My interests, when it comes to the tabletop strategy game Warhammer 40,000, can be summed up quite easily with two simple strokes that divide my favorite armies into four overlapping categories. On the side of “Good”, or what passes for it in the Great Galaxy of Grimdark, I favor strongly the Blood Angels and Space Wolves, both Space Marine Chapters of the Imperium of Man. On the side of Evil, which does not need parentheses, for in such a harsh fictional background, even the heroes could be labeled as villains, I prefer the Orkz and the Tyranids, the first a race of brutish warriors equipped with legendary toughness and ferocity, and the second a Hive Collective of insatiable hunger and incalculable size.
Ah, so you have never bothered to look into the cobbled together mess that is the fiction of Warhammer 40,000? Well, I think then, it is time for a brief lesson on this hodgepodge of science fiction and and fantasy concepts. The general overview of the Universe is something like this:
Mankind was originally in a bit of a fragmented position, occupying random chunks of the Galaxy and mainly trying to live day by day while fighting one another and invasive alien species. Suddenly, this superman who turns out to be a demi-god with vast psychic powers conjured up by a bunch or primitive far-seeing shaman-mystics back in the B.C. years shows up. Supposedly this guy was behind the scenes for everything major in history, and finally decided to say screw it and become the Emperor of Mankind. In the process of doing so, he creates a bunch of genetically enhanced super soldiers, including a dozen or so Primarchs, super-warriors he created using his own DNA. Some have psychic powers, some are charismatic, some are really, really, really (emphasis on all three reallys) good at organization. One has angel wings. One is really bloodthirsty. Another likes to drink and fight all the time. So he uses this mixed bag of deadly supermen and genetically enhances entire legions of men with their DNA, and puts each legion of “Space Marines”(note the wonderfully creative name) under the command of their own “father”. So, joined with the military of any planets they conquer, they run around the galaxy spanking the snot out of any aliens in a xenocidal rampage somehow held together by the iron will of their entirely (well except for Lorgar, but let’s forget him) secular leaders who follow their “father’s” even-more-iron will and insurmountable charisma.
Now, all this time, what has been allowing various gifted people to have psychic powers is this thing called the Warp. Now, in the Warp, there are creatures that can take physical form when the Warp tears. Many of these things are not nice, as the Warp is made up of the combined psyches/souls/what-have-you of every living thing in the universe. The most powerful Warp entities are the Chaos gods, Tzeentch, the bird-like fiend of Hope and Change (which makes our current president’s campaign slogan highly ironic), Nurgle, the rotting beast of Disease, Decay, and Death, Khorne, the warrior of destruction, violence, and blood, and Slaanesh, the creepy Dr. Frankenfurter of Warhammer, a being of excess and desire, Lord/Lady of Pleasure, spawned by the drug induced orgies of the Eldar (Space Elves, to be simple about it). Yup. Those darn fickle elves partied so much they birthed a hideous entity they would come to call She Who Thirsts. There’s nothing like creating a soul-devouring deity with your unchecked desires.
I won’t even post a picture that has anything to do with Slaanesh. They’re all creepy and give me the heebie jeebies.
So, these four Chaos gods start whispering things into various ears within the Primarchs, and the New Imperium of Man suddenly has a giant civil war on its hands. After a long war costing countless billions of lives, they manage to fight off Chaos by a hair, but the Emperor is mortally wounded in the process and is kept as some sort of mostly-dead-mortal-shell thing by the Golden Throne, a contraption that uses the souls of Psykers (people with mind powers) to keep him from being completely dead. It takes a thousand of them a day to keep him kicking. And if you think that’s grisly, well, suddenly this religion based around the Emperor as a god-figure springs up, and they get an Inquisition, and it’s like a very hideous version of the Catholic Church with lasers in space, in what is left of an Empire that once spanned the Galaxy. Technology barely advances and is treated like religion, heresy abounds, atrocity is the name of the game, and aside from the corruptions of the Chaos gods and their servant daemons, a handbasket full of violent alien races are making inroads into Man’s home as well. When the tagline says “In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, there is only war.”, it is not kidding. What they don’t quite tell you until you read further than that is this: the entire concept is so over the top and exaggerated that the sheer insanity of it becomes humorous.
So, now that you have been educated about where these freaks come from, on to the specific groups themselves.
On the side of “Good”, I will begin with the Space Wolves. Now, Space Marines do need some preparatory description. The best way to think of them is simply as genetically enhanced super-warriors inside nearly impervious robotic armor, which are also monks. These are not the peaceful, simple-laborer Catholic or Buddhist monks, though. These are monks who worship the god-Emperor of Mankind and their founding Primarch, and recite Litanies of Hate and invoke blessings to turn on their machinery before going to war. These are psycho-indoctrinated soldiers who come screaming out of the sky and open fire on you with what are essentially hybrids between machine guns and rocket launchers. One fully armed Space Marine could probably take out a division of any modern day armed force by himself. A squad of ten is capable of taking over a planet by utilizing brains, stealth, and superior firepower. They are roughly seven feet tall without the armor, and hit eight or nine feet when wearing it. They can spit acid, crush a man’s skull with one hand like an egg, eat almost anything they can chew, and go weeks without eating and days without sleeping with no performance loss. They have heightened senses, a reinforced skeleton, two hearts, an assortment of other organs that let them do things like survive in extreme heat, cold, or temporary vacuum. In their armor, they can punch through metal walls, withstand blasts that would wreck our tanks, and carry what amounts to an SUV around without any real trouble at all. Each is trained in every conceivable mode of warfare and all manner of battle tactics, and is required to be proficient in each. This description only concerns the rank and file Battle Brothers of each Chapter, not the specialists or commanders of those thousands of different mini-cultures with their own heraldry, traditions, and customs.
