Notes from Across the Atlantic
Notes from Across the Atlantic

Notes from Across the Atlantic


Joseph Bottum FAITH Magazine September-October 2009


Jeffrey Tucker notes that watching Angels and Demons wasn't an altogether unpleasant experience. The movie had a better sense of liturgical music than most Catholic parishes.

Actually, the real reason I like to see any film in which the Catholic Church is featured prominently concerns the music. Let's just say that "On Eagles' Wings" is never featured at a Catholic funeral on film. And it pleases me to see confirmed that even the most secular parts of the industrial media sector understand what sacred music probably sounds like.

Sure enough, this movie opens with the Introit of the Requiem Mass playing at the funeral. Indeed, whenever there is a need to call forth some sense of solemn liturgy a modal piece comes on featuring vague outlines of Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei. There were several people's chants featured here and there - probably more than most parishes hear in the course of one liturgical year, sad to say.

Sad to say indeed, but it all comes down to how you view the Church. If the Catholic Church is a large institution full of tradition, majesty and mystery, the music one associates with it will reflect that. Whether that mystery is redolent with llluminati conspiracy or the source of grace and truth, it nonetheless exists and will be reflected in the art associated with the deep traditions of Christianity. But if mystery and tradition are thrown away, there is no reason to have majesty in art. Gather us in on eagles' wings because the whole thing is just about us and our experiences, not anything deeper.

Of course Ron Howard knows that's not true. But it would be nice if more Catholics did, too.


We've had bad experiences in modern times with the immanent eschatologies of the people who wanted to build heaven

on earth or re-establish Eden - with Marxists and all the rest, who demanded, in one way or another, that the ultimate purposes of humankind be achieved. Mass murder is the regular result of the political attempt to reach a cosmic horizon.

But that's not, in itself, an argument against all horizons - against every strong cultural goal. In fact, vibrant cultures always want something, and exhausted cultures don't. So it's reasonable to ask what it is we actually want these days. What is it that we imagine? Western societies aim at so little now. They have such small interests in mind.

What we need, says the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, is to go to Mars. And he's right. What besides space today can re-inspire the temporal imagination? The author of a new book, Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin argues, "More than just exploring a hostile new world, Apollo 11 was about bold vision and great risk, about the obstacles a great nation could overcome with dedication, courage and teamwork. It was about choosing a goal that exceeded our grasp - and then reaching across history to make it happen."

Indeed, he notes, "For me, the most difficult part of the mission wasn't what happened during the flight but what happened after we came home." America has done some interesting things in space, over the decades since the moon walk. "But what America hasn't done is inspire the world - and itself - with a bold vision for our future in space." What we need is "a destination in space that offers great rewards for the risks to achieve it. I believe that that destination must be homesteading Mars, the first human colony on another world. By refocusing our space programme on Mars for America's future, we can restore the sense of wonder and adventure in space exploration that we knew in the summer of 1969. We won the moon race; now it's time for us to live and work on Mars, first on its moonsand then on its surface."

To be a religious believer is to know that the hungers of the human heart will not find fulfilment without God, but even religious believers benefit from goals short of the ecstatic vision of the divine. People without any temporal horizons - without any historical purpose or vision of the future - grow enervated and decadent, and they begin to follow strange gods, who promise them meaning.

In times of advance, and times of goals, and times of purpose, people have little need for that kind of acedia. Want to inspire the world with a temporal purpose? Want to reveal many of our arguments as the pettinesses that they are? Ever since last summer's news about possible water on the planet, I've been telling people that we should build a rocket and fly it to Mars. As Buzz Aldrin says, the Red Planet must be conquered.


Those who follow Oprah are often captivated by her resident medical expert, Dr. Mehmet Oz. He was featured last April in a segment that included Michael J. Fox

- who suffers from Parkinson's disease and is an avid supporter of foetal stem-cell research through his charitable foundation.

Dr. Oz, who rarely disagrees with the queen of talk shows, told both Oprah and Fox to brace themselves, as he had something provocative to say on stem cells: adult stem cells are the way of the future. "The stem-cell debate is dead.... In the time of all this fighting we've had [over embryonic stem-cell research]

- which did slow down this [adult stem-cell] research - in the last year we've advanced ten years." Adult stem cells are likely to be more effective, less risky and, of course, less controversial than their foetal counterparts. Oz's comments, of course, fly in the face of Fox's strident advocacy for the use of embryos and Oprah's coincident political beliefs. Oprah looked a bit stunned.

Dr. Oz is moving to his own show. Soon.

Faith Magazine