On forgetting

30 09 2010

R. Simlai delivered the following discourse: What does an embryo resemble when it is in the bowels of its mother? Folded writing tablets. Its hands rest on its two temples respectively, its two elbows on its two legs and its two heels against its buttocks. Its head lies between its knees, its mouth is closed and its navel is open, and it eats what its mother eats and drinks what its mother drinks, but produces no excrements because otherwise it might kill its mother. As soon, however, as it sees the light the closed organ opens and the open one closes, for if that had not happened the embryo could not live even one single hour. A light burns above its head and it looks and sees from one end of the world to the other, as it is said, then his lamp shined above my head, and by His light I walked through darkness. And do not be astonished at this, for a person sleeping here might see a dream in Spain. And there is no time in which a man enjoys greater happiness than in those days, for it is said, O that I were as the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me; now which are the days’ that make up ‘months’ and do not make up years? The months of pregnancy of course. It is also taught all the Torah from beginning to end, for it is said, And he taught me, and said unto me: ‘Let thy heart hold fast my words, keep my commandments and live’, and it is also said, When the converse of God was upon my tent. Why the addition of ‘and it is also said’? — In case you might say that it was only the prophet who said that, come and hear ‘when the converse of God was upon my tent. As soon as it sees the light an angel approaches, slaps it on its mouth and causes it to forget all the Torah completely, as it is said, Sin coucheth at the door.

-from the Babylonian Talmud

In defense of religious snobbery

29 09 2010

Or: what I do in real life

I don’t think that there is anything wrong being a liturgical snob, and it just makes sense on one level. Do you honestly think that the King of France should have attended the same kind of Mass that the plebs had in a country chapel in Provence? Or do you think that sending Bossuet to such a chapel would vastly benefit the peasants more than the rustic style Catholicism that they were used to? I don’t think so.

The problem that I see is that Vatican II was a flattening of Catholicism. That cannot be helped, as the rest of society was flattened in terms of class divisions. When I lived in So-Cal, it was not uncommon to see people fall out of their Hummers and into a strip mall looking like bums in their flip-flops and raggedy clothes. Rich people wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that sort of thing back in the day if they could help it. Also, look at the state of weddings: people blow thousands of dollars on those sorts of things and they still come out looking cheesy and cheap. (Never understood the whole “getting married outdoors” thing, although AG and I have been over this in terms of “secular weddings”.) How much do you think liturgy directors at large mega-parishes earn? And look at the crap they put out Sunday after Sunday.

So it doesn’t make sense that little ol’ moi would go to the local parish down the street. I read philosophy books on my lunch break, and save up money just to fly to places to see a ballet. My wife and I usually spend Friday nights watching films with subtitles (lots and lots of films with subtitles). Sometimes to relax, we’ll put on some Charles Ives or Bartok. So how are we going to just go down the street and listen to some guy with a guitar chirp out “One Bread, One Body” and NOT roll our eyes? Does that make us worse Christians for not suffering with the plebs? So be it.

And that is sort of my whole point: whether you go to a traditional Mass or an Eastern-rite liturgy, that doesn’t necessarily make you a better Christian, and maybe you should stop associating where you go to church with that issue altogether. I come from a very “low church” background: raised charismatic, bombarded by kitsch and folk Catholic imagery, and surrounded by people who had just come straight from el rancho in Mexico. I appreciate that upbringing for what it was, but that doesn’t mean I want to live it, and that doesn’t mean that I am going to condemn it either. It is what it is. 99% of people will be happy with that stuff, or at least see nothing wrong with it. But in terms of where I choose to go to church, that is entirely based on my cultural snobbery, and I make no apologies for that.

The bewitched automobile

29 09 2010

Well, now, I’ll tell a story what happened to an old lady and her husband down close Hanover. They decided they’d buy themselves a new car – so they did. Well, when Saturday evening come, why, the old gentleman said to his wife, “Now, let’s take a ride in the new car, this evening.” “All right.” They started off and they got in as fer as Hanover. And right at the square in Hanover the care stopped. Nobody could start it. They done everything they knowed, got garage fellows there to look at it, nobody could find anything wrong. Car wouldn’t move. Somebody said, “Well, you go out to Mrs. K. and tell her about this.”

