Sunday, May 29, 2005

New Policy

I've closed the comment boxes, because I don't have time to deal with the ravings of various nutbars who want to proselytize for their respective views on my board. Evidently, I hit too close to home by pointing out just how absurd is the account of history that some people will allow themselves to believe in order to justify their negative judgment about Catholics. No surprise then that the most mindlessly negative reaction came from the guy on the Internet with the most deranged concept of history: Alexander/ct/Christian/Sigmund Jung/the guy who is completely unwilling to admit who he actually is (showing how much faith he has in the viability of his own beliefs). I learned recently that he is also in KJV-onlyist, so it appears that believing something ridiculous in one area tends to spread to other areas as well. At any rate, I don't have time to deal with people who believe in the myth about Protestantism having "liberated" Scripture from the "tyrannical" Catholic Church. There is absolutely no purpose in me talking to such people, any more than there is a purpose in me talking to believers in any other sort of untenable wackiness. In fact, Darth Cbnrc recently provided a citation to a great quote by John Derbyshire that summarizes my feelings on the subject. Referring to a subject (intelligent design*) that he didn't see any point in discussing anymore, he noted:

Same applies, btw, to emails about flying saucers, Martian canals, the hollow earth, Atlantis, telepathy, dianetics, unicorns, phrenology, astrology, orgonomy, alien abductions, Bridey Murphy, the location of Noah's ark, the fate of the Marie Celeste's crew, and whether or not the bishops of the Church of England should open Joanna Southcott's box. I do not wish to know any more than I currently know about any of these topics. If you believe in one, many, or all of them, I'm fine with it, and wish you joy of your belief -- just don't try to enlist me.

Since dealing with historical reality (as I try to do on my blog) tends to bring kooks out by the boatload and since this blog is not my primary job, Derbyshire's policy seems quite reasonable for me as well. I have no desire to be a platform for random goofballs, and they can't seem to avoid piping up, so I'll just shut it down myself. Anyone whose opinion I actually care to have will email me, and as for the rest, I'll have federal anti-spam laws on my side if someone keeps slinging this muck in my direction. :-)

* Edit -- For the record, I entirely agree with him that intelligent design is not a scientific theory, unless you drastically revise the definition of experimental science (which is essentially philosophy-independent, making it ridiculous to revise the definition). Rather than trying to sell people in ID being a sicentific theory, people ought to be focusing on why only scientific theories are being taught as "true."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Time for a reality check

One of the likely consequences of wielding the weapons of nihilism, even so-called "Christian" nihilism, is that the person will end up negating plain facts to the point of being laughable. That's what produces the "Jack Chick mentality" and the related pathology of conspiracy theories, and when they crop up, they can be laugh-out-loud hilarious (although pitiable for all that). But I'm not sure that even Chick himself could have rivaled the hilarity of some recent posts by Darth Aomin.

Plenty of commentators noticed the increasingly paranoid rants since the death of Pope John Paul II, particularly in Darth Aomin's Roman travelogue. For example, many noted his description of the trip as being in the midst of the enemy camp (Clue: if the papal curia has never even heard of you and wouldn't take you seriously even if they did, calling yourself an "enemy" is ridiculous). Maybe next month, Darth Aomin will reveal that the Jesuits are out to get him for revealing the truth, just like they are out to get Jack Chick. What cracked me up most, though, seemed to pass by without much attention. Our dear Sith Lord offered the following "profound" observation:

After we left St. Peter's our host took us back around a corner away from the crowds and pointed out this building, quietly situated behind the main area. Why point out this building? Because it houses the records of the Inquisition. Inside that building are the records documenting Rome's murder of countless simple believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I could not help but comment that if Rome is Christ's Church, why not throw open all her secret archives and libraries and let everything see the light of day? Because we all know what would happen. Instead, just to the right of this picture stood one of the Swiss guards. Rome is not ready to be honest with her own history.

