Too Much Religion For Me

“I’m sorry, that’s too much religion for me.”

“I wanted to make sure my kids had enough religion, but not that it consumed their whole life.”

“Christianity is about faith, not about religion” or “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”

I’ve had about enough of this statement. Let’s look at a bit of a hypothetical conversation.

Michael: Here, sir. Consider the Catholic faith. We go to Church every Sunday, we receive the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we go to confession to restore our relationship with God every time that we cause God pain through sin, we hold that sacraments have literal effects in the world, we formally pray about five times a day, and we hold that God wants to invade every part of our lives. Won’t you join us?

John: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then, consider going to Church every Sunday, receiving Holy Communion, participating every so often in the sacraments, pray five times a day, but just ask Jesus to forgive your sins personally.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then, consider going to Church every Sunday, participating every so often in the sacraments, pray a few times a day, and we won’t worry about regular reflection and repentance.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then, consider going to Church every Sunday, we’ll extend the preaching so you don’t have to study Scripture on your own, pray every once in a while, and just make sure you’re baptized at some point.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then consider going to Church every Sunday, and make sure you say some prayer at some point during the week.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well…come to Church every Sunday?

J:

 

What is the notion of ‘religion’? Where does that come from? Even in ancient Rome the origin of the word was not exactly known. St. Augustine considers multiple, good, potential etymologies, but the most significant one he entertains is connecting the word to religare, which means ‘to bind together again’, ‘to reconnect’.

People who have fallen away from Catholicism or people who would never in their right mind consider it as a legitimate expression of Christianity (much less the expression of Christianity), see the notion of religion as a stumbling block.

“It’s just a bunch of stuffy rules.”

“It’s not authentic.”

“If you are following a religion, you are trying to work your way into heaven. That’s not faith.”

Let’s walk through a little exercise together, if you don’t mind doing a bit of work.

John has, for some personal reason, accepted the Lord Christ into his heart. He believes He died and rose again, won victory over Sin and True Death, and that He truly loves him.

Great! Now what? Does John lie back and wait for Christ to come again, or until death takes him?

I should think not. He should engage his faith! React to it! But how?

He could start by going to Church every Sunday. He could start by joining a community. This way he is not practicing his faith in isolation, something very counter to the nature of God. By going to Church every Sunday he can also open his heart and mind to hear the Word of God, to increase his faith in previously unknown ways. At what point, though, is prioritizing this important faith activity and regularly participating in it then “too religious”?

He could pray more. Prayer is not an act that changes God, as God does not change, but primarily an act that draws us closer to Him! Be it the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), a Hail Mary (Luke 1:28, Luke 1:42-43, James 5:16), singing/chanting/meditation on any of the 151 Psalms, or spontaneous prayer, these are all opportunities to engage with the Lord. St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). All of these are ways for John to do that. At what point, though, is prioritizing this important faith activity and regularly participating in it then “too religious”?

He could follow Christ’s commands.

Christ said for His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So John could participate in baptism.

Christ said “This is my Body” and “This is the Chalice of my Blood” and “Do this in remembrance of me” (wherein remember means more than just recall the fond memory). He said whoever does not eat His flesh and drink His blood will have no life in Him (John 6:53).

Christ told His disciples that whatever they bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever they loose will be loosed in Heaven. This is the power Christ gives to His disciples to bind and loose sins, not in their own power, but as avatars of Christ on Earth.

At what point, though, is prioritizing these important faith activities and regularly participating in them then “too religious”?

I’m sure you understand my point, but let me make my point clear:

One may shove off religiosity in the name of faith, assuming that these elements are contrary to each other. But in the act of faith, seeking and trying to bind ourselves to our Creator and Sustainer, what better way is there to join ourselves to our God than through regularly practice and custom, or even ritual?

I think there is a misconception against religion that begins with an understanding of God as unchanging and immutable. Because He is unchanging, then we assume that our participation in His saving grace is similarly unchanging and immutable. But remember the dynamic of prayer: it is not about changing God, it is about changing us. While here on Earth our mission as Christians is not about passive participation in faith, it is about actively approximating ourselves to God, it is about sanctification and justification.

A faith without works is dead (James 2:17), but works alone does not save. The Catholic Church has long recognized (since the beginning) that one must receive faith and then respond to the faith with works of love.

The truth of the matter is that religion is a tool wherein one can deepen their faith, their hope, and their charity.

The other truth of the matter is that even those who say they do not like religion, yet have deep faith, actually practice religion. They have habits that actively deepen their faith. They have habits that protect them from sin and from breaking away from God. They have habits of learning more things about God. They have habits of participating in Community around God’s love and grace.

The phrase “I’m sorry, that’s too much religion for me” is a dangerous slippery slope.

Even if one maintains proper religiosity, but utters this phrase or expresses it in some way to the people around them, they promote an air of disregard for the Faith. It tells people that “you can do what you want, so long as you acknowledge God,” yet doing whatever one wants is exactly what drives us away from God.

Don’t be afraid of religiosity. Embrace it.

Watch out, it’s a Trad!

I’ve only been a Catholic for two years. Two years. That’s not long, in Catholic terms. And of course, when you enter a community, you don’t begin by first understanding every nuance of their people. You get to know the surface level of the people and the core tenets of their bond. But as you sink in longer, you start to see more and more sides of people, their delights, their frustrations, their arguments, etc. Since I came into the Catholic faith already barreling through books and podcasts at a million miles an hour, I didn’t stop, and these two years have been almost as enlightening as the one leading up to my conversion.

One thing of interest to me is the general Catholic community’s response to traditionalists (rad-trads, glad-trads, etc). Ironically, since I converted from a pretty vague and liberal non-denominational Christianity, I’ve seen it in other people’s faces as I myself have approached them. My goal in this article is to offer a method of healing conversation in this rift between modern Catholics.

The source of conflict seems to arise from the Second Vatican Council, started in the early 60s, generally concluding around 1965. This council was different than many, primarily being *more of a pastoral council, rather than being a doctrinal council, as almost all others in the past had been. One of the documents from this council was Sacrosanctum Concilium, a document that addressed the shape of liturgical life within the Catholic Church. In and of itself it left a lot of wiggle room, but the idea was to remember the way that the early Church adapted itself to the many cultures it was evangelizing to, and the way that it married the sacred and true, within the church, with the beautiful that was found uniquely expressed in the people it was preaching to. Pretty soon after the Second Vatican Council, however, came up a group called the *Concilium, who took it upon themselves to respond to Sacrosanctum Concilium‘s demands and modify the regular Catholic Church’s liturgy so that it conformed to the Council’s demands. It is generally agreed that the *Concilium was much more left-leaning than the Council Fathers themselves, and modified the liturgy in much more extreme ways than anticipated. The result? The *Missal of Paul VI, or the Novus Ordo Missae, the New Order of the Mass, standing in contrast to the Tridentine Mass of old. As you can imagine, not everyone was happy with the new changes.

Imagine Father Michael, a priest at a pretty normal parish. He knows most of his parishioners well. One of the parishioners, John, has talked with Fr. Michael often about the Liturgy and traditional elements of the old Latin Mass. But John is not the only trad that Fr. Michael has known. He’s encountered many trads in the past who are angry, perhaps vitriolic in their speech, and who waste no time in correcting Fr. Michael or his fellow priests on ‘abuses’ of the liturgy. John has never himself demonstrated these negative behaviors towards Fr. Michael, but he has been talking more and more about traditional liturgy and traditional Catholic practices.

One day, John approaches Fr. Michael with a calm smile on his face, excited to talk about a new element of traditional liturgy he learned about the other day. Fr. Michael sees John coming and immediately tenses. What will he do this time? Is he finally going to be angry? Reprimand him with false authority? Call him a bad priest? Fr. Michael steels himself, puts up a wall to genuine conversation, and hopes the barrage passes soon.

Sadly this reaction is not uncalled for. Recently Bishop Barron directed a video to trads who, while claiming to uphold a better example of the faith, are spewing vitriol all over the internet and social media, committing the mortal sin of calumny. Despite the novelty of my own Catholicism and the staunchly different origin of my conversion, I have encountered the same measure of ‘shut down’ from priests and other church leaders that I have directly spoken with. Once they learn that I’m even interested in elements of older liturgy, they seem to stop listening, and steel themselves against whatever I might say next. It seems to me that this conflict of the recent past has erupted into mountains of pain and ill-speak. The result? Liturgy has almost become a taboo topic within the Catholic Church. People put themselves and others into camps, they don’t open themselves up to hear what other influences might offer, and nothing productive seems to be done.

My goal here is to offer a bridge of connection, a way for non-trads to understand trads.

Firstly, why are trads always so angry? Why do they hurt people so recklessly? There may be a mountain of reasons, but one thing most trads have in common is this: a desire for beauty.

Think about walking into a beautiful old Cathedral, that has stood since the time of the Roman Empire, but has been burned down and abandoned. What is that pain that you feel, watching something so beautiful be cast to the wayside?

Recently I walked into St. John’s Episcopal Church for the first time in Tallahassee, Florida. BeautifulStunning. Compared to the Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas More down the street? A hundred times more beautiful. But when I thought about that Church not being in Catholic hands? When I thought about the Catholic Church just down the street not having the same level of beauty? I felt a pain in my chest. A heartache.

The main source of anger, or, if more vulnerably revealed, sadness and hurt, is having a high expectation of beauty and reverence in every aspect of the Catholic faith, but not having those expectations fulfilled.

The Catholic Church is nigh 2,000 years old. It’s traditions are old and beautiful, and have had much time to refine themselves and become elevated to all new levels. Architecture, music, art, iconography and liturgy have all had so much time to be taken to such high levels of sophistication that the trad has many expectations for the current Church. Yet when a trad walks into a Church shaped by the Novus Ordo Missae, he typically does not find these things. Along with many of the adaptations of the Novus Ordo in the late 20th century, architecture became increasingly simplified. Music was taken in from local cultures, and Gregorian Chant was all but deleted. Art was infiltrated by modernists and postmodernists. Liturgy had many elements of mysticism erased, and, comparatively, can be incredibly less reverential.

When a trad looks at a ‘progressive’ Catholic Church, they feel pain from the lack of fulfillment of their expectation.

Regarding Vatican II

Certainly, yes, there are trads who actually have beef with the Second Vatican Council documents themselves. They think the Church has somehow ‘protestantized’ itself, abandoned Church teaching, and is living in some sort of apostasy. But not all trads are that way. I, for one, enjoyed the Vatican II documents. Were it not for them, I don’t think my article here would be very welcome by clergy. Even understanding Sacrosanctum Concilium, while I admit has been difficult for me, is something I can get by. But in processing that document and coming to terms with it, it has helped me understand something about the relationship between more progressive and conservative strains of Catholics.

The Sacredness of the Liturgy

What I think non-trad priests and clergy may not understand about the trad movement is that the manner of celebration of the liturgy and conformity to the Second Vatican Council are not a unified identifier for trads. In other words, just because I as a trad do not like the Novus Ordo Missae as much as I like the Tridentine Mass, does not mean that I don’t agree with the Second Vatican Council. These things are separate.

