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The Student Newsletter of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas - December PDF

The Signature The Student Newsletter of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas - December 2010 The Signature is a student publication that strives to engage the University of
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The Signature The Student Newsletter of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas - December 2010 The Signature is a student publication that strives to engage the University of St. Thomas community in a critical exploration of issues of faith and everyday life. While it is sponsored by the Department of Catholic Studies, the content and opinions of this newsletter do not purport to represent the views of faculty or a majority of students in this department. Comments, questions, and editorial responses are accepted and appreciated and should be directed to the student editor. Dept. of Catholic Studies University of St. Thomas Mail 55-S 2115 Summit Avenue St. Paul, MN Department Chair: Dr. Gregory Coulter Faculty Advisor: Prof. William Junker Student Editor: Paula Thelen Layout: Audrey Anderson and Jenna Jovellana Reality TV: TV in a Real World I have filled this void with things unreal, and all the while my character it steals. - Marcus Mumford Reality TV, in the succinct phrase of iconic MTV show The Real World, is where people stop being polite, and start getting real. The unavoidable implication is that in our everyday experience of reality we are somehow cheated of its fullness and this because we mask emotion, conform to constraining social norms, and in general dress up this life of ours in superficiality and artifice. Reality TV shows such as Jersey Shore and The Real World, through their use of non-actors, minimal writing, and intimate camera-work, attempt to rectify this failure on our part by presenting a more authentic reality. Though the environment and the scenarios are contrived, the characters reactionary, and the themes typically simple to a level of stupefying selfindulgence, reality TV nevertheless promises a privileged glimpse into authentic human experiences that somehow reveal us as we really are, sans our crippling illusions or inhibitions. Many people object to reality TV for the simple reason that it is, quite often, remarkably immoral in content or theme. Yet even among the greatest works of art there is still depravity and debauchery. Regarding literature, Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless literature of sinful man...not till the whole human race is made new will its literature be pure and true. To dismiss Jersey Shore as neither art nor entertainment on moral grounds alone is to miss what is reality TV s greatest shortcoming and deepest pitfall. The existence and success of reality TV requires an audience of a very specific kind, and is founded upon a crucial anthropological and artistic assumption. The audience must necessarily be made up of consumers, and again, of a very particular kind. They must be consumers of reality. Why this is problematic might not be obvious at first glance. After all, humans are consumers of many goods -- entertainment among them -- so what are the negative implications of reality as entertainment? The underlying anthropological assumption of shows such as Jersey Shore and The Real World helps to answer this question. In a nutshell, the assumption is this: human beings are entertainment-oriented and fundamentally passive creatures: consumers, in other words. We are not moved to action by art or entertainment, but simply regard it as an end. Any direct repercussion of the viewing experience upon the viewer s own lived reality is superfluous; it is enough that one is observing reality through Snookie s eyes. But this is metaphysical madness. Life is meant to be lived, reality to be engaged. This is the route to fulfillment -- through action. No one Reality TV continued on page 5 Page 1 In the spring of 2008, the Vatican released a study on social sins, which include polluting the environment, drug abuse, excessive wealth, dubious medical experiments, and others. According to the Catholic News Agency article Vatican bishop points to modern social sins, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti of the Vatican says, While sin used to concern mostly the individual, today it has a social resonance, due to the phenomenon of globalization. We are all aware that the media as well as our science classes have impressed upon us the importance of our individual carbon footprint as it relates to the larger scale environmental degradation. So too has the Church recently reminded us of her traditional teachings pertaining to the care for God s creation, especially through the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict s pontificate has included a special emphasis upon the care for the environment. In his Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict said, The goods of creation belong to humanity as a whole. Yet the current pace of environmental exploitation is seriously endangering the supply of certain natural resources not only for the present generation, but above all for generations yet to come. According to Daniel Stone of Newsweek, the Vatican City was the first and remains the only state that is carbon-neutral. It achieved this by offsetting carbon usage through planting trees and installing solar panels on Vatican buildings to the excitement of Catholic and secular environmentalists alike. Pope Benedict XVI has engaged the issues of environmentalism and sustainability, not merely because they are fashionable, but because the Church s social Page 2 Is the Church Green?: An Examination of Catholic Teaching on the Enviroment teachings rightfully stress our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. The care for God s creation is at the heart of the Church s own environmentalism, and thus a correct understanding of the relationship between God, humans, and the rest of the created order is essential for gauging the Church s approach to this issue. