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The Dark Knight Rises, Fr. Robert Barron, and the Re-Emergence of Paganism

If you haven’t seen the Dark Knight Rises yet, and hate spoilers, please do not read this blog post.

I must confess.  I am a devotee of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series.  The films, especially the second and the third, though at times choppy with editing, offer a breath of fresh air to someone who sincerely enjoys movies but rarely sees them due to lack of story, originality, etc.  I must further confess that I have thus far seen the current one, the Dark Knight Rises, three times, and plan to see it once more before I leave.

I have also been anxious to hear what Fr. Barron had to say about the films.  Today, he released his brief commentary.  While I agree with what he has to say – that the Christian view of salvation is the most compelling story to tell in a variety of icons – I think he misses the deeper element of the films, or at least he misses it in this review.  Here is the clip:

Again.  I agree fundamentally with Fr. Barron.  I think the film tries very hard to present this Christian view of salvation.  However, I think Fr. Barron seems to see that there is also a failure in all this.  Batman’s self-sacrifice is really just an illusion in the film, just as in the second film he takes on the ‘sin’ of Harvey Dent in order to try and redeem the city, but is only able to take it on through a lie.  In short, Batman tries to save the city, but he is unable to, he ultimately fails.  This failure is because it has no real effect on the city.  The salvation Batman offers in the second film ultimately fails by the time of the third, it crumbles under it’s own weight.  So too is there a lack of any real salvation in the third film.  Batman saves the city, but is unable, it seems, to effect any real change in the very being of people’s lives.

In short, what humanity demands, a pure sacrifice, man is unable to fulfill himself.  This, I believe, is one of the core messages of the film, even if it is not intended by the writes, actors, and director.  The stories of the films continuously demand this perfect sacrifice by a spotless victim, but Batman always falls short.  I want to make this clear right now: I do not see this as a criticism of the movie, but it’s crowning achievement.  The reason I love the films is that they demonstrate so clearly man’s failed attempts to save himself.  When man comes up against himself, as he does throughout history, a victor always arises, but a victory never occurs.

This brings me to the presence of paganism in the contemporary world, which I believe the movies convey so well.  In short, I think the movie conveys in a narrative form the real experience and existential reality of modern man.  This is why I believe so many people flock to see it.  When people discuss it, I never hear “it was fun”.  The discussion is immediately on a deeper level.

So what has this to do with paganism?

Paganism is not so much the worship of a variety of gods – though it can be that – but rather is the worldview that developed the genre of myth.  Myth is not something unreal, as people tend to see it.  Myth is real.  It is substantial.  It is imposing on reality all that it must bear upon itself without any relationship to a transcendent God.  Myth, then, in the pagan sense, is the constant narrative that exposes reality for all its potentiality, and it is this potentiality that gives rise to a harshness and a violence that becomes an eternal struggle.

Von Balthasar makes the argument that we need to rediscover myth for the Gospel to have an effect again.  Such an argument is based on the fact that paganism and myth demonstrate to man the sheer brutality of existence without any reference to God.  Life is, as Hobbes said, nasty, brutish, and short.  This is a fact if God is not present.  But the reason that the Gospel was so successful in its missionary push was that it was encountering a worldview in ancient Rome and the rest of Europe that saw life as meaningless, violent, and without hope.  The Christian message is the only message that is able to give a “way out” of such a worldview.  Its success lies in the fact that it affirms much of what myth and paganism has to say and uses that as the stepping board – a sort of secular Old Testament – towards the eternal spring of the Gospel.

Without such a realization that the world is this way without God, the proposition of God will make very little sense.  This is why movies such as the Dark Knight Rises give me hope.  Such movies demonstrate to me that we are beginning to realize this, even if it is not a conscious realization.  We grasp at a saving figure to redeem us from this dark oppression of ceaseless human violence, and so we create figures and symbols that can attempt to redeem us.  But as the Batman movies so beautifully portray, man’s attempt to save himself will alwayscome up short, it will always fail.  It is in this point that I believe Fr. Barron is missing in his analysis.  We grasp for a Christ figure, but our icons of Christ fail to be Christ when we look to a world without God.