Bishop Barron, in a video (1:20) recently about the Second Vatican Council, reminded viewers that the Novus Ordo Missae spiritually fed the lives of saints such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II. While it might be easy to retort that the Tridentine Mass spiritually fed almost all of the other saints in Catholic history, it is important to recognize what Bishop Barron is getting at. In many ways this is what a lot of non-trad clergy would wish for trads to understand. Since the Novus Ordo is valid and licit, it means that Christ is present just as much there as it was in the old Mass. It is an objectively good thing. We don’t need to return to an older liturgy just to find Christ’s presence, or to be reverent when praying the Mass. Reverence is just as possible in the Novus Ordo as it is in the old Tridentine Mass.

Fr. Michael O’Loughlin, a Byzantine Rite Catholic priest, once said something that made me think about this. He highlighted on the podcast Catholic Stuff You Should Know that the Novus Ordo may not be as outwardly obvious when it comes to portraying reverence for Christ, but does not negate it. It just means that the responsibility for reverence lies more within the heart of the mass-goer to seek out and give that worship. This, compared to something like the Tridentine Mass, where directions for reverence and general beauty are simply more obvious and easier for people to understand. Fr. Michael’s point here is that it actually demonstrates a stronger faith if someone is able to find Christ in the Novus Ordo, as much as that person is able to find Christ in the heart of a homeless person, because they don’t need all of the outward beauty in order to carry their minds into the deep heart of Christ’s love.

A bridge between these two perspectives.

Wise trads will legitimately recognize the validity of the Novus Ordo, and should even agree that reverence is just as possible. But how do we find a path forward between self-identified trads and non-trads? What do we talk about?

The first point is that just because reverence and beauty are possible does not mean that they are effectively implemented. In order to make the Mass adaptable and understandable to the many cultures it has reached out to in this globalized world, many optional instructions had to be introduced. Even though the general structure is the same as the old Tridentine Mass, there are many ways to adapt the Novus Ordo Missae that may make it look very similar or incredibly different.

One of my firm beliefs, and this may be the most important section of my articleis that there are many ways that the Novus Ordo Missae can be implemented that would actually form a bridge to those trads that people seem to be so afraid of. My suspicion is that upon implementing these changes, or at least seriously entertaining these more traditional aspects, many may find that rad-trads will be plenty appeased. As I previously said, the source of pain in a trad’s heart is usually about a lack of beauty within the Church. When the only people offering these elements of beauty are those offering the Tridentine Mass, should we be surprised that people would flock to that? *After listening to a recent episode of the Burrowshire Podcast, I would even go so far as to say that the Novus Ordo Missae can be done incredibly reverently.

Here is a list of things (in no particular order of importance) that should not bring any conflict, and, if implemented reverently, may inspire all to a deeper beauty and reverence for the Mass, all the while *properly and actually conforming to the demands of Sacrosanctum Concilium:

A. Reception of the Eucharist

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish, the Eucharist is primarily received on the hand, while standing. After receiving, the communicant steps to the side and then crosses themselves. They then receive the Eucharist under the species of wine from a common cup. Communicants alternatively may receive the Eucharist, under the species of bread, directly on the tongue, usually while standing as well.

More traditionally, the Eucharist is only received on the tongue while kneeling at an altar rail. Yes, many elders find it difficult to kneel, and an accommodation seems to be in order, but on the whole, what is the best way to receive the sacrificed corpus of the King of the Universe? Tradition says that we should kneel before our King. By receiving directly on the tongue, we are letting the hands that consecrated the Eucharist, the hands of the priest, be the only hands that are worthy of touching something so precious. This posture of receptivity, more reverential towards the magnitude of God-made-flesh, communicates this reality not only to the communicant, but the whole community around them. Then, the communicant does not cross themselves. Why? When crossing oneself, we are calling to us the presence of the triune God in our prayer. In the reception of the Eucharist, have we not received the most perfect earthly presence of God into ourselves? At best, crossing oneself is redundant, and at worse, it is border-line heretical, not acknowledging the true presence of Christ within the Eucharist, thinking that there is some ingredient further necessary in the reception of the Eucharist.

Lastly, regarding the common cup containing the Eucharist under the species of wine, we traditionally find that the laity does not regularly consume it. The Catholic Church teaches that the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist under each species. If you only receive one form, you receive it all (hence during this time of pandemic, we do not commonly find the distribution of the common cup). At times of importance in one’s life (confirmation, first communion, marriage) it is encouraged that the laity may receive under both species, but certainly not every Sunday. Some of the reasons are for logistic purposes, but generally it is so that the Eucharist is handled as carefully and reverently as possible.

B. Celebrating Mass Ad Orientem

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish, the priest celebrates Mass while facing the people. More things are typically pronounced aloud so that the people can hear and generally feel more included in the act of consecration.

More traditionally, the priest celebrates Mass while facing away from the people, typically facing the crucifix that the laity themselves look at. Did you know that Catholic Churches are typically constructed so that the laity faces the east (oriens)? The idea of the Mass is that the priest, as the representative of Christ, offering up the sacrifice of our Lord, is doing so with the people. In the modern sense this would seem to suggest that the priest face the people, as an act of cooperation, but in tradition the priest also faces the east (ad orientem). With everyone facing the same direction, it helps everyone call to mind that what is happening during the mass is not something that is internal to the Church; it is directed towards something Heavenly, something outside of the Church.

An often circulated idea around the internet is this question: Which way would you prefer your bus driver to face? Towards the passengers, or away from the passengers, leading them as they travel on?

C. Using Gregorian Chant

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  Sacred Music takes on the form of hymns in the local language, or in the language of most of the parishioners. Sometimes other music like popular Christian Rock songs may find some adaptation into the liturgy as well. Many instruments are potentially used: guitars, violins, trumpets, keyboards, pianos, etc, in addition to the traditional organ. There are many ways that the ordinaries of the Mass can be sung, usually with one overriding melody that repeats throughout the ordinaries.

More traditionally, Sacred Music exists in the form of Gregorian Chant or Polyphony. Many people find this daunting because of the use of Latin, but more on Latin in a second. Polyphony is when multiple voices come together and harmonize around the traditional Gregorian Chant music. This music has, intentionally, a more solemn tone than much modern music. This is not contrary to the Christian image, it is to be encouraged! The documents of the Second Vatican Council say that Gregorian Chant should be the golden standard of Sacred Music. This does not mean to cast it aside: it means that Sacred Music should conform largely to the form of Gregorian Chant, excepting some differences for how it can be localized in different regions. One example of this is how we might view chant in the High Anglican Church or in The Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (The rite within the Catholic Church that is an Anglican celebration of the Mass properly ordered under the rule of the Catholic Church). Because of a more intimate familiarity of the use of the English language within a holy setting, the Ordinariate and the Anglican Church, I believe, contain more Sacred Music that is in the form of Gregorian Chant, but which properly recognizes the way that it interacts with the English language. In the end, this is what I think Vatican II wanted to see, not upbeat guitar music in Mass.

Unfortunately when the Norvus Ordo was implemented, the standard of Gregorian Chant materials for it were delayed and not fully implemented. The result is that Gregorian Chant has fallen to the wayside in the modern Church. It needs to be revitalized!

D. Using Latin for the Ordinaries of the Mass

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  Latin is not used. It might be used on occasion during extra solemn occasions (during Lent or Advent). Even then it might only be used for the penitential rite and for parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, like the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. When combined with some sort of chant, the music tends to have a simple tone (compared to a highly variant tone).

More traditionally, Latin is used for the whole of the Mass, except for the Homily. Vatican II documents call for, at the very least, that Latin be used for all of the Ordinaries of the Mass. These are the parts of the Mass that don’t change week to week. The goal is that the laity learn what the Latin is for these parts of the Mass and don’t have difficulty encountering them on the regular.

Further, by using Latin, a language not commonly used by the laity, the Mass becomes a place of extraordinary difference. It becomes the most out-of-place element of our lives. It stands out. By using this different, albeit common, language across the same rite, the liturgy itself helps Catholics remember that the world they are living in is a passing and fleeting place, that the reality of Heaven is more beautiful and other compared to the world that we currently live in. Latin helps draw the Catholic out of the haze of this world and encourage them to seek what is holy, which is often considered illogical by the world.

The goal is not to alienate the laity from the Church, it is to remind the laity that they are aliens to the world and the world’s ways.

E. Bowing when certain names are pronounced during the Liturgy

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  everyone bows during the pronunciation of the Nicene Creed, when acknowledging the conception of our Lord by the Holy Spirit through Mary. Entering the Church, and ideally every time that someone crosses in front of the altar, all genuflect.

More traditionally, in addition to the elements above, everyone bows at the pronunciation of the name of our Lord and when the Trinitarian doxology is pronounced, and during the Nicene creed everyone genuflects instead of bowing. These extra gestures of physical movement, which are inherently reverential, direct the worshiper towards Christ and towards God many times throughout the liturgy. Call it Active Participation, if you will.

F. Forgoing the assistance of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  there are a regular squad of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, who help distribute the Eucharist and, ideally, speed up communion. They make the whole process more efficient. These are especially necessary when considering the distribution of the common cup, as the priest alone cannot effectively distribute both forms of the Eucharist in a timely and careful manner. By distributing the work out, it is possible to help everyone receive under both species in a safe way.

More traditionally, the laity do not receive from the cup. They only receive the Eucharist under the species of bread, except for special occasions. Calling back to the idea of receiving the Eucharist in a more reverential way, the use of Extraordinary Ministers presents conflict for the traditionalist. Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist are not able to consecrate the Eucharist itself. They have not been ordained to consecrate it. The priest’s hands, by virtue of his priesthood and by virtue of the hand cleansing that he does prior to the consecration of the Eucharist, is particularly disposed to handling the Eucharist in a reverential way. No matter how much hand sanitizer an Extraordinary Minister uses, it does not change that they do not share themselves in the priesthood and that they do not set aside their hands for holy purposes the way that a priest does, especially during Mass. They are not as “set-aside” as the priests intentionally are. You will also find trads become uncomfortable if they see a priest touch his face after having consecrated the Eucharist, prior to completing the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Ironically, while Extraordinary Ministers are Extraordinary, they are a pretty ordinary staple of most Novus Ordo parishes.

G. Vestments for Lectors and Cantors

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  Lectors and Cantors (much less Extraordiary Ministers) are not vested. They are not marked as set aside for the purpose of Holy Mass. I have always seen Altar Servers vested, but I have only ever seen Lectors vested in one Church, and I have only ever seen Cantors vested in one other.

More traditionally, anyone directly supporting the flow of Holy Mass, be it lectors, cantors, or altar servers, are all vested. By having some kind of vestment, however simple, it helps all involved recognize the measure that the Holy Mass is “set-apart.”

