Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why Ray Bradbury Was Right - The Loss of the Culture of the Book

We have another guest post from friends and fellow blogger, Luke Arredondo, from Quiet, Dignity, and Grace. He reflects on a classic of the Twentieth Century, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I must speak honestly; I've never read the book. However, after this post, it has become a necessary read (after the Hunger Games trilogy, of course).

Re-Visiting a Classic

Ray Bradbury passed away last week at the age 91. I decided to re-read his classic work, Fahrenheit 451 when I heard the news and read his obituary. I tried to rationalize that I didn't have the time, as there are far too many other books I haven't even read once. Why read this one twice? Well, after a few days I picked the book off the shelf and started over again. I'm very glad I did. It has proved extremely rewarding and proved to me that one never reads the same book twice, because you will be a different person the second time you read it.

The edition of Fahrenheit 451 that I have features a post-script and an interview with Bradbury done in the past ten years, commenting on some general features of his writing, with some particular questions about Fahrenheit 451. He wrote the rough draft of the book in a library, renting typewriters for a dime per half hour. He spent nine days furiously typing and the total cost of renting the typewriters was $9.80. One of his comments is that he wrote his books in huge bursts of passion, reacting to whatever was important in his life at the time. Obviously as a writer, he had a love of books, and he saw TV as possibly posing a threat to books, or at least some major competition in the future. It's scary just how close his vision has matched up with reality in the 60 years since his writing the rough draft.

Prophetic Themes in Fahrenheit 451

A. The Existence of a Media-Driven Culture

In Fahrenheit, the popular culture and the "average" household revolves around non-stop entertainment. Homes are centered on their super-advanced televisions, which are no longer single screens. Those who can afford them have three or four screen models, ideally covering each wall in an entire room. But they're pricey, at $2,000 apiece. Furthermore, the broadcast programs have been cut down significantly in time. An entire series can be viewed in an exhilarating ten minutes.

The main character, Guy Montag, has provided well for his wife, and she has a three wall set-up. She paid extra so that the announcers and actors address her by name. The extra money paid for a device that even makes the announcer's lips mouth her name. She is completely sucked into this world of entertainment, and is begging her husband to add a fourth screen as soon as possible. Even though the cost of the screen is a huge portion of Guy's salary, she insists on how important this purchase would be.

When she finally goes to their bedroom, where they have their own beds, Guy's wife pops in her microscopic ear piece and lets the news and radio drift her of into a sleep that is often drug-induced. Even when her husband is not feeling good, she refuses to turn off the screens, or even turn the volume down. She refers to the announcers as her "relatives." When she socializes with friends, the entire focus is on programs being broadcast on air or which will soon be broadcast.

B. Books: Banished from Society, by Society

Guy Montag is a fireman. But in the future envisioned by Bradbury, firemen don't put fires out; they start them. Guy works at the fire house only in the evenings, and inevitably this is the only time they ever receive any alerts. Alerts are placed when anyone suspects that their friend or neighbor has been harboring books. The firemen wheel up to the house, douse the books in kerosine, and set them on fire. The fires always draw a crowd; it's a good show. Furthermore, the burning of books didn't happen by a government mandate. People in the culture started destroying them on their own, and this only later was codified into law.

C. The Disappearance of Leisure and Reflection

Throughout the course of the book, Guy meets a young girl who begins to talk to him about things nobody else has talked about for years. The weather, nature, how fast the world is. She mentions that billboards on the highway used to be only a few feet long, but since people drive so fast, they had to make billboards 200 feet long, otherwise nobody would be able to read them. She notes that most people think that grass looks like a green blur which they see outside of their window. Everything in the popular culture is driven by fast-paced sensual satisfaction.

This girl, Clarisse, says her family sits around and talks. They used to talk on porches but houses no longer have porches, so they sit inside and talk. She leads Guy to begin thinking about things differently. He gets curious about why fires are started and not put out any more. Eventually the temptation gets to him, and he wants to find out what all the fuss is about these books. Perhaps even more curiously, he wants to know why he never talks to anybody. He never thinks about anything. He just reacts, and as far as he can tell, everyone around him has given up thinking. They just do whatever their televisions say. Entertainment abounds, but nobody really relaxes anymore. Nobody really has fun, there is no actual happiness, despite all the methods of entertainment that seem to fill everyone's day.

