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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



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What is Love?


Recently, my Facebook page has been ripe with conversation over the whole issue of the Obama Administration forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients with the new HHS mandate.  It has been an interesting (and, to be frank, tiring) conversation.  Many friends who are not religious have been especially vocal on the discussion.  Some have realized the real issue – religious freedom – while others have totally missed the point, thinking this is all about contraception.

In regards to contraception, a lot of people who I have discussions with promote the idea that Jesus is all about love and peace and so therefore he should be about letting us do thing according to the norms of today.  They are right to an extent: Jesus is about love and peace.  However, the Christian understanding of love and peace are vastly different than what the world thinks.

In regards to peace, the day to day parlance tends to mean “without conflict, comfort, stability”.  For Christians, this is anything but the case.  Peace comes from living a devoted relationship to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Peace comes from embracing the Cross, from living a life of love for God and others.  Peace, then, could be in the midst of conflict and strife: externally, things may be anything but peaceful!  Yet in the heart of the Christian, they have the certitude of faith that Jesus is with them in this moment and that they are following the will of God that they have come to know for themselves through prayer and discernment.

This leads me to what love means for the Christian.  This is perhaps the most misunderstood concept about Jesus and Christianity in the world.  Love, for many today, means nothing more than to accept people’s actions and norms as they are.  In short: be as you are, that’s all that matters.  To an extent, there is a kernel of truth to this: we love people as they are, but it does not mean we are always affirming of their actions.  We love the murderer (to be hyperbolic) but do not approve of his actions!

For Christianity, love is self-sacrificing, objective, and demanding of more.


This is the core of Christian love.  It is encountered by all when the see Jesus on the Cross.  Love in human flesh is put on the Cross out of love for us.  He goes up there willingly with the desire to embrace all the sin of humanity so that humanity can live their true calling once again.  It is a complete death-to-self-for-the-sake-of-the-other.  It is putting my self to the side for the one whom I love.  It is in this complete death to self for the other that makes me human.  The Second Vatican Council teaches that “man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self”.  To give myself is the means to finding myself because, by giving my whole self to an other, I thereby find myself accepted, loved, and affirmed in the one to whom I give my whole self to.  To give consideration to self is contrary to Gospel love.  Selfishness has no place in it.  Every serious Christian knows this and does what they can to root it out of their lives with the help of God’s grace.  This type of love is the basis for the demand of greatness and the objective character of love.


This aspect of Christian love comes from the great insights of St Ignatius of Loyola and my reading of my favourite theologian: Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Love is objective.  What do we mean by this?  The term objective in Christian parlance means that it is greater than me, it holds a force that transcends me as an individual and calls me to make it personal in my life, to become flesh to it.  Love as objective, then, has a very personal dimension: it is something I make my own and is not me.  For love to be objective in me, I need to embody it completely and put my self to the side completely.  In way, love as objective is another way of speaking about love as self-sacrificing except that I find it gives it a much more personal dimension.  Love is something that calls me to embrace it completely and to live it with a totality of my life because, by doing so, I become the person God calls me to be.  We are only truly happy, truly joyful when we allow God in our lives so completely, so totally,that people see Christ in us and we see Christ in others.  To live the objectivity of love, then, requires complete and totally humility.  Humility is that complete openness to the truth of reality: to let God speak as He is, to let our world “be itself” to us.  Humility is listening with an openness and attentiveness that – frankly – is difficult in a world full of noise.  I have a whole post on humility that I want to write so I think I’m going to leave it there for now.

Demanding of More

For me, this is perhaps one of the more misunderstood elements of Christian love.  As I said above, people are right that we are to love people as they are.  But, since love is objective, it calls us to something more than we are.  It is greater than us because the Person Who embodies it – Jesus Christ – is both perfect man and Son of God.  The love we wish for in our lives, the love we yearn for by being distracted, the love we seek in casual sex, the love we seek in countless relationships with “the love of our life (I’m sure this time!!)”, the love we seek in material wealth, it is all an expression of a deeper desire of our human heart for something more.  It is why we accumulate, it is why we try more things: we are seeking for the one thing that fulfills the call of our hearts.

Our issue, though, is that we seek that one thing in that which does not call us to be more.  One of the most disheartening things I have heard from people in this conversation about contraception is the pessimistic, lethargic, and complete undervaluing of the human person.  People do not expect great things out of themselves or others.  They say they are “realists” because they are in tune with what is normative in our culture.  Is millions of abortions normative?  Is suicide normative?  Is loneliness normative?  Is poverty – both of the heart and financially – normative?  The way a society exists is – if you will – the work of art of a culture.  What is in the soul of our society expresses itself in the ‘art’ of our actions and what is normative.  I do not see a society all that happy.  I see a society that is content, and that scares me.  Jesus said “it is better to be hot or cold” but do not be lukewarm.

