Monday, June 12, 2017

Don't take advice from bugs.

Jiminy Cricket is an idiot.

Jiminy Cricket is, of course, the counselor for Pinocchio in the Walt Disney animated film. The character was in the original Carlo Collodi book, but was nameless and didn’t have much of a role.

The Blue Fairy in Disney’s version puts the cricket in a new suit and puts him to work. And he gets a name, too.

The two reasons I call Jiminy an idiot can be traced to his two big songs in the movie, “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Give a Little Whistle.”

Reason number one is easily explained: When you wish upon a star, you don't automatically get what you want, and thank God for that. If we got all our wishes we would be unimaginably horrid creatures in the long run. Meanwhile, kids who hear that song and want something good---Dad to come home, Grandma to get well---will wind up miserable when these things don’t happen, and then they become cynical teenagers, and expand that to bitching about prayers going unanswered, and we have to listen to them whine and refuse to go to church. Thanks, Jiminy.

You betcha!

Reason number two: Let’s look at the lyrics from that second song.

When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong,
give a little whistle!
Give a little whistle! 

[Whistling's connection to moral decision making thus far unclear …]

When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong,
give a little whistle!
Give a little whistle! 

[No serious problems yet ...]

Not just a little squeak,
pucker up and blow.
And if your whistle's weak, yell "Jiminy Cricket!" 

[Giving himself some job security here]

Take the straight and narrow path
and if you start to slide,
give a little whistle!
Give a little whistle!
And always let your conscience be your guide!


The problem is that not everybody’s conscience is a good guide. And I ought to know, since I’ve heard plenty of people talk about doing lousy, rotten things to other people and being perfectly at ease with their souls. Yes, I’m sure your conscience agrees that leaving your family in need to marry some floozy to “find your path” and “be the authentic you” was the right thing to do. Your kids will understand. Probably around the time they’re abandoning their own families.

But you say, “Hey, the conscience is said to be the part of you that knows right from wrong and is said by some philosophers and most theologians to be a gift from God. How can it be wrong?”

Here’s where two millennia of Catholic teaching shows us a better understanding of the human heart than either modern psychology or Jiminy Cricket.

The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism by the late Fr. John Hardon explains that our own actions and habits over time may cause our conscience to become corrupt, or at least unreliable. It defines eight types of unreliable conscience:

Scrupulous conscience: A conscience that is too timid to decide right from wrong, and may judge lawful things as unlawful out of fear. The hyper-religious person who condemns everything is a popular stereotype of this.

Perplexed conscience: A conscience that sees an act being performed as sinful, and the same act not being performed as sinful. Someone who believes going to war for the country and failure to answer the call to go to war for the country as sinful acts may be said to have a perplexed conscience.

Lax conscience: A lazy conscience that sees virtue in sin, letting things pass or deciding it’s no biggie. "Robbed an ol' widow? Hey, not like she's got long to live anyway."

Pharisaic conscience: A conscience that trivializes grave sins but magnifies small matters. Jesus knew some of them. A vegan who rears back in horror at the idea of eating an egg but would like to throw acid in the face of a Republican might just have a pharisaic conscience.

Hardened conscience: A conscience that approves of everything, completely corrupted by sin. Basically half of our modern culture.

Certain conscience: A conscience without a prudent fear of being wrong, which can lead to stubbornness and error. Those who see themselves as 100% saved by their faith can easily fall into this trap.

Doubtful conscience: A conscience that can never decide for or against a course of action, and may not act at all. Prince of Denmark, call your office.

Erroneous conscience: An upside-down conscience that tells the person that a bad act is good and a good act is bad. Basically the other half of our modern culture.

Someone with a scrupulous, doubtful, or perplexed conscience would never be happy on this earth; one with a hardened, erroneous, certain, pharisaic, or lax conscience would go forth and cause all kinds of misery with a happy grin. And there’s Jiminy telling them all it’s A-OK.

So you see, Jiminy is an idiot. Then again, despite his name being a mild euphemism for taking the Lord’s name in vain, Jiminy is just a bug. It’s kind of a lot just to ask him to wear a suit, let alone sing and dance. How can we pile theology on top of it?

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