The Gorilla Story and our Reactionary Culture

In the wake of the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo where a seven-year old silverback gorilla was shot and killed in order to secure the safety of a four-year old child who fell into the exhibit we have seen some shameful reactions.

The Washington Post published an article chronicling some online responses toward the parents of the child that fell into the gorilla exhibit. Quoting part below:

People wasted little time responding to the [mother’s] Facebook post with hateful comments, forcing her to eventually remove it altogether, People magazine reported. They then found the Facebook page for a preschool where a woman by the same name works, records show. They blasted that next, according to news reports, forcing the school to delete its page, too.

Other women who share her name on social media received threatening messages intended for her, attacks that called her “scum,” “a really bad mother” and a “f‑‑‑ing killer.”

“that animal is more important than your s‑‑‑ kid,” one man messaged.

Another woman wrote: “u should’ve been shot.”

At times, the barrage of insults were racially charged, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer.

By Monday, the threats grew so intense that Cincinnati police felt compelled to act [to protect the family].

The purpose of this post is not to discuss if the zoo made the right call (I believe they did) or debate whether the violent demise of a beautiful creature is really that unfortunate (it is). Rather, the reason for this post is to draw attention to how irrational, unhinged, and disoriented many people in our culture have become as is perpetually on display via social media.

It seems whenever a “controversial” issue is in the news, posts, tweets, and comments flood the Internet with intense ad hominem attacks in all directions. The majority of online discourse we are exposed to on a daily basis (including, perhaps especially, minors) is empty of decorum, civility, thought, or true concern; vulgarity, malice, and thoughtlessness are instead commonplace.

Reading this article called to mind a quote from the late Thomas Merton. In his epic chronicling his conversion to the Catholic Church, The Seven Storey Mountain, he writes passionately on popular culture in modern society and how it affects the soul. Although the book was published in the 1940’s, the following words might be even more true today:

We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible…

-The Seven Storey Mountain, pg. 148

Viewing the prevailing culture through the paradigm this quote offers, I think we can better understand the chaos we always see unraveling on social media. We see shameless and thoughtless reactionaryism everywhere now. I’d argue it’s both true and obvious that many people are kept at constant tension with the people around them, in full submission to mighty and disordered passions burning within. This problem is exacerbated by immoderate consumption of what popular culture has to offer. Sure, everyone battles disordered passions, but there exists an important difference between the practicing Catholic and hedonist. The difference is that the Christian is aware of the problem and tries to act out of virtue rather than vice.

Of course, the Adversary loves it when people foster chaos, hate, and division among each other. After all, “diabolical” comes from the Greek “Diabolos”, based on the root meaning of “to divide” or “division”.

Thinking of a way to end this, Saint Francis of Assisi comes to mind. His oft-recited prayer seems well suited for the ruthless reactionaryism our culture seems to be prone to:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.

Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

Cancer Patient Throws Down Epic ‘Ave Maria’ for Pope

During Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico, the Holy Father has been meeting with many who are ill. He takes the time to personally talk to, pray with, and bless them. His obvious compassion for the human condition is encouraging and beautiful. One cancer patient was able to give thanks to him by treating him to a moving rendition of ‘Ave Maria’. Despite her unfortunate condition, her voice was still strong. I’ll leave you with the video now. I’m cutting onions here and got something in my eye…

[WATCH] Christians Recount ISIS Takeover in Mosul

There’s a very powerful new video being shared that features nine Middle Eastern Christians describing what it was like when ISIS invaded their home city of Mosul–Iraq’s second largest city–on June 9, 2014.

One business owner in the video tells of his father being held by ISIS for $100,000 ransom. To save his father from being brutally killed, he could either pay the money (which he didn’t have) or convert to Islam. After selling his house, car, and shop he was able to pay the ransom before fleeing with his family.

These people are inspiring. Their faith is incredible. One man movingly states, “you feel joy when you are being persecuted for Christ.” These people had everything they had taken from them through violence and terror. They watched family and friends being killed in brutal fashion. They watched their livelihoods vanish and future dissolve. And, while admitting it is difficult, their message is still of forgiveness and love. Not the shallow sentimentalism and infatuation that passes for love in much of the Western world, but true love as concern for someone’s soul and salvation.

How would we react in the face of this terror? Is our faith strong enough to pick up the heavy cross we are called to carry by Jesus?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

-Matthew 5:10

 

Charlie Sheen and the Embrace of Disorder

To Americans that don’t live under a rock, Charlie Sheen doesn’t need an introduction. Mr. Sheen was the “tiger blood”-fueled immortal that couldn’t stop #winning even if he tried. He raked in millions from the hit TV show Two and a Half Men, he dated porn stars, slept with anyone he wanted, had an appetite for cocaine, and generally did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. He simply operated on a different level than most of us normal humans. At least that’s what he wanted to believe.

I don’t know all the details of the story so I won’t attempt to speculate but when I first read that Sheen was diagnosed with HIV, it didn’t seem so shocking. In fact, I’ll bet it wasn’t terribly shocking for most people when they heard the news. Why?

Well, probably because he lived a disordered life publicly. The news of him being HIV-positive surely is an outcome of despair for both him and those who love him (not to mention the many women he slept with). Despair (or sadness, hardship, devastating outcomes, etc) follows disordered choices. The Church calls disordered choices sins. Jesus, and basic logic, tells us that if you avoid sin, you will avoid self-inflicted despair both on Earth and beyond. Now, of course none of us are able to avoid sin but there’s a difference in being a sinner (making occasional disordered, selfish choices) and embracing a lifestyle of complete disorder as Charlie seemingly did. Disorder catches up to everyone somehow.