Apprently, Darth Aomin is not ready to be honest with reality, because this kind of delusion can only be motivated by willful ignorance or insanity. Note some of the sinister reasons that the prefect of the Archives gives for the difficulties in opening the Archives:

To organize, verify, inventory, and number the papers. The Vatican archive, in fact, receives documents from the various dicasteries of the Roman curia, in the order and material organization they had originally. But in the archive, in view of the documents' release, a comparison must be made between the documentation – contained in envelopes, folders, bundles, volumes, and other bindings – and the related card catalogues or contextually compiled indices. Thus the material must be prepared, sometimes cleaned, and divided into manageable bundles; in this phase, verification is obtained that procedures are being followed and that the titles correspond with the records. The next phase is the collation, or organization into envelopes, of the papers, and this entails numbering them. All these operations, carried out for thousands and thousands of items, explains why the work goes on for years. To this it must be added that some archives of pontifical representatives, because of historical vicissitudes, arrive in complete disorder. This is the case, for example, of the representatives in countries occupied during wartime (Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) or of those areas of central and eastern Europe which certainly did not have an easy life during the cold war: the pope's representatives were harried by the communist governments from one day to the next and forced to flee, carrying the papers from their archives heaped together as well as possible in their luggage (as in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, and other countries). All this material must be patiently reviewed, ordered, and inventoried. No scholar, in fact, could carry out studies on these documents without this preliminary work.

The Vatican Secret Archives is nothing more than an exceptionally huge library of ancient documents, with all the requisite complications. Scholars have had access to the collection for more than a century, and the only reason they haven't had more access is that it takes years to get the documents into condition to even permit them to be studied. Heck, to the extent that the documents have been indexed, the list is publicly available on CD-ROM! Ooooh ... scary! I'm sure that all of the libraries in the world that restrict access to ancient documents do so because they're not willing to be honest with their history. Hardly surprising that the "scholars" who demand access to the Vatican Secret Archives for some sensationalist purpose come away looking like Geraldo Rivera at Al Capone's "secret" vault.

But this sort of thing is endemic in a certain brand of Protestant thinking. There's no reality check on something as ridiculous as making a library into a Vast Roman Conspiracy, something that even a particle of common sense would dispel. Darth Aomin's recent obsession with past debates seems to fall right in line with this detachment with reality. Not that there's anything wrong with thinking he's won every one of his debates; any good debater does. But when you construct an elaborate delusion about past opponents cowering in fear of your "unrefuted" arguments, reality ought to intrude at some point. The facts are that no Catholic apologist has seen a new argument of note from Darth Aomin in several years (rendering any further debate pointless; been there, done that) and that the only reason most of them reply at all is irritation, annoyance, or good old-fashioned dislike, not substance (which is by no means a compliment to them). If White believes, for example, that his posted rebuttal touches the Catholic position on Purgatory, that simply shows that he doesn't understand what the Catholic position is. For all we Catholics are supposedly living in a dreamworld, it would seem the fruits of self-deception weight far more heavily on the branches of Protestant apologetics.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Spiritual insight from Star Wars

For people who know me well, the fact that I am writing about Star Wars will be somewhat less than surprising. When questioned about my religious background, I claim in all seriousness that my childhood religion was Star Wars, and indeed, I don't think that trivializes the idea of religion. All genuinely meaningful art comes by the grace of God, and Star Wars was and is art in the fullest sense. People who complain that the spirituality of the series is "too Buddhist" or "too contrived" (presumably from George Lucas's great admiration for Joseph Campbell's religious theories) strike me as entirely insensitive to the fundamental reality of human experience reflected in those films. It may not be a perfect expression of the divine (what could be?), but one must be particularly obtuse to miss the depth of vision that Lucas received.

In my own spiritual life, Star Wars was a bridge into awareness of God. I was born just before Episode IV was released, and the images of Star Wars permeated my youth. I can still remember hearing about the series from my father as a young child, waiting expectantly for "Revenge of the Jedi" to be released and looking forward to the promised Episodes I-III and VII-IX. Listening to Joseph Campbell identify the mythical themes of the series helped me to perceive the rich thematic content that made the influence of these films so compelling. While Star Wars didn't give me any systematic knowledge of theology, it created a fertile environment for those ideas eventually to grow.

