Whatever happened to Hollywood romances?

I was working on a piece for Bleedingfool.com and realized that while I write a lot about movies, I don't really deal with the topic of romance.

Part of this is that for a long time, romantic movies also involved sex scenes.  Since my conversion, I find them very uncomfortable to watch, particularly since we now know that far from being consenting adults, directors pretty regularly pushed women into doing them.  When the films made money, the actresses weren't in a position to object and I think many of them just got used to it as the price of fame and fortune.

That being said, Hollywood mostly seems to specialize in comic book films or the endless sequel/prequel treadmill.  Love stories are simply too demanding, both to write and to act, so why bother?

By the way, it's not like sex scenes are a thing of the past.  Indeed, they've now gotten far more intense, pervasive, and part of streaming network and even television network productions.  Gay sex is now also being pushed into the mainstream with considerable determination.  I recall some gay "romantic comedy" that totally bombed at the box office because it turned out that the vast majority of people aren't interested in that sort of thing.

Still, the fact that money could be found for such a venture speaks volumes about the current age.  There clearly is an element in the entertainment industry that is willing to sacrifice large amount of money in pursuit of non-financial goals.

Triumph of the Methodist heretics?

The United Methodist Church has been torn by internal strife for the last 20 years, but the end may at least be in sight.  Since 2019, 2o percent of  American parishes have formally broken with the organization, many choosing to affiliate with the Global Methodist Church, was was founded last year.

In a sense, this is a triumph for the sexually libertine heretics who have openly defied Methodist teachings for years with impunity.  Unable to enforce discipline, the UMC's leadership tried the same approach as the Anglican Communion and has now experienced a similar failure.

As with the Anglicans, the Methodists have finally accepted that there are points of theological disagreement that simply can't be glossed over, not matter how hard people try.

In a sense, this is also a top-down schism as the name and property are firmly in possession of the heretics, and orthodox Methodists are effectively having to buy their way out of the denomination.  It is in many respects the triumph of heresy.

Indeed, I have seen progressives describe this as a victory, since an 80/20 split is quite lop-sided.  Many feared far worse.

However, that assumes the schism has run it course, which is unlikely.  Many parishes delayed a decision until a viable Methodist alternative was available, so additional disaffiliations are still in progress.

There is also the fact that parishes does not tell the full story.  Over the last two decades, millions of Methodists quit on an individual basis and I have seen several UMC churches in my area close in the last few years.   Many of the remaining parishes will not be viable, and will also be forced to shut down.

A key factor going forward will be the formalization of the new theology.  Up till now, this has been vague, with the progressive wing using the language of "tolerance" and "inclusion" to justify their sexual immorality.  The old rules were still on the books, but not enforced out of "compassion."

Now the progressives have the opportunity to set out their full vision of sexual freedom without any restraints.  I imagine there will be "LGBTQ+ friendly vacation bible camps" and other attempts at grooming because this is the demonic Spirit of the Age.

These will likely alienate even sympathetic believers who were willing to tolerate perversion, but will not advocate it.   That won't stop the leadership, however, because having seized the pulpit, they will use it for every progressive cause, not matter how extreme.

There is a certain symmetry in the almost simultaneous collapse of the Anglican Communion and the United Methodist Church.  Methodism itself was born of a schism within the Anglican tradition, and it originated as a movement to restore a more pure form of faith built on personal holiness.

Now both organizations have succumbed to the seduction of sodomy and sexual license, which their leaders have elevated to the highest good.  Unwittingly, both are now moving to a different branch of Protestantism, one their founders abhorred:  Calvinism.

Specifically, Yard Sign Calvinism.

Both the Anglicans and their offshoots have rejected any real requirement for personal change or external action to achieve salvation.  The believe that their inherent goodness and pureness of intention supersede sacraments or sacred scripture.  Indeed, both sacraments and scripture must yield or be discarded.

Yet in the end, both organizations will likely die out, becoming little more than a fringe activist group living off of the endowments provided by people whose beliefs they now abhor. 

The return of the "Akshually, sin isn't technically bad" form of argument

The other day I was reading through some of the online content at First Things and I was amused to see a commenter trot out a 1990s-vintage argument regarding sin.

Back then I was no paragon of virtue, and a bitter opponent of organized religion, but even so I recognized that it took a remarkable amount of special pleading to argue that the only actual sins were those specifically enumerated by Jesus in the Gospels.  Now this was intended to legitimize sodomy, but if taken at face value, it also included rape, incest and a host of other crimes. 

The problems with this are manifest, and I need not elaborate on them, but it struck an eerily familiar chord with commenter CN's observations about Jewish witchcraft, which while not an oxymoron, should be.

