Friar Roderic Burke writes me

Ave Maria!

Hello Mark,

This is Friar Roderic from AirMaria.com. We’ve exchanged emails before on the problems of conservativism in the Church. I liked your article on the Mea Culpa. In light of recent events, we all must do some self-examination.

As a member of the Franciscans of the Immaculate I had a front row view of the growing divisions in the Church along liberal and conservative lines and have noticed so many parallels with political divisions in the secular world that are also growing at an alarming rate to the point that they have become the defining story of our tumultuous, dangerous times.  So I have done some serious thinking from my religious and technical background (having run our multimedia apostolate for over a decade}, trying to find a way to both understand the nature of the divisions and a means to defuse it. 

Below is a link to a ten-minute video on my crazy, Franciscan idea to address the crazy division in our world today. 

This video is the best I can come up with. and I am hoping it can provide a means to do some new thinking that can lead to a soft-landing position where conservatives and liberals can come to together around a common cause.

It focuses on the well-recognized divisive power of Facebook, and all social media, which is powered by our adolescent artificial intelligence and redirects this into a unitive force by applying some Franciscan and Marian spirituality in a way that reduces materialism, (that Franciscan poverty angle). It is intended for a wider audience, even beyond a strictly Catholic one, and to both conservatives and liberals alike. It is a restart of a series I wanted to do on Catholicism in our high-tech world, called Mary to the Moon, so it also has a sci-fi, futurism aspect. I probably tried to do too much in one video, but so much needs to be done in our difficult times.

Here is the link:

This is a good man. Our Church has many more of them and they need to be encouraged to speak and act and not be shouted down by the Greatest Catholics of All Time. Give him a listen.

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18 Responses

  1. I got through a few minutes of it, but there were so many assumptions being made that I just had to stop. Nice guy, though.

    Warning: Somewhat random thoughts follow. Maybe i’ll come to a conclusion.

    Facebook, in his generic sense of social media, exists to make money. It’s a business like any other business. But it makes a lot of money. That’s what successful businesses do. So do entire denominations, which are also businesses. I’d love to post my favorite picture of Raymond Burke here, but I can’t. Or mention the apartments of certain European prelates, or even the lavish gifts of money of the former archbishop of West Virginia to other prelates. I’ve been to the Vatican a couples of times, but they certainly aren’t Franciscans. (I think) Al Mohler (I think) just got dumped on by the Southern Babtists because he dared to criticize Orange Jesus. One of their STATED big reasons why they dumped on him was that a number of large contributors to their business stopped donating tax free dollars to the business. Whoopsies! Someone let the golden calf out of the bag.

    The Buddha said the cause of all suffering is DESIRE. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But the Buddha and I are going to be in disagreement about this. Maybe the problem is not that we desire, because we’re humans, and that is what humans do. Maybe the problem is that we desire the wrong things, especially things that don’t contribute to human health and happiness, especially our own. Materialism doesn’t promise happiness. Materialism promises MATERIAL. It is WE who decide that one of those materials is HAPPINESS. I learned 50 years ago that happiness is not having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have. In that sense, the Buddha was incorrect, but also correct. It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

    My nephew once asked me what I would do with $1 billion. I told him i could keep $10 millions for us, and spend the rest of my life having a great time giving away $990 million. What do I need with a billion. Or even 10 million? He asked me if I would move. Why would I do that? This is my favorite place in the entire world. Happiness is wanting what I have.

    This nice Franciscan man says: Materialism causes all kinds of problems, like family break down and moral decadence. My hackles always rise when religious people start talking about family breakdown and moral decadence. It’s usually clear who and what they are talking about. It’s also clear that they make a lot of money from talking about it. And it is also clear that one of their concerns is the loss of control over other people. Power? Money? Dominion? My constant themes when it comes to religion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my morals that being perfect wouldn’t fix. Being gay has nothing to do with that. It never has and it never will. I don’t need religion to tell me that. I simply strive to be the best person I can be, to harm no one, to try to make the world a better place when I leave it than when I entered it. The same thing i used to do when I used to go backpacking and hauled out other people’s garbage.