D. A Way Out

In due time, Guy is of course caught and an alarm set out against him. I won't spoil the entire book, but this is the essence of the book: Guy finds someone who still remembers the olden times of literary discussion, argument, and in general, the liberal arts tradition. They represent a minority, and even still speak of things like the Bible. But they maintain the connection to the past by never forgetting the great books of the world. They won't win the world over by sheer numbers, but they are confident that, eventually, people will want to know what they've been trying so hard to forget. And when the time is right, they'll be ready with the answers. The answers will be Shakespeare, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Voltaire, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Kant, Schweitzer, Milton, Poe, etc.

What Bradbury Got Right

Bradbury saw a future where people would no longer think for themselves. They were bombarded with images and sounds, colors, music, words. From their morning rise to their last moments of consciousness each night, they are "plugged in."

He hit on such a prophetic streak with this book! Look around at our world today. TVs may only be single screens, but the other screens are already in the room: cell phone screens, computer screens, tablets, and who knows what else coming down the pipe. Just like the futuristic world Bradbury envisioned, books seem to be vanishing from society. Even more quickly disappearing is real discussion about ideas. People spend abnormal amounts of time discussing the latest gossip, sports, and other forms of diversion and entertainment. But how often do we have discussions (or even real arguments!) about things that matter. Things like justice, faith, peace, freedom, joy, beauty, God, goodness, art, etc.

Surely in this scary vision of the future, Bradbury was right. We're looking more and more like that frightening world every day. And there don't seem to be a lot of signs that we're slowing down or changing directions any time soon.

However, just as he saw the problem correctly, I believe he sees the solution correctly. The way out is for those who have the time, for those who have the energy, to do something. We need to tell people about books. We need to show how important ideas are. We need to bring up books in discussions with people, and remind them about their existence. A great way to do this is to just start reading!

One of Fahrenheit's characters comments that what's so great about books, as opposed to tv, is that if you disagree with a book's main point, you can put it down. You can argue with it. You can write a book to counter it. TV shows and movies don't really give us the same chance. They keep on rolling along, producing more episodes, more shows, more movies, more of the same. And reasoning or arguing with it? Doesn't work very well. It's almost impossible to convince, for example, the average teenage girl that a show like Pretty Little Liars is dangerous to her. But with books, you get that chance.

Personally, I've long desired to embark upon a reading of the Great Books of the Western World. Considering some of the work I do now and some preparation I'm currently working on for an adult catechesis program aimed at helping parents conquer the big dragon that is the modern media, and after re-reading this prophetic vision of the world we're living in now, I am more than ever inspired to pursue that goal. True, I may have a full-time job, a one year-old baby and a new addition expected in January. I am also working on a masters degree in my "spare" time which will soon require me to learn Greek without the benefit of a classroom in which to do so or a teacher to guide me. Even still, I am making a commitment today, to save the money for a new book shelf and a set of the Great Books. I have to do what little I can to stem the tide, and to be there with some of the "answers" for others in the coming generations, first and foremost for my own children.



Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fr. Barron's Catholicism - The Layman's Seminary

The book reads like one of Fr. Barrron's YouTube videos. It is clear, deep, insightful, and still down to earth. He makes reference to Max Scheler and John Lennon touching the student, the scholar, and the layman. His depth of language allows fro him to write clearly without extending a topic farther than is necessary for his goal. I would suggest this book to anyone because of its ease of prose and its clarity of doctrine.

As I began to move through the book, I realized that Fr. Barron has put into a 275 page book the totality of seminary academic formation. I felt like I was reliving my classes of the last nine years. What was experienced intellectually in the seminary is being offered in this short read. With each subsequent chapter, I found a review that was so clear that I was able to understand the given topic with greater clarity. Fr. Barron's ability to articulate gives the read the opportunity to learn how to articulate well what believe and to an audience that is riddled with doubt. It will be a great catechetical tool because takes what we believe and presents it in a way that is desirable.

