All posts by Kevin O'Brien

Socrates and the Modern World

I am hoping to book a performance of my play Socrates Meets Jesus (based on the book by Peter Kreeft) in New England this summer, and so I’m posting the video below of our performance of the play at the Chesterton Conference in Massachusetts.

Some of my Homeschool Connections students really like this play.  For one thing, it’s funny.  And for another, it answers the question, “What would the world’s greatest philosopher make of the claims of the world’s greatest man, Jesus Christ, who was born 400 years after the world’s greatest philosopher died?”  And even more intriguing … “What would Socrates make of the Silliness of the Modern World?”

One of the most depressing things about our present time is the lack of Eros, of the aspect of Love that desires and takes seriously what it desires.  This seems like a strange thing to say.  Isn’t our culture awash in the “erotic”?

But Eros is more than the hyper-sexuality we have all around us, which is sex cut off from purpose and even from feeling and passion.  Eros is about desiring that which is beyond us; it’s about our basic interest in life and in the “sting” of life.  The characters in my version of Socrates Meets Jesus are (like most modern people) “hypo-erotic” – they have casual sex, but they don’t really care about anything, even the things they spend their lives studying or doing or professing.

As John Lennon wrote …

Everybody’s talking and no one says a word / Everybody’s making love and no one really cares

That’s what life is like now.  “There’s always something happening, but nothing going on,” and “Everybody’s crying, but no one makes a sound.”

So this play is not just “Socrates Meets Jesus”.  It is “Socrates Meets Despair”.

The Ineffectual Sacrifice of Julius Caesar

Here’s my latest piece on the Christian Shakespeare website …

I am thrilled to be conducting acting workshops this summer for the cast of Julius Caesar.  This great political tragedy of Shakespeare’s will be performed in September at the Flint Hills Shakespeare Festival in St. Mary’s, Kansas.

In preparation, I recently listened to a tremendous audio performance of Julius Caesar by the Arkangel Players, which featured a particularly well done funeral oration scene.  This production is available through Audible for ten bucks, and I highly recommend it.

Here are a few things that strike me about this play.  Some of what I say may unintentional mimic the theory of mimicry or mimesis of Rene Girard, who saw in Julius Caesar a tale of imitation and scapegoating, expressed by an act of sacrificial murder that not only failed to purge the political

problem in ancient Rome, but only made it worse.  And while I think Shakespeare is indeed showing us the conspirators engaged in a deliberate act of human sacrifice that carries with it a kind of ritual import, he is also showing this against an implied background of Christian theology that Girard and many moderns miss or fail to emphasize properly.

Shakespeare’s original audience would have known a meta-setting of this play that transcends the setting in ancient Rome that is explicit in the drama.  They would have known the secular authority of Rome as occupiers of first century Israel, and the role of Caesar Augustus (Marc Antony) in establishing the Pax Romana, which began at about the time of the earthly life of Our Lord and his first disciples, and which served as a secular echo or foreshadowing of the far deeper Peace offered by the cross of Christ.

This alone ties the play to Jesus and His Passion, as does the entire problem at the center of the story.  How are men to be free?  How is ambition in its most dangerous form, the desire of man to be God, to be checked?  Can a political solution – especially one of violent murder and conspiracy – solve a problem that is much more than merely political?

… to read the rest of the piece, click here!

The Domination System in “King Lear”

Joanna Michal Hoyt, a Quaker who lives at a Catholic Worker Community in upstage New York, has written a very insightful essay on King Lear which I have just published on the Christian Shakespeare website.  She examines the play in the light of what she calls the Domination System (power politics) vs. the Beloved Community (the earthly vision of the Kingdom of God).

Here’s the link –  It’s well worth reading!

