Monthly Archives: July 2011
I am on vacation this week with my family. My internet connection in the coming week will range from intermittent to non-existent. I will have posts for each day I am away on the blog, but if something momentous occurs, for example: Elvis is discovered working at a Big Boy’s in Tulsa, the Pope issues a Bull against blogging as a complete waste of time, or there is an alarming outbreak of common sense in the government, I trust that this post will explain why I am not discussing it.
Among other activities we will be attending the Gen Con Convention in Indianapolis, a pilgrimage the McClarey clan makes each year to renew our uber-Geek creds. If any of you are close to Indianapolis and you have never attended, it is worth a drive to see tens of thousands of role players, board gamers and computer gamers in Congress assembled. If nothing else you will go home reassured as to how comparatively normal you are. Last year’s attendance was in excess of 30,000 and there are multitudes of gaming related events. A good overview of Gen Con is here. Below is a Gen Con video from 2010 which gives a nice feel of the convention.
My wife and daughter participate in the live action dungeon at Gen Con. Here is a trailer for True Dungeon 2011:
Something for the weekend. The Irish Volunteer. A mainstay of the Union armies in the eastern theater during the Civil War were Irish Americans who volunteered in huge numbers to fight. This song was popular among the men who fought so gallantly on many a field for their adopted nation. Continue reading
I take off my hat to you Klavan on the Culture for making the effort, but it will take more than that to get through to people who believe that infinite wealth can be produced by government fiat. Exhibit A is a plan to solve the national debt, read all about it here, which is quite popular among the people who call themselves “the reality-based community”. Pixies, unicorn dust, Obama is a great President and the government is a cornucopia of infinite largesse: many leftists in this country would sooner see us do a replay of the Great Depression than give up such delusions.
LifesiteNews has posted an extensive interview with Michael O’Brien about his views on Harry Potter. Michael O’Brien is himself a Catholic author, most known for his novel “Father Elijah.”
Much of the interview is about the particularities of Harry Potter. I agree and disagree with him. While I would concede that there are several instances where the Potter books don’t live up to Christian values, I think he misinterprets many of his examples to skew the books, particular in his discussions about the final scenes. However, I’m more interested in how his views would apply to a subject I rarely see discuss but which is very important: how Catholics ought to approach art and make the decision of whether or not to read/view a particular work. O’brien indirectly touches on this issue through the Potter debate, and it’s those areas I’d like to focus on.
Most important, she has taken the paganization of children’s culture to the next step, in which sorcery and witchcraft—traditionally allied with supernatural evil—is now presented as morally neutral. In the hands of “nice” people it’s an instrument for good. In the hands of not-nice people it’s an instrument for evil. She has shifted the battle lines between good and evil, which can have a disorienting effect, especially on the young who are in the stage of formation.
This is the crux of O’Brien’s argument against Potter: witchcraft is a traditional symbol of evil, and by presenting it as possibly morally neutral Rowling’s world ought to be rejected. His attempts to simultaneously defend Tolkien’s fantasy and the inconsistencies of this are well argued by many others. Howver, I think this claim is wrong even if he did condemn Tolkien.
What an author should do if they wish to use a traditional evil in a different way is to contemplate why that symbol was evil. Wizardry was a symbol of a desire for power and control; vampires for lust and immortality; werewolves for an animalistic view of humans, etc. O’Brien’s argument would corner us into using these motifs always as evil. But I think an author could genuinely write a story about a werewolf fighting his own tendencies in an effort to overcome his weakness. Indeed, Tolkien’s portrayal of dwarves fits into the tendency. The dwarves are tempted by greed and close-mindedness but throughout LOTR Gimli’s experiences change him so that he becomes a veritable hero. So while I think that authors would be wise to deal with the weaknesses inherent in their symbols rather than gloss over them, I don’t think authors are cornered the way O’Brien suggests. While O’Brien is right to suggest that authors need to pay careful attention to the traditional uses, I don’t think they are bound by them. Indeed, O’Brien’s book involves an attempt to convert the Anti-Christ; if that’s not using an evil symbol in an unorthodox way I don’t know what is.
