Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ecclesiastical Phishing

School controls most of my life at the moment. However, they can't keep me down forever- it's time to write.

Last week an official from the University Credit Union came to give a talk to my Fraternity about financial scamming. We learned we shouldn't write our pin-number on the back of the credit card. He also informed us that it is dangerous to approve large withdrawals from our accounts when initiated by people in Singapore whom we have never heard of. Overall, I enjoyed that good old-fashioned thread of common sense which ran through most of the talk. It lent a nice sense of continuity.

More than anything, however, I loved the talk about phishing. When I was 10 some paternal relatives and I hiked for an afternoon up into the Absaroka Range. At some little glacial lake near the convergence of Wyoming, Montana, and the sky we caught foot-long brook trout on every cast. It was marvelous...as is robbing people through cleverness. Indeed, the unethical and immoral homonym of my summer vacation activities captured my curiosity as we discussed last Monday evening.

We know that natural selection is hard at work when we encounter something like this- oh, the brilliance of it! I like Wikipedia's key phrase: "masquerading as a trustworthy entity." I can imagine the email now: "Hello John Doe, My name is Dave. I am with your bank. We want to send you a quarterly statement but for some reason we lost your name, Social Security Number, and account number. Please give us that crap so we can get our work done. Love, Dave." And people will supply!

But then a thought entered my head: "What if this trick was taken to a whole new level? What is people outside of cyberspace started exploiting the ignorance of the sincerely curious? What if it happened...in the Church?" And then I realized it does- all the time!

Intelligent people, no matter where they lie on the ideological spectrum, know that the one who controls the education and flow of information has immense power- perhaps more than anyone. There will always be a noble, even enthusiastic, few who are willing to step up to bat and be that underpaid teacher. But outside the classroom, where no degree is required (and likewise no accountability) and the wages altogether non-existent (but immense social renumeration waiting in the grab bag) it is very much the opposite of that Gospel parable- the harvest is small and laborers many. Yes, idiots and ideologues abound and everyone swears they've got the "real" story.

The little angel pictured above is named "Kitschy." He puts all human concepts of reproduction to shame for he has approximately 18,687 identical twins in parishes across the USA. No insane amount of fertility drugs could ever reproduce this reproduction. No, this takes the good old fashioned zeal of ethnic piety. (My gr-gr grandmother Anna Petrzelkova Egrova funded one of the twins). Anyway, Kitschy has a message for you: "I am the model for Catholic Art." Of course, there are many people sincerely asking that question. "What art is appropriate for Church?" "What music can go in the liturgy?" etc. And Kitschy and his confrères seem altogether too happy to play the prof and supply the definitive answers.

Take this to the next level. Take a bunch of truth, mix in a little crap, and...voila- heresy! It is terribly effective because people who ask questions are generally open to answers (to varying degrees depending on the place and time). When most Catholics can't name the 10 Commandments, much less the 7 Sacraments we know it can only be disastrous when folks pose questions like: "What language should the Mass be?" "How powerful is Mary?" "You mean my sister's ordination wasn't valid?" etc. Pick your extreme and there is, at worst, a heretic eager to answer- with devastatingly misleading poppycock. In most cases you'll probably just get some really confident, yet hopelessly unbalanced, apostle of (fill in the blank with fringe devotion of choice). I always have loved the Roman Church because there is something for everyone. It is a vast space in which to swim around (though it is still finite) and occasionally hang out in a little corner (for we all have gifts and talents, unique ways to be stewards). That's alright until I think everyone else should be clustered right where I am (read: checking Mary's message at Medjugorje like clockwork).

It seems that we should pick our battles. There are a few core teachings and if we 'cry wolf' every day we will run out of steam and be dead in the water when the real battle comes. Yeah, Kitschy will do, but he is hardly a well thought artistic contribution to Church decoration. He's still not the model and if anyone claims this I will dig my heels in. That kind of talk takes things to a whole new level. Likewise, when the SSPX priest tells you Vatican II was a farce and John XXIII was an anti-pope, they've hopped out of the pool. When someone says you should pray your daily Rosary because such-and-such Saint said it is 'the gold coin by which we buy our way into heaven' certainly don't let any Protestants hear. When another says, "Hi, I'm with the Catholic Church and Mary is co-Redemptrix," just be wary. (When even JPII didn't approve that I get suspicious. And he was as devoted to Mary as anyone. Heck, he had his Marian crest branded on his coffin!)

And don't give them your credit card number either.

1 comment:

Chase said...

Update your blog!