Of Mad Men and Discredited Russian Philosophers: The Angst of Donald Draper


***DISCLAIMER: Massive Spoilers! But that should be obvious, right?***

 

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Imagine a decade ago that I came to you and said I had an idea for a show. That idea would be to follow the lives of people who work in the office, in advertising, in the 1960s. You’d ask what happened, and I’d say, “Nothing. Nothing happens. They just live.” Would you green light the show? Probably not, but someone at AMC did and called it Mad Men, and the rest is history. Or at least soon to be history as the show comes to its conclusion.

For nigh on a decade (in show years; and kind of in real years) we’ve witnessed Donald Draper and the rest of the crew grow, develop, and collapse. All the while the question to the casual viewer is, “So when will something happen?” We thought that something was when Pete burst forth with the revelation that Donald Draper is actually Dick Whitman, to which Bernie Cooper gave a “Meh” response. The something was actually nothing. So goes the pattern of the show: Something major occurs, we think this is the *it* we’ve waited for, and it’s met with “meh.”

Yet, there’s an inescapable feeling that indeed something has happened, we just don’t know what that something is. After all, we’ve watched Don Draper live a “man’s dream,” of being successful, of marrying a woman half his age (who’s a french model), of drinking while on the job, and living a life with few consequences. But Don seems unhappy and unfulfilled. He fought to get his job back, only to continue to seek after other things. Don is never happy, nor is anyone else on the show. No one ever reaches the mountain and feels satisfaction, contentment is always a few elusive feet away, and for this we think something might have happened. Indeed, something has happened and continues to happen within the story of Mad Men: The battle for Don Draper’s soul.

No, this is not a Jesus Juke. This is not where I turn around and, much like the irate husband in this past week’s episode, tell Don Draper to find Jesus because “He can do some good things.” Rather, the battle for Don’s soul is fought on the existential level. One could say that the thing happening is the fight and struggle for Don Draper’s existence, for his identity, for his happiness. See, Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper, rather he’s two men. He’s Dick Whitman and Donald Draper. Rather than Draper being a cover so that Whitman could escape the horrors of Korea, Draper is also an entirely other personality.

Whitman is a carefree individual, not quite a hippie, not quite a beatnik, not quite an existentialist. But there’s no doubt that he loves life and desires freedom. In the very first episode of the first season we’re actually introduced to both Donald Draper and Dick Whitman. We see the businessman (Draper), the patriarch of the ideal family of four, living in the suburbs. In the darker elements we see a man living for himself, the ideal objectivist who uses anything and everything for his happiness. We also meet, albeit briefly, with Dick Whitman (though we don’t know his name), in having an affair with a bohemian-style woman, someone who seems incommensurable to the businessman. As the season and show progress the divide between the two personalities grows wider as the two fight for supremacy.  Continue reading

Mary as Mediatrix: An Incarnational View


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Many Christians find the notion that Mary played a role in our salvation extremely blasphemous. They particularly find the ascription of the title Mediatrix to Mary, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, offensive.  In their eyes this ascription stands in direct opposition to Jesus’s role as the sole mediator between God and man. After all, Sacred Scripture is crystal clear on this matter:

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NKJV).

While I completely embrace these words from St. Paul, I deny that they constitute a defeater for Catholic Marian dogma. I contend that the aversion to Mary’s role in our salvation, endemic in so many Christians, is a form of Neo-Docetism. I further maintain that shedding this Neo-Docetist attitude, and embracing an incarnational approach to theology, will help us to understand Mary’s soteriological importance.

The Neo-Docetist Attitude

To be sure, Jesus is the One Mediator between God and men. For it is only through the Word who, “became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14) that we can be united to God. Mediation is the very point of the incarnation. God, in His love, united Himself to His creation so that His creation might be united to Him: this is the ultimate act of reconciliation. It is, also, the cosmic destiny–or telos–of the universe. As St. Paul states:

“For he [the Father] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10).

