Category Archives: Catholicism

National Treasure and The Masonic States of America

I was dismissive of Disney’s National Treasure when it was released in 2004. It seemed like a more sedate remix of The Da Vinci Code for a Disney audience, and neither the premise nor Nic Cage’s cinematic charms were enough to make me care. Art hits you in different ways at different times in your life, and I doubt I would have been attuned to the significance of National Treasure’s subtext at that time. Time passes and perspectives change. National Treasure is exactly what I sensed it would be and succeeds as a light espionage/action mystery thriller. But there’s a lot going at the symbolic level that’s very explicit and warrants a deeper examination. Because this was a Disney production aimed at a young audience, I suggest this movie’s pro-Freemasonry message is kind of a big deal from a cultural programming perspective.

I’ve been paying more attention to the architecture of morality and the ways in which it interacts with the belief apparatus. This has led me to examine the sturdiness of the underpinnings of the Enlightenment and American republicanism. Despite being largely perceived as a turn towards secularism and scientism, one of the hidden hands behind these revolutions is in fact an occulted spirituality of another kind: Freemasonry. Though “occult” broadly refers to esoteric spirituality of every kind, it also means “hidden”, and in the case of Freemasonry, it is certainly applicable. The fact that this film is linking Freemasonry to America’s foundations is intentional and borne out by history. While there’s certainly dramatic license taken in the details, the underlying truths are noteworthy all by themselves.

National Treasure is basically a variation on Raiders of the Lost Ark with overt references to Freemasonry instead of encrypted ones. As Benjamin Gates, Nic Cage is a adventurer/historian who’s dedicated his life to unraveling a mystery that was revealed to him by his Mason grandfather, John Adams Gates. As the elder patriarch, Christopher Plummer spins a fantastic tale of the Knights Templar and the untold riches they kept hidden from the Muslims and the British. The Knights managed to conceal the treasure in America, but the map is encoded in disparate objects and letters that are only decrypted by initiates of Masonic mysteries. Fast forward to the present, and Ben Gates’s quest has taken him to the arctic regions of the globe to unravel the mysterious message he uncovered that fateful day. Once the object is discovered, it unlocks another clue which points them towards a hidden map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Sean Bean’s Ian Howe gets greedy and the race to acquire the Declaration is on. Accompanied by trusty sidekick, Riley Poole and sexy museum curator, Abigail Chase, our heroes scramble to outsmart the dastardly Howe and his goons.

While the conspiracy community is awash in theories over hidden Masonic messaging in entertainment and the Illuminati conspiracy it conceals, National Treasure is one film that isn’t hiding its symbols or their connections to Masonry. They’re front and center. The controversy is whether these symbols are benign or malevolent, and the conclusion you reach will depend completely on your moral, ideological and spiritual frame of reference. National Treasure clearly wants you to see them as benign. Not only that, it wants you to equate Freemasonry with the Founding Fathers and American values themselves. This isn’t far off the mark, either.

American republicanism is seen as the fulfillment of the Enlightenment consensus enshrined in the formation of a new nation. For the first time in history, religious morality was mostly decoupled from the state, and compulsory religious practice was expunged from the law. Religious pluralism, secular reason, the scientific outlook, radical egalitarianism and democratic cosmopolitanism would be canonized as the gods of a new civic religion. This collection of presuppositions formed the basis of what we now simply identify as the pillars of classical liberalism. Depending on your point of view, it’s a set of ideas you want to see conserved for posterity, consumed in a brand new revolutionary conflagration or rejected as a Gnostic heresy.

How does Freemasonry have anything to do with classical liberalism?

While I recognize this isn’t a popular thesis amongst the woke intelligentsia, I’m inclined to believe that the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the underlying ideals of American republicanism are Masonic in nature. Freemasonry doesn’t officially call itself a religion but it asks its initiates to accept the existence of a Supreme Being. Not unlike the deism for which Thomas Paine advocated in The Age of Reason. A single, infinitely mysterious, divine monad which unites all religions, creeds and races and can never be fully understood by the human mind. Though his status as a Mason is unconfirmed, older editions of Paine’s Age of Reason even featured an essay on the origins of Freemasonry. Most people don’t self-identify as deists or take the same view towards spirituality that Paine did, but his worldview prevailed. The deistic universalism for which he advocated can now be found in the Christian ecumenical movement, New Age spirituality, Buddhist hipsters, and the various manifestations of UN-affiliated, syncretistic Blavatsky lite which also includes Freemasonry. This spiritual mindset came bundled with all of the presuppositions that accompany classical liberalism. Paine’s deism was repackaged and continues to be sold as a perpetually revolutionary set of American ideals with new labels like “liberty”, “democracy”, “equality” and perhaps most importantly, #TOLERANCE . These lofty ideals mask the Promethean promise of a very seductive spiritual truth: apotheosis of the individual.

