On Shepherds, Lost Sheep, and Fashion Shows

So I’ve had mixed feelings about the Met Gala fashion show themed “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”  For some Catholics it was a travesty and offensive.  For other Catholics it was seen as an opportunity.

My initial inclination was one of contempt, but then I wondered if that was due to hold-over American Evangelicalism which gets offended at anything remotely close to mocking.  (This is the group that gets angry at Starbucks for not saying “Merry Christmas.”)

So, unsure of my own motivations for contempt, I considered the arguments many gave for why we should be upset and reflected on whether they were good reasons.

The main reasons seemed to come down to mockery and lack of respect.  This article at National Review has a tag line saying “The Catholic Church won’t win respect by abetting the mockery of its symbols.”  Are we sure about that?  Consider the sign above Jesus during the crucifixion which read “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum”; Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.  It was a mockery, and yet in its mockery told the truth.  The cross itself was one of the most humiliating ways to die, and now the crucifix is the symbol of Christianity and has prominent places in churches.

Does this mean we should “abet” such mockery?  Not likely, but it’s one more piece of data to throw into the contextual equation.  And what would Catholics expect from a culture built on a mixture of Protestantism and Secularism?

Some are saying Cardinal Dolan should not have attended and thereby give sanction to the event.  But then I think about what Jesus was accused of; eating with tax gatherers and sinners (Matthew 9:10-13).  The scene of Jesus at Matthew’s house from Franco Zeffirelli’s mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth” comes to mind here.

Again, does this mean we should “abet” everything that goes on there?  Not likely, but, again, it’s one more piece of data to throw into the contextual equation.  And does anyone believe Cardinal Dolan abetted everything at the Met Gala any more than Jesus abetted everything at Matthew’s house?

According to this Crux article, Cardinal Dolan was initially apprehensive about the event but afterward said the people were “were very appreciative, approachable, and very respectful.”  The event gave Cardinal Dolan a chance to talk with lapsed Catholics like George Clooney.

Where else would the joyful cardinal get a chance to see Clooney standing alone and strike up a conversation?  Answer: Only at events like the Met Gala.

On shepherds, lost sheep, and fashion shows

Would I have gone to the Met Gala?  I don’t know.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed until the Catholic corner of the internet went abuzz over the affair.  But I’m also just a layman and not a shepherd over the people in a parish, so such decisions are not on my shoulders.  Cardinal Dolan has a job to do within his New York diocese, and part of that job is going to where lost sheep are.

Is there a line?  Probably.  Where is the line?  I don’t know, and I’d bet most upset people online don’t know where the line is either.  It’s easy for laypeople to be armchair cardinals; it’s another thing to actually be a cardinal.

As far as “abetting” what was done there, I can’t help but think about when my nieces want to do a fashion show.  They dress themselves up in ridiculous attire, stride out into the living room, and spin for the adults who all say “So beautiful.”  And we tolerate such silliness because the children want to do a fashion show and to feel beautiful and special to the adults.

I wonder how close this is to what happened at the Met Gala and what adults like Cardinal Dolan probably feel; “Aw, how cute.  The children want to do a fashion show.  Okay, let’s all watch and applaud and allow children to be children.”


Some thoughts on Blade Runner 2049 (Spoilers!)


From Wikipedia

Blade Runner 2049 has come and gone and most people are probably not thinking much about it.  After seeing it in theaters back in October I wrote up some thoughts but never got around to posting them, hoping for more developed thoughts that never came.  So here are those thoughts, undeveloped as they may be.

The film continues the themes of the original movie; self-awareness, what makes someone (or something) human, and the nature of reality.  The last theme, the nature of reality, is the one I’d like to comment on and how sexuality was presented in the movie.

(Warning: Spoilers start now.)

The world of Blade Runner 2049 has holograms that are programmed to be company for lonely individuals.  The advertisements for these companions are holograms of beautiful girls, tall as a several-storied building, along the street and sometimes nude.  (The movie-makers must have wanted to earn the ‘R’ rating.)  These holograms flaunt their stuff and will walk over and talk to individuals who linger long enough.  A slogan accompanies these holograms that alternates between two phrases: “Everything you want to hear” and “Everything you want to see.”

The main character in the movie is K who is a replicant and his name is derived from his serial number KD6-3.7.  In his apartment, K has one of these holograms named Joi, a beautiful girl who is confined to the living space due to the special equipment installed.  When K returns home Joi is wearing a nice dress and talks to him about her day and asks about his.  She is “making” his dinner and hopes he likes it.  When K sits down with his own prepared meal—that appears to be an unappetizing-looking gray mash of some sort—Joi appears and sets a holographic meal of steak and vegetables over the bowl of mash.  The obvious inference is that he will eat the mash but can pretend it’s a steak meal lovingly prepared.

It’s also obvious that K is beginning to have feelings for Joi.  As they progress through this scene the audience gets a real sense that she has feelings for him too.  Is she becoming self-aware?  Is she, a program, beginning to have feelings?  K even gives her a present; a device that will download her to a mobile device, enabling her to leave the apartment and go anywhere with him.

Their first excursion is onto the roof where she exits into fresh air, wide openness, and holds her hands out to the rain drops.  K and Joi attempt to embrace but, she being a hologram, they cannot actually touch; they place themselves in a position like an embrace but can go no further.



Fake girlfriends:

As I watched all this, I could not help but consider the fake girlfriends so many men have today on the internet.  Nude photos and pornographic material give men “girlfriends” that ask for no sacrifice or pursuit, ask for nothing in return, never say no, and are always satisfied.  None of it is real and only exists the imagination of the man.

