Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Simple Faith of Satan, Part 2: Phaëton's Epic Phail - or - Don't Treat That Puppy Like a Dog

The Graeco-Roman gods were much like our celebrities and politicians today.  They lived in an exclusive neighborhood, only took notice of human affairs when it suited their agendas, and enjoyed all manner of power, privilege, and drooling sycophants, despite lacking any discernible signs of intelligence, decency, or even common sense.  Needless to say, this made them extremely popular among the Greeks and Romans--watching and recounting the foibles of their deities made them feel all kinds of better about themselves.  Today, we'd give them their own reality show.

In one of these episodes, the sun god (Apollo or Helios, depending which version you read) has a fling with a mortal woman and gets her pregnant.  Since Roe v. Wade and the HHS mandate haven't been invented yet, the child is born, and they name him Phaëton (and you thought Frank Zappa was cruel!)  Without his father around, the boy grows into an angsty teen with identity issues, not unlike the young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot.  So to soothe his burning self-image, he decides to claim his heritage.

Climbing to the top of Mt. Olympus, he confronts his father and plays the Deadbeat Dad card to guilt-trip the old man into giving him the keys to the sun chariot.  He then proceeds to score himself a ginormous blunt and a bottle of Everclear, and take the sun for a joyride.

It ends badly.  After several hours of weaving all over the heavens, shooting holes in traffic signs, taking out mailboxes, and burning crop circles into the earth, he's screwed things up so much that even Zeus notices.  To restore order and mollify his shareholders, the king of the gods takes the kid out with a thunderbolt and lets the horses find their way home to sleep it off.

What does any of this have to do with dissent within the Church?  Well, the roots of modern dissent stem from a similar situation.

During the Middle Ages (c. 476-1453 A.D.), the shapers and movers in the Church were in a bit of a quandary.  The good news was, the barbarians were converting in droves.  The bad news was, they were still barbarians.

St. Augustine (353-430) had said, "I believe, in order to understand."  Looks good on parchment.  In practice, however, lots of people believed, but precious few understood.  Charlemagne (r. 768-814) helped a bit by inventing Catholic Schools, but that only did so much good because:

  1. There weren't enough teachers to go around.
  2. Books were all handwritten and cost more than most people's homes.
  3. When medieval peasants had to choose between sending the kids off to school, or keeping them home to help get the harvest in before the autumn rain and frost got hold of it, most of them decided they'd rather eat than read. (I've often wondered if that's why it's considered bad manners to read at the table.)
So what was the Church to do?  Well, she did lots of things, in fact.  She invented universities to provide a better standard of education, encouraged every promising child to attend the cathedral schools, and used the artwork inside the church buildings to give lessons in catechetics and salvation history.  She even sponsored the rebirth of theatre, to illustrate Bible stories and lessons in morality.

Still, it was fairly clear that these guys

weren't going to ready for concepts like transubstantiation, the hypostatic union, or the Mosaic roots of Catholic liturgical praxis any time soon.

The Church's response was two-pronged.  First, she took the delicate stuff (e.g., the liturgy) and put it entirely in the hands of trained professionals, to make sure things got done right (it almost worked, most of the time).  The laity were given a passive role, offering their own prayers silently in union with the Eucharistic sacrifice of the altar.  Great?  No, but it was the best anyone could come up with, given the circumstances of the time.

Secondly, she took the Depost of Faith--conciliar documents, Papal pronouncements, the Bible, and the best of the Ancient Fathers--collated it, systematized it, and condensed it into a series of lists and short answers that were easy to memorize:  10 Commandments, 7 Deadly Sins, 7 Gifts of the Holy Ghost, 3 Theological Virtues, 3 Evangelical Counsels, 4 Sins that Cry to Heaven for Vengeance, etc.

Think how many lists and sound-bytes fill our lives today, especially online, be it YouTube clips,, or St. Peter's List.  We can't get enough of 'em!  Same thing back then.  By the end of the Council of Trent in 1563, she had a reasonably complete Non-reader's Digest condensed version of the Faith (it eventually evolved into the Baltimore Catechism).  Plus, she'd started a seminary system to produce a better grade of priests.  They'd be well-formed, literate, and qualified to hear confessions on a regular basis (and make frequent confessions themselves).  With the printing press changing the game on education, the laity were sure to follow.

