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The Culture of the Lie Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 18 December 2011

Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol has no Christ and no church in it. (Although one does hear the bells!) The legend of Fr. Christmas has no Christ and no church in it. Neither does the wish for a “Happy Holidays” or the movie The Polar Express, just to pick one. Unsuitably secular placeholders for the real history of Christ and his Church are all around us.

Washing Christ and the Church out of Christmas not only speaks of the age in which we live but also to a wish on our part to limit what God has done in our history and culture through them. In fact, this totalitarian process is very similar to the efforts of the communist regimes to create a culture without God.

Since God is the truth, those efforts were, in fact, a lie, and the Marxists worked brutally and hard to create a culture of the lie. It is a culture of the lie because it denies so much of what is crucial to humanity. Just because our culture of the lie is not created through violence and sustained by a secret police, does not make it any the less anti-human. 

The movie The Matrix had one redeeming feature (only one). It spoke of the world beyond the immediate, apparent one. To me this was a distorted attempt, but an attempt nonetheless, to show something that transcends the moment, in a confused way, to be sure.

Yes, it was a beyond that was ultimately manmade, but it still pointed to different dimension. It would be difficult not to see it as a vestigial memory of something more. My question always is: why stay with the vestige? Why stay with the pale shadow of the real? Why stay with the lie? Where Christ and the Church are concerned, there is no need to stop short of the extraordinary mystery of Jesus Christ. It’s choosing sawdust over filet mignon.

In Benedict XVI’s words:  “in the measure in which the Church is not for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wishes to have power, but simply is herself the voice of Another, she becomes truly transparent to the great figure of Jesus Christ and the great truths that he has brought to humanity, the power of love; it is that when the Church is heard and accepted.” The real is the “great figure of Jesus Christ.” Not as a past figure in history but as the heart of humanity whole and entire.


        Shadows walking.

But how to get past the lie? Well, the Catholic Church has a long, long history of speaking about the spiritual senses. As Hans Urs von Balthasar explains:  “In Christianity God appears to man right in the midst of world reality. The center of this act of encounter must, therefore, lie where the profane human senses, making possible the act of faith become ‘spiritual,’ and where faith becomes ‘sensory’ in order to be human.”

The spiritual senses – driven by grace – run parallel, as it were, to the profane sense as we grasp the spiritual manifestations of what happened originally in human history, like the Birth and Baptism of Jesus. All who are “surrender[ing] to the order of the Incarnation,” (Ignatius of Loyola), and that means all of us who are baptized, learn to use our senses the way that the new Adam and the new Eve use them.

But aside from times of meditation, the effects of this transformation pop up in our day-to-day thinking. We reason in making choices by a different standard:  do I read or watch television; do I watch this program or that; do I pass by this homeless man on the street; do I take this time with my kids or not? And much more, indeed everything. These choices should be the choices of the new Adam or the new Eve, men and women steeped in the Incarnation and so informed about what Scripture and the Tradition of the Church have to say about what is real human life.

As we do that, people around us are affected too. Scripture and Tradition are true, so they are not mere alternatives to the worldview of The Matrix or a political party or the attitude that “we have always done things this way.” They are quite simply true, something that needs to be affirmed in the culture of the lie.

This is the martyrdom of the moment. This is Catholicism in all of its inconvenience. Truth where it counts comes from Christ and his Church not from habits or neighbors or social pressures. As Benedict XVI put it:  “the great ‘yes’ of the decisive moment in our life – the ‘yes’ to the truth that the Lord puts before us – must then be won afresh every day in the situations of daily life when we have to abandon our ‘I’ over and over again, placing ourselves at the Lord’s disposal when deep down we would prefer to cling to our ‘I.’ An upright life always involves sacrifice, renunciation.”

This is the response to the lie, and in our time, we must be vigilant and ready to give it, at every moment.


Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
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written by Achilles, December 18, 2011
Fr. Bramwell, this beautiful essay surpasses the high standard I have come to expect from your edifying essays! Please accept my humble gratitude, Pax Chirsti, Achilles
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written by Other Joe, December 18, 2011
I second Achilles. A close acquaintance is a trust fund liberal seeker. Born a Catholic, and educated at one of the top rated universities, he apparently felt he was too smart for organized religion. I have watched him try out and discard countless spiritual poses. From drugs to shaman drumming, from art as transcendence to Buddhism, from chakras to the cult of natural foods, he has turned over every rotting log in the woodlot. All would be well if he were getting somewhere, but through his failed marriage to his latest failed live-in arrangement he has remained self-concerned, impatient, bitter and deeply cynical of the motives of others. Through his "faith journey" I have come to be reminded that when one applies reason, for all of its mystery and anxieties, only the Catholic Church makes real sense of the world as we find it.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, December 18, 2011
But Dickens's "Christmas Carol" presupposes the Christmas Story as its context and would be unintelligible in a culture not familiar with it. Like the legends of Santa Claus ("our holy father, the beautiful and good Nicholas, equal with the apostles and bishop of Myra in Cappadocia" as the Horologion of the Great Church calls him)they are embellishments of the story, not substitutes for it.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, December 18, 2011
You flatter me.
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written by Tony Esolen, December 18, 2011
Very nice article, Father, but I think we can claim Charles Dickens (with some considerable theological confusion) as one of our own. A Christmas Carol is named for the carol the children sing outside of Scrooge's door: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; the whole meaning of the Christmas feast, that the redeemer of sinful mankind would come among us as a small child, informs the whole work. So wisdom comes from Tiny Tim, who attends services on Christmas with his father, and hopes that the people will look upon him and "remember who made blind men see and lame beggars walk." So too on the Christmas that thankfully does not come to pass, before Bob comes back home, Peter is reading to the other children: "And he took a small child, and set him in their midst." We know the next sentence of that passage; Dickens would expect us to know it, and to be able to deliver it immediately. That's the context in which to understand Scrooge's exclamation when we wakes up on Christmas: "I don't know anything at all! I am quite a baby."

Scrooge does, in fact, attend Christmas Mass ... He is what anybody of the time would recognize as a man born again. What happens to him, in relation to Christmas, is parallel with what happens to Sydney Carton, in A Tale of Two Cities, in relation to Easter. In that book, the keystone quote from the Bible is this: "I am the Resurrection and the Life, sayeth the Lord."
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written by Fr. Bramwell, December 18, 2011
Michael - hence the phrase in the column "secular place holders"
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written by Fr. Bramwell, December 18, 2011
The problem is that a culture solidly based on the history of Jesus Christ and his Church has never been tried. Then the artistic transpositions of this culture would find their relative place. But the key word is 'relative' that is relative to the real meaning of a Christ centered culture. Having the place holders without the Christ centered culture is simply to have an alternative culture, a horizontal one that has lost its center and its purpose of being a true culture.
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written by Martinkus, December 18, 2011
While usually so right about so many things, Fr. Bramwell, you are too hard on "The Matrix," which actually supports the point you are making. "The Matrix" is anti-lie. Contrast the response of Neo to face reality with the response of Cypher to escape reality.
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written by daisy, December 18, 2011
In a Christmas Carol the Spirit of Christmas Present speaks of God and so does Bob Cratchit. When Scrooge wakes up of Christmas morning he gets dressed and goes to church.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, December 19, 2011
Yes Yes I was thinking of the movie The Christmas Carol. What about the main point of the essay?

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