Something else about these roles that disrupts an air of reverence is how the altar is approached and treated by these figures. In the Tridentine Mass the priest spends a significant time in prayer before ascending to the altar to begin the Mass, yet in the Novus Ordo Missae lectors, cantors, and extraordinary ministers seem to simply walk up to that area around the altar with a simple bow, if any reaction at all. My wife and I first served as lectors at our Church, but thinking about how casually we were able to enter the area of the altar put us in a place of great discomfort. We initially thought that our Pastor’s restriction of needing to wear fancy clothes was a burden, but we came to think that even that wasn’t enough.

H. Incense. All the time.

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  incense is used on special occasion, typically in times of solemn celebration.

More traditionally, incense is used

every.

single.

Sunday. (and every sung mass)

’nuff said.

In Summary

Should all of the more traditional elements of the liturgy, as lain out above, be incorporated into the Novus Ordo Missae, I imagine you would find many trads happily cooperating and participating in non-Tridentine Mass. I truly believe that much of the unrest in trads’ hearts lies with the way in which the Liturgy is reverentially treated.

These suggestions are not somehow contrary to the Second Vatican Council. They are very much in line and are able to be used in the Novus Ordo Missae. The desire for their inclusion is not bad, either. The desire for the more traditional implementations of these elements of the Mass are holy. We are an institutional Church. We desire not only to be more holy at the individual level, but also as parochial , diocesan, national, and global communities.

Don’t be afraid talking to a trad. Some are scary, I give you that. Some are spiteful, hateful, and are in deep need of love, just as much as anyone. But if we, as Catholics, were more unified and more reverential in our conduct of the Mass? I think we would find this source of division to be a source of holy unity and power in the modern world. Church isn’t where we go to be comfortable. It’s where we go to seek that which is out of this world, which is truly “set-apart,” or holy. Let’s treat it like that.

The most important thing is that we celebrate one Eucharist, and that we know Jesus loves us.

Yes, yes, we know. We get it! But more and more young people do not platitudes. We don’t want to be appeased. We don’t want to be handheld through the faith and through the liturgy.

We want to be challenged.

We want the liturgy to put us in our place.

We want to worship God.

We want to break that jar of perfume for our Lord’s feet.


Post Script

Resources:

#011 – What You Need to Know about Vatican II – Burrowshire Podcast

This podcast, hosted by Brandon Vogt and Father Blake Britton, delicately and profoundly engages the meat of the Second Vatican Council. They address the notion of the Para-Council which dramatically affected the Post-Conciliar Church, especially when considering the Liturgy.

*Based on listening to the Burrowshire podcast, I made a number of edits to this article. Any changes will be noted by this asterisk note.

Love is Love is…Love?

Postmodernism, the umbrella term for today’s most prevailing philosophical thought, covers a wide range of topics. Previously I have even shared a picture I found which I dubbed ‘The Postmodern Creed’:

Like any creed, there are mountains of literature that could be written on elaborating the various points, most specifically targeting how you arrive very squarely at the summative points of the creed, but also like any creed there are some core underlying currents of thought that propel the philosophy or belief forward.

One of the core notions of Postmodernism is the idea of deconstruction. Our society is currently facing this tenet of Postmodern belief with unbelievable force, as those who are in a position of power and privilege (white people) are being asked to recognize mountains of implicit biases against those who are oppressed (black people), and, most importantly, are being asked to remove systemic issues that enforce such a divide between the powerful and oppressed. What is interesting about the idea of deconstruction is ultimately that postmodernists aren’t trying to tell white people that they are literal racists (although there are plenty of explicitly racist people and they are saying that, too), but that the systems of societal structure and thought into which we are all born have shaped us to believe these things.  In some ways we are all slaves to the systems that we are born into. So even if we do not intentionally hold racist beliefs or actively try to make a systemic gap between white and black people, our passive existence in a society that does therefore means that we are complicit with racism and are allowing it to exist.

A core understanding of deconstruction is that any formation of society relies on social constructs of some kind. Social constructs can be any formation of spoken or unspoken law that dictates some element of reality (black people are genetically inferior, poor people should stay poor, marriage is solely between a man and woman). Postmodernism holds that all of these social constructs are artificially put in place by man at some point in history and have no ground in a deeper reality than man’s own desire for power over others.

Whatever you may say or think about this way of thinking (for it or against it), it has a lot of merit in helping us realize that what we believe matters. Whatever you think about reality affects all of your decisions, explicitly or implicitly. Psychology has demonstrated that the brain makes sensory ‘leaps’ when observing and helping us interpret reality. We cannot possibly think about everything that we sense (that bell ringing in the background, the feel of your phone in your hand, the two people talking with you, how one of them smells, the coffee that’s being made behind you, whatever your toes are feeling, the AC running in the background, etc). So the brain makes shortcuts and only focuses on some of those things as relevant. This shapes what we think because we do not think or make decisions without some biases (focusing on the coffee instead of the sound of the bell). There is, though, a good chance that the kind of person you are or the philosophy that shapes the framework of your thought is going to modify what you pay attention to and think about. So even if you don’t explicitly think about how you feel about a person of a different skin color, there is a good chance (in the U.S. in the modern time) you have some bias about it. Whatever systems of thought have formed you will affect how you operate at every level (implicitly or explicitly).

There are many things that true adherents of Postmodernism want people to call into question and to deconstruct within themselves and in society as a whole. We could really spend a long time talking about all of them: economy (financial disparity), education (enslaving to old systems of thought rather than liberating from them), religion (disguised oppression), etc. But there is one thing that I want to focus on, as it actually serves to highlight a core issue in the larger field of Postmodern thought:

Sex.

Now, the truth here is that as Postmodern thought is growing in popularity, it’s seeing some growing pains. Not everyone is of the same opinion on this subject, but there are some basic agreements. Firstly, and most importantly, is that centuries (millennia) of thought have informed and told us (humanity) that sex equals 1 man and 1 woman, with the inevitability of children. This system of thought about human sexuality has been, as you may guess, oppressive. When adhering to this system of thought, there are consequences, such as the oppression of women where they are not allowed to work outside of the house or make authoritative changes in their own lives. Without any birth control, women would have to have many children, they wouldn’t be able to get higher education or a high paying career, and so they are subjugated to men who do have access to these things. Furthermore both women and men in a society that enforces such a relationship (implicitly or explicitly) are not truly free to decide how their sexuality and gender may express itself. Maybe someone doesn’t want to have a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Maybe they like both. Maybe they feel like they were born the wrong sex? Maybe they just aren’t interested in engaging in it at all? Maybe they think there is no binary of sexual identities?

The main point is that what needs to happen in every person and at the societal (and therefore systemic) level, is deconstruction. We have to all throw off these old shackles that are holding us back from being truly free to choose. As long as we are stuck in old ways of thinking, as long as we are relying on tradition and especially western colonial thinking (residual culture and thought from Colonizing Europeans), then we are enslaved to that singular mindset. Postmoderns are very interested in attempting to unveil cultural views from non-western groups of people to show that the western way of viewing sex or any other constructed system is not the only way, and that it is not arbitrarily more correct than any other.

You might think that Postmodern thought is purely destructive in this manner, and that there are no positive contributions to the discussion, but this wouldn’t be true. Ultimately Postmoderns (politically liberal or conservative) are interested in freedom of choice, and then love.

Love is love is love.

Once somebody makes a choice, love them! That choice, for all you know, is exactly right for them. Don’t judge them. Don’t oppress them with whatever system of thought oppresses you. Don’t obligate someone else to conform to your view. Love is almost single-handedly the antidote to oppression, as love allows the other person to make choices free of any such oppression. If the problem at hand is being trapped by old systems and not being free to choose how you live your life, then loving people, who make choices you think are weird or morally unsound, is the answer. Love empowers people to be free and and to shed an oppressive past.

Mind you this doesn’t mean open relativism, where everyone has an inherently different worldview and there is no founding truth. A Postmodern does not truly think that murder or stealing is okay, even if the murderer or thief thinks it is the “right choice for them.” There is an inherent ground of good and evil, a necessary and basic social construction; good lying with liberation and love, evil lying with oppression and hate. Someone murdering someone else is hateful and oppressive.

This month is pride month.

This month and this time of year this oppressed group of people gets a platform to express themselves, and the rest of the world outside of the LGBTQ+ community has the opportunity to respond. Do they respond with oppression and hate? Or do they respond with love and welcoming arms?

But…what is love?

Love is love is…love? Where does this talk take us? Certainly they do not mean a romantic love, as no one is insinuating that that Bill Gates needs to develop a romantic love for every single person in the LGBTQ+ community in order to be good towards them. Some people in this community even define themselves as aromantic, meaning that they have sexual attractions but explicitly do not have any romantic attractions.

We could go through a list of multiple kinds of loves, but we don’t have to go very far to demonstrate that the LGBTQ+ community is describing a more ethereal love. But it still seems to lack a defining feature. What does this love look like?

On the one hand, it has unique expression in every relationship or case. Maybe it looks like a heteronormative (1 man+1 woman) relationship. Maybe it looks like two men who have no formally contracted relationship. Maybe it looks like a relationship between someone who identifies as a woman and someone who identifies as a man, even though appearances suggest something else. In any case, these individuals may have genuine love for each other, so it exists at a unique level, but is still more abstract.

I would suggest that there are two forms of love that exist ethereally behind the idea of generic Postmodern love.

One idea is delightDelight is a form of love that gives one those fluttery feelings. It moves one in the direction of something (abstractly or physically) because it makes one feel good. It gives one pleasure to think, to interact, and to just exist in proximity to something or someone else. This is where we see love as feeling. Wherever one finds delight, romantically, sexually, or generally, then they are encouraged to seek it out and to live as approximately to it as possible, because having these positive feelings is exactly the kind of happiness one can get in life.

A second idea is affirmation. This is probably the most important one for the Postmodern philosophy. Affirmation is not based in feelings. Affirmation is rooted in the higher philosophical truth of Postmodernism that is essentially the opposite of oppression. Instead of someone choosing to oppress an individual in the LGBTQ+, the opposite motion is to affirm them. Not only do you validate their position and identity, but you affirm them and tell them that it is good, and that they should pursue it and pursue what makes them happy. You support them in their diversity. It is contrary to affirmation that we find the idea of hate. To not support and affirm someone is to condemn them and say that they are wrong, which is inherently hateful.

Okay…great…so what?

Postmoderns’ relationship to the idea of love is flawed. It misses the mark. It falls short.

Delight is good, but it is fleeting. If a parent bases the love for their child in delight, then both parent and child are bound to suffer infinitely. Children do not yet understand the world. They are selfish. They don’t know any better. They have to grow and have to learn about other people around them, which is the root work of parenthood. But this root work is anything but delightful. It is tough and gritty, and involves a lot of tears. It leads to delight (uhm, hello, baby giggles? omg so great), but delight is a bonus, not the root location of relationship. If you only seek out delight in a relationship, but avoid the difficult and gritty work of growth in relationship, then you are looking at a poisonous and dishonest relationship. Resentment, conflict and pain will be the fruits instead of happiness and growth. If you teach a child that relationships (romantic, sexual, or whichever otherwise) are about being happy with other people and that true relationships never really have conflict, then that poor child will have a frightful life, filled with anxiety and doubt.

