April 29, 2008



APRIL 2008

(meets at Pauline Books & Media, Chicago, SECOND Wednesday of the month, 6:30—8:30)
OR Join us LIVE on www.ustream.tv!

To purchase DVDs of Fr. Loya's TOB talks (and demonstrations with art): www.theologyofthebody.net
To join Fr. Loya's TOB presentations on the 2nd Wednesday night of the month LIVE ONLINE: (6:30 CST small groups, 7:00 CST Father's presentation): http://www.ustream.tv/channel/theology-of-the-body
On-liners: feel free to ask Father questions--we'll ask him for you!
(If you want to participate in the simultaneous online chat you have to register as a ustream user and log in, but you can still view the stream without that.)

We are using the JP2G's revised text: "Male and Female He Created Them—a Theology of the Body"



Notes will always be posted on www.hellburns.blogspot.com. Just look for post "Theology of the Body" each month.

(We're skipping the lengthy Introduction and going directly to the text. These notes cover the first 15 pages of the text.)

NB: "Man"=male and female

[Sr. Helena's superfluous comments are in brackets]

[online comments are bold]


The fundamental essence of human existence is the male/female difference—JP2G.

p. 105 of the Introduction at the top is a summary of the purpose of TOB.

The Eastern Church is the feminine complement to the Western, more "masculine "Church. JP2G says we need to "breathe with both lungs," that is, we need to enrich each other: the Eastern and Western Church. [Recommended reading: "The Light of the East (Orientale Lumen)"—encyclical of JP2G]

The text of TOB is dense, spiral, phenomenological. It's not linear. It's like watching a leaf float around and then land. It lands then on the irrefutable truth after having examined everything else.

We need our "sacramental glasses" to see the world. We need to see the way Adam and Eve originally saw. Science is great, but a scientific worldview began to debase the physical and enshrine the spiritual/mental. Science was able to dominate the physical and manipulate it, so we began looking  differently at the physical, including ourselves, each other.

Christ takes us back to the very beginning. Not a bunch of rules, but a vision of the human person. He took us to who we are as human beings, who we are as man and woman. [Before there were houses, cars, hospitals, X-box, etc., there was just Adam and Eve, naked.]

The first account (Elohist) of Creation is very direct: what does it mean to be human. That's what we're missing today. Paul VI knew we were missing this. In "Humanae Vitae" he said we need a total vision of man.  A mystical vision. "Mystical" means the MOST real vision/truth. [Therefore, mystics are hard-core realists!] The only honest thing we can say about being human is that we are made in the image of God. Everything else is an intrusion. A lie. We always say when we mess up: "I'm only human." But the exact opposite is true! We were created to NOT sin! The second account (Yahwist) of Creation is what JP2G uses more.  He uses the subjective approach because people today don't accept objective accounts of the truth.

#4, p. 135—"impossibility of reducing man to the 'world.'" Man is more than material. He is also identified with something invisible.  "The truth about man refers to the male as much as to the female." Man is defined primarily as metaphysical.

Scientific mindset emphasizes the rational=what is measurable, seen.

[At the end of the movie "Expelled"—I have some philosophical problems with the movie, but it's a must-see—Ben Stein makes a very good point. The atheistic scientists keep saying "we can't see God," and Ben says, "maybe He is right in front of us, in the things science investigates (the material world) and we're missing it." This is exactly what TOB is saying—with the help of Revelation, of course.]

We're great at thinking and talking about body and soul separately. E.g., we say: "I want to save my soul." But it's the whole person, body and soul that will be saved! What has become foreign to us is body and soul TOGETHER. This is what "THEOLOGY OF THE BODY means." We are embodied spirits, not a body and a spirit. They are distinct, but inseparable. The separation of the two is DEATH, a "cosmic obscenity"—Peter Kreeft. We are a composite. Anything that separates body and soul has to do with sin. Death is a perversion, it was never meant to be. It's just the worst thing—words can't even express the horror.

[A very intelligent friend of mine, a devout Catholic who was at a think-tank at Stanford, doesn't like the term "Theology of the Body" because she says it literally means: "The Study of God of the Body." I like it precisely because that's what it means. God is certainly of the body! The WORD became FLESH. Forever! All praise to Jesus Christ!]

We think of heaven as our soul floating around. No! Body and soul together in heaven or hell, transfigured (not exactly the same as we are now). The Resurrected Jesus walked through doors, but also could let Thomas put his hand in His side. That's how our bodies will be.

