The message was dramatic and clear. The world would be destroyed by a great flood. Of course, most did not believe, but a handful did. They left their old lives behind: occupations, possessions, even family. They believed, and gathered at the appointed time to board a great ship that would save a tiny remnant of humanity.
The message was received by Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife. The appointed date was December 21, 1954. The ship was a flying saucer.
The faithful, some of whom had sold all their belongings and even left their families, seemed to be the victims of a cruel hoax or delusion. Nonetheless, the group's disappointment lasted only a short time. A new message came through Martin. Their faithfulness had earned the world a second chance. The group was re-energized and exists to this day.
When Prophecy Fails
The true story was the basis of a classic psychological study by Leon Festinger called When Prophecy Fails. Festinger invented a new term to describe the unpleasant feelings that result from the disappointment of settled expectations. Today it is a bit of psychological jargon most educated people have heard of.
There are people who invest their lives in a belief, say Communism, or the Cubs winning the World Series. They never give up. In fact, failure only makes them more fervent.
The Day the Church Stood Still
The Bear happens to believe that Vatican II is the flying saucer the Catholic Church always promised would never come. We can deny it or celebrate it, but it remains a stubborn fact beyond the reach of our hermeneutical gymnastics.
|"Gort, you idiot! This isn't the Vatican!"|
Those who experience cognitive dissonance and cannot achieve consonance -- the opposite of dissonance -- may leave the Church. Some become atheists, others Protestants or something else. Still others follow the ruthless logic of sedevacantism and maintain the Catholic Church cannot be found in Rome after 1958.
But the inconsistency at the heart of Bubble Catholicism is that Catholics are supposed to be the ones who don't decide for themselves what's nonsense and what's good. Litugical dance? Not my cup of tea, but bravo! Moslems worship the same God as we do? Who knew? Marvelous! Martin Luther was right all along, well, you could knock me down with a feather! So there is really no escaping cognitive dissonance, because even our bubbles generate it. We just dial it down to manageable levels.
The Klaatu Effect
But then, Pope Francis comes along and cranks it all the way up. That is why he arouses such strong feelings in many fervent Catholics. The Bear is just being truthful here. The very Catholics he frightens would ordinarily be the Pope's most ardent defenders. At the same time, people who aren't even Catholic celebrate him by putting him on the cover of the Advocate and Rolling Stone.
|"Did he really just say, 'Klaatu barada nikto?'|
I don't know what it means either, but the press is eating it up!"
Clearly, something is not right. We reach for the old V2 remedies. He hasn't been speaking infallibly. He's been "hijacked" by the liberals. The media has distorted his message. Or we just try to ignore him.
Is This Seat Taken?
Meanwhile sedevacantists are having a field day. See, we told you all along that Roncalli, Luciani, Wojtyla and Ratzinger weren't real popes. That Vatican II was bogus. You wouldn't listen. What do you have to say now, hmmm?
The "Surely God Wouldn't" argument is dangerous. But let's put it in a kind of bizarre twist on Pascal's Wager:
A God who established a visible Church that enjoyed historical continuity with the Apostles themselves, Who made it a city on a hill, filled its ranks with saints, and blessed it with miracles, only to snuff it out in 1958 and leave over a billion Catholics without valid sacraments -- that sort of God would be so capricious and incoherent that any attempt to follow Him would be useless.
The sedevacantists may be right, but that sort of God already has us on some technicality anyway, whether we manage to find the right secret Church or not.
Weekend Update Bear Alert
The Bear wishes he had all the answers, and could provide just the right words to relieve everyone's cognitive dissonance. (Not least his own.) He has no agenda. He's not here to toe a party line on one hand, or go all apocalyptic on the other. These are strange times we live in, and that's something to hear from a 1300-year-old Bear.
There was a running gag on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update in the old days. Every show, Chevy Chase reported that "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead; doctors say they do not expect his condition to change." Well, the Bear reports that Francis is still Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It may seem like a joke to have to treat the obvious as significant news.
It is not a joke. It is not a bad start, either. Where we go from here is something the Bear -- and many Catholics -- will be working out.
|"Gee, Mr. Carpenter, what's that?"|
"It's a formula for understanding Pope Francis' public statements, Bobby."
Update: Pope Francis mentioned the devil today. If that resolves your cognitive dissonance, stick to Fr. Z. (One of the ways people deal with cognitive dissonance is to avoid information that tends to aggravate the problem. Fr. Z is good, although somewhat selective in his reporting when it comes to the Pope. Given that he is a priest, after all, that is understandable!)