Affirmation, as an ultimate level and distinction of a type of love, is poisonous in and of itself as well. Affirming someone can be good, as affirmation is fuel. It gives someone else the power to move forward and to confidently make choices. Affirmation is a necessary ingredient for growth, because how else will someone know that they can and should keep going? Affirmation is necessarily communal. One can push ahead on their own towards what they believe is good, but being alone is difficult and depressing. Receiving affirmation tells you that what you are doing is worth the gruel and grime of life. But blanket affirmation, affirming someone wherever they are and however they think it is good to proceed forward, is not an inherently good move. In general, black and white affirmation means affirmation in spite of knowing what it is the person is engaging with. Indeed black and white affirmation is part of the mental framework that says there is no singular good towards which to work. It means letting people find their own good in the world, wherever that is and however it might appear. It would be reckless to simply affirm my child whenever they engage in an activity that they would assume to be ‘good.’ At the end of the day, I might not have a house left to live in. As stated previously, though, Postmoderns do not think that it is okay to affirm a murderer. Affirmation requires nuance, attention to that which is good (but we’ll get to that in a second).

Of course, these two loves within Postmoderns do not exist in isolation: they cooperate together. When these two loves work together, they come in and contribute love where the other is deficient, and work together to create a higher experience of love. Delight helps define the limits of good and evil so that affirmation is more effective in community, so that healthy boundaries are found for people and for relationships. Affirmation, as a more abstract experience and expression of love, gives relationships substance even when delight is not to be had. Affirmation itself as an act introduces a level of delight in the one who gives as well as the one who receives, though. In the end, the ideal of love is embodied by these two dimensions of delight and affirmation.

There is, however, a more important form of love. There is a love that is greater than these two, a more ‘noble’ form of love, if you will. In truth I believe it is the type of love that Postmoderns are trying to establish and maintain where they are instead conveying affirmation, or a mix of affirmation and delight.

This more noble form of love is present in delight and outside of delight. This more noble form of love is pure, it expects no good feelings in return. This more noble form of love is entirely focused on the other, and it strengthens others. But, most importantly, this more noble form of love is good. Objectively good. It cannot deviate from good otherwise it is no longer the same love.

The best definition I know of this love is this: to will the good of the other, for the sake of the other. In traditional Catholicism this is called caritas (charity).

We could rephrase it like this: to desire and want objective goodness for someone that is not yourself, for the benefit of this other person and for no other ulterior motive.

Now, this may look like affirmation. When someone else is pursuing something that is good, one affirms them and encourage them to continue on pursuing such a good.

But, and this is the bad news, if someone is pursuing something that is not good, caritas means not affirmingIt even means, God forbid, correction.

One can see how, in the Postmodern mindset, this immediately translates to hate. To oppression. If one disagrees with another on the premise of what is good and therefore does not affirm that other person in their choice and identity, then that equates, in the postmodern mindset, to not loving. Even worse, if one even pretends to correct someone, one is talking about about oppressing that person with one’s own views, as that other person likely sees no wrong in how they have chosen their identity and life.

As I have said, caritas is not present within Postmodern thought, as it inherently does not think that there is a singular and ultimate good worth pursuing that does not end up becoming a rule of oppression. One might argue that sacrifice is a key point of liberation, and that caritas does exist within the postmodern mindset, but the sacrifice is not oriented towards objective good – it is oriented towards an inherent lack of objective good. If Postmodernism opens itself up to the idea of objective good, a subject of debate and inevitable ‘oppression,’ then it would defeat itself in argument. Sacrifice? Yes. Caritas? No.

The moment, though, one refers to objective good, an argument of religion is inevitable. Any source of discussion that may arise in the correction of someone LGBTQ+ brings itself back to religion and back to God. The objective is to shift the location of the discussion. Instead of objectively analyzing where Postmodern philosophy or new wave feminism takes a stand, the location shifts to the philosophy and theology of religion (however shallow), attempting to deconstruct the idea of an objective good. First and foremost in the arsenal of retorts is Christ’s own commandment to love one’s neighbor:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40).

“How can you pretend to love God and not love someone that is LGBTQ+? How do you synthesize those two things? Jesus never specified that you should love everyone except LGBTQ+ people.”

The issue, here, is that a Postmodern reads “love your neighbor,” and understands this to mean love on their own terms rather than what religious tradition has taught. It means to not judge, to not hate or oppress. It means to affirm and to delight in them, without desiring them to change.

Remember, though, that caritas is desiring the objective good for others. It’s not about delight, it’s not about blind affirmation, it is about desiring others to pursue good. Even outside of the context of religion and the LGBTQ+ community we see that this is a higher good. If someone has racist views or racist biases, then we should want that person to change, not just for how that person impacts others, but also for improving their own lives and liberating them from such toxic thoughts and ideas. There is good in wanting someone to change for the better, regardless of how that change might return and affect the agent of change themselves.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

The Bible only ever makes reference to two genders – male and female. These two sexes. New Testament exhortations are directed at husband and wife, not two wives and not two husbands.

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3).

In Romans 1, St. Paul shows the Romans what sinful lives looked like when people turned away from God:

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:24-27)

In all of the years of the existence of the Church, there has never been a hint of support for a sanctified sexual relationship that was not defined as being between one man and one woman, that is inherently open towards the possibility of life.

Ultimately there is no place for someone to practice and/or prioritize a life as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Why? It prioritizes delight, self-interest, and pleasure over the caritas that we receive from God. The individual prioritizes their chosen identity over the identity which was given to them. God was not afraid to give us morals, to give us a perfect ideal to work towards. One of these ideals is the beauty of sexual relationships. Say what you want, there is only one combination of sexual organs that has the potential to create life. Even if a singular act does not ultimately result in procreation, it had the potential to. No other combination works to make that happen.

Just stop and think about it for the second. We are talking about the ability to create another living human being. Do you know how long science has dreamed of doing that artificially? It is an awesome power, something akin to superpowers (that’s right ladies, I just called you superheroes).  By reason alone, and especially informed by Divine authority, we can see that this form of sexual relationship (1 man + 1 woman) is more noble and more correct than any other form. It can inherently produce goodness (more life), even if the act was performed in an evil way.

For this reason the Church says that homosexuality (or other forms of sexual relationships that are not heteronormative, and even masturbation) is intrinsically disordered. It means that these sexual acts go against the design that God has given us, and that they defile the natural beauty of what sex is meant to be.

“It’s God’s fault that He made me this way. Being gay isn’t something I can control, it’s not a choice. If God didn’t want me to be this way, then He shouldn’t have made me gay.”

There are many elements of human nature that we don’t really have a choice over. Our hearts beat without our willpower, neurons fire without our permission, so to speak. We get hungry against our wills. We feel sad, sometimes, without our willpower. Some people are born infertile, some people are born with bodily deformity. Some people are inadvertently affected by drug consumption, and without having any willpower, are more easily addicted to material substances. All human beings, however imperfect, are beautiful children of God. We are born, however, into an imperfect world and we have many affectations that withhold us from the glory that God originally designed us by. What the Church responds, in any of these situations, is that we work through our weaknesses and deficiencies to more conform ourselves to Christ, through the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God. In the case of LGBTQ+ relationships, the Church asks not that they change the very substance of their being, and ‘make themselves straight.’ No, it asks them to set aside their personal desires and delights (to experience sexual pleasure in a specific way) and, in St. Paul’s words:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1)

One of the images of the Holy Spirit is that of fire. When we speak about God we talk about the definitive Being that is Truth, Love, and Goodness. He is perfect and without flaw. We, as humans, are full of flaws (that’s right, me too. I’m full of flaws). How can a flawed being even approach God? With much mercy and grace. Most people understand this much, but does that mean that we as humans don’t change? God just takes us up the way that we are and doesn’t worry about changing us?

No!

He calls us to perfection!

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

Most people don’t understand the Catholic teaching of purgatory. They think it is extra-biblical knowledge that is simply untrue. But it is rooted in this element of caritas and of God. God is so pure, so good, so true, and so loving that if we choose to come close to Him we have no choice but to be purified, like iron ore that is having its impurities burned and sifted away, so all that is truly good is left to be presented to God. Any time (if we put the analogy of time in a timeless place) in purgatory is time where you are burning away your imperfections and the scars of your imperfections so that you may be presented whole and renewed to God, through Christ.

Here then, once again, the Postmodern reads in and sees hate and oppression. They see God as abusive. He says that He loves but He expects us to be different than “how we were created?” Even if the Postmodern might reject the notion of Hell even existing, they’re happy to be afraid of it, or at least rhetorically ask:

If God is all love, how can He condemn someone to Hell?

God does not want anyone to go to Hell. That is not what He desires for people. Since He is Caritas in its most pure form, He desires to be reconnected with us. But He is also Veritas (Truth). If we choose to live in a way that is not true, then therefore we reject Him. Heaven is the beatific vision, the pure sight of God. Hell is separation from God, the most separated we can possibly be. God does not send people to Hell, people choose to go there. Yet it is even God’s love that makes Hell possible.

God loves us so much, and He desires to have a true relationship with us, which means that we would choose Him. Definitionally, if we have the choice between God or not God, then God has to allow there to be a way for us to not choose Him. There has to be a way that we can reject Him. Hell is that possibility. Hell is anything but evidence against God. It is evidence of God’s caritas and mercy that allows us to choose Him and to choose love.

Love is…caritas. And in lesser forms it can be delight and affirmation.

Sometimes before engaging in discussion with someone, we have to realize that we have very different founding principles about how we view our world. Even if one understands themselves to be wholly correct, they have to comprehend the root thought of the people they are talking with. One of the biggest areas of disrupted conversation is when people are talking about the same concept, in different words, or the same word, but different concepts.

When Christians engage Postmodern thinkers, or when Christians confront their own Postmodern tendencies or flaws, they must realize this inherent difference between the love that is God, and the love that Postmodernism preaches. We must also realize the inherent difference between understanding a founding Truth of the world, rooted in God, versus an open pluralism, and championing of pluralistic societies. Postmodernism yields enough to religion, for now, but soon their will be no room for it. This notion of love, which we thought we all agreed on, is indeed not the same. Let us come to terms with it.

Facebook Posts Don’t Change the Heart

…so what does?

I saw this casual phrase in a Facebook post the other day, and it got me thinking about the state of communication in modern society. It got me thinking about how I write my own articles (that I know many people in my own circle don’t read) and what the point is of communication. It got me thinking about all of the emotion-filled posts I’ve seen recently about this plague of racial violence and discrimination that our society suffers from. It got me thinking about those people in my extended family who I know are racist, and those who think racist things but don’t quite realize it.