Transfiguration: Jesus showed Peter, James and John  what it really meant to be human. He showed them their destiny—to shine brilliantly! And the Apostles loved it. ("Can we stay here?") Our Lady, because she has no sin, went to heaven body and soul intact (as Adam and Eve would have and we would have if we had not sinned). The Eastern Church calls the end of Mary's earthly life "The Dormition," sleep, but not exactly. Like when Eve was created out of Adam—Adam was in an ecstatic state/trance.

The fact that Catholics don't understand the destiny of the body is why JP2G wrote TOB! Who the heck are we? We aren't totally Catholic in our ethos if we don't capiche who we are, body and soul! The indissoluble bond of marriage is not a rule, it's fundamental to the identity of being human. We were created as beings who unite with another being. How do we know? Because our bodies say it! The first words of Adam were this Shakespearean ode at the very sight of woman: "This at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!" Adam learned the meaning of being human by looking at the woman. They were naked and they could see that they were designed for each other.  And so we do what God did to us: we enter into what the Trinity is doing—a loving union/community of persons.

"The beginning," gives us a solid basis for metaphysics, anthropology and ethics (which cover everything).   [It's all there in Genesis. It has been said that if we lost the Bible and only retained Genesis 3:15, the "Proto-evangelium" or "First Gospel," we would have the essentials! The promise of a Redeemer! See footnote #7, p. 143-144]

[Recommended reading "The Beginning of Wisdom—Reading Genesis" by Jewish "saint," M.D., and bio-ethicist, U. of Chicago's Leon Kass. Check him out on Wikipedia.]

The subjective brings us to the objective. It's a different way to get to the same truth.

God goes out of Himself while staying within Himself. He is always in intimacy. We are called to intimacy, also. How do we know that? Our bodies say it: "I want intimacy! I want intimacy!" We do what God does: He unites Himself intimately with His Bride and that brings life.

We don't have to be told anything, just experience, but REALLY experience TOTALLY life in our bodies!

Let's level the playing field: we all have bodies that all speak the same language! Intimacy, union, communion! Then: life! TOB is simple! God is simple! Complexity is of the devil! [Laborious and perplexed is the face of schemer." Perplex rhymes with complex.] After the Fall, life got really, really complicated.  Life had been so simple and happy: walking around "life-ing" out! They were naked. Now we have to shop, get into fashion, etc. [We love the complexity now! Eek!]

It's actually SEXUALITY THAT MAKES US MOST LIKE GOD!! Why? Because it's the fundamental way we give and receive love. Adam and Eve looked at each others' body as revealing God, as holy, as good. That's why they had no shame. [The sexual difference is only mentioned in the creation of man, not of animals, even though both are told to be fruitful and multiply.]

We call all the lies about ourselves "normal." But to be "without sin" is to be a "NORMAL human being." The Virgin Mary was normal. We're not. Why do we love JP2G so much? Because he was an ordinary human being. That's who the saints are: normal or approaching normalcy: "ordinary" human beings.

Original innocence is gone forever, but we have to reach back and regain some of the vision. Jesus has us look back and then takes us FORWARD to our destiny, a greater destiny than if we hadn't fallen.

The redemption of the person will come through the redemption of the body! Jesus took on our body and took it with Him to heaven. Through our bodies we fell, through our bodies we will be redeemed and enthroned in heaven. The body IS the person in that the BODY REVEALS THE PERSON.  Even our will chooses through our bodies. TOB could really be called the "theology of the human person." Our mind/will only exists because our body exists!! We can't SEE anything but our bodies!

We are one person. Whatever we do with our spirit we do with our bodies. Whatever we do with our bodies we do with our spirits. Our whole person acts. Now we can understand Catholic moral teaching.  "The one flesh union" (Christians shouldn't say "sex" because "sex" simply means "gender") says: "I give myself to you totally and I receive you totally." Follow the language of the body in honesty and you'll be happy. If we don't know who we are or what it means to be human, we'll really hurt ourselves and each other. If you don't know how to be human, listen to your body.

[If we just say the body speaks the language of "love," we don't know what "love" means any more, so we say "gift," etc., words which we still understand properly.]

"Everything depends on who he will be for her and who she will be for him." JP2G

[online comment: "We shouldn't say: 'you belong to me,' but rather 'I belong to you.'"]

