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On Liberal Ideologues Watching Classic Movies


Church of the Masses

I resonated with so much of this piece by Joseph Schaeffer. Especially loved this:

“Those of us who don’t see a need to redefine the family or male and female sex roles and the like can easily view a classic film and enjoy it for what it is. We don’t feel a burning need to judge the past by the standards of today, since we largely reject those new standards. The modern liberal is absolutely incapable of this. Liberal individualists achingly search for their personal message in older films and demand it in new films. Thus they are utterly incapable of enjoying the Golden Era of Filmmaking and at the same time are actively contributing to the flat-out mediocrity of contemporary movies.”

I remember back in my film school years at Northwestern constantly being subjected to the same kind of weird skewed lens with which so many of my nostalgic-Marxist professors filtered every movie. In the exhausting and ridiculous way in which everything for the Boomer generation was about politics, for the geriatric hippies teaching us, every movie was a political entity that either had masked references to queerness or else was suffused with institutionalized poisons of patriarchy, theocracy (liberal “coding” for Christianity) or capitalist swine-ness….

Schaeffer’s article had me musing once again about the difference between ideology and philosophy. Philosophy, is the love of wisdom. It is the humble desire to receive reality and to penetrate its meaning. Ideology is the love of a particular idea. The central idea imposes itself on reality and makes all perception conform to itself. Leftist liberalism is an ideology. It sees what it wants to see regardless of whether the thing it is seeing is really there or not. Liberalism decides that Zimmerman is a racist and blocks out that Zimmerman’s business partner is black, and the girl he tok to the high school prom was black, and that Zimmerman himself is a person of color. Ideology insists that everything that doesn’t fit the narrative must be blocked out. I was perpetually frustrated by this attitude in film school because it stifled all debate. The professors started with the notion that every movie made by a man – except, you know, the Soviet-era filmmakers! – was infected with patriarchy. It was there for them because IT HAD to be there.

Ideology was the stuff of the murderous French Revolution mobs. Philosophy was the stuff of the liberty-seeking drivers of the American Revolution.

Read the rest here.

Jesus’ Cross Invites Us to Be Smitten by His Love, Pope Says

The Holy Father addressed the faithful at the Way of the Cross.

07/27/2013
                                                                                      

 National Catholic Register

RIO DE JANEIRO — The cross of Christ is an invitation for us to fall in love with him and to then reach out and help our neighbors, Pope Francis said today at the conclusion of the Way of the Cross at World Youth Day.


Father John Paul Zeller/ EWTN
Pilgrims carry WYD cross to the altar during the opening
Mass of World Youth Day July 23.
– Father John Paul Zeller/ EWTN

“The cross of Christ invites us also to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love, teaching 
us always to look upon others with mercy and tenderness,” the Pope prayed July 26 on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.
“Especially those who suffer, who are in need of help, who need a word or a concrete action, which requires us to step outside ourselves to meet them and to extend a hand to them.”
World Youth Day’s Stations of the Cross stretched across a mile of Brazilian beachfront, concluding at the stage from which Pope Francis address the crowd of faithful.
The reflections for the devotion were written by two members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Fathers Zezinho and Joaozinho, who are known in Brazil for their commitment to youth ministry.
Pope Francis began by calling the Way of the Cross an accompaniment of “Jesus on his journey of sorrow and love” and “one of the most intense moments of World Youth Day.”
He recalled that the World Youth Day cross was entrusted to the young people of the world by Blessed John Paul II in 1984. It has traveled throughout Brazil since the last World Youth Day, preparing the country for to be the destination for millions of pilgrims.
“No one can approach and touch the cross of Jesus without leaving something of himself or herself there and without bringing something of the cross of Jesus into his or her own life,” Pope Francis said.
He addressed three questions to the pilgrims, which he hoped “will echo in your hearts”: What have you left on the cross? What has Jesus’ cross left for you? And what does his cross teach us?
Whatever we leave on the cross–“our fears, our problems and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful”–Jesus “walks with us” and takes it upon himself, Pope Francis assured the pilgrims.