More importantly, it got me thinking about religion and philosophy and the pursuit of truth and happiness. I can imagine many people in my Facebook circle to essentially agree with the statement that

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

Political, religious, philosophical, medical, and heck, even dietetic posts on Facebook don’t have any true impact on those around us. If you post something on social media, you can expect your echo chamber to love it and you can expect the rest to ignore it. Such is the luxury of social media.

I am not content, however, living with this maxim. Do people realize what the implications of this statement are these days?

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

Do you know what else doesn’t change the heart? Public conversation. Private conversation. Conversations on internet forums. People waving signs on the side of the road. Scientists with convicting evidence from scientific studies. Politicians who are supposed to wield some weight of public authority. Judges who interpret law. Theologians who build on thousands of years of philosophical and theological thought. In the modern world nothing changes the heart.

Now, I say this in a hyperbolic fashion with a reason. These statements embody a truth that our western society holds but for some reason is not really discussing. The ultimate commodity and truth of the western world is individualityIt’s my world, my way, and everything is what I want it to be. Prior to the advent of the internet many people certainly had their own opinions on everything, but they were more reserved. There wasn’t really a platform to hold them out for everyone else to see and usually there was a deference to authority on important matters.

With the evolution of the internet these limitations on people’s individuality have dissolved, and individuals stand more prominent than ever. In the face of a huge and wide array of opinions that everyone can find on the internet, the average individual is convinced that wading out into the sea of opinion is a lot more dangerous than just sticking it out on their individual island. What’s more, these individuals find that they are not alone in their thoughts (no one usually is alone in anything), and they cling together with like-minded individuals in the midst of this vast sea of chaotic opinions. For more about this weakness of our society, I would suggest listening to this Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast.

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

No, my Facebook post isn’t going to convince my racist uncle that he should change his ways. My Facebook post isn’t going to convince my LGBT friends that they’re living in sin.

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

So, my friends, what does?!

Already amongst millenials it is an unspoken rule that you don’t speak about politics or religion with your friends at in-person gatherings. Speaking about any topic that has moral, life-changing implications is social taboo, and marks you as an evil extremist right from the start. And now, this same mentality is bleeding into social media as well. Facebook and twitter don’t necessarily need to be the grounds, the locus, of meaningful dialogue and conversation, but something needs to.

My previous statements about all of the various other things that also don’t change the heart are obvious hyperbole. Clearly science has changed how some people view the world. Theologians have also drastically changed how some people view the world. Some politicians have clear power and use rhetoric to change minds. Change happens. People are moved. People obviously agree that it is possible for someone to change their mind, and they obviously think that they even have the power to do it. They believe it because they believe they are persevering after a truth.

Everyone thinks a definitive truth exists. Something guides and shapes the rest of the way that we live, the way that we think the universe works. There is a base principal to everyone’s existence, and it’s what we all seek. Even postmoderns (philosophical descendants of relativists) uphold that there is some inevitable truth that shapes the way we understand the world, if there is not at least a definitive truth that has to shape the world. There is no way, though, that we are going to find that truth and share that truth with others if no one agrees on a place where it is socially acceptable to discuss it.

I guarantee that someone who says “Facebook posts don’t change the heart” isn’t finding a way outside of Facebook to change others’ hearts. I also guarantee that those who say, from the start “Unfriend me, don’t comment, don’t message me, just unfriend me” are also engaging in this same exact mentality and problem.

Some already have an idea of a place where it is socially acceptable to discuss opposing points of view. That’s great! I, for one, think Facebook is just a place as good as any. My challenge to you, though? Think about it. Where do you think it is a socially acceptable place to discuss opposing points of view and potential change? Do you frequent that place? Do you engage with the people there? If no place comes to mind, then I suggest you find it, because if you don’t then you forfeit before the debate has even begun.

Don’t have any ideas on how to engage in dialogue with someone else about an opposing point of view without blowing up first about it? Check out this podcast by Catholic Bishop Robert Barron, famous for his recent talks at (politically liberal and secular) Amazon and Google headquarters where he discusses how it is possible to ‘argue’ about religion.

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

SO WHAT DOES?!

Some Things Never Change – A Metaphysical Reflection

I’ve already written on the nature of love and caritas in Frozen and Frozen II, but now I wish to turn my attention to the least important character in the films – Olaf. You see, Olaf is there for the laughs, the unexpected punchlines, and any void of seriousness. Occasionally, though, he offers some really solid lines, the ones that matter.

“There’s your act of true love—riding across the fjords like a valiant, pungent, reindeer king.”

“I just thought of one thing that’s permanent – love.”

The reason that these lines stick is because the audience doesn’t expect them. Man, if cartoons aren’t worth analyzing, then surely Olaf isn’t. Except there is something that stands out about him. Because he maintains such a sideline position for the majority of the films, he gains a unique outsider position and a unique authority.

One specific vein of discussion that routinely arises around Olaf is the nature of change, especially around himself. In the first movie this notion is subtle, as he exposes the fact that he is entirely ignorant and naïve about change. In the end he doesn’t even face the consequences of change when Elsa preserves him with his own little snow flurry.

As he progresses into the second movie, though, it’s clear that his preservation of form, from snow flurry to a layer of permafrost, is not synonymous with a preservation of naivete. He has learned more about life (albeit not nearly enough), and is becoming aware that not everything around him gets to have the same blessing of a personal snow flurry or a layer of permafrost. He asks Anna:

“You’re older and thus all knowing. Do you ever worry about the notion that *dramatic look* nothing is permanent?”

This sparks, of course, an entire song where we get a glimpse into Anna’s fragile sense of love, the power that a sidekick character like Olaf has to cause. His question is nothing to laugh at, however. How would you answer him? If your own small child walked up to you and asked you this question, are you able to answer?

We humans are always worried about any time but the present. The future is unknown and scary and our past good times (which weren’t all that good but they seem better than what we have now) are always fleeting and have run away. Food satiates us for a short while with our hunger but then we just get hungry again. Have you ever thought about how boring it is to have to keep up with eating sometimes? That beautiful sunset that graced our eyes is all of a sudden gone again and all that lives of it is our memory. But Anna tells him this isn’t true – some things never change. Yet, from my other article we know that Anna’s understanding about what doesn’t change is clearly not reliable. So is Olaf right? Does everything change?

Funnily enough, this is a philosophical question that people have been thinking about since the time of the Greeks. Our first point of reference is Parmenides. Parmenides was an ancient Greek philosopher who proposed something quite wildly opposite to Olaf – he said that nothing changes! He said that everything that we perceive to actually be changing is just an illusion caused by our mind.

How? Essentially he thought through the following.

  1. Things either exist or they don’t.
  2. Being is that which exists, and Non-being is that which does not exist.
  3. If Being is going to change, then it has to be caused from outside that Being.
  4. The only thing outside of Being is Non-Being.
  5. Non-Being cannot cause anything.
  6. There is nothing to cause change in Being,

Therefore:

change does not exist.

 

This is quite the proposal. It assumes that everything we experience as change is just an illusion and experience of the mind. It is a bit radical, and Aristotle thought so as well. To claim that there is only Existence and Non-Existence without any sort of nuance is a lot to propose.

Aristotle took a look at this work and argued that there is a little more that happens in the span between Being and Non-Being. Rather than start with the premise that things either exist or don’t exist, Aristotle suggests that in every thing that changes there is a bit of existence and a bit of existence that could happen, which is a bit like non-being except that the potential for something to happen is something that actually exists, albeit not physically. He calls that which exists in a thing act or actuality, and that which could exist potency or potentiality. Change, Aristotle says, is the reduction, or realization, of potency into act.

If you have some rubber, it can be nice. But if you had a rubber ball…well that’s just a lot nicer. You see, the potency of a rubber ball exists within rubber, as it is a potential reality for that rubber, but it won’t exist unless some other thing reduces that potency into act. Aristotle allows that another being (i.e. a person) has the ability to do this, the only two options for reality not being Being and Non-Being (like what Parmenides thought). So, therefore, we can define change as change exists – as reducing potency to act. That is what happens all around us all of the time.

Now, does everything reduce from potency to act? That might be a bit of a tall claim. In fact, Aristotle does not think that everything undergoes change. You see, if you think about some change, like a person making rubber into a rubber ball, you can see that one change is always dependent on some other change. That change needs be complete, though, in its own way. That is, the act, and not potency, of something else is what is needed to effect change. The potency for a person to shape a rubber ball is not what causes the change, but the act of a person shaping. So the reduction of rubber’s potency for a ball to the act of a ball is done by something else in act. But the act of a person’s hand shaping the ball is only possible because that reduction of act to potency was caused by something else that was in act, namely the movement of muscle. And that was supported by a change in neurons, and that was supported by a change in chemicals, and that was supported by active molecular bonding. And that was…

This can go on forever. Or can it? Now we get to the root of answering Olaf’s query. Is nothing permanent? Aristotle and later philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas, argue that something has to be permanent. In a single slice of time, the shaping of a ball is supported by an incredibly large number of changes that happen in a supporting fashion. Aristotle and Aquinas argue that underneath all of these changes there must be something in act that does not require a reduction out of potency like everything else. There must be something that actively sustains everything else which is self-supportive. Think here of a philosophical or metaphysical bedrock on which everything else is supported.

This one metaphysically necessary thing, this one permanent thing, is not some passive agent, either. It is actively involved in the support of everything that changes in the Universe. If something changes, it first must be sourced in this thing that is not changing. It cannot get it’s change from nothingness, as Parmenides had to have some idea about truth, it has to get change from something else that exists positively. This permanent thing is what Aristotle refers to as the Unmoved Mover. In Aristotelian language ‘move’ is another word for change. We could rephrase the term as the Unchanged Changer.

Now if you’re as pagan as Aristotle, or if you just leave the argument there, then this may feel insignificant. So what if there’s an Unmoved Mover? Looks like it will keep supporting you so that’s fine. Moving along. But if you keep reading around the tradition of philosophy that surround the Unmoved Mover, you will see that it doesn’t just stop there. This Unmoved Mover has quite a few other traits that can be surmised from other philosophical arguments. Aquinas says that the Unmoved Mover is that which we call ‘God.’

Again, Olaf tells Anna:

“I just thought of one thing that’s permanent – love.”

There is a necessary priority about the existence of things. The Unmoved Mover, the Universe’s metaphysical bedrock, has to exist prior to everything else. We don’t exist first and demand that the Unmoved Mover keeps up with us; no, the Unmoved Mover exists and therefore we exist dependently on it. But if the Unmoved Mover can subsist all by itself, why should we exist at all? We aren’t necessary the way that the Unmoved Mover is. Whence comes our purpose for existing?

The answer is that there is a part of volition, or willpower, on the part of the Unmoved Mover. The Unmoved Mover desires that we exist, and therefore it is possible for us to exist and makes choices. The second that the Unmoved Mover removes the will for us to exist, then *poof* we’re done. We don’t hold the metaphysical power here, the Unmoved Mover does. What Olaf points to, and what none of the characters perhaps realize, is that they have hinted at caritas, as you may remember from my last article. Caritas is love, specifically a love that wills the good of the other for no other reason than that they fulfill their good. Our existence is good, and our existence is literally willed by the Unmoved Mover, for no other sake than the fact that our existence is a good thing. In short? The Unmoved Mover, or God, if you will, wills our good for own sake. He loves us.

