A Review of Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners

Friday, November 1, AD 2013

 Christians in the Movies


As faithful readers of this blog know, I am a film buff.  I therefore was pleased when Dr. Peter Dans, a friend of mine and commenter on the blog, brought to my attention his book Christians in the Movies:  A Century of Saints and Sinners.  Peter is a medical doctor and a former professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins.  Go here to learn about his professional activities.  He is also a faithful Catholic, a skilled writer and an all around good guy.  However, I am here to review the book and not to review the author!

Published in 2011 by Sheed & Ward, the book is a fairly comprehensive look at how film has portrayed Christians and Christianity from 1905-2008.  The book proceeds chronologically with chapters devoted to films of the silent era, films of the forties, etc.  The chapters open with a general overview of the film period being discussed and then a look at selected films.  The films are not limited to those self-consciously religious, but also those in which religion is a major plot element.  Thus the Oscar winning film Sergeant York (1941) is included because of its examination of the religious conflict that World War I hero Alvin C. York had to resolve before he could in good conscious fight for his country.  Dr. Dans also looks at the impact of the films examined, for example in regard to Sergeant York he mentions that the film was denounced by the isolationist Senator Nye as propaganda to get America into World War II.  Some of the facts that the author discusses were news to me.  For example I have watched the film Song of Bernadette (1943) about Bernadette Soubirous and Lourdes but I was unaware that it was based on a book written by Franz Werfel, a Jew, who made a vow to write a book about Bernadette  when he and wife were hidden from the Gestapo by nuns and families at Lourdes.  In regard to Going My Way, 1944, Dr. Dans reveals that Pope Pius XII was so taken by the film that he granted a private audience to Bing Cosby and credited the film with helping to spur priestly vocations.  I like it when a book gives me information that I was unaware of, and this book accomplished that task.

The book is not limited to films that have become well known.  For example there is a section devoted to one of my favorite westerns, Stars in My Crown, 1950, in which Joel McCrea portrays a Union veteran who becomes a Protestant minister and his travails as he brings religion to a town and fights the Ku Klux Klan.

Continue reading...

14 Responses to A Review of Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners

  • Off topic, for which I apologize.

    Cancer screenings in our household today. Much obliged for any prayers.

  • Prayers on the way Art. My secretary of 28 years had a bout with breast cancer this year. She is doing well now but it was quite a struggle.

  • Pingback: Solemnity of All Saints - BigPulpit.com
  • Behold Wiki’s rather antiseptic rendering of Werfel’s experience at Lourdes:

    “Werfel left Austria after the Anschluss in 1938 and went to France. After the German invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of French Jews to the Nazi concentration camps, Werfel had to flee again. With the assistance of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee in Marseille, he and his wife narrowly escaped the Nazi regime and traveled to the United States.[1] While in France, Werfel made a visit to the shrine of the Our Lady of Lourdes at Lourdes, where he found spiritual solace. He also received much help and kindness from the Catholic orders that staffed the shrine.[1] He vowed to write about the experience and, safe in America, he published The Song of Bernadette in 1941.”

    Prayers on the way, Art.

  • Art,

    May the divine assistance be always with you. You are on my list for daily prayers.

    On topic: In honor of All Saints, I will dig up and play our copy of the DVD of “The Boondock Saints.”

  • This was an enjoyable and thoughtful review, and I’m now interested in picking up a copy of the book. My only question is: how could you leave out any discussion of “A Man For All Seasons” (1966)? –I do hope it’s in the book!

  • It was in there. I have had many posts on A Man For All Seasons and Saint Thomas More on this blog and I did not want to get started on a subject that might well have dominated the review!

  • I think you’re being a little hard on “The Last Temptation of Christ.” I know it was savaged by evangelicals because of the idea that Jesus had doubts and was shown as a man with human frailties.

    I also considered it to be a prodigal son kind of story.
    Spoilers ahead.

    What I like about the story is that the most tempting thing the devil could offer was the life that we all have. To be a normal man, with a job and a family and not have the salvation of mankind on your back. More tempting than bread to a starving man and more tempting than all the power in the world.
    Kind of means we are already beating the devil.

  • Pingback: A Review of Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners | | ChristianBookBarn.com
  • Excellent review. I will make a point of getting hold of a copy.

    Regarding “The Last Temptation of Christ”:





    I am very far from a wholehearted admirer of the late Fr. Greeley but I wholeheartedly agree with him here.

    Regarding “The Passion of the Christ”. I consider any work inspired by “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Meditations of Anne Catherine Emmerich” (by Clemens Brentano) to be at least as problematic as “The Last Temptation”.

  • Art Deco.

    You and yours are in my prayers.

  • I remember the controversy over “Last Temptation”. I never saw it in the theater but my husband got me to watch it on video years later. His favorite part of the movie was… the soundtrack by Peter Gabriel!

    (Spoiler alert)

    The most problematic part of the film for me was NOT the one that was the focus of the most public outrage — the dream/vision sequence in which Jesus imagines being married to Mary Magdalene, with all that goes with it, if you know what I mean. That was clearly NOT presented as something Jesus actually did but as a “what if” dangled before Him by the devil.