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church informs us that, Creation is always an object of praise in Israel s prayer: O Lord, how manifold your works! In wisdom have you made them all (Psalm 104:24). It is clear that the created order has a dignity unto itself, and through it, we are able to see the goodness of the Lord. However, due to the fallen nature of humanity, there are two temptations that we are prone towards: the exploitation and divinization of nature. Exploiting nature reduces the natural order to a set of resources to be squandered without consideration of future generations or the benefit of all. Divinizing nature involves placing the importance of nature above the dignity of human beings. Some proposed environmental solutions which aim to reduce the world s population or which would have the effect of threatening people s livelihood are not therefore compatible with a Catholic approach to environmental stewardship. How we as Catholics have to get things done politically or socially must move forward in light of our faith, senior Catholic Studies student Kellen O Grady said. He first learned about the Church teachings on the environment while he was in Rome and first picked up The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI enjoying nature He suggests that we can make small changes to our current lifestyles by supporting local businesses, doing with less, riding a bike or carpooling, and taking care of the clothes that we already have. I would add to these: making use of recycling receptacles on campus, taking shorter showers, unplugging appliances when not in use, and printing double-sided (which you can do in Sitzmann Hall!). Although these may sound like mere personal preferences, these all have a social benefit that is an active response in Christian charity which enables our dedication to see all goods as universally shared. We are in the midst of Advent, a liturgical season which reminds us of the significance of sacrifice in preparing our hearts to celebrate the Nativity. Consider taking steps towards more environmentally-sound, sustainable, and simplistic living as a part of your participation of Advent this year. These are small ways in which we can participate and follow our shepherd Pope Benedict XVI who is paving the dialogue for a greater call to stewardship and a Catholic understanding of environmental ethics. With the first snowfall of the year, one thing is on everyone s mind: Christmas. Of course, many of the images commonly associated with Christmas really have very little to do with the real meaning of this holiday (a word whose original meaning is holy day ). Don t get me wrong, I enjoy the music, baking cookies, and the holiday specials on Food Network! However, as a Catholic looking to celebrate the Incarnation, is it wrong to enjoy these activities? What is a Christian supposed to do? Fr. Andrew Greely comments: It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmastime. Then we would have a holy Christmas. But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation that we who are followers of Jesus do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. We do this by being holy people - kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people - no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush. It is thus possible to be a Christian in the midst of the world, yet not be of the world. We can take secular Christmas customs and transform them. Christmas is always preceded by a period of anticipation; in fact it may seem that the secular world spends longer preparing for Christmas than the Christian, seeing as some stores even have Christmas items and displays the day after Halloween. Yet the sacred character of the four weeks leading up to December 25th is often overlooked in contemporary culture. Advent is a time to prepare not only for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, but also for the second coming of Jesus at the final judgment. A Christian Christmas: Transforming Culture with the Joy of Christ It is a period that helps Christians put into perspective the true meaning of Christmas the Son of God becoming human and coming into the world to save the human race. Jesus was born in order that he could die, thus enabling us to become adopted children of God, saved from eternal death. What can a Christian do to transform the days before Christmas into a spiritually enriching season? One interesting way to look at the season is to compare it with Lent, another important time of preparation in the liturgical year. Edward Hays, in his A Pilgrim Almanac, commented that Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and re-formation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. We must take care not to waste this Advent time. Instead of giving something up, as is a common Lenten practice, one could try to incorporate more time for silent prayer throughout the day. For example, one could think of a specific person that is suffering and take time to pray and offer up little sacrifices for them. One could get up half an hour early and spend that time in silent prayer. One can sing Christmas carols and meditate on the text being sung. It is important to take time for silent reflection, to examine your life and determine whether or not you are ready to meet Christ at his second coming. In the secular world, the excitement builds, Christmas comes at last, and then it s over and life goes on. For Christians though, Christmas day is just the beginning of an entire season, lasting until epiphany in mid- January. Gift giving is perhaps the most obvious Christmas custom in the secular culture. It is beautiful to show our love by giving our beloved tokens of affection. However, America tends to take this gift-giving a little too far. The frenzied consumerism of Christmas has become a way for Americans to medicate, or at least to distract ourselves from, the real problems in our society, politics, and culture. Christians can still give their loved ones tokens of affection, without going overboard with materialism. One of the best ways to show love is to spend time with family, particularly grandparents or neighbors who live alone, since a valuable (and difficult) gift to give is that of time and undivided attention. Homemade gifts are unique because of the thought and consideration that went into making them. And why not give children books and movies about saints, rather than Spongebob Squarepants or the Jonas Brothers? Ultimately, for a Christian the Christmas season should be a time of joy and love, rather than a time of greed and over-consumption. Catholics Christmas continued on page 4 Page 3 Christmas continued from page 3 must turn to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and in Scripture, to come to know him better and receive him more fully at Christmas. We wait in anticipation for the ultimate gift of love that gives our lives worth. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI declares, Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not the expensive gifts that call for time and money. We can communicate this joy simply: with a smile, a kind gesture, a little help, forgiveness. And the joy we give will certainly come back to us. We must not forget the real reason why we celebrate Christmas, but rather must use it to transform our world. In gratefulness and love we acknowledge that God became man so that we can live forever in love with him. Christopher Dawson, a 20th century Catholic historian, understood that culture is the driving force of history, and that religion stands at the very heart of culture, giving it shape and form. His historical enquiry led him to conclude, in Dynamics of World History, that History then becomes the story of man s search for existence, which follows that it is his search for God... He acknowledged that in order for any culture to survive, it must have some sort of religious foundation. The truth of Dawson s claim is abundantly evident even in a cursory analysis of all historical civilizations, yet it is increasingly being denied by contemporary culture. Following the French Revolution, Europe rejected Christianity in an attempt to free itself of a religious institution perceived to have been responsible for the cultural impoverishment of European society throughout history. One then might ponder Page 4 The Religion of Progress and Enslavement to Efficiency the question, What happens when Europe rejects Christianity? According to Dawson, when Europe rejected Christianity it necessarily attempted to embrace a new religion in order to unify the culture. With the boom of technology and a decisive shift from the mystery of the transcendent to the creativity of man, the religion of progress was born. Man began to convince himself that he could be free from the horrors and evils of this world by cultivating his own genius and exploiting his technological advances. Unfortunately, the shortsighted and false assumptions of this mindset have had devastating consequences. The peace and prosperity expected in the 20th century as a result of man s inordinate hope in the religion of progress never materialized. With the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of technology and globalization, mankind became drunk with his ability to create and to work at an unprecedented pace. His ability to produce became disordered. Thus man began to judge his own worth by how efficient he could be. 20th century novelist George Bernanos in his book Why Freedom? states, The modern world recognizes no other rule than efficiency. The result was the creation of an environment in which people of power and strength can too easily exploit and abuse the weak. In other words, when Europe rejected Christianity, she denied the existence of her very soul, rewriting an identity for herself founded upon the ideology of nationalism. Embracing the new-found power of technology, Bernanos explains, man forged ahead in his quest for wealth, power and freedom: [We] exalted in consciences the idea of freedom, in the name of which and for which we have dared to destroy so much. But now we all know that we achieved nothing of the kind. Quite the opposite. Indeed, the century was marred by two World Wars and multiple totalitarian regimes. Bernanos observes, Long before liberty was imperiled by dictatorships, faith in liberty was being gradually weakened in people s consciences. Long before dictators destroyed the sanctuaries and profaned the altars of liberty, God was gradually losing His faithful followers. Even before humans were conquered by the likes of Stalin and Hitler, they had been conquered by the secular democratic state. The French Revolu- Enslavement continued on page 5 Reality TV continued from page 1 would argue that Botticelli s Primavera, Hugo s Les Miserables, or a well-crafted film such as Inception should have no positive effect upon one s life. Although this is not the primary goal of art, it is inconceivable that after the enjoyment of the painting or novel one should be left cold, unchanged, uninspired. By awaking a deeper consciousness of the good, true, and beautiful in this world, successful art, music, and literature invite a co-participation in reality. By contrast, the notion behind reality TV is that this enjoyment of real emotion, drama, and intimate human experience is the terminus on the subway line to fulfillment. Through reality TV, one can sit in the living room and experience vicariously a variety of situations one might otherwise miss in one s own life: personality clashes, tearful reconciliations, friendships, betrayals, alcohol-soaked sexual encounters; the whole gamut of human emotional experience is here. Yet when reality (of any kind) is presented as fodder for entertainment, the connection between entertainment and truth becomes blurred, and the link between emotion and action is severed. Through the consumption of on-screen pseudo-realities, viewers get used to reacting and responding, and will gradually lose the ability to act, initiate, and create. An example of the spiritual stagnation that results from this consumerist take on art or entertainment is found in the results of a 2005 Associated Press/TV Guide poll, in which participants indicated that they did not believe reality TV was real, but also that they didn t care that much. This indifference illustrates the disturbing disconnect between entertainment and action as cultivated by reality TV. While reality simply is and fiction makes a claim about what is, reality TV, the ambiguous space between reality and fiction, is fine being neither. But from its seat on the fence, between reality on the one side and fiction on the other, reality TV can only offer a confused vision of the human person and his relation to art and entertainment. It is unable to effectively convey any message deeper or more meaningful than that the human being is not a participant in but a consumer of reality, which must be mediated to him through emotional stimuli. Whether what it presents is reality or some contrivance that fails to be either reality or fiction, in the end reality TV requires a fatal reduction of the human person into a consumer who is happy to receive rather than give, an observer who is content to stare at rather than step into the swirling mix of human life we call reality. PHOTO, page 1: The Real World : Sydney Enslavement continued from page 4 tion started a precedent when it tore down the long-standing walls of monarchy and erected a democracy in its place, and by the early 20th century Bernanos explains, The future of democracy was no longer questioned by anyone, the future of democracy appeared secure in the world. This democratic state, however, sought to establish an earthly utopia, whereby humans no longer saw their final end in salvation in heaven, but in the idea of inevitable and indefinite progress as their new purpose for life. The rejection of the Europ
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