Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Anthropology of the Dark Knight Trilogy

The shepherds interposing themselves between the wolves and the sheep.
G. K. Chesterton said that every great story has a beauty, a dragon which threatens the beauty, and a knight who protects the beauty and slays the dragon. The Dark Knight Trilogy consistently follows the same pattern: there is the City of Gotham, the villains who seek to destroy Gotham, and the heroes who protect Gotham by standing between her and the villains. The Christian story – the greatest story ever told – would put it this way: there are the sheep, the wolves who seek to devour the sheep, and shepherds who tend the sheep and strike the wolves. Great dramas compress time on a stage or in a film so we experience the lifetime consequences of characters' vices and virtues in a single sitting. The best dramas sharpen our intellects to perceive the moral landscape of reality while training our emotions to act virtuously in similar life predicaments. While drama prepares us for life, it is also true that persistent misconceptions in life can dull our perception of drama. A person who misidentifies the characters in a good play may be missing the significance of those parallel characters in the real drama of our common spiritual life.    

This seems sadly the case among some popular Catholic and Protestant commentators in their analysis of the Dark Knight Trilogy. Fr. Robert Barron (of Catholicism fame) likened Batman and the villains as “two sides of the same coin.” In his review of The Dark Knight Rises, Steven Greydanus of the National Catholic Register faulted the film for not having ordinary citizens protest “the oppressors” of Gotham. Greydanus asks: “Are ordinary Gothamites capable of heroism? Or are uniformed heroes (bearing bat symbols or police shields) with weapons on their belts our only hope?” Christian film critic Jeffrey Overstreet lamented the fact that the city can only be saved by “men with good hearts and big guns,” while theologian Jeff Keuss declared: “The world still thinks Judas was right.”

Their analysis is shaped by an anemic worldview in which wolves are not really wolves and the shepherd's staff is used for peaceful walking, rather than protecting. Their peculiar re-writing of Judas's character as a violent, nationalist Zealot is a child of modernist pacifism, not Biblical Christianity. The Judas of scripture was a money-hungry liar who is best represented by the corrupt police of Gotham, not the shepherds who cast him out. In response to this confusion we must be very clear: wolves exist; shepherds are not wolves; sheep are not shepherds; and wolves are not treated with non-violent compassion. Before the demon (Heath Ledger's satanic Joker) possessing Gotham's soul can be exorcized, before the men of Gotham can take back their streets, the corrupted police brotherhood must be reformed. Indeed, Batman should not be condemned for following the model set by Jesus, who taught his shepherds that Judas must be sent out before the unifying priestly prayer is said. The teaching of Christ is not socio-political, but anthropological: the bride of Christ can only be safeguarded by a masculine body in which her shepherds have expelled Judas from their communion.

The Dark Knight Trilogy follows a similar anthropology: Bruce Wayne becomes Batman in order to reform a corrupted police force and purify them of Judas’ presence (Batman Begins). In doing so, Batman learns that he must exorcize the demon in possession of Gotham’s soul – the film here perfectly depicts how demons scream most wildly in their last moments of possession (The Dark Knight). With Judas cast out and the demonic exorcized, Bruce Wayne can only find peace by teaching the shepherds how to fight “as one man” and establishing a safe place where young boys can grow into future shepherds (The Dark Knight Rises). Taken as a whole, The Dark Knight Trilogy is a depiction of Christopher Nolan’s robust anthropology of masculine protective duty. For Nolan, Batman, and Christ, a culture of life cannot exist without first establishing a culture of masculine protection.

The Dark Knight Rises is very clear about where the wolves originate: hell. Their attack comes not through Gotham’s front door but from below. We also learn that there are some forces which ordinary men cannot hope to defeat without the help of “superior air support” from above. Thus The Dark Knight Rises teaches us that the proper response to a direct assault by the powers of hell is not to form a protest movement urging power to the people. Salvation is to align ourselves under uniformed clerics and St. Michael the Archangel – that other winged crusader – to cast Satan and his demons back into the pit from which they came. This is the lesson which the overconfident and disordered shepherds of Gotham, though free of Judas, must learn. In the end, they will not be able to overcome the demonic without entering into the pit of death with their winged crusader and be raised up by him for battle. Israelite males were incorporated into the nation by shedding their blood eight days after birth. Eight years following Batman’s exorcism of the demonic, the male protectors of Gotham enter into a civic covenant through the communal shedding of their blood. Just as Israelite soldiers were expected to abstain from the marital bed the night before battle, the city's protectors must leave the tranquility of domestic life to enter the fight in the streets of Gotham.   