    No, the most offensive aspect for me was the depiction of Jesus as making crosses for the Romans and as willingly taking part in crucifixions — because this was a depiction of Him as actually committing grave sin in an attempt to get God the Father “off his back,” so to speak. That, and Harvey Keitel portraying Judas with a definite Brooklyn Jewish accent (ok, that wasn’t so much offensive as just laugh out loud hilarious).

    Although the film overall is a tedious waste of time, I do have to give it props for portraying the actual crucifixion in a much more realistic, blood ‘n’ guts manner than most films up to that time had done. However “Passion of the Christ” now far surpasses it in this regard.

  • Elaine Krewer wrote:

    “No, the most offensive aspect for me…”

    Wholeheartedly agree. Although I suppose even this could be spun as an extreme form of “rendering unto Caesar”…? It has been many years since i last watched the film.And yes it is very tedious.

  • “…I do have to give it props for portraying the actual crucifixion in a much more realistic, blood ‘n’ guts manner…”

    The most terrible and beautiful crucifixion scene is in “Ben Hur”. Our Lord hanging dead on the cross is fleetingly illuminated by lightning flashes and then, again fleetingly, reflected in a bloody pool of rainwater. Reminiscent of Dali’s”Christ of Saint John of the Cross”. Stunning…

Disappointment by the Book

Monday, September 23, AD 2013

Cat Book Reviewer

Another damned thick book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?

Prince William upon being presented by Gibbon with a copy of a volume in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire



My co-blogger Darwin Catholic has an intriguing post on the subject of books that a reader is supposed to like but didn’t.  Go here to read his post.  My response:

Piers the Plowman-Never have been able to make my way through that boring field.

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories-I attempted to read them when young but got stuck in A Study in Scarlet.  The odd thing is that I love Holmes as a character in film and in books written by other  authors which feature Holmes.

Stranger in a Strange Land-I have read everything Heinlein wrote and I was saddened to read the story that began his “dirty old pervert” phase.

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants-I made it through all three volumes on the third attempt.  Freeman’s erudition is vast and his scholarship impeccable, but he managed a near impossible feat:  he made the Civil War seem dull to me.

Continue reading...

4 Responses to Disappointment by the Book

  • I have a love-hate relationship with Ulysses. Well, with anything written by James Joyce.

  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and Master and Man, both by Tolstoy. After his conversion to his idealistic religion, he lost the ability to write flesh-and-blood characters. They became universal concepts rather than people.

    Edgar Allen Poe’s prose is hit-and-miss for me. It doesn’t help that he sometimes lapses into languages I don’t understand. Even his poetry can disappoint. At times, he’s the best poet in the English language. At times, he’s a goth teenager.

    And at the risk of offending people: The Soul of the Apostolate. An important spiritual book that has, I hope, influenced my thinking. But it has 1 (one) point, and reiterates it for the first 100 pages. I didn’t make it further than that.

  • Lord. of. the. Rings.

    Some of the material in the ISI catalogue (which I collared from the library rather than buying from them): Bernard Iddings Bell’s Crowd Culture and Christopher Dawson’s Dynamics of World History. Peter Viereck’s Conservatism Revisited was another disappointment.

  • Pingback: WEDNESDAY MORNING EDITION | God & Caesar

Sons of Cain: St. Michael, Knights of Longinus, and Bohemians

Saturday, May 26, AD 2012

Can you answer the Teaser Questions at the end?

When I asked my political science and history buff, numerical mechanics expert, Special Ops retired military officer husband to recommend his favorite author so I could read it, it was a wifely effort to show love, to get to know him better. He answered, “Tom Clancy,” and handed me Debt of Honor and Executive Orders, an overwhelming 2,500 page paperback brick stack. My eyes bugged out.

But hey, I’m committed, so I read Tom Clancy’s masterpiece tale, and my hesitation turned into enthusiasm. The technical world of national warfare, really the pitting of good and bad individual leaders against each other, was fascinating and caused me to rethink the meaning of pacifism. Through the characters, I developed an appreciation for the courage and humility required of good leaders. Tom Clancy is a master at teaching through storytelling because his novels are exhaustively researched, reality-based fiction. The two-part story (only part of a bigger series) centers around a terrorist attack in which a hijacked Boeing 747 is flown directly into the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress, decapitating the government. It is interesting to note that the books were published four and six years before September 11, 2001. Many people wondered about the prophetic nature of the book because it turned out to be more real than anyone anticipated. Tom Clancy understands the mentality of his characters, deeply.

Reading Val Bianco’s novel, Sons of Cain, was kind of like that, except Mr. Bianco brings a spiritual fullness to his work that makes it eternally pertinent. It is not nearly as tedious as working through a Clancy military novel, but the progression of the story ushers the reader into a life-changing experience, beckoning a more thoughtful dive into current world events and what goes on the minds of those who cause them. It makes spiritual warfare tangible and present, yet with an inspiring catechetical quality. I no longer wonder how to think of angels and demons, and I can almost see the “spiritual space” in the battle of good and evil when I consider how and why certain events happen the way they do. Are there large and terrible demons with their claws dug deeply in the heads and abdomens of men, preying on their minds and souls, coercing them to malice and perceived power, even as it makes them feel sick? Think about it!

