Sunday, January 27, 2008


In the third season finale of the TV series “Lost,” one of the most touching and memorable images was that of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), the former drug addict and rock musician, making the sign of the cross as his final act before he died sacrificing himself for his friends. Catholic or Christian themes and imagery often work their way into this complex series – from Jack and Locke’s debates between reason and faith to Mr. Eko’s winding road back to his Catholic faith. In an era when Catholics in particular aren’t always presented in a positive light on TV, this respect for the faith stands out.

Thanks is owed to Carlton Cuse, a practicing Catholic who serves as “Lost’s” Executive Producer along with Damon Lindelof.

In an interview on the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” Cuse said, “The issue of faith and reason is really central to the lives of all people who are religious and grappling with a desire to find meaning in their lives. It felt like some of those larger issues would be relevant to a show which sort of examines the nature of existence the way Lost does.”

Though he doesn’t have any interest in proselytizing, Cuse knows how to skillfully weave spiritual elements into the show’s stories and characters. He said, “I think it’s about not putting things upfront. If there are religious issues in the show, they’re buried in the background of a show that’s essentially sort of an action-adventure-drama. I think it’s all a question of proportionality and also not trying to hammer people over the head with it. In a lot of ways, I think people’s resistance to religion comes when they feel they’re getting hammered with it. I think religion becomes most meaningful in people’s lives when it’s told in the form of stories, where people can connect. I always judge a homily on how well a priest does at integrating whatever lessons of the week are in the gospel into stories. And those stories are the ones that I think really land for the parishioners much more so than some kind of didactic analysis of the readings or the gospel. I feel like that’s kind of our role as storytellers on the show - to try to take those themes which really are meaningful for people and put them in forms of good yarns and stories.”

Carlton Cuse grew up with divorced parents and found himself drawn to TV westerns – “I loved the basic family values that were embedded in shows like Gunsmoke or Bonanza…They always had sort of classic notions of family and responsibility and values and virtues.”

While Cuse was raised as a Catholic, his devotion to his faith grew deeper after he got married. He said, “My wife is from a sprawling Catholic family. She has seven brothers and sisters. And my mother-in-law has been an incredible source of inspiration to me. She is the matriarch of this incredible brood. I’ve been married for 20 years and my relationship with my faith is tied into my relationship with her family which has really become my family, that’s been a huge part of own personal faith journey.”

Because of that faith, it probably wasn’t a huge surprise to Carlton that some fans speculated that the Island on “Lost” was actually Purgatory. Both he and Lindelof have said that is definitely not the case though Cuse elaborates that “doesn’t mean the values that underlie the concept of purgatory aren’t present in the show.”

In fact, a core Christian concept is an ever-present part of all the stories and characters. Cuse explained, “Sin and redemption is a central theme of the show. Each of these characters in his or her own way is struggling with those issues that we all struggle with. We all have those issues inside of ourselves that we grapple with our entire lives. Sometimes we conquer them and sometimes we lose to them… None of us are perfect and I think what people might relate to…is that there’s a fantasy sense to the show which is that if you end up on this island you can sort of start over. And I think that even though these characters are deeply flawed, they are searching for redemption. We all recognize in them certain aspects of ourselves. None of us are perfect and I think that’s just the definition of who we are as humans. One of the great things we can all try to do in life is to recognize and identify and accept that in each other – that none of us come close to being perfect and that’s okay as long as I’m constantly working..You know, it’s never in the achieving, it’s all in the striving to try to better ourselves on those issues that trouble us in our lives."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


There are too many people whose voices are heard in the media that want you to believe religion and science are natural enemies. While I know this isn't historically true, I don't see that fact pointed out too often. However, I've been reading the supernatural thriller "Brother Odd" by best-selling author Dean Koontz, himself a Catholic. While the book is a great read and contains many Catholic elements I may write about at a later date, Koontz knows the historical relationship between science and the Church and gives it mention during the story. Being that "Brother Odd" was a New York Times bestseller in hardcover (and hopefully will be again in paperback), thousands of people have now been exposed to a truth they probably weren't aware of. I'm sharing this short excerpt as a bit of history:

From "Brother Odd" by Dean Koontz:
"Brother John was part of a long tradition of monk and priest scientists. The Church had created the concept of the University and had established the first of them in the twelfth century. Roger Bacon, a Franciscan monk, was arguably the greatest mathematician of the thirteenth century. Bishop Robert Grosseteste was the first man to write down the necessary steps for performing a scientific experiment. Jesuits had built the first reflecting telescopes, microscopes, barometers, were first to calculate the constant of gravity, the first to measure the height of the mountains on the moon, the first to develop an accurate method of calculating a planet's orbit, the first to devise and publish a coherent description of atomic theory."