The Faces of Fantasy

Here’s a reminder that Joseph Pearce’s latest television special on JRR Tolkien (featuring yours truly playing the part of Tolkien himself) will air on EWTN at the following times …

Tuesday, May 17 – 03:30 AM Eastern 

Saturday, May 21 – 11:00 PM Eastern

These times might be a bit awkward for many viewers, but rest assured that EWTN will release this special on DVD, which will be available from the Network’s Religious Catalogue.

Meanwhile, here’s a glimpse behind the scenes from the making of The Faces of Fantasy … 

The Vocation of the Artist

This is from Etienne Gilson’s Choir of Muses, translated by Maisie Ward.  My emphases in bold.

The writer does not choose, he is chosen.  It is another question whether he will have the courage to obey the call, but he has still heard a call even if he rejects it …

He who hears it feels he is a “clerk” in the meaning given to the word in the Middle Ages [i.e., a cleric], that is to say a chosen being, set apart in virtue of a personal destiny, consecrated not from any initiative of his own to the service of a good which will be his portion and his heritage. … “Still painting?” said a friend to the painter Bonnard on finding him at his easel.  “Of course,” the artist answered, “what would you have me doing?”  What else indeed could one have him do?  What else could he want to do himself?  Michelangelo was made to sculpture or to paint, just as Dante was made to write.  Were they to succeed in something else they would still be failures. 

 You must take nothing with you, cling to nothing, so as to be held by nothing, keep yourself, like the saint, wholly free for the one thing necessary.  … [There is a great similarity between] writers serving their art and Christians serving their God.

“I hold myself unworthy,” Ramuz wrote (on October 10, 1902), “of functions so high.  I do not view them as a livlihood, but almost as a priesthood.”

… In the contemplative’s world, said Pascal, everything is hiding a mystery; in the artist’s, the thing hidden is not God, but each thing is the sign of something else, which it already in some measure is, which it is art’s function to bring wholly to be.  

 … [Rodin says], “Real artists are the most religious of men.”

Poetry even at its purest is not prayer; but it rises from the same depths as the need to pray. 

So, fellow artists, writers and actors, called as you are to your art, be faithful and know that you are bringing people to God.

Identity, Act and Destiny

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Mat. 7:16-20

Loren Copp.

The Riverfront Times ran an article in December that was very sympathetic toward a St. Louis businessman who claimed to be helping troubled teens, Loren Copp.  Copp, it turns out, has now been arrested on child abuse charges, and the evidence against him is said to be a video of him having sex with a 12-year-old girl, a girl that he had taken under his wing and was “caring for”.  The RFT is now reporting that Copp’s supporters, including his attorney, have suddenly abandoned him, in light of the evidence that has led to his arrest.

And, of course, there have been lots of red flags over the years.  A commenter at the RFT’s website notes …

This man has had numerous, I mean numerous, lawsuits and allegations, throughout Illinois and other places. He has ruined businesses, not to mention many people’s lives. He has been the source of divisiveness, while proclaiming that he is an agent for unity. Yet, he continues to want to paint himself as the picture of the compassionate martyr. In previous comments from other articles, someone stated that the truth will come out. Well guess what? The truth is coming out. 

Comedy is about the truth coming out, about masking and unmasking, about our real Identities being revealed under the pretenses we put forth.  That’s why comedy, in the literary sense (apart from mere laughter), is so satisfying.

Therefore what interests me about this story is that even in this age of phenomenalism we recognize Identity; we recognize a unity behind the scattered bits and pieces of evidence, an Actor behind the actions, a real face behind the false one.  “Ye shall know them by their fruits” means that Identity precedes Act.  We are not just people who do random things.  Each of us has an Identity, and from that Identity we operate.

But it works both ways.  What we do also changes who we are.  I am thinking of one friend in particular who became more and more selfish the more selfish choices she made in her life, so that, over the years I knew her, a good person became a bad one, and a young woman who could have gone either way became a mature woman who had become untrustworthy; she was no longer a good or a mixed person doing occasionally bad things, she was a selfish and bad person who consistently acted according to her character.