The fact that these words occlude their Masonic origins is consistent with its nature as as a secret society and a “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”. Throughout the film, Ben Gates has to decode various ciphers, messages, and hidden cryptograms. While this makes for lots of intrigue for the viewers, this is a bit of revelation of the method. Masonic symbols are hidden in plain sight and embedded in every corner of the culture, but invisible to the profane masses due to their ubiquity. Whether they’re used in corporate logos, rock band album art, or the infamous All Seeing Eye that adorns our Federal Reserve Notes, these symbols are imbued with meaning and work at the subconscious level.

Because humans are wired for belief, the question merely becomes one of the awareness of the belief mechanism and the direction in which its pointed. If you are atheist, agnostic, an occultist or subscribe to any non-Orthodox Christian or Islamic faith, the mysticism of Freemasonry is probably no big deal. From an Orthodox Christian or traditional Catholic perspective, this is probably seen as another example of pop culture trafficking a Luciferian doctrine packaged as family entertainment. Freemasonry, or Gnosticism, was challenged as heresy first by Saint Irenaeus and much later by Pope Leo XIII.

However, herein lies the film’s and Freemasonry’s great sleight of hand. Conservatives proclaim the belief that America was a Christian nation while progressives generally claim that it is secular and pluralistic society in which American propositions supersede proper religion. I suggest that the progressives are fundamentally correct. Conservatives may grouse about the erasure of quasi-Christian norms and traditions in the public square, but the ideals of American republicanism were departures from traditional Christian theology in the first place. The Christianity that took root in the early colonies was mostly Puritanism which in turn gave rise to increasingly atomized denominations. Add in Roman Catholics, Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, atheists and a dozen different versions of Protestantism and the idea of a unified Christian body politic becomes an increasingly untenable proposition. Subsequently, progressives are constantly able to capitalize on a fractured conservative constituency by painting themselves as the pious majority and their opponents as callow hypocrites. Perhaps America’s true national religion is the Cult of the Individual smuggled into the psyche through veiled Masonic euphemisms and symbols. Perhaps Freemasonry’s great triumph was that it swapped out religious orthodoxy in favor of a doctrine of radical individualism divorced from ethnicity, history or an abiding national identity. 231 years after the ratification of the Constitution, Disney decides the time is ripe to canonize Freemasonry with a family friendly action movie which blurs reality and fiction sufficiently well that the public likely remains anesthetized to the possibility that they’re unwitting vessels for a spiritual worldview that goes unquestioned.

Most people would shrug this off under the presumption that there’s nothing to question in classical liberalism. It gave birth to America, so what’s the problem? That’s a reasonable question, but I’m dubious on where the classical liberal framework is leading us. While those who claim a stake in the so called “intellectual dark web” are attempting to tend the breached walls of classical liberalism in order to forestall the continued advance of neo-Marxist identity politics, the #EQUALITY goalposts move further and further into the Twilight Zone of pure insanity. Classical liberalism has begotten postmodern identity politics. Classical liberalism has created a marketplace for Marxist academics, feminist hacks, despotic technocrats, racial demagogues and globalist sociopaths like George Soros who engineer social unrest, capitalize on the chaos, and then fund the fifth column organizations who work to unravel society even further. It’s the freedom to accept a marketplace for depravity, degeneracy and perpetual revolution. It’s the freedom to be mocked and demonized for even suggesting that there are traditions that are worth conserving. Progressives like to see themselves as uniquely empathetic and attuned to the suffering of the underdog, but somehow, this empathy can only be realized through neverending political protest, language policing, and exerting absolute dominion over the cultural dialogue. The subsequent result of this worldview has been an atomized population, moral relativism, postmodern subjectivism, and the radical quantification, automation and commodification of life itself. We’re at a point where the simple desire to marry someone of your own race is considered a shudder inducing rallying cry of “white supremacy”.