The Primarch of the Space Wolves, Leman Russ, was raised on a an icy planet called Fenris (you will find this heavy-handed naming common throughout the Universe of Warhammer), where the people were pretty much hyper-vikings constantly warring with one another for survival. He joined the Imperium when the Emperor beat him in single combat. This Chapter has strong Norse themes and roots, and are somewhat genetically modified further than their peers with even keener senses and longer canines than is normal. They use wolf imagery like mad, and wear pelts and claws and teeth and skulls as adornment on their armor. They are notorious for rushing into fights and enjoying long bouts of tale-weaving and heavy drinking afterwards. They are proud warriors with a respect and admiration for the forces of Nature, and more humanitarian than most Chapters, fully embracing their role as protectors of the Imperium. They tend to buck all manner of authority but their own, and like all Space Marines, hold their forebears and traditions in unshakeable regard. A summation of their philosophy can be found in this quote: “It is the way of Fenris. We stay as long as we can. Fight as hard as we can. Kill as much as we can. Only when we can do no more do we move on.”
The Blood Angels are similar to the Space Wolves in their Humanitarian aspect, and their Primarch, Sanguinius, was angelic in more than his winged and noble appearance. When the Emperor was besieged on Terra, in the heartland of the Imperium, he died protecting him and thereby saved Humanity with his sacrifice. I do not think it so strange a thing that this Chapter has extremely Catholic imagery and rituals, down to drinking the preserved blood of their Primarch from ornate chalices as part of their religious observances. In fact, the Chapter has often been described as a bunch of Catholic Vampires. All tend to be fair and long haired, and like the Church, enjoy the arts, especially painting. Also like the members of the Church, they struggle with an innate flaw, although instead of Original Sin, it is the Red Thirst, which leads, if not kept in check, to the Black Rage. This anger and hunger stems from some sort of psycho-genetic link to their Primarch, and the moment when he was slain. The Black Rage is a nearly insensate state of madness and battle lust, and those who fall into it must be shepherded by the spiritual masters of the Chapter, and are only unleashed upon the enemy when the need is great. They have a special organization titled the Death Company which these men are organized into, and they fight with a cold fury until killed. This flaw is combated by an intense life of prayer, meditation, and the release of artwork, mostly painting, as mentioned before. You have to admit, this is all strikingly familiar.
Now for the Bad Guys.
Orks are a simple bunch. They were originally genetically engineered to combat one of the other races in Warhammer 40,000, the Necrons, a bunch of stone-cold killing machines, literally. Their sole purpose is to fight. An ork starts out as a spore in the ground, then eventually claws his way to the surface and right away begins beating on other orkz. You see, the more orkz fight and survive those fights, the tougher and larger they get. They thrive on violence. Eventually, when one ork gets big and tough enough, he starts to lead a band of them, and they fight other bands. If he survives, and becomes more massive and nasty in the process, he leads what is left of all the other bands as a Warboss. Repeat this process a hundred or so times, and you have what the Orkz call a Waaaaaaagh!!!, or a massive army of the creatures bent on looting and destruction. The more Orkz there are, the meaner and tougher each ork gets. The race has been described, with only a small degree of exaggeration, as one where you could shoot their arms and head off, and put a few rounds in their chest, and you’d still have to do some hard arguing to convince one wounded in such a manner that it was dead. Combined with this natural durability and ferocity is a queer sort of cunning, which allows them to master and loot pretty much anything they can get their hands on, and turn it into weaponry. They also have a few odd members of their breed with psychic ability, the power of which fluctuates with the number of ‘boyz, as they call their average soldier, present. It is often said that if there were a way they could stop infighting and unite, the Orkz would blaze through the Galaxy like fire through last week’s newspaper.
The Tyranids are a sort of Horde as well. It is unsure from whence they came, but the multiple times they have entered the Galaxy to prey upon its denizens, they have devoured everything in their wake indiscriminately and barely been repelled. They are highly evolved swarms of organisms that function with one Hive Mind. It is unsure what the exact nature of this Hive Mind is, whether it be a collective of all the smaller primitive minds of each organism or a central intelligence, but what is certain is that the Swarms evolve at a rate unprecedented by anything else. Their claws and teeth are engineered to the point where they can rend metal, and various bio-plasmas and acids make up their arsenal of firepower. All who stand against them fall under wave after wave of utterly fearless single-minded beasts refined entirely in a way that befits wholesale slaughter. Those who have been defeated are then absorbed as biomass to create yet more monstrosities, along with their own dead and creatures too wounded to be useful. After a victory, a planet is stripped of all organic material, which is then converted into biomass for the Hive Mind to use. It has been estimated that the Galaxy has only seen the tendrils of a much larger force that is slowly investigating a new territory.
