Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Lord is My Shep: Psalm 23 Homework Assignment

It's been a while.  Busy at work and busy helping coach the cross country team.  In the mean time, I've decided I wanted my students to memorize Psalm 23.  So this will be the initial assignment.  Feel free to use in your home or classroom or parish.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Silence of the Creeds on Sola Scriptura

[A certain well know Catholic Apologetics group refuses to reply back to my email regarding the possibility of running this show essay, so I post it for your review and comments.  I for one have not heard Sola Scripture argued from the point of the Creeds of the Catholic Church.]

If sola scriptura, in any form whether it is the strict fundamentalist Christians-must-only-believe-what-is-found-in-the-Bible or the more liberal all-Christian-traditions-and-beliefs-must-be-biblically-based, is true and has been the belief of the Christian faith since the beginning one would expect to find early Christian theology and writing to be saturated with it.  However, this is not the case.

One place a Christian would expect to find the crucial and key tenants to being a Christian is in what the Church believes.  In this case: the Creed.  Through the early church there have been several different, but remarkably similar, statements of belief found amongst the early Christians, and all are silent on the issue of Sola Scripture.

The earliest known example of a creed is the creed by St. Irenaeus (c. 180 A.D.), which is found in his writing Against Heresies.  The creed, summarizing what a Christian believes, is as follows:

. . . believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.

One would think that if St. Irenaeus truly was a descendent of the apostles in office who was instructed in faith by St. Polycarp who was instructed by St. John the Apostle that what St. John handed on would be well preserved and that St. John himself would have at least instructed his disciples on the importance of scripture alone as the foundation for Christianity.  However, Irenaeus’ creed is silent on the role of scripture. 

A 4th century Christian writer and historian, Rufinus (c.307-309) writes to a Bishop Laurentius in which he gives not only an exposition of the Creed but also a brief history of the Creed of Rome, known as the creed of Aquileia.  In the course of his commentary, Rufinus draws out the differences between the creeds from the Eastern Churches and the Western Churches.  Though there are differences, the core content is similar in expression indicating a common source.  This common source, according to Rufinus, is the 12 apostles themselves.   Thereby, making this creed the same Creed of the Apostles.

Rufinus states that the apostles formulated the Creed in order to help distinguish the true Christians from the false Christians who sought only fame and fortune by speaking in the name of Christ while ignoring the teaching of Christ and the traditions of the Apsotles.    Drawing on a military analogy Rufinus explains the need for the Creed as follows:

Finally, they say that in civil wars, since the armour of both sides is alike, and the language the same, and the custom and mode of warfare the same, each general, to guard against treachery, is wont to deliver to his soldiers a distinct symbol or watchword . . . so that if one is met with, of whom it is doubtful to which side he belongs, being asked the symbol, he discloses whether he is friend or foe.

Rufinus even adds that the Creed was guarded from the false Christians.  He writes:the Creed is not written on paper or parchment, but is retained in the hearts of the faithful, that it may be certain that no one has learned it by reading, as is sometimes the case with unbelievers, but by tradition from the Apostles.”  Yet, in the Creed about which Rufinus writes and connects to the 12 apostles themselves, there is no mention to scripture or the role of scripture in the life of the Christian.  His creed is a follows:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, invisible and impassible
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord
Who was born from the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary
Was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried
He descended to hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended to the heavens; he sits at the right hand of the Father
Thence he is to come to judge the living and the dead
And in the Holy Ghost
The Holy Church
The Remission of sins
The resurrection of this flesh.

Also in the 4th century (325 A.D.), an ecumenical council was held in the city of Nicea.  One, and perhaps the most famous, of writings to emerge from the council is the Nicene Creed.  This creed was the universal creed of all Christians for many centuries and is still used in the Catholic Church.  In the current formulation, the Nicene Creed makes mention to scripture in passing and only in reference to Christ rising from the dead after three days.  That is, it uses scripture to support one line of the text.  Other than that, the Nicene Creed is silent on the role scripture is to play in the life of a Christian and fails to make any kind of allusion or mention of sola scriptura.

Therefore, if sola scriptura was the rule of faith for Christians since the beginning of Christianity, the question remains, “Why are ALL the creeds silent on the subject?”   History tells us, via St. Cyril of Jerusalem, that the Creed was taught to all those preparing to receive the sacrament of baptism.  If sola scriptura was the foundation of Christianity and the crucial teaching of Christianity from the beginning, one would expect sola-scripture to be the very first thing expressed in the Creeds, or at least mentioned someplace in the Symbol of Faith.  Yet, this is not the case.  The Creeds are silent on the subject of sola scriptura because sola scripture was not and never was a teaching of the early Church.

