Brief Thoughts on ‘The Shining’

Last night I watched The Shining for the first time with my family. Though obviously I’ve been familiar with it for a long time and I’ve seen many clips of it (which, unfortunately, meant that I kind of went in knowing more or less what was going to happen).

Quick take: it’s pretty good. I can’t say I thought it was amazing, certainly not one of my top horror films, but it’s pretty good.

The best part: definitely the camera work and set decoration. I haven’t seen a camera move as much and in the way this one does in a long time; maybe ever. Especially the way it’ll hang over the character’s shoulders, following them from room to room as though something’s watching them. The suspense scenes are very well set up as well, like when Wendy is dragging Jack to the storeroom, and we can see he’s beginning to wake up as she fumbles with the doorknob. And the Overlook Hotel is a masterpiece of design. It looks very much like a real hotel, but something about the way it’s shot and the ambiance conveys a strong sense of isolation, of that particular, specific feeling of being alone in a place meant for crowds.

The performances are great all around. Danny Lloyd, who plays little Danny is a stand-out in the ranks of creepy children in horror films. Shelly Duvall has to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and props to her for pulling off the terrified wife role so effectively. I also really liked Scatman Cruthers as the kindly chef who shares Danny’s gift and tries his best to help them (his exit was kind of annoying, though: all that work and time to get him there, and he’s just bumped out of the movie). The smaller roles were excellently cast as well: particularly Barry Nelson as the hotel owner, trying to put the best possible spin on “one of your predecessors went nuts and murdered his family” so as not to scare off a potential employee, and Joe Turkel as Lloyd the bartender, who manages to be one of the most unsettling things in the hotel with nothing but a piercing smile (who was also Dr. Tyrell from Blade Runner: dang, that’s a resume right there).

(There is one big exception to the cast, which we will get to. Though you’ve probably already notice who I’ve left out)

The scares were nicely done for the most part. I thought some of them dragged on for too long (the nude woman in the bath for instance could have stood to have been tightened up a bit: come on, movie, we know something’s going to happen here). And I really liked the creeping sense of uncertainty of just what the hotel wants and what really is happening here. That famous final shot, coupled with some earlier lines, leaves us feeling we’ve touched the edge of a world of rules that we don’t understand, which is what many good horror films aim to achieve (definite Lovecraft influence there, as he was the master of this effect).

Speaking of influences, I saw quite a bit of DNA from Robert Wise’s The Haunting, especially the creative camera work and the specific scare of having a crucial door which had previously been locked suddenly be found open. Actually, upon reflection, the film is more or less the same story as The Haunting, only with a family and ax-murder angle and more heavy-handed manifestations. This is not a bad thing at all; most stories are variations on older ones. Just so long as you do something creative or interesting with it, and I’d say this one does.

The biggest liability to the film is definitely Jack Nicholson. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor and he’s extremely entertaining here. But that’s kind of the problem; he’s more entertaining than scary. When he goes nuts, I couldn’t help laughing because it’s Jack Nicholson gnawing at the scenery like a sugar addict set loose in Willy Wonka’s factory, bugging his eyes, arching those famous eyebrows of his, and twisting his face like rubber. Take the scene where he’s talking to his son (a genuinely uncomfortable scene, admittedly). When he says, “I would never hurt you,” I just laughed because he says it in the most insane, non-reassuring way imaginable. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a cartoon.  

Who would believe this guy could become an ax murderer?

That, and he’s too obviously crazy from the get go. If I’m supposed to be disturbed and shocked by a normal family man dissolving into an axe-wielding psychopath, he can’t start off looking like an axe-wielding psychopath. Nicholson’s many things, but he’s not the everyman. Intentional or not, he comes across like a nutjob from almost the moment we meet him (about a half-hour in I commented “this is basically ‘I Married the Joker’”).

