Sunday, April 27, 2014

Time for a little Sunday distraction ...

(Above: the crowds gather for a canonisation, and hey, if you want to hook up with a single in your area, no doubt for steaming, spicy, hot Catholic sex, with guilt and inhibitions, Catholic News USA will help you out here).

The pond doesn't get it.

Scrub that.

The pond gets why the Catholic church has cranked up the saints business.

It's all about panem et circenses, and a voracious media, operating on a 24/7 cycle feeds on this sort of offal like it's another dose of caviare.

It's a handy distraction when stories still keep popping up in the media about the institutionalised nature of the child abuse, and the institutional response (Church fought abuse claimants tooth and nail).

The recent stories haven't done much for the Salvation Army either - Salvation Army officer abused girl then mother, royal commission told.

No, there's all sorts of reasons for fast-tracking saints, and using the Penn and Teller-approved magician's trick of distraction:

When Penn and Teller perform the cups and balls trick, they throw an additional variation into the mix: After performing the trick with the traditional cups, they repeat the illusion with transparent cups. The mechanisms of the illusion are so effective, however, that audiences are still deceived even when they can see through the cups and presumably track the journey of the balls. (more here)

Everyone knows the canonisation of the two popes has been speciously fast-tracked, all for an ostentatious display.

So along with all the hoopla has come plenty of dissent, even as the hoopla is being reported and celebrated, and endless stories are run about how saints are made in the church:

...what should be a day of triumphant celebration for the Holy See will be overshadowed by deep-seated controversy. There is intense debate over whether popes should be made saints in the first place, and in particular over whether John Paul II is deserving of the honour. 
Many Catholics question the whole process of canonising popes, saying it is wrong because it is inherently political – that factions within the Church push for sainthood for their favourites in order to strengthen their legacy. 
Conferring sainthood implies that some popes are more worthy than others. Either canonise every Pope or none at all, critics say. “Canonising popes is a dumb idea. People will say, well what about Paul VI (the Pope who succeeded John XXIII and reigned from 1963 to 1978)?” said Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and the author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organisation of the Catholic Church. “If you don’t canonise him or other Popes, it seems as though there is something wrong with them.” There is also disquiet among some Catholics about the speed with which John Paul II has been canonised. 
Normally, a person has to be dead for five years before the process can start. That waiting period was waived by then Pope Benedict XVI, in response to the Polish pontiff’s huge popularity – at his funeral crowds chanted “Santo subito!” - make him a saint now. 
Benedict was keen to fast-track John Paul II, a fellow conservative, in order to validate his own vision of the Church, many Vatican observers believe. 
Pope Francis had little say in the matter of making John Paul II a saint – his job was simply to name the date. 
But it was his decision to combine it with the canonisation of John XXIII (1958 – 1963), in what is being seen as a political masterstroke – a deft way of balancing the conservative, some would say authoritarian, papacy of John Paul II with the more liberal, reforming reign of John XXIII. 
In his determination to hold the double canonisation, Francis waived the normal two miracle requirement for John XXIII – he will be made a saint with just one under his belt, what the Vatican claims is the scientifically inexplicable cure of an Italian nun with a stomach tumour who had prayed to his memory. “[Francis’s] actions have demonstrated very publicly how politicised saint-making has become, a process that risks devaluing the idea that saints are above all role models for how ordinary people should live a holy life,” argued Paul Vallely, a professor in public ethics at Chester University and the author of “Pope Francis – Untying the Knots”. (and the hoopla here)

Exemptions, waivers, politics, balance, conservatives v liberals...

We're a long way from the Christ of the bible ...

In that same story, you'll also read how John Paul 11 failed to tackle the abuse scandal, most notably and notoriously in in the matter of Marcial Maciel, the leader of the cult Legionaries of Christ.

Well the pond has no dog in the fight. The saintists will have their day, and in best Penn and Teller fashion, the illusion will be done, and the news will be put out there, and even though some will comment on the way transparent cups were used, the faithful will still swallow the trick ...

Amazing stuff. It's almost enough to make the pond believe in miracles.

So what have the Sydney Anglicans got to fling into the fight against the saintists?

Why they're gleefully mingling church and state in the usual Anglican way:

Yes, the Catholics might have their saints, but the Anglicans always go weak-kneed and get quite besotted at the sight of a Royal passing by ...