Went out to Mrs. K and told her, and Mrs. K said, “Well, I’ll write you a piece of paper here and you don’t – you’re not to read it. You take it back to the car and put it on the starter and put your foot on this paper, on the starter, and,” she said, “your car will go.” And so they did. Went back a whole crowd around the car. They put this piece of paper on the starter and he put his foot on it, and the car started right off, and away they went. Didn’t have no more trouble that evening with the car.

So the next morning some time, why, they got someone come and said, “Well, the neighbor woman over there is awful sick.” “Well,” they said, “what’s wrong with her?” Said, “She’s in bed, she’s jist that sick she can’t be up.” And this was the woman that put the spell on the automobile. And Mrs. K. fixed her business fer her that she didn’t bother nobody around there fer awhile.

-Text from Don Yoder, “Witch tales from Adams County”, from south-central Pennsylvannia, found in Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States.

A documentary on Jacques Lacan…

28 09 2010

…can be viewed here (in French originally, dubbed into Spanish).

El Niño Fidencio… de Roma a Espinazo

27 09 2010

A review and reflection on the film

The above is the trailer. The whole film can be watched here. You gringos got lucky, because this one has subtitles.

It is best to start at the beginning. Around the beginning of last century, a child was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, by the name of José Fidencio Sintora Constantino. He was orphaned and came of age amidst the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath. Unlike most Mexican young men, he seems to have been committed to domestic service rather than field work. It also seems that he was afflicted with Kleinfelter’s syndrome, meaning that his sex organs were underdeveloped and he seemed to be perpetually a boy (niño), without facial hair or a deep voice. In the early 1920’s, he would settle in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, in a small railroad town known as Espinazo.

Like a select few, Fidencio was thought to have el don. That means that he had the power to cure using traditional healing methods. Literally, it is a “gift”. But Fidencio’s gift was something extraordinary, something that comes along only every so many generations. From his humble beginnings as a local curandero, he became a national phenomenon. Apparently, he could cure anything using nothing but herbs, prayers, and in extraordinary circumstances, surgeries with a piece of glass (without anaesthetic). His fame grew to the point that the urban legend spread (not based on any facts, but still) that he cured the radically anti-clericalist president of Mexico, Plutarco Elias Calles, of leprosy. Some say that in exchange for his cure, Calles was asked to cease his radical persecution of the Church, which subsequently happened. To the people of the time, and in his legacy, he was given the name, el Niño Fidencio, or the Child Fidencio, even though he lived to forty years of age.
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Some fado just for fun

24 09 2010

Scenic roads that lead to nowhere

23 09 2010

This was an interesting video, but as with many things in Zizek, I don’t see where he’s going with it. The ride gives a panoramic view of things, but I wouldn’t get in the car to get anywhere with him.

Stolen from this site

Sacred vulgarity

23 09 2010

Why the Catholic Church feels it needs to be all up in your bedroom

One of the most formative moments in my theological life came when I asked a well-educated friend of mine what the Fathers of the Church would think if you handed them a little pill and told them that if a woman took this pill, she would not get pregnant no matter how much intercourse she had. Expecting either an answer of “well, they would think it’s okay” or “they would think it an abomination”, I was rather surprised by the answer that he did give. He said, “They wouldn’t think anything, because they thought that sex was disgusting”. From my readings in the subject, I had to concur. Any talk about sexual practices was probably considered off the table in any civilized discourse concerning religion. It would have been akin to discussing the theological value of one toilet habit over another.

This is what came to mind when I was reading a couple of articles by Sandro Magister (via the Western Confucian blog) regarding the use of artificial contraception in early 20th century Italy, and the employment of pastoral attitudes towards these practices. In general, prior to the publication of the encyclical, Casti Connubii, priests in northern Italy often took what would be considered a lax approach to the subject. If someone was suspected in the confessional of having committed such a sin, the confessor in the old manuals was expected not to ask prying questions. As Magister writes:

So then, one constant guideline emerges from the solutions given by the diocese of Padua to cases of morality regarding contraception: that of employing the “theory of good faith” taught by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. According to this theory, in the presence of a penitent who is suspected of committing contraceptive actions but appears unaware of the gravity of the sin and in practice incapable of correcting his behavior, it is best to respect his silence and take his good faith into account, absolving him without posing any further questions.