This is even starker in a scene where Joi wishes to do with K what all lovers do; so she brings a human girl to the apartment.  As K watches, Joi superimposes herself onto the other woman.  So now K can have sex with a real woman for one night while looking at and thinking about Joi. Yet again, K and Joi are seeking real love and connection but none of it is real.  And K does not seem satisfied the next morning.

Joi and Joe:

The relationship of K and Joi goes deeper throughout the movie.  Joi becomes K’s travelling companion as he pursues the clues in his quest and she tells him how special he is.  When the clues start to reveal that K may actually be human and not a replicant, Joi says the name K is no longer good since it comes from his serial number.  So she gives him a real name; Joe.

Eventually though, the hologram Joi is “killed” because the mobile device carrying her is destroyed by the bad guys.  While his friend Deckard is in danger, K is distraught over the loss of Joi and wanders the streets in the rain.  Eventually, one of the building-sized hologram advertisements walks over and talks to him.  It looks very much like Joi and starts flirting with him…but then finishes by saying, “You look like a good joe.”

K stiffens.  His face shows a light going off in his mind.  “A good joe,” she said.  Joi had given him the name Joe because he was “special.”  The inference I took away from the scene was that it all truly was fake.  Joi had been programmed to give K what he desired.  She kept to her programming even by giving him the name these holograms used to seduce men; Joe.

The point is driven home when the hologram returns to her place to seductively pose and the billboard next to her toggles between “Everything you want to hear” and “Everything you want to see.”



It hurt K.  What he thought was true turned out to be a fake; it was simply a piece of technology designed to seduce and it did.  Joi had given him everything he wanted to hear and see…and it had emasculated him.

The realization has a positive effect on K.  After her death, he had been walking around in a funk, unable to finish his mission.  He was impotent.  Once that spell was broken he gathered himself, returned to reality, mustered his resolve, and was able to heroically save the day.

Relationships of Imagination:

In a letter to a friend[1], C.S. Lewis wrote of the dangers of masturbation and sexual fantasies.

“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.  And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.  For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.  Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.  In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself….After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in.  Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process.  The danger is that of coming to love the prison.”

The fake-relationship between K and Joi seems almost a direct illustration of Lewis’ description of sexual fantasy.  By the end K becomes trapped and impotent; he wanders around while Deckard is in danger; K is wrapped in himself, a prison of his own making.  But light enters, he becomes free of the prison, he drops the fake girlfriend, and goes on to save Deckard.

I have no idea if this is the lesson the movie-makers desired to show, but it is what I took away from it.


[1] To Keith Masson, June 3, 1956

How do we study the Bible? – Typology

Like most of these posts, this is a topic which I’m not qualified to write about. But like any good random blogger, I’ll write about it anyway and hopefully do it justice.

All Christians recognize the Scriptures—the Bible—as sacred and authoritative. And yet there is widespread disagreement about its meaning. Why is this? I believe it is because people use different methods of interpretation. How we read Scripture is just as important as simply reading it; perhaps more important. This was a point of concern for both the Jews and early Christians, between each other as well as among themselves (see the talk by Fr. Mitch Pacwa here on Scripture and the Early Church). We can’t simply read Scripture and expect to understand it, as if the Bible is some sort of handbook for Christianity.


For example, it’s easy to condemn Catholic statues by pointing out the commandment forbidding graven images of any likeness of anything that is in heaven or on earth (Ex. 20:4). But then things get a bit murky when God Himself commands the making of graven images in the likeness of heavenly and earthly things; the gold cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:18-19), the images of cherubim in the tabernacle (Ex. 26:1), the bronze serpent in Numbers 21 (through which also a miracle occurred). So what’s happening with the commandment against graven images? What is God actually saying? This example reveals that it’s often not as simple as pointing to a particular verse and saying “Ah ha!” Interpretation must include all of Scripture.

How we study the Bible is called hermeneutics. These are principles and interpretive lenses by which we gather scriptural data which are compiled into an actual theology. There several senses of scripture; the literal and the spiritual; the allegorical/typological, the moral, and the anagogical. Other rules include understanding Greek words, keeping things in context, understanding ancient culture, etc. etc. etc.

This post focuses on the typological sense because at some point during my conversion I realized it answered questions I didn’t even know existed: “Does Scripture itself give us any clues on how to interpret the Scriptures? How do the biblical authors interpret and explain Scripture?”

Well, there is a way the New Testament authors interpreted the Old Testament and it has come to be known as typology.

Definition of typology:

“Typology is the discernment of realities, events, deeds, words, symbols, or signs in the Bible that foreshadows the fulfillment of God’s plan in Jesus Christ.”[1]


Typology can be summed up in the famous phrase, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” In typology, Old Testament “types” prefigure a deeper and more profound fulfillment in the New Testament. The type prefigures the antitype. Since typology comes straight from Scripture, one could say typology is the hermeneutics Scripture itself gives us. This makes it a very big deal.

For this reason, anyone seriously studying Scripture must put typology in a very prominent position of Biblical studies and interpretations.

A couple Scriptural examples of typology

  1. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul compares Adam and Christ. As through one man (Adam) death came to all men, so through one man (Jesus) life is offered back to all men. In this way, Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (vs. 14).
  2. 1 Peter 3:20-21 says the flood during Noah’s time prefigured baptism. Just as Noah and his family were saved through water, so “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” The word ‘corresponds’ is from the Greek word antitypos; antitype.
  3. Christ said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). The Old Covenant was a “type” which the New Covenant brings to fullness—the entire book of Hebrews seems focused on this, such as when it says the Old Law “has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (10:1). Christ did not abolish the Law; He brought it to its fullness.