That argument again points to the deeper problem. Without really knowing how we arrived at this position, we have made an artificial split between entertainment and faith—between culture and faith, in other words. We say, “I am a doctrinally correct Catholic (or Christian), I question nothing of the Church’s teaching. So if I want to watch videos, DVDs, television programs that violate those principles, I’m capable of focusing on the good and overlooking the evil.” It goes without saying that we should try to find the good in everything and shouldn’t always be looking for the evil around us. But when our consumption becomes an insatiable appetite, in which the evil components, the falsehoods and glamorization of evil activities are grave matters—and certainly sorcery and witchcraft is of the utmost gravity in terms of violating divine order—we should pause and say, “Is this worth it? Can I really ingest this amount of evil without being affected by it?
Part of this argument is contingent on his claims that Potter contains more evil than good. Now read this quote with it:
Potterworld is a scrambled moral universe. There are Christian symbols in the series, but the author misappropriates them, mutates them, and integrates them into a supposedly larger and broader system where evil symbols are dominant. Why are our antennae not quivering when that happens? I believe it’s because we have been overwhelmed by habitual dependence on the pleasure. I should add that we have also been overwhelmed by many opinion-shapers who tell us that there’s no problem here—even Christian commentators.
I would agree with O’Brien that commentators who say the Potter series presents NO problems are mistaken. But O’Brien’s problem with potter’s “scrambled moral universe” could apply to almost anything. The fundamental problem Christians have with approaching art is that the authors are sinful human beings. Even the best of authors are going to allow their sinfulness to creep undetected into their works so that their work contains mixed moral messages. While some works are clearly better than others at containing far more positive messages then evil (LOTR for example), no work is perfect. There is no work in the world in which the reader ought to be sitting and fully accepting.
The question for the Christian reader is how to deal with this. Part of this relies on literary interpretation. If you read Potter as offering an example of sacrificial love, you are more likely to believe it to ultimately be a useful work of art. If you read Potter as endorsing the end justifies the means, then you’re not. There are times when you can clearly say “x is unacceptable for Christians” but oftentimes this is difficult. Art speaks to different people in different ways so that some people make take more from the good parts than others. This is particularly true in the modern entertainment context, in which everything is very mixed and Christians who wish to stay engaged with the culture find themselves facing very difficult choices.
Even though there are works of art that label themselves as Christian, either they are Protestant, contain mixed moral messages anyway, or are just plain terrible works of art (think “Fireproof,” if you managed to get past the first five minutes of the dialogue). Many of the Catholic writers of the last century wrote stories with very flawed characters who seek truth in a postmodern world (Greene’s Power and the Glory, Percy’s the Moviegoer, Flannery O’Conner).
There’s no easy out, nor should their be. Good art is reflective of the world, and as that world is fallen and the author is fallen Catholics are going to have to balance the good and the bad. Good art ought to point more towards God than point away.
I have no problem if O’Brien or anyone else thinks Harry Potter does more ill than good. I disagree with them, but they are entitled to their opinion. But pretending that it is all evil avoids the difficult decisions that a consumer needs to make; and Catholics who trying to live out the New Evangelization and meet the culture need to be more aware of that decision.
Hattip to co-blogger Darwin. I haven’t laughed so hard at something on the internet in a very long time as much as I did at this!
Thirty-two years old in 1861, Sullivan Ballou was already well-established in life. Married with two sons, he was a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and had served as speaker of that body. When Lincoln called for volunteers, he did not hesitate, and enlisted as a Major with the Second Rhode Island infantry. At the battle of Bull Run he received what would prove to be a mortal wound. His right leg was amputated and he succumbed to his wounds on July 28, 1861. Before the battle of Bull Run he wrote to his wife a timeless letter of love and hope for the future beyond the grave: Continue reading
Hattip to Creative Minority Report. In a story that sums up quite nicely so much that is wrong with the Church in America, Lifesite News has the tale of an abortionist on staff at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colorado.