Sunday, January 13, 2008


On Tuesday January 15 at 8:00pm, America's annual 3-week obsession with schadenfreude begins once again. That's right - the "American Idol" audition shows are back!

While I'm a fan of the series, these early shows are not my favorites. I actually enjoy hearing people sing who can carry a tune. That is definitely not the focus of the audition episodes which are generally filled with performances that are the equivalent of nails on a blackboard.

On the plus side, these Idol eps are definitive proof that "The Secret" doesn't really work. While certain contestants know they're bad and simply show up to get a laugh and appear on TV, far too many tone-deaf others are convinced they are talented up-and-comers who will build a career in the music industry. They can see it in their heads and believe it in their hearts. And according to "The Secret," that's all you need to do. Of course, none of these singers are ever heard from again.

Why are these people so blind to a fact that is obvious to the rest of us? These auditioners may be very nice people, but they simply can't carry a tune. There's no harm in that. Yet they fight this observation with anger and tears. For me, this reveals the dark side of the modern emphasis on self-esteem above all else.

I'm a firm supporter that all kids and even adults need a healthy sense of self-esteem to succeed in this life. Otherwise, we become doormats who always feel inferior to others. God didn't create us to be failures. We're supposed to reflect Him and all His goodness and mercy. To make that happen however, we need what parenting expert Dr. David Walsh calls a "healthy self esteem."

In an interview with, Dr. Walsh offers this definition - "...we've distorted the definition of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not the same thing as feeling good. Self-esteem is a realistic self-appraisal, an appreciation of my strengths and knowledge of my weaknesses. We have a myth that frustration and disappointment damage self-esteem. That's why a lot of us get overprotective, and try to shield our kids from bad feelings, because we're afraid they will hurt their self-esteem."

My guess is that the Idol auditioners who can't seem to accept their lack of singing talent have been surrounded by people who didn't want to hurt their feelings or that simply view their loved ones' talents through rose colored glasses. In the long run, that is damaging to these people. Simon Cowell's criticisms toward these auditioners are often harsh and cruel. As a viewer, I think "It's true but he could have said it in a nicer way." But depending on how ingrained the delusions of talent are, maybe a harsh appraisal is what's needed to bring the singers' back to reality.

There are definitely times when Simon crosses the line in his cruelty, and when he criticizes singers who have a little talent that might simply need training and development. But mostly, he is on the mark. So while I'll occasionally check out what this year's batch of early contestants brings to the table, I'll really be looking forward to the day when the talent shines a lot brighter.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Esteemed theologian Joy Behar (sarcasm intended) of "The View" has once again shared another opinion based on a complete lack of understanding regarding the Catholic faith. Luckily, Fr. James Martin of "America" magazine refutes her on his blog.

Foolish as it would be to look for deep theological insights from "The View," Joy Behar's recent statements on Catholic saints (a) not existing any longer, and (b) needing medication, was about as close as you could come to a nice Youtubable, public display of anti-Catholicism, for any who doubt it still exists.

Here are my comments, inserted under "Respondeo," as a nod to St. Thomas Aquinas, from whom Ms. Behar might learn a little about the use of reason. And, by the way, Ms. Goldberg, Catholics don't "pray to statues." They are asking for the saints' help in heaven, much as you would ask a friend to pray for you down here.

JOY BEHAR: I'm going to get in trouble for this, but you know what? I have a theory that you can't find any saints any more because of psycho-tropic medication. I think that the old days the saints were hearing voices and they didn't have any thorazine to calm them down. [laughter] Now that we have all of this medication available to us, you can't find a saint any more.

[RESPONDEO: In the "old days," not all the saints heard voices. This is actually a rather rare phenomenon in the lives of the saints. And, for record, in modern times there are plenty of examples of very holy people, including Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Padre Pio, Pope John Paul II, and many more, who most people would say qualify as "saints." Sanctity is not something reserved for the past. ]

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Writer and cultural critic Barbara Nicolosi at Church of the Masses has discovered the brilliance of the recent "Battlestar Galactica" series. I'm pasting her whole post below only because there is no link specific to that story. But you should add her site to your Favorites so you can check in regularly.
From "Church of the Masses" -

How did I miss this?!

None of my friends and regular readers will believe this, but as of about two weeks ago, I am a total nerdy fan of the new Battlestar Galactica from the Sci-Fi Channel. (If anybody out there has Season 3 on any kind of format, I want to be your new best friend!) What didn't anybody tell me about this show? It's the smartest dramatic writing I've seen on television in years - maybe ever. And by smart I mean the pacing is exciting, the stakes are high, the characters are multi-leveled and the themes are important. I discovered it by accident at Christmas with my sisters. (And all that matters now is, how do we get our hands on Season 3?!)

