Saturday, May 17, 2014

Scapegoating the Body

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets and Convert Journal

that's a relief

(This post is a bit of a sequel to the prior post.)

On April 30 I completed what I think is my 10th year of catechizing 6th-graders in Wednesday Night Sunday School. I love teaching, but I like to also sit down and have someone else be the teacher, especially if they really have something to teach. My classes are on Wednesday nights at the same time RCIA; and on Thursdays the parish offers lectures on assorted topics of interest to Catholics such as the Reformation, the Divine Comedy, and Islam. Both RCIA and the Thursday night series are led by our Director of Christian Formation T.J. Nielsen, who, like Goldilocks' porridge, is just right: brisk, informed, funny, comment-and-question oriented, and not too Powerpointy. But during the Catechetical year, having taught on Wednesday I don't wanna go back out on Thursday; so I attended only one of TJ's presentations before May, and two more since then. My loss. I may try harder next year.

When I hear anyone speak live about religion-philosophy-culture-society, it's usually from the pulpit on Sunday or a lectern during the week. I'm always catechetically assessing the moment-by-moment content of what I hear: do I cover that in class? If so, is this new content I can merge with what I already do? If I don't cover it, should I? How much time would it take? How would I teach it to kids? That sort of thing. It's affirming that most of what I hear from pulpit or lectern overlaps and harmonizes with lots of class content and thought-process, although the pitch is different. And even if there's no direct lesson-plan application of some memorable bit, inevitably some child will ask an off-the-wall question; and pow, I deliver an answer I mooched from someone else years ago.

So refining kids' content through exposure to adult thinking is second nature. But over the last couple of weeks being in TJ's class, I heard questions and comments coming from adults that I had already heard at least once from kids. And of course my 6th-grade answers were different from adult-type answers. So I felt constrained to strip the kiddie-approach out of anything I said before commented. But still: meaningful adult content lay within children's catechesis, content that wasn't likely to emerge in an adult-only learning environment.

Last night's parish lecture on the Catholic Worldview included discussion of a human being comprising a unity of a body and a soul. TJ mentioned Manicheans and Gnostics, who align the Soul with light and the good; and the Body with darkness and evil.  A woman asked why Christian heretics such as the Cathars would reinvent those old ideas- after all, Genesis observes that everything was good. Now, kids don't ask questions about Cathars or Gnostics. But kids ask questions about how our bodies and souls go together; and discuss why people don't like to apologize or accept blame; why sin is bad; its effects; why bad things happen. In class, Body and Soul is a theme that runs all the way from Genesis through the Mass. There was a good, kid-type answer to that woman's question, but I had to think about it. After the lecture was over and people were chatting, I asked her if I could respond to her question especially with reference to the Genesis bit. She said sure.

I crouched down so I could touch the floor. "You're right that Genesis says everything God made was good. That means even stuff like rocks. It was all good 'cause everything that comes from God is good unless something messes it up. But Adam and Eve sinned, and God said to Adam, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you." You may already know adama is Hebrew for earth, ground, dirt. So Adam was made from Adama and God's breath (I pretend to scoop up dirt, breathe into it, and mold it), and he was good. Now Mr. Dirt has sinned. But Adam's sin doesn't just affect Adam the man; Mr. Dirt's sin also curses the dirt, the adama (I angrily smack the floor), because they are connected. Adam sins, and all Creation pays for it. Now nobody wants to think their sins have such repercussions; but I think when I sin, it may have some bad effect centuries or light years from here, like throwing a sin-rock into clean, calm water. I don't know how far the bad ripples will go, but I expect to be appalled when I find out. If God showed me right now all the bad I've caused, it'd probably kill me or at least drive me insane. And being prideful, I look for an easy way around that Matterhorn of guilt- you know, I'm not as bad as Hitler, or my prodigal brother, or Judas. Or my sins are just on me, so no biggie to get God's pro-forma forgiveness.

I expect everybody looks for that sort of out: one that lets us keep most of our pride intact. So people take advantage of a major consequence of sin: death. See, death separates the body and soul, and the body belongs to the visible, physical world, which we already know is a mess: famine, plague, tornadoes, tigers, yuck! It was a mess before I got here! So that must be the problem: our souls, our invisible real selves are good and pure, and not morally responsible for being stuck in these lousy sin-prone bodies. This heresy simply scapegoats the Body, in order that the Soul may get a pass. A convenient construct, but a false one. A human being is singular, even if we can imperfectly perceive different aspects of that singularity. We're a bit like Jesus in that respect: Jesus comprises God/Man/Body/Soul all at once. But Jesus is singular; prying him apart is heretical. Likewise the Trinity: the three-ness is singular. Prying them apart is heretical.

