Thursday, December 24, 2015

The MacGuffinization of the Catholic Church

Dale Price recently commented on the spreading tendency in the Church to over-personalize the leaders and players:
One of the many diseases of the modern Church is hero-worship, the seeking after a man on horseback to solve problems.

The cult of personality invariably follows.

Two years ago, I bookmarked this piece from Ace of Spades. It seemed like such a perfect description of the way politics had completely detached from reality in the U.S. Now I find that it also describes the current state of the Catholic Church.

In a movie or book, "The MacGuffin" is the thing the hero wants.

Usually the villain wants it too, and their conflict over who will end up with The MacGuffin forms the basic spine of the story.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the MacGuffin is, of course, the Lost Ark. Indy wants it; the Nazis have it. This basic conflict over simple possession animates a two hour long movie.

Alfred Hitchcock noted -- counterintuitively, when you first hear this -- that the specifics of the MacGuffin don't really matter at all to a movie. He pointed out that the audience doesn't care at all about the MacGuffin. The hero in the movie itself cares, but the audience doesn't...

No audience member really cared if the Nazis wound up with the Ark of the Covenant... But we cared about Indy. He was a character we liked, a character that sparked our imaginations; whether he was looting a South American burial mound (illegally, by the way!) or blowing off his students by sneaking out a back window during office hours (poor work ethic, incidentally), we rooted for him to win.

Ace goes on to observe how unimportant actual issues and policies are in the Age of Obama. Similarly, the issues that concern conservative Catholics are of almost no interest to the supporters of Team Francis: their purpose is to serve as Obstacles to be overcome on the Hero's Journey.

Conservatives are sincerely upset by the idea of unrepentant, unreconciled sinners taking communion. They discuss it with all the anxiety and dread of Kimberley Wells describing a leak at a nuclear power station. The other side can't even acknowledge that any reason for anxiety exists. It's hand-waved away, with the airy dismissal that all this is "perfectly orthodox", whether it's bizarre statements that atheists can go to Heaven, or pagan lightshows projected on the Vatican. The goal is to get these irrelevant details out of the way so they can launch into a round of cursing the "Francis-haters". When Francis remarks "A little bread and wine do no harm" conservatives gasp and shut their eyes in horror. But Francis-fans chortle at the satisfying "zinger". Is this a serious matter? Who cares? Their guy has scored a point! Francis 1, Bad Guys 0! Hurrah!

Just as the issues function as the cave trolls and collapsing staircases that the Hero must overcome, so do conservatives occupy the role of the Villain. Our role is simply to be against the Hero. Oh, they might spend a few seconds on a little cod-psychology for us, just to flesh out our character to make the contest more fun. The Norman Mailer of the Catechism Set, Mark Shea at Little Green Catholics, is forever sneering that his enemies aren't manly or courageous like him. And that a gun is really a penis. But really we don’t need any deeper motivation than that we’re against the Hero.

Just like Barack Obama, the current pope has his team of fans, supporting him against the opposite "side", just like in politics or team sports. The issues have been entirely swallowed by the personalities, to the point where they simply provide a pretext for waving the flag and hooting down the despicable bad guys.

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