Counter Culture

The website of moral theologian Christopher Klofft

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Shades of Black, part one

Hey, everyone! The first trailer for 50 Shades of Gray is out! How exciting!

No.  In fact, the reality that so many people are eagerly anticipating this film shows what a sad state of affairs human relationships are in right now. Honestly, I have a lot to say about these books and film, but we’re going to be inundated with more crap about this movie as its release draws closer, so I’m going to pace myself here.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, go ahead and do so.  It really tells you all that you need to know.  This is a supposed romance (scheduled for release hilariously on Valentine’s Day) in which a naïve young woman is seduced by a handsome, powerful, but also thoroughly broken, man.  The portrayal of the woman in the trailer borders on the unbelievable, while everything that is supposedly enchanting and romantic about the man is at best surface level – he is wealthy and willing to spend extravagantly to make a gesture – and at worst sociopathic, such as his desire for control in all things.

This all leads to the climax of the trailer (yeah, yeah, that one was too easy) where we see our bound and blindfolded heroine in ecstasy as any sense of her own agency is stripped away from her.  And that’s all the story has to offer.  If you knew nothing of the book and only saw this trailer, you don’t get any sense of story: in fact, you get the impression that you are being walked through the first half hour of the film, and then…what? Explicit dominant-submissive scenes disguised as romance? (And yes, I know she leaves him at the end, but there are still two more books to turn into films, in which they – spoiler alert – ultimately get married and have children.)  Does this even count as a plot?

No, it doesn’t.  It is an excuse to be visually titillated in a different way than the word on the page did for those who read the book.  The book’s audience was overwhelmingly women, and presumably that is the intended audience for the film also.  But here there is a potential difficulty: women do not react the same way to a frank visual depiction of sexual acts as they do in a narrative description that fires up their imagination and allows them to remain safely in control (enjoy the irony there).  I wonder (and frankly, I pray) that the visual depiction of scenes from the book will not arouse women, but rather make them realize the horror of what they previously thought they enjoyed in the book.  I hope that they see the situation for what it is: the brutal manipulation and degradation of a young woman by a powerful man who is only using her to sooth the scars of his own victimization at the hands of others.

Here is a simple objective truth: deliberately inflicting pain or humiliation on another, especially in the context of what is supposed to be shared intimacy, is never a loving act.  It is always the sinful using of another.  “Limits” have nothing to do with it.  “Consent” has nothing to do with it.  It is never a loving act.  Ever.

In the midst of a cultural discourse that has so many defenders clamoring for the sexual freedom of women, one of the most anticipated films is about literally nothing more than a woman being denied her sexual freedom by a powerful man.  The idea that this is somehow not the most laughable contradiction ever is actually the evidence for a most successful Satanic seduction.

I’ll have more on this over the next seven months, I’m sure.  But to tide you over, read this article about how the book is actually just a thinly veiled description of pedophiliac abuse.

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Step aside for a minute, James…

According to what I’ve been told, I was named shortly after the revision of the Roman calendar that removed St. Christopher and others because of a lack of firm historical reliability (but left the feast of St. James on this day).  This removal of Christopher has led to the popular Catholic myth that they “de-sainted” him, as if Peter opened the gates and shoved the gentle giant out headlong into the abyss.   You can’t be de-sainted; you are either in the eternal presence of God or you are not.  Take heart that if you make it there, you’re never going to be asked to leave.

The story of St. Christopher does seem to suggest more of a pious legend than a historical figure.  In the version of the story that I was told, Christopher the giant desired to serve the most powerful person in the world, which led him to the service of the devil.  One day, however, he saw the devil blanche at the sight of a cross by the side of the road, which led Christopher to wonder who could cause his master such fear.  Clearly, that person must be more powerful.  This led to Christopher’s continued search for the most powerful person in the world, and his graceful encounter with the Christ-child at the river.  (For what it’s worth, I’ve never personally read this version of the story – it was told to me orally, which is a fun testament to the power of oral tradition.)

There’s a lot to question about the likely historical accuracy of this story.  But in our world today, so supposedly obsessed with facts (at least when they support our side), we often lose perspective on the truth.  There may or may not have been an actual giant who carried Jesus across a river.  But the story’s revelation, about the weight of the sins of the world, and an invitation to help bear that burden for others, is the truth…and that’s enough to make St. Christopher worthy of veneration.

Renewing the West by Renewing Common Sense

This weekend, I participated in a conference with the above name, sponsored by, among others, the Adler-Aquinas Institute.  It was an interesting conference; I heard a lot of thought-provoking perspectives and met a lot of nice people.  Considering that the core of the conference was Thomistic philosophy, I, of course, had to deliver a paper on the contemporary crisis of gender identity in the west.  It’s never dull being a specialist in unusual things.

One of the prominent themes of the conference was the relationship between ethics and character and what might be broadly called leadership or management.  In addition to the philosophers (and a tiny handful of theologians), there were scholars from the fields of law, business, and politics there as well.  Because of this, we were able to discuss a more thorough definition of “leadership.”

Leadership not only referred to its practical application in the professional world, but also to the more fundamental idea of leadership and management in one’s own life: does one use prudential judgment to live by the definition of “common sense” as Thomas defined it? Or does one merely react to the life that is thrown at them?

This question also has serious ramifications for liberal education.  What are we doing by driving our students through “professional preparation”? Why do people think that vocational training is worth $50,000 a year for four years in order to get a job that starts at maybe $60,000 a year? Oftentimes, the job in question isn’t even one the person is especially excited to do – hardly a matter of “vocation.”

Liberal education has become so much about the collection of data, vaguely aimed in the direction of a set of job-applicable skills.  This is most unfortunate.  Liberal education should invite and challenge the student in such a way as to make them better persons: more free, and thus better able to engage their own world.  They should be well-suited to any profession simply because they are excellent human beings.

I doubt any of this is news to anyone who has thought seriously about the meaning of higher education and its present sorry state in the West.  This conference gave us the opportunity to imagine a renewed West, a way forward…by taking seriously what we’ve left behind.

Obligatory First Post

Welcome to the obligatory first post of Counter Culture.  This blog was originally supposed to exist a number of years ago, but I kept dragging my feet and letting life get in the way, despite people asking me to write one.  Thanks to the ease of WordPress, I was finally able to get this together.  If you found your way here, thanks for coming.

In this blog, I will be offering my commentary on issues involving the Church, contemporary theology, and the interplay between Catholicism and culture.  Because of my specific engagement with popular culture, you can expect to see a lot of evaluation of music, TV, and movies.  For those who have seen me teach, I hope that my same style comes across in written form as it does in the classroom.

Regarding the art work on this page. it was done by an artist named Matt Crane.  The piece is simply called “Christ vs. Satan.”  It features a rather heroic Jesus punching the devil in the face.  I think that’s pretty awesome.

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