Thursday, July 16, 2009

The cult of St. Dave

I see that Dave Armstrong did a post on his all-time favorite topic of conversation–himself:

You have to wonder how many hours he devoted to this exercise. It’s meticulously formatted, with footnotes, bullet points, italicized words, no fewer than three photographic illustrations, and a soundtrack to boot. And all that time and effort on a post that’s to, for, and about himself.

It reminds me of those Catholic cathedrals in which the Lady chapel is the center of attention. There’s a huge altar to Mary, crowded with flickering votive candles. Then there’s a dark, dingy, lonely little side chapel with an altar dedicated to what’s-his-name. You know…some guy by the name of Jesus. Ever heard of him?

You have to wonder what Armstrong would do with himself in heaven. I don’t think heaven is big enough for God Almighty and David Armstrong. If Armstrong ever gets to heaven, he’ll have to evict the Lord to make room for himself.

Dave is his very own religion. Both subject and object. He carries around a mental icon of his adorable self-image. Lights imaginary candles to his self-image. Burns imaginary incense to his self-image.

This overweening self-importance isn’t limited to Armstrong. In my observation, it’s fairly characteristic of Catholic converts who become pop apologists.

And, from what I can tell, this is not characteristic of cradle Catholics. Some cradle Catholics are proud, but others are quite humble and self-effacing.

What is it about Catholic converts like Armstrong which selects for this particular mindset?

Armstrong maintains exhaustive records of what anyone, anywhere, at any time, ever said about him. His self-obsession reminds me of a woman I once read about:

If Price's memory of her own history is so precise, why is it so average for everything else? Or, more to the point, if her memory for everything else is so ordinary, why is her memory of her own history so extraordinary? The answer has nothing to do with memory and everything to do with personality.

Price remembers so much about herself because she thinks about herself—and her past—almost constantly. She still has every stuffed animal she's ever gotten, enough (as she showed me in a photograph) to completely cover the surface of her childhood bed. She has 2,000 videotapes and countless audiotapes, not to mention more than 50,000 pages of diary entries in idiosyncratic handwriting—so dense that it's almost unreadable. Until recently she owned a copy of every TV Guide since summer 1989. I'm not sure Price wants to catalog her life like this, but she can't help herself. When she tells me that one of her biggest regrets in life is that no one followed her around with a microphone during her childhood, I'm not the least bit surprised. In her own words, she lives as if there's a split screen running in her mind—one half on the present, the other on the past.


  1. Hey Steve,

    Yet another, balanced, constructive, objective, ad hominem free post—so much to learn from the grandmaster…

    The Beachbum

  2. I do you consider Armstrong's post to be balanced, constructive, objective, and ad hominem free?

  3. "This overweening self-importance isn’t limited to Armstrong. In my observation, it’s fairly characteristic of Catholic converts who become pop apologists."

    Why do you wonder at this? Were you to convert to Rome, you'd be your parish's poster-child by night, including book-deal and evocative mass with the administration of the sacrament of confirmation, and testimony of your coming to Chri... - i mean Rome, through the study of Bi... - I mean, the Cathechism and the popish encyclicles.

    A dog will relish in every crump from the table, and the savage will even hoist up the skull of a civilised footsoldier.

    That's a Chinese proverb. Just thought of it. Will it stick?

  4. Hi Mr. Hays, I have seen a fair number of cathedrals and I have never seen a Lady Chapel that is built to be the center of attention. Usually they are in a chevet off to the side. Can you name us a couple you have seen that are built elsewhere where they outshine the altar devoted to Our Lord?

    Mr. Fonseca, Here are some real Chinese sayings for you:

    "Can anyone refuse to toil for those he loves? Can anyone to exhort, who is true-hearted?"


    Someone asked, "What say you of the remark 'requite enmity with kindness'?"

    Confucius replied, "How then would you requite kindness?-Requite enmity with straightforwardness, and kindness with kindness."

    Frankly, given your misstatement about the sacrament of confirmation, it might be a good idea for you to read a catechism or two. Or maybe your Bible, Acts for example, where one can see the sacrament actually being given. (Acts 8:14-17. Acts 19:1-6)

    As far as conversion stories go, perhaps you might want to take a look at Lk. Chapter 15 as to why we celebrate them so.

