Thoughts on the Church Abuse Scandal

I have been delayed in writing about this due to being on vacation, and from arranging my thoughts. Even so, this is going to be a very rough outline.

Despite taking so much time, I still find my thoughts in disarray, just because there is so much to talk about and so much of it (as with most contemporary issues) requires us to look in the opposite direction from where we’ve been taught to look.

Let me put it this way; the problem is not with the Church. The problem is that many in the clergy, laity, and hierarchy don’t want the Church. They want a kind of non-profit social program with the respect that the Church once held. They don’t want Christ or truth or salvation; they want ‘progress’ or ‘social justice’ or whatever other silly idol is popular with the smart set of today.

So, to be clear, when I say the problem is not with the Church, I mean that if the Church acted like the Church, and not even the ideal Church triumphant, but simply like the Church of past ages, this situation would never have happened, at least not to this extent.

Let me explain: in today’s Church, at least in the west, there is very little discipline, whether in the liturgy, doctrine, or morality. For instance, just a few weeks ago Fr. Thomas Rosica, an attache of the Holy See’s Press Office, called the Catholic devotion to Scripture and Sacred Tradition “and unhealthy attachment” which the Church is moving away from. As far as I know, nothing has happened to him. He hasn’t lost his job, been stripped of his office, or even been rebuked by his Bishop. In a sane age, a Catholic priest, even one not attached to the Holy See who said something like this would have his Bishop down on his head like a ton of bricks.

And this sort of thing is common: priests publicly denounce or oppose doctrine – and not obscure, fiddling dogmas, but basic truths of the faith – every day without any ramifications. The liturgy is regularly mocked and gutted by celebrants without any correction on the part of the Bishops, most of whom are no more concerned than the priests themselves. If anyone – priest or laity – complains, he’s more likely to receive a rebuke for being ‘intolerant’ or ‘rigid’ than to bring about any corrections. Again, Priests and Bishops shrug off or openly advocate for moral evils in the name of ‘tolerance’ and reserve their rebukes for those who call them on it. Morality and doctrine, for many in the contemporary Church, are determined by the latest fads in the secular world.

This is not how a Church that actually believes in the Gospel behaves: this is how a political organization that wants to attract members behaves.

I could go into the background of this, the various possible factors involved from Marxist infiltrations to Vatican II to just the absurd habit that most moderns have of treating their ancestors with dismissive contempt (see the recent move regarding the death penalty). Probably I will sometime, but the point is that all this amounts to a reluctance in the Church, as in the secular world, to call evil evil and falsehood false. Priests are all-but forbidden from calling each other out on liturgical or moral or doctrinal matters lest they be branded ‘intolerant’ or ‘judgmental.’ Even discounting tales of officially-imposed bullying and cover-ups, any warning signs or smaller infractions on the road to full-blown abuse were not acknowledged and not permitted to be sanctioned because to do so would be intolerant.

This is one principle we desperately need to relearn; that evil does not happen in a vacuum. A man does not one day become a pedophile or commit sexual assault or rape without first having gone down a long line of lesser sins. This is one reason for the Church’s former refusal to tolerate even small, venial sins or minor sexual infractions: because with the wisdom of ages, she knew that it never stops at these things. Now, however, along with the rest of the world we delude ourselves that these things don’t matter and then are shocked when they blow up in our faces.

Nor do I think the lack of doctrinal or liturgical discipline is unrelated. Even if we discount supernatural effects, there is simply the question “we don’t expect them to think like priests or pray like priests; why are we surprised they don’t act like priests?” We put up with heresy, sacrilege, and irreverence from them every single day without a word and then we are shocked to find them abusing their position. Once again, these things don’t happen in a vacuum.

All this is a way of saying that the Church is in this position because so many within her do not actually believe in Christ or want anything to do with Him. They believe in politics, in progress, and in all the other idols of modernity. I don’t say this as a judgment, but as an observation. If the Church is to have a renewal, I’m afraid she can no longer tolerate such members, at least not in the clergy. There needs to be a great cleansing within the Church, not just of those who are guilty of abuse or of aiding it, but of all those those who worship the gods of the marketplace rather than Christ. True, this would leave her a shrunk shell of her current self, but she could recover. She cannot recover as long as she continues to tolerate this kind of hypocrisy among her priests.

