Theology, “Pawn Sacrifice” and Populist Paranoia

A friend messaged me today and inquired if I were doing okay.  I have been pretty quiet on social media and old-fashioned outreach since Christmas.

Some of that was by design, some imposed on me by a colonoscopy procedure that hit me a little harder than I expected.  While my results were stellar, the side effects of headache and pain were greater than anticipated.  But then, I have aged some since my last experience with this examination.  And my back was in better shape.

The self-imposed part of my more quiet time has been to binge watch “The Crown” and “Outlander.”  I am finding I enjoy being able to watch all episodes of the series I most appreciate back to back to back.  It is more like reading a good book you can’t put down, or being willing to watch an extended movie classic because it is – classic.

But I have not entirely disengaged from the occasional Facebook post and some tweeting.  Oddly, I wandered into the middle of a Twitter dispute involving Fr. James Martin, SJ and Professor C.C. Pecknold of the Catholic University of America.

I guess my original tweets made it look like I was siding with Fr. Martin too much, because Professor Pecknold’s supporters piled on a bit.  They accused me of lacking objectivity. As the Twitter war progressed to an all-out editorial on the subject by Pecknold, I felt both men were at fault in an incident neither was willing to let go. Subsequent tweeting by Fr. Martin proved that.  I have respect for both of them, with one being more socially and ideologically liberal than the other.  I have learned from both and respect both.

That seemed to get lost in all the pleas for me to be more “objective” somehow.  I thought calling both out for unnecessary roughness was being objective, but evidently there is some back story here I am not privy to nor did I care to take the time to research.

Because when it comes to theological opinions, this is my view: whoever is speaking, whatever their social viewpoint and liberal to conservative ideological bent, my advice is take what the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart in what that person is saying, and discard the rest.  That is the Spirit’s job – to help you hear what it is God feels you need to hear from whatever source you need to hear it.

It is not worth being in spiritual warfare with a fellow brother or sister about matters of God.  And yes – you can hear truth in both extremes, as well as in the center of things.  No one point of view holds the deed to absolute truth.

Trust me, if we get it wrong down here, we will hear about it when Christ returns.  It is called Judgement.  Since I am shooting for Divine Mercy, hopefully I will not experience it.  But, it is only a hope.  I am humble enough to know that it is a fate I may not easily achieve.

It’s just I don’t want to spend any time in Purgatory, because it is a concept that I still have trouble embracing.  I get what it means theologically and why it is a part of Catholic doctrine.  It is not that I don’t see the sense of it.  Maybe it is the Protestant still stuck in me.  Either Jesus died on the cross for me to save me from my sin, or his death holds no meaning.  It was a useless Passion he endured.  And I do not believe his Passion was without purpose.

I am sure I will get plenty of theological pushback on that one!  Hold your fire.  I do get the purpose of Purgatory.  I just hope not to have to experience it, especially if, as some theologians suggest, it makes your longing for union with God to be greater than it already is.

So, while recuperating these past two days and being drawn into theological dispute, I also found some movie time.  I wasn’t sure how dramatically interesting it would be, but I watched the movie “Pawn Sacrifice” with Toby Maguire and Liev Schreiber this afternoon.  It was fascinating.

It shows so beautifully – as did “Amadeus” – what a fine line there is between genius and madness, and how delicate that line is, how easily broken.  Especially when the genius is improperly nurtured by those who perhaps recognize it, but do not understand how to protect it.  And those who would use it to their own distinct advantage, which in this case would have been everyone in the nation in 1972-but most especially his “handler” and the U.S. government.

I am not sure Fischer was aware he was carrying the expectation of the nation on his shoulders.  He was too insular for that realization.  But he did recognize others were benefitting from his brilliance.  That much was not paranoia.

But oh how beautifully Maguire played those notes – from his ripping apart hotel rooms looking for Soviet era “bugging” devices to coming to believe world conspiracy theories that still have hold in some quarters to this day.  Couple that with an obnoxious personality, and it is amazing Fr. Bill Lombardy, played by Peter Sarsgaard, stayed with him through his stunning defeat of Spassky in Game 6 of the tournament.  (Lombardy was the “moral voice” in the movie, though just as fascinated and drawn by Fischer’s brilliance as the next.)

But what was most intriguing was how Spassky, played with supreme confidence by Schreiber, began to “catch” Fischer’s paranoia.  At first, he thought it was a stratagem.  Then he began to experience his own set of paranoid feelings.  Even though he had no way of knowing that Fischer’s explosive craziness was real, it unnerved Spassky and he “caught” the paranoia bug, right down into speaking into the chandeliers of his hotel suite because he believed his own Soviet government was bugging him.

As fascinating was the way Spassky was flummoxed at Fischer’s unorthodox chess moves, which he had never played before.  All of the preparation and study Spassky put into his play was out the window, because Fischer was willing to test theoretical moves instead of those conventionally known and used.   Spassky was playing based on past, predicted behavior Fischer had previously shown in his play.  Fischer was playing based on probabilities not before thought of, let alone tried.

It is a movie that is a perfect analogy to this Trumpian era.  For the past year, everyone has said that Trump will “settle down” and behave “more predictably.”  I posit that will not happen.  Trump thrives on the emotional chaos he creates for others.  He is as out of touch with reality as was Fischer.  But unlike Fischer, Trump’s theoretical populism (which really isn’t populism at all) has real world consequences for each of us who are citizens of this country.

The question is do we, like Spassky, succumb to the paranoiac world view of Trump and his cadre?  Or can we keep our Joe Cool sunglasses from slipping and our confidence in our own reality high?

I especially hope the latter for Robert Mueller and his team, as well as those who support them.

Otherwise, Trump will pull a move no one saw coming, and it will be his game to win.




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