So, why I have I gone on for so very long about a fantastical Science Fiction Universe setting for a game most of you will never play, and many of you will find strange, stupid, or both?
Because, I think, my favorite factions in this game parallel ways of thinking, both ancient and modern, secular and religious. One of these patterns of thought happens to apply to mine own.
In the olden days, when Vikings actually existed and men cherished far more dearly tales of combat and strife, as opposed to “RAAHN, STAWP IT” being cried out incessantly by whoever that tanned creature of a woman was on Jersey Shore, there were grand sagas of legendary heroes that opposed foes of massive dimensions, either in numbers or with one really big bad dude. Beowulf, Sigurd, Thor, and the like, all of them were legendary warriors of intense stature and martial prowess. They possessed the courage, the mettle, the fighting spirit that all Pagan heroes require to be heroes at all. They are also extremely individual people, in that they are men who stand out, who go their own way, though bound by custom and duty. They are not unthinking, nor are they brutes despite their bloodlust and strength, but are skilled and tempered by experience and cunning. This is something quite readily apparent in the way the Space Wolves are treated. Despite their over-drinking and unnecessary celebratory fighting, they are skilled and brave warriors, always ready to give their all for Lord and Land and Honor. They keep a rugged individualism about themselves, keeping their own council and spitting in the eye of those would keep that right from them.
On the other hand, you have the dragons, the monsters, the ogres, the raging hordes of killers who do nothing but pillage and rape and slay and steal. You have the darker side of ancient pagan nature here, a monster craving flesh for its gullet and other satisfaction for the various desires given to it by nature. It does not put overmuch thought into things aside from getting those wants, it has a hunger, and it must keep that hunger sated. Like Fafnir, like Grendel and Grendel’s mother, the Orkz too have needs, a bloodlust they must fill, but due to their nature, they never can get enough. There is no real self here, no real individuality, no dream beyond satisfying their innermost desires. They go where they please, sure enough, and individuals here and there might distinguish themselves as particularly good at satisfying their universal craving for wanton destruction. But they are all of too like a mind and a too much a servant of their own passions and wants to have any sort of real individuality.
Since the Advent of Christianity upon the Globe, something quite new and wonderful has arisen. A Blessed sort of Individualism that at first seems like it crushes the individual itself as part of a larger whole has sprung forth into Creation. The Catholic Church seems to many like a large number of brainwashed zombies lurching in the same direction. Nothing could be further from the Truth. The intent of Catholicism is not to take away Man’s Will, but to return it to him from the bonds of Sin and Death. A man still has passions if he is Catholic, but he meets them in a manner not unlike that of the Heroes of Old meeting a foe in battle. He must become a rugged individual, a man well versed in the Inner War of the Soul. His temptations prowl about like hungry curs, seeking his life and lives of those around him. In his Heart, he stands alone but for the Aide of God. He must learn skill, and cunning, and strength, and courage. He must become the consummate warrior, a hero, a Saint. The Church is not a gathering of zombies. It is a gathering of Men who chose to free themselves, and then free others, the way all true Heroes must. So do the Blood Angels behave. They fight enemies within and without, training and praying hard and with great vigor. They are both scholarly and adept at portraying the beauty in things. While they do all have one cause, they have chosen that cause. They bow respectfully to higher authority, but do not allow secular needs to overrun their own conscience, and are all the more respected and righteous for doing so. They come to the aide of those besieged by darkness, as befits their name. They, like the Church, are made up of individuals seeking the good, organized by a higher power into a work of art that goes about saving the Universe.
What are the Tyranids then? Secularism, or as I prefer to call it, the New Paganism, for the parallels are deliciously funny(and something I will most likely touch on in a later post), is quite similar to them in its function. Among the Tyranids, you have a massive group shackled together for the purpose of doing one thing, and one thing alone; what it is programmed to do by its nature. Tyranids devour because they were born to devour. Secular thought, Secular Humanism in particular, emphasizes the ability of Humanity to solve its own problems, by way of the equipment we are given by Evolution and the processes that govern it. Under this school of thought, the entire human race is simply this sort of machinery, this group of organisms doing what they do best, doing as they were birthed to do. The individual is subservient to the many, and able to be cast off if needed, for it is only as valuable as it is useful. Now, at this point, many will claim that this is not so, that you see strong individualism all the time. I say, not so! The Tyranids again serve me well as example. There are many forms the organisms in the swarm may take, even members who stand out in stature or individual intelligence or function, but a part of the swarm they remain. Social creatures without a Hive Mind, but enslaved to the ultimate survival of the many in this way, fare no better. The “individuals” you see are merely useful in their skills or their special adaptation, and if the usefulness fades, so does their value. This pseudo-individualism is the rallying cry of many in the Secularist movement.