Lastly, what history reveals is that Scripture was interpreted according to the Rule of Faith (the Creed).  That is, the Creed served as a guide to interpreting scripture.  By using the creed to interpret scripture it safeguarded the interpretation against heresies.  Those who abandoned the creed or did not have the creed fell into heresy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Jewish Council of Jamnia and the Christian Canon: Fail

Some non-Catholics, in an attempt to disprove the canonical nature of the Catholic old testament and specifically the deutroconical books, will commonly appeal to the Jewish council of Jamnia, which is said to have happen in the year 90 A.D.  Rabbis met at the council of Jamnia, so the story goes, to set the canon for their book of scriptures.  However, there are several problems when appealing to this council in an attempt to discredit the Catholic Old Testament canon: historical, theological, and canonical.


The idea that a Jewish council was held in 90 A.D. that set the Jewish canon of scripture did not surface till the 19th century and was promoted by two German scholars – one being Heinrich Graetz.  There is virtually no scholarly evidence, beyond a few scant rabbinical texts, that supports the historicity of this council.  It is still discussed among some scholarly circles but mostly predicated with “myth” or “legend.”

Marc Zvi Brettler writes that the meager evidence from rabbinic texts informing us of this supposed council where the canon of scripture for the Jews was actually set is based largely on a misunderstanding of those rabbinic texts.  Instead, the council was attempting to justify certain texts already considered canonical.  One such book that was debated was the Song of Songs [1].  Moreover Brettler also indicates that the Jewish cannon was not stabilized until sometime in the second century CE and the process of canonization was a gradual process and not a definitive act at the Council of Jamnia[2].

If this council did occur, then a big question arises as to “Why weren’t all the Jews invited?”  The records show a heavy leaning towards the pharisaic understanding of the books.  It appears that several groups were ignored, even the African Jews who considered the entire Septuagint as canonical.


Supposing the council of Jamnia set the canon for the Jewish scriptures in 90 A.D. and thereby Christians, as well as Jews, must follow the same canon raises serious theological questions about the nature of authority.  First what gave this council of Rabbis, sans-Temple and possibly sans-priesthood, the authority to make a binding set of books for the entire Jewish faith?  This is even more so when one wonders if the Sanhedrin and Scribes were present.

A second theological problem arises based upon the date of the council.  Jamnia is said to have happened in about the year 90 A.D.  What kind of authority can or does a Jewish Council, post-resurrection, have on the body of Christianity?  To appeal to this council in an attempt to discredit the Catholic Old Testament canon is to essentially shoot ones self in the proverbial foot, for by discrediting the Canon with appeal to Jamnia is to give a group of Jewish rabbis authority over all of Christianity.  This is a belief that is far from Christian.  For Christ, from the Christian perspective, came to fulfill Judaism thereby rendering parts of Judaism nonbinding, or binding in a new way, to Christians. 


If the Council of Jamnia occurred, as once thought, what it does tell us is that the Jewish Canon was not a unified, settled, definitive work before the year 90 A.D.  Examples of this can easily be found through history. The Ethiopian Jews had a different Canon by accepting all of the Septuagint.  The Sadducees only accepted the books of Moses and authoritative scriptures, while the Pharisees accepted more. More recently, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been shedding light on the history of the Jewish canon to a further degree with a now incomplete book of Psalms, which appears to have been used in a fashion similar to modern prayer books.  The Dead Sea Scrolls also have a canon more akin to the Septuagint except written in Hebrew instead of Greek.

Therefore, for a non-Catholic to appeal to the Council of Jamnia as proof that the Catholic canon is not the Old Testament for Christians is to hang one’s coat on a broken hook.  It ignores history, promotes bad theology, and disregards Jewish culture and the multiplicity of Jewish canons in existence at the time of at the time of the Apostles and the very early church.

[1] Berlin, Adele, Marc Zvi. Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane. "The Canonization of the Bible." The Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 2072-077. Print.

[2] ibid

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

You Hate Chick-Fil-A? You Must Be Anti-Christian

The article ran in the Baptist press initially on July 7 and was rerun by the Baptist press on July 17.  The article itself covered a number of topics including the sunday closure.  What I don't get is how does this . . .

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. 
"We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized.

And this . . .
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,'" Cathy said. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about." [A personal opinion expressed on a media show.] 
 get interpreted as "Chick-Fil-A hates gays" or "Chick-Fil-A is anti-gay"? Using the same logic . . . well, I'll just let Wonka speak for me.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Would You Like Some Heterodoxy with You Discernment?