 

Thanks Olaf!

Caritas in Disney’s Frozen

It takes but a casual observer to note that love is the theme to one of Disney’s largest franchises, Frozen. One can look at the theme of self-love, in the case of Elsa, romantic love, in the case of Anna and Kristoff, or sisterly love, in the case of Anna and Elsa. But as in any sort of literary analysis, it is too simple to look at just one level of love within the movie. Instead, one must look further and above to find a more central theme that courses through the whole piece. To get the best perspective on the value of love in Frozen, we must look at the character with the most amount of connections to others: Anna.

Of course if you take my mother’s view, there is no point in overanalyzing a cartoon, but the substance here is too much to avoid.

Anna begins in the first movie as one of the most innocent and naive characters. The creature in most need of human contact and care is the most isolated for a large part of her childhood. While she has her parents for some part, there is a significance to the fact that she is deprived of love for a significant part of it. She never comes to know what it means to truly be loved by someone else, and when the gates are finally opened for the first time in forever, a naive and delicate figure is launched at the world. She literally is throwing her love at the first handsome figure she meets because it’s the little amount of love that she has learned about.

The first franchise installment is important to Anna’s character development because she comes to understand what healthy and loving relationships can even look like. While Elsa is singing, desperately, “Let it go,” Anna is desperately singing ‘Let me in.’ She has been shut out from those that were close to her, and to even know how to form relationships and love someone, you have to have the opportunity to be in other peoples’ lives. Eventually the first movie shows the viewers that healthy love consists of a two-way street. You have to be in other people’s lives, and you have to let people in. Anna also grows in her understanding of love by understanding the key notion of sacrifice.

Reflected in all characters is the beauty that love is based first in sacrifice. What? What does sacrifice have to do with love? Sacrifice is the act of denying oneself (perhaps to the extreme degree of death) so that someone else may find a benefit of some nature. When the self is denied, the other is elevated. True love, the first movie teaches, is just such a love, where the good of another person is willed with disregard to one’s own benefit from the act or situation. True love is more powerful than evil and is bigger than any romantic relationship.

This notion of selfless love, willing the good of the other, is an ancient one: in Latin it is known as caritas (from where we get the word charity), in ancient Hebrew it is known as chesed. It is the most true form of love that we can describe, and it is the love that God extends to humanity and all of creation. He wills our good without benefit to Himself. There is nothing we can do that benefits God, but he chooses to love us anyway.

So this sets the stage for the real point of focus I want to take for this article: Anna as she appears in the second movie. While Anna learns about charity in the first movie, she ends up displaying an extension of her original naivete. The opening song, led by Anna, demonstrates that her love is fragile. In other words she does not have caritas, she has a lesser form of it. She has delectatio.

In no way has Anna’s love for her family decreased. If anything, her attachment has increased. With the immediate threats of the first movie’s finale gone, Anna’s sincere caritas took a step down in devolution and instead became delectatio. Instead of truly willing the good of the other without return expectation, we see that Anna’s love has devolved into total dependency on those she loves. She now requires their returned affection and gratitude in order to feel okay. She does not truly love them as much as she is delighting in them. They bring her delight, and the delight that she receives from them is what motivates her. This is what makes her love fragile, and what drives her through the first part of the second movie.

To the casual observer, Anna’s actions are eccentric and unnecessary. She goes way too far to make sure others are okay with the same sort of disregard for her own well-being, but it is not purely sacrificial, and it is not within full awareness of what is good for those she loves. At the slight appearance of Elsa’s discomfort during charades, Anna is sent herself into great internal turmoil, questioning every one of her recent actions towards her. At every one of Kristoff’s bumbly lines she perceives a threat in loss of his affection. When Elsa is even slightly in physical danger, Anna feels the need to dash brazenly into the fray, regardless of Elsa’s capacity and Anna’s incapacity. And finally, of course, when she believes Elsa is dead, Olaf is gone, and Kristoff has deserted her, Anna also believes she has nothing left that is precious and worth living for. That is how fragile her love is, and it is because it isn’t true love, it is a fragile delight in her family’s affection. Without their present affection and her inability to bring them back to where she can receive that affection, she is completely lost.

Important to note is that delectatio is not an inherently bad form of love. It is, however, a lesser form of love than caritas. It is not bad to delight in something or someone, but if that delight becomes more important than the good of the other, than it becomes a disordered and harmful love.

We see this exact problem between Anna and her sister. Elsa’s role in the second movie is about actualization, or becoming a more complete version of herself, or a higher or better version of herself. This actualization is definitively good for Elsa – she is lacking a knowledge of a powerful part of herself, and needs it to serve not just her own people of Arendelle but her ancestral people of Northuldra by discovering her side of the ‘Fifth Spirit.’ Anna explicitly hinders this development in Elsa. Every time Anna feels her loss of control over Elsa and restrains her so that she can still bring Anna delight and comfort, Anna keeps Elsa from fully engaging her development. In effect, Anna fails to will Elsa’s good, even though she thinks she is loving her in the best possible way.

Of course this strange perception of love that she has adopted is mostly fictitious. Kristoff certainly had a true love for her. Need I mention his constant and sincere sacrifice of self for Anna’s well being? Elsa never once doubts the strength of their bond. Olaf knows he can rely on Anna. Anna is the one who doubts, and who perceives her relationships in such a fragile way. At the end of her song she follows the advice she heard from around, to choose the next right step. Her delights have abandoned her and now she is alone with herself, and nothing else. Her option? To move forward. And since she has literally hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up and out into the light. Behind in that cave she leaves her attachments and her desires, exiting a better person, for she now seeks something entirely external to herself, rather than internally seeking delight. Actualized herself, she rediscovers that sense of bravery that she first experienced when she sacrificed herself for her sister against Prince Hans. With no thought of seeking delight in her mind, she seeks not what is directly good for her but what is good for everyone – the destruction of the dam that sowed such harm between her two ancestral peoples.

Funnily enough, this means she engages once again in the act of true sacrifice, knowing that she might be destroying her home of Arrendelle, i.e. herself, and destroys the dam in a heroic fashion. As she engages in this sacrifice, she realizes that she is not actually alone. Kristoff sacrifically serves her (and saves her from the giants) and she is reminded of his sincere caritas and delectatio for her. Later Elsa returns and she is given comfort for the fact that she was separated from Elsa for a time. She even has Olaf return to her.

The more she restricted her family’s movements so that she could hold on to their delight, she limited their good. But by letting them go and allowing Elsa (specifically) to become more actualized to the good, she finds that delectatio came anyway, and she needn’t have such a fragile love. More importantly she realizes that the love she has for her family is beyond momentary struggles and pain, and that the love persists beyond it, meaning that she can have hope in a more objective love and reality. As Kristoff tells her, “My love is not fragile” (“slap in the face, because yours was”). And as Olaf encourages her before his passing: “Anna, I finally found something that is permanent: love.”

Of course, following this logic, we see that Anna’s love is still not fully actualized in and of itself. She regains her independence, and relearns to love and will the good of the other without being dependent upon the delight she gets from them. Having the abstract object of their mutual bond as the higher object of her desire, rather than the more tangible object of their affection, she still has a materially bound object for the understanding of purpose in love. Her love is still dependent upon the people of her experience.

Observing Anna’s move to independence, most viewers might objectively agree with her choice to do the next right thing, and to base her love on more long term and abstract notions instead of affections, but what is it about the higher notion that we all assent to? The truth is that we assent to an unconditional love higher than any of us, but that would be a singular, unconditional, love that Anna does not have the virtue of exploring (due to her nature as a character of Disney property that would never explore theology lest they be cancelled by culture). A singular, higher, objective love that is independent from any of us and therefore can be inspiring to us, regardless of how dark our current situation might be, is of course God. He is Himself the fullest act of love, and therefore is Caritas and Delectatio. When all the fleeting pleasures of the earth fade away, as they inevitably will, what hope do we have that is left? What do we look forward to? How to rise from the floor when it’s not these we’re rising for? The answer is that we have to put stock into something, and our natural inclination as humans is to put it not into just some abstract and impersonal deity, but in someone that is capable of loving us at all times, regardless of whatever pain we face. The Christian God is such a God.

And so, we see, that a major underlying theme of Frozen I and II is not just any love but caritas itself, inviting us as the viewers to not be shallow in our relationships but to push deeper and to find a love not based in the people immediately pleasing to us but in some higher love that can motivate us when our delights inevitably fail us.

Why I Attend the Traditional Latin Mass

I attend, as much as is practically possible, the Traditional Latin Mass. As a Roman Catholic I am obliged (quite happily, mind you) to weekly attend Mass, but as long as I go to a valid and licit Mass I have flexibility to attend wherever one is held. As a convert from non-denominational Christianity, you might believe that I would find something like the Traditional Latin Mass entirely appalling, but the truth is that it is incredibly attractive to me. An attraction borne of deep beauty.

Before investigating the reasons as to why I attend the TLM at all, first I must offer my reasons for attending any Mass to begin with. Compared with other groups of followers of our Lord Christ, the most Catholic of all beliefs is that our Lord left us with a particular gift of immense beauty before he sent out His apostles in His stead and was seated at the right hand of the Father. He instituted what is known as the Eucharist (Greek for thanksgiving), which is what non-Catholics know as being the Lord’s Supper. It is when the faithful eat bread and drink wine in memory of Christ’s death and resurrection, a symbol of the sacrifice itself. In Catholicism, however, there is a difference in belief. It is understood that the bread and wine become, during the consecration in the Mass, the actual body and blood of our Lord. As the Jews of the Old Testament consumed their sacrificial lamb after Passover, the Christians of the New Testament consume their own Sacrificial Lamb for the remission of sins, for sanctification, and for admittance to heaven.

This means that during the Mass, the faithful come into contact with heaven and with the eternal Christ, Himself, during the Mass. He Himself is present for others to see and consume. If you call to mind the significance of the literal presence of Christ in the Church, then a lot more about Catholicism makes sense. All of the reverent kneeling, music, and small symbols all take on a deeper aspect when you think that the person of their reverence is actually and legitimately present. If our Lord were not there, then it is a lot of show with no punch. But otherwise, it is like someone honoring the King of the Universe and they’re sure as heck going to be aware of such a fact. And when the King of the Universe says ‘eat of my flesh,’ I’m going to listen, and I’m going to receive it from the ecclesial authority that has maintained the centrality of the teaching of the Eucharist since its inception.

