Today, Father Steve comments on Barbara Nicolosi's recent article in Crisis Magazine entitled, "Exposing Euthanasia through the Arts," in which she speaks about the sobering transformation of our culture's view of the dying. In analyzing this reality, Father Steve reminds us of the latent strength of the Catholic tradition to achieve positive conversion through the power of the Gospel.
Barbara Nicolosi provides thoughtful commentary on what she perceives as the softening of the culture’s attitude toward killing the sick and disabled. Her article is posted in the online edition of Crisis Magazine. It is well worth a read and opens with this gem:
“‘Can you not read the signs of the times?’ Perhaps Christ’s most ominous warning, it echoes down the centuries as an admonishment to every generation of believers. Why are we always playing catch up with the forces of evil? Why are we always reacting years after a cultural battle has been decided, and in generally a short-sighted and ineffective way? Why do the Children of Darkness always eat the Children of Light for lunch when it comes to waging war for the hearts and minds of men?’”
Nicolosi admonishes that as interesting a thought experiment such ruminations might be, we just don’t have time to create an inventory of our conclusions. It is too late. The die has already been cast. The institutionalization of killing the sick and disabled (and likely soon, the elderly) seems to be inevitable. Why? A cultural narrative has gained ascendency that has once again trumped the narrative of the Gospel. How? She notes the critically acclaimed and Emmy award winning series You Don’t Know Jack as indicator, along with the manner in which so called “mercy killing” as been presented as a positive force for good in a host of television and film offerings. As with the ascendant cultural narrative surrounding abortion, advocacy that justifies the taking of a human life is supported by an appeal to compassion and personal liberty. Proponents are positioned over against the constraining forces of cruelty and oppression (read here “religion”). Dr. Jack Kevorkian (or Margaret Sanger for that matter) are not eugenicists, but like James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” advocates of the common man, whose sufferings on behalf of their cause has the power to set us all free.
How did we get here? Nicolosi does not just opt for the “blame the media” position. While recognizing that the cultural conversation has already been successfully positioned by the narratives the entertainment culture has been spinning out for years now, there is a more insidious culprit: the enemy might just be ourselves, meaning all of us who are supposed to be bearing the Gospel into the culture:
“I cannot count the number of Christians who have come to me almost bragging that they never watch movies or television, that You Tube and Facebook are to be spurned, and that they haven’t gone to a play or concert in years. “Great,” I always think. “Let’s leave the masses to the whims of people who scorn our God and His Gospel. Let’s pretend that our kids won’t be eventually drowned in the waves of their age. Let’s see how that works out.”
We don’t have to wait and see how it will work. It is already worked itself out and become a juggernaut which has been aimed at the Church time and time again. People are convinced that they should be for the ascendant cultural narrative and against what has been proposed by the Church. But who really knows what the Church has proposed anymore? Even Christians themselves seem uncertain. Is the Gospel narrative presented in a form through which the culture can appreciate and receive it?
In Christ and Culture, one of the seminal theological works of the twentieth century, H. Richard Neibuhr has outlined several options by which Christians have developed strategies to deal with what the Gospel refers to as “the world.” There have been, and continue to be, strategies which advocate assimilation or antagonism, Christ is presented as for the culture or against it. Sometimes the option of opposition is one of bold defiance, but it can sometimes be a strategy of total retreat. In some respects this retreat means forming, as the Desert Fathers did in the early centuries of the Church’s life, alternative social systems radically informed by the demands of the Gospel. This kind of retreat from the culture is actually a covert strategy of breaking into the world, as the world finds the strange practice and presentation of the Gospel to be compelling and ultimately convincing.
This is one form of retreat, but there is another, one that is tempting for some and for many more it has become the preferred way of life. I am referring to a strategy that insists that the Christian live not only in opposition to the world, but as if the world, fallen as it is, is not worth our time and effort except as a source for the next jeremiad. In this respect the Christian is a critic, but produces no real cultural alternative, no narrative other than to lament what has gone wrong. This caricature is all over the popular culture as the image of what a Christian really and truly is. It has become the standard way that our story is told by the culture, through this caricature, rather through our truth. The cultural patrimony of Chartres Cathedral or the Sistine Chapel is seen as an artifact of another time, rather than as a legacy of a living culture. The secularist narrative takes our cultural accomplishments and reduces them to examples of a triumphant human spirit, rather than the fruit of a conversation between God and man or an expression of the Word become Flesh. Christians are the sad people from whom not only the culture, but also the Gospel itself must be delivered.
Nicolosi envisions that the corrective to the Christian retreat from the culture must be more than “an occasional op-ed piece” but by marshalling the resources of the Church to produce the means by which the culture can know what we believe and why. Specifically this means film and television, and not just movies and TV shows that are made for the approval and consumption of an exclusively Christian market. There is no justification in the Gospel for Christians to think that the narrative of Creation and Incarnation is meant to be limited to a peculiar, sectarian, “religious” demographic or that it must be told only in costumed recreations of Bible stories. The resources needed for new endeavors might give us pause, but not for very long. Let us not forget that the culture of the Church was able to marshal what was necessary to lay down most of the infra-structure that still serves as the foundation of our civilization. Given the creative potential the relationship of Christ and culture has already produced, advancing the conditions for the possibility for the production of works of art in the mediums of film and television so that the narrative of the Gospel might be presented anew should not strike us as all that daunting.
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.