Obviously I don’t actually know Sheen or what is in his heart, but we know the life choices he openly bragged about. With sexual promiscuity (particularly rampant in this situation) comes a higher risk of certain bodily hardships or outcomes (despair). HIV in this case. This isn’t to say that earthly despair will follow every disordered choice. For instance, a man may very well be able to fornicate with many women until the day he dies without experiencing STDs, a broken heart, or other possible hardships that arise from this lifestyle (not taking into account any despair left in the hearts, minds, or bodies of the women used). But this doesn’t mean the man is off the hook because while his earthly/bodily life may have not been affected the disordered lifestyle must somehow balance back out in the universe (think of the immaterial universe as a delicate ecosystem). Like the laws of entropy or gravity will in the end never be circumvented, neither will the Natural Laws of the universe. Morally disordered actions always effect souls which must be reconciled (whether on our terms in the confessional or God’s elsewhere) to bring back harmony, balance, and justice to the immaterial universe.

Luckily Charlie still likely has plenty of time on Earth to change his direction. If it’s true that God never gives us more than we can handle, perhaps this can serve as an important turning point in his life and he can make this a story of triumph (aka #winning) by reconciling his disordered choices on his own terms through the mercy of the Lord.

Please join me in asking for the intercession of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, that Charlie Sheen find Christ in his life, leading to a conversion of intellect and heart.

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St. Aloysius Gonzaga | Wikipedia

 

Not-So-Random Shooting: Christians Targeted in Oregon

Today we are debriefing after yet another rampage with mass casualties by a madman at a (gun-free) school. The targets were not random though. The innocent people who died are dead because they are Christian. While we still don’t have all the details, the New York Post has some information that we didn’t know yesterday:

A gunman singled out Christians, telling them they would see God in “one second,” during a rampage at an Oregon college Thursday that left at least nine innocent people dead and several more wounded, survivors and authorities said.

“[He started] asking people one by one what their religion was. ‘Are you a Christian?’ he would ask them, and if you’re a Christian, stand up. And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.’ And then he shot and killed them,” Stacy Boylen, whose daughter was wounded at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., told CNN.

A Twitter user named @bodhilooney, who said her grandmother was at the scene of the carnage, tweeted that if victims said they were Christian, “then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.”

Normally, the violent persecution of Christians is something that we read about in the back pages of our newspapers, a phenomenon that happens on the other side of the planet. Of course all shootings are horrible, but this one strikes a chord considering what we are seeing all over the world: middle eastern Christians being crucified, raped, or beheaded; Christians being driven out of Europe (on top of their already-dwindling numbers); Christianity being forced out of the public square in America; etc.

Now while this and all shootings are horrible, it must be noted that we are actually living in one of the safest times in American history when it comes to gun-related deaths. Unfortunately most people wouldn’t be aware of this due to our 24-hour new cycle that makes their money on keeping everyone as anxious and angry as possible through the over-sensationalism of the news. The news even arguably encourages these events–the alleged shooter is quoted writing “Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight”. Why do we feature these people so prominently? Why do we do full profiles on them for days? Shootings, not actual journalism of keeping the powerful in-check, make headline news for days on end. But the fact of the matter is that we were much more violent between the late-70’s and early-90’s.

But, while statistically safer, we have more random, large-scale shootings which is indeed frightening. Why? Well, answering that question is above my pay grade. Obviously it’s not about our president’s pay grade though because, before we knew anything about what happened, we got lectured on how we need more laws and how this individual had a “sickness in his head”.

Of course anyone who does this can be considered “sick”, but we cannot keep reducing such complex and heinous acts to being ‘off’ in the head. Most leaders, especially modern American presidents, speak of “evil” in the world and having to crush it. “Evil” is a word that our current president doesn’t often bring up. There’s evil in the world and we must confront it. It might stem from different things, but it exists. Certainly mental health is important, but why is there seemingly a mental health epidemic now compared to previous eras? What’s different?

I’d argue the wild individualism, self-love, and hopeless despair that has manifested in so many people who have been taught there’s nothing to the universe beyond themselves is part of it. So many people have divorced their lives from a notion of something above themselves, or have raised their children to know no other way. We have a generation of people filled with despair when they cannot cope with a crummy situation or, in this case, hate for those who live the joy of a Christian life.

More laws, on top of existing laws that were obviously broken, will not fix the the empty and perverted human souls that have resulted from God being pushed out of every nook and cranny of society. We need to fix people, we need to give people hope, we need to give people joy–which is why Jesus Christ became man.

Now let’s see how the media reports this story–will they attempt to ignore the fact that it was Christians that were targeted?

Jesus Christ please look favorably upon the men and women who were unwillingly born unto eternal life yesterday. Please consider them martyrs and be merciful in considering their past sins. 

Through the immaculate heart of Mary, we ask that Christ comfort the family and friends close to the victims. Please give them the grace they need to carry on with life and fill them with hope.

Although difficult, we also pray for the soul of the shooter, that perhaps he is able to realize how wrongly he acted, that, through penance, perhaps he too is able to attain the promise of heaven through your saving grace

Amen.