I wish to finish with a brief addendum.  Many people are critical of the increase of violence in our culture, and to an extent, rightfully so.  We cannot control it, though.  When the world likes the link to God, it becomes a place of violence.  Fr. Barron is right in his analysis that Christ allows the violence of sin to come upon Him and, while hanging upon the Cross, triumphs over it with the non-violence of love.  We, as Christians, seem to demand such actions of the whole world, and I believe this to be not only naive, but inhuman.  While we could hope for such non-violent triumphs of love, it requires Christianity for such actions to take place.  When someone is not a Christian, do not expect non-violence, you can only expect some form of violence, veiled or direct, as a response to your existence.  I do not deplore the violence of the film one bit.  In fact, narratives such as Greek myth are far more violent.  And I expect our cultural narratives to go in that direction as well.  I do not lament this, but, strangely enough, embrace it.  I do not throw the world unto itself so as to allow it to destroy itself, but rather acknowledge that regardless of what I do, the world will increase in its focus on violence because it has decreased its focus on the Cross.  When the Cross is removed from culture, the only thing that can fill the void is violence.  I believe this to be part of the narrative of human history and see no end to it until Christ returns again.  So while I abhor violence and the taking of human life, I also acknowledge that it is to become ever more prominant, especially in our cultural narratives.  What we as Christians are to do in such cases is not condemn the violence, but propose the Cross as the solution to the existential angst one experiences when faced with such violence.

in Christ

-Harrison

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Love of Neighbour

A person is more than just their body.

A person is more than just their physical beauty.

A person is more than just their laugh.

A person is more than just their hair colour.

A person is more than just their physical attributes.

A person is more than just their intellect.

A person is more than just their personality.

A person is more than just their words.

A person is more than just their interests.

A person is more than just their quirks that frustrate you.

A person is more than just their lack of sensibility.

A person is more than just their anger.

A person is more than just their constant complaining.

A person is more than just their possessions.

A person is more than just their selfishness.

A person is more than just their ego.

A person is more than just their self-centeredness.

A person is more than just their inability to love another.

A person is more than just their addiction.

A person is more than just their actions.

A person is more than just their political views.

A person is more than just their unfaithfulness.

A person is more than just their rudeness.

A person is more than just their crankiness.

 

A person is more than all these things.  When Jesus commands us to love our neighbour, He asks us to love the person who is our neighbour.  Our neighbour is the drug addict, the prostitute, the person at Church who is cranky to us, the person in our family we have difficulty loving.  Our neighbour is our parents, friends, family, and all the strangers we meet.  In each one of them we find Jesus, in each one of them, there is a dignity beyond their individual traits.

Yet, we, due to concupiscence have “the concupiscence of the eyes” (1 Jn 2:15): we look to what is immediately in front of us and do not see the person who is greater than the sum of our parts.

If we want to begin to love our neighbours as Jesus loves them, we must begin by looking past the attributes to the person who expresses himself in those attributes.  The person is not the parts, but is more than what we see.  Our neighbour is a person who has a mystery we delve into, never fully plumbing the depths of who they are.  When we look past their attributes – and it is especially in regards to their attributes which we find frustrating or difficult to put up with – then we see them as God sees them: a child of God who is a temple of the Holy Spirit and Christ to us, warts and all.