It is also a book for the everyman because of the plethora of photographs, color and gray-scale, that litter the book like a tapestry of word and image that is women together for the glory of God. The book shows the reader the great physical and intellectual patrimony of the Church inviting a peep into heaven through these icons and words.
This book would be a great recommendation, also, for people coming off a retreat. This will give clarity and definition to the fire stirred in their heart after a retreat. It will set them firmly on the ground and give direction on where to walk.

Welcome, to the glory of Catholicism!

I wrote this review of Catholicism for the free Catholic book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts.
Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.
I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Reflections on Mexico City, Part 1

Photograph by Jan Zatko courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons
Mexico City is just so big. It's sheer size is overwhelming. Whereas most metropolitan cities went up into skyscrapers, Mexico City spread out like a dog taking a nap using much more space than it need to. Despite this, I also enjoy the city because there is so much mystery in it. It has hidden delights and history that is one of the oldest in this hemisphere. It contains within it the contradiction of the Mexican people: ardent faith and a tendency toward socialism. It holds a government riddled with communists and la Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe. They seem at peace but are indeed in a silent war in the hearts of the Mexican people.

I've also noticed a certain Epicurean attitude within the people of Mexico City. The colors of houses, clothes, and care are bold, bright, and pleasurable to look at. Public displays of affection are much more numerous and much more intimate than in the US. Advertisements border on pornography putting the strip club advertisements in New Orleans to sensual shame. It is a very different place, and yet the same time very similar. The similarity lies in the people. No matter the culture, no matter the sins, man is still striving for God.

From right to left: My sister, Katie, my father, me,
and my Mameré
I entered the city not to experience its vice, although it wears it on its sleeve, bur rather for its virtues. I came for the same reasons millions of people go to D.F. (as the Mexicans call it), La Señora de Guadalupe. La Señora had been active my life in a very particular way. She had walked with me through my entire vocational journey. Her intercession began when I was child. My Mameré  (French for grandmother) made pilgrimage there when I was young. When she returned she gave me a stone statue (which I brought with me and TSA thought it was a weapon) of La Señora. She sat in my room my entire childhood, through my tumultuous teenage years, and throughout my seminary career. She stood as a sentinel to intercede for me in time of difficulty and great despair. It is also important that my Mameré gave me this. The only Catholic in my four grandparents, she was the bulwark of faith in my family. When she wasn't with the family, she was in the parish doing this or that. Her prayer life was solid and worthy of imitation. A few years after she died and I had already started seminary, my father showed me her daily prayer book. In it was a prayer for vocations. Although it is only speculation, she was praying for one of her three grandsons to become a priest. When all my family came in from all parts of the US for my ordination, there was a unified chorus telling me my Mameré was rejoicing in heaven watching the fruit of her prayer and suffering. Her prayers, connected with the prayers of my heavenly mother, fostered in me an openness to hear the Lord's call.

I will continue this story next Friday ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prayer for Religious Liberty

We haven't offered a prayer of the week in awhile, but I think that it is important to pray this prayer during the Fortnight of Freedom.

Prayer for Religious Liberty

Almighty God, Father of all nations,
for freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1). 
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,  
the foundation of human rights, justice and the common good. 
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect  
and promote our liberties. 
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them,  
for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land. 
We ask this  
through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,  
and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,  
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with whom you live and reign,  
one God, for ever and ever.  

St. Thomas More, pray for us
St. John Fisher, pray for us
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us
Bl. Miguel Pro, pray for us

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Sacred Heart Fruit Pizza

Sorry for the lag in posts. I was ordained a priest. Yay! I'm still getting used to what is required of me now as a father. I have been writing just haven't published much as of late. So, being the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I thought I'd throw up this picture of a pizza a friend of mine's wife made.

Gotta love creative food ideas.