Of Baloney and Beef

It’s easy to get angry at the sheer quantity of baloney in today’s culture. Consider, for instance, the following chatter, drawn at random from recent media babble:

Despite some religious accessories, Rose McGowan puts the “ain’t” in “saint” in her latest magazine cover.

McGowan, star of Jawbreaker and singer Marilyn Manson’s betrothed, is depicted on the May 1999 issue of Interview wearing a veil, a pearl rosary, and, well, that’s it. Oh, wait – she also has a bouquet of roses covering her sacred vessel.

The New York Daily News compares the picture to a “nude impersonation of Mexico’s Lady of Guadalupe” that could potentially insult Catholics. Interview editor Ingrid Sischy replies, “[This was] not meant as an affront to anyone, including Catholics. This is a playful photographer and playful collaborator working with timeless imagery to make a memorable cover.”

Naturally our reaction as Catholic parents is a healthy mockery of such two-faced bafflegab: “D’ja get that? ‘Not meant as an affront to anyone, including Catholics.’ Those beautiful artistes are just being “playful” and ‘working with timeless imagery.” Only a hypersensitive hysterical Catholic would take such playfulness as being, oh, like a punch in the nose or spit in the eye.”

But wait! There’s more. The “entertainment news” goes on:

Alanis Morissette as God-bold casting or a one-way ticket to hell? Only Saint Peter knows for sure. Anyway, that’s the least of the doctrinally dicey touches in “Dogma,” the new Miramax satire by Kevin Smith (“Chasing Amy”) about two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), a descendant of Jesus (Linda Fiorentino) who works in an abortion clinic and a foulmouthed apostle (Chris Rock) who argues that Mary wasn’t a virgin to the end.

Oddly, a movie that features a trash-talking Apostle and a female God is not one with which Disney is eager to be associated. Dogma, written and directed by Kevin Smith, takes an unorthodox look at religion, and Disney, producer Miramax’s parent company, fears it will offend Roman Catholics. Smith, a practicing Roman Catholic, says the movie “was always intended as a love letter to both faith and God almighty.”

“Please,” we sensibly retort, “No doubt Smith means it in the nicest way possible! So does Lions Gate co-president Mark Urman (the distributor of the film), when he looks us right in the eye and says, ‘I believe genuinely that the film does not mean to hold any people up to ridicule because of their religion.’

Right. “It’s a love letter! It’s not ridicule of the Catholic Church or blasphemy. No. Really.”

Any normal, healthy person’s Baloney Detector will be off the scale by now. Imagine a similar treatment of, say, the film Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious paean of praise to the Nazi’s 1934 Nuremberg Rallies): “Though many Catholics and Jews are likely to take offense at Herr Hitler’s unorthodox remarks about religion, Riefenstahl insists the film was always intended a love letter to the Jewish people. Reich Minister of Propaganda Goebbels agrees, saying, “I believe genuinely that the film does not mean to hold any people up to ridicule because of their religion. After all, the Fuehrer is a practicing Roman Catholic too.”

Such twaddle offends the Catholic head as much as the Catholic heart. One wants to cry out, “Just how stupid do you think I am?” But it is right here, when the temptation is strongest to simply freeze up into an iceberg of contempt for human cynicism and duplicity that we much recall our role as Catholic parents called to build a culture of life.

For the trouble is this: surrounded by such insulting nonsensical rot, the easy and obvious thing is to simply assume (and teach our children to assume) a posture of angry skepticism about everything we see and hear. As our Lord said, “Be wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16) But if we make ourselves and our children mere skeptics we doom ourselves and our children to a joyless life. For mere skepticism has no room for faith, love, hope or childlike simplicity. It is the embrace of only half the Lord’s teaching. For he also said, “Be innocent as doves.” Those who embrace only the first half of his teaching are as tragic as those who embrace only the last half. It is no better to be a hard-boiled Catholic furious at the world than it is to be a squishy and brainless one prostrated to it. Nor does it help our children to be on their guard against baloney if they come to assume that everything is baloney. For in short order, as children do, they will soon conclude that the Faith is baloney too. In short, we must not only guard them from baloney we must teach them to recognize and delight in the delicious taste of beef.

Does this mean we shouldn’t protest bigotry? No. But we should also joyously point our children to the Faith we love and defend and we should teach them to seek from that Faith the many good and beautiful things it has given the world. For every protest we write, we should read aloud one of the Chronicles of Narnia. For every attack we rebut, we should watch a Sister Wendy video on art. For every time we heap scorn on the folly of the world, we should give thanks (and teach our children to do likewise) for the civilization of love revealed in Christ Jesus. It is upon this, not mere protest, that the future of our children depends.

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