And that's just what happened.

By the twentieth century, the Church realized that her lay children were smart enough now to get more directly engaged with the Faith, living it out in the world, and applying its values in the public square.  Vatican Council II streamlined the liturgy (even more than Trent had), permitted use of the vernacular to help the laity get a handle on what was going on, and opened up a bit to show the world outside there was a Church in there they might want to check out.  In a word, the Church trusted us.

And we blew it, just like Phaëton.

What happened?

Well, for one thing, although Modern Man was indeed literate and better educated than his medieval forbears, he wasn't necessarily well educated in the Faith.  Remember that condensed edition I mentioned that became the Baltimore Catechism?  Well, that wound up being part of the problem.  Not that there's anything wrong with the Baltimore Catechism.  It was, and still is, a fine way to begin your formation in the Faith.

But it's a lousy place to end your formation in the Faith.

That's what was happening all too often to John Q. Catholic.  The "trained experts" had been responsible for all the important stuff for so long that it had gone to their heads.  They really didn't feel like they much needed the laity for anything except to "pray, pay, and obey."  This was the unfortunate attitude known as Clericalism.  Since they decided that anything beyond the most basic level theology was too much for the average layman, they didn't really teach any of the whys and wherefores of the Faith.  As a result, they had to solid answers to give when an increasingly secular world started questioning them.

And a secular world it was, folks.  Religion had been merely a set of motion people went through because that was what one did.  When a generation came along that demanded a rationale for all this keeping up of appearances, nobody seemed to have one.  The result was a social revolution.  And wouldn't you just know it'd come along just as the Council put the reins in the hands of the laity.

This is why many people who lived through those days (Traddies, for example) feel that the Council effectively did little more than put the inmates in charge of the asylum.  Sad thing is, the lunatics thought so, too.  This is what today we call:


I know, I know, I hate big, pretentious, annoying words like "hermeneutic," too.  It simply means that a whole lot of people couldn't tell the difference between this . . .

3 years in the early '60s.
  . . .and this:

3 days in the late '60s.
So if today your liturgy looks like this,

Now you know why.

More on where this led us next time.


  1. I love this, it's very intelligent. I often draw parallels between the ancient gods and our modern celebrities. But I sense that we're as much to blame for how they are, just as there is much more involved in the whole deal with the "Barbarians" (who were only people that refused Roman rule). Why are there so many imbalances in the world, so much difference between the elites and the "barbarians"? Perhaps those people who created the religions also created the masses to just "pray pay and obey"?
    Yes, agreed, the Phaëton story is a story about emotional Imbalance, and how that poses a danger to oneself. But there have always been people in history who were educated, brilliant, very un-barbarian, who could have changed the world - and the church "helped" to kill them and/or kill their spirit (be it by misunderstanding). Do you really know what was meant by "Scaramouche" and "Beelzebub" in those songs? Because it is SO not what it seems/sounds. No, the songs do not advocate devil-worship. But by using them in this manner, a kind of devil-worship is created (i.e. the presumption that the music can be a polarized religious message).

  2. By the way, "Catechism" means "inregimentation". Wonderful thing language, isn't it? I'm not sure you're ready to see what my liturgy looks like, but thing is, about the Church revitalizing the Theatre, that it was a very clever trick to have the masses believe they could trust this organization. Theatre and circus arts are very, very old and they were indeed created for the purpose of giving the information of the Heavens to the masses. But the church doesn't stop there, it doesn't allow you to enter the fast-whirling stream that Jesus entered into, travel the Heavens and become a Cosmic being (as per advertisement). The church gives you a performance, and then also asks you to interpret it according to the established rules (whether you feel in that way or not). Meanwhile, it doesn't recognize that people exist, who can do this independently, and that people feel/think differently through those performances. True religion allows the individual to develop as a Cosmic Being, doesn't seek to "inregiment" anyone.

  3. By the way, if "she" is a "she", then "she" IS a "she" (a real historical person). This makes listening to "I Will Follow Him" into a true religious experience for me, knowing that it is real, a true bond, as opposed to a metaphor for some institutional mumbo-jumbo. We are not inmates, for you can never put Spirit under lock and key - we are the Children of God. How many times shall we look at those words, before they are seen in their true light?