An important point to remember is that, within typology, the fulfillment (the antitype) is greater and better than the prefigurement (the type).

“The type always points forward to something greater that will come in a fullness given in Jesus Christ. As such, it is not enough for two realities in Scripture to be similar or to follow a certain pattern for us to speak about typology. Christian typology goes beyond the recognition of patterns in God’s saving plan to include the fulfillment in Jesus Christ as an essential aspect, where the reality prefigured is far greater than the prefiguration.”[2]

This makes sense. After all, “fulfillment” of something assumes a lack in the previous. Christ is greater than Adam. Baptism is greater than the flood, since baptism washes away actual sins and the flood could only wash away physical evil. If a typological interpretation ends with the fulfillment being less than the prefigurement, the interpretation is off somewhere and needs to be rethought.

“Typology has been the constant way of reading the Scriptures of the authors of the New Testament themselves, of the Church Fathers from the earliest times, and of the Catholic Church up to the present day.”[3]

Typology has a long tradition within Christianity and must be taken seriously by anyone seeking to understand Scripture. The New Testament must be read in light of the Old. And I think it safe to say, one will not begin understanding Catholic theology unless one begins understanding typology—at least that was my own experience.

Sources to get started in typology:


[1] Fr. Devin Roza, “Fulfilled in Christ: The Sacraments. A Guide to Symbols and Types in the Bible and Tradition”, p. 23

[2] Roza, p. 21-22

[3] Roza, p. 23

To the Wonder

Waking up this morning, a thought hit me.  What is one of the reasons the new atheists bring against believing in God?  Well, they say that science explains things.  The ancients saw the sun rise and believed “the gods” made it happen because they couldn’t explain it.  With modern science, we now know that the sun revolves around the earth, from our perspective it appears to “rise and set” but really it is the earth rotating, etc. etc etc. blah blah blah.  We have no need to invoke “God” to explain it.  After all, the sun revolving around the earth is not that amazing, right?

By learning how it works, we’ve lost the wonder of it happening at all.  But it seems strange that it should have this effect.  We still get impressed by acts of incredible creativity even though we know the “science” that built it.  Elon Musk has the Falcon Heavy built and launched into space and everyone is in awe at the way the engines detach and land back at their original launch pad perfectly.  And we should be silenced by the impressiveness!  The genius to make that happen was…well, genius.  It’s amazing!

So why are we so amazed?  We know the Falcon Heavy was built with science and people can figure out how it works.  Yet it’s still impressive.  Can you imagine the record skip if, in the height of everyone shouting praise, Sam Harris said, “Why are you so impressed?  Science can explain how it all works.”  Our awe would shift from the Falcon Heavy to the sheer arrogance in our midst.

We’re impressed by manmade genius, but not divinely made genius.  (Someone like C.S. Lewis or Jordan Peterson could probably pull all sort of comparisons with the Tower of Babel here.)  Somehow learning the science behind why the sun rises and sets diminishes the wonder that it rises at all.  I think this lack of wonder is a main driving force behind the rejection of God.

G.K. Chesterton asked himself, “Where should I go now, if I leave the Catholic Church?”  His answer; “The best I could hope for would be to wander away into the woods and become…a pagan, in the mood to cry out that some particular mountain peak or flowering fruit tree was sacred and a thing to be worshipped.”[1]

In some respects, the ancient pagans were smarter than we moderns.  They at least saw the wonder of the created world and knew something had to be worshipped, either the thing itself or the thing that made it.  They at least had sense enough to look at the world and say, “Daaaaaang…….”

Chesterton also imagines God very much holding to the wonder we have lost.

sun-rise-umhlanga“The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”[2]


The new atheists are like Calvinists; they are dull, rationalistic, and without wonder.  They need everything explained which in turn makes everything, including themselves, boring.  God is eternally young and full of laughter.  Perhaps this is what Christ meant when he revealed, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”


[1] “The Catholic Church and Conversion” chapter 4 “The World Inside Out”

[2] “Orthodoxy” chapter 4 “The Ethics of Elfland”

“Faith in Luther: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion” by Paul Hacker: A Review

Faith in Luther Book Cover

This book[1] is a re-publication of an older work by Paul Hacker originally published in 1970.  Hacker was in a unique position to write about Martin Luther.  A born-and-raised German Lutheran who spent an “intense immersion in and interrogation of Luther’s theology”[2], and coupled with an extensive study of the patristic theologians, Hacker left Lutheranism and entered the Roman Catholic Church.  He even became friends with Joseph Ratzinger and the two had “frequent intellectual exchanges.”[3]  (There’s a temptation to add the “fly-on-the-wall” cliché here but I’m certain their conversations would be far too over my head.)

Of this book, the subtitle alone is thought-provoking and Hacker immediately jumps into his topic on page one by quoting at length an American version of Martin Luther’s creed.  Here are just a few of the lines of that creed quoted in the book:

“I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them….that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all evil.”  “I believe that Jesus Christ…is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins….”  “The Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the faith.”  “He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life.”[4]

Hacker notes, “The most striking feature of its style is the preponderance of the pronouns of the first person singular (I, me) and the corresponding possessive adjective (my).”[5]

To be sure, the word “I” is necessary to a profession of faith.  After all, Creed comes from the Latin credo which means “I believe.”  But the content of the profession in the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds do not contain “me” but are rather focused on something else outside the self or as a plural—the Trinity, the Church, salvation for “us” men, or Jesus’ suffering for “our” sake.

