Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Age of Credulity

The Feast of Holy Innocents
December 28, 2009

P.T. Barnum
Innocent extraordinaire

"There's a sucker born every minute."
These days...nanosecond.

I was recently surfing channels trying to catch some kind of educational wave. EWTN isn't exactly "education" and I don't personally believe the Mass makes good Reality TV. It's a bit like watching Top Chef when the only thing left in your kitchen is half a bag of pork rinds. And all those deacons with pimples. But those Franciscans have always been kinda "out there". So I decided to really educate myself. Time for the hard stuff. Next stop: History Channel.

Whoaaaaaa, I must say, history has really changed! What was it Yogi Berra once said? "If you don't know where you're going you might end up someplace else." Sage words indeed.

Another Holy Innocent
Yogi Berra
[in Full Lotus]

"The future ain't what it used to be."

Equal time for an Amillenialist response:
"Oh yes it is..."

At any rate, I ended up on the History Channel's new smash hit: Pawn Stars. I can see why it's popular. There's a lot of money changing hands for interesting junk believed to be valuable but selling for only pennies on the dollar. Something like sub-prime mortgages only the mortgage bankers have tattoos and their names are stitched on their shirts out from which their stomachs resolutely tumble. Fine upstanding fellows all. And please give them credit: no one is trying to hide behind respectability or put on the dog. No bespoke suits or french cuffs [though they will sell you a mighty nice pair of cufflinks]. With Pawn Stars, what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Confession: I actually enjoy the show. Penance: two hours of Kenneth Copeland and three hours of Joel Osteen.

Shell game
[in the good old days]

Once upon a time Usury was a sin.

I suppose this is "history" because it's a fact so many of us are broke. And so many of our fellow citizens stand ready to take advantage of the fact. Other highly popular offerings on the History Channel are: Gangland: Circle of Death [very popular with Canon Lawyers], The Nostradamus Effect, Decoding the Past: the other Nostradamus [is the plural of Nostradamus Nostradami?] Nostradamus 2012 [Nostradamus is evidently big with historians], Nostradamus Effect: Secret of the Seven Seals [Perhaps Nostradamus and Gangland should merge. Then we could call it La Cosa Nostradamus], Mystery Quest, Strange Rituals: Beyond Sex, Strange Rituals; Forbidden Sex, History of Sex: Ancient Civilizations, History of Sex: The Eastern World, History of Sex: The 20th Century. [I'm beginning to sense a pattern here.] Jobsite: Concrete Countdown [not an attack on Nominalism--boo!], Life After People: The Road to Nowhere [no kidding? Alternate title: PREMILLENIALISTS RAPTURED!], Bible Code[s] I and II, Bible Code II: Apocalypse and Beyond, Modern Marvels: Distilleries [oh boy, finally something for a Whiskey priest!], UFO Hunters, the Illuminati, Knights Templar in the New World, Mary Magdalene, Dan Brown in all his Vatican bashing splendor, and Chariot of the Gods. The latter was not really such a bad show. I have always wondered about Ancient Astronauts and Erik Von Daniken seems to have a real handle on it.

"Klaatu barada nikto"

Take me to your Leader
[or I'll whiz on you]

I think maybe the History channel isn't the best place to learn about, well, history. When I was a kid, about as far out as stuff got was Ripley's Believe it or Not. And at least, Ripley's was real! The guy with three legs or six fingers really had three legs or six fingers. No one was trying to pull your leg--even if you had more than two. That was what made it so quaint.

We moderns have drifted somewhere else. And Toto this ain't Kansas anymore! Of course, if some fool claimed with any kind of authority [oh-my-god, "authority", what an ugly and horrible word!] that Jesus walked on water, fed thousands with a single basket of loaves and fishes or really was God incarnate, well there really should be a place for him on the History Channel. He'd fit right in. It's just so preposterous! Only, there isn't and never will be. And why do you think that is? Maybe because compared to all the other crap on TV it's not really that preposterous after all.

I suppose if  the twentieth century was the Age of Anxiety, then this is the Age of Credulity. An age in which Nostradamus makes perfect sense, the Aztecs [you know, the guys that liked to cut out hearts] have wisdom, and pawnbrokers are the only ones who know what anything's really worth. Gimme a break. I'll stick with the eternal Wisdom of  a Yogi:

 Batter up!