Paul Revere. Grand Master Freemason.

By the film’s conclusion, Gates uncovers an enormous treasure of what appears to be Egyptian artifacts and relics. The film ties Freemasonry back to its pagan and polytheistic Egyptian roots. Since these artifacts were of incalculable value to civilization, both Gates and the Freemasons come out looking like heroes and stewards of ancient mysteries that would have been destroyed in different hands. Regardless of how much dramatic license is taken in the details, the mere fact that our very first president, George Washington, was himself a Freemason lends weight to the myth. America’s list of known Freemasons who’ve occupied the Oval Office, worked in powerful federal agencies or scaled the heights of pop culture success lends even more gravitas to the influence of Freemasonry in American life and thought. When Harvey Keitel’s Agent Sadusky flashes his Masonic ring, we are to understand that the Brotherhood extends to the highest echelons of power throughout the nation to this day. Naturally, Gates is exonerated from criminal charges because his higher service to mankind is recognized by the Brotherhood. Besides, laws are only for the peasants anyway.

Ben Franklin. Freemason.

As is often the case with Hollywood films, the fictitious veneer often masks a reality. The film propelled the heroes through the National Archives, Independence Hall and culminated in a church in lower Manhattan. Gates had to uncover secrets from historical documents and objects hidden within the buildings. Three years ago, when the Massachusetts State House politicians hosted a ceremony to unearth the time capsule buried by Paul Revere 220 years ago, the Freemasons were the ones who were entrusted with the task. Just like the film, the contents were passed to the Museum of Fine Arts staff. Not exactly a roomful of Egyptian artifacts and relics, but of significant historical value nonetheless.

In a manner that was very similar to the film, Freemasons are present at the unearthing of a significant piece of American history and their connection to our national heritage is cemented into to minds of the public. Freemasons are woven into the fabric of American leadership, history and ideas in ways that, prior to this film, go mostly unrecognized. On the surface, it seems pretty benign and even downright noble. That’s certainly what Disney wants you to think. But Disney is in business of manufacturing symbols that create new realities. You could say it’s a kind of magic. They say Disney is “the most magical place on earth.” Something tells me their fascination with magic makes them natural allies with Freemasonry. I’m just not sure it’s as benign as they want you to think.

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Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig’s debut as writer and director is a modest gynocentric bildungsroman which succeeds on its earnest affections and enjoyable performances. Like virtually every film that occupies the so-called “indie” film market, it aims to portray the unvarnished edges of deep family intimacy as well as the quiet humor of well rendered characters. Gerwig has built a reputation by appearing in Quirky Indie Films like Baghead, Frances Ha and Greenberg. Films which can occasionally come off as platforms for charmless affectation and urbane pretentions. Thankfully, Lady Bird doesn’t devolve into this black hole of solipsistic navel gazing. If anything, Gerwig deserves credit for crafting a taut story filled with brisk, direct dialogue, relatable characters and energetic exchanges. The story hinges on the affectionate but contentious relationship between Saoirse Ronan’s Christine and her mother played by Laurie Metcalf.

Lady Bird charts Christine’s trajectory of growth in her final year at high school as she attempts to carve a path towards college. Her mother Marion is a hard bitten realist who wants to rein in Christine’s tendency towards self-aggrandizement and tamp down her grandiose dreams of an East Coast liberal arts education. Christine is the defiant daughter determined to rise above the rigid confines of her Catholic School upbringing and her lower middle-class home life. So much so that she insists on being called Lady Bird.

The film opens with a very funny quarrel between Marion and Christine in which Christine ejects herself from the car in order to avoid listening to her mother. Essentially, Christine is another headstrong adolescent who is unreceptive to maternal advice. Marion’s ministrations are blunt, but like most caring parents, she’s more than willing to dispense the bitter medicine.

Aside from her tortured relationship to her family, Christine’s journey covers three significant themes: friendship, academic achievement and men. She abandons her best friend in favor of ingratiating herself with one of the cool girls. She falls in love with a guy who turns out to be gay and then ostracizes him from her life. She has a contentious relationship with her Hispanic adoptive brother. She struggles with math and honesty. In other words, there’s nothing that hasn’t been broached on the ABC Family Channel or an episode of Roseanne.