This sets up an introductory analysis by the author that moves into the main point of the book.

“Luther’s exposition of the Creed teaches the believer to profess the faith and at the same time to look back at his own self.  This is not just a pastoral suggestion compensated elsewhere by other doctrinal statements.  Rather, Luther intends to present here an exercise in the sort of faith which he conceived to be justifying.  The reference to the ego is not a meditation beside the act of faith but a part, and the essential part, of the act itself.  Within the very act of faith, the ego bends back on itself.  This sort of faith may fittingly be called reflexive.”[6]

But this view of faith was new and not part of the Christian tradition.  Hacker goes on to explain why this reflexive faith is so wrong.

“Pure Christian faith is an act of obedient self-donation.  The believer surrenders himself to the transcendent God in the assent of adoration.  This makes him understand creation and the Church as parts of God’s saving dispensation and assigns to him his place and his shelter in the order of Providence.  Thus he can trust in God the Creator, the Redeemer and Sanctifier, and move spiritually away from himself in love for God.  The more his faith becomes mature through loving cooperation with God’s grace, the less is it possible for him to turn his attention back to himself within the act of faith.”[7]

From here, Hacker begins to present his case that egocentric faith is the root of Luther’s new conception of faith.  Throughout the book Hacker quotes Luther at length.  For example,

“There are statements in which Luther expressly says that it is man’s confidence that constitutes the acceptability or agreeableness of his person to God….Positively, he teaches: ‘If you find your heart confident that the work is agreeable to God then it is good.’  Negatively: If ‘the conscience does not dare to know for certain or be confident that this or that is agreeable to God then it is certain that it does not please him.’  ‘If you think God is wrathful then he is so.’  In summary: ‘As (your heart) feels so Christ is behaving.’  ‘As a man believes so he has.’[8]

“Luther urged time and again that the believer should ‘assert with certitude’ (certo statuere) that his person is agreeable to God.”[9]

“The Galatians’ commentary admonishes: ‘Everyone should accustom himself to assert with certitude that he is in a state of grace….If, however, he feel that he is doubting, he should practice faith and struggle against doubt and strive for certitude.”[10]

This sort of faith takes the objectiveness of Christianity and makes it subjective.  Salvation is based on one’s certitude and feelings.  But this also means doubt essentially becomes a sin!  Hacker notes, “If certitude of salvation, equated with faith, is the means to obtain, or is identical with, salvation, then incertitude must be coterminous with certitude of perdition.”[11]

Throughout the book, Hacker details how Luther’s obstinate clinging to his view of faith affected and warped his views of other doctrines (love, works, sacraments, charity, etc.) and how Luther forces the Bible to align with his view.

Hacker says,

“That the doctrine of reflexive faith is contrary to Scripture is shown by the strained nature of Luther’s arguments.”[12]

“Nowhere in Holy Scripture, neither in the Synoptics, nor in other writings of the New Testament, nor in the Old Testament, can any instance be found of a person obtaining remission of sin because of his firm belief in the sin being forgiven.”[13]

“That an assertive spirituality is alien to the New Testament, becomes clearer still if a passage is considered where it is really an individual who speaks of his salvation.  At Philippians 3:12f Paul says: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect….I do not consider that I have made it my own.’  The King James Version translated thus: ‘I count not myself to have apprehended.’  This is quite the contrary to fides apprehensiva.  It is the attitude of humble incertitude which has at all times been the mark of devout Christians.”[14]

Is egocentric faith still around today?

It sure seems to be.  Just look around.

If Paul Hacker’s analysis of Luther is correct, then what is Oprah’s “God within” if not a progeny of Luther’s egocentrism?  What is Bruce Jenner and transgenderism (I believe I’m a woman, therefore I am) if not a fulfillment of Luther’s “assert with certitude” and “As a man believes so he has”?  What is relativism (you have your truth and I have my truth) if not a natural development of Luther’s confidence that “For to each one God is as he is believed to be”?[15]

Paul Hacker seems quite aware of all this when he ends the book with “there is more than one movement in the later history of modern thought which is indebted to suggestions that can be traced to Martin Luther.”[16]


[1] “Faith in Luther” by Paul Hacker, Emmaus Academic; Steubenville, Ohio, 2017 (http://www.emmausacademic.com/publications/2017/8/18/faith-in-luther-martin-luther-and-the-origin-of-anthropocentric-religion)

[2] Page viii

[3] Page viii

[4] Page 1-3

[5] Page 3

[6] Page 8

[7] Page 8

[8] Pages 21-22

[9] Page 22

[10] Page 26

[11] Page 49

[12] Page 82

[13] Page 67

[14] Page 77

[15] Page 170

[16] Page 170

Christian Holidays are Pagan? The Chronological Snobbery of Christian Temporal Provincials

One thing I’ve never had much patience with are Christians who refuse to celebrate Christmas and Easter because these celebrations were simply co-opted pagan festivals.  These are fringe fundamentalists “reclaiming the gospel” by pontificating on how we should not celebrate those holidays.  I actually met one a couple weeks ago, which prompted this writing.  She said she doesn’t celebrate Christmas because the origins “really had nothing to do with Jesus.”  (Enter Napoleon Dynamite sigh here……)

The “proofs” summoned forth by these peripheral groups are typically just statements assumed to be fact; similarity proves equivalence; and no real historic analysis is brought forth.  “X looks sort of like Y; therefore X = Y and we don’t even need to bother looking at actual evidence.”  Reasoning like this would receive a grade ‘F’ in a college term paper.


via QuickMeme

One video I watched was called “Truth or Tradition.”  The title itself is a statement that assumes a preconceived answer; it immediately sets truth and tradition in opposition, as if tradition is synonymous with “lie.”  But I reject that premise straight out of the gate.  Truth and tradition are not automatic opposites.  Tradition can be truthful and truth can be traditional.  If truth is eternal, it would be traditional because it predates the present.