Read the rest: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/jesus-cross-invites-us-to-be-smitten-by-his-love-pope-says/#ixzz2aH5jYVgx

Abortion rights activists vandalize cathedral in Chile

 

A side altar vandalized with blasphemous graffiti in Santiago de Chile’s cathedral, July 25, 2013.
Credit: @ Kangrejo.
 

.- Abortion activists interrupted Mass at the Cathedral of the Chilean capital Santiago the evening of July 25, destroying confessionals and defaming several side altars with blasphemous graffiti.

“We were celebrating the feast of St. James the Apostle, with the mayor in attendance, and offering thanks to so many Catholics who serve the public, in an atmosphere of peace and recollection when protestors suddenly came in,” said Bishop Pedro Ossandón Buljevic, an auxiliary bishop of the Santiago de Chile archdiocese.

“The truth is that we are always for dialogue, for civilized debate.  We believe in the God-given gift of reason.”

“Therefore we invite everyone to protest in whichever way they wish, but that they do so with respect for the law, for democracy, and the for the dignity of others.”

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello was saying Mass on the eve of the feast of St. James, the city’s patron and namesake, when the activists unexpectedly stormed the cathedral at the conclusion of a pro-abortion march.

Abortion is illegal in Chile, even in cases of rape. Of the country’s population, around 85 percent is Christian.

The current government opposes liberalization of abortion access. Last year, Chile’s senate rejected three bills easing the absolute ban, the Associated Press reports.

The faithful present at the Mass, including Santiago’s mayor, Carolina Toha, prevented the activists from reaching the main altar.

 Read the rest here.

How the charismatic movement conquered Brazil

Within the next two decades Brazil may no longer be a Catholic-majority nation
By on Friday, 26 July 2013
Catholic Herald
Rio Archbishop Tempesta preaches at the foot of Christ the Redeemer (CNS)
Rio Archbishop Tempesta preaches at the foot of Christ the Redeemer (CNS)
 
The Christian landscape that Pope Francis is encountering this week in Brazil is marked by three great interrelated trends: Catholic decline, Pentecostal growth and pentecostalisation. After almost four centuries of enjoying a de jure monopoly on religion and a de facto one in many countries until the 1950s, the Church in Brazil and most of Latin America has been in sharp decline since the middle of the 20th century. As recently as the 1940s, 99 per cent of Brazilians were Catholic. Today that figure has plummeted to 63 per cent…..

And so it is within this context of precipitous decline that the cardinals chose a Latin American confrere as Pope. Having written off a major attempt to revitalise the Church in Europe and having realised the dynamism of the faith in Africa and Asia, Church leaders strategically opted to focus on the region that with 42 per cent of the world’s Catholic population holds the key to future growth. Thus, in addition to Brazil figuring as the paramount country for the global Church, competition from Pentecostalism is the most compelling religious factor that has shifted the Vatican’s focus to Brazil and Latin America.

The great majority of the Church’s losses have been to burgeoning Pentecostalism. Since the 1950s tens of millions of mostly impoverished Latin Americans have converted to Pentecostal denominations such as the Assembly of God and the Brazil-based God is Love (Deus é Amor). The astronomical growth rate is captured in the inverse of the aforementioned numbers on Catholic decline in Brazil. From the 1940s the Protestant percentage of the Brazilian population skyrocketed from one to 22 per cent, of which approximately three quarters are Pentecostal.

Pentecostalism with its Spirit-centred worship has become so popular in Brazil and most of Latin America that even 10 years ago I wrote of a pentecostalised Christianity in my book, Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy. What this means specifically is that Pentecostal-style theology, complete with faith healing, exorcism and the health and wealth gospel, has become hegemonic….

Over in the Catholic camp, the Church’s own version of Pentecostalism, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR), has quickly become the most vibrant movement within the Brazilian Church and many others in Latin America. Like Pentecostalism, the CCR is an import from the US, arriving in the region in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And while contemporaneous Liberation Theology failed to appeal to the Brazilian and Latin American Catholic masses in any significant numbers, the CCR packs football stadiums for its evangelical crusades and even conducts Pentecostal and Mormon-style door-to-door proselytising in many countries….

