Liberalism, Protestantism and Rock-and-Roll, Part 2

(Just some more ruminations on coolness and liberalism (see part 1 here). I don’t claim expertise in art or history, I’m just winging it based on what I have absorbed through my general reading, so feel free to correct me where I’m wrong.)

I think that the cool is a peculiarly modern phenomenon. In past ages fashions in e.g. painting and architecture progressed, in that they changed from age to age, but the goal in every age was to enhance or at least perpetuate the good that came before, to take the good points of one architectural or painting style and incorporate them into another that was just as good if not better. If the new thing was judged worse then it would fail; it wouldn’t thrive because it was “cool”.

But at some point we went off the tracks, and things were praised and celebrated not for being better but for being new and therefore exciting. In painting I would guess this occurred in the mid-19th Century, perhaps with Impressionism. By this time painting had been perfected. This isn’t to say there was nothing left to paint, but painting had gotten as good as it could get in terms of reproducing beautiful visual images of the real world. All that was left was to paint the infinite variety of beautiful things there are to paint, using more or less the same methods that had been perfected over centuries.

Bouguereau

But Impressionism was a usurpation of the traditional methods — a break with orthodoxy — and it seems to me (as a rank layman) that from then on the goal was no longer good painting, but innovation for its own sake, leading to more and more outrageous painting styles or “schools”. Thus, “progress” in painting was measured not by inherent merit, but by how far it departed from orthodoxy. The same thing happened, more or less, in the other creative arts: sculpture, architecture, music, poetry and literature.

impressionist

Things “progressed” without any claim that they were getting closer to a fixed goal of “goodness”; in fact they were progressing only in the sense of moving further from orthodoxy.

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The rise of cool coincides with the rise of progressivism, both being parasites of orthodoxy. Neither would be what it is, were there no orthodoxy with which to contrast itself.

As someone noted (I can’t remember who or I would credit him), by its own logic, progressivism must end up eating its own tail. It’s not moving towards something, upon reaching which it will be satisfied. Rather by definition it must be perpetually finding fault with orthodoxy, in order to have something to make progress on. But what happens when progressivism is othodoxy? Then it must attack that which has “progressed” the least.

When that happens, I think some of today’s progressives will discover to their chagrin that they’ve become conservatives. In this finite world, nothing is perfect. But according to progressivism, the imperfect isn’t merely capable of improvement, but is in fact wicked. If someone doesn’t actively desire to change it, then he is wickedly keeping it from progressing, for some wicked reason; he’s hateful in some manner and trying to oppress people. He’s a conservative.

One may avoid that fate only by resolving to be always on the crest of the progressive wave. The problem with that plan, is that God alone knows where the wave is headed.

Liberalism is like Protestantism and Rock-and-Roll

It has been noted by many that Protestantism, for a long time, virtually defined itself (if it doesn’t still) as “not-Catholicism”. Thus the two main “pillars” of Protestantism are, in essence, negative: Sola scriptura — no authority outside scripture; and sola fide – no works. Most Protestants would also define themselves by the doctrine that there is only One Mediator, which translates to “no priesthood” (and therefore no sacraments) and “no intercession of the saints”.

Rock music – indeed rock culture – also defines itself negatively, since “rock-and-roll” basically signifies rebellion. The motto of rock culture, “Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll”, is a rebellion against chastity and self-control, sobriety and responsibility. Even the music itself defines itself by its throwing off of restraint and moderation.

The basic idea underlying rock music is the concept of “cool”. But cool itself is meaningless except in relation to what is considered “square”. Square is normal and cool is skewed.

Take for example the fad in recent years of wearing suits that are too small. Men who wear their suits that way think it looks cool. But it’s only cool because it is in fact too small. Too small compared to what? Compared to what is generally considered a correct and proper fit, that is, a good fit. If everyone wore their suits too small, and had been doing so for the past 50 years and more, then there would be nothing cool about wearing small suits, since everyone from security guards to CEOs would be wearing them that way, and it would be normal and square. As far as I know, small suits were in vogue only once before, during the 1960s. Therefore over the past 75 years or so, small suits have been an aberration. Before long they will go out of style again, and in 20 years people will be embarrassed to see pictures of themselves wearing small suits. Eventually they may come back, but only after normal-size suits have been re-established as the norm, since only then will small suits appear cool again. They will again be defying the norm.

The cool, then, is a parasite on the normal. Or as I prefer to put it, a parasite on the good, since the normal is the good. Rock music is a parasite on good music, that is, music that has been under constant development for many years and has been perfected, so much so that it is largely taken for granted. It has become square. Men’s suits and women’s dresses have long since been perfected. It’s no longer possible to make a better suit or dress than has ever been made before, and tailors have long since mastered the art of making a suit or dress fit perfectly. A good-fitting, tasteful suit or dress really hasn’t changed much since the days of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. So the quest of fashion designers for the past several decades instead has been to make suits and dresses abnormal in one way or another, either with strange colors or fabrics, an exaggerated cut (huge lapels, skinny ties), or a fit that is either too large or too small (overbroad shoulders or highwater pants). That is, to skew the normal. If a good suit is what Cary Grant would have worn, then one that is too large or too small is a departure from the good. Music that is deliberately too loud or ugly is a departure from good music.