Another splendiferous Yogism:
"If the world was perfect it wouldn't be."

Bonus question and little known historical fact: Who was PTL founder Jim Bakker's cellmate in Federal prison?

Answer: Lyndon Larouche

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rage Against the Machine: the Curious Case of Lev Shestov

The Wednesday After Advent 4

Lev Shestov
Or as the French would have it:  
Leon Chestov

Another philosophe
greatly admired by the French

"I'd like to thank the Academy."

Some 35 years ago I encountered the works of Lev Shestov. I remember the feeling only too well. It was the same feeling I had when I was 5 years old and my mother dragged me off to the Ralph Flanagan Swim School. Flanagan was a world class swimmer about a decade after the Weismsuller era [Ralph won a silver medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics] and I have often wondered if Weismuller [later known as Tarzan] taught his chimp buddy Cheeta to swim the same way Ralph taught me. I remember the look on my mother's face when on the first day of class Mr. Silver Medalist unceremoniously chucked me into the deep end, turned his back, and walked away. I got the message. This is the Herbert Spencer School of Aquatics. And you're a scholarship student. Sink or swim, dude.  These were the days before big-time liability suits. Anyhow,  I learned to swim just fine. I even got a certificate certifying I was a Little Minnow.

 Tarzan, Jane, and Cheeta
kinda like Eden
(but without the bush meat)

Family Values
I think he favors his mother

Shestov has a way of unnerving everyone who reads him.  The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once commented: "His voice when he enters an argument is that of a priest angry at the sight of holy vessels being desecrated."  Shestov was an irrationalist. Now if you need a precis,  I'll share this with you from the Routledge Encyclopedia of  Philosophy [I have edited for concision and to frame my own peculiar biases]: 

"...Shestov taught that reason and science can neither explain tragedy and suffering, nor answer the questions that matter most. ...Shestov regarded philosophical idealism as an attempt to gloss over the 'horrors of life' and attacked morality and ethics as inherently coercive. ...Philosophy and revelation are incompatible because God is not bound by reason, nature or autonomous ethics. To God, 'all things are possible', even undoing what has already happened. God even restored Job's dead children to him--the same children, not new ones, Shestov insisted."

Shestov denied the Blessed Trinity of philosophy: the principles of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle. In other words, he threw 2500 years of Western thought out the window of his Paris apartment. To which I say [crossing myself quickly]: "good riddance". 

It was not that Shestov hated philosophy. He simply believed that God's actions were not restricted by anything we mortals might consider logical or reasonable. Now this argument actually resonates with me. And for Catholics who have been spoon fed so much Aquinas they feel like geese with exploding livers; spread this on your cracker. There is a patron Saint of Irrationality: St Peter Damian. Here's a hagiography your Jesuit high school teacher never shared with you. Like Shestov, Damian also believed that God could change the past if he so desired. He believed that the Devil was the first grammarian because he taught Adam to decline deus in the plural [Genesis 3:5, Evidently the devil doesn't speak Hebrew] and argued that since Jesus did not choose philosophers as disciples, monks [and presumably Catholic seminarians] should not be required to study philosophy. Of course, by this same logic [if logic applies in Damian or Shestov's world] only commercial fishermen should teach theology. QED. I think.

This is not as wacko as it sounds. At least to other wackos such as myself. If you want really wacko, then you should read St. Peter Damian's Liber Gomorrhianus Of course, if you do read it, you may be forced to conclude that not much has changed in the last 1000 years and that St. Peter Damian is not wacko at all--merely prescient. Oh dear, I almost forgot. St. Peter Damian also introduced the practice of self-flagellation into Western monastic life; which makes him not only the Patron Saint of Irrationalists but of Self-Disciplinarians. After all, who needs a teaching brother with a paddle when you can cut out the middleman? That's not crazy at all. In my book that just makes him, ummm, "well-rounded".