Another part of the problem with this is the lack of Objective Right and Wrong. The current moral mode of the day is that right and wrong are subjectively determined by our needs as a people (read, as a species). There is therefore no real choice, no individual decision at all to be made in that kind of moral system. When making a moral decision, you are now choosing between varying degrees of function and usefulness, and you are serving the purpose for which the species created you. If you choose poorly many times, or your morality is not helpful to the race, you become detritus that is merely something that will be removed in the next generation. There is no choice in this kind of choosing, there is no real choice in selecting a different shade of gray. Their is no Individual in this kind of lazy and weak individualism, where in the end you serve the same function as everyone else, just in a different manner or form.
And from this I conclude that the Catholic Church, and Christianity as a whole, is the most rugged Individualist group on the planet.
It would be swell of you to get your tumblr watching behinds over to this guy and start following his stuff. Also, if you don’t, I will sic my Papal Velociraptor upon you when you least expect it.
Psssst, we’re buddies.
Many folk out and about in the high and mighty halls of academia today, and a handful here and there not quite so educated but willing to throw their lot in the same communal pot, have come to the conclusion that Science is the be all and end all of Humanity, and that it shall eventually solve all human problems. They claim that it needs no aide from any other school of thought to accomplish this goal. I will not bother to discuss whether this is actually possible or not, there are many lengthy arguments for or against this concept, and none of them have any bearing on what I am about to say.
There is a problem present in this worldview that is not readily present to the eye of the public, or even the eye of those men and women, myself included, that consider themselves students of the School of Scientific Thought. There is a potential and potent danger in removing Science from the constraints of Philosophical or Religious Ethics. Now, one could easily turn this argumentative thrust aside by remarking that many scientists do not desire the removal of Philosophy, or even Religion from the minds and hearts of the human race. I would be happily inclined to agree, as I am one of those people, despite my “in-training” status. Yet there is a growing faction within the Intellectual Community that holds this to be true. Part of what these men and women have forgotten is that Science is a wonderful tool, but that from its conception was never intended as a master. There is a very strong reason for that.
Who are Scientists, anyway? The general public today thinks of several things when that word comes to mind. It conjures up images of staunch, possibly socially awkward and shy men in lab coats and glasses, pontificating on various subjects with a cold, alien self-assurance that they know exactly what it is they speak of. On occasion, they are envisioned as hyper-critical, rationalist men with a flair for keeping absolutely calm and detached positions even in the most heated debates, sometimes stoically like the stone-faced Mr. Spock, or with a face painted in some sort of clever little smirk and a dash of twinkle in their eye. Very rarely, they are cruel and unforgiving folk with an acidic tongue and a distinct hatred for any kind of thought they find wanting in intelligence, lacking in wit, or from someone who dares to oppose their intellect. The general idea of all of these conceptions boils down to extreme intelligence and a nearly absolute knowledge of their field, almost to the point of infallibility.
This is not only false, it is dangerous. When you give any one group of men, or any school of thought, for that matter, total domination over a society’s way of thinking, history shall show you that bad things will most certainly happen. What I am willing to bet that a large portion of the world, America included, has forgotten, is that Science is not an absolute. That Scientists are not perfectly logical machine-men who only serve Humanity or Science or Truth itself. We have this problem of image where we see the men of Science as people who live austere lives, almost as separated from the rest of us as Trappist monks are in their monasteries. We look and find a supreme superhuman dedication to rational thought and the betterment their own field which consequently betters the lives of our species. The title PhD has become as significant and respected as the title Rev. or Fr., which, in itself, is nothing wrong. What is wrong is awarding those possessing such titles the same sort of confidence and devotional respect. What is wrong is that to many I have met, the white lab coat a Professor may wear is viewed in a like way to the raven cassock of the Roman Catholic Church.
At this point you might begin to feel that I am taking things a tad too far; I assure you, I am not. As a man of Faith myself, I can recognize it quite clearly in others, even others who are so wrapped up in their own thinking that they fail to notice where they have left rationality behind for, strangely enough, the sake of rational thought. I can guarantee that those of the secular mindset, especially those raised in that manner of thinking, have a much harder time recognizing their own pseudo-religious behavior or thought. We, who live and breathe such things, can see it as plain as the nose on their faces.
Any man who has attacked Religion or expressed the dangers that come with it, and even as a practicing Catholic I assure you that I acknowledge some of those dangers myself, for they do exist, can tell you that such a view of men in the sort of financial, political, intellectual, and governmental positions is no good thing. Like Priests, and Bishops, and even Popes, contrary to what some Protestants would have you believe, Scientists are flawed, fallible, and human. Unless guided by some outside source (I.E., in the cases of Church Council or Papal Infallibility, which relate only to Church Teachings and not personal thought or behavior, basically, no Church Council or Pope can order me to jump off of the Empire State Building, or shoot a heretic, for that matter, and claim that it is the direct Will of God that I do so), they will continue to be flawed, fallible, and human. And still, I cannot count the number of times I have voiced a disparate opinion or hypothesis regarding some bit of evidence or data and been told that Science has decreed that this or that Theory is absolute and final. Any proper Scientist should scoff and deride such madness. The very way Theories are given life is by the interpretation of data. All because we have begun to view Science and its practitioners as a strange sort of secular priesthood.
