All posts by Colin Gormley

Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a contract worker for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.

The Happy Warrior

The famous author G. K. Chesterton earned my admiration after reading the Everlasting Man. His sharp wit and borderline whimsical style serve a unique style of apologetics that I have found both charming and thought provoking. The more I reflect on his writing I find that perhaps our world needs more of the joyful Catholic apologist.

But this is not an article so much about Chesterton.  Smarter men than I have written better things about him than I ever could. What I find more appealing is not the arguments of Chesterton but the writing of the man.
I’ve always been more of an Aquinas writer.  Certainly not in intellect but in style. As logical as possible to the point of being stuffy.  Not that there is anything wrong with stuffy. But only certain kinds of people enjoy stuffy.
There has been a great breakdown in trust between people these days. Conversations and discussions are not held by people who mutually respect one another but a duel to the death mentally because the physical version might land them in jail. When men regard one another as poisonous it is very difficult to get anyone to listen.
Chesterton seemed to find that balance. That stance between the warrior and the jokester. He earned both the respect and the admiration of his intellectual opponents. Who today can one say such a thing among the Catholic faithful?
Catholics in the Western world, especially in America, seem to have this bunker mentality. It is understandable to some degree. We see the breakdown of morality in society. Not specific morals but even the very concept of morality seems to be on the rocks. The notion that truth can exist outside of one’s head, let alone time itself, is not a popular idea however true. And one can forget about even the slightest suggestion that said truth can and should guide us in some fashion.
As a result a lot of Catholic writing comes off a bit too academic for moderns in my opinion. I know this because my own writing suffers this defect. And since I shamelessly borrow ideas better than mine I can hardly be blamed for this. (The careful reader will realize hopefully this is a joke, however poor in taste).
It should not have to be pointed out that I am not excluding academic views of the Faith. I’ve done such writing for years. But often I feel like we don’t have the synthesis needed to bring the Truth of the Faith in a way that can touch the lives of others. The Catholic blogsphere seems to function in very either/or modes.
I think we need a bit more of the whimsical and the airy. Writing that respects but doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is all the more important with serious matters that we discuss in this space.
Pope Francis warns of the “self-referential” Church. I think I’ve come to understand what that warning means at least to me. If my mind is not on writing so that others will hear but simply to reinforce my own convictions, I am simply talking to myself in public. Kind of like this article.
We need to get out of the trenches. I think we have spent far too much time in a siege mentality. Constantly defending or attacking, never living. Not all are like this but too many are.
Apologies to patient readers who find this article. I have been out of the regular firestorm that is the blogsphere for quite some time. A a result I have been mulling these thoughts and attempting to write about writing. But if my reflection might be useful to those who blog or are thinking about blogging it will have served its purpose. Most likely I will be back to being a grump next time.
Enjoy the rest of your day. We shall talk again.

Is Dialogue Impossible Now?

I am taking a break this month from my video game apologia to address a real problem I’m seeing in modern discussion about anything controversial. This  problem can be viewed across the political/social/cultural spectrum and is strangling the lines of communication. What I am referring to is the inability and unwillingness of people to represent an opposing view correctly and fairly.

It may seem like a quibble at first glance. The inability of a person to accurately represent another’s opinion could be a reflection of the person. In any event what does it matter?

Think about any conversation you may have had with someone in a combobox or comments board. How many times has someone attacked a position that you don’t recognize and refer to it as your opinion? And how many times have you written off that individual as irrational and hateful?

There is a very real problem with the way people communicate these days. People on both sides seem unable to articulate an opponent’s view. To compound the problem people seem uninterested in this fact and an accusation of misrepresentation is outright dismissed.

Part of this can be traced to the narrowing of the modern mind. The politicization and sexualization of everything has caused us to focus on a very narrow spectrum of ideas. Our perspectives are shaped by poorly thought out and poorly articulated moral viewpoints that conflict with our opponents’ viewpoints at very basic levels. This results in much shouting and anger, but very little in the way of communication.

Lest anyone think I am aiming squarely at the enemies of the Church, I am calling all of us to recognize our faults in this area first. We on the pro-life side often fall into this trap. Every time we say something like “You support the murder of children” to an abortion supporter we are misrepresenting their views.  Period. We are deep in the so-called culture war.  The problem is that we forget that just like an actual shooting war there are rules that one has to abide by.

The rampant misrepresentation of others’ views is a problem. Theoretically this could be overcome with patient dialogue and an honest effort on both sides to come to understand one another. The real problem, one that eats away at rational discourse like an acid, is that no one cares to.

It is far easier to create a straw man of what an opponent believes than to actually take on the position that he holds. Attacking a straw man is easy because I created him and know his weak points. As a result this temptation is something those of us who participate in discussion (everybody) are prone to indulge in.

The tendency to misrepresent and dismiss those we disagree with (and often hate) is an old temptation. Misleading rhetoric is nothing new. Propaganda was invented the minute a differing opinion was invented.

The difference is that as a society we no longer feel an obligation to be fair, honest and charitable to those who have opinions different to ours in alarming numbers. We feel free to misrepresent to the point where the actual opinions of those we disagree with are not even considered. In short, we feel free to lie about our neighbor.