St. Petey D

First I'll write a letter to the Pope, 
then I'll whip those naughty monks into shape

Shestov's magnum opus--at least in my hallowed opinion--was his book Athens and Jerusalem.  Shestov saw very clearly that people were trapped in a mode of thinking, a way of seeing and encountering the world, that limited them necessarily; and that this kind of  "inside the box" rationality was, well--here it comes again--a consequence of the Fall. For Shestov, so-called rational thinking is something we do only when we're caught in the gears of The Machine. It's the downside of wanting to know Good and Evil. You get the knowledge alright. But you also get the misery that comes with it.

 "Big wheel keep on turning..."

And the off switch is where????

In some branches of apologetics, this is what is called the noetic effect of sin. Simply put, once Adam and Eve got the boot, no one could think straight anymore. Certainly not straight enough to think themselves out of their misery and back into the Garden [You want back? Here's a hint: "garden" and "grace" both begin with "G"]. It's an argument you're more likely to encounter hanging out with Calvinists than Russian-Jewish emigre philosophers. And it's certainly on the "no-no" side of the nature/grace divide [at least for some Catholics]. But it does show a high regard for sin and seems to be a truer measure of the depths of human depravity. But hey, who needs a Savior anyway? You're smart enough; you figure it out.

So how far out is this argument? It's so far out there that even a Jansenist would throw holy water on it [though not this Jansenist]. But it also has a sly logic.

It leaves room for miracles like bringing the dead back to life and and wiping the slate clean. Hey if God can change the past, why not my past?

Back from the dead

Like it never even happened

Shestov missed a couple of things though. Which is why he only gets a consolation prize--i.e. the Noble Pagan award. High marks indeed for a Jewish thinker who liked to quote Martin Luther and St. Paul. He never got a handle on grace. And he never got a handle on grace because he could never wrap his mind around the notion that sin was something more than just an epistemic glitch. And this is where Lev missed the boat. Sin isn't just a problem of the way we see the world [though it is that too], it's a condition of the heart, of the entire person. But that's OK, because for a philosopher--and this is still Advent, right?--he still makes a pretty good John the Baptist.

Shestov's works are now out of print and his legacy is far from secure. Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenology, was a close personal friend and great admirer of Shestov's [as were D.H. Lawrence, Martin Buber, Albert Camus, and Nikolai Berdyaev]. This is particularly curious given that Husserl and Shestov's philosophies were diametrically opposed. No matter. An accurate assessment of Shestov remains to be written. Perhaps an even more curious [and perhaps frightening] fact is the special attention shown by Serbian scholars to Shestov's works. Not that anyone would ever consider irrationalism a feature of Serbian character.

Now, about Cheeta. He left the jungle, changed his name to Jiggs, and retired to an assisted living facility in Palm Beach where you can catch him on Saturday nights tickling the ivories in the rec room.

Mr. Saturday Night
 Why is this chimp smiling? 

"It's OK--I still get my residuals."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pagan follies

The Wednesday After Advent 3

Virtutes gentium splendida vitia sunt.

Et tu, Belushi?

Once upon a time, your unworthy blogster was a serious student of classical learning. In addition to a low-octane seminary education, I managed a graduate degree in philosophy from a middling state university and continue to "sneak a peek" at some of my long lost pagan friends: Plato, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius; "lost" being not a warrant of final judgment, but a frank assessment of the sorry state of my library. 

Alas, times have changed. And the competition with it. These days we have the wussy New Age pagans. These bozos wouldn't know a real pagan if one bit them on the arse. Real Pagans. Not bookstore Wiccans or pretend Druids. You know, worthy pagans, the meaty kind St. Clement claimed prepared the way for Christ.  I have always had a fond spot for the latter who, in any case, helped soften many of us up for the old knockout punch. St. Augustine had his Plato, St.Thomas Aquinas his Aristotle, Calvin his Seneca. I had my Marcus Aurelius, who by a long and winding road led me to Epictetus, the Stoics, William James and eventually to Pascal where my philosophical education ended and my real life began.

For many years I had an 18th century engraving of Marcus Aurelius in my office, a gift from a very dear friend. Not to worry,  images of Our Lord, the BVM, and a host of saints had hemmed that rascally persecutor in; along with a picture of the chapel in Walsingham U.K. where I was priested, a page from a Dutch Service Book [a tip of the hat to my Reformed friends], and a dummy hand grenade. 