I also didn’t care much for the roller-coaster of scares in the climax, with Wendy running around the hotel and encountering different ghosts. Throwing weird stuff at her like a guy in a bear costume giving a blow-job to a butler feels way too desperate and…well, just random. Like they collected a lot of different weird ideas and just pulled a few out of the hat. Not like, say, the Shape’s surreal tableau of jack-o-lanterns, a tombstone, and the body of one of its victims at the end of Halloween, which was atmospheric as hell while tying in with the opening and giving disturbing hints at the inner workings of its mind. This just feels like they were trying to be shocking for shock’s sake.

Actually, that’s another problem; the manifestations throughout the film are too random. They actually remind me of the scares in House on Haunted Hill: that sense of just throwing anything at the screen in the hopes of getting a reaction. They seem to me to lack any kind of thematic through line, or to have any real depth to them. They could have had with a few small tweaks, but they don’t (I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how much this applies there as well). Like, the bear-costume bit could have been ten times as effective if, say, Danny had carried a teddy bear around with him or been particularly attached to such a toy. That would have linked it to the rest of the story, would have been a scare with some real bite to it, instead of just a “what the heck?” moment. Likewise the woman in the bath would have worked better if we’d established that Jack and his wife were no longer being intimate (playing on the idea of isolation and confinement), but nothing suggested that to me. Wendy is warm and affectionate to Jack, if a bit of a frumpy nag, and the friction comes primarily from his end.  

The best scares are simply the sense of isolation and cold created by the visual style: the crushing sense of loneliness, of boredom, of confinement. The film excels at this, and I think it’s the best thing about it.  

Overall, I’d call The Shining a good horror movie, but not a great one. The directing and acting are exemplary, it’s amazingly atmospheric, and it’s highly entertaining, but a lot of the scares are pretty shallow upon reflection and it’s handicapped by a tremendous miscasting in the lead role. But whatever its flaws, it’s definitely one that needs to be seen by anyone who enjoys horror films or wants to understand the horror genre.

Never going to be a favorite, but clearly canon status.  

“Sail On!”

Serpent's Den

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind, the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores;
Before him only shoreless seas.

The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Adm’r’l, speak: what shall I say?”
“Why say: ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.

“What shall I say, brave Adm’r’l, say
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day:
‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’”

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.

These very winds forget their way;
For…

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Friday Flotsam – Holy Irresponsibility

— I am determined not to comment on the news. I despise mobs, mass movements, and those who enable them, and my great desire is to be able to move to a nice little corner of the country where there aren’t enough people to form moving blobs of collective stupidity and then shut out as much of the insanity as I can.

— This has been a pretty unproductive week for me. I find myself ‘drifting’ quite often. This is where I’m trying to focus on one thing (such as a story or essay), but I somehow get reminded of something quite different and my mind chases after it like a dog after a squirrel. Usually I don’t notice what’s happening until a little later, by which point I have usually lost my train of thought on the original subject. I actually think it’s related to my anxiety issues; my mind’s kind of trained itself to think that if I don’t follow up on some point, I’ll miss something important. Of course, what actually happens is that I don’t get things done, which only makes me more anxious. Feeding the beast again.

The trick, as I see it, is to cultivate a degree of irresponsibility; allowing oneself to say “yeah, I might miss something important, but I can live with that” or “some people might not like this bit of the story; it might not be perfect, or it might offend someone, but oh well; such is life.”

This is, of course, a matter of letting go and trusting God. Trusting God doesn’t mean that we tell ourselves things will work it; it means trusting that He will bring us through it and accept us despite our mistakes and failures, and, consequently, that our failures aren’t really as important as we make them out to be. And if they’re not that important, then of course we shouldn’t worry overmuch about risking them. It’s rather like having a cheat code or a save state in a video game.

Faith allows us this holy irresponsibility. Perfectionism and with it a degree of Phariseeism is, it seems to me, built into a materialistic worldview. For those who must have material success, social acceptance, and generally the good things of this world there is an urgent need to do things right; to be the right kind of person doing the right kind of job and saying the right kind of things. This, it seems to me, is why so many people today are downright terrified of social opprobrium.