If the Vatican’s new evangelisation campaign is to have any chance at revitalising the faith in Brazil and Latin America it must harness the spirited dynamism of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which is especially popular among young people. And it was exactly Catholic youth whom the Argentine Pontiff put front and centre in his first speech on Brazilian soil. Twice in his opening remarks he called on them to “go and make disciples of all nations”. Francis has already revealed his affinity for charismatic practice with his recent informal exorcism of a Mexican parishioner who claimed to be possessed by evil spirits related to the legalisation of abortion in Mexico City, home to the largest Catholic population of any metropolis on earth. Thus Brazil will make a fascinating stage upon which Francis will be challenged to combine the Latin American preference for the Spirit with his option for the poor.

Read the rest here.

R Andrew Chesnut is Bishop Walter F Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

 

The Huma Unmentionables

Published Friday, July 26, 2013 A.D. | By Donald R. McClarey
The American Catholic

As Anthony Weiner demonstrates that being a sociopath is not always an advantage in politics, Andrew McCarthy, who was the lead prosecutor in the successful prosecution of  Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, explains at National Review Online why Weiner’s wife is much more interesting than her “stand by her worthless man” routine indicates:

Charlotte’s revulsion over Huma Abedin’s calculated “stand by your man” routine is surely right. Still, it is amazing, as we speculate about Ms. Abedin’s political future, that the elephant in the room goes unnoticed, or at least studiously unmentioned.

Sorry to interrupt the Best Enabler of a Sociopath Award ceremony but, to recap, Ms. Abedin worked for many years at a journal that promotes Islamic-supremacist ideology that was founded by a top al-Qaeda financier, Abdullah Omar Naseef. Naseef ran the Rabita Trust, a formally designated foreign terrorist organization under American law. Ms. Abedin and Naseef overlapped at the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs (JMMA) for at least seven years. Throughout that time (1996–2003), Ms. Abdein worked for Hillary Clinton in various capacities.

hillary_huma_abedin

Ms. Abedin’s late father, Dr. Zyed Abedin, was recruited by Naseef to run the JMMA in Saudi Arabia. The journal was operated under the management of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, a virulently anti-Semitic and sharia-supremacist organization. When Dr. Abedin died, editorial control of the journal passed to his wife, Dr. Saleha Mahmood Abedin — Huma’s mother.

Saleha Abedin is closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and to supporters of violent jihad. Among other things, she directs an organization – the International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child. The IICWC, through its parent entity (the International Islamic Council for Dawa and Relief), is a component of the Union for Good (also known as the Union of Good), another formally designated terrorist organization. The Union for Good is led by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the notorious Muslim Brotherhood jurist who has issued fatwas calling for the killing of American military and support personnel in Iraq as well as suicide bombings in Israel. (As detailed here, the Obama White House recently hosted Qaradawi’s principal deputy, Sheikh Abdulla bin Bayyah, who also endorsed the fatwa calling for the killing of U.S. troops and personnel in Iraq.)

Like Sheikh Qaradawi, who helped write the charter for the IICWC, Saleha Abedin is an influential sharia activist who has, for example, published a book called Women in Islam that claims man-made laws enslave women. It reportedly provides sharia justifications for such practices as female-genital mutilation, the death penalty for apostates from Islam, the legal subordination of women, and the participation of women in violent jihad. Dr. Abedin has nevertheless been hailed in the progressive press as a “leading voice on women’s rights in the Muslim world” (to quote Foreign Policy). What they never quite get around to telling you is that this means “women’s rights” in the repressive sharia context.

Back to daughter Huma. In the late mid to late Nineties, while she was an intern at the Clinton White House and an assistant editor at JMMA, Ms. Abedin was a member of the executive board of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at George Washington University, heading its “Social Committee.” The MSA, which has a vast network of chapters at universities across North America, is the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s infrastructure in the United States. Obviously, not every Muslim student who joins the MSA graduates to the Brotherhood — many join for the same social and networking reasons that cause college students in general to join campus organizations. But the MSA does have an indoctrination program, which Sam Tadros describes as a lengthy process of study and service that leads to Brotherhood membership — a process “designed to ensure with absolute certainty that there is conformity to the movement’s ideology and a clear adherence to its leadership’s authority.” The MSA gave birth to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest Islamist organization in the U.S. Indeed the MSA and ISNA consider themselves the same organization. Because of its support for Hamas (a designated terrorist organization that is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch), ISNA was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, in which several Hamas operatives were convicted of providing the terrorist organization with lavish financing.”

