Intellectual and Cultural “Respectability” and the Trivialization of Evil

“Can it be that, despite all our expressions of consternation in the face of evil and innocent suffering, we are all too prepared to trivialize the mystery of evil?”  

The Way of the Cross, 8th Station – Cardinal Ratzinger, Good Friday 2005

As we continue our Easter celebration during this octave leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday April 19th, the thought that is sticking with me is the price that had to be paid for sin.  We glory now in the joy of salvation.   The Divine Mercy novena we are praying during the octave captures that joy and puts it to work – kindling in us an increased desire that more and more may know salvation in Jesus Christ and that our prayers on their behalf might prove fruitful.  But we always need to remember the price.  The crucifixion and death of Jesus was an incredibly brutal thing, even from a purely physical standpoint.  When you combine with that the spiritual and psychological components of an utterly innocent man undergoing such torture for the sake of the guilty, it becomes even more brutal.  Add to that the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – true God and true man – Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross… and the brutality of the Crucifixion becomes utterly unfathomable.  “Ah my dear Lord what didst Thou spy in this impure rebellious clay that made Thee thus resolve to die for those that kill Thee every day?”  

I heard an excellent homily on Palm Sunday.  The Priest spoke about attending a Passion Play as a student.  He bought a cheap ticket, expecting to sit in the rafters somewhere.  Instead, he was actually placed ON the stage, as one of the Crowd.  He likened this to our situation as Christians – so increasingly obvious today in our neo-pagan society.  There is no such thing as being a spectator.  We cannot be in the rafters somewhere, watching the Passion play out.  Our decisions will place us on one side or another.  We have to assume our own position – will we be in the crowd shouting “Crucify Him!”?  Or will we accompany Him to the foot of the Cross – a place of utter humiliation.  Christ won His victory for embracing the Cross, despising the shame.  More and more, those of us who want to live up to our Baptismal call to holiness will be placed on the intellectual and cultural margins of society – even within the Church – considered the extremists… the fringe… the judgmental… the uncharitable… an embarrassment.

The cultural landscape is becoming more defined by the day.  Pope John Paul II spoke of the “dramatic conflict” between the “Culture of Life” and the “Culture of Death”:

Looking at “the spectacle” of the Cross (cf. Lk 23:48) we shall discover in this glorious tree the fulfilment and the complete revelation of the whole Gospel of life.

In the early afternoon of Good Friday, “there was darkness over the whole land … while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Lk 23:44, 45). This is the symbol of a great cosmic disturbance and a massive conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between life and death. Today we too find ourselves in the midst of a dramatic conflict between the “culture of death” and the “culture of life”. But the glory of the Cross is not overcome by this darkness; rather, it shines forth ever more radiantly and brightly, and is revealed as the centre, meaning and goal of all history and of every human life.

Jesus is nailed to the Cross and is lifted up from the earth. He experiences the moment of his greatest “powerlessness”, and his life seems completely delivered to the derision of his adversaries and into the hands of his executioners: he is mocked, jeered at, insulted (cf. Mk 15:24-36). And yet, precisely amid all this, having seen him breathe his last, the Roman centurion exclaims: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). It is thus, at the moment of his greatest weakness, that the the Son of God is revealed for who he is: on the Cross his glory is made manifest. 

The Holy Father speaks of our current cultural climate in the context of the great cosmic disturbance and massive conflict between the forces of good and evil as seen at the Crucifixion.  It is interesting to look at Cardinal Ratzinger’s Stations of the Cross in this light.  Why, in the words of Cardinal Ratziner,did Pilate condemn Jesus?

Pilate is not utterly evil.  He knows that the condemned man is innocent, and he looks for a way to free him.  But his heart is divided.  And in the end he lets his own position, his own self interest, prevail over what is right.

And what does Cardinal Ratzinger say about the crowd?

They are shouting because everyone else is shouting, and they are shouting the same thing that everyone else is shouting.  And in this way, justice is trampled underfoot by weakness, cowardice, and fear of the dictate of the ruling mindset.  The quiet voice of conscience is drowned out by the cries of the crowd.  Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think. 

The people in the crowd are shouting because everyone else is shouting.  They are shouting the same thing that everyone else is shouting.  In that context, it is easy to become confused.  Even Peter himself – the Rock – would be overwhelmed by fear of the irrational crowd.  In fact, Peter makes irrational statements about never having known this man – a man he had confirmed was the Christ, the Son of the living God, whom he had pledged to follow unto death.

