Three's a Crowd

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It was all I could do not to make any number of adolescent-sounding cracks about the following. (I even considered spitting out a top-ten list of facetious headlines, like "Demographers Predict Downward Trend among Catholics.")

I will say that some notions are so absurd as to merit on an intellectual level only the brief consideration of ridicule.

Roman Catholic couples are being encouraged to pray together before they have sex.

A book published by a prominent Church group invites those setting out on married life to recite the specially-composed Prayer Before Making Love.

It is aimed at 'purifying their intentions' so that the act is not about selfishness or hedonism.
Leave it to the Catholic Church to come up with an "adult" version of something from a favorite book of mine -- a version that nobody who would ever want to be taken seriously again would dare write...


According to the very funny book, Growing Up Catholic, it used to be common practice for nuns to patrol high school dances and tell young couples to "Leave room for the Holy Spirit," if they got "too close" to one another.

I call the book funny with qualification, because the humor is necessarily of a highly personal nature. There is really nothing funny about a malevolent institution that would invade every aspect of your life, including your soul, being entrusted with children. But children are innocent and, in a modern, semi-rational country like the United States, we nevertheless had a strong chance to form minds of our own.

Part of the Gordian knot of religion for me is that many of my childhood memories occur within the sometimes absurd context of Catholic school. In particular, I recall finding things all the funnier because I knew them to be absurd and knew that I wasn't "supposed" to laugh at them.

For example, I still chuckle when I remember looking up just in time to see a kid denting a can of food on his head as we stood in line, only to get an immediate, swift slap on the behind from one of the nuns that propelled him forward a step or two.

I cherish that mirth all the more now because I see it for what it was: the spark of an unbroken, independent mind finding enjoyment in a life it was supposed to renounce. (Some of our teachers saw this, too, and some of them wanted to extinguish it.) This is not to say that I escaped all intellectual or spiritual harm, but my memories are what they are. I can enjoy a book like Growing up Catholic without then mistaking the Church and its teachings for the source of the kind of benevolent memories that form the basis of much of the humor.


All that said, there actually is one more thing that needs to be addressed. Christianity, particularly as influenced by Plato, encourages people to compartmentalize morality and practicality -- and indeed the spiritual and the physical -- to the point of regarding them as antagonistic. One psychological consequence of such a separation (the soul-body dichotomy) is that one tends to depersonalize moral guidance -- to see it as "issued from on high" and not really think about it as applied to one's own life.

As a result, most people will just laugh at the proposed divine menage-a-trois, but in the backs of their minds, they'll feel a tug of guilt. The purveyors of the moral-practical and soul-body dichotomies are responsible for this, and this explains part of the purpose of such foolishness.

Let's drop those pretenses for a moment. Let's stop giving clergymen and would-be theocrats a pass and really think about what it is they are doing, in earthly terms.

Were someone to make unsolicited demands, in your face, for you to change your bedroom behavior, wouldn't you find it presumptuous at a minimum, if not downright creepy? So what's the difference if such a person is wearing a Roman collar and claiming he's speaking on behalf of a figment?

And yet these are the same people telling us that one of life's greatest pleasures is obscene!

-- CAV


Rational Education said...


Fantastic post -just loved the headline "Three's a Crowd" that put the entire subject of your post in the right (or should one give respect to the Catholic Church and say righteous?!!)perspective.
The best line of the post, the most simple and direct approach to the subject (as it deserves)- You wrote: "Let's drop those pretenses for a moment. Let's stop giving clergymen and would-be theocrats a pass and really think about what it is they are doing, in earthly terms." -imagine the freeing of all those tortured, prisoner souls if instead of just for a moment as you suggest, they decide to instead make it a permanent state of mind that questions such baseless authority to dictate their lives -nirvana here and now on earth for sure!

Andrew Dalton said...

You beat me to the prayer-before-sex story, which I saw yesterday.

My first reaction -- based upon the proper, human standard of reverence -- was: is nothing sacred?

Gus Van Horn said...


You being up an excellent point indirectly: "imagine the freeing of all those tortured, prisoner souls." The question is, why not? Who would want prison?"

The answer is that they have been trained all their lives NOT to trust their minds. They have had their confidence ruined. They are, as Morgan Freeman's character put it in Shawshank Redemption "institutionalized men."

The unspeakable tragedy is that we can only do what you say as individuals, and have to accept that many will consign themselves to the hell you describe.


"Is nothing sacred?"

That's the best one-line summary possible, I think.


Anonymous said...

Loved the commentary. But I can one-up you on this. grin.

There were folks in my religion who advocated, not just prayer, but fasting!!! before conjugation. And not the grammatical kind. Of conjugation.

Gus Van Horn said...