As so often happens, the answer is “Repent and Believe in the Gospel.”

5 Impossible Things

Found this video drifting around YouTube:

Assuming any of these things are actually true (when you’re looking at something lightyears away you will forgive me if I don’t absolutely buy that you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing).

  1. Two Shadows: Okay, this is pure padding. Multiple shadows happen all the time on the Earth, any time you have two or more light sources. Give me a break here. Also, I don’t know if this has ever actually happened, but theoretically if you had a very bright full Moon and Venus was at her closest approach to the Earth on a clear night, you could have multiple shadows without manmade light.
  2. Ice-7: Oh, yeah; that’s cool! Super-pressurized water that solidifies into  warm ice. Lot of pointless speculation about what might live in the planet-wide ocean, though (so, basically we’ve found Manaan from Knights of the Old Republic).
  3. Rock-Clouds that rain lava: And the rock condenses to stone before it hits the ground. Here on Earth we need poltergeists to create that kind of effect! Also, I want to know what a rock-cloud looks like.
  4. 2 km Per-second winds that rain glass: I have to work a glass storm into a story somewhere. It’s such a great image.
  5. Flying on Titan: Yep, knew about that. In one of my many works in progress I even have people on Titan developing an air-borne sport to take advantage of this (they are also extremely fragile and physically weak compared to other people and tend to be the best pilots since they learn to fly almost as soon as they learn to walk. Maybe I’ll finish that story one of these days).

Thoughts on ‘Phineas and Ferb Star Wars’

Past Entries:
-Star Wars
-The Holiday Special
-The Empire Strikes Back
-Return of the Jedi
-The Phantom Menace
-Attack of the Clones
-Revenge of the Sith
-The Force Awakens
-Rogue One
-The Last Jedi
-Solo

I wanted to end this series on a high note, so, despite the fact that it’s explicitly not canon (the opening crawl ends with “None of this is canon; just relax,” a disclaimer I wish all the recent Star Wars films carried), let’s talk about Phineas and Ferb Star Wars.

For those unfamiliar with the show, I’ll give a summary: Phineas and Ferb is a show about two genius step-brothers – cheery, out-going Phineas and taciturn, British Ferb – who, determined not to waste their summer vacation, spend each day doing something fantastic and impossible. They build rollercoasters in their backyard, go into space, become superheroes or pop stars for a day, and so on, in the company of their friends: super-cute girl scout Isabella (who has a not-so-secret crush on the perpetually oblivious Phineas), Bollywood math genius Baljeet, and secretly-cultured bully Buford. Meanwhile, their older sister, Candace, jealously tries to get them into trouble by telling their mom about their antics, except their projects always conveniently disappear at the last second, making Candace look insane. These disappearances are usually caused by side effects from the efforts of the “evil” Dr. Doofenshmirtz to take over the Tri-State Area with an endless series of ‘inators’ (drill-inator, turn-everything-evil-inator, rain-inator, etc.). He’s perpetually foiled by Special Agent Perry the Platypus…who maintains a secret identity as Phineas and Ferb’s beloved pet.

It sounds weird, and it is, but it’s a fantastic show in many, many ways that we don’t have time to get into here. For our purposes, the important thing is that in the show’s fourth and final season they were given the opportunity to do an hour-long crossover special with Star Wars, applying the show’s absurdist-yet-sincere tone to the Star Wars universe.

 I’ve written about this one before, so there will be quite a bit of overlap here, but I wanted to go into more detail about why I think this special is the best piece of Star Wars content to come out of the move to Disney.

Rather than attempting to simply re-create the story of Star Wars with Phineas and Ferb characters (e.g. Phineas as Luke, Ferb as Han, Isabella as Leia, etc.), the special takes a rather more creative and bold approach. It posits that versions of the Phineas and Ferb cast exist in the Star Wars universe and played an unseen, but crucial role during the events of the original film. This allows the original to stand more or less untouched (apart from one or two sight gags, the special doesn’t violate the continuity of the original film at all, which is frankly very impressive in itself) while also letting them tell their own story alongside it.