We must be on our guard against the temptation to intellectual and cultural respectability.  Our quiet voice of conscience can be drowned out by the cries of the crowd.  What are our weaknesses?  Are we intellectually proud and afraid of the critiques that brand us as intellectually inferior because we insist on fleeing from the works of evil?  We just renewed our Baptismal promises on Easter morning, and rejected the glamor of evil and refused to be mastered by it.  Part of the glamor of evil today is being thought of as a “true scholar”.

What about cowardice?  Sometimes we are cowards and refuse to stand up to our own vices – or the vices of our children – or our children’s friends, when it will mean we are considered extremist by their parents.  Statements like “It’s only fantasy…” or “There are much worse things out there…” or “They’ve got to (read – watch – listen to) something…”.  When we think or say things like that – or hear others say them – draw your mind back to the Cross of Christ.  Is this (book – movie – song) an occasion of sin?  Is there evil in this entertainment that I can identify?  What is it?  If I am going to compromise my standards – why?  Is it to keep the kids quiet?  Keep them busy?  Stop them complaining or asking?  Or am I really permitting this because I think it is good for them?  These judgement calls require prayer.  We make mistakes sometimes – but we can’t be discouraged by that or give up.   Daily life in this culture is like walking through a minefield.  Even if we ban something after the fact, based on the impact it has had on our child, it will still teach them that there are certain things which are unwelcome in a Christian home.

Are we afraid of the ruling mindset?  Pilate was not utterly evil – but his heart was divided.  We have to discipline ourselves to ensure that our hearts do not become divided.  In that Palm Sunday homily, our Priest also mentioned what Peter was doing in the moments before he denied Christ – he was warming himself.  He should have been praying, but he was seeking his own comfort.  If we are not mortifying ourselves – our senses, our passions, our pride, our desire to be liked – what will happen when we are put to the test?  Will we permit our children to get involved in cultural pursuits that are laced with evil, presuming that they are sufficiently formed to withstand the onslaught?  Will we choose to accompany them in their pursuits, salving our own consciences with the thought that if we do something with them, they will be alright?  This is a bit like the mother who decides to hold her child while driving instead of placing him in a car seat.  She trusts that her strong, loving arms around him will protect him… but she underestimates the strength of the force which will come down upon them both in a collision.  Christ won our salvation through the utter debasement of the Cross as the massive conflict between good and evil – life and death – reached its culmination.  Christ was crushed by sin – willingly – so that we don’t have to be.  Why do we think we are strong enough to make it our entertainment and remain unscathed?  I have spent quite a bit of time on this blog giving evidence for the evils that can be very clearly seen in the Twilight Saga – from the immediate dangers of sensuality and lust, to the cultivation of obsession, bad examples of parent/child relationships and the dangerous spiritual content… I could go on.   

Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think. 

We need to keep this fixed in our minds.  Regarding the 8th Station of the Cross “Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem who weep for him”, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

“Lord, to the weeping women you spoke of repentance and the Day of Judgment, when all of us will stand before your face, before you, the Judge of the world.  You call us to leave behind the trivialization of evil which salves our consciences and allows us to carry on as before.”

 When we stop trivializing evil, we cannot carry on as before.  Our consciences will not permit it.  We will become one of the rejected and scorned, and our desire for self preservation rebels against the prospect of derision…. even our teenage girls can experience this at school if they will not indulge in the latest fad…

“You show us the seriousness of our responsibility, the danger of our being found guilty and without excuse on the Day of Judgment.”

 Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…. if we would remember that before choosing a form of entertainment…

“Grant that we may not simply walk at your side, with nothing to offer other than compassionate words.  Convert us and give us new life.”

This is the real point of Easter… Lord, break the chains that bind us!  Free us from our attachments to evil, one day at a time…

A reader drew my attention to a blogging, Catholic homeschooling mother who is also an author.  I believe her positions on these various cultural issues are the new “reasonable” – the standard that we who disagree will be measured, judged and ultimately condemned, by – although the word “condemnation” will never be used.  (Remember – we are the condemnatory ones.)  These “reasonable” positions can weaken our wills and encourage us in our compromises – especially because they come from within the Christian community.  But when you add up all the “reasonable” positions and view them side by side, do they stay “reasonable”, or do you sense that they may not be quite so reasonable after all?   I offer some examples here to make you aware and show you the interesting congruence in this particular author’s  positions on some major cultural issues of the day.


“Nancy Capentier Brown is a Catholic homeschooling mother of two teenage girls in Chicago’s North Suburbs. She’s also a blogger,, and author of the book The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide.