Consider again the pro-life/pro-choice divide. Think of all the common propaganda both sides use. Pro-choice folks say that pro-lifers are “anti-women” who want women to be barefoot and pregnant. Pro-lifers accuse pro-choicers of supporting the murder of children. Both misrepresent what the opponent actually says. Yet too often we fail to account for simple honesty toward each other.

Before my point is disputed I would like to point out that it is perfectly fine to make the argument that the pro-choice position is equivalent to child murder or for the pro-choicer to argue that the pro-life position leads to barefoot and pregnant house slaves. The point is that it is our obligation to point out that this is our argument and not their position.

The misrepresentation problem is compounded by the fact that people do not seem inclined to correct their misconceptions. Every reaction I’ve received when I point out that my opponent is misrepresenting me is a reaction of disdain and anger. In almost every discussion — online or off — one can find the same also holds. In short, we feel free to lie about those we disagree with to the point where we fail to realize that we are in fact lying.

The consequences of these two problems in discussions is obvious. The inability to understand those who disagree with us combined with the unwillingness to engage and represent the actual opinion of others strangles discussion. No exchange of ideas can take place when we feel free to substitute our mangling of others’ ideas for the genuine article. When we cannot be bothered to understand those around us we live in a fun-house of our own ideas.

My intent is not to be overly critical, either to us or to others. The Lord knows I’ve been guilty of everything I’ve listed here. My point is that the current climate of living in our own minds rather than the real world is causing tremendous damage to ourselves and others. Simply recognizing our own failings will help us to grow in holiness and be that light to our society and the world.

The New New Media Part 2

In my last article on the subject of video games and the New Evangelization I briefly went into my own passion for games and how I feel that it is an evolving media that Catholics should begin to reevaluate. While the media itself is only beginning to evolve into something capable of real human drama, it is precisely that reason that Catholics will want to invest their own efforts while the media is so young. In order to understand how to do this we must first understand what these games actually provide to the players.

It is no secret that the video game industry is male-dominated. It is also no secret that the games industry caters to this dominant segment of its consumer base. And while it could use some maturity, the players themselves find in the games more than what I suspect an average viewer sees.

Games provide a rule set and structure – Men need structure in their lives. I suspect women do as well. Speaking as a man, though, I know men not only meet the expectations given them but also rise to the challenges presented to them when they are presented with challenges that are worth the effort. If much is expected of men, men usually meet these expectations. The same is also true if little expectation is made of men.

Our society expects little of men. One only needs to read a synopsis of Entourage to get a feeling of what people expect of men in society. And as young men are fed these constant lower expectations we should not be surprised that they lower themselves to meet them.

Games allow men to fulfill that need to have a set of rules and expectations — meaningful goals and objectives to accomplish, wrongs to be righted and people to save. These games allow men to be men in the shallowest sense of the term. But even this I think shows how starved young men are for meaning in their lives that they would become so involved in a pale imitation.

Games provide a community and foster cooperation –  One of the main concerns about video games are the (usually hyper-sensationalized) stories of game addiction. While these things occur at times if we again look closer we see a more complicated story.

Most of these addictions come from people, usually men, who cannot see their real lives as having worth. They find in games people like them who have the same interests and work together to accomplish those goals. They find in short: community. They find people who care about them (to a point) and work with to accomplish goals that have meaning to them.

Games are fun – There is nothing wrong with fun. I think there is at times a stigma to having fun in some religious circles. Like anything, it ca be abused. And like anything digital, it consumes more time than what is healthy.

This however does not mean that we should throw it out like the proverbial baby in the bath water. Fun is important to a healthy life in every sense. What is lacking among video games is like most of society temperance.

As Pope Benedict called Catholics to embrace the new media of the internet, despite the risks involved, I also feel that those with the inclination should embrace video games  with the same tempered enthusiasm. With the growing industry and the push to enter into mobile markets (think phones and tablets) games promise to be more prominent, not less. And we are in a prime position as Catholics in the social media space to reach out to those whom our society dismisses as “losers.”

Gamers are looking for their lives to have meaning and the work they do to matter. They want community and to know they are welcomed and loved. And they don’t want a rigid and suffocating environment that stifles who they are.

With that in mind, can you think of a better place than the Catholic Church?

The New New Media

I have a bit of a confession to make before I begin. This article is arguably entirely self serving, so take what I state with as much salt as necessary.

I love video games. I have loved them since I was first introduced to them in the early ’80s. It is a passion that borders on an obsession in weaker moments.

You can imagine, then, that it is a bit difficult to hear a lot of criticism in modern circles, Catholic or otherwise, about the so-called “Single Young Male (SYM)” that modern society seems to be infested with. You know the type. The man-child who has no job or family. He avoids responsibility. He plays video games all day, etc.

I always cringe at that last descriptor. Mostly because those who cite it often have a very negative view of video games. For some the fact that a SYM plays video games is proof that he is a delinquent. Much in the same way that a homeschooler is viewed as “socially awkward” by our modern society.

I will grant that some of the criticism is warranted. A depressingly large cross-section between so-called “hardcore” gamers and childish males does exist. And, yes, there are some serious behavioral issues such as vulgarity and misogyny that are serious enough that the gaming community is starting to realize this and combat the problem.