But many Christians fail to see any of this.  They fail to see the fundamental importance of the incarnation; and fail to see the work of Christ as including the redemption and renewal of the body and the physical/material world in general.  In consequence, the work of Christ is often narrowly construed. The matter of greatest importance, for many Christians, is that Jesus came to satiate the wrath of the Father so as to take away the punishment necessitated by sin (i.e., Penal Substitutionary Atonement).

Mediation, on this view, only happens through the cross; everything hinges upon the death of Christ. As such, the incarnation plays little to no role in the process and is almost a peripheral issue. This implicit denial of the incarnation lies at the heart of the Neo-Docetist attitude. Unlike Classical Docetism, which explicitly denied the incarnation, Neo-Docetism minimizes the importance of the incarnation to the point where its relevance to soteriology is indiscernible.

As I have argued before, this attitude also leads to the rejection of a sacramental worldview; one in which God works in and through the corporeal world to bring about its renewal. Everything in the Christian faith, given the Neo-Docetist perspective, becomes over spiritualized. Baptism looses its efficacy and becomes just a symbol. The Eucharist is no longer the real presence of Christ, but a sentimental ritual that we perpetuate out of obedience. Works of love play no role in our salvation, which is wrought through faith alone (i.e., a mental assent or acknowledgment of Penal Substitutionary Atonement).

Penal Substitution and Mary

Obviously, if one adopts a Neo-Docetist attitude, Mary can play no role in the mediation between God and man. For if (1) mediation is narrowly construed as Penal Substitutionary Atonement and (2) salvation is merely a sort of mental assent to this doctrine, then it is utter lunacy to ascribe to Mary the role of Mediatrix. Clearly, Mary didn’t take the sins of the world upon herself and die on the cross, thereby satiating the wrath of the Father towards mankind. It must be admitted, therefore, that if we adopt this limited conception of mediation, it makes sense to oppose Catholic Marian dogma. On this view, the very notion of Mary being a Mediatrix is nonsense.

Incarnational Theology and the Role of Mary

If, however, mediation is understood in a broader incarnational sense, the role of Mary becomes crystal clear. For it is through Mary that the Word became flesh; it was in her womb that the Creator and sustainer of the universe took on human nature.

God did not force Himself upon Mary against her will either. As Peter Kreeft is fond of saying, “God is not a rapist.” Mary didn’t have to accept the message from Gabriel; she didn’t have to submit herself to what the Lord was intending to do in her life.  Mary, like you and I, had a real choice to make when she heard the message: she could either choose to reject God, as Eve had done in the garden, or choose to fully submit to His will and trust in Him.  To all of creations great relief, Mary chose the latter saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Like us, Mary’s faith in the Lord was made possible by the grace of God; and it was through the grace and love of God that Mary was emboldened to open herself to receiving the Lord. Likewise, it was the power of the Holy Spirit, working in and through the Virgin, that made it possible for the Word to take on flesh; and it was through the incarnation of the Word that God united Himself to man.

It is in this context, the context of the incarnation, that Mary is said to be Mediatrix. For it is through her openness to God that the Lord was able to make his abode among men. As Hans Urs von Balthasar so eloquently explains:

“[in Mary] we see readiness, a receptivity that is totally unreserved: body, soul, and spirit are utterly open, “openings” to God. Here the essential thing is that the body is involved; that the handmaid’s consent echoes right through her, down to the lowliest and most unconscious fibers of her being; her whole self, in its materiality, from its lowest level upward, makes itself a womb for the Wholly Other, for God’s self utterance (and hence his “substance”). Never before had this substance taken up its abode within the straitened dimensions of a mortal body.”

Through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord, human nature has been restored to its former dignity and purity, and it is once again possible for the creation to be fully united with its Creator.

In all of this, there is but One true Mediator, and that is God. For it is God who creates and sustains the world, and it is God who saves. Mary, on her own, has no power to mediate. This is why the Catechism says:

“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it. No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source” (CCC article 970).