I attended a vocation discernment retreat this past weekend, sponsored by a local Serra Club, which was overall productive.  The second presentation for the weekend was on prayer, which was delivered by a Cenacle Sister (one of the many women's religious orders the vatican is calling for renewal specifically for what she taught us).  Keep in mind, she is presenting a talk on prayer, which is a crucial component when discerning one's vocation, to a large number of young people who will need to use what she presents as a vehicle in discerning his or her vocation; so my expectation for the presentation was high.  At minimum I was expecting some quotes from saints and and some references to the section of prayer from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The section on prayer is actually the most beautiful section and arguably the richest section of the entire Catechism.  But I doubt sister Cenacle knew this, for she appeared to be allergic the orthodoxy.

After the retreat was said and done, I was still bothered by what the Sister taught.  I was bothered to such a degree that I typed the following letter, and I am currently debating on whether or not I should send this to the local Serra Club (who sponsored the event) and possibly the vocations director for the archdiocese.  What do you think? Does the letter sound too harsh or too inflammatory?  I don't want to sound like an uber conservative religious nut job but as a concerned member of the community.

To Whom It May Concern:

I recently attended the Life Awareness Retreat held at the Holy Name Retreat House in Houston, TX.  Overall the retreat was excellent.
 I would like to raise your awareness to the content of one of the speakers’ presentation.  I do not recall her name, but she was one of the Cenacle Sisters who did the presentation on prayer.  She began her presentation by defining prayer as “anything that helps us connect with God.”  This is a definition of prayer that in my studies of Theology on both the undergraduate and graduate level I have never encountered.  I am greatly bothered by the Sister’s definition of prayer because her definition can be used to justify nearly any bizarre act because one claims it bring him closer to God.  For instance, if I thought torturing puppies brought me closer to God, than who is to tell me otherwise based upon the definition of prayer provided by the Cenacle Sister?  To me it seems to run the danger of viewing the spiritual life in a relativistic manner.  Why the sister did not use the classic definition of prayer given by St. Teresa of Avila, which has been quoted by many Saints and Popes over the years – Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God – I do not know.
 Also, the blue sheet she passed out titled “Forms of Solitary Prayer” is riddled with theological inaccuracies.  First what she lists as forms are not forms at all, some are expressions of prayer.  This is troublesome on one hand because it hinders the development of a common catechetical vocabulary. For the form of prayer (meaning what kind of prayer you are praying) all fall into four forms: Petition, Contrition, Adoration, and Thanksgiving.  When I read her blue sheet, I do not see any of the forms of prayer mentioned.  Which saddens me because we had both Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (which requires a prayer of contrition).  To quote G.K. Chester on the thanks: “Thanks is the highest form of thought.”  A thanks acknowledges that what you have received is a true and real gift.  Scripture time and time again reminds the reader to give thanks to the Lord.  Again, why she did not mention any of these forms of prayers that are in the Catholic Tradition I do not know.
 Several “forms” of prayer on her blue sheet are actually rightly referred to as expressions.  Expressions of prayer help us in determining how we go about praying one of the forms.  The expressions of prayer are Vocal, Meditation, and Contemplation.  The Cenacle sister makes no direct mention to vocal prayer and barely makes a passing reference to dialoging with God; yet, vocal prayer is the foundation for all other forms of prayer.  What she referred to as “contemplation” is actually called medication in the Catholic tradition.  She makes no mention of true contemplation as being a gift from God and something that cannot be obtained by mere technique and practice.  Assuming one can obtain true contemplation by means of techniques ignores the childlike faith and abandonment Christians are called to have towards God.  By focusing on technique, one runs the risk of turning a technique into a vain superstition.
 The Sister mentions the Jesus prayer under the category of a “Mantra.”  Calling the Jesus Prayer a “mantra” does not to justice to the rich treasures this prayer contains, as the value of the prayer is not found in the repetition, but in the love with which one prays.  It is at the same time and an acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Jesus as the Son of the Living God.  The second half of the prayer is an acknowledgment that the person praying the simple short prayer is both a sinner and is in need of God mercy.  It is a reminder of where we stand in relation to God and God in relation to us.
 There are at least two attempts to combine Eastern spirituality from Buddhism to the Christian tradition.  One is with what she calls “Mantra.”  The second is what she refers to as Centering Prayer.  These are attempts to Christianize kinds of prayer that do not have scriptural or historical bases in Christianity.  I also find this insulting to those who practice Eastern spiritualties and religions as it is akin to a Hindu trying to Hinduize the rosary or a Pagan trying to paganize the Mass.  The Vatican has written a reflection on the attempt to combine certain new-age/Eastern spiritualties with the traditions of the Catholic faith.  The document is titled “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life,” and it cautions against attempting to combine Eastern spiritualties with Christian practice.  What Sister calls Centering Prayer is exactly one of the forms of prayer the Vatican warns against.  Centering prayer is simply an attempt to repackage and Christianize what is known as transcendental meditation (TM), which has its roots in Hinduism.  TM seeks to have a person, by means of repeating a mantra, descend into the center of their being so as to clear one’s mind and move to a higher consciousness.  Sister defines centering prayer as a “spiral down into the deepest center of ourselves.”  Prayer is not a path inward but it is a ladder ascending to God.  Many well intentioned Christians have lost their was by practicing centering prayer because it led them to think that they and Christ are the same, it led them to depression and despair, and it has led some to an the annihilation of the self and a belief that all reality is an illusion.  In short my experience with centering prayer is that it is not the light that people claim it to be.
 As mentioned before, I am bothered by the Sister’s presentation and even more so when remembering the old adage of the Church “lex orandi; lex credendi.”  For to pray wrongly is to run to danger of believing wrongly and to believe wrongly is to run the danger of living wrongly which in turn can put another’s soul and salvation in jeopardy.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hollywood, Can You Pass Me the New Stories and New Characters?