Next Sunday at Mass, let us give thanks to God for the uniformed men who lead us in that sacrifice; and at the prayer for our civic leaders, let us give thanks for those other uniformed men who protect the city and nation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Receiving Communion in the Hand

When considering the possibility of Communion received in the hand rather than on the tongue, the Holy See pointed out “certain dangers” of such a change. These included: “the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.” But given that several bishops in Europe had already begun implementing this change illicitly, Pope Paul VI decided to take a vote on the matter rather than stomping it out altogether. Two-thousand bishops across the globe were polled and the results were as follows:
  • 59% of bishops said the laity of their diocese would not accept the new practice.
  • 62% of bishops did not want to see the practice begin in their diocese.
  • 66% of the bishops didn’t think the practice was worth addressing.
Despite the vote, in 1969 Pope Paul VI decided to
Pope Paul VI (pictured above) and
his successors never accepted
Communion in the hand. The pope's
compromise was to tolerate the
illicitly established practice via
indult in the places where it was
already in use while barring its
practice elsewhere.
strike a compromise with his disobedient bishops on the continent. Given “the gravity of the matter,” the pope would not authorize Communion in the hand. He was, however, open to bestowing an indult – an exception to the law – under certain conditions: first, an indult could not be given to a country in which Communion in the hand was not an already established practice; second, the bishops in countries where it was established must approve of the practice “by a secret vote and with a two-thirds majority.” Beyond this, the Holy See set down seven regulations concerning communion in the hand; failure to maintain these regulations could result in the loss of the indult. The first three regulations concerned: respecting the laity who continue the traditional practice, maintaining the laity’s proper respect of the Eucharist, and strengthening the laity’s faith in the real presence.
So how did Communion in the hand come to America?

In 1975 and again in 1976, Joseph Bernardin, the Archbishop of Chicago and president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) attempted in vain to garner two-thirds of the bishops to vote in favor of receiving Communion in the hand. The following year – which coincided with the end of Bernadin’s term as president – brought one final attempt. Bernadin appointed Archbishop Quinn, who became Bernadin immediate successor as NCCB president, to be the chief lobbyist for Communion
Communion in the hand
was certainly in the 'spirit'
of Cardinal Bernadin.
in the hand. During the proceedings a brave bishop requested a survey of the bishops be taken – this survey would ask each bishop whether or not Communion in the hand was widely practiced in his diocese, for without the practice’s current wide-use the first condition of the indult would not be satisfied.

Of course, everyone knew that Communion in the hand was not a previously established practice in the United States.

Though his request was seconded and supported in writing by five other bishops, Bernadin had the motion dismissed as “out of order”. The bishops then voted... only to once more fall short of the two-thirds majority. This, however, did not end the matter. Bernadin decided to begin gathering “absentee votes” from any bishop he could find – including retired bishops who no longer administered any dioceses. Consequently, the number was adjusted to meet the two-thirds majority so that one of Bernadin’s final acts as NCCB president was to disregard the will of the Holy Father and introduce Communion in the hand to U.S. Catholics.

Through the heavy-handed politcal maneuvering of Cardinal Bernadin, Pope Paul VI’s attempt to create a firewall preventing the spread of Communion in the hand had failed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Language of Christianity’s Future

Cardinal Arinze with his longtime friend and ecclesial brother, Pope Benedict XVI.
The great Nigerian prelate Cardinal Arinze is not only one man every Catholic should know, he’s also from a country every American know. As Christianity becomes more and more a religion of the global south, the voice of Cardinal Arinze is the voice of the near Christian future. And as Nigeria is divided between the Islamic north and Christian south, its ongoing civilizational, religious, and cultural contest provides us with a microcosm of unfolding global events to come.

If you are not familiar with Cardinal Arinze – or with the voice of Christianity still shaped by authoritative masculine personalities – here are some Arinze quotes which should help:

On the Family: "In many parts of the world, the family is under siege. It is opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce."

On Atheists: "If a child refuses to accept its father or mother, that child is not a liberal, that child is a brat. And how much more important is God to us than a parent to a child?"

On Pro-Choice Politicians and the Eucharist: "You don't need a Cardinal to answer that question. You can ask a seven year old getting ready for First Communion and they will say no. Personally opposed! Ok, you tell them, I am personally opposed but if someone wants to come in here and shoot you all, well... It's pro choice."

On Female Servers: "Some bishops have asked about this and… we said, 'It's alright.' ... But if I had my way you know what I would do."
This is the language of Christianity’s future. It is a return not merely to “traditional Christianity” but rather a return to authoritative masculine speech (i.e. the kind of speaking we hear from foreign priests and very rarely from American-born priests). As Matthew says of Jesus, so too must we be able to say of a priest or bishop: “he taught [us] as one having authority” (Matthew 7:29). Moreover, the priestly vocation is not to speak with scholarly authority but with fatherly authority. Cardinal Arinze does just that – and that’s why he, as a celibate virgin, can truly be called “father”.

