Tag Archives: Culture

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



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The End of Oprah

Priestess of the Culture of Self-Importance

Fr. Raymond de Souza has an insightful article in the National Post about the reign of Oprah here.

He makes a great point about how Oprah is the result and response to a culture that is so atomized that it needs to look to tv personalities for a ray of hope and vacant platitudes that make us feel better.  It is, indeed, a major cultural issue, and yes, it is due to the failure of our society, friends, families, churches, etc., that have brought about this atomized culture.

I remember when I was a kid when everyone knew each other on the block.  The kids would always become friends and play together, and the parents would quickly become friends as well, often hosting BBQs and nights to simply spend time together chatting while the kids played hockey or swam in the pool.

Today, if you attempt to get to know your neighbour, you’re seen as a bit of a weirdo almost.  The idea of “neighbourhoods” and “neighbours” are, in my mind, long gone.  Perhaps it’s just my experience on the West Coast; I hope this isn’t a reality everywhere.  But even though we have a physical proximity to people, there is no spiritual proximity – and I am not speaking here even in a religious sense!  Naturally, human beings are spiritual creatures who find fulfillment in creating community with others.  When that isn’t happening, then we are entering a spiritual crisis on the natural level (which is scary because it precludes a crisis on the supernatural level first!).

We no longer desire to know others.  I remember, for example, going to a Pizza Hut one day a couple of years ago in Edmonton and seeing four kids sitting at a table, texting each other: they wouldn’t even speak to each other!  I must admit that I myself have even fallen into this culture, and it is difficult to have the eyes to see in order to break out of it.

When we no longer desire community, when we no longer desire to be with others – think of the family in which each person eats the meal of their choice in front of their own tv, a sad but true reality in many households – then we seek others to fill our spiritual void, but in a way that the spiritual void is not actually filled, but only superficially.  We thus run to TV, self-help books, the internet, drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and so on, in order to fill that spiritual gap in our lives.  We are empty, and we know we need to be fulfilled, but we don’t know how, so we go for those places, people, and things t hat seem to give us fufillment.  It is a sad state in the world when this is the natural spiritual condition of a culture.  I believe, too, that if this is indeed the case, then we are in for cultural suicide.  This is not just a spiritual hunger: when we become atomized, when we become isolated from others, then basic human principles such as love, compassion, forgiveness, reason, are no longer easy tasks to carry out, and thus man becomes more like an animal when, ironically, he is claiming to be more human than ever! 

It is a sad state when truth becomes a lie and the lie becomes truth.

in Christ


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The Importance of Catholic Culture

Before I begin my post, I must rejoic – albeit brielfy – in the dominating victory of the Vancouver Canucks over the San Jose Sharks this evening.  7-3!  It is looking good for the Canucks to be going to the Stanley Cup Finals.  So here is hoping they continue their dominating play :).

I was in New York for 6 days to attend the ordination of my friend – Fr. Brian Graebe.  He and I met in 2007 at the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society.  In fact, Brian is one of the guys who really helped me make the decision to finally enter the seminary, and I am grateful to him and the other seminarians I met there who motivated me to take the leap of faith.

I have a lot that I brought back from the trip that I am going to continue to reflect on, but I wish to point out only one thing today (I am zonked after 18 hours of travel yesterday!).  I experienced in New York a Church in which its Catholic roots are both rich and deep.  It was amazing to hear from many of the guys how natural it was for them to simply consider the priesthood because “that’s what Catholic boys do”.  There was an ease in their faith, a joy in their lives, and a deep sense that being Catholic is not something that simply happens in the Church: it is something that pervades one’s entire life.

This really struck me because I am from a diocese who’s roots are old, but who’s impact on the lives of her faithful is not always as easily pervasive.  It doesn’t come naturally for Catholics in this diocese to allow their faith to be lived out in every element of their lives.  This is not universally true, but being in New York when coming from Victoria, it becomes very evident very quickly.

I was also amazed by the priestly culture there.  I met priests in their 70s and 80s – not to mention their 20s and 30s – who were so very much in love with being a priest.  It was contagious.  I wanted in.

And, in a way, that is the best way to define culture – it is that lived reality by a mass of people which aids (or hinders) people from living lives of fulness, integrity, virtue, and holiness.  Culture is not neutral.  It aids or it gets in the way.  Going to New York convinced me of asking myself one question over the coming years: how can I build this up, with God’s help, in my own diocese?  How can I aid parishes in allowing the families to be penetrated by a culture of faith instead of a culture of secularism?  This, really, is the answer in getting more vocations: living the faith in every aspect of our lives, allowing it to become our culture.  I am thankful for the trip because this has really been brought to my mind.  I felt at ease both in myself and in my vocation in ways I never thought possible while there for those few short days.  Yet nothing extraordinary happened.  What was beautiful was that the life of the Church there was perfectly ordinary, which to me was rather extraordinary!

What can be done?  At this moment, I don’t know.  Yet, now I have an experience to draw from in my coming years, an experience which gives me a goal to work towards and thus encourages me to continue on my path.  To an extent, it is difficult to argue for the importance of a Catholic Culture.  If you do not know what I am speaking about, then go to a Diocese with history and strong Catholic roots.  Just spend time getting to know Catholics – lay, priests, and religious – and you will see what I mean, and you too will be convicted by it.

I really believe that we, at times, have a difficulty in living out our convictions as Catholics because we don’t have the support around us.  This is why I think that we must attempt to create in an organic way that Catholic culture that will aid and strengthen us to live and bring our faith in and to the world.  In the end this is nothing but the logical conclusion of the concept of the communion of saints, for culture is nothing than experiencing that communion in the concreteness of life.

in Christ


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