For, eventually, Act and Identity become one – for better or worse.  Worst case scenario: Smeagol becomes Gollum.  Best case scenario: Francis becomes St. Francis.  Our ultimate destinies, heaven or hell, then, are not so much rewards or punishments doled out to us by the Judge Judy in the Sky, but the final affirmations of who we are, the inevitable consequences of our free will and character, our Identities.  If we are “thrown into the fire” it is not just because of our bad fruit, but because we are bad trees and can no longer bear good fruit – though, of course, He is the vine and we are the branches and it is His fruit that we bear when we live through Him.

So that when St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), he is saying, my Identity has changed.  I am no longer condemned to be a bad tree bearing bad fruit.  I have been grafted on to a living vine, and I no longer am who I once was.

This simple insight is resisted everywhere we look.  We think that in order to be forgiving or forbearing we are obligated to accept what’s on the surface, to believe our neighbor’s mask, and not to recognize the hidden face underneath.  We don’t want to see the trail of accusations, failed businesses and hurt people behind a Loren Copp; we don’t want to think that there’s a unity indicated by the scattered indicia all around us, a substance behind the possibly disconnected phenomena we observe.  

Perhaps this is because we know our own jumbled souls, and we see how we can become either our best selves or our worst selves quite easily.  And in God’s mercy, our Identities are never finally fixed in sin; we can always repent and be crucified, to live as New Creations, to bear His fruit.

But bad people do bad things.  And bad things are usually done by bad people.  That great and simple truth is one of the most unpopular in our world today.

The meaning of our lives is wedded to the mystery of who we are.

Why We Must Accept “Gay Marriage”

The following quotations (with my emphases in bold) are about the effects of “phenomenalism” on our souls, the belief that individual events or details are all that compose reality.  Phenomenalism (as used by this author) means that there are no unifying principles of being, no “substances” indicated by the disconnected bits of data we observe.

In a world that has become “phenomenally obsessed”, we believe …

… what can be done should be done.  As a consequence, we must observe the transplantation and destruction of whole populations, the machine-gunning of fleeing civilians, terror-bombing and pulverization of towns, and the horrors of extermination camps.  The tools cease to be simple instruments of execution in the service of substantial purposes and gain a momentum of their own that bends the purposes to the technical possibilities.

In other words, if we don’t perceive an end or a structure that rises above mere abilities or desires, we become monsters.  The disconnected things we do become our masters.

There is the most intimate connection between the comic strip and the concentration camp.  The man who runs away from an invasion from Mars [as in The War of the Worlds broadcast panic] because the comic strip and the broadcast have decomposed his personality and the SS man who garrotes a prisoner without compunction because he [the SS man] is dead to the meaning of his action in the order of spiritual reality are really brothers under the skin.

And close kin to “gay marriage” advocates, I would add.

“Gay marriage” is simply phenomenalism applied to the family.  There always have been and always will be “gay” people.  There always have been and always will be various “paraphilias”, or what used to be called perversions.  There is no “substance” to love or sex or marriage.  They are all mere phenomena, things people do.

But the irony is that if that’s all there is, mere phenomena, then we inevitably are slaves to these disconnected acts of ours.  “What can be done must be done”.  If two men are willing to engage in anal sex and call that an act of love and marriage, then we must concede, in the same way that if we can equip drones with nuclear warheads, we eventually “must” do so.

We are forced to swallow the lie of “gay marriage” in the same way that we are forced to swallow the “global economy” or tanks in Ferguson or concentration camps or Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton or college students offended by professors and demanding that they be fired.  We just do what we do.  There is no unifying principle.  It is all phenomena, no substance.

Every thing you do with your genitals is OK.  Only mutual consent restrains you legally, and that’s only by a kind of social contract, not by any true underlying principle.

“It’s all good”.  Because there is no good.

And …

Phenomenalism has gone further toward transforming our society into the combination of a slaughter house with a booby hatch than many contemporaries are still sane enough to realize.