A recent theme has been appearing in TV shows and movies that is getting old very fast.  The theme in short is that mankind is nearly wiped from the face and the earth and now a few survivors must band together in an attempt to ensure the survival of the human species. 

The over arching story is as follows:  humanity is wiped near to destruction by disease, zombies, aliens, machines/robots, vampires, nuclear war/Government.  A show can even make combinations of two or more; The Walking Dead hinges on the disease that causes zombies.

For instance:
Day Breakers (movie): vampires/disease
Independence Day (movie): aliens
Battlestar Galactica (TV): Machines/Robots that act like aliens.
I Am Legend (Movie/novella): disease/vampires
12 monkeys (Movie): disease
28 Days Later (movie): disease/zombielike creatures
Falling Skies (TV): Aliens
The Terminator (Movie): Machines/robots
Dawn of the Dead (Movie): Zombies
Revolution (TV): Coming to NBC Fall of 2012.  Electricity stops running, don’t know why, don’t know who, how, or what.

Most of these stories are a rehashing and repackaging of the same story.  Even so much so that you have nearly the same stock characters.  For example:

The Leader:  The morally sound leader is fair and always tries to do what is right and best for the community.  He keeps the foolhardy warrior in check and encourages the weak coward to excel.  Commonly comes from a military background.  Incredibly optimistic and he has much hope for the survival of humanity.  The Leader is loyal and tries to keep the group of survivors together by serving as the voice of reason.  In modern film, he is constantly second-guessing himself.  The second-guessing is understandable when the writers of the character come from a society that despises truth and loves relativism and members of that society have never had to think about making a difficult choice.  The most difficult decision most of the writers is often limited to what toppings they want on their pizza and what flavor frapachino they want.
 The Mechanic:  Can be a master DIYer or an actually handy man and mechanic.  Whatever his background, he can make anything, fix anything, and is handier with a Swiss army knife than MacGyver.  Your only mode of transportation break down?  Give the Mechanic an episode or two and he will fide a way to build a forge, smelt metal, and construct for you an entirely new and incredibly bad-ass, post-apocalyptic, beast of a vehicle with mounted machine guns, GPS, and spikes.
 The Warrior:  Former hunter or military grunt.  This is the weapons expert in the group and can kill anyone and anything, and he can turn anything into a weapon of carnage destruction.  Turn to this guy if you need bombs made or need to learn how to fight with a sword, gun, knife, hand-to-hand, or a bouquet of daises.  The warrior wants to solve all problems with force.  You want him leading a military assault, but he always wants to be the hero, which commonly endangers the community.  He falls prey to the vice of foolhardiness.  Often this character thinks or appears to be invincible.  Big dumb men often like this character.
 If the Warrior happens to be a girl, she will likely be pencil thin and exceptionally hot.  Her real skill resides in her hotness, as in reality an average man would be able to snap her in two because she has no muscle and weighs a buck-oh-two.  Then again, she will conveniently know kung fu – which is the writers’ attempt to make her 102 lb frame seem dangerous.  She is basically a man, but is really there to satisfy the feminists and give guys some other hot tart to stare at when The Hot Chick isn’t on screen.  Big dumb men often like this version as well.
 The Hot chick:  Pure eye candy.  She is completely clueless to her surroundings and too often forgets she is living in a post-apocalyptic culture and should not wander from the larger group.  The enemy is able to sneak up on her with a complete marching band playing Stars and Stripes Forever and still take her by surprise, and she will be shocked because she didn’t know someone was sneaking up on her.  She is mainly there because the other characters need someone to rescue.  If it is a TV series, she will need rescuing multiple times.  If the characters were really interested in restoring the human race, a better use for her would be making babies – that way she won’t be running off getting into trouble and forcing other to rick their life to save her.
 The Coward:  Always wants to run away and hide in moments of heated action.  He never pulls his weight in a combat situation and as a result gets others injured and killed.  He is the character the audience likes to cheer against.  Always throwing The Leader’s decisions into question.  He is the quintessential pessimistic.
 The Tech Savvy Computer Nerd:  Usually Asian and usually is dressed more trendy than the average nerd -- no pocket protectors for this guy.  He can hack his way into any system at any moment.  If it is a programing language he doesn’t know, he’ll some how learn it in the 30 seconds he spends successfully hacking into the computer database.  His survival is based more on brain over brawn.  He could likely survive on his own, but lends his support to the community because all those years playing WoW has made him altruistic.

