What do I believe in? God, Jesus Christ, the Christian faith, the Catholic Church. I must believe in these things. When I study the ancient world, and see the plethora of beliefs and philosophies, I am glad that I am Catholic, because the Catholic Church has at least sifted out for me what is true and not true belief. For instance, recently I have been reading about Gnosticism, and it was, and is, and extremely complex mixture of various ancient philosophies and traditions which were commingling with various early and later Christian communities. I simply do not have the time to work out for myself what to believe and not believe in many of these matters, so the Church guides me through these beliefs. From that point on it is my choice what to believe and not believe. If I wanted to leave the Church altogether because I chose not to believe certain things, then I would, but I choose not to.
I don’t claim to be any kind of philosopher or theologian. I just enjoy the world around me, want to learn more about it, and want to write about it. Faith, religion and spirituality are part of this. They are an integral part of my belief system. I understand these are not for everyone, but for me, they are essential.
My areas of disagreement with the Catholic Church in particular, and with Christianity in general, are mainly in the areas of sexuality and human relationships. I simply believe the Church needs to evolve in its teachings on human sexuality. As far as theology, I pretty much believe all the teachings of the Church, from the divinity of Christ to the Eucharist to the Sacramental system of the Church. These have always been easy for me to accept. I enjoy the mysticism of Catholicism, as well the antiquity of the Church. It has sustained me for well over a quarter century. The prayer life offered by the Church is also quite rich. It is something I practice on a daily basis. After two millennia, it is a system that has been refined and perfected as none other. The fact also that the Catholic Church has existed for two millennia now, in all sorts of different places, circumstances, conditions, some quite adverse, from the persecutions of Nero to the Communists, without ever essentially changing it fundamental, core belief system, is also a source of strength and comfort for me.
In addition, I think for most people searching or practicing a spiritual life, prayer is the single most important aspect of that, followed by some sort of sense of community. Prayer draws us individually closer to whatever spiritual world we are seeking. For Christians, it draws us closer to God, and unites us with the divine. But there is also communal prayer as well. The word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religio” which means “a binding together”. That is really all a religion is, a joining or binding together of different people in a common belief system. I am sure in some fundamental way it appeals to our innate need for a sort of tribal belonging, something which is increasingly difficult to achieve in our complex and fragmented modern world. I belong to a Church because I need that sense of communal belonging as well, even though there are many problems with any communal belief system, as I have written here.
Despite my criticisms of Catholicism, there is something I am not critical of: the Church has always promoted beauty. To this day, it is one the last stalwart defenders of pure beauty in a world that is surrounded by ugliness. For me, much of modern culture, art and architecture is ugly. Strangeness and distortion are often a favorite of modern artists, which is fine, but it is something that does not appeal to me. Often this modern ugliness springs out of a nihilism which I cannot accept. I prefer as more traditional type of beauty: balance, proportion and harmony. Catholicism has always been a great promoter of this.
Over at CL, a little debate sprung up recently over sex and eroticism http://curmudgeonloner.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/false-teaching-a-follow-up Many of us were criticized by others as being “purveyors of porn”, “porn addicts” and in general, degenerates. I was accused by someone of being filled with hatred, and mocking of God and ridiculing the Catholic Church. All in all, it was an amusing discussion. I understand my promotion of erotic beauty is controversial within a Christian setting, but it is something I feel is important to discuss, because so often eroticism is a secret, shameful thing within Christian belief systems, when it should not be. It is simply a part of life, the part of life that is, in itself, life giving. Eroticism is part of who we are as human, fleshly beings.
But this discussion did shed light on one of the major problems that confronts me within religion: when you question certain things, or point out certain truths, such as the difficulties of sexuality within the Catholic theological system, others immediately want to label you as somehow being less than perfect, not true to the faith, or outside of it all together. A sort of rigid narrowness takes hold, and an unwillingness to objectively and rationally discuss certain issues that are real and pressing within today’s religious bodies, whether they be sexual or otherwise. It is this sort of thing which I dislike the most about religion and which I find most difficult to overcome, the judgments that others make on you when you look at the world differently, the “I am right, God is on my side, and you are wrong, God is displeased with you, and therefore your are a bad, sinful person.” Taken to its extreme, which it often is, this lead to conflicts and even violence among members of the same or different religious groups. All in all it is always an ugly, distasteful, and frustrating phenomenon. It is one the things that keeps most people away from religion all together. I suppose it is inevitable within any group of people, especially religious groups, but still, it is something I try to avoid of as much as possible. I simply dislike dogmatic narrowness.
Catholicism unfortunately does lend itself to being a rigid, dogmatic belief system, but I believe it is falsely assumed by many Catholics of the more orthodox stripe that we are simply to obey whatever the Church tells us. This cannot be true. To not question things would be to deny our full humanity. And I know the Church has always opposed this, as it has always taught “free will”, and in particular our freedom as freely thinking, autonomous beings was reinforced at the Second Vatican Council. It is a complex thing really, balancing what you believe from your experiences of the world around you, as opposed to what an institution such as the Catholic Church, which I chose to belong to, tells us as believers what to believe. As I said, I am not theologian or philosopher, so I offer no answer to these problems, except through my own experiences, which may differ from the official teachings of Catholicism. So on some matters within the Catholic Church I simply choose not to believe, rightly or wrongly. I will let God be the final judge of that.
But back to the main theme of this blog: beauty, especially erotic beauty and the spiritualism within erotic beauty. In the CL blog linked above, one person criticized my “twisted” attempts to try to join the two together.
So I ask the question: what is wrong with nudity? What is wrong with depicting acts of love or sex between two people? What is wrong with our God-given desire to express our world around us in artistic ways, even if those ways are expressing eroticism? To me, eroticism is beauty. Expressing erotic beauty does not mean promoting promiscuity, or encouraging behaviors which can be destructive both physically or psychologically. It is not necessarily a “sinful” thing. Rather, expressing eroticism is simply to acknowledge the world around us as God created it, the goodness and beauty of that world, and, more importantly, the goodness and beauty of human love and devotion and connection through desire and passion. A person can be chaste, and still be fully erotic. Perhaps I am completely outside the Catholic Church on these matters, but that is my choice. I am free to choose, correct? As I mentioned above, is there not something in Christianity called the “the doctrine of free will”? So as far as my choices on these matters, I will let God be the final judge of that.
To me there is something mysterious about eroticism. Good erotic art and photography captures that. Yes, it can even be a spiritual experience. Love is one of the most powerful mysteries of life. Erotic love is one of the more, perhaps the most, intense experiences in the world. They are all related. The world would be a cold place if these things did not exist, or if we could not express them in different artistic forms. Call me a “purveyor of porn” if you like, or that my blog is an “occasion of sin”, but for me, these are simply things that should be expressed and acknowledged, as humans have been doing now since the dawn of time.