Thursday, September 15, 2005

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude

If you're like me, books like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code can be infuriating in spite of being a good read. What people like me need to do is get some perspective on life. I once went to Confession and admitted to being really angry--to the point of hating--certain folks who slander the Church and distort her magisterium, and the priest said to me, in effect, get a life. People have attacked the Church before, indeed all through her history, and, just as we were told, the Gates of Hell have not, nor will they ever, prevail against Her. And he was certainly right--one ought not to give in to the temptation to think that one's own epoch will somehow wind up being the most important, or influential, or eschatological. Things weren't too great in Western Civ at the end of the 20th century, but that was, after all, just one part of one of twenty centuries of the Church's history.

That we ought not be overly concerned when folks attack our institutions is brought home in a very forceful way when you hear about books like this, as reviewed by my pal Steve over at Speculative Catholic (a fine blog). I have not read the book myself, but judging from Steve's thorough trashing of it it sounds like a hoot, and one is reminded that, generally, the reason why people hate the Church, or her magisterium, is because they don't really know anything about it.

This is obviously true in the case of someone like the author of The Omega Scroll, but it is also true of someone like Dan Brown, who, in spite of his obvious book learnin' has not taken the time to examine carefully his own presuppositions or the inferences that he draws from them. His work has the appearance of something thoughtful and scholarly, but in fact it is just a supermarket novel with a fancy theme and no picture of Fabio on the cover.

There are other enemies of the Church, of course, who are not the poseurs that Dan Brown is. Daniel Goldhagen comes to mind: a serious scholar, a historian, whose hatred of the Catholic Church is pathological. He is, quite simply, unable to write anything true, useful, or scholarly about the Catholic Church simply because he is not able to think rationally when the subject comes up. But because he is someone who has genuine academic credentials (including a tenured position at a major American university--it is interesting to note, however, that some scholars have begun to question his academic credentials) what he writes tends to get taken more seriously in some circles. But his views are so outlandish that people are beginning to see through him. A more serious threat is someone like Garry Wills, who pretends to love the Church while trashing her magisterium. As you may be able to guess, all such persons are sources of irritation to me.

But patience, they say, is a virtue worth cultivating, and I promise you I am trying to cultivate it. I have learned to accept that such people exist, that they always will exist, and that they don't matter. Nothing they say, or write, will ever have any long-term effect on what the Church is or what she teaches. If anything we ought to pray very hard for such people, since they give every appearance of being in the grip of invincible ignorance.

On the other hand, if you can change your attitude towards what they claim to be doing, they can become great sources of amusement, rather like Homer Simpson. He says outlandish and ignorant things, too, and we all laugh. The difference, I guess, is that Homer is at least a decent person who means well.

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