image credit

There is, perhaps, no subject that has been more extensively investigated and more prejudicially misunderstood by the modern scientist than that of folklore. By “folklore” we mean that whole and consistent body of culture which has been handed down, not in books but by word of mouth and in practice, from time beyond the reach of historical research, in the form of legends, fairy tales, ballads, games, toys, crafts, medicine, agriculture, and other rites, and forms of social organization, especially those that we call “tribal.” This is a cultural complex independent of national and even racial boundaries, and of remarkably similarity through the world; in other words, a culture of extraordinary vitality. The material of folklore differs from that of exoteric “religion”, to which it may be in a kind of opposition – as it is in a quite different way to “science” – by its more intellectual and less moralistic content, and more obviously and essentially by its adaptation to vernacular transmission: on the one hand, as cited above, “the myth is not my own, I had it from my mother” (Euripedes), and on the other, “the passage from a traditional mythology to ‘religion’ is a humanistic decadence.” (Evola)
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More from me on tradition

13 07 2010

My recent article on Inside Catholic