Continue reading...

16 Responses to Sons of Cain: St. Michael, Knights of Longinus, and Bohemians

  • “Watching him now, she understood that he had been protecting this bread and wine as much as he was her.” “Watching him now, she understood that he had been protecting the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, under the appearances of this bread and wine as much as he was her.” It is Jesus Christ Who gives us the power to command demons and their minions. It is Jesus Christ for Whom the Angels battle Satan.

  • Five: Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Kennedy. Pope Leo XIII. The miracle of the Sun. “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” Dismus. Longinus cast the spear into Jesus Christ’s side, and was converted by the Blood of Christ. Two. Individuals who forfeit their humanity for success.

  • Good writing, I mean of Stacy Trasancos

  • Kindle, $5, boom. Mine. Starting . . . now.

  • Very fun read. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to some more from Val Bianco.

  • Mary,

    “Watching him now, she understood that he had been protecting the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, under the appearances of this bread and wine as much as he was her.”


    In the story at this point, the narrative is through the eyes of a young woman who is in the beginning stages of reverting back to her childhood faith. She has just been rescued by this priest and is amazed at his reverence for God’s gifts.

    Oh…I’d better not say too much. 😉

    Thank you, Mary!

  • Thank you, Stacy Trasancos: “Watching him now, she understood that he had been protecting this bread and wine as much as he was her.”
    “Watching him now, she understood that he had been protecting this bread and wine, Whom she would later come to realize is the Real Presence, as much as he was her. (or maybe more?) Calling Jesus bread and wine after consecration does not make sense to me. Let us leave it at that. OK?
    God bless you.

  • Pingback: Holy Spirit Pentecost Modesty Sons of Cain Val Bianco Holy Ghost | The Pulpit
  • Well, Mary, if you read the entire Chapter, you will find that there is absolutely NO question about the True Presence. It is, in fact, celebrated throughout the entire novel. It is, after all, the absolute core of our faith. You did very well on the questions: Missed a SC Judge, Quite a few more Oct 13 events, missed a State on Physician Assited Suicide. Perfect on all the rest.

    SONS OF CAIN will receive the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval in June, so if you ever decide to give it a look, please rest assured that it is faithful to Church teaching. Thank you for your input, Mary. God Bless you and I hope you have a nice weekend.

  • I must admit upfront that I did not read this article. However, the title of the book caught my attention and I comment strictly from a biblical exegesis point of view.

    If you follow the lineage in the early chapters of Genesis, you may notice that the line of Cain does not follow through. Biblically, we are not “Sons of Cain” but sons of Seth.

    Maybe symbolic Sons of Cain in our sinfulness and lack of respect for our brother, but I just thought I would take this opportunity to do a little Bible trivia.

  • Peter Trahan, why would you ever comment about something you are not educated on? Take 5 minutes and read the article. Any good Catholic knows we aren’t actually sons of Cain.

  • The last sentence in the last quote of the review — is in reference to the title.

    Oh, please!!! Don’t make me give away too much. Just read the book. It’s got lots of accurate and good trivia!

    There’s even a demon named Citereh. Anyone get that name??? 😀

  • “Heretic” spelled backwards.

    As interesting as this book seems, THAT particular bit seems cheesy as heck.

  • Kristin, Haha. OK. That was funny, sorry. 😀

  • Ha ha, Kristin, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. If you decide to read the book, contact me and I’ll send you a copy. I promise, it is a lot of things, but “cheesy” is one adjective I’ve not heard yet. Thanks for your comment, though.

  • I downloaded the book and read it.

    It is, in many ways, a good read. I will likely read it again to get the full feel for what the author is trying to do. And to ensure that the criticisms (such as I have below) are valid.

    With that said, one of the difficult times I had with the novel was attempting to figure out the personal point of view from which it is written. Who is the narrator who is with the Pope in his vision, who has spiritual sight beyond the holy men in the book such that the narrator is fully aware and sightful of all good and evil presences in play at any time? In short, is the narrator claiming angelic sight or to be God?

    Although J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were great friends for many years, as I recall, one of Tolkien’s criticisms of the Screwtape Letters (ironically dedicated to Tolkien) was that it was far too involved “voicing” evil – basically, too far into trying to understand evil. At one moment in Sons of Cain, the author (rightly) notes the dangers of things like the ceremonies taking place in the woods – talking to gods is like opening the door to evil. However, isn’t trying to give evil a voice not unlike this in some way? Using one’s imagination to delve deeply into the nature and operation of evil?

    As Elrond noted in Lord of the Rings: “It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the enemy, for good or for ill.” In that and many similar warnings, I think we hear the voice of Tolkien speaking, and I think it is a good consideration for authors and the rest of us as well.