    God bless!

  5. Mr. Hoffer ... I'm surprised at that. I realize that there tons of cathedrals, though. Perhaps you've never been to one like this.

  6. Hi Mr. Fan, Perhaps you would be so kind to point out where the altar dedicated to Our Lady is in the cathedral building based on the drawing located in the Architecture section of the website. Mr. Hays in his orifinal posting referred to the Lady Chapel which is located usually off to the side or far behind the center altar built into the arc of the apse itself.

    God bless!

  7. Mr. Hoffer,

    It seemed that your original comment showed familiarity only with the side-altar approach to Marian veneration.

    As you will note from the architecture page of the link I provided, Marian veneration is a central visible element in the sanctuary (as in many Marian cathedrals).

    I'm not suggesting that there are any of Rome's churches where the high altar has literally been positioned as a side altar. I don't think Steve was suggesting that either.

  8. Hello Mr. Fan: I do not know how you can read Mr. Hays' words the way you state. He wrote:

    "It reminds me of those Catholic cathedrals in which the Lady chapel is the center of attention. There’s a huge altar to Mary, crowded with flickering votive candles. Then there’s a dark, dingy, lonely little side chapel with an altar dedicated to what’s-his-name. You know…some guy by the name of Jesus. Ever heard of him?"

    The Lady's Chapel is an actual architectural feature found in many cathedrals, particularly those built in the Gothic, Baroque, and Romanesque styles. From what Mr. Hays' stated specifically, his statements contradict what you are denying with your statements. Now if he was exaggerating or engaging in hyperbole to make a point, that is one thing, but he also states that he is "reminded" of cathedrals that have the feature of a Lady's Chapel that is the "center of attention" and has a "huge altar to Mary" in it and also features a "little side chapel with an altar dedicated to what's His Name...some guy by the Name of Jesus." All of which suggest that he has some specific recollection or memory of such being true.

    I have asked him to tell us what Cathedral(s) (since he uses the plural) has/have the features he describes. I have not visited every cathedral in the world but based on my personal obeservations of several hundred Catholic Churches and several dozen Catholic Cathedrals in my life that I have visited plus what I recall from Western Culture 101 and in general reading, an architectural feature such as a Lady's Chapel is to be found in a chevet off to the side of the sanctuary or behind in the apse. Even the Lady Chapels in St. Patrick's Cathedral in NY or at the National Basilica in Washington DC which is actually dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mother and is the largest church in the world are much smaller than the actual sanctuary devoted to Our Lord. Even the most ornate one I can recall seeing or reading about is the Lady's Chapel at the Westminster Abbey in England, and that is still alot smaller than the actual sanctuary. Now I agree that some of the Lady Chapels are pretty and some of them might even qualify as large, but I have never seen one that is bigger than the sanctuary devoted to ol' "What's-His-Name" to use Mr. Hays parlance.

    The least Mr. Hays can do is substantiate the factual foundation of his lurid charge particularly when he is using it to make "hay" against Mr. Armstrong. If the comparison is not accurate, then the article suffers accordingly.

    Now comes the bias part--I am a friend of Dave A. Despite living a couple of hundred miles from each other, we have met, our families have met and we have talked and corresponded on occasion. The person that Mr. Hays describes is not the Dave Armstrong I know. Perhaps Dave comes across like gangbusters and can engage in "overkill" on arguments, but that is borne from his passion to spread the Gospel and to defend the Church which is its guardian.

    Then again. we all have our faults. One of mine, for example, is the inability to complete major apologetics projects in a timely manner. For some, it may be a lack of knowledge of what and where a Lady Chapel is found in a Cathedral.

    God bless!

  9. Turretin Fan is correct. "Center of attention" is a psychological term, not an architectural term. The center of attention is whatever people center their attention on. That needn't be a fixed point of reference. For example, celebrities can be the center of attention for some people. That doesn't mean a celebrity is stuck in one place.

  10. Paul,

    I was just in Marseille and saw two churches personally that did this very thing.
    Notre Dame de la Garde

    The Sacré Cœur Basilica on Avenue Prado

    ND de la Garde was slightly more disgusting. I always love the golden, crowned Virgin on top of the basilica, but of course the one on the altar moves one more powerfully to nausea.