If this seems like fairly standard dramatic fare for a modern coming of age story, you’d be correct. With so little real originality, you’re left to contend with the equally standard progressive editorializing. If you go into a contemporary film knowing it’s a vehicle for leftist commentary, you won’t be exasperated. It’s just a matter of degree, and Lady Bird is relatively modest on the preaching. Relatively. Sure, it gently mocks religious people and pro-life views. It panders to gender warriors and lesbians. It ridicules Ronald Reagan and conservatives. Par for the course. But there are places where it slides in some especially pernicious and deceptive editorial.

A common tactic among progressives is to take something that’s true pertaining to the possibility of danger, and then frame it as a joke, a lie, a conspiracy theory or a byproduct of bigotry. It’s a way of simultaneously reinforcing a smug, all encompassing intellectualism and a cosmopolitan openness to the world that is beyond the reach of narrow minded conservatives. When Christine’s friend Julie questions the possibility of terrorism while attending college in New York, Christine shoots back with the admonition “Don’t be a Republican.” It’s cute and kind of funny, but Julie’s concern is not exactly unfounded. It’s as though the mere consideration of the very real possibility of terrorism is contrary to progressive orthodoxy. It somehow means you’re setting yourself on an inexorable path toward conservatism by conceding that it could happen. It’s just one of many reasons modern progressivism is such a pathetic joke. Ideological conformity takes precedent over the objective reality of escalating terrorism worldwide.

Another moment comes when Christine is attempting to woo brooding artist, Kyle Scheible. Kyle is portrayed as a stereotypical young hard leftist who smokes hand rolled cigarettes, reads Howard Zinn and plays in a band. Timothée Chalamet effectively splits the difference between laconic cool guy, detached douchebag and emotional midget. Christine asks if he has a cell phone, but when he explains his reason for not having one, he says he doesn’t want to be tracked by the government. He then goes full Alex Jones, points to his skull and says “Then they’ll put it in your brain.” Gerwig plays it for laughs and wants you see him as a conspiracy prone naïf, but I think this is a tell. The fact that the NSA is spying through all manners of mobile devices is now widely known. But now, we’re already seeing articles about people willingly taking microchip implants. Gerwig very likely wants you to chuckle at Kyle’s youthful paranoia, but attempting to anaesthetize people to uncomfortable truths with ironic distance is standard practice for progressives.

The biggest crime of progressive agenda building in Lady Bird is the symbolism. Gerwig is presenting Christine as yet another archetype of leftist feminine virtue. At a purely symbolic level, birds represent freedom, the future or messengers of God. Gerwig has even given her lead character the female equivalent of Christ by naming her Christine. Her profile eclipses the blurred out crucifix on the movie poster. It doesn’t get any more explicit than that. Christine has survived her growing pains, heartbreaks and disappointments and now she’s ready to stake her claim to political power, the executive offices of corporate America, the lofty perch of the entertainment industry or the highest echelons of academia. You know. The cushy, prestigious positions that have air conditioning, six figure salaries and no physical labor.

Even Tracy Letts’ appealing and sympathetic turn as Christine’s father, Larry, feels like yet another subtle act of vandalism on the paternal father figure. He is doting and affectionate, but he’s also depressed and unemployed. He’s able to provide a sober counterpoint to Marion’s alpha mother harangues, but it feels like an explicit attempt to portray manhood as broken and ineffectual. The job interview at the end can be read both as a commentary on the declining economic prospects for the aging middle-class white male, but also as a rather blatant and dishonest sop to the pro-immigration plank of the progressive agenda.

Lady Bird is essentially the indie film complement to the more hamfisted preaching of blockbusters like Wonder Woman. It’s quieter and it has just enough emotional depth and universal humanity to salvage it from the bin of agitprop. But just barely. It struck me as very similar to Paul Weitz’ ode to an aging feminist from 2015, Grandma. But is this Best Picture caliber filmmaking? Meh. Not so much. If I wanted to be very cynical, I’d simply call this Hollywood affirmative action. It checks off all the requisite boxes in order pass the Hollywood PC virtue test. If that’s all it takes to earn a Best Picture nod, what a sorry state of affairs that represents. But I’m going to give Greta Gerwig the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to treat this as an earnest attempt to tell a story about a young woman coming to terms with her family and childhood and what she wants to carry into adulthood. And maybe in today’s cinematic landscape, that’s saying quite a bit.