The Christian teaching of love demands us to be greater than we are.  What we are now is not who we are called to be.  We are called to be so much more!!!!  We are called to live a life of heroism in the ordinariness of our lives!  Deep down, there is a desire to be unique, special, and loved.  But many of us have found that desire frustrated, trampled on, and destroyed all too many times by those we thought loved us.  This is sad and true.  But it does not justify repressing our desire for that “something more”.

I know from experience.  My life prior to my conversion – and to an extent it will never leave me! – was a life of complete selfishness.  I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and how I wanted to do it.  And I was miserable.  I had no direction in my life.  My heart yearned for more, but regardless of where I went, my heart was never satisfied.  The encounter with Jesus Christ changed my life.  In one night of prayer, I encountered Him Who I had been searching for all along.  I can guarantee it: if there is a life lived for the Love which fulfills all desire – the love that is incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ – then all you search for, all you yearn for, is completed in Him.

I thought I was happy before encountering Him.  Now that I know Him, I realize the misery that was a part of my life.  But we cannot see the darkness of our misery until we see the brilliant light of His Love.

in Christ


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Against the Idea that “Faith is that which has no evidence”

This is one of the questions for my Theology of Revelation Final Exam.  I am sharing it in full below, though I do use some ‘bigger terms’ than I normally do in my posts, for which I apologize.  However, I think the essence of my answer is well within the tradition of the Church: evidence is much more than scientific (as we understand that term today).  So I have attached the question and answer in full below.

Question 1: Recently, I read a newspaper article where faith was described as that for which there is no evidence, or for that where the evidence is found wanting.  Would you agree with this?  If yes, then why; if not, then why not?

I do not agree with this statement at all, though I understand where it comes from.  I will argue for why I do not agree with this statement as follows.  First, I will analyze the concept of evidence to note that there is in fact evidence for faith.  Secondly, I will respond with what faith actually is in both its objective and subjective forms.

The statement that faith is in something in which there is no evidence or where evidence is found wanting is fundamentally flawed because it presumes a positivistic view of evidence.  The person of faith, according to the statement, is one who cannot find the evidence of God in the visible.  God is not sensible or tangible and therefore it is not possible to give a scientific (in the positivistic sense of the term) account for God.  This in itself is false, for it presumes that God cannot be known through the tangible, which we will discuss in a moment.

However, evidence does not and, in fact, cannot be reduced to the phenomenal, it cannot be reduced to mere positivism for the positivistic worldview is wanting in its ability to explain reality.  Everything in reality is greater than the parts, while the positivistic worldview looks at the world only in parts, often to the neglect of the whole.  For example, take water.  Water is the result of the combination of hydrogen and oxygen and when the reality of water comes to existence, hydrogen and oxygen do not cease to exist, but they find a new identity in the reality of water.  Water, then, gains an element of mystery by virtue of synthesis.  Water cannot be described simply in its parts, it is now more than its parts.  There is now an infinite complexity that can no longer be reduced to the parts: the sum, in the end, is indeed greater than the parts, but the parts do not cease to exist or be overwhelmed by the new reality.

What does the above criticism of positivism have to do with the concept of faith and evidence?  If we apply the concept of synthesis to a much larger and more complex level, we see that, by virtue of the synthesis of the human person, the person contains within them an infinity that nothing in the world can satisfy.  Though we cannot go into great detail here, what we can say is that is infinity looks to be matched by infinity, and so the human person tends outwards and upwards in his action to find something to fulfill his desire for the infinite.  This desire for the infinite is in man, and scientifically observable if, by science, we understand that it proves the necessity of a thing by eliminating all possible obstacles to that thing’s necessity.  If we look at our action, if we look at our conscious mind with humility, we will observe this infinite tendency that dwells from within.  We will eliminate all obstacles that would argue the contrary, and we would discover that deep in the depths of our being is a mystery which we are contingent upon for existence.  This mystery is the transcendent God present to our being, allowing us to exist, giving us life, and is the source behind the spontaneity of our will.  In other words, if we look deep and hard enough, we will see, though not in a positivistic way, that there is a mystery deep in our being that is not us, nor are we it, but that we are united to through action.[1]  Within the life of the subject, then, we can discover that there is a source to our life that is also our end.  It is knowable, but we cannot completely comprehend it.  The positivistic worldview wants to be able to grasp and comprehend, but it never completely grasps reality, it only gets a snippet of a thing and is never able to look at the thing as it is in all its unity.  Knowledge can never be complete of anything.  If this is the case with the realm of nature and the observable – in the sensory sense – then it is even more true when it comes to the realm of God.  Though we can know that God exists, that He is necessary for me to be, I am unable to completely grasp Who He is.  In humility, we allow the objective element of God to reign in our lives, we submit to His presence knowing that we need Him to fulfill our destiny, our desire.  But we do not grasp the totality of the mystery, though we know it’s there.  Just as I can know that I see the screen I am looking at – though I cannot grasp the infinitude of it – so it is with God: I know I see Him, experience Him, encounter Him, I do not have a complete grasp of Him.  Positivism demands the ability to grasp the totality of a particular, but never can.  Faith acknowledges that a reality is real, it acknowledges the evidence of the reality of God, but does not claim to know God in His totality for to know God in His totality, God would not be God.

