Monthly Archives: May 2016

Paradigm Shift – Cult of Personality

This paradigm shift discusses personality and how much it shapes a denomination or church.

In many Protestant churches, particularly non-denominational or Bible churches, the influence of a singular personality on the church and its members is pretty high. Because preaching is so central to many of these communities, it figures that the experiences, characteristics and charisma of the one doing the preaching becomes the identity of the church itself. It is not uncommon for one to attend such a church solely to hear the preacher preach.

Some of these charismatic leaders become superstar televangelists like Joel Olsteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, Joseph Prince, Jim & Tammy Bakker and many others who go on to establish mega-churches, mega-ministries and, to be sure, mega-corporations. Frequently, these become family dynasties that the second generation usually bungles. At any rate, the existence of the church is tied to the existence of the pastor and when the latter retires, dies, or gets caught in a sex scandal, the church and its members fade away like lilies in the field.

As far as television personalities that are Catholic and could be described as televangelists, I can only think of two: Bishop Fulton Sheen who pioneered using television to spread the Gospel from 1951-57 and Mother Angelica who started the EWTN network in the 1970’s. The former eventually became archbishop and is posthumously venerated en route to beatification; the latter was a wimple-wearing nun who recently died after a decade of health problems, and most of the shows on EWTN do not feature her; she too will likely be venerated.

Generally speaking, the Catholic Church doesn’t feature preaching as much as it features the Mass which features Jesus Christ more than anyone. The celebrant priest wears a chasuble over a number of other vestments during Mass—not to look impressive – but to “cloak” his individual identity and become more of what the church terms the alter christus (another Christ). This is why only men are ordained in the Catholic Church and why priests are suitably unmarried and celibate. That is why the congregation stands when the priest stands up during Mass—to defer and honor the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why the priest reads the Gospel passages which represent the preaching of Jesus Himself. That is why only he presides over the liturgy of the Eucharist and intones the words of the Last Supper as Jesus did (and does) at the institution of the New Covenant. And most all the words of the liturgy are pre-arranged for a three-year cycle so that any priest anywhere is doing pretty much the same thing—and it is never to be varied or personalized. No!

In addition, there is a general directive for those attending the Mass not to stand out in any way but to strive to become one in unity during the Rite. To maintain this unity, responses and gestures of the faithful are prescribed to a large degree: one should bow only with the head when receiving communion, knell after the Sanctus, stand after the great Amen, say the responsorial, pray the Our Father, kneel again after the Agnus Dei, etc., etc. —and always together. When music is performed for the Mass, there is to be no applause because it is not performance or an exhibition of talent.  It is void of personality so that Jesus becomes the personality from start to finish.


Thinking in Latin

The official language of the Catholic Church is Latin. On the face of it, this seems rather quaint and, like Church teachings, a relic of the past emblematic of an irrelevant and outmoded institution. Indeed, as many are wont to believe, Latin is a dead language befitting a dead Church.

I routinely attend the novus ordo Solemn Latin Mass at my parish. Dead or alive, the Latin adds to the beauty and art of the sacred rite and I love it so much that I have committed to memory the Latin liturgical formulas, the major Catholic prayers, Vulgate scripture and a few motets. I also take a Latin class every Saturday morning. But aside from this bizarre personal proclivity, why is Latin important?

Why is any language important? Language is not only relevant to the manner in which thought is expressed but also how thoughts are shaped in our minds. Even today as progressives try to eliminate the use of the feminine and masculine pronouns of our language to blur gender lines, language is used to shape society. Some words are even being outlawed. Language can add to the beauty of a culture or take away from it. Language can be used to elegantly express a concept or create a blind spot as we often hear of a word in one language that has no direct translation in our own.