[We can ask: who are we as humans? But immediately gender enters in because there are two ways to be a body, male and female, so we HAVE to say: what does it mean to be a woman or man, not just a generic "human"? We are trained to think that if something is DIFFERENT, than one is superior to the other. One has to be against the other. But this is the DYAMICS OF SIN. In TOB, ALL DIFFERENCES ARE A CALL TO COMMUNION. Can you see the implications this can have for relations among nations, racism, etc.??? Very important to understand about TOB: differences do not mean unequal, just different.]

[online comment: "If TOB was lived, there would be no conflict/competition becuz we don't compete with ourselves" (or shouldn't). Scripture tells men to "Love your wives as you love your own body"—and the same applies to wives loving their husbands. Scripture goes on to say: "No one hates their own body." ]

Gender is purposeful—right in the same breath with "image and likeness" of God. Gender is purposeful, not a preference.

A woman's body says what we must ALL do: "open yourself to God's love, receive God's love!"  [As Jesus received and gave back the love of the Father that IS the Holy Spirit.]
Woman is the archetype for the whole human race [because we are all "feminine" before God in the sense that we can only receive from God, we can't give Him anything.  So to answer an online comment that brought up the Aristotle/Aquinas gaffe: "Women are misbegotten males"—the truth is, science has shown us that the exact opposite is true: we're all female first and then males are differentiated. However, no antagonism of the sexes allowed in TOB!!! Women, who have historically been oppressed by men, are rightfully suspicious of anything that seems to be belittling them or stereotyping them. But trust me, that's not what TOB is doing. Just the opposite. And TOB is not about putting women on the proverbial pedestal, either. It's about reality. Being who we really are, and men being who they really are, and treating one another with the utmost respect and dignity that we all deserve. We just haven't heard anything like TOB before. In many respects it is NEW. We have only been given the extremes: woman as virgin or whore, china doll or seductress. Stick with TOB, girls, you'll see!!]

A man's body says: "be active in loving"—give love, externality, energy, man moves out to work on his environment. It reflects the initiating love of God the Father who makes the first move toward His beloved.

[This is not to say that woman is ONLY passive and man is ONLY active. Obviously this isn't so, but as we can plainly see from the design of our bodies, men and women love differently. Equally but differently.]

It is a reciprocal circuit of love.

Our bodies reveal God differently. A woman's body reveals something about God that a man's doesn't and vice versa.

[JPII cracked the code of Creation! It's all about mutuality. The pattern is everywhere in Creation. There can be no yin without the yang. The yin doesn't make sense without the yang. Each one is FOR the other, not against the other.]

The language of liturgy is conjugal. Conjugality in a sense is also liturgical. "Take, this is my body, given up for you." Isn't this the language of marriage?

[Highly recommended book from blogger, Dawn Eden: "The Thrill of the Chaste." She was living the NYC "Sex and the City" lifestyle to the hilt and describes exactly the lies that her mind and spirit were experiencing (definitely did not bring happiness). After converting to Christianity, she began listening to the real language of her body and her true desires. This is a very "subjective," "experiential" book. She mentions TOB, also!]


If you want to understand Creation, understand man who is the apex of Creation.

[Some online questions came up regarding whether or not the BODY is made in the image of God also. ANSWER: Affirmative!! See CCC #364 and #1004. We are ONE person, so ALL of us is made in the image of God, the Son now has a body forever, and we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Folks were also wondering what TOB means for celibates—that's coming! You could always jump ahead to the whole section on celibacy in TOB. The short answer is that we're all called to celibacy and we're all called to marriage. Hint: it's all about union. Also, someone asked if Father is married. No, but he comes from a line of married priests.]

NEXT MONTH: BACK TO 2ND WEDNESDAY!  ASSIGNMENT: READ TO PAGE 178. We'll have prepared QUESTIONS to help with the first half hour of sharing.

If you'd like to be on the TOB email list, please send your email to: helraphaelfsp@aol.com

God bless!


April 19, 2008


"Good Morning, God" Andre Guichard
"Snoqualmie Falls" (with chain link)
Andre Guichard (his wife Frances, in blue)
"The Ceremony" Pam Rice
"Angels Unawares" Wanda Hamilton
"Organizm" Uwa Hunswick
"Nude Study II" Joe Sam
"The King" Raymond Thomas
"The Queen" Raymond Thomas
"Nocturnal Sunlight" Raymond Thomas
Funky light fixture (upside down person with umbrella hanging from ceiling)
funky lightswitch plate