I suppose there's some comfort in the knowledge that stupid ideas pushed by equally stupid people never really go away.  Just as each year sees the change of the seasons, and the heat of summer gives way to the cool contemplation of fall, so hackneyed sophistries continue to be recycled by mid-wits who think they've found the killer argument against Catholicism or something.

Indeed, some years ago, a former friend trotted out a bunch of well-worn cliches in an attempt to undermine my Catholic faith, and after spending entirely too much time batting down his feeble barbs, I finally suggested that, since he was so smart, he should start his own church.  He laughed with delight, noting with satisfaction that he'd driven a Catholic priest to a similar 'admission of defeat' years before.

I then pointed out to him that it wasn't an admission of defeat, it was simply an observation that nothing he said was either original or compelling.  Like me, the priest wasn't overwhelmed by the force of his logic, but bored by the dullness of his arguments.  This is one of the reasons he is a former friend.

Still, there is no denying the thrill of trying to square the moral circle by declaring witchcraft and devil worship fully compatible with Judaism or that "true" Christianity is actually a goddess cult dedicated to hedonism.  One is tempted to reply:

Sure, go with that.

However, we are in a time of heightened spiritual warfare, and the Enemy is attacking on every front.  That is why is necessary to set aside our pride (and boredom) and face these claims patiently but seriously.  Failing to do s0 risks allowing the cancer of this heresy to spread unchecked, with dire results.

This includes having the moral courage to say that no matter what blasphemous ceremonies or blessings are given, sin remains sin.  To its credit, the Global Anglican Future Conference did exactly that earlier this year.

The lesson here is that a generation of tolerance and "being nice" got us to a very bad place.  Clearly, a more aggressive response is required.

The allure of paganism

Over the past week, commenter CN has deftly woven together two of the themes of this site - the corruption of Christianity and the complex personality of Ford Madox Ford.

The discussion of Jewish women indulging in neo-paganism reminded me of a consideration of paganism from a few years ago.

As I said then, paganism offers much that appeals to our contemporary culture.  It's bold, transgressive, and  it eliminates bothersome boundaries. 

The primary weakness is that once one casts aside restraint, why bother with religious ritual at all?  I think for the Boomer generation, there was something of a thrill in going to church in a bathrobe and slippers and the Gen X crowd went even farther by getting all tatt'd up and "blessing" same-sex relationships.

But why bother with all that?  Why not sleep in on Sunday?  The truth is that classical paganism actually had lots of rules and required frequent acts of devotion.  All those marble temples were used; they weren't just empty monuments to be admired.

This is why I think it is no accident that much of paganism is concentrated within the global church rather than rising outside of it.  This would of course fit in with the Enemy's designs of outright blocking the path to salvation by corrupting Christ's message and misleading His servants.

But even that thrill seems to be fading.  In places where Woke Christianity reigns triumphant, church attendance is almost undetectable.  It's interesting that the Anglican population of Wales (which needs six bishops (most of them female, of course), could fit into a mid-sized sporting area. 

Whether "observant" or not, a frequent recourse is to the display of virtue.  The old amulets and shrines have now given way to a bumper sticker or yard sign, hence closing the ring between neo-paganism and Yard Sign Calvinism.

For students of history, there is a dreary familiarity to all of this.  Just as the same worn-out heresies keep cropping up in new wrappings by people who think they've just invented the wheel, so the same old sins get repackaged as virtues.  Waugh, Chesterton and of course Tolkien all saw it, and it's still going on today.

Something to keep in mind as the latest "new neo-pagan" thing emerges.

Family Reunions

As part of my post-lockdown recovery, I've been reconnecting with friends and family and over the past month attended two reunions.

With the advent of social media, I think these events have faded.  Certainly my high school graduating class has abandoned the in-person concept and people just follow each other and exchange random photos via Facebook.

This is a shame, because there is no substitute for the prolonged intimacy of a face-to-face conversation.  One of the issues with social media is its selectivity - people show only what they want you to see.  This in turn creates alienation from the real world, and many people develop feelings of inferiority and even depression because of it.  Either they see everyone else living apparently joyous, successful lives or they feel compelled to create a false version of themselves and dread its eventual discovery.

Of course, people can 'put on airs' at a traditional gathering, wearing fancy clothes, bragging of their accomplishments, but these are harder to sustain.  Especially among family, one of the joys of getting together is the lack of any pretense.  Everyone knows everyone's business, and so people can be themselves and relax.

My children have long enjoyed these gatherings, in large part because I am an only child, so more distant cousins are the only ones they have.   (My wife's relations live in distant states, so seeing them is a rarity.)  There is something surreal in meeting one's second cousin twice-removed, but only because American society is so mobile and atomized.

It is refreshing therefore to partake in what used to be commonplace - mass gatherings of kin for the sale of renewing acquaintance, meeting new members, and generally hanging out and talking about old times.