The plot goes that Perry the Rebelpus was the agent who stole the Death Star plans (from the ‘Empire Administration offices:’ a star destroyer with an office building stuck on top). Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb are moisture farmers who live next door to Luke Skywalker, but unlike him are perfectly content with their lot on Tatooine, making the most of every day in typical Phineas and Ferb fashion. In fact, they’re too content: the special cleverly foreshadows that the boys’ easy-going satisfaction with their lot in life might not be the best thing for them long-term, and that they ought to leave their comfort zone sooner rather than later.

This is precipitated when they run into R2-D2 and accidentally end up with the Death Star plans. Realizing what they have, the boys chase after Luke and the others to try to restore what they lost, taking up with Isabella the smuggler (who is by far the most detached from her canon personality) and repeatedly crossing paths with Candace, an overzealous, underappreciated stormtrooper (who is accompanied by fellow troopers Buford and Baljeet, evidently the dregs of the Imperial military).

Meanwhile, on the “fully operational Death Star,” we meet the evil ‘Darth Enshmirtz,’ the Death Star’s original designer, which, of course, is why it has a self-destruct mechanism (this joke is even funnier in the wake of Rogue One, where it’s revealed that that is the canon explanation for why it was so easy to destroy). In typical Doof fashion, he’s bitter at not being appreciated for his work and so plans to build a new doomsday device to become the top Sith.

So, the first thing to note is that, even though it’s a spoof, the special actually puts in the effort to tell its own story, with its own character arcs, progression of events, and themes. Where The Force Awakens was just an awkward retread of the original, Phineas and Ferb comes up with an original story that works on its own terms…and does so while literally being a retread of the original. Thus, instead of a character discontented with his lot and yearning for something more, this special gives us two characters who are content, but who probably shouldn’t be and end up pushed out of their comfort zone and forced to attend to more important matters.

What’s more (and again, unlike The Force Awakens), this character line continues through to the end of the story and is reflected in the other characters. Phineas and Ferb end the story having given up their peaceful life on Tatooine, but having also found something worth believing in. They’ve expanded their lives beyond the narrow scope that we found them in.

Early on there’s a scene where their parents actually try to get them to go off somewhere and see more of galaxy, expand their horizons. When Phineas shrugs the suggestion off, saying they’ve got everything they need, their father mutters, “Wait until they find out there are no girls on this planet.” This ties into their meeting Isabella, who takes them into space to follow the Millennium Falcon, and has a payoff when she kisses Phineas at the very end. The character thread is established, given a clear ‘tell’ (in the form of girls), and pays off when Phineas, having grown beyond his narrow home world, receives a kiss from Isabella to drive home what he had been missing.

(The kiss is preceded by Isabella double-checking that they’re not related, in a funny reference to Luke and Leia’s relationship, but also motivated by the late-game revelation that Candace is Phineas’s long-lost sister. So, it’s both a nod to the fans and completely motivated in story).

This is the sort of thing The Force Awakens was missing with Rey: she was waiting for her parents, then was told they’re not coming back, then goes off to find Luke and be trained as a Jedi. The final point doesn’t tie into the first one, and none of it ties into the rest of the plot involving the super-Death Star.

Speaking of which, we have Darth Enshmirtz’s new super-weapon, the Sith-Inator, which makes whoever it hits extremely attune to the Dark Side of the Force, driving them evil in the process.

Now, it’s largely played for laughs as a typical Doof ‘inator,’ with him giving a catchy musical number about how he’ll “no longer be the lowest of the Darths” and fantasizing about choking Imperial officers and impressing the Emperor. But the idea itself is actually kind of cool, especially once it hits Ferb and he applies a more serious approach to it (we’ll come back to it, but Darth Ferb is one of the special’s most impressive accomplishments. It can’t have been easy to make Ferb actually intimidating, but man do they pull it off).