A person is more than just their….

in Christ

-Harrison

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Christianity and Europe

I offer for you the following article by the ever prescient Fr. James V. Schall on Europe and its basis in Christianity:

 

http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/bellocs-infamous-phrase.html

 

 

The first element of the article that I found intriguing was his almost passing comment about Luther and Aristotle.  If, indeed, Europe is the result of the amalgamation of Judeo-Christianity with Roman and Greek culture, then the quip about Luther’s issue with Aristotle is quite enlightening.  An attack on Aristotle is not so much an attack on the past philosopher, that is not the significance of Luther’s objection.  Rather, the significance lies in the fact that Aristotle = Greek Culture.  Luther was claiming to be at issue with the very foundation of Europe.  What we are seeing today is the natural progression of Luther’s initial quip with Aristotle: to deny any element of the fourfold basis of Europe is to destroy the integrity of the European project itself.  Ultimately, Luther’s critique failed.  An attack on the Hellenism of Europe is an attack on reason itself, and the Church would have no part in the denial of reason, no matter how much trashy scholarship attempts to convince us otherwise.  Reason would prevail, both in the Church and in Europe.  Unfortunately, the Church focused so much on Protestantism for such a long time that it forgot to dialogue with the remainder of the world.  What the Church used to be in terms of her ability to engage the world she lives in is only beginning to come to life again, and thank God for that!

And that leads me to my second point.  The end of the article deals with the concept of reason, citing Pope Benedict’s increasingly important “Regensburg Speech” (Link is in the article).  The Church has never denied the importance and centrality of reason.  She has, in fact, exalted it and it is because of the exaltation of rationality that things like modern science were able to birth forth from it.  But, at the same time, she realizes that the Logos of God, the Reason of God, is deeper and a greater mystery (in the ineffable sense: there are always richer depths to go into).  Thus what is in man must be – due to the fact that sin so readily exists in the world – purified by the love of God so that the rationality of man becomes like the Creator in Whose image he is made.  In short, the rationality of man becomes love and is purified by the encounter with the God Who is Love.  Thus, when the Church enters missionary territory, she affirms what is good, but she also challenges what is false because it does not hold up to the reality of Love, it does not hold up to the reality of God and therefore denigrates the dignity and beauty of man.

As a last note, if you wish to read an excellent book on the clash between Christianity and Secularism in Europe, I can recommend to you George Weigel’s “The Cube and the Cathedral”.  It is a fantastic read and gives one great insight into the challenges we as a Western society are facing against the growing claims of secularism.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Riot – A Look into the Mirror of our Society

Does this look like virtue to you?

So, I know EVERYONE has been talking about the riots ad nauseam.  It is still in BC the hot topic of conversation and is still garnering attention on the National News.

People have been shocked, saddened, horrified, angry, etc.  Too an extent, rightly so.  It is never good to see what transpired that day.  There is talk about so-called anarchists flying into Vancouver to begin the riots(they are really just 20 somethings who are bored and have nothing better to do.  They aren’t even anarchists because they plan the whole thing…but I digress).  This is true and fine.

But what is disturbing is the way people play “follow the leader” in a moral fashion.  Once someone did something, everyone saw that as permission to enter into the mayhem.  But we know this.  It is part of man’s history, it has always been that way since The Fall and will be that way until Christ comes again.

I believe people are truly angry about the riots because they are a way for our society to look in the mirror and see its true colours.  People are shocked because they thought that we, as a country, a nation, a culture, were much better than that.  We are good and nice people (I hate the word “nice”, but that’s for another day).  The riots demonstrate that the veneer of images we place on our society are not a true representation of our moral valour.  The riots demonstrate, to an extent, where our hearts are really at.  And that is why people are disgusted.  They believed the veneer images and were never willing to go deeper, to think honestly about the moral caliber of our country.

Sadly, I don’t think that will happen.  It demonstrates that most people do not have the moral courage to stand up for what is true and right.  Some did, and I am glad the news agencies have been tracking that.  Those men had courage and bravery to do what was right even at the threat of their own personal security.  The most people would do would be to stand around with their cell phones watching the whole thing, wanting to capture the moment on camera.

Yet those people, I argue, are just as much to blame as those who were looting and causing damage.  It is a sign that our culture has truly fallen into the worse sort of voyeurism in which everything becomes entertainment for us.  Instead of thinking about others and doing what is right to help those in need, we stand around getting pictures and video in order to keep the moment to show “I was there”.  In the end, it’s all about “me”.  That is the same mentality as those who were causing the damage, not having a care for the people’s whose lives they were either disrupting or even possibly ruining because of all this. 

