Friday, April 11, 2014

The Day the Church Stood Still

Humanity to Be Destroyed By Flood

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.

Cognitive dissonance.

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.

Bubble Catholics™ achieve consonance by filtering out the nonsense and allowing only the good into our bubbles. We tell ourselves V2 wasn't like the other councils. "Pastoral," not infallible. Good, but "hijacked" by liberals. Distorted by the media. As far as possible, we live as if it were 1957. We remain, but deep down, we're seething. If you do not believe the Bear, look beyond the "approved" Catholic blogosphere. (Oh dear, you already have.)

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?

Bear scat.

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!)


  1. Great piece. (I'm a huge fan of TDTESS) And life goes on here in my bubble. Through difficult times I remind myself that Jesus never said the path would be easy.He said that we would not be alone.

  2. V2 changed the Church. Pope Francis will change the Church. It will not be in some flashy way, like women priests. But the papacy itself may never be the same in the era of St. Malachy's generic "Peter the Roman," which is probably from here on out until the end. A curia desperate to achieve unity at all costs with the Lutherans just walked back the Council of Trent and rewrote history. Perhaps Pope Francis will be the one who lifts his excommunication. Windswept House is about scheming prelates trying to make the pope one among many bishops along the Orthodox model. Watch for the word "synod." You're going to be seeing a lot of it. The Bear cannot but marvel at human psychology's ability to accommodate contradictions.

    1. That future doesn't sound encouraging. On the positive side, I am watching a show on Sodom and Gomorrah and the locating of the city Zoar. I take comfort thinking my "bubble-ism" will let me survive a future of fire and brimstone as did Zoar.

    2. Now you know why the Bear's estate is called Zoar :-)


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