You may be wondering what a man of the cloth was doing with a dummy hand grenade in his office and perhaps in a future blog I will tell you. For now, I have a much more interesting story to relate. While surfing the internet yesterday I landed "accidentally" on a website entitled Rasa Von Werder presents Woman Thou Art God: The University of Mother God Church.  Perhaps I should explain that I was looking for artistic images of hell [after all, hell is a high-class place and should be represented as such] and Ms. Von Werder [I don't know the proper form of address for a Goddess] has linked her website [] to images of  the Inferno in Yahoo's image bank. At least, I assume it was Ms.Von Werder who did the linking. In any case, I must warn you that at the bottom of her portal there is a wee reminder that her website contains "Artful Nudity".

I appreciate the heads-up because I would not want anyone to knowingly sin. Indeed, I have a little penitential handbook that lists prudery as a sin. I am referring to page 120 of  St. Augustine's Prayer Book. It is quite explicit and is sure to make any pious catholic think twice about being a prude. Prudery is defined as "Fear of sex or condemnation of it as evil in itself. Refusal to seek adequate sexual instruction or the attempt to prevent others from obtaining it. Stimulation of  excessive and harmful curiosity by undue secrecy. Repression of sex." Strengthened by this knowledge, I immediately clicked through.

St. Augustine
Web Nanny

Permission granted.

I really did think I had seen it all. There are any number of unusual [to say the least] religious images and some quite creative--albeit bizarre--juxtapositions. Nothing, I might add, that is particularly prurient. It is as if Heironymous Bosch had teamed up with Tertullian to accessorize a "Gentleman's Club". But perhaps I should let Ms.Von Werder speak for Herself...

"The following is the religion dictated to Rasa Von Werder in 1992-1993. She had felt stirrings deep inside her for years, that a new religion was needed. One day, she awoke with a revelation and God told her to write it down. This was the result. This, which she is calling "Church of the God Within," contains the foundation of University of MotherGod Church."  

Well, God must have been having an "off" day. Or perhaps it was not God at all but the Other Guy. As for "stirrings deep inside her", that will become very clear later. Trust me, there is a perfectly logical explanation.

There`are a number of curious images on the website but what caught my eye first was a link to Purgatory, I have more than a passing interest in the doctrine and was delighted to discover that Ms. Von Werder shared some of my concerns for its denizens. I was also heartened--I guess--to find I was only a click away. Again, I think it best to let the Ms. Von Werder speak for herself. 

"Helping Souls in Purgatory is perhaps the greatest mission of Rasa Von Werder; the touchstone of her entire mystical life. She can judge how her inner antennas are working by whether or not she is communicating with them. There is an urgent need today to preach Souls in Purgatory, because the Catholic Church, traditionally their spokesman, has lain down on the job. Helping these souls is the greatest act of charity there is - and we benefit as much from this as they do. Greater rewards come from helping them than from any other action. The three things that they need are Masses, prayers, and voluntary harships [sic] and sufferings for them." 

I would think the poor souls in Purgatory probably had enough in the way of suffering. But she is probably right. Listening to her preach would definitely qualify as more "harship [sic] and sufferings." I will not reveal the names of those she claims she has freed from Purgatory. Oh, why not. They're already listed on the web site anyway.   So here's the purgatorial [pa]role call. 

Anthony Quinn, Richard Pryor, Robert Atkins M.D. , George C. Scott, Elvis Presley, Errol Flynn, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Rudolph Nureyev and Timothy McVeigh.

 Errol Flynn 
a.k.a. Captain Blood

My wicked, wicked ways
Sentence commuted to time served

I'm afraid it's a short list. But there are numerous theological loose ends. For instance, where in the hell [oops!] are the rest of the Rat Pack? How can you spring Sinatra and Dean Martin and not Lawford, Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr.? And what does the Atkins diet have to do with the Oklahoma City bomber? Or General Patton with the Nutcracker Suite?  Or Zorba the Greek with self-combusting comedians? Truly, Her ways are not our ways.