So that’s why I even attend Mass, and dare call myself Catholic. To receive the Eucharist is not something that any average ‘Christian’ can do, either. There are a whole host (Catholic joke, sorry) of consequences that arise from the consumption of our Lord through the Eucharist. When we consume the Eucharist, we are receiving His divinity, soul and flesh. Besides purifying us, this sacrament binds us together in Him. We are unified and not counted as separate. When Christ looks upon His church, He will see those who share a literal part in him. All of the physical churches of the world are then brought together by these and other singularly Catholic sacraments. Historically this is the significance of an excommunication. It is the power of Church authority to tell someone they are living an impure life and need a radical change before they can once again be admitted into the Body of Christ.

All Catholic Churches, singularly headed by the Bishop of Rome, believe and profess this to be true. It is the source of our unity and it is what binds our worldly organization together. Many Orthodox Churches also profess Christ to be literally present in the Eucharist, but do not submit to any singular Papal authority. That, however, is a different book to read about.

For me, this Eucharist is central to my relationship with God and it orients my worship of God here on Earth. What a miracle to claim and profess: that the God man can be literally and manifestly present in a form not explicitly human. So, then, I don’t take my Mass setting lightly. Whenever it is time for Mass, I orient myself as reverently as possible. While Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection is at once cause for us to jump for joy, the gift of the Eucharist is not everything. When we eventually go to heaven we will be gifted the immediate presence of God and all of our needs will be met in that singular presence, and the Eucharist is a temporal, mitigated presentation of something similar. For this season of human existence we are gifted the Eucharist, a faith in our Lord not confirmed yet by our immediate senses. And for those that have faith in that now will have faith in His later immediate presence when He comes again. So, then, the Mass is solemn as much as it is joyful, looking forward to the second coming.

Currently there are a couple of forms of the Mass to be seen, the Ordinary Form (OF) and the Extraordinary Form (EF). The OF is said in the local language where the Mass is being held and tends to feature more variance in choice of Music. It was a restructuring of the Mass in the late 1900s after the Second Vatican Council. The EF is said largely in Latin and relies heavily on the use of Gregorian Chant, Polyphony, and old Hymns and uses the rubric of the Mass right before the shift happened (from the early 1960s). The OF is entirely valid and licit so long as the rubric is completed in its entirety, and so Christ is present as much as He is in the EF, but there’s a lot to be said as to whether it can easily be felt that Christ is present in the OF.

Imagine, for a second, that you went to visit the Queen of England. Visiting royalty is a bit of a big deal, so you want to make sure you’re prepared. You learn about the pattern of visiting the Queen and you dress a little bit too nicely. You learn about the customs of the Buckingham Palace and make sure to follow them to a T. You practice what you’re going to say over and over again in your head. There is music that meets the tone of the occasion. After all of this preparation, though, you show up in England and you are told to meet the Queen, informally, down at a local pub over a couple of beers. Did you still meet the Queen? Of course. Did you still converse with her about the same content? Most likely. Was it underwhelming? Yeah! Probably!

The OF was designed around making the Mass more accessible and easier to understand. It caters more to the individuals present, breaking down any barriers that might keep the lay faithful from fully comprehending what is happening at any given point. Done properly, the OF can be very beautiful, but for me I find it has limitations. In many ways it can be like meeting the Queen at the pub instead of in a royal setting at the Buckingham Palace. As I heard recently in a discussion between Matt Fradd and Father Michael O’Loughlin, the OF can be a difficult place to search out and find the reverence towards the majesty of Christ and His tradition through the Church (even though it is still there). In many ways it feels like the removal of ‘barriers’ was really a removal of mystery and a removal of beauty.

The EF, for me, maintains a more full beauty and mystery properly due to our Lord Christ. I specifically have been enchanted by the Gregorian Chants so intricately involved in the yearly structure of the Church from Advent to Advent. I myself even began helping chant for the EF because of how beautiful I find it. When at the EF Mass, I don’t have to look hard to find reverence for Christ. I feel that my Christian brothers and sisters are, in unison, acknowledging the true depth of the mystery of our Lord’s presence. Furthermore I feel that as in a participant of the EF Mass, I am doing my fullest to participate and honor my God and King.

A key element of the EF is the use of Latin. The EF is oftentimes referred to as the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). For some this feels alienating, especially when the rubrics allow for Mass to be said in the local language in the OF. Of course with my affinity for languages I have a certain bias towards doing things in an alternative language other than English, but in this case there is a fairly objective reason to find the Latin beautiful. The Roman Catholic Church, centered in its Roman identity, uses the language of Latin as a centralizing language. Prior to the adjustments after Vatican II, Latin was the singular language used in all Roman Rite Churches – meaning that all Catholic Masses were precisely the same, regardless of the locale where the Mass was being said. By using Latin as the language of the Mass it aids in the universal identity and unity of the Catholic Church. The Mass is still this same way from place to place, as the rubrics are the same, but now individual languages are used instead, decentralizing the element of language. For me, participating in the Latin Mass gives me not just a connection the Church at large, as the OF does, but it also roots me in the tradition, knowing that I am saying and participating in the same Mass as many of my Catholic priors. I easily feel connected to Catholics of time past.

Most importantly, the TLM, the EF, inherently contains more respect for how the Eucharist is consumed by its attendants. In the OF the lay faithful have the option to receive directly on their tongue, usually while standing, or in their hand for them to put in their mouth themselves. In the EF, the lay faithful only have the option of kneeling at an altar railing to receive the Eucharist directly on the tongue. Some, as I, have taken to only receiving the Eucharist in the OF while kneeling. Worship is all about posture of the person and posture of the soul. Kneeling is an inherently more reverent way to acknowledge the Lord, and while it is possible in the OF, it is systematic in the EF. In this way, also, there is an increased reverence for the Eucharist and for the Mass.

I do not have the luxury of attending a weekly TLM. As of now I only attend it once a month, as it is the closest TLM by a few hours. Every time I go, though, I can say that it is the most fulfilling form of the Mass I have experienced. I don’t feel like I bumped into our King at the pub. I feel like I bowed and worshipped my King in a magnificent setting. In Christian circles, especially protestant ones, there is a mind to discuss witnessing, showing Christ’s love to others and inspiring them to follow Him. In my mind and within my own tradition of the Latin rite, there is no better way to revere and worship Christ. Similarly there is no better witness to the Catholic faith than the Traditional Latin Mass, which is shrouded in beauty and attractive mystery.

P.S. If you are Eastern Catholic or Orthodox, then please know I have a respect for your own traditions, I just didn’t really have the space to address them within the scope of my article.

On the Indoctrination of Our Students

The word ‘indoctrination’ sounds really scary to people. The modern world is described as postmodern, and while defining that latter term is difficult, a certain element that stands out in the notion as a whole is a level of Post-Modern-Philosophy-Stress Disorder (PMPSD). We live in a world where the modernist science project has failed, where no secular philosophy has successfully gained a power-hold over any other, and where people generally see religion as a failed project. In this day and age it is expected that no one talks about their beliefs too much and that they hold them privately, away from the prodding eyes of others. The stress of the philosophical and theological wars of the past are too much and now the slightest mention of them can be the instigation of an anxiety attack, or, at the very least, a figurative bomb that destroys relationships.

Nowhere is this PMPSD more palpable, seemingly, than in western education. Explicitly due to the social trauma of our collective past, it was decided in some capacity that depriving our students of explicit moral instruction and separating the moral instruction from the rest of a student’s education was beneficial so that students were not being indoctrinated into a specific philosophy or theology. That, according to society, is meant for the parents to decide at home or to have their children pursue independently from explicitly religious or philosophical institutions. Should children be indoctrinated it would mean that they had been under some false pretense, because, according to the trauma directing future choices, any engagement with indoctrination must be under some false pretense. If there were no pretense, it would not have led to the trauma and destruction of the past.

There is a key element of discussion to be remembered when we analyze the meaning of the word ‘indoctrination.’ The word means to enter (in-) into a teaching (-doctrin-). What would it mean to entirely avoid indoctrination, as the postmodern world wants to avoid? It would mean not instructing our children! It would mean allowing students free choice to think about the world, and affirming whatever their thoughts are, right from the start. It would mean not guiding them up into our current knowledge, and instead have them stray off wherever they wanted to be. This idea would be called relativism, where everyones’ individual beliefs would be independently affirmed and allowed, regardless of their conflict with each other – each man’s reality is true to himself.

Of course, I am being slightly misleading in suggesting that postmodern thought is entirely relativistic, as it is not. Postmodern thought is the bounce back from pure relativism that was abound in the latter part of the XXth century, which ultimately accepts that some sort of ‘indoctrination,’ if you will, is necessary in order for humans to exist. It is as if our human nature has a universal fault that requires us to live in some sort of degrading hierarchy.

This discussion is ultimately important when we think about our schools. While postmodern thinking accepts that some hierarchy is necessary, it still tries to avoid the evil that is indoctrination. If a student becomes lost to one way of thinking, then they are doomed forever. As I have been building up to, however, this is unavoidable. When students go to school for 12 grades for education, they are going to get some kind of indoctrination. There is no working around it! If Christian parents raise their children ‘free’ of indoctrination so that they can come to their own conclusion about religion and faith, then the parents have not raised a child properly free of indoctrination, they have indoctrinated them with agnosticism.

The point of this article is to raise to the front of your mind the fact that indoctrination is inevitable. Your child, one way or another, is going to form a frame of reference to understand the world. They have to. How else can they even survive? Schools themselves cannot be purely agnostic in their approach to education, either. It just doesn’t work that way. Specifically, also, I want to take to task English education at the High School level.

I have met quite a few English teachers over time. I have been in my fair share of English classes. Especially at the High School level, and probably earlier, grammatical skill in the language is no longer the main point of focus. At this higher level it is about logic and comprehension as much as anything. Usually this involves reading books and other literature and learning to comprehend the deeper meanings of literature as well as come up with original ideas about these readings. Teachers sensitive to topics of racism and feminism well understand that the material chosen can impact their students deeply, and if they choose literature insensitive to minority races or specific genders, they are moving into hurtful territory. Why? Because the topics at hand deeply affect the mind and education of the students.

Most teachers I know are aware of this. They do not plan out their classes solely on the idea of some standard education. They contemplate the messages and themes that they can teach to their students by reading certain material or by doing specific discussions. They know that they can teach their kids grander ideas by reading and interpreting in a specific direction. They can teach children the value of respecting others, they can teach them about perceiving beauty and they can teach them how to explain their own thoughts. They also, however, can teach them that Western Society’s hierarchy is inherently hurtful and disparaging, that there is no redemption of our Christian past, that only a progressive society is a good one.

Even if a teacher builds their class to be receptive to the plurality of ideas that can come from students and does their best to avoid tempting students into any one direction, the teacher will have certain presuppositions about how they build their class. In this way, in the construction of the system that the students inevitably participate in, will lead to some kind of indoctrination on the part of the student. We must then not assume that an education can be free of indoctrination, and we must not assume that our students are not being led into any specific direction of thought. We cannot pretend, either, that students who go off to school for most of the day and do not have a lot of solid interaction with their parents on a regular basis are going to automatically follow the education of their parents. It matters where kids go to school and who the teachers are that lead their class.