Scientists are subject to great pressures in their daily lives, which increase or decrease depending on their field. One such pressure which remains ubiquitous for all of us is the need to find funding for research, or even just to support ourselves. We are not humble hermits working in secluded labs for the betterment of all, while what we do might involve that. Like any other lay (as in not of a religious order) person, we work to feed ourselves and keep our families afloat. Now, because I am a Papist, I will take this moment to congratulate the Church for creating a class of men and women freed from that grind by providing them a reasonable amount of food and shelter while removing their need to provide for a family. It was a stroke of immense brilliance, though part of the celibacy issue is Divinely given and the credit belongs to God, not us. You see, Priests and Nuns and all the rest can go about their work completely out of a desire to help others, as opposed to worrying over keeping themselves and their loved ones taken care of.
I have already witnessed firsthand the sort of jockeying that can occur over funding. I have been edging closer to it as my undergraduate research becomes more important and meaningful to the field of Paleontology at large. I have not liked what I have seen, and had several ugly realizations that shattered my own false imaginings of who and what scientists were. We are anything but intellectual ascetics. My experiences, I am told, are still not fully what “things are really like” in Academia. Aside from all the ego-fanning, fame-mongering, and political jockeying within the Universities and other institutions that put clothing on our backs, food in our mouths, and our names into magazines and newspapers, there is even the monetary angle to consider. I am a mere meddler in things long dead that at best bring media attention, that, while valuable, can also be drawn in by other more lucrative research. Can you comprehend the pressure placed squarely upon the shoulders of researchers in genetics, pharmacology, or any number of other fields where they are by nature part of a multi-billion/trillion dollar industry? Especially in an environment where the University has in many ways become more of a business than a place of learning, such things are rife with temptations and all manner of corporate espionage/backbiting/assorted treachery. Or consider yourself as a member of the American Psychological(or Psychiatric) Association, both of which have ties to our Government and the Pharmaceutical Industry. The point is, just because a nice man with the looks expected of his profession says something, you should not immediately consider it to be the truth and nothing but.
With all of that said about those who are in the Sciences, it is time to move on to Science itself. I would say that the best description of the purpose of Science is to explain the how the Universe works through Empirical study. This is a good and wholesome thing. However, left unshackled, what was once a blessing can become a curse. The logical progression which leads to the End Goal of Science is one very few have bothered to give more than a cursory glance at. This End Goal is Omniscience. For man to understand the Universe, completely and with certainty, man’s knowledge must become virtually Omniscient. And it follows that man would then be virtually Omnipotent. The other “Omni’s” follow as part of that first goal, likewise in a virtual manner. Plain and simply, Science with no outside guide is the pursuit of ultimate knowledge and therefore ultimate power. It does not take a Religious man to feel a bit of trepidation when confronted with the idea of Man attempting to become as many view God. This has even more weight to it when you consider that by many philosophical definitions, mine own included, it is impossible for Man to reach that state of perfection (hence the use of the word virtual). What horrors would a demi-god race wreak upon the stars and themselves in their search for ever-more growth and perfection? Considering our own herky-jerky chaotic advancement thus far in our history, we have little to hope for and much to fear as far as this is concerned.
In closing, Science is one of the greatest tools of Man. But any object or tool pursued for its own sake becomes an unforgiving slave-driver of a master, one more likely to consume its wielder than bring about anything good.
I am a man who very much likes dragons. Strange, is it not, this orthodox fellow who likes Roman Catholicism and Christ Jesus so much, liking something the Devil is described as in the Bible? Liking such a Western symbol of Evil and Destruction does indeed seem out of place when it comes right down to it. My fondness for the great scaly beasts is probably harmless, but many of the more Fundamentalist Christians, and even some Catholics, I have spoken to seem to find it slightly unnerving, or even blasphemous, for my tastes to lean in that direction. One such couple went so far as to say that I had within me a desire for the Occult that needed to be eradicated, along with my love of music that is not explicitly and overwhelmingly Christian. I believe they were Independent Baptists, who according to some other denominations which contain people I know, tend to be overly sour-puss in their beliefs and very uncompromising on any matter whatsoever related in the slightest to Faith. I wonder if they and the Westboro Baptist Church have anything in common? After all, I highly doubt Hell awaits me if I wear a shirt that has a dragon on it. I own so many that I would surely burn. As I write this, I am in front of my giant blue wyvern poster. Next to a book shelf chock full of tales involving or centering around dragons, among other things so many miss out on because they automatically assume that looking foul means being foul, as opposed to the fact that Evil often wears a noble face and has a nasty habit of being the most busy in God’s own house. I would wager that the Devil does not attack through so obvious means as to only use fantastical trappings as his vehicle. He has better weapons, ones that I sadly am familiar with.
But I digress. Why do I like dragons anyway? I have a few answers, probably both profound and yet as childish and simple as tiddlywinks. The best answers are that way by nature.