A Catholic Ghost Story

Wednesday, October 6, AD 2010

What are Catholics to make of supernatural phenomena? and ghosts in particular?

There is little question that the Catholic Church believes in the reality of the spiritual realm — St. Paul in Ephesians speaks of “our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” But it is a realm inhabited by angels, demons, and of course, Satan himself. (And, if you’re an enlightened “post-Vatican II” Catholic like Fr. Richard McBrien, you can scoff at the very mention of the latter).

As far as ghosts are concerned, the prevailing tendency among Catholics is to look askance at the concept of “lost souls”, trapped in this life and waiting to cross over. There is scarce mention of “ghosts” in the Catechism and judging by the absence of clear, definitive teaching — the Church has refrained from adopting a firm position on their existence.

According to Gary Jansen, a contemporary Catholic from Rockville Centre, Long Island, ghosts simply didn’t exist. For him, “heaven, hell, angels were basic tenents of my Catholic faith, but never basic tenents of my life. . . . these topics were never discused during my twelve years of attending parochial school.” While his devout Catholic mother would mention strange occurrences, he prided himself on his rationality.

Until, that is, when he had an unsettling encounter in his son’s bedroom in 2007. Holy Ghosts: Or How a (Not-So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night is an account of one Catholic’s real-life haunting:

Continue reading...

29 Responses to A Catholic Ghost Story

  • I know there is no official teaching on ghosts, but doesn’t Luke 16:27-28 indicate that spirits (ghosts) can come to earth??

  • I was taught that all, or nearly all, ghosts were really demons attempting to deceive the faithful, since departed spirits would be either in hell, purgatory or heaven and would have no reason to come back. In that sense, I had the impression that good Catholics and other Christians did not “believe in ghosts”, and the only proper way to respond to an alleged ghost was to rebuke it in the name of Jesus. However, the brand of Catholic practice I grew up with was charismatic/Pentecostal and heavily influenced by Protestantism, so perhaps this is not really a “Catholic” idea?

  • Thanks for the review, Chris. I haven’t yet read my copy of Holy Ghosts, but I’m definitely going to do so after reading this. The next couple of months seem like a perfect time to crack open such reading.

  • I am curious. There would also seem to be the possibility of demonic forces here. From the things I have read on exorcism, there seems to be no doubt that the Church believes that hauntings may be the work of demons, as well as benign ghosts. Saints have been known to appear to people that knew them, or in places with which they were familiar (abbeys, etc). But, random encounters with spirits?

  • Similar to Elaine, I consider most ghost claims to be either misunderstood experiences, fraudulant, or demons at work. Anyone who has read about exorcisms will understand that they can interact with matter if allowed. I don’t doubt that God can and does allow (send?) some deceased to convey a message (after all that is what Marian apparitions are).

    However I don’t believe it has to be a recognized saint. I recall reading a really cool book called Hell – And how to avoid it. One story was about two young fellas who went to a house of ill repute. The one guy left without doing anything, went to bed and said his customary three Hail Mary’s. He had essentially lost his faith but retained that practice from his youth.

    As I recall his friend came to his room in the middle of the night all burnt and smoking. Told him that when he left the the whore house he was assaulted and murdered. That his body was still in the street, but demons came and dragged his soul away. He said by special priviledge of the Blessed Virgin he was sent to him in order that he might be moved to convert and that it was all due to the nightly three Hail Mary’s. It was true about the guy getting killed and the young man went to the local monastery the next morning and related the story to the superior and joined the monastery.

    I believe those kind of ghost stories. Very skeptical about the idea that human souls go bump in the night.

  • Speaking of subway commutes. The space-time continuum is more like a subway than anything close to perfect. But that shouldn’t make us laugh at the scientists; you do have to follow the rules posted in the ticket box if you have a body. Be consoled that the others have even stricter rules–in some ways.

    If you stop whatever it is your doing when you first think of them and say a prayer for them right away, they’re more likely to leave you alone. Otherwise… but you can’t blame them. You’d do the same thing. Hell, yeah, it’s scary, but they’ll be praying your ass out next.

  • Well, Moses and Elijah made a cameo at the transfiguration. And Marian apparitions as noted above. It’s God’s universe, I suppose He can allow whatever He wants. As others caution, I would be very wary of anything immaterial trying to communicate with me. Just saying.

  • I believe the Jesuit Herbert Thurston wrote a book dealing with paranormal phenomena.

    Another book dealing with ghosts in a Catholic Context is Muldoon: A True Chicago Ghost Story: Tales from a Forgotten Rectory. It tells the story of the haunting of a rectory in a Chicago parish.


    Some researchers suggest that poltergeists are the result of some kind of “psychic energy” generated by persons in a state of extreme emotional turmoil. The pastor of the parish in Muldoon was a self-serving man engaging in a number of irregular activities, and his actions contributed to the closing of his parish. I put down the book wondering if the strange events recounted there were the result of the priest’s own guilt over the things he was doing.