Before going onto what faith is, we must address one more element of the issue of evidence.  Evidence – again, in the positivistic sense – presumes the thing to be all there is.  In short, the positivistic view of evidence denies mediation.  It presumes that the universal cannot be revealed in the particular, that the objective cannot be revealed in the subjective, that the supernatural cannot participate in the natural.  The tangible, the sensible, the particular: all of this is totally distinct and apart from the invisible, the objective, the universal.  In short: the positivistic view negates the possibility of the supernatural acting in concert with the natural.  Yet we know from experience that the sensible we experience always points to something more.  Due to the infinite depth of each particular thing, we see in our experience more than just water, for example.  We see fluidity, liquid, clarity, rhythm, etc in water.  Thus the particular of water points to something more than just itself: it mediates a greater reality than it is and points to a dependence deeper than itself.  Thus, evidence of God can be seen in the natural realm as well: the beauty of nature, the truth of faith, the holiness of a Christian, the unity of the Church: these are all mediating realities which, through their participation in the life of God, point to Him in their particularity.  Evidence of God is sensible, positivism simply cannot stand the scandal of mediation.

What we have just engaged above is both cursory and lacking many necessary nuances.  Evidence for faith does exist, it simply means moving away from a positivistic view of reality since such a view does not stand the test of reality anyways.  What must be embraced, because it is the reality of our experience, is the sacramental world view.

What, then, in view of the above discussion thus far, is faith?  Faith has two dimensions: the objective and the subjective which come together in the person through the Church from Christ.  In the realm of the objective, faith is a gift in that the Person of Jesus gives Himself totally to the Church and, through the Church, to each individual.  The subjective response is one of openness, receptivity, and indifference.  Jesus is the object of our faith and faith is the living out our existence in the His existence, allowing ourselves to unfold in His love through the practice of Christian life.  Faith, in the realm of the subject, is only true when it is lived in Christian love, when that openness to the existence of Christ in the life of the subject.  In fact, the ‘proof’ of faith is not in an intellectual assertion, but is in the living the reality of the encounter of Jesus in the daily walk of life.  Faith is affirmed only when one delves into the mystery they experience in the depths of their soul, when they abandon themselves to the mystery of God in their action.  This action then becomes reflected in their mind: action is the lab in which faith is encountered and affirmed.  Pascal’s wager is not about an intellectual assent, but of a lived abandonment to God and, in that lived abandonment, one discovers that God is real, that He exists, and that they wish to throw their life at Him.  Faith is not a lacking of evidence, but the encounter with an evidence that is so real that it is mysterious, so visible that it is hidden, so beautiful that we are blinded, so true that we are silenced, so good that we are enamoured.

Thus, in a way, there is a splinter of truth to the statement that faith is in that which lacks evidence.  There is a certain abandonment to the unknown, the ungraspable.  It is to delve into the depths of the ocean of mystery and to not know where one is going, but to only go on ahead for it is that movement that we look back and see in our active life of faith the evidence of God in our lives.  We cannot see God until we first respond to His love with the abandonment of our self to Him in the lived life of active faith.  Thus, it has an element of the unkown, but the uknown is known.  We enter into the known unkown and, as we go deeper within the mystery, we come to know the unknown more as the unknowable, but we are comfortable with that because we know Who it is and that to grasp Him is to make Him into an idol and not the living God Who permeates our lives, sustains us, and is encounterable each moment of the day.

[1] Most of this comes from Maurice Blondel.  Please refer to his book L’Action for a more complete account.


In Christ



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The Gnosticism of the Atheists

I invite you to watch this first:



The Dawkins interview begins at 1:50.  The funny thing, everything he describes religion to be can be attributed to atheism, demonstrating it to be just as religious as any religion.

But that is not the point of this post (though I find it funny that he says he never said that religion is pernicious, though he thinks it is…the illogicality of his arguments are not worth the time here.  Though his criticisms of the business element of religion in America is, I think, spot on).

The audio interview (which is 30 minutes long) is here where he made is famous statement:


My point is the comment he makes about the fact that Jesus would have been an atheist.  Here is the excerpt:

“I wrote an article called ‘Atheists for Jesus,’ I think it was… Somebody gave me a t-shirt: ‘Atheists for Jesus.’ Well, the point was that Jesus was a great moral teacher and I was suggesting that somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.”