In another video the host begins by saying, “I want to talk about the origins of Easter.  I want to talk about whether we find this day in Scripture or whether we find this day within pagan worship.”  This echoes the same false dichotomy.  The host assumes if it is not in Scripture it must therefore be pagan lies.  That is simply ridiculous.

The “tradition = lies” mentality is chronological snobbery[1] and temporal provincialism,[2] which is ironic considering how they are trying to use history to ignore history/tradition.

There are two elements to this issue.  1) Is it true that Christians “baptized” pagan holidays? and 2) Does it matter?

Is it true that Christians “baptized” pagan holidays?

Historically, it is highly debatable whether Christians co-opted pagan festivals or whether the festivals even existed before Christianity.

  1. Easter: The Bible itself tells us Jesus was crucified and resurrected during the time of Passover, which even today is celebrated around the March/April period. Even if a pagan festival was celebrated during this time, the dating of our Lords’ Resurrection was still based on the time of the Passover and not based on the pagan festival.
  2. Christmas: Likewise, December 25 probably had no major pagan festival until after Christians had already been assigning that date to the birth of Christ.  And even if there was, the dating of the birth of Christ was connected to the time of His death during Passover and not connected to the pagan festival.  [See Calculating Christmas].
  3. From the history we actually know, when determining these dates, I know of no early Christian who said, “Hey look at these pagan holidays. Let’s co-opt them with a Christian spin.”  The pagan festivals most likely had nothing to do with the dating of Passover nor Christ’s birth.  These dating systems were likely unconnected and circumstantial.
  4. What about the imagery and symbolism? Didn’t all these come from pagan roots?  Even that is debatable.  For example, see Steadfast Lutheran for a host of articles Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies.

    But this question transitions into my next topic very well.

Does it matter?

Even if Christians adopted “pagan” symbolism and baptized it with a Christian spin, I propose it does not matter.  Nothing is inherently evil; it depends on its use that makes something good or bad.  This Youtuber made an excellent analogy of bonfires.  Pagans used bonfires in their worship.  Does that mean hanging out around a bonfire is now “evil” and “pagan”?  The reasonable person says, “Obviously not.”  It’s the belief and use of the bonfire that makes it wrong or right.  That is the obvious nuance that fringe fundamentalists cannot seem to grasp.

Pondering these things recently I may have stumbled across a couple roots to the belief system of the anti-holiday iconoclasts.

  1. A gnostic Manicheism underlies their belief system.  For them, apparently, matter and spirit are in opposition (gnosticism).  They also seem to believe evil is a force that exists of its own nature (Manicheism); as if evil can also name itself “I am”.  But this is not the Christian belief of evil. Everything that exists was created by God (John 1:3) and everything created He called good (Genesis 1:31).  Even Satan himself was originally an angel—something really only known from tradition, by the way.  Therefore, anything evil is a corruption of something originally good.  Evil can only corrupt and destroy something that already exists. Therefore, pagans using imagery in their worship means they were the ones who co-opted and corrupted what was originally good.

    via Wikimedia Commons

    To say Christians should not celebrate December 25 because pagans worshiped on that day is to say December 25 was originally evil.  To say Christians should not decorate Christmas trees because pagans did is to say evergreen trees with lights are inherently evil.  But something cannot be originally evil.  December 25 and evergreen trees were created by God, still belong to God, and are good.  As Christians, they also belong to us too.

    A star atop a Christmas tree is not evil because pagans used stars.  After all, one of them led wise men to the Holy Family.

  2. These people serve an emasculated god. They apparently believe their god incapable of redeeming a day devoted to paganism.  For them, December 25 is the province of Satan and the season encompassing Easter serves the will of evil.  God is impotent and can do nothing to stop it.  And yet again, this is not the Christian belief. Jesus, at the end of Revelation says, “Behold, I make all things new.”  Paul says eating food offered to idols is not sinful because “an idol has no real existence” (this seems to echo the idea that evil does not exist of its own nature, like its own “I am”).  Our very salvation is a witness to the redeeming power of God; this is what He does!  If we can’t believe that, why are we Christians?

So if holidays like Christmas and Easter were at one time pagan, there is no reason they cannot now be celebrated as Christian Holy Days.  To claim that Christians should not celebrate these days because of their pagan past is to serve a gnostic, Manichean, and emasculated god; the very type of god the pagans themselves worshiped.  In other words, it is to serve a god not found in Judaism, Christianity, or Scripture.  Serve that god if you will, but do not claim him Christian.

Final Note:  The only real “evidence” of Christians co-opting and “baptizing” pagan festivals seems like nothing but similarities that people assume are equivalents.  Like I said above, this reasoning would justify a grade ‘F’ in college.

As for similarities, when one thinks about it, the practices of those pagan festivals would simply be the sorts of practices performed in any religious festival.  Like Thorin told Bilbo Baggins; “If more of us valued food and cheer and song…it would be a merrier world.”  Food, cheer, and song; these things are necessary for festivity.