  • 1. So far as I know, I have never seen a ghost. (According to folklore, sometimes they are not recognized as such, as with angels.) However, a friend told me that in her parish, the pastor took a stipend to say Mass for a departed soul, but he himself died suddenly, and the new priest was unaware of the arrangement. The first morning the new pastor was “on the job”, he was surprised to find the parish safe with its door standing wide open, since he thought he had closed it the night before. Nothing seemed to be missing. He made sure to close it that night, but the same thing continued to happen. Eventually he decided to look closely at all the contents and found the Mass request. He said the Mass, after which the door to the safe remained closed.

  • 2. Remember, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are not places like Omaha; the idea of LOCATION pertains to a body, not a spirit. Thus the guardian angels always see the face of the Father (also not a corporeal reference, of course). Likewise, Marlowe has Mephistopheles say, “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it. / Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God / And tasted the eternal joys of heaven, / Am not tormented with ten thousand hells / In being deprived of everlasting bliss?”

    3. From what I have read, exorcists are split on the question of whether possessing spirits are all demons or if they also include the souls of the damned. Some spirits claim to be souls of the damned, but are they lying? At least one exorcist I have read thinks not, on the basis of what he was able to make them admit. (This pertained to someone who was possessed by many unclean spirits.)

    4. For an interesting work of fiction on more “mundane” hauntings, see A MIRROR OF SHALOTT by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, http://www.archive.org/stream/mirrorofshalottb00bensuoft/mirrorofshalottb00bensuoft_djvu.txt.

  • For a fascinating discussion of many apparitions of souls in purgatory, read _Hungry Souls_, by Dr. Gerard van den Aardweg. Makes you realize how important it is to pray for the poor souls.

  • And that is the salient point- the point is to continue praying in the dark -as it were- for all the people we know who have died, and for general intercessions for “all the poor souls in purgatory” also asking them for their prayers- this is an act of faith which requires special visitations from any spiritual agents. Add to this prayers for protection from the evil spirits- and then one can allow their curiousity to roam a bit- but only after the good work of prayer is accomplished lest we get sidetracked by idle speculation that goes no where and does no one any good- like being thrilled by a hollywood horror flick

  • Should have said- “which requires no special visitations from any spiritual agents” sorry

  • “Well, first, I would say this. It seems perfectly clear that these other stories aren’t sent to help our faith, or anything like that. I don’t believe that for one instant. We have got all we need in the Catholic Church, and the moral witness, and the rest. But what I don’t understand in your position is this: What earthly right have you got to think that they’re sent just for your benefit?”
    — Monsignor Maxwell, A MIRROR OF SHALOTT

    At least read the first chapter, which contains a very reasonable discussion of exactly the same issues that are being discussed here. The tales in the subsequent chapters are placed in a fictional setting, but they have a real ring of truth about them; I suspect they are fictionalized versions of stories Monsignor Benson heard first-hand.

  • You might almost be certain that if that silly man Fr. McBrien disparages the idea of demons, that demons do exist.

  • The main thing is to always remember that nothing lies beyond the control of our Savior Jesus of Nazareth. Never quiz or address the ghost. Always pray to Jesus, or ask for Mary’s or a saint’s intercession on your behalf to the Lord. If it should happen that a spirit has a message to convey, he or she will do so right away without your prodding. They don’t come to beat around the bush. If a ghost has a benevolent intent, it never has to be conjured or asked to appear. God will permit it’s coming.

    Likewise, you go around playing with a ouija or incantation, you’ll get something that’s been lazing around, looking for someone to bedevil.

    As far as benevolent spirits who visit the living, look up the origin of why a set of Gregorian Masses lasts 30 days (a soul appeared after the 30th Mass said for him and told the person his soul was saved from Purgatory and is now in Heaven). I had a friend whose uncle died. He had a dream of that uncle, standing with a boy and a girl in white robes, and the uncle told him to tell his mother “we are all in heaven now.” When he did, this floored his mother, since her sister in law (the friend’s aunt and wife of the deceased uncle) had lost a boy and girl stillborn, but my friend was never told about this, and it was a family secret.

  • Thank you everyone, for commenting. Just a few quick reactions/thoughts:

    Regarding the question of whether “ghosts” exist, I find Fr. Hardon’s explanation plausible. I agree that some instances may be attributed to the genuinely demonic, but I wouldn’t categorically state such of every “genuine” instance of supernatural phenomena.

    Personally, I approach the topic of ghosts and supernatural phenomena along the same lines that I regard UFO’s and/or “life on other planets” — I’m an agnostic. We live in a mind-boggedly large universe — realms visible and invisible; material and immaterial, of which humanity is only a minute speck. Our positive knowledge towards the spiritual is confined only to what is divinely revealed, and apart from which there’s a slew of phenomena that lies beyond the realm of rational / scientific explanation. So I can’t categorically rule out the existence of ghosts; nor am I particularly inclined to actively seek them out.