For (to depart from my determination for a moment) that is what I see in virtue signaling; in all those corporate behemoths and public figures crying their support of angry mobs, in the politicians who cower and grovel before the barbarians celebrating within their gates, trying vainly to pretend they don’t see what is happening (headline from the BBC: “27 police injured during largely peaceful protests.” In a sane world, that would be a joke). I see fear. Not fear of the mobs, fear of being thought the wrong kind of person. All I see in this and other such things is people on their knees begging and crying and willing to accept any kind of self-abasement not to be cast out, not to be hated, not to be considered “one of those people”.

Well, if you don’t trust in God, anxious perfectionism seems the only option. It’s hard enough to avoid with faith; we shouldn’t be surprised to see it without it. Holy irresponsibility; to be willing and able to shrug at the possibility that you might be doing wrong or that you might be imperfect, is one of the great gifts of Christianity.

Friday Flotsam: On Not Getting What We Want

On Monday I had a job interview, the final such one before the decision. It was for a job I dearly wanted, a company I have actual interest in, and in a location I wanted to move to. I was well-qualified, and the job promised excellent opportunity for growth. The interview seemed to go really well, with a lot of positive comments, good humor, and talk about what made the company great to work for.

This morning I found that I didn’t get the job.

Such is often the pattern, I find; a great opportunity comes along, one replete with every advantage. We pray hard, do all we can to make the most of the chance…and nothing.

The worst part is not just the disappointment itself, but the fact that we now have to go through the exact same tedious, Sisyphean process all over again, likely in pursuit of a far less desirable opportunity, if there is an opportunity at all. The question can’t help but come up ‘how many such companies / jobs / chances are there?’ To put it another way, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” may be helpful advice if I’m a fisherman and all I am after is any old fish to have for supper; it really doesn’t help if I’m a collector and just lost a rare, beautiful, one-in-a-million fish that I’ve spent hours trying to reel in.

Times like these, it’s very easy to get angry with God; to feel like we’ve done everything we can and yet He still jerks us around. Even now I can’t help wanting to ask ‘just what do you want from me here?’

Hard as it is to believe, though, there is a reason for it. Don’t ask me what it is, but God’s will for us is always for our own benefit. This does not mean that I’m assured of an even better job down the line; having a good job might not really be the best thing for me, or at least might be an impediment to something better (obviously, I sincerely hope it isn’t, and it disturbs me to even write that). God’s idea of our good has very little to do with the things we are concerned about in this life, or even our earthly happiness: it has everything to do with our eternal happiness.

That isn’t to say God is indifferent to present happiness. This life is a part of our everlasting life, after all; the foyer of Heaven. I suspect that He is delighted when the chance comes to give someone as thoroughly happy a life on earth as could be and welcome him into Heaven afterwards. But unfortunately, that is not how things usually work, and if it is a choice between happiness now or happiness forever, He’s going to pick the latter every time, as should we. And if that means that this life is thoroughly and unremittingly miserable for us, He thinks that a small price to pay to have us with Him forever in Heaven.

Or perhaps as a price to pay to have other people in Heaven. Remember, He did not spare Himself or His nearest and dearest from the miseries of life, if it meant saving the souls of the human race. It may be that you could get to Heaven on very easy terms, but that if you did, this other person might not get there at all. If so, and if God thinks you can take it, then He’ll strip away your happy life for the sake of saving both you and the person you will never meet.

Hence, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This sort of thing is alarming to write, given that I feel I’m bucking for God to say “Glad you understand; now here’s a tedious, pointless job in downtown Detroit for you to work for the next three years…” But so it is. It doesn’t make it hurt any the less, and I don’t know that I would say this to someone in the midst of mourning, but it does at least help maintain hope and makes it easier to soldier on. God knows what is best for us, and He has a far better perspective than we do.

I find being a writer helps to grasp this point. Often times the fun part is taking a character and giving them something that they initially hate or which makes them thoroughly miserable for a while, and then turning that into the source of their ultimate happiness. This is one reason, for instance, I really like the romance between Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books (spoilers, I guess, though you probably already knew that). They start our thoroughly disliking each other, and Ron even groans when he finds out she’s going to be in the same house with them. Then, by the end, she’s become the thing he wants most in the whole world. That transition and the final result is a large part of what makes that relationship (and consequently those characters) so enjoyable.