I saw a movie last year called “Kick-Ass”.  Now, I do not recommend it for most people, but it demonstrates where our culture is at.  There is one scene where the character “Kick-Ass” (a high-school boy who thinks he can take on the criminals of the streets of New York by himself) is getting beaten up in a pretty bad way.  Instead of helping him, everyone at the restaurant nearby pulls out their cell phones and records the whole thing, noting the entertainment value of it.  Those people should have gotten out of the restaurant to help him, just like those in the street of Vancouver should have put down their cell phones and stopped the thugs who were causing destruction and mayhem.

Another show I think of is Seinfeld, the last episode of the series.  In it, the four characters are standing around in a street in some small town where they not only are recording a larger man being mugged, but even crack jokes.  They don’t do anything.  Oddly enough, they go to jail for it for what is called a “good samaritan” law: if you see someone in trouble and you can reasonably help the person, you ought to.  Now, I don’t think there should be such a law, but as I think about it, that episode does a lot for speaking to where our culture is at: selfish, concerned only for itself and for its own entertainment.  Care for another is still there, but not to the same degree it once was. 

I blame this, largely, on the loss of Christianity.  And the funny thing is, the outcries, without saying it, were stating the same thing.  They wanted the virtue of the past.  But we don’t have it, it’s not there.  Will our culture do anything to seriously ask the real questions, the tough ones, that force us to look at ourselves and how we relate with others?  Sadly, I don’t think so, but if the riots did end up causing such a moral reflection in our society, then maybe there is still hope there for that virtuous and good society that everyone desperately wants, but only a few are willing to attempt to live.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The New Age Movement

This article gives a good overview of the New Age movement that continues to plague the world.

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/a_new_age_beyond_right_and_wrong/

I am incredibely weary of this movement for the reasons expressed in the article.  It is funny, too, how, in the end, there is nothing new under the sun.  It is simply a re-hashing of ancient Greek and neo-platonist ideas.  It has fallen under the weight of reality before, it will fall under the weight of reality again.

What worries me, though, is that our world is indeed surrounded by relativism, and thus we live in a culture that is unable to think for itself anymore.  When people fall away from the use of reason, then that which is not reasonable becomes reasonable.  Look at how much people claim that which is true to be conspiracy theories, or arguments based on a silence of evidence.

I worry because people such as Oprah promote the New Age movement.  Many people are spiritually hungry, and even faithful Christians looking for a deeper meaning to their Christian lives.  Oprah waxes wisdom, and thus sucks many people into her web which is ultimately an instantiation of the New Age movement (her desire to constantly promote Eckhart Tolle is a great example of this).

I have also encountered it much in my life as well.  I encountered last summer in some of the peole I encountered when working at the hospital in Toronto.  When I made my reservations known, people said I wasn’t “open minded enough”.  They challenged me for daring to claim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  While, yes, there are different perspectives in the world, it doesn’t negate the claim that there is universal truth.  If there is no truth, then talking is pointless.  Instead, they asked us to be syncrotistic, saying “everything is ok, everything is true.”  If that is true, then I wonder how it is they could criticize me for claiming that there is specific, universal truth.

Anyways, this is just a random gathering of ideas.  The New Age movement is scary, and we must be weary about accepting it in our lives.  Especially for Christians, there are many books that claim to be Christian, but are really just that on the surface (I think, for example, of people such as Richard Rohr) – in the end, they are New Age spirituality, a surface level mix of eastern spirituality and 14th century German mysticism.

I must end, though, by affirming one thing of the article that I know from experience.  Those of the New Age movement tend to be unabel to deal with reality, because they deny reality in their mind: it creates a cognitive dissonance in their life that becomes almost irrepairable.

in Christ

-Harrison

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