There have always been stock characters for writers to use in crafting a story.  However, in the case of some of these more modern rendition, the stock characters become more of a parody of themselves than an actual well developed character.  Also, with the stock characters being sentenced to a certain slot, the TV show or movie looks like it is modeled more on Role-Playing games (think-Final Fantasy) where the player assembles a cast of characters that have one speciality: fighter, mage, rogue, ninja. If The Warrior falls than the group must survive long enough to find a replacement -- which they will do with no doubt.  

Did I miss any characters?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sometimes a Sword is Just a Sword: Freudianism Fails to Makes Sense of The Hobbit

In an essay titled “Psychological Themes in The Hobbit,” Dorthy Matthews writes the following:

“It is only through chance that the key to the trolls’ cave is found, thus providing unearned access to the magic swords so necessary for later trials.  If the sword is seen as a phallic symbol, its miraculous appearance at the beginning of the journey supports the ritualistic pattern of maturation in Bilbo’s adventures.”

There is no doubt that The Hobbit can be read as a tale of maturation or coming of age.  I prefer viewing The Hobbit as an unwilling pilgrim’s tale as the goal of any pilgrimage is to return changed and hopefully find direction in one’s life, both of which happen to Bilbo. 

However, I am really bothered by the writer’s casual tossing about of Freudian interpretation in regards to swords in The Hobbit.  It demonstrates a lack of responsibility to careful interpretation and instead relies on a smoke and mirrors interpretation and many modern preconceptions that in no way fit the story. Furthermore, such an interpretation, which leads a person to equate sword to phallus, can only be had by over interpretation, wishful thinking, and a lack of practical life experience.  I sometimes cannot help and wonder as to why woman see penises everywhere in literature.  I think Freud would say it is penis envy.

Freud himself is said to have quipped that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, meaning that at every moment of a character or person taking advantage of something that is longer than it is wide (a sword or a stick of chewing gum) is not always going to equate to phallus.  Freud was apparently a worse Freudian than modern Freudians in that he seemed to know the preposterous world view that might result by pointing at every taller than wide thing and thinking phallus.  Taking Freudianism to the logical absurd end, a person sees the world in terms of phallus, and like the old Tootsie Roll commercial where all things longer than wide – trees, cars, buildings, dogs -- turned into a tootsie roll of some great size (with the lyrics to the jingle in the commercial The world looks mighty good to me/ 'cause Tootsie Rolls are all I see/ Whatever it is I think I see/ Becomes a Tootsie Roll to me), the phallus interpreter runs the same danger and should remember that sometimes a sword is just a tool, a weapon, an object for safety, a source of courage. 

The sword, particularly those that are long and straight, has a very practical design, which is too often ignored by Freudians.  The Freudians seem to imagine that long ago a man looked at his penis and concluded that it is the perfect shape for a weapon, when in reality it is advantageous in hand to hand combat to keep one’s enemy or target at a distance for safety reasons.  When the cave man designed the throwing spear, it is clearly because he loved his own phallus and thought the best way to give tribute to it is to design a hurling weapon of destruction.  The cave man might not have understood the principles of aerodynamics but one need not understand physics to know that a spear will fly better through the air than a block or most other shapes.  If the Freudian view was true than one logical conclusion is reached in that men are apparently more aerodynamic than women due to the phallus.