God is the great author, and He sees our stories whole and complete, while we only get it a page at a time. So, even when we don’t like His decisions, even when they’re the opposite of what we have been praying for, and we see not prospect of anything half as good, we may rest assured that He knows what He’s doing. “Just keep reading…”

“When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted”

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colours have faded
And the youngest critic has died.
We shall rest, and faith we will need it,
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew

And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten-league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real Saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul,
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all

And only the Master shall praise us
And only the Master shall blame
And no one will work for the money
No one will work for the fame
But each for the joy of the working
And each, in his separate star
Will draw the Thing as he sees It
For the God of Things as they Are!
–Rudyard Kipling

New Aleteia Post: On Swearing

New post up at Aleteia, this one on why and how to stop swearing.

So why should we stop?

In the first place, because there can be a legitimate use for profanity. It’s a way to pack extra felt emotional force into a statement — whether for effect or to let off extreme stress (hence the famous swearing of sailors and soldiers). The trouble is, overexposure to profanity deadens the impact and consequently renders it useless. At the same time, normal speech becomes less effective and makes less of an impact. Like addicts, we become dulled to ordinary sensations and require higher and higher doses to register any effect at all. Casual profanity, therefore, becomes less and less effective while at the same time forcing us to use it more and more to try to make our words carry weight.

Which brings us to another issue. Profanity is meant to shock the listener, but in normal conversation, this is simply rude — akin to constantly shouting at the other person. Common courtesy dictates that in ordinary conversation we should try to make the other person feel reasonably comfortable, while profanity is meant to discomfort the other person. The two are contradictory. The only way a person would feel comfortable speaking with someone who swears constantly is if they had already become so desensitized as to render the profanity meaningless.

Read the rest here

Thoughts on ‘Freddy vs. Jason’

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a habit of referencing Freddy vs. Jason as a go-to example of solid writing. So, for Halloween, I figured I’d delve a bit into why.

2003’s Freddy vs. Jason was the final film for both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, at least before the reboots began (though really, who’s counting those?). It also came after a fairly long hiatus for both of them: Friday had ended in 1993 with Jason Goes to Hell, then went through a failed revival effort with 2001’s Jason X (widely regarded as the single stupidest film of the series, and that’s saying a lot).Meanwhile Nightmare had ended in 1991 with Freddy’s Dead, then had a very strange and unsuccessful (though well-regarded) post-script with the meta-fiction New Nightmare in 1994.

Freddy vs. Jason very cleverly plays off this for its premise: both Freddy and Jason, in this film, are figures out of the past: Freddy’s stuck in Hell (the low-security wing for horror villains) and Jason’s body is rotting away in the woods. You see, Freddy has been forgotten by the children of Springwood (thanks to the quarantine-like efforts of the town elders), which means he can no longer haunt their dreams. No memory, no fear, no dreams, no Freddy.

But Freddy, being Freddy, figures out a weak point in their plan; Springwood is so vigilant against Freddy’s return that they will assume at any strange murders might be his handiwork. And if so, their response might just let him out for real. All he needs is another supernatural serial killer. Someone he can easily manipulate. Someone like Jason Voorhees.

Okay, so what makes me say the writing in this film is so solid?

In the first place, set up is pretty clever; it depends on both Freddy and the Springwood authorities being smart, but both their plans being flawed in a way that is obvious in hindsight, but reasonably overlooked. For Springwood, the problem is that they naturally didn’t consider the possibility of a second killer (and why should they?). And Freddy, of course, is too arrogant to consider the possibility that Jason might be harder to put down than he was to call up (we’ll come back to it, but Freddy’s slow realization that he’s drastically underestimated Jason is one of the film’s most satisfying aspects).

Moreover, this premise allows the film to neatly cover a few potential plot holes: the fact that the town authorities have engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up Freddy’s existence, to the point of drugging and imprisoning those kids who are aware of his existence, means that when things start getting dangerous, the kids have a reason not to go to the police: they may not quite know what’s going on, but they do know the adults aren’t acting normally and that they can’t trust them.