Of the ancient pagans, G.K. Chesterton said “this sort of heathen is enough of a human being to admit the popular element of pomp and pictures and feasts and fairy-tales. We only mean that Pagans have more sense than Puritans.”

Any religious celebration anywhere around the world will include song and dance, feast and drink, decorations and lights, imagery and symbolism, ritual and solemnity.  It will include sacrifice and thankfulness.  It will include those things that make us human.


[1] Chronological Snobbery: “…the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy; in other words, someone who believes that the past is inherently inferior to the present.

[2] Temporal Provincials: “…convinced that the present was the only time that mattered, and that anything that had occurred earlier could be safely ignored.”  Michael Crichton, Timeline


Christopher Tolkien resigns as director of Tolkien Estate


This news saddens me.  And with Christopher Tolkien’s resignation, the estate is looking toward a Middle-earth TV series.

I’ve wondered how long Christopher would remain, since he is getting quite old.  Even though it was obviously coming, it’s still sad to see.  Christopher is essentially the last member of the Inklings (the spontaneous literary group of friends formed by C.S. Lewis and included J.R.R. Tolkien) and he is the one most attuned to his father’s writings.  It’s been really cool seeing the material Christopher has published from his father’s notes and manuscripts.  But it concerns me that he will no longer be the main decision maker for things Middle-earth.

For a while I’ve tried to understand what makes J.R.R. Tolkien the master and what makes modern story-telling so lame.  So I’m going to muse a bit.  These thoughts are a mixture, part literary and part cultural, two areas where I’m not really qualified and don’t even fully understand my own thoughts.  But here goes….

Of particular concern to me is the Middle-earth TV series that will most likely emerge.  Honestly, I do not believe Hollywood can pull off an entire series of Tolkien’s world.  I do not believe modern movie-makers understand the spirit of Tolkien because the modern culture does not understand his worldview (I barely do and I love the guy).

Siegfried Slays Fafner

Siegfried Slays Fafner: Wikimedia Commons

Stories stem from the worldview of the author and Tolkien was a medieval and “old fashioned” man who loved epic romance (‘romance’ in the literary sense of a story about the adventures of a knight, hero, etc: Beowulf being an example).  Tolkien’s world has real heroes; noble, courageous, and virtuous, even while being imperfect.  In reviewing The Fellowship of the Ring, C.S. Lewis said, “This book is like lightning from a clear sky….To say that in it heroic romance, gorgeous, eloquent, and unashamed, has suddenly returned at a period almost pathological in its anti-romanticism is inadequate.”

A pathology of anti-romanticism: I feel that sums up modernity and affects it’s story-telling.  I think this is why modern movies feel so flat and unsatisfying and why I believe Middle-earth touches people so powerfully.  Middle-earth hearkens back to the old stories and the old virtues.  I sometimes think the culture is starved for the old ways and doesn’t even know it.

On modernity, professor Peter Kreeft said,[1]

“Every human soul craves ‘the good, the true, and the beautiful’ absolutely and without limit….[but] our artists deliberately prefer ugliness to beauty, our moralists fear goodness more than evil, and our philosophers embrace various forms of post-modernism that reduce truth to ideology or power.”

Along the same lines, professor Thomas Howard said,[2]

“I have sometimes given a class the following list of words: majesty, magnanimity, valor, courtesy, grace, chastity, virginity, nobility, splendor, ceremony, taboo, mystery, purity.  The reaction is quite predictable: a total blank, embarrassed snickers, or incredulity.  The entire list of words lands in their laps like a heap of dead basalt meteorites lately arrived from some other realm.  They don’t know what to do with them.  They have never encountered them.  The words are entirely foreign to the whole set of assumptions that has been written (or should I say televised) into these students’ imaginations for the whole of their lives….I point out to them that this awful list of words names an array of qualities that any Jew, any pagan, and any Christian, up until quite recently in history, would not have only understood, but would have extolled as being close to the center of things.  Their vision of reality presented them with a picture in which these things appeared not only natural, but blissful.”

How many like myself fail at upholding such qualities?  And yet they still speak to a deeper level of ourselves.


Wikimedia Commons: artwork by farmerownia 2003

Modernism is flattening out and de-spiritualizing all of its stories because it is relativizing truth and goodness which are spiritual traits.  It has thrown out God, the source of morality, and now struggles to portray moral argument in stories.  Creatures like vampires, dragons, and ogres are no longer personifications of evil but rather misunderstood or unjustly feared cultures or whatever.  For example, in Underworld vampires are not demons of inherent evil but rather products of a virus that evolved them into vampires and who become protectors of humans by battling the werewolves.  In Twilight the vampires and werewolves are simply lacking love which can be remedied by teenage girls with angst.  In Warcraft orcs are simply another civilization seeking a home.

But such creatures like vampires, dragons, and ogres came into legends and stories for a reason; to give evil a face; to give the protagonist a physical battle; to incarnate the spiritual battle.  Beowulf contra Grendel.  Their use in stories also stem from the belief that evil really does exist, and we either fight it or join it.

And pathological anti-romanticists making a TV series for other pathological anti-romanticists will not do justice to Tolkien’s world with its romantic, “old fashioned” ways and beliefs about good and evil, sacred and profane, friendship and virtue.

Peter Jackson miraculously pulled off The Lord of the Rings movies, for the most part.  But he also had a very specific—and much beloved—story on which to focus.  The lameness Jackson created with The Hobbit shows what LOTR might have been and I think also shows what any more movies or TV shows about Middle-earth will most likely be.