One of the hardest Gospel readings: Matthew 10:37-42

Some years ago, I heard a homily that has stuck with me ever since.  It was in Easter, and the priest noted that while we try to approach Easter each year with a sense of newness and wonder, for most of us, it's quite familiar.  We've celebrated Easter before, so what else is new?

He answered his own question by pointing out that every year is different.  We are older, we may have kids now, or our kids may be moving out, etc.  Life brings constant changes, even if they are incremental.

He was right, of course.  The Easter I celebrated this spring was vastly different from the one I celebrated in 2019, when lockdowns were unheard of, or in 2020, when we were unable to attend Mass in person.

So it was with this week's Gospel readings, which is the famous passage where Jesus creates a string of paradoxes surrounding faith, but also says that those who cannot leave their parents and children for him, are not worthy of him.  That passage always rankled with me, because how could a loving God demand that I put aside those people?  We are commanded to honor our parents, and what parent would cast aside a child?

This year I see it differently.  I realize that this life is not all that there is.  If God calls, we must answer, and He will see to it that my parents and children are taken care of. 

That is probably the biggest difference between believers and those without faith in God.  If this life is all there is, then death is a nightmare, the worst thing ever.  Pleasure must be taken as often as possible, because its joys will fade.

It is clear to me that the top rungs of the social ladder have lost faith in God, and believe that nothing else matters besides their time on earth.  Cheating is something they admire, and cleverness is superior to courage.  A person willing to die for faith or conviction is a sap and fool.

All of that is predicated on there being nothing else; on the Unseen being non-existent.  At this late date, I don't that that view is logically sustainable.  I have experienced too much of the spirit realm to believe otherwise.

I'm also starting to wonder if the "evangelical atheists" aren't trying to convince others to abandon faith so much as reassure themselves. 

This is also why one gets Yard Sign Calvinists, who - unable to reach God - seek social salvation through virtue-signalling. 

J.R.R. Tolkien had an interesting take on the "end game" of a society that turns to darkness.  His description of the fall of Numenor is very much reminiscent of where we are - people becoming status-obsessed, proud, willful, and above all hardening their hearts against God, doubling down on their rebellion.

There's a lot of that going on, too.

Now under contemplation: a new wargame design

Since my military retirement, I've been debating how to bring some of my wargame designs into publication.  Several of them are quite mature, and what I particularly like about them is the ease of setup and rapidity of play.  These were developed to be used to study a conflict area during the lunch break, and they worked very well.

I think they would hit the sweet spot between playing a standard card game and something a little more strategic and elaborate.

One issue is the topic: contemporary/future conflicts.  These were designed as teaching tools, and the general public may not groove to them.  However, yesterday I realized that I could probably adapt the core system into a more popular topic, say the various civil wars in England (obviously including the Wars of the Roses).

A big advantage of this approach is that it has huge growth potential.  I've already built multiple scenarios, which gives the game some "legs" in term of future expansions.

Now if only I could convince my old unit to let me use their plotter to make the maps...

Inflation and the Indie author

Effective June 20th, Amazon raised the prices for print versions of their self-published authors.  I'm sure many authors are also looking at raising their e-book prices simply because everything else has gone up.

Inflation poses a unique problem for people who don't have major publicity behind them.  Such folks can charge a premium for their work.  Lesser lights, on the other hand, rely on a lower cost to help entice readers.  While inflation is distributed across the board in the book market, people still have a sense of what is expensive and what is not, and there can be a disconnect when prices rise as sharply as they have done over the last couple of years.

I supposed that - had I been market-savvy and seen it coming, I could have announced a big sale before the price hike.  I may do that anyway, offering "retro" prices over a big weekend.

The fact remains that when everything gets more expensive, that includes books.

The Lord of Spirits podcast jumps the shark

I suppose it was inevitable.  Even the most engaging concepts eventually run out of steam.  Some last longer than others, of course, but that depends upon the subject matter and the genre.

It also depends upon fidelity to the subject matter.  For example, Magnum p.i. had four solid seasons before it started to flag.

Miami Vice got into season three before it was mostly played out, and I'm sure the fathers on the Lord of Spirits podcast will appreciate the symmetry of their show topping out after about the same amount of time.

As with both of the detective shows, the initial concept of the Lord of Spirits was interesting and provided excellent opportunities to engage and entertain.  The first year or so of episodes really did blow my mind.

However, one can only go over the core concepts of the spirit world for so long.  Once angels, demons, giants, vampires, etc. had been explained, the show had to ranger father and farther afield. and in the process, the focus of the show changed, just as it did with Miami Vice.

Whereas Miami Vice went from a slick, cool blend of music, actions and aesthetics to a gritty cop drama, Lord of Spirits went from an offbeat but informative discussion of the spirit realm to a blatant recruiting pitch for the Eastern Orthodox Church with strong anti-Catholic overtones.