Considered in this light, it is clear that Mary plays a substantial role in salvation history and that her role in no way threatens Christ’s position as the One mediator between God and man.

Baltimore Burns: The Riot of the System vs. the Riot of the People


Source: Newsweek

Source: Newsweek

The riots in Baltimore have, for the moment, seemed to calm down. What’s so unique about these riots, at least when compared to the riots of late (excluding riots caused by sports victories/losses) is they occurred before any decision came down concerning the police who murdered Freddie Gray. Without directly addressing the “rightness” or “wrongness” of rioting, I do have one question: Why is it that 47 years (almost to the day) after the 1968 Baltimore riots, we’re still facing riots of a similar caliber for similar reasons? In 1968 the riot’s trigger was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., while in 2015 the trigger was the death of Freddie Gray. But people don’t riot over the injustice of one death unless injustice is universally experienced amongst those in the community. They don’t riot unless they’ve grown tired of a system where justice does not exist. In 47 years, we’ve failed to create a system where justice exists for urban minorities (or minorities in general).

Violence begets violence, of this there is no doubt. Thus, if we wish to stop the violence of the protestors, we must first – and most importantly – stop the violence of a system that oppresses people. How that is done or what needs to be done is somewhat beyond my scope as I am not marginalized, I am not oppressed, and I speak from a place of privilege. What I do know, however, is that such a system must begin with the truth that all humans, regardless of skin color, are created equal and that such a statement is not a platitude, but a bedrock fact of existence. It means we must allow local community leaders to create a community wherein those in poverty have a way out of poverty (as it is, the majority of black children born into poverty will remain in poverty throughout their lives within the US).

While we must leave the problems of the community to the community, the system itself must look to reforming the schools, the economy, and most importantly, the police. A police force that is engaged in a “war on drugs” eventually looks at citizens as potential enemy combatants, and they look at the neighborhoods in their patrol routes not as places to protect, but as occupied territory. It shouldn’t surprise us then when citizens rise up against their military occupation and riot. While people can lament the “lack of black leadership” in condemning the riots – and such a complaint is empty – if we truly wish to stop riots, then we must first stop the violence imposed upon the urban populations in our cities.

From a Christian perspective, all violence is unfortunate and unwanted. Yet, we only paint ourselves hypocrites if we mock and chastise the rioters for their violence and remain silent on the violence they’ve experienced. It does us no good to point out the evil of burning a nursing home to the ground while ignoring that the Maryland police have killed 109 people since 2010. 70% were black and 40% were unarmed, meaning that while the majority of those deaths were probably justified, there’s reason to believe that many of them were not. The riots in Baltimore didn’t begin a few days ago, or when Freddie Gray died in the hand of the police; the riots began when otherwise good people chose to ignore systematic abuses against African-Americans and ignored the cries for justice.

As Christians we are to call for peace in all situations. Even in the most dire of circumstances where violence seems inevitable and even needed, we still hope for peace. Yet, this hope must extend beyond reactions to violence in the form of riots and also focus on the actions of a system that’s marginalized an entire group of people. Christ came to bring peace to the world, but part of that peace includes restricting an out-of-control system. If the second greatest commandment is to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, how does it display love when we ignore the stories of injustice done to our black neighbors? If we love them we will seek justice and a system in which all men and women are truly free. The next riot is already on the horizon, but if we wish to stop it we need not more police, but more love that injects justice into a broken system.

The Risen Christ: On Hope and the Death of Death


A chapter from a manuscript that I’ve worked and reworked for the past 7 years (and drastically changed as writing this is what sent me in the direction of Orthodoxy). No idea on when or if I’ll ever publish it, but I find this chapter extremely appropriate considering the celebration of Pascha (Easter). 

 

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What is hope? It seems that in our modern world there is quite a bit of talk concerning the idea of hope, but there’s not a lot of explaining what hope actually is. To some, to “hope” is to wish that things will get better at some point. We hope our team will win the Super Bowl. We hope the economy will improve. We hope our situation will get better. But with such hope, there is never an assurance that such hope will be fulfilled. The hope is not authentic and cannot be authentic, because such hope can let us down, and a hope that can fail is no hope at all.