April 16, 2008


The Visitor
"The Visitor" is a vehicle to tell us about our country's immigration policies. It's an unabashed "message movie" and a darn good story. The company behind "The Visitor," www.takepart.com, is also reponsible for "An Inconvenient Truth," "Syriana," and other "edutainment" films, mostly political.
The main character, Walter, a bland, closed-in, almost-selfish, economics professor, is played by Richard Jenkins, one of those character actors we see in everything but we don't know their names. "Visitor" is Jenkins' Oscar moment. Truly, people have garnered Oscars for much less worthy performances than this. Jenkins' makes this initially unlikeable, forgettable character sing.
Walter meets two illegal immigrants, boyfriend and girlfriend Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) from Syria, and Zainab (Danai Gurira) from Senegal, and slowly comes out of his shell to give them much-needed assistance. In return, the warm, kind, ever-buoyant, comfortable-in-his-own-skin Tarek teaches Walter to play an African drum, which offers Walter a much-needed outlet for expression and release. Walter's jerky little head motions blossom into full-body jiving by the time Tarek is through with him. Walter's first drum lesson is the quintessential metamorphosis of an uptight, above-the-neck white man getting in touch with the rest of himself. Tarek urges him: "Don't think." The prevalence of drumming (everything from a jazz club to "bucket boys" to a drum circle) puts "Visitor" firmly in the category of a "music movie," or rather a "rhythm movie." One feels the whole ebb and flow of world music and world cultures intermingling, joyously breaking down barriers until the unthinkable happens: Tarek is arrested. Walter hires an immigration lawyer and wades into the harsh, barely humane, prison-like, legal quagmire world of detention. Walter is not a bleeding heart. Tarek is his friend.
It becomes immediately evident that something is terribly wrong with the system. People who yesterday were living lives indistinguishable from "legals," are treated with stern recrimination as if they are the most dangerous of criminals (and yet being in the USA illegally is not even a felony, so when activists chant: "We're not criminals!" they are exactly right). Tarek's mother (Hiam Abbass) comes to New York, where Tarek is incarcerated, to be close to him, and a tender romance springs up between her and Walter.
Spoiler alert: When Tarek is deported, Walter "takes his place," drumming in the subway. But nothing can replace this blythe spirit who enriched the USA with his presence for a while. This simple story, simply told, enables us to graze the surface of the immigrant experience, who love their birth countries, miss them "sometimes," and definitely feel that America is "home." I would fault the movie for not having told a more intense, desperate tale, but maybe that wasn't the point. Maybe the point was to show ordinary people we know and love, friends and neighbors, more American than the Americans. As Tarek's mother says: "after time, you forget, you feel you really belong."
One thing is certain: America is still the land of opportunity for people seeking not just jobs but rule of law; a future; freedom of speech, press, movement; ethnic and gender equality--things we natural-born citizens barely even think about. Many try to jump through all the necessary hoops, but the immigration system is badly broken, and America doesn't seem to have the will to reform it. Why not? Perhaps it benefits some powerful few in its present unrealistic, irrational, almost arbitrary state? Can we really shut up the Promised Land? Or make people wait 40 years to get there? Should we retract Emma Lazarus' welcome: "Give me...your huddled masses"? Wallflower Walter, face-to-face with icy bureaucratic indifference, loses it and wants someone to be held responsible for the utterly impersonal and intractable way Tarek is handled.
Although illegal immigration and border security are very real concerns, and laws should be upheld and not mocked, let's remember that human laws only have value insofar as they are based on a higher law, and let's work to bring them into that conformity. The website is chockfull of resources, organizations and ways to get involved: www.takepart.com.
By the way, "Visitor" makes a great argument for drum circles as a way to bring about world peace. The music of Nigerian, Fela Kuti, father of Afrobeat music, is prominently featured. Tarek even holds up his CD very auspiciously:
Open And Close/Afrodisiac
The title: "The Visitor" instantly reminded me of the claymation "Michael the Visitor," an adaptation of Tolstoy's "The Truths We Live By"....
Michael the Visitor
...and the whole concept of hospitality and welcoming the stranger as Christ.
"I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Matthew 25:35 (RSV)
"Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels."
Hebrews 13:2 (NAB)
"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)
The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus, 1883