However, that is not the whole story. There are a lot of gamers out there who are far more normal than our stereotype would make us out to be. In fact, just like any other kind of profiling, when one digs a little deeper we find gamers from all walks of life.

Video games are increasingly becoming a true interactive media that in some cases rival movies in presentation and immersion effect. While it doesn’t hold that ability to communicate at a truly human level yet, games are exploring topics and game companies are creating worlds that modern films just can’t match. The landscape has become far more complex and dynamic. It is a new media.

In keeping with my thinking on the New Evangelization and how I should approach it, I have taken a hard look at my writing and my life. I find that in most of my writing something is missing. Me. The best writers are the most authentic. They write about things they care about. And it shows in their writing.

I bring this up because in my own attempts to write about the Faith I’ve kept my gaming hobby in the background. Almost like it is a part of me that is divided from the more Faith-focused aspects of my life. Lately I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a mistake.

So I’ve decided to do something about my passion. I once heard a vocation described as “the intersection between your greatest passion meeting the world’s greatest need.” I honestly don’t know if we “need” video game commentary but I’m willing to give it a go. At the very least, I hope to turn my time spent on my favorite hobby into something useful.

I will write next time why I think the gaming community is tough but fertile ground for evangelization. For now I will simply say this. To my knowledge the gaming community has not had anyone to try. It should be fun at any rate.

In Praise of the Modern Atheist

We in internet land spend a great deal of time pointing out how our intellectual opponents are wrong and we are right.  We spend very little time however pointing out when they are right, and as Christians this is a failing on our part.  Truth is truth, and we hold that all Truth comes from God.  Regardless if the truth is said by us or our “enemies”, we have an obligation to point out when truth is presented, regardless of the source.

After much reflection I have condensed into a few points what I think are the strong points about  modern atheists.  Things that we can with some refinement look at and draw out the truth in what they say.  Obviously these points are qualified and require some nuance.  Not to mention a good deal of charity.

Alright, enough blather.  Point the first:

What we believe about God matters – The fierceness of the rhetoric that is employed by modern atheists points to an underlying truth.  The belief or unbelief in God not only matters in one’s worldview but how judges actions.  Our beliefs matter, and we either harm or help people based on the ideas that we impart to others.

This is not a trivial matter.  People on both sides suffer from a moral and intellectual relativism that makes it impossible for the exchange of ideas to take place.  While we are on opposite sides of the most important question this recognition of truth and the importance of truth defines both of our actions.  This should be praised whenever possible.

We as Christians should do all we can to highlight this underlying commitment to truth.  In my own discussions and debates online and elsewhere this commitment is sadly lacking.  We must do more to encourage this commitment to truth, and to point out and recognize those who do so.

A commitment to seeing justice done –  We have heard it before.  The sex abuse crisis, financial corruption, and sins of the clergy and Christian laity prove that religion is a lie etc.  What lies underneath this bad argument though is the real commitment to righting wrongs and seeing evil punished.

Evil is repulsive.  It drives people away from any good cause.  It is especially difficult to convert people to one’s side when our “friends” give a powerful counter argument.  We don’t do ourselves any favors when we ignore the real evil in our midst.

I will cite an example.  A while back a kerfuffle happened over an incident at an atheist convention. A woman who attended was approached in an elevator late at night and the fellow suggested going back to her hotel room “for coffee.”  The incident provoked a discussion about sexism in the atheist community.  What was particularly impressive was the river of flame when Richard Dawkins upon hearing about the incident said some things that are arguably sexist.

I won’t link anything because the language in that community is at times eye-watering.  But the eruption over what one of the icons of modern atheism said in relation to this incident shows me a concern for evil as they define it to be righted.  This is worth praising.

We would do well to recognize the vigilance toward evil in our midst and do our part to correct it.  Pointing out sex abuse is a human problem and not a Catholic problem is important.  But it is not as important as rectifying the evil in our midst.  We should be willing to call out evil regardless of where we find it.  And we cannot afford to be afraid of the truth even when it puts us in a bad light.

Saying it like it is –  It there is one constant I have encountered in modern atheism it is the fact that they are not shy about what they hold to be true.  Not to mention that they leave absolutely no doubt what they think of us and what we believe in the most breathtaking terms.  To a man I have no doubt that they hold their ideas as the truth and are not afraid to “preach the word.”

This attitude is to be commended.  It does takes true courage to stand by one’s convictions and state what they truly believe.  Regardless of how sympathetic the culture may be it will always require some conviction and courage to state what one actually holds.  It is far better for me to know that you think I’m an idiot than to pretend that you do not.

We should not be shy of what we believe or telling others what we believe.  We have every responsibility to preach the Truth.  We must be “out there” to the world that the Truth is the Truth.    We must always be charitable of course.  But we should not use “politeness” or charity as an excuse to shy away from what we truly believe.

God has always allowed the Church to be opposed by some faction or another.  To my mind one reason is because it challenges us to see the good in others and to emulate that good and refine it.  I’ll be the first to say that it takes a great deal of effort to see past the darkness to see the rays of light that every human possesses.  But we would do well in our duty to see the Light of God in those who are most convinced that He is not there.

Post-Election Anxiety?