Sociologically, language can unify and divide. Remember the Tower of Babel? The subsequent division in people was a side effect of the division of language. What about the reverse—Pentecost? The Church was born upon the unions of disparate peoples hearing their native language. The preservation of language is a preservation of a people and their culture. There is a reason Denmark, Iceland, France, and Japan go to great lengths to preserve their language from the onslaught of foreign languages, particularly English. What about the reverse—the United States that refuses to even recognize an official language? Let’s not think upon that …

At any rate, Latin is not a dead language. We find it latent in English when we say “vulnerable” (L. wound) or “nautical” (L. sailor). We find it explicitly in words like “et cetera”, “alma mater”, and “pro bono”. Ever wonder why the abbreviation for pound is lb.? It is short for libra, the Latin word for scale. Latin is used in the fields of law, science, botany, taxonomy and medicine. It is incredibly instructive in terms of grammar and smart parents make their kids learn Latin. At least for many centuries, Latin was the language of the academy and many a great paper by the likes of Aquinas, Newton or Copernicus were written in Latin to communicate science to an educated world. Thomas More, an Englishman of the 16th century, corresponded with Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Dutchman, using Latin though neither was familiar with the others native tongue. Thomas more could also vilify and insult Martin Luther in Latin, which he did quite generously.

As the language of the Church, Latin has been helpful in shaping theological concepts that English may have difficulty expressing. For example, in the Credo said at every Mass the phrase “ex Maria Virgine” is uttered in bowed reverence. This doesn’t just mean Jesus popped out of the Virgin Mary but that he “came out of” or “drew his humanity from” her. It is rich in significance and intended to be so.

More significantly, Latin is indicative of a catholic church—that is, one which is “universal”. Encyclicals and teachings must be conveyed to a world consisting of bishops in Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa. Not only does Latin unify the body of Christ geographically and culturally, but as a stable and ancient language, Latin also unifies the Church temporally. As G.K. Chesterton observed, tradition is the highest form of democracy since it enfranchises the dead. Latin allows us to consult with our past and build upon it, not discard it outright as our modern world does and much to its peril.

Sadly, the Church which once conducted the Roman Rite Mass in Latin exclusively has discounted this invaluable treasure which it alone possesses. An older gentleman in my Latin class remembers the time when one heard the Mass in Latin and followed along in the Roman Missal with Latin on one page, the vernacular on the other—all beautifully illuminated. One could travel clear around the world and participate in the Mass more or less as one did in his hometown.

Things are changing. Since Benedict XVI (who is reputed to speak Latin extemporaneously), the use of Latin in the ancient Rite is experiencing a renaissance. Several parishes in Northern Virginia conduct the Tridentine Mass, a number of these very close to my home. The Roman Missal pre-Vatican is available on Kindle and after having read some of it, I can tell you how amazing the prayers and liturgies once were. It’s time to bring it back.

Academic Mission Statement

The following is a college mission statement. Let’s see if you can guess the institution it comes from:

The scheme, then, is first, an educational institution in its most comprehensive sense. Its definition of education is that it is the united symmetrical development and instruction of the religious, the intellectual and the physical qualities of the man. It recognizes the whole man, in all the departments of his being, as the object of its care. Its aim is not to instruct merely, not to impart knowledge merely, but to awaken, to develop, to train, and to discipline all the latent inborn powers and faculties of the man, that he may command them for the high and noble uses of which they may be capable or for which they were designed… a home for the virtuous, where morality, industry and a thirst for knowledge shall unite for the advancement of the student and the prosperity of the institution.

Hard to believe that this was from my alma mater, the University of Maryland back in 1862 when it was called the Maryland Agricultural College. Let’s update the statement to fit its current mission 2016:

The scheme, then, is first, an educational environment in its most subjective sense. Its definition of education is that it is the indoctrination and inculcation of iconoclasm, over-sensitivity and the sexual preference of the evolved person. It recognizes one’s authentic self, in all the departments of her being, as the object of its care. Its aim is not to instruct at all, not to impart knowledge at all, but to deaden, to destroy, to ruin, and to eradicate all the socially constructed morals and narratives of human tradition, that she may shed them for the unequal and enslaving uses for which they were designed… a home for the empowered, where relative moralism, solipsism and a disdain for everything sacred shall unite for the individual rights and entitlement of the student and the overpriced bureaucratization of the institution.