April 12, 2008


YYY 1/2
Full disclosure: This movie is about a school shooting. But it didn't have to be. It could have been about any life/death situation that permanently alters our future. I say "our" future, because this film inexorably draws us in to ask ourselves not only: "What would I have done in that situation?" but "What would I have done after that situation?" The fact that "Life" is based on the novel by Laura Kasischke and directed by Vadim Perelman ("House of Sand and Fog," and soon-to-be-released "Atlas Shrugged") are both bonuses. Some of the heavy lifting of working out plot and styling natural dialogue has been done, which allows Perelman to give us lush, meditative sequences that are absolutely essential to the story. "Life" should really be seen on the big screen. Luminous Evan Rachel Wood plays teen wild-child Diana. Her best friend, Maureen, is the utterly believable Eva Amurri (Susan Sarandon's daughter), a shy, non-glamorous, three-dimensional Christian. "Life" is filmed in easy-to-follow flashbacks and flashforwards. Because it's not linear, the viewer never knows what's coming next, and it becomes gently riveting.
The BFF's plan and dream about their futures, but don't we all? They discuss metaphysical subjects (death, God, visions, what if's) as easily as they size up a cute boy. (Kudos to the filmmakers for their spiritual honesty--let's stop pretending teens don't talk about this stuff!) And don't we all? They are visited by tragedies and guilt and traumas they could never foresee and can barely handle. And aren't we all? Although the perspectives are feminine, the real question here is: How can I have a good life? How can I insure that I have a good life? What is a good life? And don't we all ask ourselves these questions? Later, the question becomes: Now what? How do I hang on? Go on? Let go? Honor the past? Forgive myself? The adult Diana is played by Uma Thurman at the top of her game.
Teen Diana answers the question: "What is a good life?" by glib hedonism (and pays the consequences), while Maureen is more prudent, and tries to get Diana to be. However, Diana plunges into life with a fearless, big heart, which Maureen admires. Although opposites, Diana and Maureen's solid friendship withstands everything, even death: "love is stronger than death"--something usually reserved for guys' buddy and war movies.
Although featuring teens, this is not a teen movie per se. Teens will be able to relate to Diana and Maureen, but it will take some life experience to comprehend the depths of their anguish. Not a bad thing to expose mature teens to life's harsher realities in order to engage their "moral imagination." And who's to say teens haven't already endured some pretty terrible events in their lives? Adults will recognize the grim dilemmas and responsibilities of the characters. 
Is this a depressing film? No, because beauty overwhelms everything. At the film's core is "lifegiving springs of water" (think the "plastic bag scene" from "American Beauty"). Diana intuits this core through "created things," and Maureen through her vibrant faith. (One ugh note: Maureen--in a religious chat with Diana--concedes that reincarnation might be possible. Ugh.)
As we watch the adult Diana agonize over just about everything, we can relate, and need to remind ourselves that "in weakness power reaches perfection." God is in our weakness, we can stop beating ourselves up. It made me feel bad for Diana and those who don't feel God in their lives as Someone who understands our daily confusion, fear and hesitation--who don't have the comfort of God's friendship in their lives as something to lean on. Heavily. The teens and grown-up teens in "Life" need to cut themselves some slack. As the Nationwide auto insurance commercial says: "Life comes at you fast." Upset with God about your miseries and misfortunes? Try Psalm 89:39-53 where David berates God for breaking their covenant!
The following Gauguin painting of Jacob wrestling with the angel figures into "Life" (Diana becomes an art history teacher). Myteriously, we are called not to fight God but to wrestle with Him in this life. Jacob "prevails," but is left wounded and limping.
There is also an abortion in the film. An ugly, messy abortion that only complicates everything. The abortion is presented so matter-of-factly as the taking of a life that movie reviewers in Toronto wrote this film off as an "anti-abortion screed"! "The Life Before Her Eyes" joins a new tradition of "abortion is not the answer" films: "Knocked Up," "Bella," "The Waitress," "Juno," etc., but is not really about abortion any more than it's about a school shooting. In less capable hands, this would have been an issue-crammed, multi-themed movie that bit off more than it could chew, but that's just not the case. It takes some reflection to find the heart of the film (and it may be different for each viewer), but it certainly isn't any of the "issues"--it's bigger than all the issues put together, a kind of poking at the mysterious connected root of them all--and smaller than all the issues: you just have to take this film personally. 
The audience in my screening theater had very sharp and mixed reactions. The "issues" made people uncomfortable. Some felt manipulated. The "Sixth Sense"-like ending was a conundrum. "Life," no doubt, will be "controversial." But for me, the movie transcended judgmentalism to become a universal portrayal of each one's personal experience of PTSD. Yes, everyone has experienced multiple traumas in life, and we're all dealing with the fallout to varying degrees. As Flannery O'Connor said: Anyone who has survived childhood has plenty to write about for a lifetime.
The graphicness of the violence and sex is minimal. My one complaint is that, in the life of the adult Diana, the dramatic events are just a little too perfectly timed, one following right after the other. Of course, sometimes life is like that, but still. Some heavy-handed symbolism and dialogue (water, cougars, "conscience")--but very dismissable in the overall scheme. Oh yes, and the nuns are a bit stern.
There is no formula for warding off sorrow. It will find each and every one of us. But, like Our Lady of Sorrows, by embracing it, we discover the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant, who is also the Resurrection and the Life.
The "Theology of the Body" moment? There were many! But classic was the juxtaposition of Maureen coming out of Sunday church and meeting with Diana: they talk about "speaking in tongues," "heaven" and "sex" all in the same breath. They are so close to the truth here, and yet a tension between the physical and spiritual is set up throughout the story between Maureen and Diana: "the virgin and the whore," as they joke about it. It made me think of Madonna who said recently: "The material world betrayed me." So now she has gone all spiritual (Kabbalah). But it's the integration of the material and the spiritual that's the glorious human reality.