Having just come off a re-watch of the films, I think a weapon like this actually could work in canon: it would just multiply or add midichlorines to the bloodstream, but such an unnatural process and sudden surge of power would of course heavily incline one to the Dark Side. In any case, despite the absurdist tone of the special, I could see an entire trilogy being built around that kind of weapon: something that could turn an ordinary person into a powerful Force User inclined to the Dark Side. That’s both a lot more creative and a lot more insidious than just another planet buster, and without the logistical problems of just how the heck they made the darn thing. Can you imagine a trilogy where the new Republic suddenly found itself faced with a whole army of near-Vader level Sith?

Basically, in telling a joke for a cartoon special Dan Provenmire and Jeff Marsh (the creators of Phineas and Ferb) came up with a much better plot for a new Star Wars trilogy than all the highly-paid writers that the Disney studio could muster could come up with over the course of several years for their massively-expensive tent-pole film series. Just think about that.

What’s more, the device sets up an extremely tense and emotionally charged confrontation between Phineas and Ferb (all the more so for fans of the show, since this is something we never would have expected to see). The whole set up, with Ferb’s implacable hostility and Phineas’s desperate attempts to reach him even as they duel with lightsabers works very well. And again, they set it up even in the context of the special by showing us just how close the brothers are, which further lets us feel just how wrong and evil the Dark Side is if it can threaten a friendship like that.

(Meanwhile, they also make a very funny joke about how lightsabers keep getting more complicated and impractical: “Oh, we’re allowing modifications?”).

The fight ends up involving Perry and Candace as well, so now let’s talk about Candace as the stormtrooper. Once again, this goofy cartoon thoroughly embarrasses the multi-million-dollar blockbuster. Candace, like Finn, is a stormtrooper who ends up defecting to the Rebels. However, in her case, it’s an actual character arc: we spend a good deal of time with her, Buford, and Baljeet as stormtroopers, and even though it’s in the midst of a goofy subplot where they’re assigned to get socks for Darth Vader (which leads to some great gags, such as Baljeet saying ‘socks’ to the tune of the Imperial March and a store on Tatooine called ‘Tall, Darth, and Handsome’), we do get to see things from a stormtrooper point of view and get a sense for what working for the Empire was like.

Just the fact that Candace describes Rebels as “cruel, heartless sub-humans who are messing up the galaxy” gives her more depth that Finn ever had (I’m also kind of surprised they got away with the term ‘sub-humans’ in a kids’ show). She has a perspective informed by her training; a reason why she thinks she’s on the right side. She actually believes in the Empire, despite the mistreatment she receives from it.

There’s a very fun song where Candace sings about why she’s proud to serve in the Empire: “Now I’m a bad mama-jama and I rock a mean helmet / if I see a Rebellion then you know I’m gonna quell it / I’m a certified, full-blown, armor-wearing zealot / and it feels so good to know I’m always right!” Again, this gives us a very believable sense of how the rank-and-file Emperor troops view the war, which we never got in the films, even when they actually have a defecting stormtrooper as a main character.

Then, when she turns, it’s not just because she suddenly “makes a choice” for no reason: something happens that blatantly contradicts her beliefs, making her question them for the first time. The scene where she turns is actually quite striking; when she asks Buford and Baljeet, “We’re the good guys, right?” there’s genuine uncertainty in her voice (some nice vocal work by Ashley Tisdale there). And, believably enough, once she starts to question her assumptions, then she starts to realize other things that didn’t fit into her image of the Empire (“Didn’t we just blow up a planet?” “Yes, that is sort of hard to justify, morally”). Again, it’s mostly played for laughs, but it’s still a genuine arc. The characters have clear motivations for what they do that make sense in the context of the story rather than being dictated by the script. Even in the midst of all the absurdist humor, they act like human beings.

Likewise, Isabella goes through much the same story arc as Han Solo, but again, it works. We meet her as a cynical loner who snaps at Phineas that “this isn’t a friendship, it’s a spaceship, so don’t invade mine.” Then, as she sees the loyalty the brothers have for each other, she starts to feel the desire to do likewise.

