Mike Flanagan, creator of Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ and former altar boy, is in a process of discovery that, with God’s grace, will lead him back to the Church that he feels he’s outgrown.
I’ve seen five of the seven episodes, and might watch the rest just for the sake of finishing it. While watching, I realized I was more concerned with answering Flanagan’s implied opinions than the story.
Flanagan may think he’s treading controversial ground here, but anti-Christian and specifically anti-Catholic rhetoric in Hollywood is the boring norm.
These are my summary of Flanagan’s take on Catholicism/Christianity/organized religion:
1. When conflict ensues between religion and the common sense of nature, the former brushes this off as “The Lord works in mysterious ways” mainly to quash dissent;
2. The devoutly religious remain so only out of ignorance of the world at large, with its many beliefs and philosophical systems, the diversity of which shows us that people have always tried to make sense of the world but no one grasps the whole picture perfectly; to ignore this leads to fanaticism, as personified by Bev Keane in the show; and
3. We in the modern age, heir to ideas of the past, are in a better position to understand and evolve from former ways of thinking, by which a brighter future as citizens of the world beckons us, if only we have the courage to break the shackles of yesterday… or something.
Jesus as real
These points could only take shape, if the subject of one’s faith is not taken seriously in the first place. By the time one is enamored of non-Christian ideas, one will have to have rejected the idea of Jesus having actually lived, and died, and resurrected, as stated in the Book which He left us, through the sending of His Holy Spirit. For proud ex-Catholics, one will also have to have rejected the notion that all those years lining up and receiving those wafers in Communion, one was actually consuming Jesus’ body and blood.
If one does believe in all this, recognizing Jesus as God, then all the off-putting uncharitable hypocrisies of His followers, all the shadows of truth found in pagans’ aspirations, and all the hip new ways of speaking of the material world, will do nothing to shake one’s faith.
I guess it’s typical of adolescence to take pride in ideas one is newly subject to, to the point of rendering all religions equally worthy of distant evaluation; how else to know something but from a distance? But Kierkegaard rightly spoke against such ‘objectivity.’
Flanagan the Sam Harris fan is even ready to dismiss his being himself as a mere egoistic concept. I suppose that comes easier after dismissing a creator of us creatures.
Blind as the Pharisees of John 9
It is in such detachment from anything that offers itself as exclusive truth that one welcomes the idea of keeping the state away from these ideas. Separation of church and state: as if declarations of policy could ever be severed from their moral, that is, religious, basis.*
* To be sure, one could formulate their own moral code strictly on naturalistic bases, as Erin in the show does, but even these bases would ultimately have to do with man and his relationship with God, not just the world as such.
And if one such belief system turns out to be the sought-after truth, one will have overlooked it. Just read the last paragraph of Flanagan’s article. Born into true religion, Catholicism, he is so blind as to say he expects to never know “what happens when we die.”
Is ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways’ a copout?
To Flanagan, talk of ‘trust in God’ and acknowledging mystery in suffering is used to depict the irrationality of Christianity. What is deemphasized by those who venerate science and supposed reason, is the aspect of humility when trusting God. It is not willful ignorance to believe evil could not overcome good, when one has reason to suppose so.
Humility in recognizing the limits of our worldly wisdom: the limits being precisely why we turn to public revelation (Scripture) and ask for mercy!
I admit to having crises of faith in the past two years I’ve been practicing, but Jesus’ divinity remains the best explanation to me for things that have happened in my life, and in the world at large.
Material reductionism, the real copout
For all Flanagan’s talk of rationality and science, he is ignoring the cognitive dissonance of complacency in material explanations, e.g. Riley in the show reducing near-death experiences to psychedelic reactions moments before biological expiration, when in fact the very ability to experience the world is immaterial.
My realization of consciousness as being outside of scientific methodology altogether is what eventually led me back to considering a spiritual world, not just in the sense of a figurative or aesthetic way of speaking of the unknown. Perhaps Flanagan will come to a similar insight.
I now know that it is only through the grace of the Holy Spirit that such realizations happen. That the best we can hope for is not naturalistic, finite moments of joy; these are in fact echoes of a larger reality, in which we don’t only speak of love but know its source to be God Himself, Who loved us so much He told us all about it in plain sight: the Bible, so ubiquitous as to be taken for granted by the hard-hearted as just another ancient document, this Book whose influence on the world could not be quite explained away as merely brilliant PR and mass psychology. No.
As much as the world likes us to focus on controversy and falls from grace, we see the beauty and triumph of God’s Word most clearly through the saints. So if someone were to ask me for book recommendations, I probably wouldn’t go with the doctrinal expositions, as important as these are. It is best to know of the Christian life as truly lived.
I wrote about my journey back to the Catholic Church, ‘How to be Catholic during your rebellious years,’ in which I’m actually harder on myself than I am on Flanagan above.
Recent reads I’d recommend to Flanagan and other erstwhile Catholics, and they’re written by non-Catholics. I usually treat religious books as tedious assignments with deadlines, but these were a breeze to read:
Craig Keener’s ‘Miracles today: The supernatural work of God in the modern world’
Dionysios Farasiotis’ ‘The gurus, the young man, and Elder Paisios’