Instead of shying away from that fearful idea of indoctrination, we should instead embrace it and step into it. We should be intentional in our direction and we should not be shy about what that direction is. We should make deliberate choices on behalf of our children that guide them into a specific step so that they are not burdened by the choice of philosophy when they are not even capable of understanding it. Even more, we, as adults, should civilly, but passionately, debate our philosophies. We should indoctrinate our children and be so comfortable in the philosophy with which we do it that there are no qualms behind it. We should not be apathetic to the indoctrination of our children, because our apathy there results in apathetic kids, and apathetic adults are a worse disease to society than any physical illness that might destroy our society.

Moana is a Catholic Converted from Protestantism

In this article, I will demonstrate how Disney’s film Moana can be read as a Catholic film, and specifically how Moana as a character is analogous to a Catholic convert that grew up as a Protestant Christian. This argument in no way presumes that Moana is meant to contain any of these symbolic connections to the Christian faith, but instead aims to highlight how various symbols and themes that are strong and valuable in Moana are also relevant to describe a Protestant’s conversion to Catholicism.

First, I shall look at Moana’s life on Montinui. In the song “Where You Are,” we see a beautiful, yet slightly tragic, account of village life on the island of Montinui. To a certain extent, the song motivates the viewer to see both elements in village life. The beautiful aspect comes from how Moana’s father describes a picturesque life on the island where tradition is encouraged through dancing, for example, and through the agricultural simplicities that villagers tend to. The way that he sings about the coconuts, fishing, and how the villagers treat their necessary tasks (“we joke and we weave our baskets”) is a seemingly ideal way of living into which he is inviting Moana. All of the beauty weaves back into how her father starts off the song:

“…The dancers are practicing

They dance to an ancient song

(Who needs a new song? This old one’s all we need)

This tradition is our mission…”

This is the crux of the song and what bridges the beautiful with the tragic. Her father is appealing to beauty through tradition, highlighting that what has been handed down to Moana has value and is worth maintaining. Yet, as we see in Moana’s intermittent lines, this is not a solely beautiful concept. For Moana this tradition is something that traps her. For herself, she feels the desire to go out into the ocean, something that she believes she is called to, as she later sings about in her solo song “How Far I’ll Go.” Furthermore, this is not a purely selfish desire. Moana’s grandmother fosters it, telling her that it is an entirely appropriate thing to feel, blaming her son’s “stubbornness and pride” as that which traps Moana. While it seems that the tragedy is the point of the song, existing to move the movie’s plot along in a stereotypical coming-of-age rebel story, it is only half of it. The overarching goal of the song is to highlight to Moana the importance of her family and the great roots that she has in the island and its history, and while she faces the tragedy of not fulfilling a natural desire to go out on the sea, she learns to find a peace and happiness with the beauty that her father showed her. In the end, she feels both things: the beauty of her family and tradition and all that is good within it, yet the tragedy of not fulfilling a natural desire to go out into the sea.

Going into this first song, the experience of the viewer is not entirely neutral with regards to Moana’s desire for the sea. The leading scenes for the song show Moana as a toddler, toddling over to the sea, where the Sea, as a mystical entity, attempts to give her the Heart of Tefiti. As viewers we are privy to the fact that this makes Moana’s plight more worthy, as she has the backing of mystical forces, while the tradition of her village, while not lacking in force, lacks mysticism.

The roots of the Catholic reading begin with Moana’s plight. The village of Montinui can be representative of Protestant Christianity. It has a tradition that goes back many generations and has something of an authority of its own, but in and of itself lacks in mysticism. Moana, growing up in this community, feels attached to it and does in fact see the beauty of it. Similarly, a Protestant-turned-Catholic (PTC) would have grown up in a similar way. They loved their families, they loved God, they loved the Bible, and were promised that all of their answers would be found in the traditions of their families, but they were unable to find a true peace with it all. Something, at some point or another, started tugging at their hearts and began encouraging them to imagine something greater than the faith that they had been raised in. A PTC, just like Moana, learned growing up that they could “find happiness right / where you are / where you are.”

At the heart of the island, later, is a hint of what Moana is feeling deep in her heart. Her grandmother shows her that she is not irrational for wanting to go out to sea because Moana’s ancestry is steeped in the notion. Upon entering a cave at the core of the island, she finds the core of the island’s identity – voyaging. Suddenly Moana realizes that her view of the world was only ever a portion of what actually existed. The traditions that her father had espoused were only ever part of the story; there was something more. Rather than only the traditions of Montinui being the core of her culture’s story, she sees that the voyaging of her ancestors reconciled both the beauty of their traditions and the beauty of the sea and exploration. The coconuts and simplicity of Montinui were only a small portion of her people’s larger story that spanned the wide ocean.

Similarly, a PTC likely had a moment like Moana’s discovery of the cave of canoes. They thought they understood the fullness of their faith but then might have come across a certain piece of information that put it off-balance. For some, it is the towering beauty of the Catholic Church; the cathedrals of the world alone have great sway over their visitors, with the reaction to the burning of Notre Dame in Paris being a pertinent piece of evidence. Others may find it in liturgy, the general motions and practices of the Catholic Church absent from other Protestant denominations. Some might be inspired by history, and by reading the early Church fathers to see that the faith that has lasted almost 2,000 years was much more Catholic than Protestant. Whatever cave that a PTC found, they were struck by it, and it began them on a journey not unlike Moana’s. They see that the tradition they grew up in is actually relatively young compared to the more full tradition of the Catholic faith.

Moana’s grandmother, inciting her to follow her passion for the sea and literally bringing Moana straight to the boats, seems to be sowing divisiveness. She is literally encouraging her granddaughter to abandon her traditions, go out to sea, and fulfill Moana’s community-detracting wishes of leaving the island behind, right?

Wrong! While Moana’s actions seem divisive, the only reason that she actually follows through with going out to sea and following her grandmother’s advice is to restore the way of life that the village should have had from the beginning. The island is falling ill, in a rather surreal and mystical yet very real way, and Moana is motivated to leave because her grandmother claims that Moana has a way to heal not just the island, but the whole world. Moana does not feel only a bold notion of rebellion against the island when she leaves; she also and mainly feels a strong love for her people and her island. She treks out into the sea because she wants to find a way to make what she already had better.

“I am a girl who loves my island,

And a girl who loves the sea,

It calls me!

I am the daughter of the village chief,

We are descended from voyagers,

Who found their way across the world,

They call me!”

It is not something that her father would ever understand, though. For Moana’s father such an action is ultimate betrayal. Were it not for Moana’s grandmother dying, he would have burned down the boats, and Moana’s hopes of ever sailing would have been gone forever. Of essence to her development, though, is that her growth is oriented towards her people and not away from them, despite the surface-level appearance of her actions and motives.

Ultimately, upon learning the core identity of her village’s culture, and by reconciling all that her grandmother ever taught her with this knowledge, Moana sets off into the sea to correct what had gone wrong so many years before.

A PTC’s actions, seeking to become Catholic while living in a Protestant community, also seem to be divisive. Rather than seeking unity with the community the PTC lives in, they are breaking away from it to set off on a journey that leads them away. But the PTC does not leave mainly out of rebellion. A true rebel of faith turns away from it completely, and this is not the way of PTCs. Instead, they seek to synchronize the newfound old truths that they stumbled upon, or were led to, with the faith they already had. With a new pebble of information that the Holy Spirit leads them to, they begin a journey to set that pebble where it belongs, healing the world around them and becoming that which Protestant faith never would have allowed them to be.

So what is the wrong that Moana attempts to set straight? She needs to mend a wound, fill a hole in reality that had turned a source of healing and right-direction for the world into a source of divisiveness, pain, and confusion. The Heart of Tefiti, once stolen by the demigod Maui to impress his human admirers, needs to be brought to Tefiti once more so that the order of the world can once again flow properly.

The equivalent of Maui stealing the Heart of Tefiti to Christianity is the Protestant Reformation. While there were fruits of this event for the Catholic Church, it overall led to a break in tradition that did more damage to Christianity in the world than it did good. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformers sought to take the faith and turn it into something better. They took the authority of the discernment of Scriptures and brought it right to the common man, telling them they had the power to know the true meaning of it rather than following what had been given to them by authority. This is not unlike Maui attempting to bring the Heart of Tefiti to mankind. He claims that he wanted to do it in order to benefit man, granting him the power to create life, the power which previously belonged only to the Earth Goddess Tefiti. Ultimately, even though good was intended from this rupture of Catholic tradition, it only led to chaos. The Reformation led to the most thorough division of material Christian unity that the world has ever seen. While prior to the reformation Christians were united under a single faith and a single mission, after it a theological division turned into real physical divisiveness, pain, and confusion. Seeing the actual violence that resulted from such a divide, subsequent generations sought to put religious and faithful life to a backburner because placing it at the center only led to violence. After the Protestant Reformation, the number of divisions in worldly Christian organization only ever increased and were never decreasing. These divides, as well, weren’t always peaceful. Modern philosophy and Christian denominations, seeing the havoc being wrought, sought to leave religion behind and to seek a greater and more peaceful ‘truth,’ not unlike the new traditions that the village of Montinui set up after Maui stole the Heart of Tefiti.

Moana, then, restores the Heart of Tefiti, not only by bringing it directly back, but also by taming Maui and his rebellious nature. She shows him how his inner desires sowed division and pain instead of bringing more actual joy to humanity, and thus corrects his course. While it is Maui that teaches Moana how to sail, Moana helps Maui seek where to sail.

A PTC seeks, while not immediately for the whole world, to bring the heart of their faith back to where they see it in the more complete context of the Catholic Church. Once they bring their faith there, all that they know of the world becomes clearer. Many PTCs must confront the divisions that Luther and other reformers set in motion. They must answer the theological questions and arguments that the reformers posed and decide who was more correct in their position. The question may not be “what do I think is the right theology?” but rather “who best holds authority?” For a PTC, coming to terms with Catholic Theology is a lot like restoring the Heart of Tefiti, and the result is a feeling of synchronicity that they never knew prior; the islands heal, the fish return, and peace is sown.

Moana’s journey is not a typical hero’s journey. While in so many ways the story revolves around Moana finding her right place in the world and performing a virtuous act that saves it, she is righting an order that was thrown off so many years before. Because of a singular event that happened long before her time she was living in a world that seemed askew. In many ways, the purpose of her journey is almost entirely about the world around her and her village rather than herself.

A PTC similarly does not find themselves in Catholicism as a result of selfish desires, but rather find themselves in the midst of Rome’s Church because they feel compelled by a sense of wholeness and completeness that is not found elsewhere. As the Ocean called Moana, the Holy Spirit called the PTC. In the end, Moana restored a truly whole way of life to her people and helped not just herself, but her people as well. Even though her family viewed their tradition as entirely complete, Moana was able to listen to the Ocean and discover that it was incomplete. She took it and made her tradition whole, making her life more whole in the process.