    The Church’s counsel is that we should refrain from actively seeking out encounters with the spiritual realm (hence refraining from ouja boards, etc.). Given the often-underestimated power of the demonic and the very real potential for such phenomena to have (but not necessarily so) a specifically demonic origin, this strikes me as perfectly sound, practical advice.

    The same for Tim Shipe’s admonition to “pray for the poor souls in purgatory”, which we should do with regularity (and I know myself, not nearly enough).

  • My mother recalls a series of manifestations in her childhood home, some benign, some spooky, and one violent, this last compelling her mother to seek speedy assistance from the Church. I don’t know if an exorcism was performed, but a Mass definitely took place in the house, and that was that for the ghostly stuff.

    So, um. “Who you gonna call?” A priest.

  • I might buy the proposition that God permits ‘ghosts’ to communicate to teach or warn, or request some favor of the living if the ‘ghosts’ (a) didn’t scare the snot out of the living (a very uncharitable thing to do)and if the communications weren’t largely confined to banging pots and pans, making the room temperature drop, flinging doors open, etc., all of which doesn’t seem to be the best way of requesting some particular favour of the living.
    Perhaps confinement to earth for a time is a punishment of Purgatory. Who knows?
    Mark 6:49 recounts how the disciples of Jesus took him for a ghost when He walked on the lake. When Jesus reassured them, He did not correct them by saying there were no such things as ghosts (a perfect time to disabuse them of that idea).
    If I’m not mistaken the Bible records that when angels appear to men they often times say “Fear Not!” by way of reassurance. So I don’t really know what to make of supposed ghosts and their terrifying antics.

  • “Perhaps confinement to earth for a time is a punishment of Purgatory. Who knows?”

    Here’s a well known central Illinois ghost story that has a significant Catholic connection:


    It was also dramatized on the Discovery Channel in 2005, although some details were changed and the location was not the same since the real Lake Club had burned down years before (the nightclub used in the film was in Norfolk, Va.)

    The prayers said by the priest in this case were not “exorcism” prayers as one might use to cast out a demon (which would have required formal permission of the local bishop) but prayers for the repose of the soul of the deceased person, and they did, apparently, have an immediate effect.

  • , I have have come to experience indifference and utter disbelief from Catholic clergy when relating a personal ghostly experience as a five year old child that occured over at least three specific incidents, which later became clarified during a deep meditative experience seventeen years later. The profound out of physical sensations meditation recalled and revealed in great detail, the incidents and related events, as an intuitive revelaion of what I had completely forgotten about for seventeen years and seemed totally incongruous with the reason I was attempting the meditative effort. And yet it all came so precisely to explained the forgotten past events with what was going on at the age of 22 years old. Because the Catholic faith has little teaching on ghost much more experience on the subject, and clergy are taught that Catholic funerals as a sacrament prevent any such wanderings of the deceased individuals soul, they dogmatically avoid any discussion to the contrary on average. Although my expereince and story is rather lengthy, it is quite clear and understandable as to how and why the resulting circumstances evolved and led to the revelatory meditative enlightenment. This would cause many Catholic clergy to have to question and some rather dogmatic beliefs to be reconsidered and the Church clergy don’t like having to revise personal faith dogma anymore than absolutely necessary. For us who have had personal revelation, faith is a luxury for those who believe but have not seen. These experiences by no means marginalize the teachings of Christ or the scriptures but rather clarify and strengthen them. But it does leave those of eclasiastic authority in fear of losing validity of what they have been trained to believe, teach and uphold as personal faith dogma. Their faith is often the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. We who have had such metaphysical experience, although far less knowlegeable or trained in Church and scriptural dogma, have seen and having seen know somethings beyond faith. It does’t lessen our Catholic faith but stengthens it through transcendental knowlege and being at one with Wisdom in our personal experience.

  • A voice crying in the wilderness.

  • Didn’t C.S. Lewis in (if I remember correctly) “The Great Divorce” describe ghosts as souls who could not bear to leave earth and their past lives? I think it provided Lewis with a chance to get in a little dig at his fellow authors, who were described as disproportionally represented among the ghostly population. The writer/ghosts took to hanging around libraries and bookstores, obsessively checking to make sure their books were still on the shelves and that their literary reputations were still intact. Lewis represented ghosts as more pathetic than frightening, spirits far more concerned with the petty things of this earth than with eternal life.

    Given his view of ghosts, I doubt any undergrads are running into the spirit of C. S. Lewis in Oxford pubs or library stacks:-)

  • Just a warning from the Catholic Culture website on one of the links:

    “Ohio Spiritual Warfare Center

    OSWC is self-described as “a free service devoted to educating the faithful on matters of spiritual warfare and the dangers of the occult, the new age, including information and help with ghosts, demons, poltergeists, hauntings, apparitions, oppression, possession, demonic infestation and the spiritual warfare issues of our current age.” ….

    ….Until July 2009 WHOIS had this site registered under John Paul Ignatius …. as part of the St. Michael’s Call site. It is now registered to Joe Meineke. John Paul Ignatius is apparently Richard Lee Collett Jr., a sex offender convicted as recently as 2005. Please see our review of St. Michael’s Call for more information.