There’s a scene near the end where she bumps into Han Solo at a bar and they each prod each other into doing the right thing. Goofy as it is to have Han Solo talking smack with a little girl, it kind of works. Certainly I can much easier buy Han having a rivalry with Isabella than I can him abandoning his wife and son and losing the Millennium Falcon. I can almost imagine that it actually did go down like that, with Han trying to distract himself with a drink, but being challenged on abandoning his friends. Dang it, it’s a good scene; for all the absurdity and cartoon logic, it works.

Speaking of humor, it’s classic Phineas and Ferb: very smart, but very silly at the same time. Like when two Rebel technicians discover that R2 doesn’t actually have the plans, their first plan is, “We’ll blame Jar Jar!” Then there’s a bit where two of the Imperial officers are talking and one starts making fun of Vader, then trolls the other by pretending to choke (not only is that funny, but I can actually picture the Imperial officers doing that sort of thing). Another great gag has Darth Enshmirtz gloating about how valuable his timeshare on Alderann has become, while in the background…

Likewise the great Phineas and Ferb dialogue is present in full force: “You see? You paint a big red ‘X’ on the floor, people will stand on it.” “And you thought we were gonna die in space!” “You go see if that kid’s evil yet.” “Not a bad set: one death, one dismemberment. Not bad for a Tuesday.” I want to say there are more quotable lines in this hour-long special than in all the Disney ‘Star Wars’ films put together, with the possible exception of Rogue One.

Yet, as indicated, the show’s trademark sincerity is equally on display, as in the aforementioned battle between Phineas and Ferb, or Phineas’s genuinely shocked reaction when he learns about the Death Star (“I never thought the Empire would go that far!”).

Then, near the end, there’s a moment where the main characters are standing on the Death Star, expecting to die, and they just kind of accept it, with Phineas saying that at least they went out for something they can believe in. Again, genuine human emotion and human reactions, even in the midst of all this absurdity, and a real, coherent plot with actual character arcs.

I also like that, though this is Phineas and Ferb, the writers didn’t try to shoehorn the standard show plot into ‘Star Wars.’ The classic catchphrases – “You guys are so busted!” “Whatchya doin’?” and so on – are present, but in contexts that make sense in the story. They don’t, for instance, have Linda as an Imperial officer that Candace is trying to ‘bust’ the boys to. They have this story to tell, and they tell it, working in references to the show where it makes sense, but not forcing it. Likewise, the Phineas and Ferb characters really do work in their roles: Candace’s misguided zealotry is perfect for a stormtrooper, Doof as a low-level Sith wannabe, Perry as a rebel agent and so on. Again, Isabella is a little jarring just because she’s so different from her usual character, but she works in the role (I especially like how her goggles take the place of her trademark hair bow).

Above all, it’s abundantly clear that the writers loved Star Wars and respected it. Even as they’re using the material for jokes, they still evince a thorough knowledge of the world and appreciation for the story and characters. Luke, Han, and Leia aren’t in it much, but they’re recognizably themselves when they are. When Luke chats with Phineas and Ferb about their modified speeder, it does feel like something Luke might do. And when Phineas says that he and Ferb have ‘Jedi lessons’ with Obi-Wan every Tuesday, it’s a gag, but it also makes sense for Obi-Wan’s character that if there were a couple of Force-sensitive kids nearby he would try to train them. And again, it sets up the duel at the climax (I also like that they made the choice not to have Obi-Wan present outside a silent cameo, apparently recognizing they didn’t have the resources to capture Sir Alec Guinness’s performance).

There are a lot of little jokes showing “the other side” of events in the original film. We see Han’s abortive attempt to bluff the guards over the com-link from the perspective of the officers receiving his message, for instance (“Aw, I was just getting into that conversation!”), and we get to see just what that garbage monster thing was and what it was doing (“That not trash, dummy, that’s a guy!”).

When I first saw this special, I wasn’t expecting to like it that much. I loved Phineas and Ferb, but the idea of crossing over with Star Wars seemed a step too far. But the moment the first notes of the opening song ‘Tatooine’ started playing, with Phineas and Ferb singing about how much they love their home, I knew it was going to work and I enjoyed every minute of it. It works best if you’re already a fan of both Phineas and Ferb and Star Wars, and I don’t know how it would play to someone unfamiliar with the show, but for me it’s easily my favorite ‘Star Wars’ story to come out of the move to Disney.