April 10, 2008



April 7, 2008



Expelled from where? What kind of intelligence is not allowed? Why not? Ben Stein single-handedly takes on science, academia and "the new atheists" in this very ambitious, entertaining and information-packed documentary expose. So what's Stein's beef here? That scientific and academic freedom are being supressed. He's got proof, and he's not going to take it any more! Stein names names and institutions, and documents case after case of high-level scientists and/or professors who have lost jobs (even tenured positions), grant money and credibility on account of their investigating even the possibility of "intelligent design" (which ID-backers claim is not necessarily synonymous with God/Creator) as an explanation for the diversity and complexity in nature. They are blacklisted for even mentioning "ID" in a non-pejorative way. Secular journalists also find themselves beholden to the party line, that is, "intelligent design" is on no acccount to be taken seriously. "Expelled" raises the question: Is a biased worldivew preceding open scientific investigation? "Expelled" is a goldmine of discussion starters, and this is its intended purpose. Check out the film's two websites (commercial: www.expelledthemovie.com and educational: www.getexpelled.com). It's impossible to catch everything on the first viewing, so I, for one, am looking forward to the DVD.

This Michael Moore-esque documentary begins and ends with images of the Berlin Wall—a metaphor for the closed-in minds and policies of "Big Science" and academia. There are amusing doctored clips of old movies inserted throughout the film. Ben Stein-- with his poker face and oversize Bozo sneakers--schleps from city to city, interviewee to interviewee, like Socrates, asking innocent question after innocent question.

The zenith is the last interview: Ben Stein with Dr. Richard Dawkins (author of "The God Delusion" and premier frontman for the whole nouveau "God is bunk and religion is dangerous" movement). Dawkins is made too look like a complete fool, or rather, makes himself look like a complete fool. Why? Because although he is a brilliant evolutionary biologist, he is completely out of his discipline when he wades into even the most basic theology, and hasn't bothered to gain the most rudimentary knowledge of it. Maybe he thinks it's a pseudo-ology and he doesn't need to do that, or maybe he thinks anyone can talk about God—you don't need a degree. Although the latter rationale is true, Dawkins doesn't even seem to grasp what the notion "God" means. He insists that God must be within nature, subject to its laws and processes. As Christian geneticist and head of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins, has tried to tell him (in their many debates): "If the word 'God' means anything, it means a Being outside of nature."

To his credit, Dawkins is more than willing to talk to anyone, any time about his beliefs, not worrying about how he will look. He is willing to be caught off guard and be tripped up by his own statements. This openness is refreshing in a packaged, soundbite world. And I am not convinced of his atheism, and I don't believe he is either. To me, he is a genuine seeker. He has been known to make such statements as: "Well, if there is a God…." I think that people who make emphatic statements and write emphatic books stating their emphatic positions are often saying: "This is what I've got. What've you got?" "I can't get any further than this. Talk to me." Believers shouldn't react with knee-jerk anger and "I must chivalrously defend my God!" Our first pope told us: "Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander you…may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring" (1 Peter 3:15-16 JB). I must also thank Dawkins for the correct use of the much-abused phrase "to beg the question."