Liberalism too, like rock music and fashion, must be always progressing. Many have remarked on the irony of liberalism: How does it know it’s progressing when it has no fixed goal by which to measure progress? But it seems that liberalism does have a standard, and that standard is the normal, the square, the good. Or, what Chesterton would have called the orthodox. Progressivism means moving away from orthodoxy in one way or another: Either by skewing it or exaggerating or what have you. Thus, liberalism too is a parasite: It has no meaning apart from orthodoxy.

Fashion, rock music and liberalism are all considered to be on the “cool” side of the cultural spectrum; while conservatism, classical music and conventional dress (men in suits, women in dresses, both well-fitting) are “square”. This is why conservatism can never compete with liberalism for the “cool factor”: By definition we are committed to the good, the normal and the orthodox, and are therefore uncool.

I’m fine with that. One of the things that impresses me so much about the Catholic faith is that it’s not a parasite. It has the power to be orthodoxy. Relative to it, other things may be progressive and cool and modern. But the Faith is relative to nothing. It’s the Thing.

Jesus accepts us as we are — but does he leave us that way?

Not long ago I came across a blogger who wrote that he didn’t agree with the Church’s moral teachings, but he was going to stick with the Church anyway. He was raised in the Church, and why should he be the one to leave, just because others in the Church have hateful attitudes? Besides, Jesus accepted people as they were. I commented that Jesus accepted people as they were, but for the purpose of bringing them to repentance.

I was reminded of this exchange this past Sunday, when the Epistle for the traditional Latin Mass was Romans 6:3-11:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Does this not preclude the notion that Jesus accepts us as we are? Maybe he accepts us as we are initially. As he said, he came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Mk. 2:17.) But once we sinners are called, what then? Will he not heal us of our sickness?

According to this reading, baptism, the very sacrament of initiation into the Church, entails leaving our sinful past behind. Indeed it’s even more than that: Our old self is crucified, the sinful body is destroyed, that we may no longer be enslaved to sin. Strong language! Becoming a Christian means no less than dying to sin once for all, that we might live to God in Christ Jesus. This “newness of life” is what saves us and enables us to live eternally.

Can one call himself a follower of Jesus, who has not died to sin that he might live to God in Christ Jesus? Is this not essential to being a Christian? Is there a Plan B for those who don’t wish to take their Christianity so far as all that?

A scriptural apologetic for the Mass

The following was written in response to a question posed to me privately. It covers things I’ve posted about before, but I like going over the same ground multiple times in case something turns up that I missed before. I welcome any comments or corrections.

St. Paul writes, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, therefore let us celebrate the feast ….” 1 Cor. 5:7.

There is a lot of meaning in this verse. First, Paul refers to Christ as “our Passover”. This evidently means that the original Passover lamb was a foreshadowing of Christ. The original Passover sacrifice, then, was a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

At the original Passover, the children of Israel were told that if they sacrificed a lamb and put its blood on the lintels of their houses, they would be saved from the Angel of Death. But those were not the only instructions: They also had to consume the Passover lamb. It had to be completely gone by morning; that which they couldn’t eat had to be burned. (Ex. 12:10.)

Why did the lamb have to be eaten? What’s the point?

St. Paul in another place writes, ‘Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?’ (1 Cor. 10:18.)

It would seem, then, that eating of the sacrifice makes you a participant in the sacrifice. Not everyone could literally take part in the sacrifice: It only took one man to kill the lamb and smear the blood on the lintel. But by eating the lamb, everyone else was also enabled to participate in the sacrifice which saved them.

This clarifies Paul’s meaning when he said (a couple verses earlier), ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?’ (1 Cor. 10:16.) In other words, when we eat the bread and drink the cup, are we not participating in Christ’s sacrifice?

In support of this, we may look to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. He didn’t merely say “this is my body, this is my blood.” Rather, he said “This is my body which will be given up for you,” and “This is my blood which will be shed for you.” Giving up his body, and shedding his blood, obviously refers to his sacrifice on the Cross. Therefore, “Take this and eat it” means “Eat my body given in sacrifice,” and likewise as to the blood.

So clearly, when Paul says the bread is a participation in Christ’s body, he means that eating the bread and drinking the cup makes us participants in Christ’s sacrifice. I think this is virtually beyond doubt.

He further drives the point home when he says, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?’ (1 Cor. 10:21.) This is in the context of admonishing people not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Why? Because that makes us participants in sacrifices to idols; which makes us idolators. Whereas God, being a Jealous God, won’t stand for us partaking of the “table [altar] of the Lord and the table [altar] of demons”.

All this being so clear, serves to clarify the traditional, obvious and correct interpretation of John 6: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.’ (Jn. 6:53-54.)

Christ’s sacrifice saves us. But how, exactly, does it save us? It saves us through the Mass: You must eat Christ’s body given in sacrifice, and drink his blood shed in sacrifice, in order to have life in you. Christ’s sacrifice saves us by uniting us to himself, thereby enabling us to offer his sacrifice in our own behalf.