One of the rather frequent conversation topics I’ve participated in has to do with dealing with anxiety about the future.  In particular I’ve talked with a number of soon-to-be doctorates and professionals who confess a particular anxiety about what life will be like post-graduation.  When one considers how life has worked up till that point this anxiety makes sense.

We grow up having our goals set for us.

  • Get into a good school.
  • Get good grades.
  • Go to college.
  • Get more good grades.
  • And then, graduation.
  • Maybe get a job?  Post-doctorate?

Suddenly you get thrown into the world and the world says, “Good luck!”  No predefined goals.  No structure.  The poor person gets thrown into life without a notion of what goals to pursue or even how to go about finding those goals.  Far from being a source of liberty and openness, this actually becomes a huge source of anxiety.

I’ve experienced it.  I know others who have had it.  I know people who still experience this anxiety.  It’s a tough hill to climb.

This line of thinking popped into my head as I began to process the results of the election.  My anxiousness was through the roof.  I had trouble sleeping the day before election day.  What would happen to the country?  Where are we headed?

As I was worried about this the grace of God allowed me a moment of clarity.  At some point I realized this same anxiety about the future was the same as I felt when I was at my first job and realized I had no goals, no understanding of what was to come next in my life, and no way of knowing how to find out.

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? (Matt. 6:25-27)

Anxiety comes from multiple areas of our lives, but really stems from three sources:

Misplaced priorities – Our minds revolve around the everyday things we do.  That is normal to some degree.  But far too often we have an attitude as if we are in control of everything.  If we only get this job.  If we only bought that item.  If we only did this.  If we only had that.  We lose sight of the things that really do matter.  And we become anxious about things we cannot control, because we suffer under an illusion of control.  This is why we misplace priorities, because we think our priorities will grant us the control we desire.  This in particular is why elections are so high on emotion, because we think as long as our guy is in office we are “safe.”

Illusion of control – We as humans are faced with decisions everyday.  We have impact on those around us in a variety of ways.  But this also leads us to think we have more control that we do.  We forget that we have the power we do because God gave it to us.  We get anxious because we think that if we tighten our grip we will be able to control outcomes.  But all we do is work ourselves up into anxious wrecks.

Lack of trust in God – Let’s be honest.  We hoped for a particular outcome and became so anxious about something which we really have no control over.  Yeah we can vote but in a country of 300 million 1 vote is about as non-existent an impact as it can get.  Ultimately this is because we don’t trust God enough to take care of us.  We think if we just compromise on the whole evil thing that will get the job done.  We don’t really trust that God is there and He will help us if we ask for it.  We have to “do it ourselves.”

A lot of people demoralized about the election are thinking about their kids and families.  This is good.  This is why God allows us to go through these tough times.

And thou, that hast been the author of all mischief against the Hebrews, shalt not escape the hands of God.  For we suffer because of our sins.  And though the living Lord be angry with us a little while for our chastening and correction, yet shall he be at one again with his servants.  But thou, O godless man, and of all other most wicked, be not lifted up without a cause, nor puffed up with uncertain hopes, lifting up thy hand against the servants of God. For thou hast not yet escaped the judgement of Almighty God, who seeth all things. (2 Maccabees 7:31-35)

We are re-prioritizing and remembering what is really important.  Holiness.  Devotion to God and taking care of our neighbor.  Let the Princes have the world.  It will pass away and it doesn’t belong to them anyway.

Finally, the book of Revelation can be summarized like this:

  1. Bad stuff happens.
  2. God wins.
  3. You Christian, be holy and rejoice, cuz God wins.

Be not afraid.

 

Politictitus

Picture H/T Mark Shea

Who here is sick of politics?  Can I see a show of hands?  Unanimous?  I thought so.

One of the nice things about traveling to a foreign country is that you can forget for a few weeks the utter depravity that is our current political climate.  But alas, that freedom ended the minute I touched down in Dallas and found myself seeing CNN on the TVs and thinking, “Oh no!  I was happy!  Why did we come back?!?”

We are at the stage now where, short of one of the candidates painting a swastika on their chest and announcing he’s going to gas his opponents, politically involved people will not budge over who they will ultimately vote for.  But that won’t stop the raging from polluting everything from Facebook to the major networks.

It’s funny how the raging, what we call “political commentary”, spikes during the time that opinion is least likely to be swayed by reason.  Not that we have to worry about reason when “War against Women” is the rallying cry of the Left and “the cure to what ails the world is democracy” is the siren call of the Right.  And the rest of us vote based on which party we think will do the least damage.  Now there’s a motivator.

What happened?  How did the country that produced the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers devolve into Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck?   How is it that the Onion is more accurate about the news than those organizations that supposedly report it?  Why do political debates resemble more Jerry Springer than Lincoln-Douglas?

It’s all just so…..shallow.  Some of the most important decisions we make as a society depend on our involvement in politics yet our thinking and attitudes resemble how a mean version of Napoleon Dynamite would approach the subject.  And for people like me who get drawn to arguments like moths to a flame, this time of year is a giant near occasion of sin.

Honestly, I think that somewhere along the way politics became less about ordering a society rooted in the truth and more about how we want a society to be ordered.  Our politics resemble less what is good for the country and more about how we would benefit from a particular party.  This is why “issues” dominate the political landscape rather than philosophies.  Who has time to develop a consistent political philosophy?  The economy is terrible!