Dawkins reads a passage from his book that states: the God of the Old Testament is a sexist, homophobic, ethnic-cleansing bully (along with some other choice labels). It has been such a long while since I pulled myself completely outside of my faith box and honestly looked at that assessment, and I realized I had to agree with him. It certainly does look and sound that way to the untrained eye and ear. May I recommend another book to help "outsiders" with The Book? It's spanking new by British Christian apologist, Amy Orr-Ewing: "Is the Bible Intolerant? Sexist? Oppressive? Homophobic? Outdated? Irrelevant?" Yes, I know, how appropriate! Yes, I know, what a long title! It's an extremely calm, succinct, lucid, conversational book that puts the onus on Christians to take seriously the very understandable and real objections, problems and suspicions of nonbelievers—which will, in the process, inform our own sometimes-less-than-informed-and-maybe-even-blinkered faith.

Does it really matter what the scientific community believes or doesn't believe, what it allows itself to investigate or not investigate, teach or not teach, propose or not propose about the origin of life or the origin of species? Ben Stein wisely pushes the assumption that human beings are no different than the animal kingdom to its logical (and historical) conclusion: the Holocaust. I am always astounded when people groan because the Jews, or anyone else, bring up that bothersome Holocaust again. Folks, it was the crime of the millennium. It was the highest crime of the highly civilized. It just happened. Its survivors are still alive. Genocide is still very much with us. What's there to be over? And guess what? You can get there from here. I was horrified to learn that Darwin himself espoused (human) eugenics—it wasn't just a later outgrowth of his thought: "Would you let your worst animals breed?"

What's also truly frightening is the bizarre myths that otherwise intelligent persons of science are willing to posit (unscientifically) rather than the possibility of (Occam's razor) design. When Stein presses: But how did life begin and how did it all get here?—his hapless subjects should have stuck with their first (true) answer: Nobody knows. But they can't resist adding: Maybe a highly intelligent civilization from another planet "seeded" the earth, or molecules spontaneously sprung up on the backs of crystals. Okee dokee.

I don't care for Stein's "us vs. them" polemic in "Expelled," but according to Stein, there is some major intellectual dishonesty and persecution going on in this country. He never reveals exactly what those who were "disciplined" said or wrote, so it makes it difficult to judge for ourselves if they were out of line, but I'm sure the full story in each case is just a Google away. The film charges that intellectual freedom is being shackled and prevented from doing its job: following the evidence without a priori ruling out any possibilities. "Expelled" raises the question: Is worldview preceding science?

I'm sure "Expelled" went through more or less rigorous fact-checking, but Stein seems to frequently conflate Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism, evolution and evolutionism. He mines factoid gems, but doesn't always seem to be able to set them in a larger, coherent narrative. Conspicuously absent from the film is Dr. Francis Collins (supposedly not a big fan of ID) and Michael Behe (although The Discovery Institute of which he is a fellow) is visited by Stein.

"Expelled" is very rich, in spite of its being part propaganda. (The first principle of media literacy: "All media is a construct.") I had to laugh because the person introducing the film at our screening said: "None of the interviews were taken out of context." Ha ha ha.
Ben Stein, himself, may be out of his theological competency, but he pretty much safely sticks to his cause of academic freedom.

The Vatican, when asked to weigh in on this peculiarly American debate declared that ID is neither religion nor science but philosophy (which, for all practical purposes, has gone the way of the buffalo in the public square). Cardinal George of Chicago echoed the contention that ID is philosophy in his fine article in "The Catholic New World":
(Stein gets the European take on ID also: It's not a big problem because "there's not the same political correctness in Europe," and the "courts don't decide what can and cannot be taught.")
Check out also Cardinal Schonborn's 2007 book "Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith." Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science, Harvard University, and author of "God's Universe," has this to say of the book (although various readers came to a wide variety of conclusions): "Cardinal Schonborn writes with masterful simplicity on profound theological issues. I, as a scientist and Christian outside the Catholic tradition, welcome his wisdom. He argues effectively that there are multiple approaches to reality, and he states clearly that while intelligent design is worthy of human reflection, from a scientific perspective the evolutionary model is the true story."
Any mention of "chance" in evolution is also conspicuously absent from the film, and although Stein admits he doesn't go into all the particulars of the evolution problem, "chance" is too much of a hot button topic to be ignored. Einstein famously said: "God doesn't roll dice," but it seems, perhaps, that "God" left some things to random chance, that so-called natural selection doesn't always make the wisest, most efficient, most perfect choices (cf. "March of the Penguins"). The most beautiful way I have ever heard this explained is that: God is not afraid of other autonomies. And there must be something else at play here: whimsy? beauty? sense of humor? Incidentally, Thomas Merton said that the number one thing wrong with America is precisely "efficiency." On a sadder note: the biggest proof of chance for me (or shall we say, freedom) is, once again, the Holocaust. And what of these creatures who are also willing and able to trash their own planet until it becomes completely inhospitable to them?