We’re saved by faith, certainly. What else but faith could enable us to believe that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and that doing so saves us? Looking at this claim from the perspective of the flesh, it sounds absurd. Jesus is standing right there. You can see that his flesh is not bread. Eating bread is not the same as eating flesh. This is judging by our natural faculties, in other words our flesh. But it’s the spirit that has faith and accepts Jesus’ words, no matter how impossible they may sound to us, knowing that he is God and incapable of deceiving us, and that nothing is impossible to him. If he says “You must eat my flesh”, it must be true in some sense; likewise if he says “Eating my flesh saves you”. The only thing left is to figure out how we can do such a thing.

When I think of Christ’s sacrifice being perpetually offered, I don’t think of him suffering and dying over and over, but as perpetually offering his one sacrifice. It doesn’t seem that this would be any great trick, both he and the Father being eternal, and therefore all things being present to them. I think of “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain”, as referred to in Rev. 5:6 (which, by the way, seems to be a scene of worship), standing perpetually before the Father’s throne, constantly interceding for us (Heb. 7:24-25). “Intercede” means literally to “go between”. In other words, Jesus stands between us and the Father, looking as though he had been slain — slain and yet alive, that is, the risen Jesus.

It’s those who participate in his sacrifice — via the Mass — who are being interceded for. As Jesus offers himself, and the Father is pleased with his offering, the Father is pleased with our offering as well — since it’s the same offering. We ourselves are offering the best offering we could possibly offer: The perfectly spotless Lamb of God.

I don’t know of any other theory of how Christ’s sacrifice saves us, that is half as coherent as the Mass.

Secularists are Christians but don’t know it

For Nietzsche, when modern intellectuals “believe that they know ‘intuitively’ what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality,” this is a delusion, and in fact reflects nothing more than the historical “effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and… the strength and depth of this dominion” even if “the origin of [the] morality has been forgotten”’ (Twilight of the Idols, p. 516).

Think of the contemporary secular academic moral philosopher who appeals to our “intuitions,” the Rawlsian method of bringing moral theory and our “considered convictions” into “reflective equilibrium,” the liberal activist who glibly appeals to the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as if it were something other than a set of sheer assertions floating in midair, and so forth. All of this, for Nietzsche, would merely confirm his judgment that secular egalitarianism is nothing more than a bundle of sentiments inherited from Christianity and incapable of being given a new rational foundation.

Edward Feser, “Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part I: Nietzsche“, Edward Feser blog, June 13, 2016.

A Catholic-friendly movie

I found “Ashby” to be a rare modern, secular movie that treats the Catholic faith more-or-less with respect.

One of the protagonists is an apparently devout if not particularly well instructed Catholic. He is not shown going to Mass, and is rather crude in his speech. What he did for a living (he is now retired) is at least morally ambiguous, but he did it with a clear conscience, thinking that it was authorized by the government for legitimate reasons. But when he realizes that one of his “jobs” was motivated not by national security concerns, but by profit, and knowing that he has a limited time in which to live, he becomes burdened by guilt. He seeks out the advice of a priest, tries to make amends, and in the end, seeks absolution for his sins.

The idea of needing absolution and seeking it out is not ridiculed or belittled. Rather it’s portrayed as a common human need: the need to hold oneself accountable, admit one’s faults, make amends to the extent possible, and live according to the dictates of conscience.

I like that the Catholic church they chose for a couple of the scenes was one with traditional architecture: steeple, gothic arches, stained glass with representational images. It seems like they always use this type of church architecture in movie portrayals of the faith. It wouldn’t have had the same effect had they filmed those scenes in a modern, gymnasium-like parish church. If the artistic types who make movies realize the importance of traditional Catholic architecture in evoking the appropriate mood for scenes of prayer and celebration of the sacraments, why can’t pastors and bishops?

I don’t mean to imply that this is a Catholic film, made by devout Catholics or intending to promote Catholicism. It doesn’t give that vibe at all. It has every appearance of having been made by filmmakers with secular attitudes. But at least it doesn’t go out of its way to denigrate the faith, and is not oblivious to the human needs that are fulfilled by it.

Another refreshing thing about the movie is its treatment of the theme of of courage and manhood. The older protagonist admonishes the younger for his cowardice in failing to stand up for a girl, in a situation in which she was treated disrespectfully by a boy. At first the younger guy chides the elder for his “1950s attitude” towards violence and manhood, implying that modern young men are more sensible and enlightened. But ultimately he admits that he acted like a coward and resolves not to do it again.

The movie has its flaws. The absolution scene near the end is frankly rather lame, and shows the shallowness of the producers’ grasp of Catholic morality, not to mention the importance of the proper form of a sacrament. Some of the plot elements seem disproportionate to each other, almost as if they were confused about what kind of a movie they were making. But I thought it was very nicely photographed, and pretty well acted, had fairly good dialogue and a few laughs. Not an excellent movie but enjoyable if you’re not expecting too much.