Here’s how I think we go to this point.  From the staunchest Catholic to the most hardened atheist (it’s a false polarity, but bear with me) somewhere along the way it seeped into our minds that truth really is relative.  That the important things are not truth and beauty, but power.  People do not seek out what is right but simply the power to make their desires become “reality.”

The problem with the relativist mindset, besides being flat-out wrong, is that the world has this tendency to remind you that you are not the center of the universe.  A man who believes he is the center of the universe is like a man in an Armani suit with a “Please mug me” sign on his chest.  And the world will remind you who is REALLY in charge.

The only real distinction between two relativists is who has the power to dominate the other.  This is why our culture obsesses about things like the economy (money) and politics.  Two sides of the same coin.  It is all about power.  It is about having the power to protect ourselves from a hostile world that seeks to dominate us, without realizing that we simply play right into its hands.

As Catholics we know better than this.  We know there is truth.  There is One Way, One Truth, One Life.  We know that Truth is real, and we embrace it.  We know that life is not about achieving power or wealth, but salvation by cooperating with God’s grace.  Our country, our world needs that message now more than ever.

The real way to change the world is to live out lives according to Christ.  He who had every right to the power of this world, choose the Cross as His throne.  His life and teaching point us higher than the current obsessions we revolve our lives around.

So let’s live our lives as if we actually believed it — especially in our political lives.  Let’s be involved, but not so that we look desperate to put the slightly lesser of two evils in power.  Vote in accordance with our Faith, not the political calculus that says we must align with lesser evils so that we hope something good might happen.

When you go to vote this November, remember that there is a real choice.  Not between the Republicrats or the Demolicans. But between our world and the Kingdom of God.  God willing our allegiance will reflect our true party affiliation.  The Party of the Divine Monarchy.

Koreaca Television

So here I am struggling to come up with a topic for my post yet again.  The Paul Ryan VP pick?  Gay “marriage”?  A plea for video game tournaments in the Olympics?  There are so many things to write about that I’m experiencing writer’s block!  Like a cold hand around my neck the pressure of my deadline closes in.  Can’t…breathe.

Then, like a lightning bolt out of the blue, an inspiration!  Korean Dramas!

Now you may be thinking, “Poor Colin.  The stress of the deadline finally made him crack.”  And you’d be right in a sense.  But if you would be so kind as to hear me out I think you will have found it worth your time.  And I think we could all use a break from all the seriousness around here.

My wife is Korean. Not Korean-American.  Korean as in stepped off the plane from Busan, Korea seven years ago to study for a PhD in Microbiology.  So Korean culture and customs form a good chunk of our lifestyle, and this includes our entertainment options as well.

I’ve had Korea on the brain lately.  Most of this is due to my pending trip back to that lovely country in late August.  Here in the tiny Republic of Koreaca (aka, the Gormley household) we have been preparing by buying presents for in-laws and for myself brushing up on the language that I’m terrible at.  One of the ways we have sought to improve my language skills is to watch various Korean TV shows, or at least that is our excuse for watching hours upon hours of Netflix.

Korean dramas are ridiculously popular in Asia.  If you sit with native Chinese and/or Filipino women and start talking about Korean dramas, chances are they will have some favorites.  They have also found some fans in American circles as well.  Granted it is still a niche market here as most Americans have issues reading subtitles, but if you are willing to look past that, you will find some quality entertainment.

What appeals to me as a Catholic are the themes that run through a lot of these dramas.  The good dramas revolve around a set idea or ideas and use the story to illustrate those points.  As modern day parables, Korean Dramas meditate on a theme and view the lives of characters through the lens of that theme.

To illustrate let me share with you a few of our favorites:

Protect the Boss – A comedy about one No Eun-Suel who is your average girl from the school of hard knocks.  Korean style.  Graduating from a third-rate school and struggling to find a job after deciding to turn her life around, she finally lands it after some unusual circumstances propel her.  Her boss, the infantile Cha Ji Heon, makes her life miserable, yet finds her oddly appealing.  This ultimately leads to romance.  In America, this would have led to a sexual harassment suit.  The major theme running through this drama revolves around people attempting to escape their pasts and how, no matter what one’s station in life, one will find struggles to overcome.

Secret Garden – Another comedy with some fantasy elements focusing on one Kim Joo Won, an arrogant CEO who falls for a poor stunt woman named Gil Ra Im after meeting her by accident.  This disturbs him given the contrast in their situations in life, and is complicated further by a strange turn of events when they swap bodies.  The major theme for this drama is how different the lives of the main protagonists are and how difficult it is for others to see the world through different eyes.

Shining Inheritance – A riches-to-rags-back to riches story about Go Eun Sung, a pure hearted girl who is cheated out of everything by an evil stepmother. This occurs shortly her father who was mistaken as a victim of a gas explosion decides it is for the best to disappear so his family can inherit the insurance money as his company is going bankrupt.  The major theme running through this drama is the power and terror of money and the effects of possessing, coveting, or otherwise pursuing money and how it can distort a person’s life in the blink of an eye.