Voltaire: Candide

François-Marie Arouet, better known to the world as Voltaire, was an author, philosopher, and provocateur extraordinaire. Rooted in a fervent belief in freedom of thought, he repeatedly broached subjects deemed forbidden by authority, and became the living embodiment of secular Enlightenment values. Candide was the novella that earned him his eternal infamy. The scorn he directed at the Catholic Church would scarcely raise an eyebrow today, but other aspects of the novel would arguably be just as, if not more scandalous now if he attempted to publish it today. In addition to its brutal depictions of rape and violence, Candide is a vicious satire of Leibniz’ philosophy of optimism. It’s filled to the brim with barbed criticisms of religious leaders, military culture and government officials, but delivered under the breezy veneer of a simple romantic adventure.

With Candide, Voltaire set out to skewer what he perceived to be the false piety and facile moralizing of the institutions and authorities of his day. He was one of the original trolls of Western civilization who canonized a spirit of irreverence that’s found throughout the ages in the works of Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Lenny Bruce, and presently, Milo Yiannopolous. Though Milo is routinely compared to Voltaire, I believe this comparison to be only partially true. Voltaire’s provocations are analogous to Milo’s in the sense that he offended prevailing sensitivities, but the targets of his ridicule, specifically his barbs directed at Jesuits and Christianity, feel like Maheresque precursors of the now shopworn clichés of atheists and the Left.

Though superficially a bildungsroman, the ultimate object of Voltaire’s ridicule was Leibniz’ Theodicy which was expressed through Candide’s mentor, Pangloss. “This is the best of all possible worlds,” Pangloss tells Candide from the luxurious confines of Castle Thunder-ten-tronckh in the kingdom of Westphalia. After being banished from the castle for getting a little too hot and heavy with the Duke’s niece, Cunégonde, Candide is beset by one misfortune after another as he traverses through Europe and the New World. Candide finds the naïvete of his wordview repeatedly challenged as he tries to reconcile the message of his mentor with the cruel reality of life outside castle walls.

Though he was a professed deist, the religious dogma, fanaticism, and hypocrisy of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all sent to Voltaire’s literary guillotine throughout the book. Candide leaves no religious cow un-slaughtered.

Candide translates to “optimism”, and above all else, Voltaire sought to poke Leibniz’ vision of optimism squarely in the eye. Voltaire saw this philosophy as hopelessly naïve and an inadequate lens through which to view the horror and depravity of the world. One can certainly appreciate that this work was deeply transgressive in its day, but Voltaire’s critique feels like little more than a petty gripe rooted in a failure to grasp the essence of Leibniz’ message. Of course the world is filled with depravity, suffering and hardship. These phenomena exist because they test the faithful. Rather than being an excuse to engage in self-deception through recitations of vacant aphorisms, I suspect Leibniz promoted this philosophy as a way of embracing the totality of life, good and bad. It’s far more challenging to find reasons to be hopeful about humanity when you’ve seen it at its worst. Can you find a reason to be hopeful after your home has been devastated by an earthquake? Can you find forgiveness and happiness after you’ve been brutally violated? Voltaire eventually resolves this conflict with a very modest aphorism of his own, but he seems to view this philosophy as something shallow, enervating and mind numbing rather than being a lens through which to view even the worst human suffering.

Voltaire is particularly scathing in his treatment of the Jesuits. Upon arrival in South America, Candide and his manservant, Cacambo, avoid being served as the main course in a tribal cannibal feast after calmly explaining to them that neither was, in fact, a Jesuit and that he had just impaled his Jesuit brother. On these grounds alone, Candide and Cacambo are spared this gruesome fate. It’s droll gallows humor, and he’s obviously having a bit of rude fun at the expense of the numerous Jesuit missionaries who ventured to South America in the 17th and 18th centuries, but he also appears to hold that appeals to reason are universal regardless of cultural or language differences. This strikes me as proto-SJW Kumbaya fantasy.