    …(It) has no official standing in the Diocese of Columbus, the founder is of questionable character and Mr. Meineke’s qualifications and training are unknown. For these reasons we recommend that you be wary about contributing money, seeking personal advice, or joining in this apostolate. “

  • Thanks for the tip! (Link removed)

  • “Lewis represented ghosts as more pathetic than frightening”

    In “Great Divorce” Lewis distinguished between Ghosts, the souls in hell or purgatory, and Spirits, the souls in heaven. Ghosts were, literally, mere shadows of their former selves and could hardly bear even to walk or touch anything in Heaven, while Spirits were vibrant, solid beings.

  • I suggest that you guys read HUNGRY SOULS….it is a awesome book about purgatory!! it contains pictures of burnt articles touched by souls from purgatory!!

  • I cannot validate the author’s experience or the authenticity of his account. But a trip to Mary Ann Winkowski’s site is a good introduction to much that is wrong with the modern do-it-yourself spirituality, however much she may lay claim to a Catholic identity.

Going Rogue

Thursday, December 17, AD 2009

A guest post by Paul Zummo, originally posted at his blog, The Cranky Conservative.

It’s probably not a good idea generally to buy a book out of spite, but in some ways that is precisely what I did when I picked up Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.  We had had a meeting at work, and several of my co-workers were amusing themselves with some anti-Palin jibes.  So at lunch time I decided to take a stroll to the local book store and pick up Palin’s book, prompting the “Oh, Sarah Palin” observation from the clerk, who must be wondering why anyone in the middle of enlightened Dupont Circle would be interested in the right-wing Neanderthal. And I have to admit that I also delayed reading the book until after I got home from Thanksgiving vacation so that I could proudly read the book on the Metro.

Continue reading...

7 Responses to Going Rogue

  • Great review Paul.

    As I thought she was perturbed by the questions Couric was asking her. Though her responses should have been more ‘presidential’ thank emotional.

  • I believe Mrs. Palin was caught short by the cattiness of Ms. Couric’s questions, and by her attitude.

    There is that about television interviewers / commentators which seems to lead them to think that they have enough political experience to be valuable thinkers on the political scene. They have not. They are mostly graduates of some political science [whatever that is] course, in which they learned techniques of debating, looking to score “Gotcha!” points. Their knowledge of history and of foreign countries and cultures is abominably shallow.

    I wonder how many can speak and read a foreign language.

  • Reading Palin’s book on the D.C. Metro? My, you’re a brave man, Mr. Zummo 🙂

    Gabriel: Actually, I believe most journalists, whether of the vanishing print breed or the TV kind, have “communications” degrees. I believe Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (who was a newspaper man for many years) said it takes a couple of hours tops for a bright kid to learn how to write an “inverted pyramid” news story – it’s not something you should build your education around. He thought a grounding in history, English lit, foreign languages and cultures, etc. was far better preparation for an aspiring reporter, and that the mechanics of the business should be part of the on-the-job training.

  • And I too find it heartening that she is influenced by Sowell. Reading “A Conflict of Visions” completed my own journey from left to right. The country would be in better hands if we had a president who uses Sowell, rather than Alinsky, as a guide.

    One area where I still have lingering doubts about Palin is foreign policy. Yes, she’d do better than Obama, but that’s setting the bar low. It’s a mindfield out there, and I am not sure she’s given it adequate thought. Does she say much about it in her book?

  • Donna:

    She doesn’t touch too much on foreign policy except in the context of energy policy and the need for “energy independence.” She does mention that as Governor of Alaska she did have to deal with the Canadian government on various border issues. As I said, she doesn’t get into a lot of policy detail in the book, but she doesn’t sound like a complete babe in the woods.

  • I second Donna’s endorsement of Sowell. I was first introduced to him in 1979 watching the PBS Free to Choose series hosted by Milton Friedman. He impressed me then and has never stopped. I also enjoyed his Conflict of Visions book. He truly is a first rate thinker.

Book Review: Valkyrie

Friday, August 7, AD 2009

Valkyrie, The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by its Last Member is a fascinating book, though not primarily for reading about the Valkyrie plot itself. Other books have been written specifically about the plot, and I would imagine that from some of them you could find far more details about the plot itself. This book, a narrative of Philipp von Boeselager’s wartime experiences as he told them to Florence Fehrenbach (herself the granddaughter of another of the Valkyrie conspirators) a year before his von Boeselager’s death in 2008, is in many ways too close and personal a story to give the reader the most detailed possible understanding of the plot as a whole. So long as the reader understands this, Valkyrie is a fascinating window on the experiences of an honorable young man caught up in the Third Reich.

The son of an old Catholic family of minor nobility with a tradition of military service, Philipp credits his resistance to Nazi ideology in part to his school headmaster, Fr. Rodewyck, who had served as a German officer in the Great War before going into the Jesuits, and whom von Boeselager credits with having taught his young charges a German patriotism which was rooted in Christianity.

Continue reading...