There’s a scene partway through where the heroine, Lori, learns that her father had been lying to her about how her mother died (she’d been one of Freddy’s last victims), and that he was the one who committed her boyfriend, Will, to an insane asylum (because Will had seen the event and thus potentially knew of Freddy). Thus, when he tries to get her to stay home and take a drug he offers, she understandably refuses and runs away to try to deal with the problem herself. It’s a mistake, but one that makes absolute sense given what she knows.

The drug in question is hypnocil, a dream-suppressor that was introduced back in Nightmare on Elm Street III. The kids sent to the asylum have been getting nightly doses of it to help keep Freddy at bay, despite the fact that the film shows it to be dangerous in high doses (we see a ward full of patients who were overdosed into comas). The kids only figure out what it does after they’ve decided they can’t trust the adults, which leads them to make a deadly run to the asylum to try to get it, thus putting them into both Freddy and Jason’s paths once more.

So, the premise of the film is not only solid in itself (given the somewhat flexible rules of this universe), but also provides a solid reason why the kids can’t go to the authorities for help and a motivation to put themselves into harm’s way.

The use of hypnocil points to just how much respect the writers show to these franchises. The return of Jason’s mother Pamela (actress Paula Shaw gracefully replacing Betsy Palmer) is another example; Mrs. Voorhees hasn’t been seen since way back in Part 2. Moreover, this isn’t just fan service; it all serves the plot. How does Freddy control Jason? By impersonating the one person Jason loves and is obedient to. This not only works to move the story along, but actually helps to develop Jason’s character, from the rapt way he listens to ‘her’ to his wide-eyed fury when he realizes that Freddy’s tricked him (that her trademark blue sweater is now a Freddy-appropriate red is another mark of the filmmakers’ attention to detail).

As this indicates, the writers clearly took the time to sit down and work out just who these characters were before writing the film. This results in some really pretty startling scenes, such as the horrifying prologue where we see a pre-death Freddy slaying one of his child victims (off screen, thankfully), or the unexpected conclusion to their first fight in the dream world. Ultimately, the film is credibly driven by the contrasting personalities of its two stars, and they both consistently act in character throughout.

Again, it kind of amazes me that Jason, of all people, actually gets something like character development in this film. We get to see something of his relationship with his mother, a hint at how he views his murderous actions, and even a glimpse of him as a child (which, if I’m not mistaken, is the only depiction of his actual drowning in the whole series. Granted, it’s obviously a twisted, nightmare version, but still it’s interesting to finally see such a pivotal moment in the Friday the 13th ‘lore’). Actor Ken Kirzinger gives a really quite excellent performance using only his eyes and body language, so much so that I would even rank him above Kane Hodder as the best Jason portrayal. I also really like how, when we visit his shack in a dream, there’s a toy ukulele on his bed, pointing to his childlike nature (attention to detail again).

As others have pointed out, the fact that Jason is a kind of ‘child-man’ whose twisted mind remains as it was when he drowned at the age of eight and Freddy is explicitly a child murderer makes their showdown all the more satisfying. Here is one ‘child’ that Freddy can’t kill, and when he tries to bully him it comes back to bite him hard.

Robert Englund, of course, gets to ham it up one last time in his signature role, though his boisterous personality and bad puns are here leavened by his truly horrific actions. Again, almost the moment the film opens it let’s us know just what Freddy is, and it never lets us forget it for long. After being reduced to a clown in his later films, Freddy is back to being the monster he’s supposed to be. They also thought out the implications of his dream manipulation, allowing him to attack one character who, rather than falling asleep, simply gets thoroughly stoned (the scene has Freddy appear as a hooka smoking caterpillar; a nice touch).