As you know, and as is briefly mentioned in the film, Catholics (and mainline Protestants) don't have a problem with the general concept of evolution. Here's what Catholics "believe." Evolution is a natural process by which things change and grow. How this happens is open to debate. Darwin had his ideas about it. Not all scientists agree with Darwin's ideas, or believe that his ideas can explain all evolution. Catholics believe that God could have had the world and human life unfold in any old way He wants because He is very smart and unlimited. In 1996, Pope John Paul II publicly acknowledged that evolution is more than a hypothesis, but a bonafide (scientific) theory, or rather several theories. Catholics believe that if our bodies evolved from primates, then at some point in time, God began endowing what was now human with an "immortal soul." The soul did not evolve. Human beings are not so much capable of "self-consciousness" or "higher consciousness," but "God consciousness." They can be aware of, and in a conscious relationship with God, the source, summit and sustainer of all life and love. Humans are made in the image of God.

Some Christians freak out at the very idea of evolution, thinking there's no room for God in it (and they also don't want to believe that their bodies might have had "humble" beginnings as fish/monkeys). These Christians also think they take the Bible literally—but they don't because they have all sinned with their hands and haven't cut them off yet, and because (to quote G. K. Chesterton), they know that Herod wasn't really a "fox," and Jesus wasn't really a "gate."

My firm belief is that when your science rattles your faith or your faith rattles your science, there's the same root cause: your God ain't big enough.

I could go on forever about this film and these vital and exciting topics, but I haven't even scratched the surface. But do allow me the indulgence of paraphrasing bio-ethicist, "St." Leon Kass: Some say that the belief of certain human beings that human beings have a special dignity is the result of their genetic pre-disposition. But those who say this cannot possibly claim to be "right" about anything, including their own belief that humans don't have a special dignity, because they are simply speaking out of their own genetic development. And we shall be as intransigent in our belief as they are in theirs.

 "Expelled" ends in a grandstanding blaze of American flags, and let freedom ring rock music. But if, as the movie claims, free speech is being squelched, there's always the digital marketplace of ideas—in this case, film—where it is just getting off the ground….

April 2, 2008


Celeb-Hunters Defend Their Craft

Atlantic Magazine Gathers Paparazzi and Gossip Gurus to Discuss Tabloid Culture

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Some have suggested that the celebrity gossip supernova may finally be cooling off, but don't try telling that to the king and queen of Hollywood paparazzi. They're busy building photo archives of Miley Cyrus, 16, in case she becomes the next big moneymaking disaster.
The usually sober Atlantic magazine surprised readers with a Britney cover recently.
The usually sober Atlantic magazine surprised readers with a Britney cover recently.

"We're trying to get the shots before they go into rehab," said Brandy Navarre, who runs the powerful paparazzi agency X17 with her husband, Regis.

What's more, they believe they're the model for future news coverage on all kinds of subjects. "It's already happening," Mr. Navarre said. "We tried to get Obama in the Virgin Islands with no shirt."

Imagine that
And they believe it's even all to the good. Mr. Navarre suggested that a pack of paparazzi may have been able to prevent John Lennon's murder in 1980; Ms. Navarre said photos of partying starlets have sometimes spurred their families to get professional help.

The pair spoke during a panel on celebrity news convened today by The Atlantic magazine, which recently surprised its rather intellectual readers with a cover story on "The Britney Show." The magazine has tried to expand its influence and begin turning a profit; to that end, it has just poached Wired publisher Jay Lauf from Conde Nast to become VP-publisher.

AdAge decided against trying for a shirtless photo of Mr. Lauf, but it's hard to deny that the general news media increasingly reflect the tactics and values of gossipy celebrity coverage.

Responding to demand
"It's defining deviancy down," said Richard Johnson, editor of The New York Post's Page Six. Its attempt at a stand-alone website for Page Six failed this week because it joined the online game too late, he added, not because of any drop in demand for celebrity gossip. Demand is definitely still growing, he said. "It's the Page Six-ification of America."

It's also a reaction, even a reasonable countermeasure, to stars' careful packaging, panelists argued. "We don't have to send 500 faxes and deal with a publicist," Ms. Navarre said. "We just go out there and do it."

But Bonnie Fuller, editorial director of American Media and former editor of Us Weekly, probably described the appeal of the approach most directly. "It's invigorating," she said.