This lack of authentic hope is the position the disciples found themselves in the morning after the death of Jesus. They had dedicated their lives to this rabbi, but He was now dead and buried. He did not swoon, He did not fake His death; He was dead. If He were attached to modern medical equipment, all signs would indicate that He had died on the cross. This left the disciples depressed (Luke 24:21). They had “hoped He would redeem Israel,” but now He was dead.

Though Christ had prophesied His resurrection, the disciples had not paid attention. It is not as though they sat around waiting for Christ to resurrect. They honestly and truly believed that Christ had died. And who could blame them? They knew that Jesus had been placed in the tomb. It’s not as though they lived in a primitive culture that lacked an understanding of death; they were sitting around in the upper room because they knew Christ had died and they, like us, knew that the dead don’t come back.

Death is Consumed Continue reading

(Don’t) Let Them Eat Cake!: On Gay Marriage and the Extra Mile


DSC01941The Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows business owners to deny service based on sexual orientation. More to the point, the bill allows those in the wedding industry – photographers, bakers, planners, and the like – to deny services to homosexual couples based on religious convictions. Across the nation, of course, the issue of Christian bakers refusing service to homosexuals is a controversial one; in many instances the bakers face fines and sometimes shut down their businesses on principle.

I want to ignore the legal issues regarding personal conscience coming into conflict with societal obligations. The issue is tricky – after all, all of us wish to live with our personal convictions and to act on those convictions. None of us wants to engage in or aid an activity we believe to be wrong. But at the same time, sometimes being in a society means we have to do things we don’t want to do. That’s part of being an adult in a community. Where that limits begins, however, is highly contentious and I’m not sure if we can discover that line, hence my reluctance to engage in that discussion. While I think we’re moving beyond a secular state and into an anti-religious state – that is, one in which you’re allowed to believe in your faith, just not act upon that belief – I’m also uncertain whether a business owner has a right to exclude certain people from his business.

That being said, what is the Christian approach to such an issue, regardless of the law? If you owned a bakery and made wedding cakes would you make one for a homosexual couple? For many Christians who believe homosexuality to be a sin the answer is typically a quick no, or causes some to pause for a minute. But what if we used similar examples? What if the couple is grossly overweight, obese, caused by gluttony (Proverbs 23:2)? What if one or both people in the couple is/are divorced (Matthew 5:32)? What if the couple is extremely wealthy and gives nothing to the poor, and in fact intend to use this wedding as a display of their greed (1 Timothy 6:10)? What if they don’t go to church (Hebrews 10:25)? The list goes on of potential sins that the couple perpetually engage in as part of their lifestyle.

Now, some could make the case that these sins are different as they do not change the meaning of marriage. Homosexual marriage, it’s argued, changes the entire definition of marriage. Certainly one could make that case. Yet, the problem of a divorced couple going through a marriage remains; as does the problem of if the couple has already had sex and lived together, or if the couple does not attend church regularly, or if the couple isn’t even Christian. See, while “One man, one woman” fits nicely on a bumper sticker, it doesn’t really fit the Christian ideal of marriage. I dare not say the Biblical teaching on marriage because while the Bible is a holy book inspired by God, it also doesn’t always display the ideal in telling history. To put this bluntly, would we refuse King David a cake at his wedding to Bathsheba? While homosexual marriage might be different from gluttony, it is no different than remarriage or a watered-down version of a church wedding.  Continue reading

A Pro-Family Economy? On the Importance of Family Values over Market Values


DSC02081A 40 hour work week is considered normal and desirable within the United States. While other nations might laugh at so few hours, most industrialized nations work less (in some cases far less) than the average American. Of course, while 40 hours might be the expectation, it’s not abnormal for Americans to work upwards of 70-80 hours a week (either in one job or with two jobs); the reasons could be an ambitious young person trying to advance in a career, a lawyer running up against deadlines, or a single mother just trying to put food on the table. While Eastern Europe – known for its economic struggles – posts higher working hours on average than the US, Western Europe – known for a stronger economy – posts lower working hours.