Read the rest here.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron bans liberal priest speech from Westland church

July 26, 2013
freep.com

Fr. Helmut Schüller
Fr. Helmut Schüller 

Detroit Catholic Archbishop Allen Vigneron has banned an Austrian priest from speaking at a Westland Catholic parish today because the Rev. Helmut Schüller advocates allowing women and married men to be priests, in opposition to current church teaching.

Schüller was scheduled to speak at SS. Simon and Jude parish in Westland. But instead, his address, which is free and open to the public, will be held at Wayne Memorial High School. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. talk.

Schüller was also banned from speaking in Catholic churches in other areas of the U.S.

Speaking to the Free Press on Thursday, Schüller criticized Catholic leaders in Detroit and other cities for banning him from church property, saying that it reflects the very problem he’s trying to highlight — a leadership out of touch with the people.

“It reflects an old-fashioned system,” Schüller said by phone from Cleveland, where he was to speak Thursday night. “It’s behavior I cannot understand.”

Schüller said such actions show a “lack of respect for the ability of people to decide for themselves and make up their own mind.”
“It irritates me,” he said.

Last year, the Vatican stripped Schüller of the title “monsignor” because of his activism. Yet, he remains a working priest in Austria, where he teaches at a Catholic university.

The Austrian priest is touring 15 U.S. cities. Last week, he was banned from speaking at a Boston parish by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and he was banned in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia because his views contradict Catholic teachings, according to published reports. Before he arrives in Detroit, Schüller was scheduled to speak in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and Cleveland at non-Catholic facilities. Schüller’s tour is being sponsored by several Catholic reform advocacy groups.

Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Joe Kohn said Vigneron became aware of Schüller’s visit because of phone complaints the archdiocese received. Kohn said Vigneron’s decision was communicated in early July to SS. Simon and Jude pastor, the Rev. Gerry Bechard. Bechard did not return phone calls or e-mails for comment.

“What (Schüller) teaches is not in harmony with Catholic Church teachings in regard to women priests,” Kohn said. “We did receive a few calls when it was made known.”

Kohn said there are no prohibitions against Catholics discussing such issues, but “it was deemed that what he has preached on in the past is not in alliance with Catholic Church teaching.”

But Schüller said that the Catholic Church’s ban on women and married priests is a church order that can be lifted. It’s not an inherent part of the teachings of the Catholic Church, whose positions have varied over the centuries, he said. Church leaders “make a mistake” when they say these are “the teachings of the church.”

Read the rest here.

Contact Patricia Montemurri: pmontemurri@freepress.com. Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – July 26, 2013

Talking about the “things that matter most” on July 26

4:00 – Kresta Comments

4:40 – Laity Taking Co-Responsibility for the Church: The Great Marriage Challenge Tour
Although most of us realize that marriage is the building block of our society meaning that a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is good for the couple, their children and society, and that many of the problems that we are facing are due to the breakup of marriage; the unfortunate reality for contemporary Americans is that virtually all of us have experienced divorce in some way: our parents, our own, our children, our close relatives and our friends. Regardless of the many attacks being waged on marriage today, Greg and Julie Alexander believe that our goal should be to support all couples in having thriving and joy-filled relationships. Yes, it is true that laws should uphold morality, and that making something legal doesn’t make it necessarily moral; but it is only through a change of hearts brought about by personal evangelization that our society will begin to change and be reshaped; bringing the Good News to as many couples as possible is the goal of the Great Marriage Challenge tour. The Alexanders are here to discuss their ministry and their tour.