RePosted: Has Germany Lost its Mojo?

As the European debt crisis intensifies, Uncommon Knowledge’s Peter Robinson interviewed British columnist James Delingpole who said in the interview that: “I think it is inevitable the Euro will collapse. It’s a question of whether it’s going to be ugly or really, really, really disastrous.” Europe’s choice is between two bad options: let the Euro collapse or agree to Germany’s demand for a new European fiscal union in which Germany would fund a massive economic bailout while having the ability to pull the national purse strings of European debtor nations.

Or put another way: European nations can give up sovereignty for a bailout or take responsibility for their choices and suffer economically.

David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, rejected the German option in what Pat Buchanan calls “David Cameron’s Finest Hour.” Buchanan insists, however, that Germany is “exploiting the crisis to impose [its] model on the eurozone today and all of Europe tomorrow.” But is this really the case? The irony is the appearance of a new German hegemonic power over Europe the likes of which have not been seen since 1941. The reality, however, is not that Germany is trying to impose itself on the nations of Europe but rather that Germany is running away from a German national identity of which it is ashamed.

In other words, while the nations of Europe are reawakened to their own national spirit, the Germans are eager to lead the way into a new “European spirit” because doing so will finally dilute Germany of its national guilt by diluting Germany of its own national identity. The answer to Germany’s problem, however, is not in a kind of national suicide but rather in a rediscovery of a German identity to be proud of. This means looking back to Germany’s Catholic roots and recognizing that the high days of the Medieval world were the result of a union of Greek philosophy, Roman law, the Christian faith, and the German warrior.

The Christian knight is certainly nothing to be ashamed of – and if the Germans can return to their roots, they’ll regain their confidence and be a leader among the nations once more.

[Has Germany Lost its Mojo was originally posted on December 15, 2011]

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Remembering the 4th of July

When Americans think of the 4th of July, what first comes to mind are such things like family picnics, smores, and fireworks. Perhaps after this, we remember that the 4th of July celebrates our independence from England, an independence declared by our civic leaders and won by our men in the field. There is a big difference, however, between thinking about the 4th of July and remembering the 4th of July. Catholics who know their theology, however, should understand what I mean by this distinction. In the Greek, anamnesis means to remember but, more than this, it means to participate in the past event through remembering it. Liturgically-minded Catholics in this way are best prepared to celebrate tomorrow’s July 4th celebrations. But we should also recall our American history following the War of Revolution. Today, July 3, we also remember the saving of the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg.

So let us now remember our past by reading anew the words of five men: Thomas Jefferson, Joshua Chamberlain, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the following words of Thomas Jefferson constitute the core of the Declaration of Independence. What began in 1776 continued in the Civil War of the 1860s, and came full circle in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness… And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Joshua Chamberlain won the Medal of Honor for saving the Union Army from Southern forces under Robert E. Lee at the Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. In the following speech from the movie Gettysburg, Chamberlain rallies the men of his regiment for battle.
This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it's not the land. There's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we're fighting for, in the end... we're fighting for each other.
General Robert E. Lee may have fought on the side of the South, but his faith and character made him America’s most beloved General. Today marks the day of Pickett’s Charge, the failed attack on the Union center that lost the South the war. In the following words from the movie Gettysburg, Lee speaks to one of his generals before the Charge and gives us an insight into his thinking before launching such a disastrous attack:
General, soldiering has one great trap: to be a good solider you must love the army. To be a good commander, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. We do not fear our own death you and I. But there comes a time... We are never quite prepared for so many to die. Oh, we do expect the occasional empty chair, a salute to fallen comrades. But this war goes on and on and the men die and the price gets ever higher. We are prepared to lose some of us, but we are never prepared to lose all of us. And there is the great trap General. When you attack, you must hold nothing back. You must commit yourself totally. We are adrift here in a sea of blood and I want it to end. I want this to be the final battle.
By the end of July 3, 1963, 58,000 Americans had become casualties of this battle, the greatest battle fought in the Americas.

In November of 1863, five months after the battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech, the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln alluded to the civic sacrifice made by the brave men in the field of combat who consecrated the land by their blood. In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln makes the connection of the blood to the will of the Father:

…It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. gives us our final witness for our remembrance today. His words are both the closest to our modern day and also the most biblical. Seeing himself as a new Moses, he worked to bring civil freedoms to his people while also preparing for a Christ-like death:

“We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Today and tomorrow, let us not only think of the events of the past, let us remember them and remember the sacrifices of our civic forefathers. Let us participate in their work and never fear carrying it out next week, next month, and in all the years to come.