In the United States, of course, we value hard work. We think of early in our foundation of farmers, cobblers, shop owners, and the like working long hours in order to support the family. Even today there are small business owners who dedicate almost every waking hour to keeping their company going. Yes, a typical 40 hour work week leaves a person tired at the end of the day and distant from the family, but that’s the price to pay for progress, correct?

The problem with such thoughts is they ignore that the typical job in the modern age takes a person away from the family. Yes, farmers, cobblers, shop owners, and others might have worked longer hours, but they did so mostly from home and with their family. The “job” they worked was a family job, putting the husband in contact with the wife and his children. Rarely did anyone have need of leaving the home for work. At one point in our history the economy centered around the family, not the consumer, and that made all the difference in both the work week and the type of work accomplished.

Post-Civil War America saw a change in the goal of the economy; rather than existing ultimately for the benefit of the family (in most cases), it began to exist for the benefit of the individual, namely the wealthy individual. The husband ceased to be a person, but rather a “good,” something in order to help wealthy men grow in their wealth. Men began to leave the family farm, the family shop, and the family itself in order to put food on the table; the cold irony of the new Capitalistic endeavor is that in order to sustain their families, men had to abandon their families. Since that time, men fought for worker’s rights, sometimes winning but mostly losing. Women, in turn, began to question why they had to stay at home while men “fulfilled” their lives. The individualistic approach drove a spike between husband and wife and rather than becoming one in all things – including economic gains for the family – they became economic partners attempting to bring in a fair share. To this day feminist fight for equal pay for women and equal placement within the corporate world, and if this is the system we are to have then women ought to be equal, but how come no one has stopped to ask if we should truly have this system? If the system is unjust, why do we seek to increase the influence of the system?

Some might ask, “So you think women should stay at home for work?” To which I respond, yes, I believe that the human ideal is for women to work from the home. Yet, I would say the same for the men. Both are to work from the home and sustain the family. Of course, that is the ideal and in an industrialized society not completely attainable, but certainly we can do better than what we have. Currently people spend more time at work than they do with their families, at least if we discuss quality time. Most families are involved in so many after school/work activities, or go and do their separate things when getting home (watching tv, playing video games, and so on), that the modern family is nothing more than strangers sharing the same space and DNA. In the pursuit of fulfillment in a job we no longer find fulfillment in having a family; indeed, having a family is not a very Capitalistic thing to do as it can take away from one’s personal goals. This is why so many complain about having children, complain about a wife, a husband, and so on. We speak of family values, but we abandoned our family values long ago when we decided that the dollar was more valuable than the home.

From a Christian perspective the family functions as the beginning of everything on this earth. While we are made in the image of God and therefore he directs our purpose, that purpose is first acted out within the family. Both father and mother work in their own ways to raise the children properly. Children learn how to function as good human beings within the family setting. The family itself is, in many ways, the “first church,” where true spiritual discipline takes place. Only when different families come together do they begin to form a community; a small secular gathering, a church, a school, or anything along those lines. Those communities eventually form societies, which form cultures. If, therefore, our own economic system functions in a way that it destroys or makes impossible the idea of a nuclear family then it follows that eventually communities will collapse, and soon after societies and cultures.

What, then, is the solution? I’m not sure on a pragmatic area (though I’d argue that Distributism is our best bet to get close to the ideal of a family-centered economy), but I do know it’s time Christians divorced themselves from Capitalism. Capitalism relies on and focuses on the individual, not on the family. Christians must support family values over market values, they must support what is best for the family and not a system that promotes low wages and high hours. We can’t support a system that intentionally keeps people in poverty and puts power in the hands of the wealthy over the hands of the family (or community). If Christians truly wish to follow through on a pro-family worldview, they must extend this view to the economy, otherwise the family will continue to waste away within the American experience.