… these are all from Eric Voegelin, The History of Political Ideas, Volume VII.  This is a textbookhe wrote!  Imagine if all textbooks were this much fun!

The Rise and Fall of Branson

I begin an article for the Distributist Review with an imaginary press release from the Branson, Missouri Tourism Office ten years in the future …

“Tourism in Branson is better than ever! We’re noticing that our town has begun to attract vandals who are spray painting the sides of the abandoned theaters on the Strip—as well as ghost town enthusiasts who wander about the hundreds of deserted timeshare developments scattered here in the Ozarks, taking photos and climbing around the dilapidated condos. With the sinking of the Showboat Branson Belle, we feel confident that curious scuba divers will soon be flocking to Table Rock Lake!”

You can read the rest of the article here –

Desecration and Diversion

I am hearing from devout Catholics who are upset about this story

An Oklahoma City satanist says he plans to protest the Catholic Church’s beliefs about Jesus’s birth by pouring costume blood over a statue of the Virgin Mary outside of St. Joseph Old Cathedral on Christmas Eve.

Adam Daniels says he hopes his display, titled the “Virgin Birth is a Lie,” will expose the “lies” of the Catholic Church, reports The Oklahoman. The satanist states the virgin birth of Jesus is a fraud.
“The purpose of the blood is to add another layer of corruption to Mary, which is an emblem of the Catholic Church,” he said. He also plans to cover the statue “in sulfur powder and ash.”
Daniels obtained a permit for his “display,” set-up for which is permitted to begin at 4:30 p.m. and must be removed by 6:15 p.m. His protest will be restricted to the sidewalk outside the cathedral, and he is not allowed to block any of the church’s entrances. The permit also requires that he clean up the entire display and ensure no materials are left on the sidewalk.
According to the news report, Daniels is protesting the Catholic Church on Christmas Eve due to the archdiocese of Oklahoma City’s recent demonstrations against his group’s “black mass,” the unveiling of a Baphomet statue, and Daniels’ own book-signing event.
Throughout the past year, the Satanic Temple of Detroit has worked to promote abortion and same-sex marriage.
The archdiocese of Oklahoma City did not immediately return Breitbart News’ request for comment.

Here are my reactions.

First, it’s very telling that Satanists are promoting abortion and same sex marriage.

Second, what the Oklahoma Satanist does not understand is how he’s inadvertently witnessing for Christ.  Compare Caiaphas, who when he remarked in the Sanhedrin that it was expedient that one man should be put to death for the sake of many, did not realize how deeply his selfish Machiavellian purely-political words resonated and revealed the deeper and more solemn providence of God (see John 11:51).

Because, you see, Mary has already been covered with blood.  At the moment of her immaculate conception, she was redeemed and conceived in purity because of the Blood of Christ – which was yet to be shed (historically speaking), but by the virtues of this Blood alone are Mary and all of us made pure.

And, finally, as far as desecrations go, this is more diversion than desecration.  The Satanists are using it for PR fodder, and some Catholic organizations are using it for fundraising fodder – fanning the flames of indignation over an admittedly horrific event, but one that pales in comparison to the more serious and less visible desecrations going on all around us.  At every Sunday suburban Mass, you have poorly catechized Catholics, Catholics who use porn, Catholics who use contraception, divorced and remarried Catholics, Catholics who cheat the poor, Catholics whose sins stain the Body of Christ more darkly than any quantity of theater blood, Catholics who blithely receive the Eucharist, perhaps not knowing what they do, perhaps knowing what they do.  That is desecration.  The theatrics in Oklahoma is diversion.

For sins are more serious than symbols – and we dishonor Mary and Jesus by what pours out of our hearts more than by what pours out of a prop bag.

Having said that, it is our job to love these Satanists – our enemies – for as St. Paul says …

If thine enemy hunger, feed him. And if he thirst, give him drink. For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Rom. 12:20-21)