5:00 – Why Catholicism Matters: How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the 21st Century: Now in Paperback!
In recent years the Catholic Church has gone through turbulent times with the uncovering of horrible abuse. As a result many positive aspects of what the Catholic Church teaches and practices are now being overlooked, not just by the media, but by people in and out of the pews. This is not only unfortunate, but detrimental to society at large. As Bill Donohuemakes plain, the Church’s teachings remain the best guide to good living ever adopted. Moreover, the content of these teachings defy today’s typical ideological categorizations; the Church is decidedly conservative in matters of morality and compellingly liberal in social and economic affairs. Bill is here to tell us Why Catholicism Matters: How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the 21st Century

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – July 25, 2013

Talking about the “things that matter most” on July 25

4:00 – Scythian in Concert
Rousing and raucous, Scythian plays kicked-up Celtic and world music with hints of Gypsy and Klezmer, all infused with a touch of punk-rock sensibility. Take a pair of classically trained dueling fiddlers, toss in a rhythm guitar and the occasional funky accordion, then power it with the driving rhythm of a jazz percussionist, and you’ve got the ingredients for a show you won’t soon forget. Their high-energy, adrenaline-peddling, interactive brand of music has one goal in mind: to get people on their feet and dancing. Their repertoire ranges from traditional and contemporary Celtic and folk music to the alluring and dramatic strains of Gypsy and Eastern European tunes, and then crosses back over the border to pick up some good old-fashioned bluegrass licks. Their latest release is It’s Not Too Late. We talk to band members Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka who are here in Ann Arbor for a concert.

5:00 – Kresta Comments

5:20 – “Moms’ Night Out”
All Allyson and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a long-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and food not served in a bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for three hours—what could go wrong? It’s a description of the film Moms’ Night Out - is an endearing true-to-life family comedy that celebrates the beautiful mess called parenting. Recently Ave Maria Radio was invited to visit the set of the film and Kathy Schiffer is here to share the experience.

5:40 – The College Hook-Up Culture’s Effect on Young Women
The NYTimes last week ran an article about the effect of the college hook-up culture on young women and their potential for happiness in life and relationships.  It is a poignant and painful look at what happens to a culture when it defines itself by its ability to produce instead of the quality of its character and depth of its relationships. The title of the article is, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game Too.” The implication, of course, is that men have been having casual sex for centuries and it’s worked out OK for them, certainly women can succeed at the same game. Dr. Greg Popcakis here to analyze.

WYD Firing Up the Next Generation of the Faithful

by TIM WATKINS
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 2:29 PM               

Jeanette DeMelo
– Jeanette DeMelo                               
 

So Day 2 has come and gone, complete with the international premiere of our film The Blood & the Rose (or in Spanish La Sangre y La Rosa, as it is being shown down here with Portuguese subtitles.)

What was striking about the showing was that among the groups of those in attendance, a group from Sydney who did not speak either of those languages stayed for the entire film and were very much affected by its message, very excited to learn even more. They are ready to be Messenger Eagles, among the many hundreds of thousands of youth already here ready to go out and “make disciples of all nations,” the call from Pope Francis and WYD for all here.

One of the things that was most striking in our conversations following the film was the fervent desire of anyone we spoke with to stand up for life and for our faith, citing Our Lady of Guadalupe’s role as Patroness of Life. Back in Australia, they are among many who participate for 40 Days for Life and ask her intercession so that babies, born and unborn, will at least have the chance at life. And the great thing is that they will now know why, which, when coupled with the entire WYD experience, will better equip them to go back home and “be not afraid” to stand firm in their faith. And the Lord knows we need the youth to do that.

Finally, we took a stroll over to the opening Mass right on Copacabana beach, in which hundreds of thousands of people were gathered. I’m sure you have seen the imagery of the many flags and people, but it was in walking among these many people that you can just see and feel the love of God forming and strengthening our Church, as we all come together as one.

The Mass’ readings and music were in different languages, but it did not affect the participation of the many present. And knowing our call to spread the faith and make disciples of all nations, it was a glimpse of the future of our Church as it rests on the shoulders of the youth. May God strengthen and equip them in this mission.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/wyd-witnesses/wyd-firing-up-the-next-generation-of-the-faithful#ixzz2a28r8NNE

New Gates History Curriculum Closes Young Minds to God

Gates and Christian on Big History
Editor’s note: The photograph above depicts Bill Gates with Big History creator David Christian.
There seems to be no limit to the ambition of Bill Gates.
 

