Monday, November 05, 2007

Relatively speaking, nothing may ever be wrong!

I commence with a disclaimer. I have not read the Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling who as a result of the series has made it to the top 20 of the Forbes Magazine with a value estimated at $US 1 billion and growing[1]. Nor do I intend on reading them. The arguments of why, I will present below. The issues that I raise below are in reference to the book review of JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” submitted by Jacinta Livingstone, an 11th grader from Brisbane Girls Grammar School, and which appeared in the August edition of Annals Australasia entitled “Sadness and Surprises”.

“We know the difference between fact and fiction”. So claims Ms. Livingstone. Is it presumption, stupidity and outright pride? Is it a snubbing of parental/adult authority, or naivety? I doubt it is naivety. In the Treatise on Fortitude of the Summa Theologica[2], St. Thomas tells us “Pride [superbia] is so called because a man thereby aims higher [supra] than he is”. Furthermore Holy Scripture tells “Pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sirach 10:15). How else does one explain Ms. Livingstone’s presumptuous statement that today’s youth “are smarter than that”? Such a statement fits clearly into the fourth mark (species) of pride as proposed by Pope Gregory the Great and discussed by St. Thomas, “they boast of having what they have not” for clearly if most adults do not have the expertise to comprehend the wittiness of the evil one, how much more does a teenager?

Is this the level of literary education in our schools today? Is the virtue of prudence not taught? Is it any wonder that modern literature and some best sellers have been anything but literary masterpieces of trash (e.g. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code – to mention one)? This kind of literature ignores the wisdom of those wiser, more experienced and more learned and is solely based on the subjective perspective of what one feels irrespective of how little they may know. This is the affliction of our times, our culture, perspective and thought, how as a society we have placed the self at the center of everything and forgotten about the needs of our neighbor shifting from, what some have called, “self-sacrifice” to “self-fulfillment”[3]. Such thought has implications on our faith since it results in the wrongful perception that the “truth no longer [rests] in the Catholic Church, but rather in experience”[3] (of the self, of course) leading people away from the Truth, right into the void of a “religion of self” [3]. Of course, one does not have to consider this in great depth to realize that once the self is broken, one is left with little else but a vacuum and the problems that follow shortly thereafter.

In the confusion of the world around us, living the way Christ wants us to live is not getting any easier. Morality has given way to moral relativism. We face, not only, the secular attacks from the outside world, but also attacks from liberal entities within the Catholic Church that have taught their version of the Church teaching which is anything but Catholic – in the process corrupting seminarians, students and the “regular” lay Catholic who depends on those who are “learned” to guide and teach the truth of Christ. So, in all the confusion, lack of spiritual formation and lack of Catechesis, how robust an argument is it, coming from a teenager, that they know “fact from fiction” when as adults we struggle in the search of truth and in filtering out the corruptions to the truth that Christ teaches us through his Church?

In a typical liberal dismissal of critics of this series, Ms. Livingstone speaks of attacks by “fundamentalist churchgoers”. How does one define a “fundamentalist churchgoer”? In the homily that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) gave prior to the beginning of the last conclave, the cardinal reflects and advises “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires”[4]. This statement reflects a humanity ‘satisfied’ with mediocrity, with what is gray, with sitting on the fence, rather than recognizing what is black and white and taking a stand in the name of Truth. It reflects a humanity enslaved, since man without God, fixated on himself, egocentric and narcissistic, is empty, unfulfilled and incomplete.

While we do need to keep our minds and hearts open since God chooses many ways to speak to us, we cannot afford to compromise the values and truths of our faith and need to resist the very often subtle (sometimes not so subtle) attacks on our faith. What we seem to forget is that the teachings of Christ, God’s commandment are black and white. God Himself is ALL good, not mostly good. Is this then not an indication for us as to what we should be striving for? The gray area comes in only because of our sinfulness and our clouded minds….God obviously knows our own individual efforts and reasoning and knows what is in the depths of our hearts and surely takes these into consideration in our judgment. However it is only pride and presumption that would state that God’s truths and the teachings that come to us through his church are also gray. If Christ implored us to be “perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48), should we not be watching out and avoiding areas of gray in relation to our spiritual life? Does it not mean that He gives us, through the Church and the Sacraments, the means to work towards this perfection?