The latest installment of the series has arrived at a time when I have been confronted with an incredibly diverse array of experiences (most of them good, although a few have been decidedly unpleasant). In light of that intersection with both my situation and my recent studies (not to mention reaching my 30s, realizing the Christian signifiance of that milestone), I consider the timing nothing less than providential. The sense of a coming epiphany was palpable when I read the novelization of the movie some weeks ago and even more pronounced when I first saw the film on Sunday, but it was only after watching it again tonight that I was able to discern the message in a form that I could express.

With all that has been written about the allegorical content of Star Wars from the mythical, historical, philosophical, political, and religious perspectives, I am as yet unaware of any attempt to apply such analysis in the context of Evangelical/Catholic relations (apart from superficial comparisons between the Catholic Church and the Galactic Empire). But after looking into the implications of the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith, I consider the similarities sufficient to construct an analogy of nearly-crystalline precision. To come straight to the point, the path of Protestantism is precisely that of Anakin Skywalker: the Faustian bargain with the devil made out of fear for others.

Before proceeding with the exposition of this analogy, it will be necessary to digress for a moment on the nature of evil. In the traditional Christian account, evil is always a negation, "no-thing." But the question of what is being negated by evil receives insufficient attention, particularly among the voluntarist tradition that gives the overly simplistic answer "God's will" (this is hardly coincidence; indeed, it is precisely the concession to nihilism that creates this "blind spot"). Following the line of David Hart in The Beauty of the Infinite, I would maintain that what is negated is the fecund, fertile, and creative quality of Trinitarian love embodied in creation, which is essentially reality itself. This common characteristic of evil, philosophical nihilism, manifests itself in all manner of destructive beliefs, from the past-negating vacuousness of liberalism to the sophisticated deconstruction of postmodernism and even to the stupid, callous, soulless hedonism that is the scourge of Western society.

Given that conceptual framework, the point of Protestantism's concession to evil can be more readily perceived. Like Anakin Skywalker, Martin Luther found himself facing the loss of everything: the entire world was crumbling around him. And like Anakin, he was willing to embrace the tools of negation in his desperation, thus wreaking the very destruction he most fervently sought to avoid. In Luther's case, there were two principal weapons, one of authority and one of soteriology.

Luther's first negation was sola scriptura, the fundamental negation of the organicity of the Church. By limiting what is permanently binding on the Church by reference to a fixed and unchanging referent (Scripture), the possibility of real growth, real production within the experience and life of the Church is cut off at the knees. His second negation was in the concept of imputed justification, which is nothing less than denying the reality of Christ Himself. The underlying concept of imputed justification is that holiness is a thing that cannot inhere in creation, that humans cannot partake of the goodness of God. There can be no more pointed denial of Hart's concept of creation, and if one follows the premises of his argument, such a denial contradicts any possibility of the Incarnation.

Just as I would analogize Luther's descent into Protestant theology to Anakin's fall to the Dark Side, so too would I equate the results. The ultimate result of taking up the methods of evil (in Anakin's case, slaying Count Dooku) is the eradication of Anakin's own humanity. Darth Vader is more dead than alive, lacking even the respiration (spirit) of life. Vader's situation is pitiable, all the more so because of the empathy we have for his reasons (specifically, the desperate fear that God's love is not truly there at all). And indeed, as a Catholic, my view of Protestantism is like Luke's view of Vader: I can see the good, but I wonder what level of sacrifice it may take for that good to be realized.

Of course, I also recognize the parallels between Catholicism and the Jedi, particularly the position of those saints who stayed within the Church rather than taking Anakin's way out. It took the destruction of everything for the surviving Jedi (all two of them) to realize that they had been fighting an enemy who had been long-defeated instead of the one who was standing before them. One hopes that we have learned the lesson that the Jedi passed on to Luke: that refusing to fight according to evil's terms is the only way to be victorious.

At any rate, this insight has helped me to express what I felt in an inchoate way long before now. If nothing else, at least it gives an idiom for speaking about my concerns. And for those who cling to Luther's tools come Hell or high water (particularly the ones who consider Galatians a sentence of damnation against Catholics), it provides a convenient naming convention. Several have even picked their own names from the Dark Side, e.g., Darth Notroman, Darth Aomin, Darth Cbnrc, Darth Centurion, Darth Ronnie, .... ;-)