The Random Catholic Church
“Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere” – G.K. Chesterton.
You have to hand it to art critics. They can stand before a two-year-old’s finger painting, depicting it as some kind of fascinating masterpiece, of inimitable innocence and simplicity, depicting in sublime abstract surrealism the existential motion of the cosmos in two dimensions, or something. If someone vomits on the carpet at a party, it’s art, as long as someone declares it so. To me, though, it’s still just vomit.
With the turn of the twentieth century came the flourishing of absurd philosophies and the rejection of objectivity, which is reflected in the changing definition of art over time. Ideas such as relativism, subjectivism and existentialism have become popular and are now widely used as underlying principles in finding solutions to life’s problems. A good knowledge, yet healthy distrust of historical precedent has given way to outright rejection of historical fact as a guide to the present and future. The resulting disconnection of social continuity from the present and past has rendered modern civilization dangerously adrift in the sea of ideas. Fundamental historical lessons are now forgotten, such as those regarding the respect for human life, especially when it is rendered defenseless. In other areas, such as education, there has been the dramatic degradation of teaching standards and the almost total obliteration of any consistent methodology for teaching. Everything in education has become experimental and teachers and education departments are now left to reinvent the wheel. They are doing it very badly, as can be demonstrated, for example, by the continuous and dramatic decline in literacy, despite constant ‘improvements’ in education over the past sixty years.
In religion, there is no better example of how far modern theology has drifted to the point of being a waste of time than to see how it has been reflected in art. If one makes a visit to the Cologne Cathedral, once the tallest building in Europe, taking over six hundred years to build, it is difficult not to be awestruck by the majesty of the place and the skill with which it was constructed. It is a living testament to the faith and skill of medieval artisans. Stained glass windows of saints and biblical scenes abound, exquisitely made altarpieces are found in every corner, the outside is covered in cleverly carved gargoyles, even at the very highest parts of its spires.
Then, in 2007, a new window appeared in the south transept. The window is made up of random squares of random color. It looks like… nothing, really. At best, it represents the concept of random and chance, or challenges the observer to think, whether the computer’s random number generator was truly random (insofar as there is such a thing), or whether it was one of those cheap software random number generators, that the so-called artist used. It might be a challenge for someone out there to figure that out. But perhaps, like the cubist Picasso, the maker of the window was taking the piss out of his benefactors, showing up for their stupidity. I think that’s not unlikely. Perhaps the next development at the Cathedral might be the use of computer-generated white noise as the religious music, followed by randomly arranged words for a sermon, and a random selection of items from random supermarkets as the things to place on the altar table. In some churches, such an approach would constitute a vast improvement over what is currently being offered.
On being asked as to what the window means, the manufacturer was quoted as saying:
ZKcqE0XT 8V CYGdtt q ccP pBBpq7 ZAxH812 Ia3Tqew!
Just kidding, of course.
The point is that, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has been drifting slowly away from its well defined point of origin, and losing definition like a dot of light losing its focus, to the point where it is nothing more than a blur.
When a Pope on one hand renounces the excommunication of traditional Catholics (the Society of Saint Pius X), yet on the other he receives a Koran and prays at a Mosque (Washington 2008), attends a Synagogue (New York 2008) and gives out Communion to Protestants, then by his actions he tells us that he is no different from the Random Window at the Cologne Cathedral. Perhaps he believes… nothing, really. Or at least he believes more than one thing at the same time. Indeed, by his actions he shows what a bag of contradictions he must be.
When speaking to traditional Catholics, the Pope sounds traditional. When speaking to modernists, he is a modernist. When speaking to Muslims, he worships Allah, and so on. Everybody is happy. That is, of course, until they hear what the Pope says to people other than themselves. In the end, who is the Pope being other than just another yes man, another politician?
Like the Random Window, which means whatever you want it to mean for you, modern Catholicism has embraced subjective relativism under the guise of ecumenism and charity. Pope Benedict XVI comes across as conservative, but should not be mistaken for being traditional, or even orthodox in the true sense of the word. Liturgy has gone all airy-fairy; the gaze of the faithful has fallen from heaven and is focused on Man, and their feet have left the ground, such that they no longer have a common foundation. The mass as conducted in one place is now frequently unrecognizable when compared with that in another.
Indeed, what you might find when walking into a Church nowadays is all rather random. You might walk into a beautiful baroque masterpiece, with a high altar, altar rails, central tabernacle – something out of the pre-Vatican II era, or you might walk into a fan shaped building with a couple of chairs and a coffee table in somewhere around the middle, with microphones and overhead projector and no crucifix whatsoever. Or you might walk into something resembling a child care center, with streamers, gaudy colors, loud music and green plastic chairs. You might walk in hearing anything from Palestrina as sung by a skilled choir to tinny recordings of the Beatles (or even Bette Midler!), or see dancing hula girls, or have your ears blasted by death metal music (which can come eerily close to the sound of white noise). You might see hundreds of people in their Sunday Best, kneeling in silent adoration before a monstrance, or people in casual dress, laughing and chatting as they drink instant coffee and dry biscuits (in the sanctuary), or see a bunch of head-banging youths, in black shirts and pentagrams, jumping up and down on the pews, or you might just see a couple of frail old people, or no people at all. All of it is happening.
Some call that universal, but I call it random.