There are several ways the reader knows quickly that swords are not representative of the phallus in The Hobbit.  The first is that the sword never grows in moments of arousal and excitement, as one would expect with a phallus. If the word is a phallus, it only means that Bilbo and Gandalf and the Dwarves suffer from a dysfunctioning phallus.  Therefore, the swords in The Hobbit are actually poor representations of adolescent and adult maturity.

Another way we know the sword is not a phallus is that a sword fits the story in time and place.  What other weapon would Freudians have the travelers use?  If the weapon is wider than it is long it would still be phallic to the Freudian– for you only have to turn it on its side to make it into phallic imagery -- and if the weapon was curved and circular than it would be clearly modeled on testis and therefore a phallic like imagery or at least an image in the neighborhood of the phallus, which for Freudians is close enough to the real deal.  Tolkien wrote a story in which the main weapon of the culture and of defense was a sword because Middle Earth was colored by Anglo, Saxon, and Norse epic tales and myths where swords were the instrument of choice for the hero.  It is not because Tolkien’s world was colored by Freudian phalli.  In other words, the sword was chosen because it made sense in terms of culture and time.

A third way we know that a sword is not a phallus in The Hobbit comes from practical experience from any one who has ever lived or traveled through a dangerous land.  The wilderness is wild and dangerous; if the proper precautions are not taken the traveler might be overpowered by the wild and the wild creatures.  A soldier does not travel into the jungles without weapons, backpackers do not backpack without a walking stick, a handy weapon if needed, and at minimum a pocket knife.  Why would adventurers travel without weapons? Moreover, the weapons a traveler caries add a sense of safety to the journey and help the traveler, when the time comes, to be courageous – as is seen when Bilbo kills the spiders with his sword.  Without the sword he would have only been able to run from the spiders like the other dwarves.

Therefore, knowing who Tolkien is and his deep-seated Christian beliefs, trying to interpret his writings though an atheistic humanism lens is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  You can do it but only at great force and not without damaging the hole or the peg.  Lastly, in this case, the sword is little more than a magical artifact that assists the travelers in the adventures, and in no way is it a phallus.  Sometimes a sword is just a sword.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Six More Tools for Effective Youth Ministry

This past weekend was spent with a group of teens at our Archdiocesan Youth Conference.  I enjoy going to these conferences because I get to see teens, many of whom I have taught, enjoy a weekend with fellow teens being challenged and affirmed in their Catholic faith.  I also enjoy these gathering because I get to see what the current trends are in youth ministry.  Here are six more tools for youth effective youth ministry.

Monday, July 16, 2012

St. Benedict: A 6th Century Saint for the 21st Century

Over at Homiletic and Pastoral Review, an essay I wrote on St. Benedict is making the rounds on the usual Catholic news aggregators.

Here is the intro to the Essay:
 Chesterton wrote that “it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” He argues that this is the reason why the 19th century chose St. Francis of Assisi, and the 20th century chose St. Thomas Aquinas, as their contraries—or more rightly, the saints chose them, the times only thinking they have chosen these saints as patrons. The 19th century chose “the Franciscan romance precisely because it had neglected romance.” The 20th century chose St. Thomas, the master of reason, precisely because it had forgotten how to be reasonable. 
More than a decade into the 21st century—in the vast, universal, communion of saints—what saint will emerge as the help of his brethren who are still fighting for salvation? Who, besides Christ, can serve as our sign of contradiction for the post-modern world? “Any saint” might suffice as an answer, as our world desperately needs the witness of many saints— vastly different in a way that knights are different from monks, and complementary in a way that knights make excellent monks. However, by saying “any saint,” we fail to realize that not only is one age different from another—being set upon by its own trials and successes—but also each saint is different from another saint in his own trials and successes. Though there really is but one success: being a saint. That is, the 21st century has a craving for a specific saint, similar to a pregnant woman craving a specific, often odd pairing of food, like hot fudge covered pickles. Who will satisfy this craving; to whom will it give birth? 

Monday, July 09, 2012

If Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Huxley and Ayn Rand Made a Video Game

If Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Huxley and Ayn Rand made a video game it would likely be similar to the 2007 hit game BioShockBioShock was received with much admiration and recognition when it was released by means of a number of awards: Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) Art Direction, AIAS Original Music Composition, AIAS Sound Design, and 2007 Game of the Year from the magazine Game Informer.  To date, over 4 million copies of BioShock have been sold.  Despite the mass numbers of tweens, teens, and young adults who have played the game, I cannot help but wonder if they realize the game’s philosophical foundation.