50 Shades of Decay: On the Scandal of Love


IMDB.com

IMDB.com

If Christian Grey were poor and ugly then 50 Shades of Grey would be about an abusive and controlling man. But since his abuse is wrapped in a nice suit, wealth, and good looks, it’s “sexy” and “erotic.” Beyond the erotic bondage that both the book and the movie celebrates, we see a man that does all he can to control another woman. Within 50 Shades the nightmare that millions of women endure on a daily basis is morphed into some romanticized version of torture.

If we remove the glitz and glamor, remove the good looks, remove the wealth, remove the style, then is Christian Grey still a romantic figure with a dark past who needs fixing? The story plays on the ultimate trope, which is women love jerks because they believe they can fix them. Such an approach doesn’t dignify women nor does it liberate their sexuality, rather it treats them as objects, as curing pills to a psychological diagnosis. Without all those toys, Christian Grey is no longer a fantasy character, but a person appearing on a day time talk show or the guy in the back of a police car for a domestic violence dispute. He’s a stalker, but with money and good looks he’s “romantic.”

Our culture is in many ways pornographic, and I don’t mean that in the typical sense. Porn creates a false reality and sets false expectations; what is upsetting or disturbing in real life is normal in porn. Porn, then, distorts reality in favor of a fantasy, which means porn doesn’t have to be that overtly sexual video. Fox News (or MSNBC if you prefer) is a type of porn, creating a false image of what America and the world ought to be. Reality TV is a type of porn, creating a false reality, but acting as though it is real. In the same way, 50 Shades is pornographic, not just for the explicit sexuality, but because it creates a fantasy of love without facing reality.

The books and movie creates this image of the “ultimate alpha male,” the guy that every guy wants to be like and every woman wants to be with. But such a man is a fantasy and doesn’t exist. Such an image leaves guys attempting to act like the alpha male (which is nothing more than a glorified ass) and it leaves women searching for this elusive alpha male. Of course they’ll find someone who is similar, but he’s attempting to live up to a false presentation of reality, meaning the charade will eventually collapse and the woman will end up trying to find another man, or living a life of disappointment. Society questions where all the real mean have gone; but if you pursue a fantasy and make it your ideal, don’t be shocked when you can’t find it in reality. Men and women are trained to follow roles, not to become humans; they are given a cookie-cutter image of what the ideal man looks like, or the ideal woman looks like, and we then find ourselves shocked when people can’t live up to these fake and false images.

True love, the real thing, is scary and hard to find. We live in a culture obsessed with power, where even love is treated as an old mythology and relegated to the classics. We chastise the classics as being anti-female and treating men as gods. We are too quick to condemn the classics though, for though they treated women as lesser than men, they at least acknowledge women as human. In the modern age we’ve sought liberation and equality and have only succeeded in treating women a little higher than animals and objects. No, while the ancients were wrong about a lot of things, they were at least correct in their pursuit of love. To put it another way, today we “pick up” women, whereas at one point we “wooed” women: To “pick up” applies to an object (e.g. I pick up trash, I pick up food, I am the actor imposing my will upon an object). To woo means to gain, to acknowledge that you are dealing with another free will being who is capable of thought and choice. You pick up an object, but you woo a human.

While we seek after power – being the dominant male, a woman using her sexuality to gain an advantage over a man, sharing “authority” in a relationship, refusing to give up individualism even in the face of marriage – we’ve long forgotten about love. The idea of there being rules to love, of it occurring within a marriage, of it existing solely between man and wife (at least in a sensual way) was at one point ridiculed for being “Victorian” and outdated. Now such a viewpoint is hardly considered and even its whisper elicits scandal. One can almost imagine that in a few decades the real rush for teenagers wanting to go against the flow of society’s mores will involve them refusing to have sex with each other or anyone else and waiting until marriage, and then remaining faithful thereafter. Continue reading