Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Thursday, August 21, 2014


I know I'm not objective about this stuff and not even well informed because I often avoid reading news stories that will upset me, but in my travels through the web today I felt sick at seeing the juxtaposition of two articles ... Anglican priest Giles Fraser's continuing defense of terrorism and this story linking Britain and the video beheading of American journalist James Foley.

Here is James Foley speaking at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in 2011 ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A contemporary crusade?

On the plane back from Korea, the Pope appears to have endorsed military action in Iraq. Here's a video of Francis speaking on this issue, from the Catholic News Service ...

I was surprised and kind of disturbed - the church seems much more militant about this conflict involving Christians than it has been about any other current conflict ... think of Francis' call for prayer and fasting rather than military intervention in Syria, where many more people have been killed and displaced (The Syrian civil war ... has left more than 170,000 people dead and displaced 9 million more).

Pope says ISIS must be stopped. But how?

Nonviolence, Not Just War - Fr. John Dear

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And more on Hans Urs von Balthasar

After seeing Karen Kilby's talk in my previous post, I was intrigued to see that Fr. Baron had a couple of video talks on von Balthasar as well. Usually I find Fr. Baron too conservative, but his take on the Swiss Jesuit was interesting ... I didn't know, for instance, that he was a fan of Mozart :) ...

Another video lecture ...

from the celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the foundation of Heythrop College and of the Jesuit educational tradition, this one on four Jesuit theologians: Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bernard Lonergan, and Henri de Lubac. The talk is by Karen Kilby, the Bede Professor of Catholic Theology at Durham University. She has some interesting things to say about von Balthasar and Rahner ...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Philip Endean SJ lecture

From a celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the foundation of Heythrop College and of the Jesuit educational tradition, here's the video of a talk given by Philip Endean SJ on The Reception of Ignatian Spirituality in Britain ....

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What I read about today

- The Tacit Supernaturalism of Popular Science

- Robin Williams's death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish

- There are so many popular misconceptions about the Middle Ages/Renaissance ... here's the debunking of one example ... Busting a myth about Columbus and a flat Earth.

- Stars in talks over Massachusetts Catholic church sex abuse case movie ... Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci and Michael Keaton are in talks to star in a film about the Catholic church’s attempt to conceal sexual abuse by priests, according to multiple reports. The film, Spotlight, will follow the Boston Globe’s investigation into the decades-long cover-up of church sexual abuse in Massachusetts. The Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting lead to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, who had helped hide a history of serial abuse, and also precipitated a wave of similar charges across the US and the world.

- A letter from Stephen Fry to (a different) Crystal about depression.

- Everything You Know About Ebola Is Wrong

- As online anti-Semitism grows, so do efforts to counter it

- Some beautiful photos of bees :)

Saturday, August 16, 2014


My latest book from the library is Heresy by SJ Parris (Stephanie Jane Merritt). It's an historical mystery about Giordano Bruno .....

an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer. He is celebrated for his cosmological theories, which went even further than the then-novel Copernican model: while supporting heliocentrism, Bruno also correctly proposed that the Sun was just another star moving in space, and claimed as well that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds, identified as planets orbiting other stars. Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of several core Catholic doctrines (including the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and Transubstantiation). Bruno's pantheism was also a matter of grave concern. The Inquisition found him guilty, and in 1600 he was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori.

Here's the beginning of a review of the book in the Guardian ...

Stephanie Merritt's pseudonymous third novel opens as its hero, the philosopher and memory expert Giordano Bruno, is discovered reading Erasmus on the privy. Not such a crime, you might think. But the year is 1576 and Bruno is a Dominican friar at a monastery in Naples. Before you can say "No one expects the Italian inquisition", Bruno has dropped the book into the cesspit, fled the building and become a fugitive from religious justice – which is, of course, no justice at all.

Actually, these are true events. The historical Bruno ended up in Paris where he secured the patronage of some of France's most powerful men, notably King Henry III. In April 1583, he visited England for the first time. With his friend, the poet Philip Sidney, he travelled to Oxford, where he hoped to find a teaching post. Alas, his progressive views – he went beyond Copernicus in proposing an infinite universe containing solar systems similar to our own – led to accusations of heresy and necromancy, and he emerged bruised from a public dispute with the rector of Lincoln College, John Underhill.

Merritt uses Bruno's Oxford trip as the framework for an atmospheric and well-written historical thriller ....

I've just started it but so far it's pretty good :)

Love this piece of music ...

by Steve Jablonsky - My Name is Lincoln - that comes at the end of the film The Island ...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Original sin and The X-Files

- The Fall of Man, Hendrik Goltzius

I read an interesting article today at The Atlantic - The Internet's Original Sin - about how good intentions can be the paving stones to hell ;) Here's just a bit of it ...