I was very entertained watching these and the best part was that, unlike some American television, I didn’t feel like I needed to go to Reconciliation afterward.  Korean Dramas have a charm that American Primetime television lacks these days.  If you have a streaming account, don’t mind subtitles, and have some patience for cross-culture confusion, I recommend spending time with one of these short series.

We are products of our culture

I remember sitting with my close friend “Ken” late one evening.  He was fairly depressed because he had broken up with his girlfriend (who was another close friend of mine).  We talked into the night dissecting the “failure” of the relationship.  At one point, in exasperation, Ken said something to the effect of “I still keep people at a distance.  I feel like I need to unlearn what I’ve learned.”  I replied, “I think that is true about a lot of what we know.”

As American Catholics trying to change our culture we are susceptible to a hidden danger that is obvious when pointed out.  We are products of our culture.  A lot of who we are, down to basic elements of our thinking, is influenced by our culture.  It is simply a fact of life, and we ignore it at our peril.

Now we counter-culture warriors may gasp in horror at this.  Shouldn’t we be standing up to our culture of death?  Shouldn’t we reject our pornified, materialistic, self-absorbed so-called “culture”?  As far as such things turn us away from God, yes.  Having said that, if we fall into the trap that our pornified, materialistic, self-absorbed culture has no effect on us we only deceive ourselves.  And like in any war, knowledge of self is a prerequisite for defeating the True Enemy.

Now you will notice that the categories for this post are about the single and married life.  Based on my own experience, I feel the above observation is pertinent to understanding the phenomenon of people, faithful and not, getting married much later in life than in previous generations.  I know for myself, getting married at 28, that it was far past when MY plans were scheduled.  Looking back however now that I have three years of marriage under my belt, I realize that had things gone according to my plan, it would have been a disaster.

I’ll take a few examples just to illustrate my point:

It’s all about sex – I’ll speak for the guys only on this one, but I’m curious about the perspectives of the ladies in the audience as well.  Trying to be a chaste guy in this sex-obsessed culture is tough.  From morning till night our culture attempts to simultaneously reduce  sex to little more than recreational activity yet have us consume as much of it as possible.  Even the activities that guys normally partake in like watching sports are filled with messages reminding us that we won’t be happy until we reduce that sexy woman to an object of pleasure, like the beer can she’s holding (which you should also buy).  Now what is the Catholic way to have sex?  Simple, get hitched.

While I didn’t know it at the time the anxiety of finding a spouse was less focused on a true understanding of vocation and more about finding a way to live out our culture’s understanding of sex in a Catholic context.  Mind you, this was mostly unconscious as I had already accepted the teachings of the Church at least intellectually.  But deep down, our culture had left a lasting impression (and continues to attempt to do so) that is contradictory to the message of the Church.

 Marriage is on the to-do list – Like buying a house or getting a job, we tend to treat marriage (those of us who value it) as a milestone, something to be achieved like graduation.  Those who do so fall into the “normal” category.  Those who don’t are treated like the “short bus” students.  We admire and pity them, while being glad we aren’t them and try not to associate with them.

For the single person who feels that they haven’t gotten married “on time” this can feel like a failure.  The single person is behind on the life goals list, and this creates a sense of frustration and resentment.  The single person feels that he/she is doing their part, but the Church/society is not holding up its end of the contract.  But the problem is not the Church (though we as the Church can and should do a better job of integrating singles into Church life), but the attitude.

Marriage is a vocation, not a task/milestone.  The feel of the call to a vocation is a part of determining if we actually do have a vocation to marriage.  But the missing component is that God is ultimately who determines our vocation, and no matter how we feel we must take into account that God is the one who makes the vocation happen.  The moment of clarity for me was one day after worn down emotionally and spiritually, I finally said in prayer, “God.  I have no idea what you want me to do.  If I’m going to fulfill my vocation you are going to have to make it happen.”  The reply I got was something like “Finally you got the hint!”

Your very own personal god/goddess – For the romantically inclined another error is this notion of looking for the perfect one.  The “god/goddess” to fall in love with and worship.  It sounds nice in a storybook sense, but it has two major problems, which we will get to in a sec.  This is a subtle one though as while we may not suffer from flights of such fancy, but we do suffer from the elements that give rise to such false ideas.

The first problem is that it puts way too much of a burden on the would-be spouse.  The attempt to find perfection in a person will ultimately wind up in failure.  Even if we try to make this concept relative (perfect for me) this is still attempting to project an idea of what a spouse should be vs. finding that person that God is calling us to be with.  We have to be willing to let God lead us and even surprise us.

The second and far greater problem is the search for Divine Love in all the wrong places.  Our culture, by removing God from the picture, has attempted to fill this void by projecting Divine Love onto human love.  This is why so many relationships end in disappointment, as our attempts to find what we are truly looking for are misdirected.

What I had to learn to get over this (relatively speaking, we all suffer and continue to do so from this) came from a meditation on the Passion of the Cross.  One Holy Thursday it finally hit me, God really does love ME.  If I was the only person that needed to be saved He still would have died for me.  More than anything else, this one truth helped me to see past my struggles with my pursuit of marriage.  So to the single people I have one message.  You are loved.  Loved more than any person, no matter how you may perceive them, cannot match the love God has for you.

I know they are easy words to say (well…type) and know in the head, but we need to wrap our hearts around that fact.