Richard Pryor

 Lighting the way

There are a number of other interesting items on her website. One of note is an article  titled "Swami G, since you don't believe in my stigmata, I dont believe in your Sahaja" I was not certain what a "Sahaja" was, so I went to Wikipedia to find out. I consider myself an educated person, but after twenty minutes of reading, about all I can say is "it's complicated". Really complicated.

Ms. Rasa Von Werder
Mistress of Purgatory

In the flesh--but still partially clothed
Nature, grace, and just a hint of burlesque

But as long as I was on Wikipedia I decided I'd give Ms. Von Werder a probe of her own. Bingo! What an interesting person--er, Goddess. Not only is she God, but in 1967 she was Miss Nude Universe. And once upon a time [pre-Goddess days, I'm sure] she was in what is politely referred to as "the adult trade". Hmmmm. Perhaps the Catholic church is not the only thing that has "lain down on the job." Naked? Universe? God? Well, it all makes sense now. She's not a pagan, she's a run of the mill pantheist. And I have no use for her whatsoever.

I left her website profoundly disappointed. What is the world coming to? One can't even find a halfway decent pagan these days.

But look on the bright side, at least we know where Elvis is.


On his way UP

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Seasons Greetings!

The Saturday after Advent 2

Just when you thought it was safe to unwrap the creche, the dreaded secular humanist bogeyman pops out of an AP news item to whiz in the eggnog. In an article titled: Atheists at Christmas: Eat, Drink and be Wary, benighted infidels complained about "the omnipresence of Christmas" and the downside of being atheists. Omnipresence? Downside? Pleeeeease.  If I were a tacky fire-breathing "undermentalist" I'd thunder back: "Hey you bozos, just you wait:  threescore more years and you'll get plenty of Omnipresence and a lot more downside." And it'll be hot.

Atheist debating society.
"Is not. Is. Is not. Is. Is not."

"Is that your final answer?"

The author is on the left [er, standing].

In truth, having read the article,  I'm heartened. Can anyone feel seriously threatened by imbeciles like this: one man, grousing about his 92 year old mother, offers this bit of sententiae  ""She wants me to come back to God, but I can't because he never existed." Or this from a 47 year old aspiring archaeologist ruminating on Christmas trees: "Food, we like. Presents, we like. Seeing family, we like. Sacred trees are an ancient custom. It's pretty, it smells nice and it's pagan." I guess that means there'll be a tree. Which begs the question--just what kind of star does an atheist top his tree with? Answer: a black hole.

My favorite, though, is this little gem proffered by a retired marketing executive from Chrysler's Plymouth division [Didn't that used to be a car brand?]. "What we're celebrating this year is the promise of the sun returning. That's S-U-N, not S-O-N." Well, lets hope Chrysler returns too. That's spelled "F-I-A-T". As in divine fiat.

This kind of drivel is mind numbing. But you must be very careful. Atheists can be sneaky devils. When I finished reading the article, I realized they had managed to accomplish their stated goal. By God, I felt sorry for them! On the other hand, if these are Dawkins' raiders, the Pope doesn't need battalions. One penguin with a ruler will do nicely, thank you.

Translation: "To hell with you!"

I believe somewhere in scripture [actually, I know exactly where:  it's St. Matthew 16:18] we are reminded that even the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. And while I can appreciate all the good Christian folk running around trying to put the Christ back into Christmas; my advice is, give it up. He never left. And all the doo-wah versions of  Silent Night blaring in all the malls swarming with all the fiscally stimulated consumers can't take Him away.

Yes, sacred trees are an ancient custom. We Christians have one too. And it ain't a Christmas tree.

Bye bye Wayne. Bye bye.

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, 
it is the parts that I do understand.”
Mark Twain

Thursday, December 10, 2009

You must be born again...and again...and again...and again...and again...and...

The Thursday after Advent 2


I saw a Reuters news item today that caught my eye [and by the way, I  have 2, not 3]. The header reads: "Many Americans haunted by ghosts, look to astrology". Reading this article I learned a number of interesting things. A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that roughly 1/3 of Americans believe they have communicated with a dead person and almost 20% claim to have seen or " been in the presence of" a ghost. 25% of our fellow Americans said they believed in reincarnation and 26% believed there was "spiritual energy" in objects like vegetables or trees [now you know why your kids won't eat brussel sprouts].  Finally, 25% of us believe in astrology. The article points out that the total number of folks who believe in astrology is roughly equivalent to the percentage of Roman Catholics in this country, 30% of whom [RC's that is] also believe in astrology. What exactly is everyone trying to predict? If it's how gullible their neighbor is, who the hell needs an astrologist?