The whole person sins. There's no Gnostic spiritual better-half with an eternal get-out-jail-free card. That's why there will be a Resurrection of the Dead before the Final Judgement: the whole person is good or bad, so the whole person will be judged. Ouch.

That's why that heresy remains popular. And it's why the Catholic Church is always clear about why it truly is heretical: the only out is true repentance, and the sacrifice of one's pride."

And that's also why we have, you know, Confession. Ouch again.

(Audio version here.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sin and Weltanschauung

This post links to New Evangelizers and RAnn's Sunday Snippets

I think it's in that one

Last Thursday night I attended the first of two lectures at my parish on the topic of worldview. One thread ran like this:

The ultimate reality is God, who is all good. Therefore the worldview most attuned to reality is most likely to lead to holiness. I like that. Anyway, amid discussion, someone asked about Beauty- is it objective or subjective? And I was compelled to pontificate briefly.

When I was about 14 years old I began to notice that occasional smells, handwriting, tunes, color combinations, foreign word sounds, images, or voices had a druglike effect on me which was both very personal but also very transcendent. It had been true since I was a little kid. I still recall being mesmerized by the colors on a toy seaplane; and even until today, I can de-stress if I look at something purple (usually a necktie) and repeat the word "purple" a few times...mmm...purple. Go figure. Anyway, at 14 I began to wonder about the beauty within these bewitching bits of Creation: was it just my reaction to them, or were they beautiful on their own? That is, was Beauty objective or subjective? Did beauty exist, the way a rock exists? Or was it but a therapeutic figment of my imagination? If no-one sees beauty, is it still beautiful?

This was also when I was having to make my own mind up about God & All That without much success. Now that I think about it, this may be why I didn't have a girlfriend or a social life back then. Am I digressing?

So last night I commented that it took me about 20 years to realize that Beauty did indeed exist independently of my perception of it. And that once I got that settled, all the Godstuff fell into place in a way that tied into the worldview discussion. Put simply, God is Good/ Everything he made is Good/ Beauty is a manifestation of that intrinsic Goodness. As a wooden spoon reveals the beauty of the wood from which it's made, so does all Creation manifest the Beauty of God's Goodness. Easy, right? That took me 20 years. Thank ya Jesus for letting me live long enough to suss it out.

But further discussion led to how people often disagree about what's beautiful. Yes, that's so, people don't agree on all sorts of stuff. When I bump into problems like this, first I think about Eden- you know, before sin. Did Adam and Eve disagree? I doubt it. Their worldview was as aligned with reality as a human being's worldview can possibly be. What's to disagree about? They lived a holy life 24/7, hanging out with God in the shade of the Garden. Did they have God's worldview? Well, no. But their small, human worldview was in perfect harmony with God's...ya can't ask for more than that.

Then Sin entered the World, and messed up not just us, but Creation: hurricanes, carnivores, plagues, you name it. Not only does Sin cloud our view of beauty and everything else, but also degrades Creation itself. There's less Beauty to see, and it's harder to see it. Our whole existence is a grinding struggle against the continual physical and metaphysical consequences of our sins; speaking as an architect, I tell my wife that it's a wonder that we can stack one stone on top of another one. And all of us, isolated in our unique, mean little sin boxes, peek out at adulterated fragments of God's wonder, and inevitably argue about what we are looking at. It's impossible to underestimate the effects of Sin- indeed, Sin makes it so. Sin stunts us so that except for God's revelation, we have little choice but to grasp at mere batches of reality: always the snake, the tree trunk, the fan; but never the elephant.

Which is frustrating. As someone commented later on last night: there are so many conflicting ways of imagining God, so many ways to put God in a box, yet he remains unboxable. Yes again- but we can't be discouraged. Looking again at Eden, did Adam and Eve have to box little wads of data? Again, I doubt it. But we're stuck with boxes, we can't fix that. Yet we can always aspire to bigger boxes, and fewer boxes, which I think leads to a better understanding of God; and by extension, of reality. For example, the more I understand the Bible as a single box, the more it points to Catholicism, which unsurprisingly is the biggest box of Christian thinking; well, the biggest box of thinking, period.

Which gets us back to one's Weltanschauung, one's world-at-look-ing. I want the biggest one I can manage in a sin-wracked World; and the one most aligned with Reality. I want what Prof. Romano Guardini called Die Katholische Weltanschauung, the Catholic Worldview.

That's the topic of tonight's lecture.

photo by Skrewtape