These are just some of the ideas that I had to unlearn during my life as a single person.  There is much more to say on the topic, but for right now this should demonstrate my point.  Next time we will dig a little deeper into the things that singleness can actually teach us and prepare for our vocation, regardless if it is marriage of the religious life.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Colin-Gormley-e1313149728861.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a software developer for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.[/author_info] [/author]

What is good?

Time for a bit of amateur theology/philosophy.  As a disclaimer, my presentation is based on my own informal learning.  So those with actual study credentials can feel free to correct me (so long as one can back it up please).

God is good.  It is a simple enough phrase but it contains a profound, concept shattering truth.  In general this truth is not appreciated in common conversation.  Yet the implications of this truth fundamentally alter how we approach basic concepts of morality in discussion.

The truth I refer to of course is the following:

The divine attributes of God and the divine essence of God are one and the same.

To put it another way, when we describe an attribute of God (His goodness, His truthfulness, etc) we are at the same time describing His essence.  Who God actually is.  So to say “God is good” literally means God IS good itself.

Part of the issue with how we describe God today is that we tend to treat Him as some kind of superhuman.   We think of His goodness as “much more than any of our goodness”.  He “loves us more than anyone could love us”.  These things are true to some degree, but they also paint an inaccurate picture if left unbalanced.

The Church however holds that God’s love and God’s goodness must be understood in an analogical sense.  The way we experience love, goodness, peace, etc is different from how God IS these things.  As a result, to look at God’s attributes in the same way as we look at our attributes and the attributes themselves is incorrect.

Which makes sense if one thinks about it.  Since God is the source of everything, that would also include concepts like truth.  But we are not the source of truth, yet we can understand the concept of truth (in a sense, more on this).  So right off the bat our relationship to “truth” is different from God’s.

Now let us ask a question.  Do we really understand what “good” is?  Most of us have less of a concrete sense of “good” and more of an abstract and fuzzy concept of “I know it when I see it.”   We understand (sorta, kinda) concepts like justice, mercy, truth, etc.  But if we sit down and actually think about these concepts we find our grasp to be lacking to say the least.

For example, attempt to define truth without some sort of circular reference.  What is truth?  That which corresponds to reality.  What is reality?  Um…..that which is true.  I have a doubt that any attempt to define “truth” without recourse to truth at some point will occur.

Or take the concepts of “mercy” and “justice.”  We recognize that both are important.  But that they also seem to conflict with one another, even though they are both “good” to pursue.  And for us at times it is quite difficult to know which to pursue, and how to meet both.

All of this suggests to me that “good”, while we grasp it in some sense, is also beyond our complete understanding.   We have an incomplete understanding of good.  This combined with the notion of God’s attributes and essence as one and the same led to some very interesting places.

For example, a person on the Catholic Subreddit asked how Catholics justify calling Jesus “good”.  While some pointed to specific works, I pointed out that the Catholic definition of “good” is defined in relation to God.  So if Jesus is God as Christians claim, then He is good by definition.  It only took about 30 back and forth comments to get the point across.

Exchanges like this show that even when it comes to basic concepts of “good” we Catholics come from a very different moral and intellectual framework than what is accepted by popular culture.  And far too often when I see us engage in discussions with our atheist brethren (I use the term discussion loosely) we seem to surrender a lot of ground.  We accept their terms because our culture has redefined things like “good” away from their origins.  We do ourselves no favors and only cause confusion when we give ground on definitions unnecessarily.

The point of all this philosophy/theology lite stuff is that if we are to argue the Faith we need to argue within the Faith.  This doesn’t mean that we must quote Bible passages while arguing with atheists.  What it means is that we must understand how our Faith actually impacts our understanding in a most fundamental way.  Otherwise we will only confuse ourselves and others.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Colin-Gormley-e1313149728861.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a software developer for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.[/author_info] [/author]

Communication is a discipline

Like a bird flying toward a window I approach my deadline.  So here goes.  My apologies to anyone who sustains injury after reading this post.

One of my initial draws to the magical realm of software engineering was the notion that I would not have to talk to anyone to get my job done.  I could simply receive my introductions, write up a program that did what was intended, and collect my paycheck.  Simple, right?

This happy illusion was shattered in the first few minutes of my first job at a software company.  Suddenly there were “meetings,” strange creatures called “customers” who were our overlords, and this mysterious cabal called “management.”  Conspiring to thwart every effort at productivity, my position with the company was more than an adventure, it was a job.

One of the greatest chores was talking to this evil organization with many faces.  I found that while this cohort was able to thwart my efforts at every turn, they seemed to me…well…stupid.  They didn’t seem to grasp the obvious nature of such things as “two factor authentication is more secure than just a password,”  “a web server and a database server are not the same thing” and “why a demo is not a real product.”

I’m not sure when it began to dawn on me, but I began to suspect that my perception that I was dwelling in the land of idiots wasn’t all that accurate.  It might have been the four-hour argument with a coworker which concluded with the realization that we were thinking the same thing but in different terms.  Or the all day meeting with the consultant that resulted in both of our ideas being modified.  In any event I began to suspect that maybe that the intelligence of others was in dispute, but both myself and the other’s inability to communicate effectively.