Contact lenses can be a real problem
for clairvoyants

I'll tell you what makes this whole thing so ridiculous. It's not 13% of evangelicals believing in astrology or 10% believing in reincarnation [at least the latter can appeal to Origen] it's like, what kind of idiot calls an astrologist when he sees a ghost? 

"Who ya gonna call?"

I grew up in a much less credulous era. Oh, we had occasional UFO sightings and talking horses on TV but no one worried what astrological sign their priest was [if you're interested, I'm a Leo] or whether their broccoli was going to give them some lip. I try to respect other people's beliefs. I have--to my knowledge--never insulted a Mormon or a Scientologist. I listen patiently to Jehovah's Witnesses and Sedevacantists. Southern Baptists too. When it comes to fools, I'm all ears. If Lucian Pulvermacher wants to call himself Pope Pius XIII and hole up in Wisconsin, more power to him [maybe I should have put that differently now that he's deceased], If Orville Redenbacher wants to sell popcorn from the grave, what's it to me?

Dead man popping


Dead man Pope-ing

His Holiness
Pope Pius XIII RIP
Lucian Pulvermacher

Hey, I'm just as gullible as the next guy. I believe...

"in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God..." 

Oh well, you get the idea.

I am reminded of Ambrose Bierce's observation that "Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt." If that is the case, we are in some real trouble. Because the form of idiocy most peculiar to our race is to believe unquestioningly the things we should doubt and doubt unquestioningly the things we should  believe. I'm just happy the re-incarnationists won't be making a return trip. Once really is enough.

What was it Pascal said? "I believe because of the miracles." Me too.

And I'll stick with talking horses.

Wilbur, why the long face?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How to raise [and skin] a tiger

Family Guy


Where's the rest of me?

 The Wednesday after Advent 2

Without even trying, I have been closely following the Tiger Woods "story". I am still undecided what to call it. Is it an event, a story, a crisis, a moral lesson, a fable, a tale told by idiots signifying nothing, something, anything? Trust me on this, half the Advent sermons preached this coming Sunday will contain at least one reference to El Tigre. And for some bold Protestants preaching outside the box [it's called a  lectionary], it may be the whole cannoli. He's on his way to becoming the best example of a bad example since Brad left Jen. Which is to say this whole thing is probably good for at least 30 issues of US or People.  And if Angelina Jolie was Brad's punishment, can you imagine what kind of short straw Tiger will draw next?

It has not quite progressed to the level of the Bodily Assumption of St. Michael into Neverland. Not quite. But we are well on our way. I am tempted to compare the moral trajectory of celebrity with something Isaac Newton called gravity. That, I suppose, is why apples--as well as human beings--fall so damn completely. In life--as with gravity--there is no such thing as a partial Fall.  The Stoics were right about at least one thing. You can drown in 6 inches of water as easily as 60 feet of it. If so, Mr Woods must be breathing a helium mix, because if even half the the stories are true, his drowning occurred at about 500 feet..

I do not begrudge Mr. Woods' enormous gifts. Making hundreds of millions of dollars using a piece of hard metal to knock things into small holes is no mean feat. It is a curious talent but many curious talents are well compensated. Besides, to invert Holy Writ, "the rich you will have with you always". And the stupid. And the wicked. And so on and so on. Unfortunately, as Mr Woods has discovered, skill with a putter has nothing to do with living a decent life.

Now that Mr. Woods has discovered that adultery has a downside and that life in the VIP room costs a lot more than $2000 an hour, perhaps he will be able to survey the wreckage of his life with a little steadier eye. I am not holding my breath. Surveying the wreckage of one's own life is painful and difficult. Only by the grace of God can we see that horror and hope to spiritually survive. But surveying the wreckage of a celebrity's life? Well, by golly, that's different. In fact, that's fun.  No--even better--"that's entertainment".

