The U.S. Bishops have just released a statement on pornography: “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography”. Given the recent fiasco in Rome and the presence of the word “pastoral” in the title, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a mess of ambiguity that ended up being about making porn addicts feel welcome contributing to parish life. In fact, the statement is refreshingly blunt. Use of pornography is clearly and repeatedly labeled a mortal sin, which is something even I hadn’t realized. (I thought it was just what one tends to do while viewing pornography that is mortally sinful.) What’s more, they’re careful to be gender inclusive in their condemnations; specifically including erotic romance novels aimed at women. There’s no appeal to “gradualism”, to the positive elements that may be involved in pornography production and use, just pure condemnation. This is nice, although it raises the question of why the Church has chosen this one particular sexual sin, out of the several that have risen to near-ubiquity in our society, to go all “medieval” on.
Some time ago, an article at the Tablet called Tree of Life “the least Jewish film ever made” for its supposed focus on grace and predestination.
Film—more, perhaps, than any other medium—thrives on action. It revels in initiative. Movies demand movement, which is why their heroes take charge: Leave it to characters in novels to think; on screen, they do.
This—and not the largely insignificant fact that so many of its champions happened to be named Goldwyn or Mayer or Spielberg—is what makes cinema a profoundly Jewish art form. On celluloid film and in Jewish spirituality, there’s no room for grace: One is always the hero of one’s own story, and one must always redeem oneself.
To better understand this contentious claim, consider the following, from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s God in Search of Man: “The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself;
Judaism, according to the author, is a Pelagian faith, which certainly matches my observations of Jewish intrinsic self-rightousness. The above might also be why movies seem to be such a poor medium for religion and myth. Religious stories, myths, and folk tales either fail on screen, seeming silly and implausible, or else they succeed but at the cost of being transformed into another type of story, with the archetypal and dreamlike qualities removed. This is certainly a limitation of the medium itself. Religion and myth have found powerful expression in narrative art as far back as Gilgamesh. It just doesn’t work in movies.
Ironically, they seem to be doing very well, at least by commercial standards. Between them, they’ve arguably devoured American popular culture. That’s not to say that the genres are in good health; a genre can continue making money long into its decadent phase when it lives on irony and nostalgia.
When I was a kid, I read a bunch of the DC comic books–Superman, Green Lantern, that sort of thing. My maternal grandfather co-owned a candy shop, a veritable paradise for young boys full of chocolates, squirt guns, and a turning comic book rack near the front entrance. At that time, comic books were still for boys. They were produced on inexpensive paper to be cheap, had new issues each month, and generally avoided “adult themes”. Years later, after I’d outgrown them, comic books morphed into “graphic novels”: bulky, expensive things aimed at an adult audience. The DC superhero crew lives on in movies, especially the wonderful recent Batman trilogy, which surprisingly contained many counter-revolutionary themes. These also were really more aimed at adults, albeit young adults who probably didn’t fully appreciate them, than boys.
People complain about “mercy” being a very vague thing to have a Jubilee Year about. I’ve never particularly liked Catholicism’s fondness for lists (deadly sins, gifts of the Holy Spirit,…), but in this case it’s actually useful. If you want to know what is the content of mercy, you can’t do better than look at the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Here’s my little contribution to His Holiness’ efforts.
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To harbour the harbourless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
So there you go. That’s what we should get to work on.
When a Westerner hears the phrase “triumph of love over morality” he’s likely to think of some sort of sexual sin. Our civilization has a long history of romanticizing adultery in these sorts of terms. Today, a person might think of homosexuality. At least in Christian times, though, these would not have been good examples. Seducing another man’s wife is enticing her into mortal sin with the consequent danger of hellfire, which is surely not a loving thing to do. In any case, the collision is not between morality and love per se, since morality doesn’t ever forbid one from loving someone, but at most between morality and certain expressions of love. A Christian cannot admit any ultimate contradiction between morality and love, since Jesus Himself made love the two greatest commandments, from which the others are derived.
Are there any cases, then, of people being forbidden to love? Certainly. My country’s bishops have cruelly forbidden one normal type of human love–its very existence and not only any sinful expression thereof. I refer to the love of one’s own ethnic group, roundly condemned by moralistic prelates as “racism”.
Properly speaking, no, the moral status of racial segregation in the past is not affected by unknown future events. In the minds of our descendants, though, things might be different. The civil rights narrative we learned in school is that blacks wanted to be equal, to blend in as indistinguishable pieces of a post-racial society, and there were so few of them that it would have cost whites very little to integrate them, but out of perverse hatred we refused to do it. Today, whites are legally disfavored, we are disproportionately the victims of interracial violence, and our history and culture are demonized by the media and schools. Still, none of this affects the average white very much, because we’re still a majority. Soon, though, we’ll be a minority, a legally disfavored, widely despised and scapegoated minority, and that will be much worse than the current minor inconveniences of affirmative action and antiracist status-signaling. The narrative of American racial relations will surely be different then, once it is clear that equality was just a brief transition period between white supremacy and colored supremacy. Equality is unstable. One naturally settles to a state where one race has higher status than another. In such a zero-sum game, it is more understandable that whites once used the law to keep themselves in the top spot. One needn’t suppose that they were driven by some inexplicable form of hatred. This is, at least, how it will appear, even if equality was once an achievable thing and segregation really was driven by anti-black animus.
It may be realized in the future that whites resorted to law because of the weakness of our race, because we knew that in a level social playing field with blacks, we would lose. Certainly whiteness is genetically weak: the child of a white and a black is black, by general acknowledgment both when being white was high status and now that being black is high status. Whites may well be socially inferior too; I remember reading somewhere that black high school students are more popular than white high school students. Most importantly, we whites know ourselves to be inferior to the blacks and the Jews in morale. (I haven’t been talking about Jews up till now, but they really fit in on this point.) The really frightening thing about our racial competitors is their absolute certainty in their superior righteousness. The blacks and the Jews, it would seem, never experience the doubt that plagues whites, much less our sense of moral inferiority before the Other. They are certain that our identity is based on hatred; we deny it, but we understand their point and worry they might be right. They never worry that maybe we’ve got a point. In a contest between certainty and doubt, their certainty will always win.
Why do they have the stronger faith? Maybe it’s innate; whites just aren’t as good at group loyalty. Maybe we really are morally inferior and know it; having admitted that slavery was wrong, we can’t feel ever again like we have any moral legitimacy in the face of blacks. That would be ironic. It would mean we were compelled to keep being unjust to them just because we had already been unjust to them so long that an acknowledgement of their equality would immediately be an acknowledgement of their superiority. Even though one might then say that the whole thing is ultimately whites’ fault (although remember that European countries that never practiced slavery or colonialism also get demands that they become “multicultural”, i.e. accept colored supremacy), one can appreciate that the whites born later inherited quite a predicament. Does it ever end? Are whites going to have to ask blacks to enslave us before we can again be a race like any other?
I grew up in the rural South when racial segregation was no longer the law, but remained the norm. I have gone to predominately black schools most of my life, schools that began so or became so because of white people’s deep desire to resist racial commingling. But what was born of hate, black folks infused with pride and anointed with value.
Whites wanting their own space = hate
Blacks wanting their won space = pride and value