Yep, sounds about right.

Together we can stop evolution

Social, political, academic and media establishments frequently ridicule and malign the deniers of evolution when just about everything those same establishments promote is in direct conflict with the tenets of the theory.

First, according to the prophets of modernity and pop scientists like Bill Nye, evolution is a scientifically settled fact and anyone that denies it is a superstitious, small-minded idiot unworthy of air, a job, or public office.  In full disclosure, I used to routinely deny the science of evolution mostly because every book I read on the topic (Leakey, Asimov, Coyne and others) usually had an ax to grind against theism, faith and Christianity up front. It was not until I read Collins’ Language of God that I could let my guard down long enough to understand why Christians, of all people, should be on the forefront of scientific knowledge as they were in all previous ages. I soon accepted the science of evolution while still refuting the specious philosophy that usually accompanies it.

Indeed, evolution goes far to answer the questions of biology, atavism, morphology, and vestigiality. But nothing in science is ever, ever settled. That’s what makes it science—ideas constantly challenged by the scientific community and evolution should be no exception. Consider the following present and past topics that constituted or challenged so-called “settled science”: geo-centrism, aether, time dilation, static universe, contracting universe, dark matter, multiverse, Higgs boson, the rationality of numbers, the quintic, quantum mechanics, and so forth. Nothing in science is settled and to quell dissent is to quell scientific inquiry.

But supposing that the theory of evolution is a firm and settled fact, who really denies it in the present age?  Is it the fundamentalist clinging to his guns, religion and a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis? Consider these modern lines of thought that course against the scientific grain of evolution:

  • Men and women are the same and society should blur the lines delineating the sexes.
    • Evolution provided gender diversity and the unique roles of the male and the female to vary and propagate life. Men are physically stronger, women are nurturing. Men do stupid and dangerous things; women think it through.
  • Pregnancy is a pathology.
    • Pregnancy and lactation are the normal and natural state of mature women. To thwart pregnancy by contraception and abortion is to deny nature and, by extension, evolution. Without pregnancy and offspring, evolution is stalled.
  • There are no differences between human races.
    • The full title of Charles Darwin’s seminal work is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The topic of varieties and race, including humans, was one of the major points.
  • It is wrong for a large and powerful country to overtake a weaker one.
    • In the evolutionary struggle for limited resources, to have one nation, race, tribe take over, subject, or destroy another would be the natural consequence of the fittest surviving.
  • Denying someone their rights is immoral.
    • Where do rights and morality come from? According to evolution, the only rights and morality is the expression of the selfish gene. Coercion and the removal of competition is an extrapolation of evolution, so who denies what and why is it wrong?
  • Homosexuality is normal
    • Human heterosexuality is the substrate of human evolution. To breed is to contribute to the evolutionary process and to breed a lot is tantamount to the fittest surviving. Homosexuality lacks fecundity, is not productive, and doomed on the science of evolution despite what Jeff Goldblum says in movies.
  • Diversity is favored
    • Evolution does not favor diversity; evolution favors the fittest: mint, horseradish, English Ivy (and, quite frankly, the English themselves), kudzu, the American chestnut, the cane toad, and hundreds of other extinct or invasive species have demonstrated that diversity it not the end game. The panda should be extinct, naturally, but we take great strides at great cost to preserve the species, unnaturally. Together we can stop evolution.
  • Evolution explains the origins of life.
    • Evolution explains the diversity of life. The self-replicating molecule is the locomotive of evolution and its origins are not quite “settled science”.

The list of policies and ideologies that thwart nature and natural law seems to grow on a daily basis. So who really denies evolution? In some measure, don’t we all?