That's just not as interesting.  It's one thing to sit through nearly three hours of explaining Giants, Behemoth and Leviathan and quite another to get a long lecture on why Catholics Do All The Sacraments Wrong.

Throughout the show there has been an anti-Catholic bias, particularly on the part of Father Stephen.  Both he and Father Andrew are former Protestants who converted to the Orthodox faith.  For a certain type of Protestant, the Orthodox Church has a lot going for it: you get the apostolic succession, the writings of the Church fathers, the sacraments and you don't have to give up hating on Catholics.  That's particularly important to Father Stephen, who never passes up an opportunity to take a cheap shot - even if he's wrong.

During the first few years, this was not that important because the Catholic and Orthodox views on the spirit world are functionally identical.  One can tease out some cultural differences in terms of vampires and werewolves, but both follow the same system of looking at angels, demons and read the Bible in the same way.  Every now and again Father Stephen would say something snotty, and it was sad because it was often out of place and a little embarrassing that he had this compulsive hatred of people who don't hate him back (the Catholic Church considers all Orthodox clergy to be part of the apostolic succession and all of their sacraments are valid).

However, the farther one gets from spirits, the more room there is to cast those different historic and cultural practices in a negative light. And that more that happened, the more strident and petty these attacks became.

For the last six months the shows had been getting tedious, and  the last episode I listened to was the May 11 live Q&A.  This was really dull because most of the questioners were known to the hosts, either repeat callers or their friends and family. 

Near the end an authentic caller brought up the seeming abundance of Eucharistic miracles in the Catholic Church and the response - which I could not believe I was hearing - was that miracles really don't mean all that much, certainly shouldn't be cited to show God's favor or that one is becoming holy.  I guess the Orthodox Church will be shutting down Mount Athos and destroying its relics, then.

Father Stephen went farther and suggested that because so many Eucharistic miracles were reported during the tumult of the Reformation, that suggested that they were inauthentic because it was a bit too convenient.  Maybe they came from demons.

I'm used to hot takes, but that one's a real scorcher.  I'm still not sure what he was driving at.  If the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ, one might well expect miracles demonstrating that and calling people to repent and return to the true faith.  Was he implying that the miracles were sent by the devil to keep people away from the true faith of Calvinism, or was he going full Mormon and insisting the Catholic Church was built by the devil to keep people from God?

Now I'm sure there are people into hating on Catholicism, I'm just not one of them, and I can't continue to recommend a show that I no longer enjoy.

It's sad, because I really enjoyed the it and I would still recommend the first two years of podcasts to people who want to learn more about the spirit world.

Ironically, on June 7, the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church issued their first statement in seven years.

If the work of the commission bears fruit, I can't help but wonder if it will lead to a crisis of faith for the more extreme Orthodox clergy.

At any rate, I remain grateful for those first two years and how they opened my mind to the spirit world.  That is why I'm walking away, because I sense that if I stick around or try to engage the hosts, the whole experience could be tainted.  Instead, I will simply take the good things with me.




A Beautiful Mind: much ado about...what?

Before writing this, I looked over the films that Ron Howard was involved with, and the ones I knew were rather formulaic.  This confirmed much of what I felt while watching A Beautiful Mind: it was very formulaic.

It also avoided the core question, which was the cause of John Nash's mental illness.  As someone who has had up close and personal involvement with mental illness, it is very much not a random thing.  I know that there are "genetic links" to it, but that is a fancy way of saying "crazy parents beget crazy kids."

It comes down to the old nature/nurture debate, but I don't think there's any argument at this point that people raised in an abusive household often exhibit abusive behavior.

And that's the gaping void at the heart of the film.  It starts in the middle (a common Ron Howard trait), and so we have no idea what happened to John Nash before he got to Princeton.  This is kind of important, because (as we subsequently learn) he almost immediately has hallucinations.

Did these happen before Princeton?  Did they help inspire him to get there?  None of this is known.  Instead, we have the Mark IA story of a person who craves greatness, achieves it, encounters and obstacle, stumbles, but eventually overcomes it to great acclaim.  The end.

I get that film time is finite, and I would rather have seen a few minutes of flashbacks to his childhood rather than extended car chases and shootouts that didn't actually happen.  By that I mean: you can show his descent into paranoia without flashy action sequences.

Another aspect that is missing is his faith.  Was Nash religious?  I know Hollywood has a consistent allergy to the topic, preferring to simply erase it from biographies.  Everything has a secular, materialist explanation.  Or it's some sort of vague spirituality, usually non-Christian.  (Christians are mean and intolerant because they don't like grooming.)

Anyway, I found it moved rather slow, the plot twists felt contrived and the big reveals weren't.  It speaks volumes that a paint-by-numbers prestige picture got covered with awards, but that's how things are in the present age.