After a Catholic hospital in Colorado refused to remove a Planned Parenthood abortionist from its ob/gyn staff, pro-life advocates have organized a protest, featuring Live Action President Lila Rose, on Aug. 4.
“The reason I perform abortions is because I’m a Christian,” Richard Grossman, a Quaker, told the Durango Herald after a similar protest outside Mercy Regional Medical Center last year. “Personally, I believe in the strength, intellect and fortitude of women. When a woman says a fetus is a person, I think it is one. I believe the woman empowers the fetus.”
This country was blessed at its founding to have on the scene a member of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who was a financial genius. His idea to have the Federal government adopt the Revolutionary War debts of the states in order to establish the credit of the new Federal government was a policy of genius. At a stroke he restored the credit of the country as a whole, made certain the debt would be paid, made America attractive to foreign investors and laid the basis of future American prosperity. His ideas on the subject were set forth in his first report to Congress on public credit, 1789, and which may be read here.
The final paragraph of the report is salient for the time in which we live: Continue reading
At this early stage of the game, I’d say that my top choices for the GOP nomination are two Ricks: Perry and Santorum. The latter has as much chance as I do of actually getting the nomination, but he’ s also the one who I am most sympathetic to ideologically.
I say this all as a preamble because I’m going to disagree with parts of both of their comments from this past weekend. Rick Perry had this to say about New York’s decision to permit gay marriage:
Perry, who is considering running for president, at a forum in Colorado on Friday called himself an “unapologetic social conservative” and said he opposes gay marriage — but that he’s also a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, the Associated Press reported.
“Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me,” he said to applause from several hundred GOP donors in Aspen, the AP reported.
“That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”
Perry’s argument on behalf of federalism is completely legitimate. For now I’ll leave that specific debate aside and focus on the tenor of Perry’s statement. While one can argue that a state has a right to do x, it does not follow that the state should be free from criticism. This is similar to something that Rudy Giuliani said, and which I criticized last week. All that federalism means is that individual states have wide latitude to formulate their own laws, free from interference by the federal government. Federalism does not mean that citizens of other states cannot criticize these decisions. This idea that federalism entails complete silence on the doings of other states is akin to those who hide behind the first amendment when they say something silly and earn public ridicule. Just because you have the right to do something or say something it doesn’t mean that you should do something, and citizens of other locales absolutely have the right to speak out against these decisions and perhaps persuade the citizens of the state in question to change their mind.
That said, I have a slight issue with Santorum’s response:
That prompted a response from Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who tweeted overnight: “So Gov Perry, if a state wanted to allow polygamy or if they chose to deny heterosexuals the right to marry, would that be OK too?”
It’s not unfair to employ the logic of a slippery slope argument. There are already rumblings from polygamist groups who want to legalize polygamy now that the floodgates have opened. That said, there are a couple of problems with this rhetorical strategy. To me the slippery slope argument is the last refuge when all other arguments fail. It doesn’t really address the actual issue at hand, and in fact there’s a subtle implication that the subject under consideration is not all that serious a concern.
I guess what bothers me about Santorum’s tweet is that it doesn’t tackle the issue of gay marriage head on. I acknowledge that this is just a tweet, and Santorum has no doubt argued well on behalf of traditional marriage before. But this smacks too much of a dodge, as though gay marriage isn’t that bad – but polygamy and the outlawing of heterosexual marriage, now that’s bad. If the issue under discussion had been abortion, would Santorum have raised the specter of something semi-related? I doubt it.
I’ll admit I might be nitpicking here, and that Santorum is simply mocking the absurdity(in his view) of Perry’s federalist stance. Again, you’re not going to capture a lot of nuance in a single tweet – which says something about the nature of twitter, but that’s for another rant. I just fear that too often defenders of traditional marriage rely upon the slippery slope argument too facilely. If gay marriage is as bad for society as we think it is, we should argue against it on its own merits (or demerits) instead of attacking semi-related subjects.