Produced by a company known as Irrational Games, the game’s developers meld some of the darkest philosophies in human history and drop a protagonist in the middles of a city run by those philosophies in which he then must fight his way out on a quest of freedom and self-discovery.  In a sense, BioShock is a thought experiment in which the developers imagined a world in which the Will to Power, the Prince, Objectivism, and Huxley’s Brave New World, were all allowed to play out to their logical (or really illogical) consequences.

The game is a first person shooter set in an art deco post World War II city known as Rapture.  The protagonist, Jack – who appears to be a common business man, literally crashes into the entrance of Rapture when his plane crashes, and he takes refuge on a rocky outcropping in the ocean.  There he discovers an elevator in the only building on the small outcrop, which takes him into the underwater city of Rapture.  There, Jack finds a city in chaos and in ruin.

The city of Rapture was the brainchild of Objectivist business magnate and one of the game’s antagonists, Andrew Ryan.  Those familiar with Any Rand should be able to see the connection here, as not only is the antagonist’s name similar, Objectivism is the school of philosophical thought developed by Any Rand.  In Rand’s own words Objectivism “is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”  This is a summary of exactly what Andrew Ryan hoped to accomplish with Rapture, as he hoped that in the city of Rapture he along with fellow scientists would be able to bring man to his perfection.  More over, to draw out the connection to Any Rand further, the protagonist is helped through half the game by a mysterious man who goes by the name Atlas, which should call to mind Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.

Nietzsche dared to ask the questions, “why morality?” “Why not immorality?” “Why truth?” “Why not untruth?”  Likewise, Andrew Ryan constructed Rapture to be a place free of moral and scientific constraints that had been placed on scientists by humanity and governments.  There in Rapture, Ryan and others conduct genetic experiments on man with a complete disregard for the price or sanctity of human life.  To Ryan, human life has the same value as a nail or hammer.  Rapture was to be a new Garden of Eden fit with two forms of genetically altering material called ADAM and EVE.  Moreover, Ryan can be viewed as a Nietzschian Zarathustra who is trying to gift to the ignorant world Nietzsche’s uberman by means of genetic manipulation.

Through the over experimentation done by Ryan, he creates a world in which Jack finds Huxleinist genetically engineered humans (similar to the ones in A Brave New World) who are produced for one specific objective depending on how their genes are manipulated.  Female children, known as Little Sisters, are bred to collect ADAM from those who have died.  Adults are genetically modified into one of two categories.  The first category becomes what is known in the game as Big Daddies.  Big Daddies are the bulwark for the Little Sisters.  The Daddies have one purpose only and that is to protect and guard the Little Sisters even unto death.  If a Bib Daddy looses his Little Sister, he wanders the remainder of the game lost, sad and looking for his Little Sister.  The other category for adults are the genetically mass produced warriors, called splicers, who have been driven mad by an over exposure to ADAM. 

What the protagonist discovers quickly is that the rule of Rapture is might makes right --an idea that has found rest in the camps of both Nietzsche and Machiavelli.  There is no government in Rapture, only loosely formed gangs of splicers.  Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine (another of the game’s antagonists, a former gangster and black market trader who is bent on destroying Ryan) both serve as kinds of princes where each seeks to manipulate and masses and eliminate any who step in their way to power.  Therefore, Ryan has no problem trying to kill of Jack, and Fontaine has no problem trying to manipulate the protagonist for his own purposes using lies and other techniques (I’m not mentioning the other techniques as I wish not to spoil the game in the event anyone who has not played the game wishes to play it after reading this).

Hopefully, but highly doubtful, what the player of BioShock quickly learns is that a society like Rapture cannot exist in a functional state in our world, where the philosophies of Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Huxley and Ayn Rand rule.  For each of the four philosophies lead to only one place: destruction and chaos.  Furthermore, three of the four philosophies, sans Huxley, can bee seen as architects of death, and one thing BioShock is not in want is death.

On a side note, I’m also imagining a college level intro to philosophy class that involves playing BioShock before reading and studying Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Huxley and Ayn Rand.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The News from the City of S. Texas

It’s summer time here in the City of S. Texas.  Summer is a special time for children.  School is out, pools are open, sprinklers are set up to be played in, and the cheap seats at the local ball park are perfect for catching a foul ball.  One of the special treats of the summer is the ice cream man.  His jolly jungle beckoning the neighbor kids can be heard from streets away, sends children of all ages to run about the house yapping, “Ice cream, ice cream” until mom gives them money to buy a fudge bar from the man’s truck.  In one quick swoop, like a mother hen shooing her chicks along, she release the children into the street to find the ice cream truck.