    But materialism leading to family breakdown? How about people living in a much more complicated world than 100, 200, or 300 years ago. Materialism probably has something to do with unrealistic expectations of love, sex, romance, and family, but I suspect it has little to do with people’s failures as people. How about people not being prepared for marriage because they never had to fight for it, or even think about it all that much? I’m married to a difficult man; I can assure you marriage is hard work, even after 18 years. My friends with children, gay and straight, give of themselves unstintingly to their children and their families– at least the ones with good kids and successful marriages. I see way too many whose ideas of parenting equate to parking their children in front of a TV– the very expensive one they worked so hard to make money to buy, along with extra devices, streaming services, and internet/phone/entertainment bills of $300 per month, and an SUV with more entertainment inside– instead of giving of themselves in ways that matter. That is where materialism contributes to the breakdown of families. Giving stuff is easier than giving of yourself. It’s why I have so few memories of my father. Great provider, but emotionally stunted. There were simply not a lot of memories to have.

    The world was no more morally upright when religion controlled everybody and everything than it is now when it doesn’t. The places that are still controlled by religion are no more moral than the places that aren’t. Exhibit one: the conservative religion cheering squad for the former occupant of the White house, himself probably even less moral than the people who support him. Exhibit 2: The moral depravity of certain theocracies. Exhibit 3: the particular and peculiar problem of the Catholic Church.

    Maybe the Good Franciscan gets to this, but I don’t know. I couldn’t listen any more. Maybe the problem with the internet is not materialism at all, but the fact that it has democratized literally everything. What used to be the lowest common denominator, in socio-psychological terms, is now simply common. Everybody has a voice. (Or as to why my business began to fail 10 years ago: everyone has a camera, a cheap and powerful computer, and 10 bucks for a website. Quality and service no longer mattered. Price/materialism mattered). People who couldn’t talk to each other before? Now they can. It’s why Nigerian princes were more than happy to make me, a complete stranger, rich beyond the dreams of avarice. It’s why uneducated people– or educated people with an agenda– can teach other uneducated people to be even more uneducated than they already are, promising them Genuine Nigerian riches if only they will BELIEVE. And they do.

    My conclusion?

    Maybe I should have listened to the rest of his presentation.

    1. “Exhibit 3: the particular and peculiar problem of the Catholic Church.”

      …sinners and saints, weeds and wheat…none of us any one thing…

      We are the Church.

      That evil plays out spectacularly in our midst shouldn’t be surprising.

      I’m thanking God that the internet allows us to spotlight crimes that went so easily undetected before. The day of reckoning finally came. But the criminals and duplicitous should not steal the spotlight from all of the quiet saints who go about doing good. There are many, many more of them than the archvillians. The internet *loves* a good archvillain. I once read about a priest who has experience in the exorcism ministry. He says he can pack a hall if he gives a lecture on the demonic, but can hardly get a handful if the talk is on Jesus.

      1. @ taco

        I agree. I didn’t want to pick on just your church, or even that particular problem, at least by name. That’s why I mentioned it last, and not by name. My point, and I did have one, however ineptly it was stated, was that it was very easy to reduce complex problems to simple solutions. MATERIALISM! Being one.

        Being like jesus is hard, and not at all entertaining. Demons are easy, and entertaining. Bart Erman said much the same thing about the number of questions he got about revelations, and magical prophecies. That’s what people wanted to discuss in his classes. All of that boring stuff about Apocalyptic thought for the 100 or more Years proceeding Jesus was nOt entertaining.

      2. @ taco

        I should have added somewhere in there when I was actually thinking, but hit post before I got around to writing it down. It’s a quote from one of my favorite books from 30 or 40 years ago, John Gardner’s “the wreckage of Agathon.” I still quote it all of these decades later…

        What matters is not so much that which is true, but that which is entertaining.

    2. Thanks for viewing my video as far as you did. Do watch the rest of it, but not to find me explaining and apologizing for the what the Catholic Church has done wrong. Those things are very well covered most anyplace you look these days. But rather to explore ways of getting beyond the hot button issues (and associated finger-pointing and growing conflicts that solve nothing and are threatening everything that anybody cares about) and instead get to the root causes so that we can find common cause to unite around. But it takes a new way of thinking.

      Your reaction to my mentioning the family breakdown is a case in point. You naturally jump to the hottest button of today and that is gay pride. But I don’t say that. In the long version I have the time to do go into some of what I mean but it is almost exclusively to do with good old fashioned heterosexual vices that has lead to family destruction that has occurred long before gay pride became a thing. And this gets to the general point that I hope to get across in the video that we need to get beyond these hot button issues to find common ground. Both the family breakdown and many of our problems have started much further back than we tend to realize and materialism is one of them and I contend is the root cause, again, which can be addressed much more constructively

      And my video does have concrete analysis and solutions to the current divisiveness that ties in directly to advertising, social media and artificial intelligence, keying off both prophetic science fiction and the observations of current social media experts. Advertising works. The smart money pours hundreds of billions into it each year. It works by changing the way we think. Since the vast majority of this is commercial advertising it changes us toward a selfish mindset, destroying empathy. Combining this advertising with the power of computers, social media and artificial intelligence just amplifies this problem to such an extent that they suddenly become so clear and in our face that we can’t ignore them. The good news is that if we shift from commercial advertising to charitable that is selfless rather than selfish then all the power of advertising, social media, and artificial intelligence that have so effectively divided us will just as effectively unite us. And, yes, I do have ideas on have to do that as well. So there much to see in this video.

