Not a Cold Eye

The works of Flannery O’Connor are not for everyone. A fair number of fellow readers that I’ve encountered have been repulsed by her violent style, her grotesque images, and her gothic setting. This is fair enough, I suppose. Some of these readers, though, are discerning enough to recognize her virtues even while not preferring them for themselves. This latter group tend to be religious and literary.

Marilynne Robinson (AP)
Marilynne Robinson (AP)

It was especially disappointing to me, though, to read Marilynne Robinson’s rather cutting remarks towards St. Flannery in her New York Times interview. Frankly, I was shocked that a writer like her—who very much occupies the categories of “religious” and “literary”—should so flatly misunderstand O’Connor. Continue reading Not a Cold Eye

Exceptionalism Symposium: I take exception to the term

Ceaser quickly outlines the competing factions in any discussion of “American exceptionalism” being that of the conservative defender of the concept and the liberal anti-exceptionalist who wants to “take America down a notch” to the level of any other civilized nation.

Somehow or another, conservatism has found itself defending the notion while liberals are free to reject it.  I am tempted to  note the ironic reversal, laugh to myself, and point out that the latter position is the one for responsible adults, the former being the province of juvenile imaginations clouded by ideology (“I will not apologize for America…”).  Yet, the devil is somewhere in the liberal’s position, just as it is in the conservative’s; it is as if rejecting exceptionalism means shunning the particularities of America.  There needs to be another way. Continue reading Exceptionalism Symposium: I take exception to the term

Game of Moans

A review of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones and the suggestion of a better book.

Painting: "Battle of the Scythians with the Slavs" by Viktor Vasnetsov
Viktor Vasnetsov, Battle of the Scythians with the Slavs

I recently finished reading George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (just the first book, mind you, not the entire series).  First, let me admit:  it was entertaining.  It was not imaginative.  It was not breathtaking.  But it was a page-turner; that much must be admitted by rights.

It was not, however, a good book, and it does not deserve the accolades it has received.  It suffers from many of the problems which the fantasy genre has suffered after the advent of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  Let’s start with a nod to the ladies.

I do not frequently repeat this most shrill of charges, but the author does warrant the accusation of sexism.  He considers, apparently, narrating from the mind of a woman an insufferably uninteresting setting, so he instead resorts to narrating between her legs.  Inevitably, the worst writing takes place in this location.  There are, as far as I can recall, three types of women in Martin’s first book:  those who care about breeding, those who use sex as a tool (and are generally perverted in some way), and those women who are really just men with breasts.  He reminds you about the breasts.  Allow me to share some of the gems. Continue reading Game of Moans

Michael O’Brien, the Catholic Tim LaHaye

Cover image of "Father Elijah" by Michael O'Brien

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse
by Michael D. O’Brien
Ignatius Press, 1997
576 pages, paperback, $17.95

It was the best end-times, it was the worst end-times. Forgive me that line. Please read on.

“It’s true that Catholics produce and safeguard true art,” I said one evening to my non-Catholic-but-Catholic-admiring friend, “but they also produce a vast amount of kitschy, tacky, pietistic nonsense. And that’s a shame.” To defend my case, I made reference to “the Catholic Tim LaHaye,” whose name I did not know, but by whom I meant Michael O’Brien and the book Father Elijah. (For those of you who don’t know, Tim LaHaye is the coauthor of the gawdawfull Left Behind series, which can only be described to those unfamiliar with Evangelicalism as an unholy mixture of Gnostic numerology and Jerry Falwell-style Zionism.)

Well, my non-Catholic-but-Catholic-admiring friend had, in fact, read that book, and informed that I had misjudged it. Sort of. My friend is a smart girl, and knew the book has deep flaws, but she encouraged me to read it anyway.

“Reminiscent of Tolstoy and Charles Williams,” wrote Thomas Howard. Being an admirer of Tolstoy and a huge enthusiast of Williams, I thought: Hot damn! Maybe I’ve misjudged this O’Brien fellow. Continue reading Michael O’Brien, the Catholic Tim LaHaye

The Irrational Religion of Future-Worship

Image of Boston City Hall
Boston City Hall, from the Library of Congress collection.

There is a vague yet dogmatic assumption in the minds of modern men that the latest technology is somehow inevitable, and whatever negative consequences arise from it must be endured.  After all, the newest technology is new because of efficiency (this adjective/adverb-turned-noun may well be responsible for the modern world), and that any preference of older, more rustic methods of doing such-and-such is either quaint or irrational.

