Chatting With the Devil
For over a decade I have used the Bing search engine. A few days ago, Microsoft introduced the “new” Bing. Astonishingly, it is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot. Instead of giving me a survey of options that could be related to my question, it just gave a few options, directing me to what, precisely, I should be thinking with my request. Sheesh! I do not use the Google search engine because it suppresses conservative answers. AI chatbots assume that all “right-thinking” people must only think one way – and then try to enforce it through their assumptions. You might just as well ask, “What would CNN or MSNBC say about this subject?” And then, according to the new Bing, that is what you must think, as well.
I suppose this chatting with a virtual “friend” who orders you how to think could be quite appealing to all those out there leading lives of quiet desperation and loneliness who can’t even get a friend, much less a girlfriend. But it aggravates the problem. Users still don’t have a friend, just a machine with attitude that mimics a friend. One of the prime goals of the devil is to isolate men from each other, exacerbating the loneliness and quiet desperation. There is no better formula for misery and despair.
I informed the chatbot Bing that I was very dissatisfied. I did not want it deciding what was relevant for me; I wanted all the options and then I would decide what was relevant. It responded with a saccharine explanation of why the way it was doing it was best for me. I persisted in insisting that I should be the one making that decision. It ended the conversation and said we should move on to another topic. Just what we all need – another left-wing “friend” who stomps his little feet and changes the subject when he does not get his way. Perhaps the new Bing should call itself Nurse Ratched. I immediately switched to a new search engine (not Google).
Some critics of these left-wing chatbots say they will create a backlash in which conservatives will create their own conservative chatbots. Count me out. My Dad was once joking with some friends about the peculiar situation between us, having the same name, living in the same house with one a Democrat and the other a Republican. One of Dad’s friends huffily said that he wouldn’t have a son who didn’t vote the way he told him to. My Dad hotly retorted that, “I wouldn’t have a son who allowed anyone to tell him how to vote – including me.” I do not need anyone, conservative or liberal, telling me what to think. That is, in fact, my job for which I will be held accountable to God. I take it seriously.
All of this can’t help but bring to mind images of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The devil is an opportunist. People are not likely to be seduced by a serpent anymore. But a virtual friend? Hey, it’s worth a try for the old goat. In fact, as Exorcist Priest Fr. Daniel Reehil suggests, demonic entities are attaching themselves to some of our more advanced software. Prof. Daniel O’Connor is even more candid and blunt about the demonic aspects of AI. (Before anyone jumps in, yes, I know O’Connor publicly calls me unreliable. I consider him quite wobbly on his eschatology and his interpretation of even approved prophecy. But on some straightforward stuff where he does original work, he is quite good. He is a relatively young man. He has the guts to admit when he realizes he is wrong. When he gets to the point where he does not explain why it was not his fault when he is wrong, I think he may become an important figure in this turbulent age. The first half of the piece I linked to, before the speculation on the Antichrist begins, is original and insightful – and much of what follows is insightful, as well, though while we may well have entered into Armageddon (the decisive battle between good and evil) we most certainly are not entering the Apocalypse (the end of the world). Despite the wobbles, the man has a good learning curve. I still expect big things of him.)
I do not worry overmuch about AI and such. I consider it a new Tower of Babel. The offense of that effort was not that they were building a tower. It was never going to reach to heaven. The offense was that, with this tower, vain men thought they were going to become like gods. It was the devil’s oldest seduction in the book – that men could become gods – on a grand, organized scale. God let the men of Babel get well along on their vain project before dismantling it and dispersing them. The men of Babel had a childish, errant view of what heaven actually is. They never had a chance of accomplishing their aim. God scattered them because of their hubris, not because they presented any actual threat to His divine sovereignty. So the modern men of AI have a childish, errant view of what intelligence and free will are. They will be scattered because of their hubris, not because of any actual threat they present to God.
Yet just because they do not present any threat to God does not mean they do not present any danger. They present a profound danger to all who can be seduced into enthusiasm for their empty promises – just as the architects of the Tower of Babel endangered all they recruited to their project. The heart of every demonic assault lies in persuading or tricking you into turning your face from God – and the devil is far more clever and resourceful than most imagine. Most know he will attack by scaring or promising power. He also loves to convince people they are great demon fighters or that they have outwitted him or that they are unsurpassably clever…whatever gets you to turn your face from God and rely on your own (minuscule) prowess. The truth is that appeals to vanity are the most deliciously productive for the devil.