The most simple of these explanations ties in, as many things do, to Dinosaurs. These great reptilian creatures have stalked the halls of my mind since before I could name more than one of them. There is something vast and glorious about their size, be they diminutive like Compsognathus and Avimimus, or gargantuan like Giganotosaurus and Ultrasaurus.
They have a distinctness that to my aesthetics, encompasses the Glory of Creation the way whirling galaxies and nebulae might in the eyes of an astronomer or astronaut. To me, dinosaurs reveal the Power and the Glory of what the Lord has made, and it is a beauty too great to be ignored, though many might deny its link to God. There is no child who will look at an Allosaurus raising its toothy maw to the sky in a triumphant roar, hooked hand-claws extended in primal fury, and not be moved. Some might fear, and others might stand in awe, but all shall be moved. And so it is with anything that displays the Greatness of God.
So I ask you. What are dragons but dinosaurs scaled up and with more decoration in various places, physical or otherwise? Man has an innate respect for that which is larger than himself, and what is more overmastering than a creature millenia old, with wings that blot out the sun, breath that turns steel molten, claws that tear down castle walls, muscle and sinew that crumble mountainside in their grip, a gaze more intense than any bird of prey, and an alien intellect that almost breaks down your very will as it speaks with a voice that rocks the roots of the stone you stand upon. What are dragons and dinosaurs, or indeed, the vastness of Creation, but a mirror or window in which to see the Divine?
I also like to look at how Dragons, and their opposites, the typical Knight, fight. Knights, after a certain point, to me, seem more than a little weak. They find an animal, and bend it to their will, and call it a noble steed, and ride into battle dominating another of God’s Creatures. They press a blacksmith into their service, and have him forge armor and weapons with which to fight, again asserting mastery over another. The very armor and weapons themselves are not what the Good Lord has given them. There is a distinct lack of trust there, in relying not on what God has given you, but on what you can squeeze out of Creation and your fellow man. Dragons, however, are different. Their only weapons and armor, despite their effectiveness and lethality, are those granted to them by the Creator. All a dragon’s fiery breath, impenetrable scales, cruel talons, cunning intellect, colossal size, vast wings, and hideous strength are what he is born with. The very fact that he takes to the wing on the wind, something that has long been poetically called the Breath of God, implies a sense of trust in something he does not control, something he must learn to work with and not against, or be cast to the ground. I see no reason why this utter reliance on using the Gifts given to you by the Grace of God and this complete reliance on His machinations that you cannot always see but trust to support you should not be upheld as Righteous and Good. In short, my view of dragons is something anything good Christian should aspire to be.
For fairness’ sake, I will flip the fairy story right-side up again. A righteous Knight can be just as good, and more identifiable of a character. His struggle seems far more akin to our own, by nature of his very humanity. A righteous Knight knows what God has given him is good, yet he also knows that such gifts include hands to craft and a mind to conceive wondrous things for the greater Glory of God. In kindness and humility, he asks the smithy to craft him weapons on protection of the finest steel, for there is a scaled terror to slay. He treats those items with respect for the power they hold, and finds a horse that he makes a bond with, and trains and cares for, with whom he rides to battle. Before he fights, he kneels and prays for the Grace to do as God Wills in this fight. As for the wicked Dragon, he wakes and wallows in his own strength and might, though it was all a gift from On High. He uses these gifts blasphemously and with great selfishness, killing and devouring all before him. He feels that no one is more powerful or more cunning than he.
In summation, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, even a dragon can be Holy when it is pointed towards the Glory of God.
On with the show!
I think I will write on Father Jester next. He was the Chaplain of my University’s Catholic Newman Club for the first two years of my membership, and is also the Vocations Director for my Diocese. In layman’s terms, he goes out and finds new young men to take a crack at joining the Priesthood. I first met this man at the tail end of a dark time in my life. I will not go into gory exposition about my past sins, to call them hideous suffices. I was very lost, and in searching for my footing (and running from my true calling, as far as I can discern what it is right now), and for whatever reason I got it in my thick skull that I should be a Priest. I think some of this was me wanting to play the hero, which I confirmed later when reading The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton and realizing that he had done the same. So I made the call to Father Jester, and met with him to discuss the situation. Shortly afterwards I wound up being forcefully removed by the Hand of God from my own Darkness, and had to bashfully admit that I was mistaken in my choice.
When I showed up at the Newman Club a few months later, it was shocking and uncomfortable to find that he was our assigned Priest. My fears were unwarranted, for he has never once, ever mentioned the fact that I even spoke to him about becoming a Priest. Not even breathed a syllable. He was also uncompromisingly friendly towards me, with no hint of being let down by my awkward decline. He was generous to all, often taking us out to dinner or buying the entire Club pizza with his own paycheck, so that our group had more funds for greater works on campus. I can hardly remember a time when he was not cracking some sort of sarcastic joke at his own or our expenses, in fact, his good humor was the chief thing I remember about him, even though his complete lack of self-importance and other finer qualities were by far more important. I recall one day while we were all sitting around, that he was talking about the larger than average Seminarian group that had joined up this year. As a result, his budget had been boosted, and other departments had received cuts. He quipped that the Pro-life Office probably had a hit out on him for that.