[...] What we wanted to do was to build a tool that made it easy for everyone, everywhere to share knowledge, opinions, ideas and photos of cute cats. As everyone knows, we had some problems, primarily business model problems, that prevented us from doing what we wanted to do the way we hoped to do it. What we’re asking for today is a conversation about how we could do this better, since we screwed up pretty badly the first time around .....

I use the first personal plural advisedly. From 1994 to 1999, I worked for, helping to architect, design, and implement a website that marketed content and services to recent college graduates. When that business failed to catch on, we became a webpage-hosting provider and proto-social network. Over the course of five years, we tried dozens of revenue models, printing out shiny new business plans to sell each one. We’d run as a subscription service! Take a share of revenue when our users bought mutual funds after reading our investment advice! Get paid to bundle a magazine with textbook publishers! Sell T-shirts and other branded merch!

At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good .......

How do The X-Files figure into this? Years ago when I belonged to an online fiction writers group, I wrote a short-short story about the imagined murder of the creator of pop-up ads, which came to the attention of Mulder and Scully ....

- my autographed DD postcard :)

* * *

X-File Homage

This story was written for a Science Fiction Challenge on the subject of fan fiction

Special Agent Fox Mulder leaned against the wall of the autopsy suite, eating sunflower seeds and watching Agent Dana Scully as she pulled the sheet from a dead body. The corpse lay at an awkward angle on its side due to the computer keyboard that protruded from it's nether regions.

"Ouch," muttered Mulder. "That's got to hurt."

Scully gave her partner a baleful glance and began to speak into a voice activated recorder that hung from the ceiling between the bright surgical lights. "The victim, Fred Wiggins, appears to have died from blunt force trauma to the head ..."

"You can say that again," Mulder added, interrupting her. He gazed at Wiggins' head, or what was left of it ... a computer terminal had all but obliterated it and seemed now to be fused to the remnant of skull and brain tissue.

Picking up a scalpel in a gloved hand, Scully began to carve a Y incision into the stiff body that lay before her. "I don't understand why we've been assigned this case, Mulder. I'm as happy to snap on the latex as the next person, but this seems to be an albeit grotesque but normal murder, not an X-File."

Mulder crunched a sunflower seed hull between his teeth and suppressed a sigh. "Scully, Scully, Scully ... after all we've seen, how can you still be so naive?''

His partner arched an interrogative brow as she began to remove the corpse's rib cage with a handsaw. Mulder elaborated, pointing to the strategically placed computer keyboard. "Remember that case we had in which ritual magic was used to materialize surgical instruments inside a person's intestinal tract?"

"Yes, but this isn't exactly ..."

Mulder held up a restraining hand as he continued. "Then there was that X-File in which a man exposed to toxic chemicals was slowly turned into a machine."

"Surely you don't think that's the case here, Mulder. This man has obviously ..."

Before Scully could finish her sentence, the door to the autopsy suite swung open and FBI Assistant Director Skinner, the agents' boss, walked in. "You two are off the case."

"On whose say-so?" Mulder asked.

"The Justice Department has deemed this to be not a wrongful death after all but justifiable homicide. And they want the details kept quiet," Skinner said, as he cast a disturbed glance at the mutilated corpse.

"Just as I thought ... a far reaching global conspiracy concocted by the secret powers within our government and their alien masters." In emphasis, Mulder thumped his fist against the computer terminal that the deceased Mr. Wiggins now used as a head.

"Oh, come on Mulder ..." Scully began, but Skinner cut her off.

"He's right, Scully."

"I am?" Mulder looked more surprised than his partner.

His expression grim, Skinner looked around the room, as if to be sure they were alone. "Yes ... Mr. Wiggins was involved in something more diabolical, more truly evil, than anything you've yet encountered in the X-Files. I think it's possible that someone in the government had him silenced before he could reveal anything. Wiggins was a computer programmer. In collusion with unnamed forces so powerful and dangerous as to be beyond accountability, for dark purposes I can't even begin to imagine, he created the prototype of ... the pop-up ad."

"My God!" Scully gasped.

Mulder was, for once, speechless. Then, taking a deep steadying breath, he put the unsolvable case behind him. "So, you guys hungry?'

Skinner shrugged, "I could eat."

Scully snapped off the latex and, discussing restaurants, the three left the room.

* * *

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Seize the Fire

The latest book I'm reading is another in the Star Trek: Titan series ... Star Trek: Typhon Pact #2: Seize the Fire

The series is set after the last Star Trek movie, the one in which Commander Riker and Counselor Troi get married and in which Data sadly dies. Now, Riker is the captain of his own ship, and Starfleet is renewing its mission of peaceful exploration and diplomacy, a mission spearheaded by the Titan, which in addition to Riker and Troi, is manned by "the most biologically varied and culturally diverse crew in Starfleet history. There are some familiar characters on the crew but three of my favorites are new ... Ensign Torvig, who is of an alien race that looks like a cross between a sheep and an ostrich ... Chief of security Lieutenant Commander Ranul Keru who's an unjoined Trill and (a first for Star Trek, I think) a gay character ... Dr. Ree, the chief medical officer, who looks like a velociraptor.