I am not sure if it was always the case, but our modern culture sucks at communication.  In a true sense of cosmic irony, we as a society have the greatest tools known to man to communicate ideas yet lack the skill set to communicate effectively.

Take any political publication today.  The assumed knowledge and implied premises are rampant.  No real attempt is made to lay out the foundations of a political ideology.  Most mainstream publications are designed to point us to who the “good guys” are and inform us that “the other side is wrong AND stupid.” No real attempt is made to argue one’s point, OR intellectually engage the other side.

But this isn’t limited to politics.  Education has become so specialized that one PhD cannot talk to another, sometimes even in the same field.  In the past, a History PhD could have an intelligent conversation  with one another about respective fields.  Nowadays I wish you luck getting them in the same room.

A had a pleasant exchange with who I presume was an atheist on the Catholicism subreddit.  One of the more striking things was that as the conversation went on was how we had to define basic words such as “good” “suffering” and “God.”  This was an enlightening exchange that shows that when worldviews are worlds apart, nothing can be taken as a given.

But it was also work.

The reason why communication is lost is because real communication takes work.  Something which our modern world seems allergic to.  Communication takes discipline to coherently explain in enough detail the ideas one is trying to communicate.  Energy is used, and care must be taken.

I will return to this topic in the future.  But I would like to open the floor to discussion about communication in general.  Do you find communication difficult?  What are some things we can do at a fundamental level to improve communication?

 

Sons of Cain: Review

Reviewing Sons of Cain by Val Bianco, much like reading the book itself, is a challenging task for me.  When it hits its stride, Sons of Cain is an enjoyable thrill ride of action and intrigue.  Other times it feels like reading several academic biographies, full of detail but at times a bit dry and academic.  Overall I found Sons of Cain to have great potential with a winning scenario but at times a bit difficult to stay focused.

The story is a tale of conspiracy at the highest levels of the U.S. government and the war for the souls of mankind.   Our hero, Nick Rieper, is a billionaire ex-Seal turned modern-day Knight Templar who with his fellow Knights attempt to thwart the Sons of Cain, an evil cabal of Satanists who are also the movers and shakers of Western Society.  The story touches on many issues of Faith and the relationship between our daily battle with Satan, both for our own soul and the souls of others.

If you are looking for nuance or ambiguity, this is not the story for you.  Sons of Cain draws very clear lines between good and evil, and is better for it.  The obviousness of the struggle for souls is brought home in very direct terms, and the Church is right where she belongs, holding humanity from the brink of destruction at the hands of the Evil One.  It is a refreshingly direct affair, and one that like a good action movie is easy to read when it is hitting the right notes.

The book is suitably titled as the Sons of Cain are  some of the most interesting characters in the book.  The interactions with others, the motivations, even the sheer insanity of allying with evil are depicted in an imaginative and enthralling way.  Of particular note is the prologue, which while rooted in a historical vision of God and Hell, is depicted in a rich and disturbing fashion.  There are some conversations and events that would make C. S. Lewis smile in admiration.

One cannot fail to appreciate Mr. Bianco’s extensive research.  From locations in the story to military techniques used by our heroes, Sons of Cain does an excellent job of using the real world to weave a tale.  I had fun looking up some of the more outrageous “truths” in the book only to find they were more true than I was comfortable with.  Like any good conspiracy story, Sons of Cain puts a delightfully subversive spin on a variety of historical events and figures, and weaves a fantastic yet plausible threat to the world.

The book hits its stride best during its actions scenes.  These sequences are well written and fast paced, and do get the adrenaline going.  The narrative style conveys just enough details while leaving the rest to the imagination.  Without revealing too much hopefully, the climatic battle at the end is an excellent blend of modern and ancient warfare.  These scenes are the page turners and to me the most enjoyable parts of the book .

So that’s all cool.  Though I would be remiss if I did not share what I felt presented me with some difficulty.  While evil is depicted with vivid and intense imagery that is quite haunting, our heroes seem to me at times distant and a bit difficult to connect with.

My personal issue with Bianco’s treatment of his protagonists is that the primary method of describing his characters’ virtue is to tell us how virtuous they are.  A good amount of time is spent giving us background and detailed information about Reiper and his Knights.  This is not to say that the heroes are cardboard cutouts.  Bianco has put a great deal of time into crafting his characters and it shows in their descriptions.  It’s clear from the story that Bianco admires their virtue and that they are the epitome of a modern soldier for Christ.  But it is disappointing that we don’t get to see this virtue firsthand, but more is there to hope for in future works.

I do have a few other concerns, such as what I feel are heavy-handed allusions to modern political and cultural figures.  While those of a particular political persuasion made find it humorous, I see it as an unecessary barrier to a wider audience.  But these are of a minor concern.

Bianco has created an interesting universe with a lot of potential.  The plot hits the right notes and is grounded in enough reality to keep it plausible.  The action is intense and evil is truly evil.  There is room for allowing the characters to grow, and my hope is future works in this world will allow these interesting heroes to breathe.  All in all, Sons of Cain is an imaginative ride, and a good book to curl up with at the end of the day when one looks to unwind.  Here’s hoping for more.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Colin-Gormley-e1313149728861.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a software developer for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.[/author_info] [/author]