It could get even worse….

The article above had this line: “Christopher was far more interested in preserving legacy than money.”  The movie-making business is a money-making business and it will do what needs to be done for those ends alone.  If Middle-earth must be genetically modified to fit modern tastes, then that’s what the industry will do.  If it must flatten out Ilúvatar, the One, into a being like Odin who is more human than divine, then that’s what it will do.  If making money means turning the orcs into a misunderstood civilization to illustrate the evils of xenophobia, then that’s what it will do.  If worshiping the modern dysfunctional view of sex means turning some characters gay or adding depraved sex scenes, then that’s what it will do.

Perhaps I’m overly paranoid; or perhaps like Aragorn told the hobbits in Bree, “You fear them, but you do not fear them enough, yet.”  But I pray the Tolkien Estate keeps a tight contract on any story changes desired by those with dollar signs for eyes and modernism for a worldview.  (Some changes must happen; book stories differ in style from movie stories.  What I fear is the type of changes that will be made.)

Okay that’s my rambling.  And I could be wrong!  I’m wrong a lot.  Maybe they will pull a Peter Jackson and surprise us with a new epic that touches the heart and inspires those old virtues within our souls and remains faithful to the spirit of Tolkien and Middle-earth.


[1] Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (https://www.ignatius.com/Products/PHILTO-P/the-philosophy-of-tolkien.aspx)

[2] Thomas Howard, Narnia and Beyond: A Guide to the Fiction of C.S. Lewis (https://www.ignatius.com/Products/NAB-E/narnia-and-beyond.aspx)

Thoughtful Theism: A Book Review

Thoughtful Theism: Redeeming Reason in an Irrational Age by Fr. Andrew Younan
Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017

From atheists who equate belief in God with irrationality to an increasing number of religious people who seem to agree, this is an age of very little reason and dialogue.  Mainstream thought is largely forgetting the rich Christian tradition of the faith and reason relationship.

Thoughtful Theism by Fr. Andrew Younan is an addition to this rich intellectual tradition that I hope reminds people that theism is a rational position to hold.  Believing in a god and becoming religious does not mean we check our brains at the door.

One thing Younan makes clear is that arguing for belief in God is all he attempts to do in the book.  From the beginning he states that this book is not about proving the Christian God but only about proving a God.  All the other questions about who God is are secondary to the first question about whether God even exists.

There are a couple of introductory chapters mainly dealing with some general fallacies and definitions of terms.  He discusses thinking, believing, and opinion and says, “Thinking is hard work….Having an opinion is the easiest thing of all.”

In chapter 3 Fr. Younan dives in and gives the classic proofs of God given by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century.  Younan says atheists do a terrible job refuting Aquinas’ proofs and adds “I haven’t found a single atheist writer who actually quotes Aquinas.”

Chapter 4 is about the Big Bang and how it “implies the existence of an eternal, immaterial, all-powerful, and intellectual Creator.”  Somehow over time, many theists and atheists came to regard the Big Bang as the province of atheists.  This is a strange position considering the theory was first proposed by George Lemaître, a scientist and Roman Catholic priest, and that even atheists at the time originally did not like the theory because of its theistic implications.

Chapter 5 is about evolution.  He begins with a story of being in a biology class and a fellow student wanted to discuss the topic of evolution vs religion.  The professor said, “The debate about evolution is not a debate between science and religion, and never has been.  It is a debate between atheists and Protestants.”  You can imagine how the rest of the chapter goes. 🙂

Chapter 6 is about the problem of evil.  This is indeed the hardest case for theists to deal with—at least theists who believe in an all-good and loving God.  It is also the case against God used most frequently by atheists.  Unfortunately, the issue is made worse by the fact that it is saturated with emotion.  Pain is such a personal thing and almost impossible to think through rationally, especially if we are experiencing an ocean of it.  But it is an issue that requires an answer.  Younan warns that his words will be blunt.  “I’m going to say them bluntly.  It’s not because I want to be mean, but because I want to deal with evil as an objection to God’s existence, not as something that has hurt you personally.”  In fact, he adds, “I’m also going to speak bluntly because the objection is a blunt one.”  A blunt accusation often requires a blunt answer.  Regardless, I believe Fr. Younan handled this topic quite well.

Chapter 7 is the last and has some general discussion about religion and epistemology.  There is also a great paragraph toward the end that I believe is worth quoting here.

“Oddly enough, the New Atheists and the Roman Catholic Church have something very deep in common.  They both consider heresy (false belief) harmful to humanity.  What they disagree on is what exactly the heresy is.  But for both of these groups, believing something false can have serious consequences—not only in its ‘extremist’ form, or only in exceptional circumstances, but simply in itself.  It is the ‘militant’ atheists who have the most in common with old-school religion.  It’s the watered-down religions and atheisms who would rather not discuss the issue at all, since it’s impolite to make people think.  To my observation, this is the final result of the ‘coexist’ mentality.”

I believe this is a great book for atheists who paint theists as irrational and for the many theists who seem hell-bent on confirming such a caricature.

Bill Nye, Just Another Eugenist Guy

The answers to some questions ought to be so self-evident that even voicing the question should sound strange.

Such a question is the one recently asked by Bill Nye; “Should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?”  Thankfully some panel members took issue with the question, but there was one who said, “I do think that we should at least consider it.”