It is this comment that I have a beef with, but not the fact that it has anything to do with Jesus.  Silly remarks like that are not worth anyone’s time and are non-offensive to me.  The interesting comment, rather, is the idea that Jesus was “too intelligent” to be a theist.  In other words: only smart people are atheists, anyone who believes in God is stupid, irrational, and not part of the special “intelligentsia”.

When I heard this, the first thought that popped into my mind was the ever-ancient (and therefore ever-present!) heresy of Gnosticism.  What is Gnosticism?  Gnosticism is, in a certain sense, a difficult heresy to pin down.  A common overarching feature of many Gnostic movements, however, was the concept of a secret knowledge.  If you were one of the select few to have access to that secret knowledge, then you would be among the “saved” and “enlightened ones”.  In short, many atheists (though not all) fall into this category: if you were just smart enough, you would be an atheist too.  In short, only smart people are “the saved” of the world according to the new atheists, while the rest of us are still “ignorant and in our sin” of theism.  I don’t have much more to say about it, except for the utter arrogance of such a position.  It also demonstrates how evolution is no longer simply a science for them, but a way of life with the Origin of Species as their bible.  I am not contra evolution as a science, but I am contra evolution as a philosophy.  In short, they are the dominant ones, the ones who have the surest hope of salvation.  And what is their salvation?  The enlightened position of knowing the truth.  That is all.  There is nothing more afterwards, no immortality.  In fact, there is no meaning, no purpose and, therefore, no rationality and reasonableness to the world.  Their salvation is nihilism, though most refuse to admit this aspect because the dreadedness of nihilism is too much for most people to bear, save people like Nietzsche.

My point is simply that the arrogance of some atheists as enlightened and smarter than all the rest who are not enlightened because they aren’t smart enough is really just a logical conclusion of evolution as a philosophy (NOT a science: I am not arguing against the scientific merits of evolution, and need to state that again to ensure no one misunderstands me).  It is they who are the new breed of humans, the next stage in the evolutionary ladder, and we are the ones who will eventually be kicked off and into the past to be forgotten.  It is arrogant in so many ways, and most of all because it has no basis in reality. Man is religious by nature and looks for religious expression.  The New Atheists are no different: their’s is a religion with no god or gods, yet it is a religion in every way many other religions are religion: it is a submission of self to a system of beliefs that require faith in something ultimately and purely unproveable by reason alone.  You cannot argue for the non-existence of God: it is logically impossible.  Dawkins is one to equate God with faeries, goblins, unicorns, etc.  However, this is a non-starter and really quite silly since the concept of God – just as a concept, not necessarily as a reality – is of a totally other order than faeries and unicorns.  The fact that he equates the concepts of God and faeries demonstrates his inability to think subtly and logically about logically different things.  So, as I was saying, it is logically impossible to argue the non-existence of God and, I would say, it requires just as much belief, if not more, to believe in the non-existence of God than His existence.  (And note, I used the term belief there, not faith, for they are different things, something for another post).  The atheists are religious and their religion is gnostic atheism.  They will shout and scream and tell everyone to be enlightened like they are, but one day their light will dim and will be a blip on the screen of history, while faith in God manifested in Christ Jesus will reign on in the world.

On a final note, I want to take one more point to task against Dawkins and the New Atheists.  Many of them – and Dawkins does in the interview – mistake religion to be a moral enterprise.  They think that religion is only about morality, that people become or stay religious because of its moral principles.  I have heard many people say that they appreciate Christianity for that reason, but nothing more.  However – and I can only speak for Christianity here and am about to be hyperbolic to prove a point – Christianity has nothing to do with morality.  Obviously, morality is a part of the Christian life, but people do not become Christians to be moral people.  That is, actually, quite a boring reason and will ultimately not hold up.  People become Christians because they believe that Jesus is Who He says He is.  Moral actions follow, but they are not the raison d’etre of Christianity.  They are secondary (and important) and not primary.  Thus when he talks about morality and religion, he misunderstands Christianity at the very least and other religions as well I am quite sure.  It plays into a common misconception of religion, and it is partly the fault of people who used religion to promote their own moral values.  Moral values are important and essential, but they are not the basis of religious life.  This is why I must admit frustration when people say “I’m a good person, isn’t that enough?”  It is not enough because it is not what religion and especially what Christianity is about in the first place.  It is about falling in love with Jesus Christ and encountering and loving Him in others.  Jesus doesn’t care if you are a good person (though, obviously, he does to an extent): He cares about you loving His Father and serving Him in others because we are made for Him.

I also think, as a sidenote, that he completely misunderstands faith.  I have not had a chance to read it, but I recommend Avery Dulles’ book “The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Faith” where he demonstrates the Christian concept of faith as being very different from the atheistic perspective of Christian Faith.



in Christ


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