The new Twilight film is out and Cathy and I will be going along as soon as we can find babysitters for the kids one night, so expect a review soon.
In the mean time, there are a host of new articles on the “Twilight Phenomenon” in the media again, asking “What does this mean for us?” (My guess: Nothing. It’s just good entertainment!). Critics of these films tend to approach them as a bit of a “blank slate” on which to project their own understandings of modern western society and young people especially.
One of the sillier attempts at writing on this “blank slate” is highlighted on Cathnews this morning: this offering from a “young voices” section on the National Catholic Reporter website (ask yourself: Why would a magazine like NCR need a specific section entitled “young voices”? As opposed to…?): “Twilight: The ‘Eclipse of God'” by Jamie L Manson. “Young” Jamie opines that films like “Twilight”, “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings” are successful because people are yearning for “presence”:
Is it just a strange coincidence that on the date of the release of “Twilight: Eclipse”, the pope announced the creation of a new pontifical council to address what he calls the “eclipse of God”?…
The pope is correct: there is a great clash of cultures taking place in the West. But it isn’t the sacred that is pitted against the secular. Rather, there is a clash between a church that still sees fit to operate like an absolute monarchy and a laity that takes an active interest in developing and exercising their consciences and spiritualities. As Donald Cozzens has aptly explained, the Catholic Church is the last feudal system in the West. Its authoritarian, hierarchical model of leadership is medieval in its founding and, even to this day, in its functioning. Absolute loyalty is required for such a system to work.
This weekend, the United States celebrates Independence Day. This holiday marks our nation’s separation from a monarchical rule that had repeatedly abused its power by not making itself accountable to its own established laws. After much struggle to humbly petition the English monarchy, the leaders of the 13 Colonies found the monarchy to be deaf to the voice of justice. So, they asserted their truth that all are created equal and entitled to inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As the church’s injustices have grown and its attempts at absolute control have swelled, Catholics in the West have realized that their founding democratic principles are as essential to their spiritual health as they are to their social and civil well-being. Until the Church ceases to function like an absolute monarchy, its attempts at evangelizing the West are a set up for failure. Those in the West do not wish to be controlled and dominated with re-Christianization. What they seek and respond to is presence: presence to their deepest pains and daily struggles; presence to their longings, their questions and their need for healing; presence to their joy and their flourishing. What they seek is the communal practice of the teachings that Jesus offered in the Gospels.
Well, Jamie may be right. People may well be pining for “presence”. But the “presence” of what, Jamie? If people have a God-shaped hole in the centre of their being, is anything other than THE PRESENCE of God going to fill it? And is what fills this God-shaped hole just “the teachings of Jesus offered in the Gospels”, or is it Jesus himself, fully human and fully divine? IOW, is it just Jesus? Or is it The Christ, the Son of the Living God for which the world is yearning?
Pope Benedict understands that “the teachings of Jesus” have no meaning without an encounter with the Presence of the Person of Christ (still waiting for that second volume of Jesus of Nazareth!). And he certainly understands, unlike many on the editorial team at National Catholic Reporter, that there cannot be an encounter with the Person of Christ apart from his Body present in the Church and in the Eucharist.
I know the restlessness that films like Avatar and Lord of the Rings and (even!) Twilight can stir in people. It is the restlessness that all people have until they find their rest in God. And the Church – medieval, outdated and far from the American ideal of democracy as she may seem – has a role to play in answering that restlessness.