This is nonsense.

What could be more irrational and quaint than the assumption that whatever appears latest is somehow better than what appeared before?  What could be more irrational than trusting to a vague and indeterminate spirit of the future?  A preference for any given point of the past in any given area may be incorrect.  Indeed, it may be cruelly, even terribly, incorrect; but it is not and cannot be quainter than a preference for the future.  After all, the past has passed.  It can be known, and thus, judged.  It can be evaluated.  It can be learned from.  But the future is indeterminate; it cannot be known, and it cannot be judged.  It cannot impart wisdom to us.

The future can only be worshipped. Continue reading The Irrational Religion of Future-Worship

A Letter to the Church-At-Large

Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681), "A Lady Reading a Letter"
Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681), "A Lady Reading a Letter"

Dear Church-at-large,

I’ve been an observer since my youth, and I can help but notice a trend in my lifetime—first, I found it among Protestants (Baptists of various titles like “non-denominational”), but I’ve found it among many Catholics, too.

A trend. A pattern, if you will. A thought. It’s the assumption that you can entertain me, or us: a generation of entertainment connoisseurs. But you cannot entertain us; at least, you cannot entertain me—and I find the very effort somewhat insulting.

Oh, you may have snatched up a fair number of baby-boomers with your watered-down orange-drink outreach; you may entertain a fair number of forty-something suburb-dwelling middle-class soccer-moms-and-dads whose children will probably realize they are full of crap after their second divorce. You probably have a fair number of youth pastors, leaders, or ministers (which is, unfortunately, usually a mask for the more accurate title of Ecclesiastical Parasite); you may even have a large number of odd young adults and teenagers, many of whom spontaneously break into tears during the more emotional parts of praise songs (but even these, we know, only feel guilty because they are a part of the same entertainment culture as we are. Or they had sex with their boyfriend). But I do not think I am not alone when I say: I am, and shall forever remain, on the outside. The last thing you want to offer a generation gluttonous on entertainment is cheap grace wrapped in cheap thrills. Continue reading A Letter to the Church-At-Large

God’s Favorite Footballer

The greatest single argument for atheism in the modern age is the Tim Tebow Fan.

I have never enjoyed watching football. Yet I am not here to offer justification for my distaste for professional sports, but rather for one particular professional athlete’s supporter: namely, the dreaded creature known as the Tim Tebow Fan.

The question on everyone’s minds is, naturally: Why do hipstercons emit such disdain for the glorified miracle worker, Tebow, and his devoted fans? To wit: it is the thought that yesterday, while many humans were starved, butchered, crushed, oppressed–and none of them were my personal enemies, dammit!–God took time out of his busy schedule to help the Broncos win victory through the arm of his anointed servant, Tim Tebow.

Surely the works of the LORD are wondrous and mighty; by his servant Tebow he hath wrought victory for the Broncos in overtime.

For the LORD hath raised Tebow up, and proclaimed him chosen among all football players.

Tebow fans merit such condemnation because they neglect to consider the problem of evil. Evil exists, and it often prospers. Good exists, and is often crushed. Pointing to the good Christian’s success as an example of God’s favor (thus demonstrating God’s existence, etc.) is sure to backfire: indeed, self-identified Christians who revel in Tebow’s success should probably refer back to the Gospels that they and their favorite athlete profess to believe in. When asked about the victims of a collapsing tower, and if those crushed under the weight of circumstance were being punished by God, Christ did not only dispel this notion, he told his followers that if they did not repent, they too would surely perish. Cease looking for God’s favor in mere chance; instead, tend to your own souls.

The failure of Tebow fans to recognize the problem of evil and chance is doubly annoying because the stakes are so very low: a mere football game, an entertainment, is enough to divine the favor of the gods, it seems. Divination hasn’t gone anywhere; we still cast lots to find the gods’ favor. Only now, we use a football.

And he rose from his knee in the endzone, and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a Super Bowl trophy, and lighting upon him:

And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Tebow, in whom I am well pleased.

Then was he led up to the ESPN studio, to be interviewed of sports journalists.

Tebow 3:16-4:1

In short, why is it wrong to be a Tebow fan? Because, when your theology cannot stand up to the nuanced distinction of a Saturday Night Live skit, you have forfeited your right to ask that question.