After making tens of billions in the personal computer revolution, Gates has become a full-time cheerleader for leftist causes on a global scale—whether it’s reducing carbon emissions to zero by mid-century or reducing the world population by spending billions to pay for contraceptives in poor countries.

Now Gates is hoping to transform education. The Microsoft co-founder has recently made headlines here and elsewhere for backing a new nationalized curriculum known as the Common Core. But his ambitions for education are even bigger. Gates has recently teamed up with historian David Christian to launch the Big History Project, a free online curriculum piloted last year in 55 high schools—45 in the United States, including four Catholic ones, and ten in other countries, from China to the Netherlands.

Big History lives up only to the first part of its name. It encompasses a 13.7 billion year-timeline in a bold effort to tell the entire history of the universe.

But it is not really history in any recognizable sense of the word. History traditionally takes as its starting point recorded history beginning with stories of Egyptian mummies and pyramids, or perhaps in the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia. Big History, on the other hand, begins with the Big Bang. The ten-unit course devotes nearly half its time to covering the formation of stars and the solar system, then turns to the birth of life and the appearance of the earliest humans, before arriving at history proper, in the seventh unit. It’s tailor-made for the attention-challenged student of today, with the typical unit featuring minutes-long video lectures, interactive exercises, and floridly illustrated articles.

Big History is thus really a blend of cosmology, astrophysics, geology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology. None of these disciplines is inherently anti-faith: the Catholic Church has long taught that evolution, as a science and not a philosophy, is not incompatible with belief in God. And the Big Bang, declaring as it does that the universe had a definite beginning and therefore a cause, is rich with theistic implications. (Little wonder, then, that the first person to propose the earliest version of the Big Bang theory was a Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre.)

The problem arises in how these disciplines are stitched together to tell what its advocates describe as a sweeping history of everything. In the first unit of the course, students are introduced to six ancient “origin stories”: Australian aboriginal, Chinese, Greek, Iroquois, Judeo-Christian, and Mayan—in that order. For the Greek one, students read from Hesiod’s Theogony. For the Judeo-Christian perspective, they read Genesis 1.

Such “origin stories” are broached only as a foil to Big History. “Big History is a modern version of all these stories,” David Christian explains in a video introducing the course. Christian is more explicit about the secular design behind Big History in his book, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. The author identifies the Christian account of creation as a “myth”:

Creation myths are powerful because they speak to our spiritual, psychic, and social need for a sense of place and a sense of belonging. Because they provide so fundamental a sense of orientation, they are often integrated into religious thinking at the deepest levels, as the Genesis story is within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. (Maps of Time, 2).

The perceived need for a modern origin story, as Christian sees it, points to the broader ambition of Big History. It is not merely an account of the origin of all things. It aims, rather, to answer the big questions of life, which, according to Christian, include the following: “Why do we find ourselves in this particular part of the universe on this tiny planet buzzing with life?” “What does it mean to be human?” “Who am I? Where do I belong? What is the totality of which I am a part?” (See his video introduction to Big History available here and Maps of Time, 1.) Such questions are normally asked and answered by a ‘worldview,’ which is what Big History ultimately is—entirely bereft, of course, of the supposedly mythic trappings of old traditions.

As such, Big History itself is the latest chapter in the decades-long story of the secularization of public education, beginning in the 1960s, when public-school prayer and Bible readings were ruled unconstitutional. In the ensuing decades, social conservatives and traditional humanists have sought other ways of helping students find their moral and metaphysical bearings as they embark upon the stormy seas of moral relativism and cultural pluralism—creationism, intelligent design, values curricula, and character education. (Some obviously have more merit than others.)