She and her 17-year-old daughter both read Twilight and saw the movie. While she has some concerns about them, she embraces the opportunity for discussion and education. (How reasonable.)  Brown has not yet allowed her 13-year-old daughter to read the books; she said many of the themes and scenes in the later books are too mature.

“It does present a challenge to teens to resist temptation,” Brown said. “One of the themes I think that is in there is that the characters are tempted, and they must resist.”  (You can only say that the characters in Twilight “resist” if you take a very minimalistic view of what constitutes sinful sexual behavior – in this case, I am assuming that Brown is referring to a consummated sexual act.)

The millions of teen girls lusting after fictional Edward Cullen, says Brown, are reading and seeing an unusual message in today’s culture, which is usually a barrage of blatant sexuality. “There’s some inner longing for girls for a man or a male to hold a standard up,” Brown said. “They should be getting that from their boyfriends, but how many boys are resisting temptation? It’s actually a very counter cultural message in Twilight.”

That Bella does not want to resist temptation, and that she so badly wants to become a vampire, to join the undead, does raise concerns for Brown and other Christian parents.


“It’s one of those things where we need caution but I don’t think we can put it in the category of ‘absolutely forbid it from our kids,’” Brown said. “  (How reasonable.  Words like “absolutely” and “forbid” are so… extreme.)

“Can it be that, despite all our expressions of consternation in the face of evil and innocent suffering, we are all too prepared to trivialize the mystery of evil?” – Cardinal Ratzinger

How about Ms. Brown’s position on the Scandal at Notre Dame?

“The recent situation at Notre Dame has prompted a slew of commentary. The Pro-life movement is up in arms against the invitation of President Obama to the Notre Dame commencement, seeing it as an endorsement of his policies against the dignity of the human person.
They are wrong. They are getting on a bandwagon that they haven’t thought through. (An attempt to make pro-life protestors appear intellectually inferior.)  President Obama’s invitation has nothing to do with Notre Dame agreeing with his stance on life issues. Notre Dame’s invitation has to do with inviting the President of the United States to speak to young people about leadership in this country. (“Leadership” which condones and promotes slaughter of the least of our brothers and sisters.)
The Pro-life movement is embarrassing itself by continuing to carry on this protest again our president. A protest that can only make the pro-life movement look extremist and silly in the eyes of the majority in this country.” (The dictate of the ruling mindset.  “Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think”.)

“Can it be that, despite all our expressions of consternation in the face of evil and innocent suffering, we are all too prepared to trivialize the mystery of evil?” – Cardinal Ratzinger

And what does she make of Fr. Euteneuer’s warnings about Harry Potter?

“I believe some people just give too much power and authority to a children’s book which is what I believe this good priest has done.”

“Can it be that, despite all our expressions of consternation in the face of evil and innocent suffering, we are all too prepared to trivialize the mystery of evil?” – Cardinal Ratzinger





  1. Thank you so much for this post. Brown-Carpentier is selling her book that promotes Harry Potter, with parental supervision. It’s not surprising that she is a subtle supporter of Twilight and a critic of pro-life people, the USCCB and 31 bishops (at last count), 600 priests and others who have called Notre Dame’s President Fr. Jenkins to repentance for inviting pro-death President Obama to Our Lady’s University Her condescension of Fr. Euteneuer is not surprising. Fr. Euteneuer, a wonderful priest and president of Human Life International, is also an exorcist. He stated on EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo “World Over Live” that we will see an increase of evil because of things like Harry Potter and Twilight. The devil needs a portal to enter a person. Harry Potter and Twilight can provide that portal. Evil is evil. If you dance with the devil, your toes will get stepped on. And the devil wears spiked dancing shoes.

  2. “Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.”

    Actually, there have been several studies done… when people feel that other people are watching them, they are much more generous and act in a kinder and better manner.

  3. Yes Teenage Girl – there is in us a desire to impress and a desire to be liked/loved. Sometimes that works in our favor, but in matters of conscience it can work against us. Thus we have the “peer pressure” phenomenon.

  4. I was just wondering why this isn’t on the top sidebar of recent posts.

    They go straight from Pope John Paul II and Joanna Krupa’s nonsense…. to
    A Response to Deekin Chip. Pretty sure it ought to be in between those two.

    This is a post that I rather like, and was attempting to find to reread, and it took me a while. Had to go to the homepage, and look from there.

  5. Yes Teenage Girl – you are correct. It is because this is a page rather than a post. Since it is a page, you will find it listed at the top with the other pages rather than the sidebar of recent posts.

    God bless.

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