An interesting spat has developed between Catholic blogger Mark Shea of Catholic and Enjoying It and Michael Voris of RealCatholic TV. In the above video Mr. Voris attacks the use of the Protestant hymn Amazing Grace at Mass. Amazing Grace was composed by John Newton, an eighteenth century captain of a slaver, who converted to Christianity, was ordained in the Anglican Church and became an abolitionist. The song is used frequently at Mass in my parish.
Mark Shea, who has never had any use for Mr. Voris as far as I can tell, attacked the video in a post at his blog:
Voris’ sole message is “I am the measure of Real Catholicism and those who agree with me have the right to call themselves Catholic, while those who disagree are liars and lukewarm fake Catholics”.
William Jacobson has a regular feature on his blog making fun of some of the more ridiculous bumper stickers he comes across. Today he observes a typical moonbat parading his “thoughts” for the world to see. Among the litany of bumper stickers he spotted was a classic: “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Yeah, there’s nothing particularly original or insightful with this bumper sticker, though it does display the leftist predilection to accuse conservatives of fascism. The funniest part of this is that it overlooks what is obvious to those of us who kept studying history past high school, specifically that it is the left that more often proposes totalitarian policies.
I understand the desire to cut back on government spending. Indeed, I share it. But politicians flirting with not raising the debt ceiling by the August 2nd deadline are playing a very dangerous game. And as the Reading Rainbow guy used to say, you don’t have to take my word for it.
From the only reliable source of news on the net, the Onion. I am honestly surprised that this wasn’t done. With ever improving CGI graphics endless sequels await! I can’t wait to view the Silmarillion part XXV! Continue reading
The FCC is coming under fire from Congress for lax oversight of kids’ programming. So what’s the problem? Is Joe from Blue’s Clues working a little too blue, if you catch my drift? Are the explicit drug scenes from Yo Gabba Gabba getting a little too out of control? Is the lack of parental oversight of Max and Ruby sending a bad message?
No, none of that. Evidently there are too many commercials.
I am not making this up.
TV watchdog groups say the Federal Communications Commission needs to better target kids’ programs that have too many commercials, and they want the commission and Congress to strengthen oversight of the Children’s Television Act.
Fueling the drive is a Government Accountability Office report issued last week that highlights FCC shortcomings in enforcing the landmark 1990 law intended to raise the quality and educational value of children’s programming while also limiting advertising. The report said the FCC has been lax in ensuring compliance from cable and satellite providers and questioned the commission’s guidelines for determining the educational value of children’s shows.
You mean to tell me there is a law out there that dictates the amount of commercials that can be shown during children’s programming? Surely you jest.
Congress crafted the law in response to a decrease in educational shows during the 1980s that corresponded with an uptick in commercial blitzes during children’s programming. To shield youngsters from excessive commercials, the law restricts advertising during children’s programs to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.
I repeat: there is a law, passed by Congress, signed by a President, that actually dictates the amount of commercials that are to be shown during kids’ shows. The government of the United States deemed this an issue worthy enough of oversight.
Moreover, there are people who think the government isn’t doing enough.
During the Clinton administration, the FCC was “paying attention to children’s education, and the quality of children’s programming improved,” said Dale Kunkel, a child media expert and a communications professor at the University of Arizona.
“We slowly moved to a posture in the 2000s where they completely ignored the issue and the broadcasters offered whatever they want,” he said.
Wait a second. Broadcasters can offer programs that viewers have the option to watch, or not watch? What is this, a free country or something?
Look, I’m all for making sure that the airwaves are generally clean for kids. While parents have the ultimate responsibility for watching their children and making sure that the content of what they’re viewing is appropriate, it’s helpful to be assured that they’re not going to watch all the animals from Franklin get a little too friendly (and at least they’ve finally had the decency to put some clothes on little bear). But do we really need the government to dictate the quality of educational programming available, or the precise amount of commercial time airing on television? Is there anything that busybodies won’t ask the government to oversee?