      You still may not agree with me, and this is fine. It is a radical idea. But it is worth keeping the idea in mind and running it past your experiences from time to time and it may shed some light on things. Hopefully someone more eloquent and insightful will read this and add the missing links to make the ide take traction. We seem to be plum out of ideas these days and only interested in anger and rage.

      God bless,

      Friar Roderic

      1. @ friar r

        Thank you for getting back to me. I much appreciate your gracious response. I’m sorry it is taken me a few days to get back to you, but I’ve been really busy with a sick friend and wanted to give you the time that your gracious response required.

        As I mentioned, I jumped to the hot button issue because 90% of the time, this is what I hear whenever people bring up the subject of moral, familial, and marital decline. More accurately, not THE hot button issue, but the speakers hot button issue, which has very little to do with the reality of the situation. I remember cardinal George, for example, patiently explaining that I had lost touch with my humanity but I’m wanting to marry the man I’ve spent 20 years of my life with. I could think of nothing more human than wanting to marry that person. I remember cardinal O’Brien wailing about marriage equality in England, until they had to shut up because it turned out he was a wolf seeking dates with the sheep. I won’t even get into Cardinal McCarrick. I could equally well talk about Franklin Graham and how much money he makes, Mike Huckabee $6 million mansion on a Florida beach, lr David Barton and Christian nationalism, or Falwell Junior, his wife, and his poolboy, All of them spend their time decrying the moral decline of America, usually at the expense of other people who have done nothing to contribute to it.

        Believe it or not, the main issue for me is not the hypocrisy, though there is certainly THAT. It is much more about the lies being told, the damage of centuries and millennia being done, and the purposes for which all of it were put to.

        I will try to listen to your video. I can agree with you that materialism is indeed a problem, though we might disagree about the how and the why of it. in this country, at least, we are blessed with so much, and yet there are so many people who seem to want more, thinking that somehow it will fill up whatever void is within them. It never has and it never will. The unpleasantness of the last few months as the former occupant of the White House was shown the door has illustrated this to me in spades: all the talk about the oppression of those poor white people who assaulted the very foundations of our democracy. They all had the time and the money to takeoff and go to Washington, driving a $50,000 truck and carrying thousand dollar assault rifles, or taking a private plane, or getting paid leave from work. So oppressed! So deprived!

        Thanks again.

  2. I like Friar Roderic’s hopeful optimism. He seems like a sweet guy.

    Why go on Facebook at all?–especially after all they have done. We should boycott it altogether. I hope they are fined for the political unrest they have caused. They shouldn’t get away with it. Huge fines are in order at the very least.

    The only thing I don’t like about Instagram is that Facebook owns it. My account is filled with pictures of nature, animals, my kids,friends, funny memes. There is a bit of religious inspiration but it comes off as a bit insipid. Sometimes I listen to Bishop Barron’s sermon (always great) but avoid his advertisements. I don’t click on anything political. The volume is muted 85% of the time and I don’t give advertisements a chance to pitch a thing because they are swiped away. It’s mostly innocuous. It doesn’t make me feel materialistic, or want stuff. Real life does that.

    During Covid it seems proper to not post pictures that would make someone feel left out. I don’t know, it’s a fine line. Most people seem to get that right now.

    The one good thing about the past four years, and the times I *did* go on Facebook, is it allowed people to see who the racists are. Anybody who could act like they didn’t notice he was racist outed themself– you can’t be pro-life and a racist at the same time. It’s impossible. This kind of understanding isn’t divisive, it just shines a light on the truth. Keeping things murky just allows people to hide.

