Sed Contra: Catholic Journalism As If Beauty Really Mattered

Deal W. Hudson
March 1, 2000

Readers may have noticed that I added an explanatory note to the review section. I have been asked if this is a “disclaimer,” meant to disassociate myself from our reviewers’ opinions. That was certainly not my intent. I deemed the note necessary by the letters I have received from some readers who assume the mere presence of a review in Crisis constitutes a positive recommendation. It is important for all our readers to understand the role of a review section in a Catholic magazine, namely, to engage the culture with the sanity of Catholic intelligence.

Those who write these letters don’t articulate a disagreement with the comments of our reviewers— they simply don’t want these movies mentioned at all or anything redeeming about them extolled. They want Crisis to place a seal of approval on specific films every month. Take a look at the Ignatius Press video catalog to see where that strategy leads— it can’t include films like Liv Ullman’s Kristin Lavransdatter, presumably because of its sexual content. I assume it will sell the book. (Interesting contrast, isn’t it?)

Frankly, most of the complaints are about sex scenes and innuendoes. I agree that these are unnecessary and, at times, morally dangerous. Offhand, I can think of only one film in which an explicit sex scene was necessary to the unfolding plot and characterization—Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away. The closing of a door, the blowing out of a candle, or the dropping of clothes on the floor is all that is needed to get the point. In fact, the evocation of genuine desire has been all but banished from the movies with the obligatory sex scenes. They violate a basic canon of Aristotle’s Poetics that spectacle should never be allowed to overwhelm the narrative.

The purpose of the Crisis review section is not to help our readers create a Catholic ghetto with a “G” rating. Yes, we will continue to provide guidance to parents with young children, but more importantly we will equip those parents whose teenage and young-adult children express opinions about films like American Beauty, Eyes Wide Shut, and The End of the Affair. Need it be said that film watching has become the most universally shared experience of the realm (although it has recently been challenged by investment chatter)? Catholics should enter that discussion, as Flannery O’Connor put it, informed by their vision, not by the “sensibility” of the age.

However, it concerns me that some Catholics deeply committed to Catholic intelligence, who are manifestly not afraid to talk about the truth, are the most skittish when it comes to the arts. A case in point is my recent trip to the marvelous Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, California. What I say here is only a minor quibble with what is surely one of the best Catholic colleges anywhere in the world. The staff, faculty, students, curriculum, campus, and physical setting would give almost anyone the urge to start his or her education all over again (evidently, some TAC undergraduates have done just that). TAC is flourishing and deserves all the Catholic support it can get.

My lecture at TAC on the subject of morality and art was followed by more than three hours of discussion. Most of the questions centered on the moral influence of artists’ work. Throughout the discussion, there was strong resistance to my argument that art serves us best when artists are free and responsible to create, and we, the audience, are free and responsible to enjoy. In other words, I urged a sort of subsidiary approach to the problem of moral influence—let both the artist and the audience stand free of external restrictions but responsible for the beauty they share. In this approach, parents teach their children critical skills; audience and artists learn from Catholic critics, teachers, and pastors. Everyone learns to see and create beyond the secular hype.

Some TACers clearly thought that since few know the truth, the moral limits of art should be imposed by those few, like Plato’s philosopher kings. Their concern about lost souls is precisely the same as mine, except I see it the other way around—more souls are put at risk when Catholics abandon the culture and the cause of beauty. Beauty converts more readily than sound arguments—it should always be on our side, even if marred by the spectacle of unnecessary sensuality. Thomas Aquinas once said that the truth should be embraced no matter who utters it; the same is also true of the other transcendentals, including the much-feared Beauty.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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