This book of the series is really pretty good. Riker and his crew encounter the Gorn, who were first introduced in a (pretty bad) episode of the old original series ;) ...

Scottish independence and movies

A national referendum in September 2014 will let voters in Scotland decide if they want to have an independent country. Here's what actor Sean Connery had to say about it ... Sean Connery on Scottish independence: “Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation”

I know a bit about Scottish history from college classes but you can also get an idea of some of the high points through movies (though of course you have to check them for historical inaccuracies) ...

Braveheart tells of ... William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. The story is based on Blind Harry's epic poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace. The Bruce also shows up in the movie and I recall a few years ago he and Pope Benedict were in the news: Benedict XVI should address the papacy’s treatment of Robert the Bruce (he had been excommunicated).

- - marker for burial of the heart of Robert the Bruce at Melrose Abbey

There was border fighting between England and Scotland for centuries after and Scotland remained independent for the most part, but from 1603 the two countries had the same king. How that came about is shown in the film, Mary, Queen of Scots. It told of Queen Elizabeth of England's efforts to destabilize the Scottish monarchy led by Mary, her capture by England and her execution. Mary's son, James (of bible fame) became king of both lands, ruling from England, and Scotland was no longer independent. One of the interesting things about the movie was the animosity between Catholicism and Protestantism and John Knox appears in the film ...

[Knox] led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Protestant nobility. The movement may be seen as a revolution, since it led to the ousting of Mary of Guise, who governed the country in the name of her young daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox helped write the new confession of faith and the ecclesiastical order for the newly created reformed church, the Kirk. He continued to serve as the religious leader of the Protestants throughout Mary's reign. In several interviews with the Queen, Knox admonished her for supporting Catholic practices. When she was imprisoned for her alleged role in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, and King James VI enthroned in her stead, he openly called for her execution.

- Knox is on the far R of Reformation Wall

I don't know what all the implications of Scotland being independent would be, but as someone from a former British colony ;) I think I agree with Sean Connery.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Draco lives :(

Wow, the idea of women as priests must really scare the pants off the church ...

Jesuit Fr. William Brennan, penalized for liturgy with woman priest, dies

Jesuit Fr. William Brennan, a former missionary to Belize who made social justice his life's work, died Monday at St. Camillus retirement home in Wauwatosa, Wis. He was 94.

Brennan, who was a Jesuit for 75 years and a priest for 63 years, spent the last two years of his life under restricted ministry because of participating in a eucharistic liturgy with a Roman Catholic woman priest in November 2012 ....

His priestly faculties were suspended, and he was prohibited from leaving Milwaukee without permission and from appearing as a Jesuit at any public gathering, including protests and rallies. He was also ordered not to contact the media "through phone, email, or any other means."

In 2012, when NCR contacted him to ask about his sanctions, he was hesitant to confirm the news. "I'm risking my existence in the Jesuit order by talking to you," Brennan told NCR ...

What a waste.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Suicide, the church, a movie

I was sorry to read that the actor Robin Williams has died - Robin Williams Died In an Apparent Suicide by Hanging (suicide is among the top 10 leading causes of death in the US).

One of William's movies that I found especially interesting dealt with suicide and what happens to people who commit it after death = What Dreams May Come. The 1998 fantasy also starred Cuba Gooding, Jr., Annabella Sciorra and Max von Sydow, and was based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, and was directed by Vincent Ward.

The plot: Doctor Chris Nielsen (Williams) is happily married to artist Annie Collins (Sciorra) and all is well until their two children are killed in a car accident, whereupon Annie becomes very depressed. When Chris is then later killed in a car accident too, she snaps and kills herself. The rest of the film is about Chris's experiences in heaven and his quest to save his wife from hell, where as we all know (not!), suicides end up.

I hate that early Catholic idea that suicide is murder, that it's a sin from which one cannot repent, that one's life belongs to God and we're just leasing - blame Augustine/Aquinas :( Even now the catechism states ... 2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

The movie won an award for visual effects and it was pretty amazing looking. Here Siskel & Ebert comment on the film, which they both really liked ...

Here's a bit of Roger Ebert's print review in which he gave the movie 3.5 stars ...

[...] The story, inspired by a novel by Richard Matheson, is founded on the assumption that heaven exists in a state of flux, that its inhabitants assume identities that please themselves, or us; that having been bound within one identity during life, we are set free. Heaven, in one sense, means becoming who you want to be.