Big History is a secular counteroffensive. The curriculum provides an entirely materialist account of the origin of everything from stars to cells to cities—impersonal processes, often catalyzed by chance, brought each into being. For example, in his book, Christian compares the gravitational forces that sculpted stars to the social forces that shaped states:

In the early universe, gravity took hold of atoms and sculpted them into stars and galaxies. In the era described in this chapter, we will see how, by a sort of social gravity, cities and states were sculpted from scattered communities of farmers. As farming populations gathered in larger and denser communities, interactions between different groups increased and the social pressure rose until in a striking parallel with star formation, new structures suddenly appeared, together with a new level of complexity. Like stars, cities and states reorganize and energize the smaller objects within their gravitational field. (Maps of Time, 245.)

It’s a neat analogy, but one that ignores the role of individuals and ideas, not to mention outside agents, such as God or Satan, from any role in human history. There simply is no need for any sort of transcendental reality in Big History: it presents a world closed in on itself, in which everything within can be explain by reference to something else within it. Big History does not explain the soul, the nature of good and evil, the virtues, the dignity of the human person, and, needless to say, our desire for the transcendent.

From Advocating Environmentalism to Economic Materialism

One is led to the inescapable conclusion that this earth and everything on it is all we have. Reducing climate change and conserving scarce resources then become the most important ethical priorities. Such is the stated goal of the curriculum at its outset: “This unified story provides students with a deeper awareness of our past, hopefully better preparing them to help shape the future of our fragile planet.” The message is reinforced at the end of the course. In one video, M. Sanjayan, a scientist with The Nature Conservancy and a CBS News commentator, tells students that, as the planet population swells to ten billion, every impact on the environment will have a ripple effect. Mindful of his young audience, M. Sanjayan adds, “We are starting to once again understand that nature, in some ways, is the ultimate social network and we humans are very much part of it.” As we realize the impact our activities have on nature, we can work collectively—on a planetary scale—to do something about it, Sanjayan concludes. The final unit even features a cartoon strip depicting superheroes that fight for sustainable alternative energy sources on an alien planet and has guidelines for an interactive classroom exercise in which humanity is prosecuted in a mock trial for crimes against nature.

The call to conserve scarce resources is a message that easily bleeds into economics. In another video, Harvard luminary Henry Louis Gates, Jr. marvels at the technological innovation and knowledge that will surely be ours in the future. He wonders if everyone will be able to share in such futuristic riches. “Or will some of us have disproportionate access to these resources? Will there be huge class differentials both here in the United States and throughout the world? Will there be a Third World of poverty and a First World of economic prosperity and economic development?” Gates asks. “That, I think, is the fundamental question facing your generation. And I have absolutely no doubt that you will make the right decision—about the distribution of wealth and knowledge.”

Of course, all this is not to say environmental conservation or extreme inequities in wealth are unimportant issues. Yet to give priority to some fashionable, and highly debatable, causes while diminishing others is not necessarily what a high school history curriculum is meant to do. Furthermore, any worldview that limits its top priorities to these is one with a flattened view of humanity and a diminished and uninspired understanding of our purpose on earth. It also implicitly assumes that belief in a new heaven and a new earth, to a life after this one, is unworthy of serious consideration. It seems that Big History actually may not be big enough.

Ignoring the Age of Faith

Of course, Big History advocates will stress that with a 13.7 billion timeline and just ten units, there’s only so much that can be covered. Even so, the course makes omissions that can only be the result of deliberate choices, not chronological necessities. For example, the ninth course unit covers a 500-year increment of time, from 1500 AD—naturally it’s CE (Common Era) in the curriculum materials—to the present. The preceding eighth unit focuses on the Silk Roads and other trade and travel that flourished between the 1300s and the 1500s. But between that unit and the one before it is a nearly millennium-long gap that begins with the fall of the Roman Empire. That’s the Middle Ages—when faith moved minds and empires, perhaps more so than economic interest. Of course, the crusades aren’t as relevant to today’s world as, say, the industrial revolution—or are they? In a post-September 11 world, ancient wounds seem ever new, as anyone living on the West Bank will tell you.