"That's Entertainment"

I am waiting to see if Mr. Woods has the courage of his convictions and makes a guest appearance on Howard Stern. I hope his public relations people are smarter than that, but so far Mr Woods has made some pretty bad calls. Or perhaps he will publicly repent and show up with Dr. Drew on VH1's new hit show, Celebrity Sex Rehab. After all, there are some cute girls on that show. What was it Le Rochefoucauld said? "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue". I am not accusing Mr. Woods of hypocrisy. He has bigger fish to fry right now. I'm accusing us of being hypocrites for enjoying the whole thing so godawfully much.

"I thank thee Lord that I am not like...
that Pharisee."

By the way, how do you skin a tiger? The same way you make a hypocrite: you do it yourself.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"There's Something Wrong In Paradise"

 Saturday of the First Week of Advent

Back in the 80's, a band called Kid Creole and the Coconuts had a hit--er, well, sort of a hit--called "There's Something Wrong In Paradise." I remember seeing them on Saturday Night Live doing a little number called "Mr. Softee" [nooooo comment] where the girls had some pretty interesting moves. I was largely an  idiot  in those days and of course there's absolutely no accounting for taste. We were all thirty-something once. So the only defense I have 25 years later is to repeat Clint Eastwood's well worn line from The Unforgiven: "I ain't like that no more." As far as mea culpas go, it's a hopeful start. Hopeful in a hopeless sort of way. Because we all know where these kind of protestations end up: we are like that. Exactly like that.

I've been reading Pascal again, which among theological couch potatoes counts as an extreme sport.  But what occurs to me is that if Kid Creole--decidedly not a pneumatic kind of guy--can figure out that elevators go down as well as up, there may still be hope for the rest of us. Of course, the problem with the elevator of human depravity is that there is no bottom floor. So whatever you may hear about  "touching bottom",  fuhgeddaboudit. However low you think you can go, there's always a button on the elevator marked "L" for lower.  I wish I could tell you I was speaking objectively, but sadly these are empirical observations gleaned from years of one man behaving badly.

I still find it astonishing that folks don't get this. The fact that I am still astonished they don't get it only goes to show how badly my depravometer needs recalibrating. Dr. Samuel Johnson once observed that "Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world." Perhaps that is true. But it is also possible that the old men of this world are right. 

 Acme Depravometer
badly in need of recalibration

Somewhere lost in the distant fog of time there was an event that makes sense of all this. It's called The Fall. "Now I know what you're thinking". [Another great Eastwood line.] There's a Jansenist somewhere in the woodpile [or if you're really Protestant, a Calvinist]. And, by golly,  you'd be right. The worst sin these days appears to be having latent Augustinian "tendencies".  Well this old man is coming out of the closet. I believe in the fall of man. And three cheers to St. Augustine for really sticking it to us.

We don't need no stinking parachutes.

Leaving aside the account in Genesis 3, you know, the verse that begins "Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made..." And leaving aside Kid Creole, Albert Camus, Arthur Schopenhauer, Voltaire and other assorted secular skydivers. Leaving aside Psalm 51 ["Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me." Ps 51:5] and all of St. Paul in his first chapter of the epistle to the Romans [I love St. Paul. Not only are we sinners, we're stupid, blind, dumb-ass sinners.], there is still--by the grace of God--the very real possibility we can "get it":  "it" being a general outline of just how wickedly nutters we really are. There are, after all, only 2 directions an elevator can go.

Since I am waxing cinematic today, I am reminded of the scene in A Clockwork Orange where the protagonist Alex,  about to undergo moral "re-conditioning" under the Ludivico technique, is found by the prison padre--a smarmy Anglican if there ever was one---reading a Bible in the prison library. The padre compliments him on his choice of reading material. The genially unregenerate Alex nods seraphically to the padre as he continues to fantasize about flaying Christ as one of the Centurions at the crucifixion. So much for prison ministry. 

The problem with the fall of man is that no one sees it. We practice what Pascal calls "diversion". "Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things." Or as Voltaire put it: "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."

I think I have blathered long enough for today.

So think about these things next time you push "L" on an elevator or--God forbid--read The Song of Solomon with anything less than a chaste heart.

Pax Christi


"I ain't like that no more."

"Me either."