Obviously, such a question and statement brought the denouncements that they deserve across the internet and media.  But then some came to his defense with the rationale, “Bill Nye ‘the Science Guy’ did exactly what scientists are supposed to do this week — ask questions — and people are blasting him for it.”

Of course he is being blasted for it.  That is a crazy question that the 20th century alone should prove is a bad idea.  What if Bill Nye had asked, “Do black lives really matter?”  Would anyone have defended him by saying, “Hey, he’s a scientist and they are supposed to ask questions, right?”  Give me a break.  Bill Nye would have been denounced just as much for seriously considering a ridiculous question.  He would not have been allowed to hide behind the excuse “I’m a scientist; I ask questions; stop blasting me.”

It is a right to ask questions, but when you ask something shocking don’t be shocked when people are shocked.  Common-sense people have just as much a right to call “Bull crap!” when it is obviously bull crap.


Breaking down the sentence

“Should we have policies that penalize people…?”  Interesting how he says “we” since he will obviously not be part of the “extra” problem.  Some other human person is an “extra” who will be penalized, but not himself.

Mark Shea and Rod Bennet had an interesting discussion about the concept of “the scapegoat” on Mark Shea’s podcast “Connecting the Dots.”  The people who most want a scapegoat never offer themselves to be one.  Bill Nye even “jokes” that he emits as much carbon making his morning coffee than the average Nigerian uses annually.  Sounds like Nye himself is a major part of the problem.  But obviously it’s better to penalize the unknown masses for existing than to give up coffee, right?

The reality is that Bill Nye’s statement is nothing more than the simple Eugenics we’ve seen in the past.  Some self-appointed enforcer with a self-appointed authority will decide who gets to live, who gets to die, who is never born, and all in the name of science.

G.K. Chesterton’s book Eugenics and Other Evils was written in 1922 and is a glorious denouncement of the Eugenics movement.  Many of his statements can be equally applied to Bill Nye and his ilk.

“Now this is the first weakness in the case of the Eugenists: that they cannot define who is to control whom; they cannot say by what authority they do these things.” (Eugenics)

Indeed!  Mr. Nye, who will be doing this penalizing of who has too many children and by what authority do they operate?

“What is this flying and evanescent authority that vanishes wherever we seek to fix it?  Who is the man who is the lost subject that governs the Eugenist’s verb? In a large number of cases I think we can simply say that the individual Eugenist means himself, and nobody else.” (Eugenics)

This explains Bill Nye’s statement “Should we have policies that penalize [other] people….”  Bill Nye believes he has the authority but no one else does.

“Should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids…?”  Here I will ask the same questions that have been asked a thousand places and which has received no reasonable answer, and never will.

  • What is considered “extra”? What number is one too many?  What is the magic number of children parents can have and be morally responsible but that number-plus-one is the greatest evil?
  • Will this number ever change or will it be fixed forever? As the situation in the world changes, I’m guessing this magic number will also change.  Will those who had a proper number of children soon have “too many” once the magic number decreases?  Will these fully grown children now be considered “extra” and the parents are criminals today because they followed the law yesterday?
  • What about immigrants? They had as many children as they wished in the undeveloped world but then immigrated to the developed world.  Will these poor people now be penalized for bringing in excess children?
  • What criteria would Bill Nye even use to answer such questions?

Here again let’s listen to Chesterton:

“indeed, the great difficulty I have throughout in considering what are the Eugenist’s proposals is that they do not seem to know themselves.”

Ask a Bill Nye type to nail down specifics on anything practical about their question and you will simply get watered-down and amorphous answers.  Their proposals are not concrete; their solutions will not be concrete.  It is easiest to hide in the ever shifting shadows.

“The Inquisitor violently enforced his creed, because it was unchangeable. The savant enforces it violently because he may change it the next day….If I gave in to the Inquisitors, I should at least know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they confessed quite a week ago.” (Eugenics)

“They are quite seriously, as they themselves might say, the first religion to be experimental instead of doctrinal. All other established Churches have been based on somebody having found the truth. This is the first Church that was ever based on not having found it.” (Eugenics)

“There is no reason in Eugenics, but there is plenty of motive. Its supporters are highly vague about its theory, but they will be painfully practical about its practice.” (Eugenics)

What criteria could Bill Nye even use to decide the answers to his question?

“Should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?”

Bill Nye might not know it, but this seems like a hidden globalist agenda if ever there was one.  Right now Bill Nye does not blame Africans for having many children because he does not blame them for causing environmental problems.  But Africa will not stay that way.  As it stabilizes, becomes more developed, and quality of life increases, the current murderous warlords will be replaced by the Eugenist murderous warlords who need to keep the number of children in check.

As the undeveloped world enters the developed world the developed world will soon become simply the world and the Eugenists will increase their domain to the full.

By What Authority?

As asked above, “What is this flying and evanescent authority that vanishes wherever we seek to fix it?”  Chesterton offers the only basis Nye could use but it’s also the one Nye cannot use.

“In the matter of fundamental human rights, nothing can be above Man, except God. An institution claiming to come from God might have such authority; but this is the last claim the Eugenists are likely to make.” (Eugenics)

Having a mission from God Himself is the only criteria by which Bill Nye could claim the authority to advance his question, but that is the very criteria Bill Nye has thrown out as myth and anti-intellectualism.  And claiming a mission from God to penalize parents for having children is just as laughable as the original question about “extra” children.

Bill Nye has no foundation on which to stand; he has destroyed his base by his own hand.

The Third Day – G.K. Chesterton

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

— G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, Part II, chapter iii