2 Responses to Book Review: Valkyrie

Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

Wednesday, June 24, AD 2009

[Empires of Trust, review Part I]

Review of: Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World

My apologies for taking so long to get back with a second part to this review. In the first installment, I covered the history of Rome’s early expansion, and how its commitment to establishing a safe horizon of allies, and defending those allies against any aggression, led the city of Rome to effectively rule all of Italy. From southern Italy, Rome was drawn into Sicily, which in turn made it a threat to Carthage and drew those two superpowers of the third century BC into a series of wars that would end with the total destruction of Carthage as a world power.

Continue reading...

7 Responses to Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

  • Like you (and Madden, I suppose) I found the parallels between the Roman Republic and the U.S. quite striking. The disanalogies, however, were also striking. What ultimately forced Rome to abandon it’s policy of political independence for Greece was the unwillingness of the various Greek city states to stop fighting with each other. By contrast, the countries of Europe seem to be perfectly content not to fight with one another.

  • True.

    I think an important distinction (and a very positive development) is that the US was able to use international institutions to station troops all over the place without actually assuming ruling powers over any of those nations. This allowed the US to remain in Europe after WW2 without getting into the business of trying to rule it (which would undoubtledly have been a disaster for all concerned.)

    I suppose part of the question here would be: If the US had returned to total isolationism after WW2 as it did after WW1, would we see the sort of postwar peace in Europe that we have in the real world? One might after that the development of a fairly conflict-free European political climate after WW2 was to a great extent caused by the fact that US power encouraged those nations to allow their military powers to atrophy.

    I’m sure Europhiles would not buy that argument. I’m not sure to what extent I do. But it does seem interesting that while Europe has a very long history of frequent wars, that history seems to have ended in those areas (and pretty much only in those areas) which have come into the US sphere.

  • Darwin, I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Had the US pulled out of Europe militarily and not assisted the population with the Marshall Plan (both done precisely with the idea of not repeating the mistakes of post WWI), Europe would have been engulfed in war within a year or two. Stalin would have attempted to gobble up Western Europe had it not been for the US presence.

  • “Stalin would have attempted to gobble us Western Europe had it not been for the US presence.”

    Bad Americans. Messing things up again.

  • If the US had returned to total isolationism after WW2 as it did after WW1, would we see the sort of postwar peace in Europe that we have in the real world?

    I’m inclined to doubt it. Even with the U.S. presence, you still had war in the Balkans, war between Greece and Turkey, the conflict in Northern Ireland, a French war in Algeria, a British war with Argentina, and so forth, not to mention the Cold War.

  • Fair point. Maybe I’m overplaying the postwar peace meme.

    Though it does strike me that in all of those cases, the war was either at or beyond the horizon of US presence at the time.

    I dunno. I’m trying to play out and see what I think of this theory. Prior reading this, I’d pretty much accepted the, “After starting two world wars, the Europeans decided that war wasn’t the answer and so the US had to come in and protect them from the Soviets” meme.

    After reading it, and having a couple long, late night discussions with an old history professor friend, I’m wondering if its much more the case that the US decision to stay in Europe is what allowed peace-emphasizing parties to win out — and that the gradual spread of US presence further into Eastern Europe and the Middle East could potentially have similar effects.

  • Don’t know. I think the Cold War was a real war that would have swallowed up a few (many, most)European countries if not for the US presence. Stalin was not opposed to absorbing whatever he could. Even if it would not have taken war for him to do it, he would have.

Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part I)

Tuesday, June 2, AD 2009

It may seem like overkill to write a multi-part book review, but historian Thomas F. Madden’s new Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World explores a thesis I’ve been interested in for some time, which has significant implications for our country’s foreign policy and the wider question of what our country is and what its place in the world ought to be.

The US has been often accused, of late, of being an empire. Madden effectively accepts that this is the case, but argues that this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. Among his first projects is to lay out three different types of empire: empires of conquest, empires of commerce, and empires of trust.

An empire of conquest is one spread by military power, in which the conquering power rules over and extracts tribute from the conquered. Classic examples would include the empires of the Assyrians, Persians, Mongols, Turks, Alexander’s Hellenistic empire, Napoleon’s empire and to an extent the Third Reich, Imperial Japan and Soviet Union. Empires of conquest are spread by war, and conquered territory is ruled either by local puppet rulers or by a transplanted military elite from the conquering power.

An empire of commerce is interested only in securing enough of a political foothold in its dominions to carry on trade, and is less concerned over political control or tribute. Examples would include the British and Dutch empires; in the ancient world the Pheonicians and Athenians; and later, medieval Venice. Empires of conquest are typified by a network of far-flung colonies directly controlled by the home country, at locations which are strategic for exploiting natural resources or trading with regional powers. They are less focused on conquering large swathes of territority than with controlling enough of a foothold (and enforcing enough stability in the surrounding area) to carry on their commerce.

The book, however, is primarily concerned with a third type of empire, the empire of trust, of which Madden gives only two examples: Rome and the United States. The term “empire of trust” itself requires some unpacking.

Continue reading...

3 Responses to Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part I)