Father Hippie is the Pastor at a Parish very near to my house, in my hometown. I see him fairly often, as the church has an attached 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration Chapel that I attend. He also taught some Religion classes at my High School, though I never had him as a teacher. Like Father Kinship, he usually sports a nifty sweater-vest, though his are generally patterned argyle, or whatever those patterns are called. I am no fashionist. When you meet him, you will note that his hand gestures and posture are somewhat like Obi-wan Kenobi’s, or some other venerable Jedi Knight. He is the least intimidating man I have ever met, despite his height being about mine, for he is soft-spoken and nearly unflappably even-tempered. The only time I have ever seen him become annoyed is when I tried to wheedle around a sin in Confession. I was caught off-guard by the look he gave me, and quickly silenced myself like a tiny child. His temperament serves him very well in his position, and moreso in his Ministry, which involves regularly counseling mothers who have aborted their own children. He is so non-threatening that his powerful words are like harmless dust that floats about your head, which are subsequently inhaled. Once in the body, they reveal their true nature as powerful anti-biotic agents, destroying sinful or poorly thought out morality and eating away at your inner fears. His keen insight echoes into his homilies as well, it is a rare day when I come to Mass at his Parish and come away having not learned something awe inspiring that should have been obvious to me from the beginning. Father Hippie’s manner of speaking is light and airy, like the whisper of wind that is God passing by. He is very much in awe of his Creator and Creation, and were he not so excellently Catholic, it would not be amiss to see him in a tie-die shirt and bell-bottom jeans, in the middle of an aggregate of Flower Children. He moves and breathes to imitate Christ in his demeanor, and has that Meek and Holy Strength that few ever attain with any degree of accuracy. Again, like so many of his compatriots, he walks through life blissfully unaware of his own greatness, and turns all the Glory back to the Son of Man who set him apart for this noble task.
Speaking of humility, I know no man more humble than Father Humble. He, like Father Hippie, has a quiet and reserved nature, and remains calm through much. He is the current Chaplain of the Newman Club, and Pastor of a local Parish at the same time. Some may overlook the man due to his simplicity and unassuming posture, and those souls that do would be unfortunate to an extent that is disheartening. He holds Saint John Vianney in high regard, and tries to emulate him as the ideal Priest. He is resoundingly successful. The man is a spiritual workhorse. He goes about his duties without complaint, and without the slightest sense of fanfare. I have never seen him once mention being tired, or needing a break, though lesser men, myself included, regularly do, for far less difficult tasks than managing an entire congregation and a group of college students simultaneously. His homilies are practical, short, and to the point, as are his Confessions and his helpful spiritual advice. Yet, all these qualities are nothing compared to his reverence before the Lord. How Father Humble prays, and how he celebrates Mass, are things I have never seen before. He stands before the Lord as a little schoolboy receiving instruction from an Almighty Schoolmaster. His reverence is complete, and flawless as far as my mortal senses can tell me. Surely, such humility before the Lord has led to his miles-above-par servant leadership throughout his Vocation.
On to the Religious Priests. We shall begin with The Most Interesting Priest in the World. For shorthand, I shall call him Father Interesting. This man has been all over the place. South America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, and I think even a few places in Asia, though I am not entirely sure. He has several degrees beyond his schooling at the seminary, most of them in Science and Engineering. His interests include being epic, military history, history in general, various branches of science, philosophy, theology, and sports. The man is an embodiment of the life of the party. He has more anecdotes, and ones of a more wholesome nature, than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards combined. He is a member of Legionnaires, a roving order of Missionary Priests. Father Interesting has fished for marlin, and done well at it, catching at least one massive swordfish while in South America. His order is devoted to traveling wherever they will exercise the most spiritual influence on people, be it hundreds of schools that they visit and/or run, or the offices of prominent businessmen and politicians seeking moral guidance. He can lecture and discuss almost anything under the sun for hours on end, and, like all great men, loves J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He serves as co-Chaplain at my campus Newman Club, and helps proselytize the campus and invigorate our hearts and minds with the Gospel at every opportunity. Often times he is called upon to run games of Mafia at our parties, during which he carries a large NERF rocket launcher that he fires at those who the Mafia has murdered during the night. His order runs a camp for boys somewhere in the wildlands of Indiana, where the theme ranges from sports to Lord of the Rings. The camp itself is on top of a steep hill, by a pond, and at its base is what I have dubbed “THE Catholic Man Lodge”. It is a beautiful three story house heated by fireplaces and nothing else, with enormous windows to look out at the farmlands and woods surrounding. It has a wonderful rustic and outdoorsy feel, complete with multiple animal heads (all named, of course), antler racks, pictures of Mary, Blessed Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, rosaries, battle maps, and crucifixes. Attached is a large wooden shed that is more of a barn, and on the second floor a chapel for Mass, and a giant plasma TV for movies. My compatriots and I are taken on Men’s Retreats there, and oh, the grand tales of feasting and laughter, the quiet, solemn Masses, the excellent discussions of Faith and Manhood, and joyful hours of hard labor chopping wood or making repairs, or expanding the boy’s camp at the top of the hill.