    1. @tacoanybody – I am glad you are not effected by advertising. However, wouldn’t you agree that many people are? In fact, enough people to make it worthwhile to spend the billions spent on it each year? It seems the advertisers have the data to prove that it works and Facebook gives them even more data that it works and when and where it works. Facebook, social media and the division that it has spawned is a real thing and won’t go away by casually disregarding it. The only reasonable course of action is to find a way to change this rather marvelous technology that, on the face of it, has so much unitive potential (that is why it is called social media) and tweak it to undo the the rather surprising but very real disunitive effect it has. The people at Facebook are dealing with a very new technology, both the social media aspect and the artificial intelligence, which have dealt us many surprises. At the very least, as Catholics we should be ready and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and be known as the Church that sheds light in the darkness offering constructive ideas where there is only mutual accusations.

      God bless you – fra Roderic

  3. @Ben
    Thanks for clarifying. I think I get every bit as provoked as you do about religious insincerity/perversion. I hate to say it, but I think that the Protestant thoughts of Luther have infiltrated American Catholicism in a big and toxic way. (I have nothing against Protestants).

    “I can be a jerk all day long and I’m still saved”, makes no sense. I’ve told this story a few times: at my husband’s Westmont graduation, the speaker exhorted the graduates to be “great in everything”–including their sins. “Why stop at the hubcaps–if you can steal the whole Cadillac?” He asked them. He wasn’t joking. Explains so much.

    They think they can wield Jesus as some kind of superpower to get into heaven. (It’s no wonder they axed the book of James.) The uber- catholics/schismatics do the same but hold “no salvation outside of the Church” dear to their hearts. If you talk to one they will admit that they think most people are damned (including most Catholics). Also silly, but even more repugnant. They are a fearfully smug group indeed.

    I would rather have been born into a tribe somewhere that had refined the idea of altruism than be taught that I can be a jerk because Jesus has my back. When I was a kid I used to feel bad about all of the little children that were born into pagan/Jewish/Muslim families. But even back then something told me that God could never ever be that cruel. I knew something was off.

    You are right about the Apocalypse chasers and Devil-obsessed. I’ve known more than my fair share. They take events like Fatima and practically make a parallel religion out of it. Again, I hate to say it but they prefer the cheap thrills to just being a normal person that sees God in everyone. It’s like crack. I have a friend who is a fanatic about Satanism, the end of the world, and the elite pedophiles that rule the world. She has gotten to the point of being probably clinically insane –AND she has a phd from a good school. She’s not unintelligent–which makes her stories sometimes fascinating. She could be the new Dan Brown, but she *believes* in the entire plot.

    Apropos to what I said above, I have to ask myself: “Do I see God in Trump?”

    –What I see is old scar tissue, masks, anger, resentments, delusions of grandeur. All of these things cover up his true self, but he is there somewhere–trapped, disfigured and imprisoned.

    I truly believe that our sole purpose here on this earth is to *become* our real selves.

  4. @tacoanybody…re: Your PhD friend, they wouldn’t happen to be an Archbishop living in a bunker, would they? 🙂

  5. There is another vicious circle that deserves attention, although the good father did not mention it, and it even raises many questions about Pope Francis’ comments concerning excessive consumption. I read somewhere that the consumer sector is a huge part of the US economy, something like 75%. This means an awful lot of jobs. In order to keep those jobs, companies need to produce more and more “stuff” and then spend a fortune trying to convince the public to purchase that “stuff”, whether or not they need, or even really want, it. Friar Burke is right about the huge influence, on many levels and very often negative, of the ever-present advertising seen in most medias, but it is considered necessary to maintain the vicious circle that begins at the level of keeping as many people employed as possible. Regrettably, the health of an economy is largely measured by its growth, and if people stopped wasteful consumption, sales would go down and the economy would appear to be shrinking and jobs would be lost. Breaking that circle would require a complete reset of the economy. I don’t have any suggestion on the way to do it and who should attempt it, and in the present times any consideration of the problem seems to raise fears of that “great reset” which is the subject of many frightening conspiracy theories…

    1. @martha

      We have a growth model of economics, which is ultimately not sustainable, because we have a growing population. The only way to continue to make money is to have more people to buy more stuff that employs more and more people to make the stuff in order to buy it. Technology has long been at the point were repairing old stuff is much more expensive than making new stuff.

    2. Marthe – My point is that you don’t need a great reset. By changing the nature of advertising that is proven to be very effective you can change the whole tone of society without taking down social media, nor capitalism, nor mass media of the older type. In fact it will use these very things to reunite our fractured world. All the old stake holders will still be in place. Taking care of people who have been marginalized in various ways is a big job and will require lots of people and lots of jobs. Compassion is what we should be spending our wealth on. It will be a readjustment but one that will happen over time organically. Indeed, this will be the best way to avoid a great reset and calm down such fears. God bless you.

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