Thursday, February 14, 2013

Can we handle the truth?

Remember all those years ago, when I posted this post?  I meant to make a broader point at the time, but life kept getting in the way, I guess just like it does when trying to look at clouds.  Anyway, to be honest, I can't remember the point I was going to make.  Here are the two clips again, perhaps they'll jar my memory:

Please watch this little gem of scene chewing on the part of Cruise and Nicholson, from the film A Few Good Men:

Now watch this speech, given toward the end of the film "The Caine Mutiny":

There are a couple excellent points from Jose Ferrer's wonderful speech at the end of the Caine Mutiny, and an interesting comparison.

1. While so many of us are going about looking at college, going to college, getting jobs, making money - we still have a military to thank for it.  It's hard to imagine that lesson being told to a WWII generation audience, but you sometimes get the impression that old Greatest Generation wasn't quite as homogeneous as we like to think.  But it's especially true today, when we all sit back, comfy in our little computer worlds, going on with life, using our troops as pawns on an ideological chessboard, shooting their mission in the foot, condemning everything they're fighting for, and then somehow,  in often superficial ways, declaring our undying love for what they accomplish while condemning their accomplishment.  My 14 year old said it best when he asked: if our wars are so evil, how can we praise those who volunteer to fight them?   Sometimes I think the war protesters of the 60s were more true to themselves: our war was evil and illegal  and our troops a bunch of baby murdering Genghis Khans.  At least that was honest, not the bizarre twist and turns on what we see today, from people who only know the end result and spend little time in the world really thinking about the alternatives.   We've come to take it for granted that American can lose war after war and it doesn't really matter.  I'm sure it matters to those who die and their families.  I have a hunch some day in the not too distant, it's going to matter to a whole lot of other people.

2. You don't follow a captain because you like the way he parts his hair, you follow him because he's the captain or you're no good.  As a Catholic, I'm sometimes amused at how some of my post-baby boomer brethren and sistren in the Faith seem to adopt that classic rage against the machine, all authority sucks, 'I don't lift a finger for a leader unless he proves his worth to me' attitude.  Funny how a movie made in 1954 based on a book written earlier about WWII already felt the need to make that point.  It only got worse.  Today, even the most Catholic Catholics seem to have a bit of this fight authority and authority always wins attitude, especially when they are young enough to remember the fond days of Howdy Doody.  And yet, how many then turn around and defend the priesthood,  the Church,  the Magisterium on grounds that, well, we should.  Should why?  You can't uphold the idea that authority basically sucks in every other way, hold impossible standards, exploit every flaw and failing, and then turn around and ask everyone else to do the opposite when it comes to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  People in the ancient of days followed the authority of the Church because they followed authority.  They weren't idiots.  They weren't stupid.  They knew when they had rotten or corrupt leaders.  But they had a respect for the idea of authority.  Don't give me crap about adhering to Paul's admonition that we pray for our leaders and respect authority when even a barnyard jackass could see we do otherwise.  If as Catholics we expect the authority of the Church to be followed, we had best get back to a time when we follow authority in general and in real measure, not just vain words.

3. Notice that Jack Nicholson basically gives the same speech Jose Ferrer gives.  Same basic 'we stand on the line and keep you safe' speech.  Of course Ferrer is already using the third person - it's 'they' who do it, as opposed to Nicholson's me.  Plus A Few Good Men is classic pre-Gulf War liberalism:  the military basically sucks.  It's all rotten, down to our twisted and maniacal soldiers.  It was only realizing that our country would not stand for another war in which our soldiers were so maligned as the Vietnam war that critics of the war began walking that delicate -and at times borderline hypocritical - path of 'war of evil/praise the solders who fight it'.  So in A Few Good Men, it's heroic rebels out to save the world from the likes of Nicholson.  No mental illness here, and Cruise's character has nothing but scorn for him, as opposed to Ferrer who is sick with what he had to do.

But notice the difference.  Nicholson's famous guarding the wall speech is almost meant to be parody,  its very essence worthy of scorn.  This was the hip late 80s and early 90s.  We had met the enemy, and it was us.  Already the various breakdowns in basic assumptions that makes fealty to Mother Church seem almost incompatible with our modern cultural assumptions.  When Ferrer says it, he means it.  We owe our asses to these people  No matter how mixed up, messed up, screwed up, and no matter how flawed.

Which brings us to the final point.  It is clear when watching Caine that the breakdown of the Captain is the result of stress and strain, and disloyalty from his officers.  What he did may have been bad, but it was the result of being in the trenches.  Being in the thick of life.  Of struggling in the real world.

In the Internet world of the Blogosphere, I'm aware we're all really living in the world, and we all have our experience dealing with life.  But here's the thing.  To read blogs and comments, sometimes I think we forget it.  Oh, to deal one and one, face to face we can be sympathetic.  But once we hit the world of the internet, we forget what people go through.  We forget their humanity. Like the officers on the Caine, we forget that people may need understanding, not condemnation, scorn, and self-righteous contempt.

I'm not saying for a minute we shouldn't call spades spades, or speak out against evil, or wrong, or mistakes.  That's fair.  We are called to correct those in error after all (and accept correction, FWIW).  But we should remember that the purpose of apologetics or any type of rendering an account of our faith is to win SOULS, not arguments.  Nor is it to pat ourselves on the back for not sinning as bad as those folks, or obviously not being wrong about things that matter, as opposed to them.

As a pastor, it never failed that you had people come up and want you to call down the wrath of God on those sinners over there, those people who were blaspheming God or following heretical thinking.  Always those people.  But you get 'those people' into your study, into your office, and guess what.  You begin to find out that sometimes there are very deep and complex reasons behind why they think this or do that.  No, you don't condone it.  And yes, you point out the teachings of the faith.  But you don't call names.  You don't put them down.  You shouldn't say they don't love Jesus, believe the Bible is the Word of God, or the Catholic Equivalent - they ignore Church teaching or don't care about the Magisterium.   Because they are in the trenches like me, like you, like everyone else.

Unless you know what you are wrong about and are sure it doesn't matter, you had best damn well hold back on the outright condemnations and judgmentalism.   Unless you are sure your sins don't matter like theirs, you had best remember that the contempt and loathing you feel may have far less to do with pure fealty to Holy Writ, and maybe more to do with secret motives that you don't want anyone, including yourself, to know.  Because in the end, when we sit around and judge others who disagree here, or act there, about all manner of topics: abortion, death penalty  torture, war, social justice, Catholic doctrine or whatever, it might not be them after all.  It might not be the ones we're looking at who are the problem. It might be us who everyone else is looking at wondering if we have gone off the deep end due to stress and pressure, or have we simply become wicked and evil and are following paths to darkness. 

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