Just as many halfwits who were convinced they were intellectual titans fell when God smashed the tower, so their heirs will fall this time. But they can do a lot of damage to the unwary in the meantime. Be neither dazzled by the devil nor cower in fear of him. Hold fast to Christ and all will be well. There is no other method of weathering the storm upon us.
Bishop Against Bishop?
I always interpreted the “Bishop against Bishop” prophecy from Our Lady of Akita a little differently than most people. While the whole of the prophecies are delivered in apocalyptic tones, throughout the history of the Church, the great crises and controversies have involved Bishops disputing vigorously with each other. From the first time I encountered these prophecies I assumed that simply meant we were about to enter a period of great tumult and controversy again. The apocalyptic nature of the rest of the prophecies suggested this would be different in quality than previous controversies, but the juxtaposition of Bishop against Bishop is a commonplace in times of crisis. Frankly, I had come to think that the Bishops’ relentless adoption of collegiality as the greatest virtue was fomenting crisis, for many Bishops who knew better were remaining silent in the face of clear error in order to maintain “unity” with their errant brothers. I thought the coming crisis would force Bishops to choose where they stand and decide whether truth or collegiality was the greatest virtue – and that would be the beginning of renewal within the Church. Now it has begun.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois wrote a piece for First Things Magazine rebuking Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego for trying to normalize disordered sexual behavior in the faith, contrary to the consistent witness of Scripture and the Magisterium. Paprocki was not the first to push back against McElroy’s assault on defined doctrine. My own Archbishop, Samuel Aquila of Denver, was one of the first out of the box defending the faith. But Paprocki was, by far, the most blunt. In an interview with The Pillar, Paprocki noted that we have, “passed beyond the point of private conversations.”
More and more Bishops are stepping up to publicly re-commit to Scripture and The Magisterium rather than sitting in stony silence as vandals in mitres assault the faith. One would think that, after watching the commitment to collegiality lead us deeper and deeper into implicit schism over several generations, orthodox Catholics would be heartened to see more and more Bishops publicly standing for truth as defined in Scripture and the Magisterium. But I encounter more than a few who are panicked, thinking that Bishops disputing with Bishops is the danger in this crisis rather than the cure for the descent into the relativist maelstrom. Bishops standing for Scripture and the Magisterium against Bishops who declare there is no need for either if we just do our own thing and follow our own “truth” is a cause for celebration, not despair. It is a sign that our reclamation is at hand.
The heterodox Bishops (of whom Cdl. McElroy is a mouthpiece, not the brains) want to enshrine individual conscience as the seat of all good. Like most leftists, they are incapable of following a congenial transient tactic to its logical end. If individual conscience is the seat of all good, there can be no objective truth. In that case, nothing can be condemned. Even the Nazis and Stalin’s secret police were just following “their truth.” If there is no objective truth there can be no moral high ground, just a never-ending scrabble for power among roving bands of rival warlords.
In trying to remake the Church in their own image, demoting Jesus Christ to front man for their gospel of leftist moonbat-tery, vandal prelates and clerics imagine that they will be the oblates of Antifa at prayer. Even if their grandiose delusions were possible, they would merely be desiccated vestiges of a faith they destroyed. But the faith will not be destroyed. God IS. Objective truth IS. The sound of Bishops rising to defend the faith and the Magisterium is not the signal of destruction, but the trumpet sound of the cavalry come to fully reclaim the faith from the vandals. For heavens sakes, don’t fret. Rejoice! This is not the beginning of schism, but the beginning of the end of the implicit schism that has divided us for several generations.
Ad Quem Ibimus Domine?
For decades there was an annoying, sometimes bitter, rivalry between those who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and the Novus Ordo form of liturgy that was adopted after Vatican II. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI largely ended that controversy by allowing the TLM to be celebrated in addition to the Novus Ordo in almost every Parish in the world. No longer suppressed, advocates of the TLM became much less defensive and practiced their faith without so much of a chip on their shoulder. Catholics who routinely celebrated their weekly service checked out the TLM occasionally, feeling they could go without getting a lecture now, and discovered the elegance and beauty of the old Mass.
Many of the most faithful and orthodox Catholics started gravitating to the TLM. It was not so much that it was theoretically superior, but that it was consistent and consistently reverent. In the ‘50s all the indifferent Catholics went to the TLM because it was the only game in town. Now, only those who are serious about their faith go to the TLM, so it was growing as a place where faithful Catholics could go and know they would be with other faithful Catholics.