Voltaire’s view of Islam was largely negative, and the one aspect of the story that would most assuredly arouse a shitstorm of scandal to this day would be his portrayal of the Muslims. Candide is eventually reunited with Cunégonde only to discover that she was raped and maimed at the hands of the Bulgars. But just when you think it can’t get any worse, their new companion, the illegitimate daughter The Princess of Palestrina and Pope Urban X, tells her tale of woe. Known only as the old woman, she recounts a blood curdling tale of her rape by a “loathsome Negro”, and her mother’s brutal murder at the hands of the Muslims. Since Islam and the effects of Muslim immigration remain a political third rail, this aspect of the book would easily arouse controversy today if anyone in any academic setting were actually reading it.

But that’s not the only thing that would draw the ire of the contemporary Thought Police. His treatment of Don Isaachar has drawn accusations of antisemitism and that most ghastly of contemporary ThoughtCrimes: RACISM. Don Isaachar is one of Cunégonde’s early captors, and is portrayed as greedy and immoral. I don’t find it particularly antisemitic since it’s not out of the question that Jews like Don Isaachar existed. Voltaire is an equal opportunity offender and he is just as harsh on the Catholic Inquisitor and the Muslims. Besides, like every other manufactured outrage, it doesn’t make sense to judge yesterday’s art against today’s warped standards of Social Justice propriety.

Candide’s arrival in the fabled land of Eldorado certainly suggests that Voltaire was sympathetic towards socialist thought and had utopian notions of his own around how society could look if Enlightenment ideals could be expressed in his ideal monarchy. The citizens of Eldorado have an advanced economy with a dedicated scientific class, public institutions, housing, and art. They have access to precious stones and metals, but they are unmotivated by the accumulation of wealth and give them freely to Candide. In this respect, one detects the unmistakable seeds of proto-progressive economics, scientism and other related doctrines of social reform.

When Candide finally meets the one man who allegedly “has it all”, Signor Pococurante, Voltaire uses it as another opportunity to make fun of another coddled elitist, but it also betrays a certain cynicism towards the philosophical and cultural legacy of the West which now pervades the modern Left. Candide is dumbstruck as Signor Pococurante dispenses one blistering criticism after another towards every art form and philosophical work of importance. Voltaire wants to tear away at what he perceived as a false veil of deference towards these allegedly Great Works, but like his treatment of Leibniz, it feels slightly misplaced. Signor Pococurante sounds like a jaded hipster or academic progressive who listens to NPR, acquired a liberal arts degree, and has very specific, and mostly negative opinions about everything in the cultural sphere. One could take all of Signor Pococurante’s snide remarks, drop in a couple references to bell hooks, Howard Zinn and Judith Butler, and he’d sound just like a garden variety, Tumblr ready, Social Justice Warrior preparing for a career writing for Vox. This cynicism towards the cultural legacy of the West is now the norm. Within the cloistered halls of academia, so-called “educators” openly cultivate an active hostility towards Western thought as the font of all human opression.

Just like the numerous contemporary atheist critics of Christianity who’ve fancied themselves the torchbearers of Voltaire’s flame, Voltaire was a moralist at heart and his literary jabs were designed to expose the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be arbiters of morality. Whether taking shots at the sexual indiscretions of Catholic clergy, the brutality of the Inquisitors or the Jesuits who do not practice the teachings of Christ they preach, Candide rightfully inferred that the ordained guardians of morality should live by the standards they imposed on the laity.

Society needs people like Voltaire in order to shock people out of complacent obedience and expose social taboos to sunlight. Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the Islamic world needs its own Voltaire in order to ignite a reformation within the Islamic faith. Institutional power, whether state, religious or academic, rarely lives up to its responsibility to uphold the truth or live by the standards it imposes on the public. Yet, people crave the truth, and above all else, crave both a sense of moral certitude and to see hypocrisy exposed. Since the truth often dies within the walls of power, the responsibility to stand up for the truth always redounds to the individual. Humorists and satirists like Voltaire have often been the catalysts of change that puncture the seal of propriety that the self-appointed arbiters of morality have so assiduously tightened.