Various Short Thoughts

-There’s a difference between making a moral argument and a factual argument. If you want to argue that, say, the death penalty is immoral, well and good; we can have a debate on the point because arguments can be made on either side. But if you want to argue that the Bible forbids the death penalty, then there’s no debate: you’re simply wrong, because, as a mere matter of fact, it doesn’t. The same can be said for slavery, war, and so on.

-I don’t know if it’s callous of me or not, but whenever I hear of big sex scandals like the one current rocking Hollywood, my reaction is always “what did you think was going to happen?” For the past century or so, all the ‘best people’ have been championing what they call ‘sexual liberation.’ What about the record of human experience made you think that removing almost all social and legal checks on mankind’s most fickle, voracious, and unreasoning appetite, while simultaneously minimizing standards of interpersonal courtesy and decorum would turn out differently? That’s not to take away any of either the guilt of the perpetrators or the innocence of the victims, of course, but to add a bit more blame to the mix. This is what your new, liberated world looks like.

-Actually, “what did you think was going to happen?” is a pretty good response to most of our current social, economic, and political problems.

-On that note, something we need to relearn is that morality is a continuous whole: you can’t cut out or compromise on any one part without doing damage to the entire structure. Every aspect of our lives effects every other aspect, so that dishonesty, cowardice, or weakness in one will cause deterioration in the others. This doesn’t mean all sin is equal, but it does mean that all sin is bad and has a cumulative effect on our character. This is something everyone used to know (“he who is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones”), but which we today have forgotten.

-By the way, one modern work that does get this and explicitly makes a point of it? You guessed it; My Little Pony.

-I notice, incidentally, that ‘sexual liberation’ tends to go hand-in-hand with Marxist thought. I also notice that the ‘fruits of lust,’ as described by St. Gregory and St. Thomas, are…revealing.

“Blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, self-love, hatred of God, love of this world and abhorrence or despair of a future world.”

Not only do these pretty fairly describe the modern world, but they also are exactly what a Marxist / materialist philosophy would consider desirable for the majority of men. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing an essay exploring this in detail, though I think to do it right would require more research than I’m currently able to devote to it. I put it here for your consideration.

Choose the Means, not the Ends

Here’s a typically insightful article on the Affordable Care Act (so-called) by Joseph Moore, the proprietor of Yard Sale of the Mind. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but the opening paragraphs are, I think, the most interesting:

As is characteristic of virtually all political decisions, in health care policy, we cannot choose ends. We can only choose means. We are not choosing and cannot choose between Wonderful Affordable Health Care for All (WAHCA) (1) and Misery For All But The Rich. All we can do is chose to support or oppose a particular next step, in this case, continuation or repeal/fundamental modification of the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA is not, in itself, WAHCA. Do not go on until you, dear reader, grasp this. Voting for the ACA was not voting for WAHCA. Passing the ACA did not achieve WAHCA. WAHCA is an *end*. The ACA is a *means*. We all may *hope* that  the ACA results  in better, cheaper health care – but that depends entirely on those pesky details of *how it works in practice*. You know, those details we had to pass the bill to see.

I think this one distinction would, if understood, eliminate a goodly part of the confusion and hostility that currently grips so much of the American electorate: We don’t choose ends, we choose means. We may agree on the end without agreeing on the means.

This, by the way, is one of the reasons that the ends do not justify the means: the means are real and immediate, while the ends are only speculative. Over the last century some hundred million people were murdered in order to bring about a utopia that never came. The people were real; the imagined utopia of Karl Marx was never more than a dream (and not a particularly likely one at that). To sacrifice freedom for some imagined end of prosperity or safety or (worst of all) equality is a fool’s bargain: the thing you sacrifice is real; the end is only speculative. Indeed, often your only guarantee that the end you are bargaining for is the one intended is the word of someone you have no reason to trust.

Anyway, read the whole thing for a sober breakdown of how and why the ACA isn’t WAHCA, probably will never lead to WAHCA, and may not even have been intended to lead to WAHCA.