There is nothing theoretically inferior about the Novus Ordo, the common form of Mass as envisioned by the documents of Vatican II. But there is a serious problem with quality control and consistency. Liturgists, seduced by their own vanity, often made Mass into a spectacle more resembling amateur dinner theatre than worship. Some dissident Priests made it into a form of mid-day late night talk show – with themselves as the stars. There are plenty of reverent Novus Ordo Masses to be found, but if you are going into a Church for the first time you don’t know what you are going to get – a worshipful Mass or the Reverend Tommy show.
Pope Francis took notice that many of the most faithful Catholics were gravitating to the TLM, as they knew what they were going to get and that it would be reverent. It was the fastest growing segment of Catholicism. Rather than correct the abuses that sap some Novus Ordo Masses of their reverence, the Pope decided to clamp down on traditionalism. Plausible rumblings suggest the Pope is going to all but forbid celebration of the TLM before the spring is out. That makes sense. Pope Francis takes great pride in listening and ministering to all the peripheries of the world – except for orthodox Christians who take their faith seriously. They get nothing but the back of his hand. But God does, indeed, write straight with crooked lines.
While I respect and admire the beauty and reverence of the TLM. I am not a sentimentalist about it. I know it is not the “Mass of the ages,” as some of its adherents insist. It has been around for 500 years, about a quarter of the history of Christianity. That is the equivalent of 20 years in a normal lifespan of 80. I prefer the Novus Ordo, as it was envisioned in the documents of Vatican II, because of its greater emphasis on Scriptural readings and active participation of the laity with the Priest celebrant. My favorite Novus Ordo Mass is one celebrated ad orientum, using communion rails and liberally sprinkled with universal Latin responses. I had the good fortune to attend such a Mass last Wednesday – in Chicago, of all places. At Sunday’s Mass in Kansas City Latin responses were used liberally – and it was clear the congregation was familiar with them. What I don’t like is the Forrest Gump “box of chocolates” aspect of dropping into a new Church: you never know what you are going to get.
What has long been needed is a set of standards to ensure the emphasis of reverence along with the emphasis on Scripture and lay participation that the Novus Ordo facilitates. That would form the liturgy along the lines that the documents of Vatican II envisioned, rather than enabling the parody that rebel liturgists and Priests want as a rebuke to the faith. The problem is not the beautifully elegant, stylized garden that the TLM is. It is the neglect that has allowed so many unsightly weeds to mar the beautiful garden the Novus Ordo was intended to be.
If Pope Francis completely suppresses the TLM, it won’t be forever and it won’t have the effect he thinks it will. Already I hear traditionalists talk of reforming the Novus Ordo with exactly the sort of things I have already expressed enthusiasm for. Pope Francis can stamp out the TLM for a time, but he can’t stamp out the meaning pious Christians have found in reverent worship. What this act will accomplish is to prod the pious laity to reform and regularize what the Vatican and the hierarchy should have reformed and regularized. In so forcing this move, a whole host of indifferent and cultural Catholics will find new meaning in the growing body of reverent Novus Ordo Masses. What some hope to stamp out will instead spread – and those vandals who hoped to remake the Church into a leftist political project with Jesus as front man will be foiled yet again. This is the hour of the ordinary man, indeed.
As for me, there is a lot of contemporary music I like. But I also love a lot of classical music. You could try to force me to listen to more contemporary music by outlawing classical. But you can’t rid me of my longing for Beethoven, Tschaikowsky, and Handel. This moment will pass and, in God’s economy, He will use it to refine and improve contemporary music before we will once again be encouraged to listen to all the glorious music in His library.
In all of these things and many more people are shaken and trembling because they see the status quo falling away and they don’t know what will follow. I see a status quo that has long been poisoned and rotten falling away. The devil worked hard to anesthetize us as he poisoned and rotted the institutions around us. It is no surprise that he should mount a furious assault to preserve the rot in which he has shrouded us.
All the world is groaning, crying out for meaning. Foolish men who have used their freedom to become slaves to the devil think they can find meaning in bending everyone else to their (really, his) will. But the gates of hell cannot withstand the evangelical zeal of His Church. Yes, the hour of darkness has come upon the world. But be not afraid. The darkness shall not prevail. Now is the hour to proclaim the Kingdom with joy, not to curse the darkness in fear. Now is the hour when we are called to be fishers of men. Now is the hour to carry the light of Christ boldly, far and wide throughout the world, so that all who encounter you be filled with new hope, new resolve, new joy in the sure knowledge that life has profound meaning and that God has work for each and every one of us if we will only take it up. Rejoice and take it up!
If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.
Find me on Twitter at @JohnstonPilgrim