In his book, Christian openly admits his bias against anything in history that is “divisive.” As might be expected, faith and religion are among the usual litany of suspects:

[I]n a world with nuclear weapons and ecological problems that cross all national borders, we desperately need to see humanity as a whole. Accounts of the past that focus primarily on the divisions between nations, religions, and cultures are beginning to look parochial and anachronistic—even dangerous. (Maps of Time, 8)

Earlier on the same page, Christian says that conventional historical time frames “hide … humanity.” But who really is hiding humanity here? It really says something about the historical merits of a curriculum billing itself as “Big History” that its founder apparently needs a refresher course in how bloody history has been. Of course, Christian would respond that what’s more important is what unites us. This value judgment shapes—and distorts—much of Big History.

But even when judged against its own standards Big History fails yet again. It’s undeniable that, at least up until the last one hundred years or so, one fundamental element common to all races and cultures was the religious impulse, the yearning for the transcendent. But the element of faith is almost completely absent from Big History. The unit devoted to trade and globalization of the late Middle Ages fails to note that religion was a main driver of the European explorations of the early modern period: in finding a sea-based connection to India, the Catholic world hoped to open a new front against the Islamic Middle East (see The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama by Nigel Cliff). Perhaps this inconvenient fact explains why Vasco da Gama is missing from the story and Christopher Columbus receives only passing mention in an article about Marco Polo, which says little about his religious background. Otherwise, the unit focuses on the Muslim itinerant judge Ibn Battuta and Chinese admiral Zheng He, himself the consummate multiculturalist. Born into a Persian Muslim family, Zheng served Confucian-era emperors while personally worshiping an ancient Chinese goddess known as Tianfei.

Elsewhere, the influence of faith is minimized. In the seventh unit, which covers the transition from hunter-gather societies to agricultural civilizations, one article delves into the history of Jericho, “the oldest continuously inhabited city.” Don’t be fooled: much of the article is about climate change and environmental prehistory with the actual “human history” of the city itself sequestered in a separate section in which the author notes an inconsistency between archeological accounts of the destruction of Jericho with the biblical chronology. In the same unit, more than a millennium of Greco-Roman history—from the rise of democracy in Athens to the fall of Rome—is packed into a single article. Here, the birth Christianity gets just two paragraphs: the crucifixion of Christ is described as an imperial necessity to stave off a Jewish rebellion and the spread of Christianity, from Paul to Constantine, gets a scant few sentences.

Otherwise, in this year-long, ten-unit course there are only four moments in which the curriculum directly engages with faith—but only to ease any friction that might arise between the science-laden content and any religious belief students may have. In the introductory unit, an article on “Cosmology and Faith” by Georgetown theologian John Haught offers a decent explanation of how faith and science can be compatible. A nearly identical article by Haught appears in evolution unit. But this is to treat faith as something apart from Big History: faith is not something that informs the wide lens through which students view the world, it is an outside realm of thought and action which must not impede the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

The two other engagements with faith occur in the second unit, on the Big Bang. There, the discussion of religion and science takes a turn for the worse. In an article on the Copernican Revolution, Haught, who should know better, drags out the tiresome canard about how Galileo Galilei ran afoul of the Inquisition. A second article about the Vatican Observatory seemed promising—how could the Church not get some credit here for a faith-formed openness to scientific discovery? The article does as much, and, in a welcome surprise, even quotes from the encyclical Fides et Ratio. But for every unavoidable positive, the author, identified as Michelle Feder, seems to feel a need to offset it with a negative. The Galileo affair is rehashed, as is the fact that the Church “apologized” for its behavior. The author just can’t seem to let it go: she quotes the former director of the observatory, Father George Coyne, saying that the “Church is a human institution, and a human institution can make, and had made mistakes.” That “human institution” is at it again, the author concludes, noting with consternation that Pope Benedict XVI once had said the Church’s “verdict against Galileo had been ‘rational and just.’” (To understand the true history of Galileo and the Church, see Light and Shadows: Church History amid Faith, Fact, and Legend by Walter Brandmuller.)

A Secular Curriculum for Catholic Schools?

Perhaps this is all par for the course in a thoroughly secularized public school of today: to criticize Big History is, perhaps, really just a way to question anew the godlessness of public education. But why on earth would a Catholic high school adopt the Big History curriculum?
 

Read the rest here.

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