The Liguorian theory was dominant for many decades, not only in the seminaries and in the care of souls, but also in the guidelines given by the Holy See in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It even appeared in the code of canon law of 1917, in force until 1983, which said at canon 888: “The priest who hears confessions should be very careful not to pose curious and useless questions, especially concerning the sixth commandment, to anyone with whom he deals, and particularly not to ask younger persons about things of which they are unaware.”
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Socrates and piety

22 09 2010

He [Socrates] was accused of making innovations in the religion of his country, and corrupting the youth. But as both these accusations must have been obviously false to an unprejudiced tribunal, the accusers relied for the success of their cause on perjured witnesses, and the envy of the judges, whose ignorance would readily yield to misrepresentation, and be influenced and guided by false eloquence and fraudulent arts. That the personal enemies indeed of Socrates, vile characters, to whom his wisdom and his virtue were equally offensive, should have accused him of making innovations in the religion of Greece, is by no means surprising; but that very many of modern times should have believed that this accusation was founded in truth, and that he endeavoured to subvert the doctrine of polytheism, is a circumstance which by the truly learned reader must be ranked among the greatest eccentricities of modern wit. For to such a one it will most clearly appear from this very Apology, that Socrates was accused of impiety for asserting that he was connected in a very transcendant degree with a presiding daemon, to whose direction he confidently submitted the conduct of his life. For the accusation of Melitus, that he introduced other novel daemoniacal natures, can admit of no other construction. Besides, in the course of this Apology he asserts, in the most unequivocal and solemn manner, his belief in polytheism; and this is indubitably confirmed in many places by Plato, the most genuine of his disciples, and the most faithful recorder of his doctrines. The testimony of Xenophon too on this point is no less weighty than decisive. “I have often wondered,” says that historian and philosopher, “by what arguments the Athenians who condemned Socrates persuaded the city that he was worthy of death. For, in the first place, how could they prove that he did not believe in the Gods in which the city believed? since it was evident that he often sacrificed at home, and often on the common altars of the city. It was also not unapparent that he employed divination. For a report was circulated, that signals were given to Socrates, according to his own assertion, by a daemoniacal power; whence they especially appear to me to have accused him of introducing new daemoniacal natures. He however introduced nothing new, nor any thing different from the opinion of those who, believing in divination, make use of auguries and oracles, symbols and sacrifices. For these do not apprehend that either birds, or things which occur, know what is advantageous to the diviners; but they are of opinion that the Gods thus signify to them what is beneficial; and he also thought the same. Again, in another place, he observes as follows: “Socrates thought that the Gods take care of men not in such a way as the multitude conceive. For they think that the Gods know some things, but do not know others. But Socrates thought that the Gods know all things, as well things said and done, as those deliberated in silence. That they are also everywhere present, and signify to men concerning all human affairs. I wonder, therefore, how the Athenians could ever be persuaded that Socrates was not of a sound mind respecting the Gods, as he never said or did any thing impious concerning them. But all his sayings and all his actions pertaining to the Gods were such as any one by saying and doing would be thought to be most pious.” And lastly, in another place he observes, “That it was evident that Socrates worshipped the Gods the most of all men.

-Thomas Taylor, from here


21 09 2010

Siento a Dios que camina tan en mí,
con la tarde y con el mar.
Con él nos vamos juntos. Anochece.
Con él anochecemos, Orfandad…

Pero yo siento a Dios. Y hasta parece
que él me dicta no sé qué buen color.
Como un hospitalario, es bueno y triste;
mustia un dulce desdén de enamorado:
debe dolerle mucho el corazón.

Oh, Dios mío, recién a ti me llego,
hoy que amo tanto en esta tarde; hoy
que en la falsa balanza de unos senos,
mido y lloro una frágil Creación.

Y tú, cuál llorarás tú, enamorado
de tanto enorme seno girador
Yo te consagro Dios, porque amas tanto;
porque jamás sonríes; porque siempre
debe dolerte mucho el corazón.

-Cesar Vallejo
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