And hell? "Hell is for those who don't know they're dead," says Albert. Or they know they're dead but don't know what the deal is. Or they won't go along with the deal. Many of those in hell are guilty of the greatest sin against God, which is despair: They believe they are beyond hope.

After the death of her children and husband, Annie has despaired, killed herself and gone to hell. Chris wants to find her: "I'm her soul mate." Albert says that's not possible: "Nothing will make her recognize you." But he acts as a guide, and Chris ventures into hell, which, like heaven, has been realized with a visual intensity and originality that is astonishing. In this film, the road to hell is paved, not with good intentions, but with the faces of the damned, bitter and complaining (the face and voice of Chris's father are played by the German director Werner Herzog).

What happens then, what happens throughout the film, is like nothing you have seen before ...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Backs and kittens

- the kitten is laying inside the top hole of the cinder blocks ... see his tail? :)

I haven't been posting much lately because I re-hurt my back. Today I went for an MRI but it was so painful to lie on the metal bed-thing and not move that I could only do about 10 minutes of the 25 minute scan. It's unclear if the little bit that got done will be of any use figuring out what's wrong. Meanwhile everything I should be doing, like finding some positive solution for the homeless cats, isn't getting done. Hope things improve soon.

Saturday, August 09, 2014


- The problem with the Bible

- The Old Old Earth

- Antisemitism on rise across Europe 'in worst times since the Nazis'

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Warsi quits

Reading in the UK news that Baroness Warsi , a Minister for Faith and Communities in David Cameron's government, has quit over his stance on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (she's pro-Palestinian). I'm not British, of course, but I won't miss her ... when ever I've seen her name in the news, it's always been linked to conservative causes. The Catholic Church in the UK is sorry to see her leave, though ... with them she has been an obstacle to equality for LGBT folks (Adviser to Tory leader attacks gay sex laws and Baroness Warsi’s 'concern' over effect of gay marriage laws on religious groups) and an opponent of what they both characterize as militant secularism (Britain being overtaken by 'militant secularists', says Baroness Warsi). Not surprising that she was loved by Benedict's Vatican (Lady Warsi gets rapturous reception at Vatican for speech on faith).

I don't quite understand politics in the UK ... conservatives and liberals don't always stand where you would expect them to on issues, at least from a US perspective ... but here's a discussion from The (politically conservative) Spectator on why she might have quit ...

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

What I've been reading about ...

- Who knew Scotland was so diverse? I've never been to Scotland so all I know of it comes from movies like Highlander and Braveheart ;) The photo above is of the Italian Chapel ... a highly ornate Catholic chapel on Lamb Holm in the Orkney Islands. It was built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II, who were housed on the previously uninhabited island while they constructed the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow. Only the concrete foundations of the other buildings of the prisoner-of-war camp survive.

- Pick your doomsday: 9 end-of-the-world theories that will haunt your dreams. With Ebola in the news, scenario # 2: Pandemic is starting to look more scarily possible ... W.H.O. Weighing Emergency Decree on Ebola

- Has anyone read The Magic Mountain? I remember thinking about trying it when I was taking German in college: I liked the word for magic - zauber - and wanted to investigate stuff like Die Zauberflöte :) What made me think of it was an article at Thinking Faith - The Magic Mountain' by Thomas Mann

- China :( They're not only destroying the elephants - A World Without Elephants? Blame China - but also dolphins - China's appetite for fish bladders may send porpoise to brink of extinction

- 10 best books of August: the Monitor's picks

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Christian Bale is Moses :)

Coming to a theater near us in December ... Exodus: Gods and Kings. It's an ...

upcoming British-American biblical epic film directed by Ridley Scott .... The film stars Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Kingsley. It is an interpretation of the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt as led by Moses and related in the Old Testament Book of Exodus.

I hope the movie will be good because i do like Christian Bale. He's done a nice job in many films - Little Women, Equilibrium, Batman Begins, The New World , 3:10 to Yuma, Terminator Salvation . My sister likes him too - her favorite movie of his is American Psycho.

There aren't really reviews yet, of course, but it has been in the news. Here's the beginning of a piece at The Guardian ...

First look at Ridley Scott's biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings

It's one of the most dramatic, politically charged and quite frankly blockbusting books in the Bible, and Exodus looks set to be an equally epic movie. The first trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings has arrived, and director Ridley Scott looks to be on very firm ground. After reinventing the swords and sandals genre with Gladiator, he has delved further into big historical action films with Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. But where those later films were slightly bogged down in dingy midnight blues, Scott is back to the resplendent golds of Gladiator, as he dramatises the face-off between Moses and Ramses II – with God waiting in the wings as the ultimate cavalry ...