Among men, Father Interesting is a natural leader. He knows how to master a situation, directing people where to go and what to do, and jumping in himself wherever things are going slow or there is a gap in manpower. Person to person, he is concise, to the point, and practical, and becomes even more so when in Confession. He is a man who gives the impression that he knows exactly what he is doing, and that impression is anything but false. Again, like so many others, he does not seem to understand, or even care to dwell on, how amazing it is that he travels the world in the name of Christ,with no permanent bed to call his own, relying on his Order and the kindness of strangers for his sustenance and the very roof he sleeps under. To us, he is a General decked out in medals. To himself, he is an average man who happens to be a Priest, one who sees his Vocation as important, but at the same time views it as one among the millions of different jobs contained within the Body of Christ.
Brother Canadian is, in fact, a Canuck. He is Father Interesting’s apprentice of sorts, a Priest-in-training, if you will. I would be hard pressed to name a more helpful and friendly person than him, if you asked. He looks like the image of any popularly depicted younger Priest from the 1940’s-50’s, and behaves with the same quiet grace and dignity. As he cannot do much aside from give us spiritual advice at this time, there is little to say about his capabilities in that regard, although judging from all his other attributes, when he does turn his hand to that branch of Ministry he will no doubt be exemplary at it. He is an inquisitive fellow, always full of questions about what the rest of us have been up to, and his eagerness to know our habits and our hearts is entirely genuine, as opposed to the current trend of asking after someone out of empty formulaic politeness. It is rare to find him at rest, even during these conversations, as he has a sort of dynamic energy about him that usually gets spent on tidying up, gathering things, or hustling through tasks he has been assigned. I have often spent the first hour or so during our Men’s Retreats talking with him while we prepared dinner, myself answering his questions and taking things he hands to me while he is shoulder deep in the expansive refrigerator searching out choice bits from the vast quantity of food therein. One might think him overly submissive, but I would have to adamantly disagree. The young man, not much older than myself, actually, is simply incredibly considerate and polite, in the honest manner that so many of us have forgotten or deemed anachronistic. In a nation of rowdy, angry, often-rude, ill-contented people, he is a startling and wonderful breath of fresh mountain air. Speaking of mountains, he may not look like it, but he goes rock-climbing and hiking all the time. The gentleman who seems so meek and mild in a kitchen or domestic environment is exactly the man you want at your side when you happen to be facing a trek through some very real and very dangerous wilderness.
Father Aragorn I had the pleasure of meeting through The Most Interesting Priest in the World and Brother Canadian. Now, my friends and I have mock combat with full-contact LARPing weapons on a regular basis (think Role Models without the uncalled for vulgarity, perversion, and weird costumed finery), and I was explaining the principles of the various weapons to Father Interesting on one of the Men’s Retreats. He explained that every Summer at the Boy’s Camp, they hold a Lord of the Rings week-long camp that deals with virtues and basic concepts of Good and Evil, and that at the end of the week, they have a mock battle with similar weapons. I was promptly told to contact Father Aragorn and explain to him what I did and how to construct more effective safe weapons for the boys. After a few phone conversations, I was invited to their local Order House that they stay at when in our area to show them the weapons I had made and explain some of their options and tactics they could teach the kids. After an introduction over breakfast we talked for an hour or two, I did as I was asked, they found out I had a Ringwraith costume, complete with sword, and I lent it to them. I was then invited to give a talk on proper use of the weapons they had available, basic group tactics, and spiritual warfare. While I waited for the boys to be assembled, I had another chance to talk to Father Aragorn about a range of things, including their plans for the camp. It turned out that Father Interesting and Brother Canadian were running a Work Camp at the Catholic Man Lodge down the hillside, and that the ten or so teenagers they had there had played orcs that occasionally attacked the young boys on nighttime raids, with all sorts of special effects and sneaky optic tricks. For example, they had flaming arrows powered by ignited hand sanitizer, and one of the Priests pretended to be shot and run away with a burning arm that was literally on fire. I was summarily invited back to be an Uruk Hai (I was the tallest person there, barring Brother Canadian who like me is around 6’3″, but he was with Gondor for this fight) at their battle at the end of the week. It was great fun, with charges and continuous retreats (You try fending off 30-something smaller people you have to go easy on for fairness’ sake, especially when they have arrows and you have no shield…), firecrackers and smoke bombs, and, at my suggestion and Father Aragorn’s gleeful assent, my return as a cave troll with my home-made 6’6″ sword. Words will never express those boy’s faces when they had the orcs on the run and I came lumbering up behind them, bellowing like mad, while Father screamed, “CAAAAVE TROOLLL!!!! CAAAAVE TROLLLL!!!!” I will admit, I have not gotten to know the man very well, but you cannot deny, awesome is a perfect word to describe him.
And that is everyone. Now that all is said and done, I suggest that the next time you see a Priest, you thank him for his work. They deserve every drop of gratitude we give them.