  11. Hello Folks, Thank you for the interaction. Rhology, I have not been to Marseilles myself although it is happens to the setting of one of my favorite books, "Le Comte de Monte Cristo." However, I would note that none of the statuary that is being referenced constitute an "huge altar to Mary" or show that there is only a dark dingy side chapel dedicated to Our Lord. I hope Mr. Hays has some examples for us of these specfic features.

    Rhology, as far as the statues of Mary go, while you were keeping your bile down did you happen to notice that the statutes, at least the big ones I could find in the links all have Our Lord in her arms. Based on what I know about such things, I imagine that closer observation would show Mary pointing to Her Son as a reminder as to Who the source of our salvation is. At least that is what is one on top of Le Cathedrale de Notre Dame de la Garde depicts. Oh, as to the Sacre Coeur Basilica, the statue of Mary behind the altar happens to a part of a Pieta which depicts Mary with Her Son sacrificed for our sins Who has just been taken off the cross. This particular Pieta shows Our Lord as He was placed at the feet of His mother.

  12. Paul,

    Yeah, I tried on two separate days to make it out au Château d'If, but high winds shut down the ferries each day. I was bummed b/c I really wanted to go. Oh well, perhaps another day. Great book, Monte Cristo.

    You're picking nonexistent nits. ND de la Garde's main altar has the BVM there. On the central altar. And it's a sizable basilica. How do you define "huge", and why are you acting like the presence of the BVM on the central altar doesn't matter unless the size fits some mysterious, Paul Hoffer-defined hugeness? This is transparent question begging.

    There is little to nothing there to indicate that Christ is indeed the center. You RCs often claim that icons are visual representations of the written Scriptures, for illiterate and literate alike. Given that, what are these churches telling their congregants? It's obvious, really, unless one has a pre-existing commitment to uphold the RCC's bogus reputation, that RCC could easily fix by taking down their icons of Mary. But nnnooooo, wouldn't want to keep the focus on Christ.


  13. Hi Rhology, without trying to hijack Mr. Hays' blog, I will merely state here that Catholics believe that a devotion to Mary leads to an even greater devotion to Christ. As for the the BVM's presence on the pedestal at the back of central altar of Notre Dame de la Garde, she would not have been there at all but for the presence of Our Lord there too. Finding a close up picture shows Mary holding the infant Jesus in her arms and as I indicated previously, she is pointing to Him ( as the source of our salvation. To someone who is not familiar with such usage I can understand why you might misunderstand, but on the other hand, to those of us who grew up in the Church as congregants we know what that statue signifies and we do not see it as a singling out of Mary as you suggest. God did that when He chose her to bear Our Lord. I doubt that any statue made by the hands of man could outshine God's work in that regard or honor Mary more than God did.

    True, we could take down the "icons" of Mary, but then we would be taking down Christ down too because those "icons" show Mary enfolding Our Lord in her arms, much like the way we should be enfolding Our Lord in our hearts.

    BTW, I am still waiting on Mr. Hays' examples of Cathedrals with "a huge altar to Mary, crowded with flickering votive candles. Then there’s a dark, dingy, lonely little side chapel with an altar dedicated to what’s-his-name."

  14. Paul,

    Alan already gave you some architectural examples. Here's another example of what I mean about the "center of attention":

  15. Hi Mr. Hays, so please share--what's the name of the church and when did you visit it? It does not look like a cathedral to me...

    Nevertheless, I appreciate you posting a link to the pictures. The Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion is the devotion I have prayed every Thursday evening for the last four years or so. It is a specialized devotion and is one that requires a nonfail commitment of time to do(which may explain why there were so few there at the time).

    As to the pictures of SS. Rocco and Sebastian and Our Lady and the Christ Child being portrayed together, this is reminder of medieval times when Europe was gripped by the Black Plague. SS. Rocco and Sebastian were the patron saints of plague victims and are usually depicted with Christ and His mother or Christ on the cross. Without knowing where and when the photograph was taken, I would hazard a guess that it was taken around August 15-16 based on the number of candles lit for what it is worth.

    Anyway, if that is the best you got ...

  16. Unless I experienced this man first hand I could not have believed it.