Voltaire was the court jester of his time who sought to answer ancient moral conundrums by poking fun at what he perceived to be the strictures and limitations of prevailing orthodoxy. Some of Candide still would arouse controversy today, but his overall posture of enlightened contempt towards the conservative attitudes and institutions of his time has become its own orthodoxy of progressive chic. The poles of entrenched thinking have reversed, and what was controversial in its day is blasé today. There’s nothing even remotely transgressive or edgy about ridiculing Christian morality, institutions or the broader legacy of Western philosophy in 2017. Milo draws comparisons to Voltaire today because today’s elites are, in many ways, the intellectual progeny of Voltaire himself. Whatever validity there was in Voltaire’s quest for a secular moral order in its day has devolved into the smug wisecracking of Bill Maher, the proto-neurofascism of Sam Harris, and a postmodern academic hegemony of absolutist relativism. All of whom are eagerly marching towards Gomorrah, but still doggedly cling to the delusion that Eldorado is the final destination.

While Candide may be showing its age, Voltaire’s spirit is evergreen because Puritanism knows no ideology, and people know who the busybodies are. Candide’s message of “tending one’s own garden” is a sufficiently universal ethical and moral principle, but the modern progressive intelligentsia have very specific ideas about what you can plant, how big it can be, and what pronouns you can use while tending it. Russell Brand, Bill Maher and John Oliver may imagine themselves to be the secular dragonslayers of hypocrisy who descend directly from Voltaire’s sacred order, but they’re actually the effete royalists who tacitly defend the new priesthood. Voltaire’s flame burns most brightly in the shitposting of Milo, the trolling of Steven Crowder, the savagery of Bearing and the meme magic of 4Chan. Candide is both of its time and timeless because there will always be priests, politicians, academics and self-appointed behavior cops and thought police who deserve to be exposed, and there’s no better weapon than satire and ridicule.

Spotlight (2015)

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Besides being a surprisingly engaging dramatization of the Boston Globe spotlight team’s exposé of the child sex abuse epidemic of the Catholic Church, Spotlight is a soaring testimony to the importance of free speech and a free, independent press.  With freedom comes great responsibility, and just as this film affirms these principles, it also reminds us that the pursuit of the truth takes real courage. 

Spotlight falls solidly in the tradition of films such as All The President’s Men.  It’s another great example of how a story of individuals in the press who doggedly pursued the truth and real moral virtue in the face of institutional opposition and threats of ostracism can make compelling screen drama. 

All of the elements of this film click.  Everything from the casting to the writing to the details of the victims to the quintessentially Bostonian vibe of the film, Spotlight epitomizes intelligent, economical cinematic storytelling. Out of all the films that have billed themselves as Boston Films in recent years, this and Black Mass were the most successful in terms of their portrayal of the scenic details, accents, personalities and provincial attitudes. 

The tension of the film centers around the ever escalating opposition and stonewalling the team faced as they deepened their investigation. An especially great scene which captured the courage that each player had to muster was Marty Baron’s first meeting with Cardinal Law; roles played by Liev Schreiber and Len Cariou respectively.  Prior to the meeting, the Globe lawyers filed a suit to unseal public records pertaining to past abuse cases. Baron is a model of composure as Law tries to seduce him into the conspiracy of silence between institutional powers.  “Things go well when our institutions work together, don’t you agree Marty?”, asks Law.  “Actually, I think the press works best when it stands alone.” BOOM! Fuck off, Law. 

It’s difficult to imagine anyone coming out of this film with anything other than a deep-seated contempt for the Catholic Church hierarchy. The enormity of the damage done to the lives of the victims is harrowing all by itself, but what is even more galling is the combined sense of denial and above-the-law entitlement exercised over many years.  The scale of the scandal beggars belief. 

The most abiding message of the film is its fearless affirmation of free speech and a free, independent press. Good journalism is an invaluable public service and having the courage to suspend confirmation biases, challenge institutional power and pursue facts wherever they lead should be the guiding principle for any journalist and the standard to which journalists are held accountable.  Since we live in an era of sensational clickbait journalism, academics who obscure reality by cloaking theories in pretensions of impenetrable profundity and publications which pursue an agenda driven interpretation of “facts”, the film reminds us that there are objective, verifiable facts and obtaining them is often more difficult than any of us imagine. 

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