We also need to be constantly vigilant at the messages we feed our children and ourselves since in the formation of our conscience nothing but “the Word of God” should be “the light for our path”[5]. The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Mgr. Gabriele Amorth, has also expressed his concern for what can be called a “preoccupation with the occult”[6], stating that by reading the Harry Potter books that pretend to portray the non-existent distinction between bad (black) and good (white) magic, there is little that separates a child from the extreme dangers of Satanism once their interests are drawn towards magic[7]. Furthermore, the Catechism makes a clear stand on magic and sorcery and that they are offensive to God.[8] It makes one wonder therefore, especially in light of the recent revelation by Rowling herself about the sexual orientation of one of the characters[9] and the message this imparts, at Ms. Livingstone’s claim of this series of books having a “sound moral basis”. The EWTN website continues on to suggest that the lives of saints “represent a magic more powerful and real, holiness, and one without any danger to the reader.”[10] Further reading is highly recommended of articles written by Michael O’Brien[11], Lev Grossman[12] and Fr. Andrew McNair, LC[13].

The issues raised above touch on the basis of any legitimate arguments leveled at the Harry Potter series. Ultimately God is being left out of the picture and the focus is on the self and some hidden powers within the self - a modern version of Gnosticism as one author put it[14]. On the inside front cover – giving an overview of the concepts discussed within Pope Benedict XVI’s book, “Without Roots” [15], the question is asked “Can a civilization exist without any sense of the sacred?” The implications of leaving God out on the minds of our young generation are serious since sorcery, especially when it is described as having a “good side”, ends only with replacing God and thus removing any sense of the sacred.

Such arguments as have arisen about Harry Potter are going to arise again. It is up to us to be truly committed to informing ourselves of what the Catholic Church teaches and standing by them through thick and thin, including by the precautions we take into what we “feed” our personal and our children’s minds since we are ultimately responsible in front of God for their formation both spiritually as well as intellectually. Pope Benedict XVI, while still cardinal in his correspondence with Gabriele Kuby, a German sociologist and writer who has written a book about Harry Potter entitled Harry Potter; Gut oder böse? (“Harry Potter; Good or evil?”) wrote, “It is good that you enlighten us on the Harry Potter matter, for these are subtle seductions that are barely noticeable, and precisely because of that have a deep effect and corrupt the Christian faith in souls even before it could properly grow” [16]. It is our duty to protect our souls as well as those of our children from such corruption, subtle or not. With respect to their overall formation, to a great extent they are what they read and on the same token the case is very much so one of “Garbage in, Garbage out”. This early formation, good or bad, ultimately has social implications. If God is left out of the picture or the book, the implications will be disastrous as history has already shown. In the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn “The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century (20th Century)”[17]. We cannot afford to numb our conscience or that of our children. History is meant to teach us something, or does it?

I propose that, it is precisely the non-vigilant, non-chalant, if not presumptuous attitude reflected in such an article and prevalent within the minds of many Catholics, that leaves the soul vulnerable to Satan’s surprise attacks. A moment is all he requires “Catch him at the moment…” uncle Screwtape tells his aspiring nephew Wormwood in CS Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters”[18]

[1] Forbes.com
[2] St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica (translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province), ISBN: 0870610635.
[3] Good bye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church, by Michael S. Rose. ISBN: 0895261448.
[4] Homily Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, Monday April 18, 2005
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1785
[6] EWTN
[7] ANSA News agency, 2002
[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1852, 2117
[9] Rowling: Potter’s Dumbledore Gay; TIME, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007
[10] EWTN
[11] Michael O'Brien
[12] Who dies in Harry Potter? God by Lev Grossman
[13] The reality of the Devil by Fr. Andrew McNair, LC National Catholic Register, October 28-November 3,2007 Issue
[14] Michael O’Brien
[15] Without Roots – The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and Marcello Pera, ISBN: 0465006345
[16] Gabriele Kuby
[17] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Templeton Prize Lecture, 1983), cited in The Cube and the Cathedral – Europe, America, and Politics Without God by George Weigel, ISBN: 0465092667 (National Review, July 22, 1983, p. 874)
[18] The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis ISBN:0060652934