On that subject, though the film aims at being pulpy, almost comic-book style entertainment, it also remembers that it’s supposed to be a horror film and makes a genuine effort to scare the audience. There are some great atmospheric shots here, especially whenever we’re around Crystal Lake, and some nicely constructed scares. Jason’s prologue, which is kind of a compression of the Friday the 13th formula, where a girl strips, skinny dips, then runs through the woods and gets killed, is quite exceptionally well-done and reminds us that yes, that formula can be effective. The nightmare sequences, especially one about the middle of the film, are likewise pretty darn frightening and, like in the olden days, capture the feel of a nightmare pretty well (for instance, there’s one where a girl tries to flee, only to find that the door she just entered through has turned into a solid wall).

Horror is a pretty simple effect to create, but it’s also very easy to spoil. Generally speaking, if you try to go too big with it or too over the top, you kill the effect (something Universal apparently failed to understand with its recent ‘Mummy’ remake, with disastrous effect). Halloween II is not three times as scary as Halloween because three times as many people died; quite the reverse. Freddy vs. Jason ups the ante some, but ultimately keeps itself within a reasonable frame; there’s no world or even city-level threat, it’s all a matter of these people and this community, and its most effective scares are the most focused.

Meanwhile, the human characters range from insufferable to excellent (though fortunately most of the insufferable one’s don’t make it out of the first act), but they are pretty much all decently written and at least believable, and you do root for them. Katherine Isabelle gives a particularly good performance, as does Chris Marquette. I also like how the film takes the time to actually let the characters mourn a little when their friends start dying. And how there’s a scene where the kids simply sit down, pool their information, and try to work out a plan for survival. And again, they never really do anything unbelievably stupid (well, the stoner deciding to get high in the middle of the raid on the asylum was monumentally dumb, but not unbelievably so). Again, the actions of the characters all – or at least almost all – make sense given what they know and who they are. They make mistakes, but understandable ones.

I really could go on and on; the running theme of the Past being dug up and brought to light, which is consistent with both franchises. The innumerable references and small details attesting to a knowledge of the franchise (like the sugar sack that one of the bullies pulls over young Jason’s head in his nightmare). The tonally appropriate humor (my favorite being Freddy referring to Jason as “That hockey puck”). And of course the immensely satisfying fight sequences, the last of which is preceded by the wonderful moment where Freddy realizes he’s been pulled into the real world directly in front of an enraged Jason Voorhees. You will never see a finer rendition of the expression “Oh, crap!”

Also, since I just saw Cabin in the Woods, I have to point out that the black humor here is far superior. Black humor, to my mind, is when the absurdity of life suddenly intrudes upon a grim situation. Like, there’s a bit where a kid ends up holding his father’s severed head. Then Jason appears and swings his machete at him, and the kid instinctively (and ineffectually) tries to block the blow with his dad’s head. It’s quick, it’s ridiculous, and it completely fits the scene.

Now, let me be clear: Freddy vs. Jason is no classic. It’s simple, pulpy entertainment, and it has plenty of flaws (among others: the asylum is ridiculously easy to break out of and into, the CG does not hold up well, and several of the actors among the kids are pretty bad). It’s very vulgar, very crude, and definitely not for everyone. And I’m not even that big a fan of the two franchises (for the record, the original Nightmare is one of my favorite horror films, so much so that I don’t really want to see any of the others, and though I’ve seen several Friday films, I don’t think I’d recommend any of them).

Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite films simply for how solid the writing is. All the more so because this is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect to have a rushed or incompetently done script. This is the kind of movie where you expect the phrase “who cares?” to have been used a lot during production, the kind that would attract the contempt of those who worked on it.

But it didn’t. The filmmakers took these franchises seriously, treated them with remarkable respect (indeed, far more than they deserved), and put genuine effort into making a good film, one that is not only satisfying in itself, but actually manages to restore some dignity to the long-moribund franchises, just in time for them to end and allowing both to go out on a high note.

It is especially useful in contrast to the recent entries in, say, Star Wars, where the most prestigious film franchise of them all is treated with utter contempt by writers who can’t even muster the most basic level of storytelling competence. When we say we want a well-written film, one that respects what has come before while nevertheless building on it, one that holds together under scrutiny and evinces real care for the material, we’re thinking of something like Freddy vs. Jason.

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).