After speaking to the members of the choir and Sunday school, the Royal Couple left for Taronga Zoo. (here)

After awhile, it must be hard to tell the zoos apart ...

Meanwhile, the Sydney Anglicans offered up a double barrelled dose of Jensenism for Easter and Anzac day, as if there isn't enough suffering in the world:

It turns out that Jensenism is all in favour of a little war mongering when the timing is right:

Pacifism is a misplaced and mistimed ideal. It is the ideal of heaven. It fails to understand the sinfulness of humanity. We may not like, indeed we should hate, the fact that humans are sinful. But there is no point denying the reality. There will always be a need for Governments to intervene in the affairs of sinful people to maintain order, peace and justice. Be it intervention within our society by the police or intervention outside of our nation with our defence forces - armed intervention is going to happen. We therefore need to be prepared. (here)

By golly, the Jensenists are on the same page as General Buck Turgidson and his real life equivalent General Curtis LeMay.

It is of course a function of the way the Anglicans have been apologists for the state, and deeply embedded as one of the institutions in Britain for centuries. There's very little over-turning of the tables of the money lenders that goes on in Anglican circles - not when there's landlording to be done and money to be made and squillions to be lost on the stock market.

What always astonishes the pond is the intellectual contortions and stark hypocrisy this sort of state-bias produces.

You see, Christ had every chance - seeing as how he was actually god, with all the godly powers that implied - to smite his enemies, wipe out his Roman tormentors, smash the Jews, and generally act in a Jensenist "be prepared to be Buck Turgidson" way, and yet instead he went meekly to the cross like some bloody pacifist or a lamb to the slaughter. And just as suddenly the war mongering is forgotten, and this is presented as a role model:

...the sacrifices that we remember this week can heighten our appreciation of the cost of Easter. For, while we may die for the sake of a good man or our family or our nation - Jesus died for his enemies. To lay down your life for your enemies - even when they are filled with enmity - because they are enemies - is an extraordinary and extreme sacrifice. And Christians can never forget that we were the enemies for whom he died.

So much self-guilt, so much self-hatred, fear and loathing, it's enough to make your average guilt-laden Catholic sound like a hedonist.

Perhaps, if Christ had been suitably prepared, with a Glock, history would have turned out differently.

As for the other part of the double barrel, in The Most Dangerous Idea, the Jensenists get agitated about the usual suspects, which is to say feminists and atheist homosexual panellists.

Is it possible to imagine more horrendous hounds of hell?

Quick, where's the Royals for a bit of baby kissing ...

In the usual way, the Jensenists seize on a few remarks by the likes of Wendy Harmer and Elizabeth Farrelly and recalcitrant Jewish historians to berate all and sundry. It reminds the pond that you can never give fundamentalists an inch - like those cackling nostalgic geese Farrelly and Harmer did - because all they'll do is use the weakness to berate you about the head.

Here's how the trick's done:

The Resurrection cannot be detached from the history of Jesus. The Jewish Historian, Dr. Pincus Lapide (‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ Augsburg Press 1983) wrote not of ‘faith’ but ‘facticity’ when he investigated the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and concluded that it happened. He wrote: “I cannot rid myself of the impression that some modern Christian theologians are ashamed of the material facticity of the resurrection. Their varying attempts at dehistoricizing the Easter experience which give the lie to all four evangelists are simply not understandable to me in any other way.”

Which raises the question, why does Dr Pincus call himself a Jew?

Clearly he's on the wrong team. I mean, in Penn and Teller terms, resurrection is a mighty fine trick, and if he accepts the resurrection, and still doesn't call himself a believer, that's a bit like a Satanist forgetting who's supposed to come out on top in due course.