When the truck is finally found, each child is rewarded by the first few licks from a fudge bar.  The child can only get a few lick from the sweet chocolatey bar because it is so hot, so incredibly hot, that the fudge bar melts and the children are forced to lick the melted bar from their hands, forearms, and elbows.  Nobody told the children that this would happen, but the kids don’t mind.  That’s just the way kids are: unfazed by life’s mishaps.  And when the kids return home a sticky mess they share that stickyness with the family by touch everything: remote controls, door knobs, pants.  Finally when mom has had enough sharing, she commands her kids to clean their hands.  The girls listen and wash their hands with fruit scented soaps of kiwi and mango.  The boys though clean their hands, but differently from the girls.  They are boys, they do things differently.  They let Buzz, the bet beagle, do the cleaning form them with long sloppy wet licks.  Buzz is more than happy to help and wags his tail with great excitement back and forth.  And the boys think themselves clever for discovering a way of cleaning that does not require washing with mango soap.

It is hot outside.  Very hot.  It’s so hot that the other day it began to rain, and the rain didn’t even have a chance to hit the ground before it evaporated back into the clouds.  The locals are able to witness the water cycle right before their very eyes.  Incredible it was.  Rain like this happens ever so often that it has its own name.  The residents have taken to calling it dehydrated rain.

The children of S. Texas aren’t the only ones finding way to keep cool and enjoy the summer.  The adults are busy too in finding ways to keep cool.  The yearly blistering temperatures in S. Texas have led some of the more inventive types to tinker with personal cooling devices.  For instance, Bob Smith created an air conditioning for trousers, a hat with a built in fan that ran on solar power, and a pillow that always has a cool side.

The more resourceful residents of S. Texas make do with what they have on hand to help keep themselves cool.  Big John Jones, on one scorching day, resorted to bringing his kids’ baby pool into his living rom, filling it with water and bags of ice, and reclining into it for an afternoon of another Law & Order marathon.  At times, he’d wander into the kitchen and open and the fridge or freezer door not because he was hungry but to simply feel the cool air against he face.  If his wife isn’t looking, he’d grab a bag of peas or carrots, sometimes even a steak from the freezer and hold it to the back of his neck providing him a moment of relief from the oppressive heat.

While the men are digging in the freezer for relief, the wives are busy making their famous Southern, sweet, iced tea.  The secret to making this tea, passed down from mother to daughter as a rite of passage, is to add the sugar and mint and any other ingredients to the tea while it is still hot- just after you remove the tea bags from the hot water.

Each night during the summer months, which in S. Texas extends from April-October, all families pray that God gives their air conditioning unit the strength to make it through another summer.  Even though the thermostat is trying to get the air conditioner to get the indoor temperature to 76 degrees the house never cools past 79.  Just this past Sunday at the First Baptist church the air conditioning broke.  The compressor stopped working.  Old Aunt Ester fainted from heat stroke and was carted to the near by hospital -- she had gotten to church early to get a good seat, and the heat just did her in. The choir’s singing reminded the congregation of molasses: thick, heavy, and slow.   The music was less than the usual vibrancy normally associated to with a Baptist service.  After an opening song, the preacher, who normally does not begin preaching till after the congregation has been worked up many  hymns, took to the pulpit.  The Reverend Clarence York, known for his fiery preaching of great length and depth, gave his shortest and most direct sermon.  It was only 15 words in length.  After mounting the pulpit he began, “You think it’s hot as hell in here.  I assure you. It is not.”  When he finished and stepped down from the pulpit the choir began the closing song “The Rivers of Babalyon.”  This left the congregation confused.  The old ladies, in their summer hats and fans, had not met their Sunday quota of affirming the Reverend and each other with ejaculative “yes,” “Mmmmhu,” “Amen,” and “Hallelujah.”  The young men had not the time enough to study the young ladies so as to determine who they should ask to brunch.  In fact, there would be no brunch this week with only a 15 minute service it was only 9:15 in the morning when church ended: so no fried trout on grits, no fried chicken wings on belgium waffles, and no eggs and beacon ruben breakfast sandwich.

And that’s the news from the City of S. Texas.

[My attempt to parody Garrison Keeler.  I do hope it is "good enough."]
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