I say this as a life-long, confirmed despiser of all shows in which people have dogfights in space ships, wear vinyl clothing and do the ER style fast dialogue only about anti-matter hyper drives instead of IV pushes. I hate sci-fi. But I love this show.

As near as I can figure, what Exec Producer Ron Moore has done here is craft a truly wonderful drama, that just happens to be set in, you know, spaceships and occasional vinyl flight suits. The shows are all about the issues we are facing as a society today, although without the hallmark left-sided agenda that one normally expects. And it isn't transparently talking about today's issues. It just feels like the themes are arising naturally out of the dilemmas faced by about the last surviving 49,763 humans who are desperately fleeing across the universe trying to get away from their own creations - Cylons - who are out to kill them - and "have a plan" (sorry, I had to say it). I can't even figure out where the writers stand most of the time on particular issues - although on the big universal questions, the show always gets it right.

The background issue of the show - and probably what most sci-fi is about - is the problem of mankind losing control of his own tinkering with science. But the showrunners seem just as much preoccupied with the old Nuremburg trial question (and a perennial wartime question relevant today with all things Iraq War/Patriot Act/Quantanamo) of how far "I was just following orders" works as a ethical framework. It comes up nearly every other episode. As Dostovesky said, "The primary drive in human nature is to give over responsibility for our own lives." In many ways, BSG is all about that struggle.

And then, because the Cylons are essentially a terrorist network, there are all the issues of how tough is too tough when you are trying to save innocent people from terrorists. How far do you go before you become worse than your enemies? And then there is the whole problem of the humans had it coming for being so profligate. And then the Cylons find their strength in religious commitment. Other cool questions include, "Is it okay to steal an election from someone who you know is very, very bad?" and, "how much do civil liberties change in times of crisis?" and "Abortion is a luxury that a dying civilization can not afford." It's very concerned with the complexity of moral decisions -- no issue is pat or simple. (Which is very interesting to watch with the background of the Presidential Primaries in which every issue is over-simplified on the stump.) But i want to be clear that this show is not an anti-war screed. Anything but.

On the inter-personal level - because the characters are what really make the show - Battlestar is all about how love can make us heroic and then paralyzed, and how historic events can never be separated from the mystery of one on one human attractions and antipathies. The characters, while being extraordainary, aren't the stuff of plastic super heroes. They are all deeply flawed, but not in a cynical way. They make mistakes from exhaustion, because the burdens of their very hard life wears them down. Or because they are jealous or afraid. But then, they summon their best humanity again and die for each other. Very cool. But it would be hard to put a poster of this Starbuck (great portrayal by this new kid Katie Sackhoff!) or president Roslyn (where has Mary McConnell been hiding?!) on my wall. In the same way that one wouldn't put a poster of Pierre from War and Peace or Sebastian from Brideshead. (Oops, sorry Karen, did that reference just go over your head?) These are characters for grown ups.

Such smart writing. Really good acting. Surprisingly uncheesy special effects for a TV show (where the standard is now always going to be the cinema of George Lucas, this show holds up.)

A real gem if you haven't seen it. Especially with nothing entertaining on now during the strike. It's for adults. (Note: Season 1 had some over the top sexuality and every so often there was a moment of the same in Season 2. Also, ome of the violence is very intense. We didn't watch the show around my eight year old nephew.) But frankly, the themes are over the heads of most kids. There is enough action to keep you following all the ponderous choices (and I mean ponderous in a good way), but this isn't Star Trek by any means. (Nor is it the first Battlestar series as my sister Alison has asserted. This is a whole other animal.)

So, Season 3 somebody? (Sean?! Why didn't anybody tell me?!)

Friday, January 4, 2008


Author and Busted Halo columnist Christine Whelan, a New Yorker who recently moved to Iowa, writes humorously and insightfully about her Iowa caucus experience. If you're like me and don't know what exactly goes on in these much ballyhooed political events, check out Christine's article.

Public voting makes me uncomfortable. I like the freedom to flap my left wing with my Democratic friends and my right wing with my Republican buddies. In previous elections I’ve been a people-pleaser: Once I figure out what side you’re on, I’ll discuss the pros and cons with you and never take a position myself.

But here in Iowa, you can’t do that. On caucus night, Iowans must first declare whether they are Republicans or Democrats, and sign in with their party. Then, Iowans physically stand with others who support their candidate. Privacy be damned: In this state, you vote with your feet, and everyone knows about it.

This encourages voters to get caught up in the groundswell of opinions on their block, in their neighborhood. If everyone on your street is voting for Mike Huckabee, and you’re voting for Ron Paul, people will know. Will they talk? And do you feel pressure to change your vote because of that peer pressure?