And why is Dr Pincus providing ammo for the fundamentalists to take snide sideways shots at people like John Shelby Spong, who doesn't have much time for asinine fundamentalist literalists of the Sydney Anglican school:

“I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation,” he
(Spong) said. “I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence” — not his body — “was manifested to certain witnesses.” 
Like Rivett, he too said the Resurrection must be placed in context to be interpreted and understood — something he tried to do as a young priest in the Bible Belt through yearlong Bible study classes culminating in the Easter story, he said. 
“I tried to help people get out of that literalism,” he said. “But you don’t do it in a single sermon. You need time to lay the groundwork and for people to process it, ask questions. You have to begin to build it.” 
Spong’s Bible studies were enormously popular, attracting 300 people to each session, he said. His congregations grew as a result. 
“When people hear it, they grab onto it,” Spong said. “They could not believe the superstitious stuff and they were brainwashed to believe that if they could not believe it literally they could not be a Christian.” 
A Christian, Spong said, is one who accepts the reality of God without the requirement of a literal belief in miracles. (here)

Oh you can get the Sydney Anglicans agitated with that sort of idle chatter.

It is part, of course, of the assorted churches never being able to get their theology straight, as the pond was reminded reading G. W. Bowersock's What a Saga!, currently outside The New York Review of Books, which is a review of Simon Schama's story of the Jews but inter alia provides a few other insights:

In the early twentieth century the Jewish origins of Christianity embarrassed at least some of the faithful, including scholars such as the German theologian Adolf von Harnack. This discomfort soon spread throughout the majority of German Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. They made strenuous efforts to remove the so-called Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) from Christian worship, and they even went so far as to claim absurdly that Jesus was an Aryan. This of course allowed German Christians, with a few noble exceptions, to unite their religious and national fervor in an evil cause. Even a Cardinal who protested the removal of the Old Testament from Catholic worship defended his position by asserting that it was only by reading the biblical texts that Christians would recognize the sins of the Jews. 
Such a poisonous falsification of the historical record has not altogether disappeared even now, as I discovered myself a few years ago when doing an interview on the Apocalypse for the Arte European television station. After mentioning the Jewish origins of Christianity, I was interrupted and instructed to re-record that part of the interview without mentioning the Jews. 
It is true that within a few generations after Jesus Jews and Christians began to go their separate ways, though there may have been a brief moment in the late first century when the Roman persecution of Christians led some of them to return to synagogues as the most effective means of avoiding detection. But the “parting of the ways” was irreversible, and the early martyr acts, notably of Polycarp in the second century and of Pionius in the third, show unmistakable traces of fierce antagonism between Jews and Christians in Asia Minor. Yet even with the growing differences between the early Christians and the Jews, every Christian still accepted the Hebrew Bible as sacred scripture. They considered the Bible fundamental, and it would take nearly two millennia before some Christians would disown it.

Which just goes to show, contra the Jensenists, if you've the mind and the will, anything can be detached from actual history.

And then there's this, which serves as a reminder for wayward Jews tempted to uphold the Resurrection:

The problem for Jews living among Muslims was precisely that their religions had so much in common. They were all monotheists, and they all rejected idolatry. For both religions Christianity could be seen as idolatrous. Maimonides could not accept the doctrine of the Trinity because it denied the unity of God, as did the belief that Jesus was God incarnate. But at least the Jews, unlike the Muslims, shared the Hebrew Bible with the Christians, even if Christians were sometimes less than enthusiastic about their Jewish origins. As Maimonides saw in his great epistle addressed to the Jews of Yemen in 1172 at a time of Muslim intolerance, Jews living in Christian states were in a very different position from Jews among Muslims. Yet even if Christians and Jews both read the Bible, Jews living among Muslims were in agreement about what they perceived to be Christian idolatry.

Well indeed. Even a Camperdown atheist has no problem seeing the angry Sydney Anglicans as Christian idolators, waging a war against gay and women's rights ...

You see the Jensenists are fierce trinitarians:

It is about time that we rediscovered the Trinity – that we heard the Triune name spoken of more in our praying and in our corporate worship. (here)

Corporate worship? Well there's a bit of a word slip for a Sydney landlord with a lot of prime real estate. But never mind, at this point, we've drifted well away from simple-minded Jensenist pieties of the literalist fundamentalist Anglican kind.

What's left is assorted baubles - saints and royals - which show how under the skin, the Catholics and the Anglicans just love their show biz routines ...

Which inevitably brings us back to Penn and Teller, and the good thing about Penn and Teller, at least when the pond saw them in Vegas, was that they worked the crowd during the show, and then they worked the crowd after the show ...


  1. Great QI moment when the Miracle of the Herrings is recounted by Fry ( as required for the proof of sainthood for Thomas Aquinas).



Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.