The prejudices we are unaware of are the worst and most destructive. And they are the attitudes and practices we absorb through our culture, the hidden parts of our natures which cry out for fulfillment often without our awareness. If you are a Catholic, or a Christian, you are an alien not only to the world and its standards, but especially in America. You pray to a dying and defeated God on a cross, and you carry that cross around your neck or put it up on the wall of your house. Perhaps we are so numb that we forget what it is we are placing on our walls--over the centuries it has become a sacred symbol and the pain and renunciation and forgiveness it represents are often forgotten. It is the devil's job to make us numb to the sacred and replace it in our hearts and minds with superstition--if we go to confession, and go to communion on Sunday, we're safe, we're ok. If we say a Hail Mary when tempted or angry, we will be ok. Sometimes we might as well be throwing salt over our shoulders or touching a horseshoe over the mantel. This is in part our fallen, human nature, and it is to be expected. It happens. With persistence in prayer, and most importantly patience with ourselves, reverence returns. It cannot be forced, we're not machines. Sometimes we have to slow down and listen. That often does the trick.
But what if the numbness goes very deep, and we are not aware of it? Being an alien is not easy--and America is a society based on inclusion. We tolerate eccentricities, but only the ones we can sympathize with. Being American we are public-spirited people, and isolation does not feel natural--because it isn't natural. So many movies were made in Hollywood trying to make Catholicism palatable to the American psyche. And many, many Catholics followed suit, and we tried to make ourselves palatable as well. It's only human. And in the 20th century collectivism became dominant in our culture, manifesting itself in the public school system, which celebrated the average and ostracized the excellent, and then in the corporations which were based, after all, on making products and services which appeal to the many, rather than the discerning. Even the Woodstock generation was not much more than a vast, conformist herd. Rebellion voiced in chorus rather than a display of individualism. There were really not many individuals in that generation.
For whatever reason, we Catholics folded--not individually, because that doesn't happen. But as a group, we capitulated to the spirit of the times, most notably through our leadership. The most significant sign of that capitulation was our reaction to the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which amount to a covert capitulation to the sexual revolution on the part of most of the clergy and the laity. But we can recall the many abuses and sacreliges --many of which continue--that accompanied that hidden rebellion. When John Paul II was elected pope, a lot of faithful Catholics breathed a sigh of relief. Opportunities for orthodox Catholics to worship with reverence began to return. But the damage has been done, and there are deep scars.
In the face of so much division--traditional Catholics versus "liberals", movements arising which introduce more emotional and spontaneous forms of worship, enthusiasms of all shapes and colors---it has been tempting to look to the people who perhaps represent the most confident and vocal brand of Christianity in our culture--the evangelicals. They are, after all, natives here. Their faith is based on a tradition which exists as a rebellion against the traditions and practices of the Catholic Church, and they are for the most part assiduous in its practice. In an anti-intellectual culture, fundamentalism is very appealing. And our culture is an anti-intellectual one. Fundamentalists look a lot like the winning team. It is not uncommon to see Catholic commentators citing Scripture to illustrate Catholic teaching--and of course nothing is wrong with that. It is high time Catholics began really reading the bible. But there are literal interpretations of Scripture which we should beware. And to focus entirely on Scripture without acknowledging the deep insights of the Church Fathers and learning from the lives of the Saints, is to deprive ourselves of the fullness of the faith and risk running into some of the errors made by our fundamentalist brothers.
In addition, it is falling into the subtle trap of wanting to "blend in" to our culture which was after all formed to a great extent by the Puritans, and although the Puritan Oligarchy did not last very long, their legacy has remained. With that legacy come certain very primitive interpretations of social and sexual behavior, as well as a gross misunderstanding of the causes and nature of human suffering. Social Darwinism is a good example of Calvinism put into practice. And we still practice it today.
Another idea I have seen in practice is dualism--the idea that if one is spiritually in tune with God, one's actions in this sphere will not jeopardize the state of one's soul. The body is to be used, it is something inferior, of little account, only to be subdued. In Calvinist doctrine we are so mired in evil that there is no hope that any efforts on our part can remedy that. And what better example of evil than the body? And what better example of the fallen nature of the body than a woman?
It is this understanding which makes a primitive interpretation of Scripture regarding the status of women possible. It is not, mind you, an accurate understanding of Scripture, but one that fits into the twisted view of man we have inherited from John Calvin. It is not an accident that Protestants have trouble accepting the Queenship of the Virgin Mary.
In her book The Dark Night of The Body Alice Von Hildebrandt takes issue with Christopher West's rather loose interpretation of John Paul II's magnificent work, The Theology of the Body. He claims that until now, Catholics thought sex was "dirty", and that John Paul II has liberated us from this constraint. From this he concludes that sexual activity between married people can include sodomy and sex toys as long as the act is concluded in the "appropriate" way. This horrifies Mrs. Hildebrand, and it should horrify you. It is an assertion that the marriage act need not embody the reverence for a woman's body and her function as a mother as long as the mechanical requirements for procreation are satisfied. The Roman Catechism condemns sodomy as demeaning and objectifying, because it is. But further, to regard the marriage bed as a playground is to continue to practice the rules and prescriptions of the sexual revolution--that the real purpose of sex is pleasure. (And, as in the sexual revolution, pleasure for the male partner is the primary requirement.) Any faithful reading of the Theology of the Body (which is not that difficult to read and in my opinion does not require watered down versions to make it comprehensible) belies that.
Another sign of Catholic acquiescence to the fundamentalist view of women is the idea that women must be "submissive"--and this is taken in a very literal and simplistic way. I recently read an article by a woman who had embraced this kind of primitive submission--I think her husband told her what to wear, or how to decorate the house--and it reminded me exactly of a similar post I read decades ago by a woman who was involved in sado-masochism, and who described the ecstatic emotional release she felt after becoming a "slave". If you really want to see this kind of thinking taken to an extreme, watch some of the polygamy shows on television, if you can stomach more than two minutes.
Young girls are dressing like prostitutes and participating in sodomy because they want to be "nice" to their boyfriends, they don't want to rock the boat, they want to be, in a word, "submissive". There is a new kind of syphilis appearing around the mouths of young girls. Other forms of sodomy are performed in a misguided attempt to preserve a girls virginity, or to avoid pregnancy. Teaching young girls to defer to their boyfriends is not a good idea. And it can be done by example. Wives are not whores. Or slaves. In Catholic countries, husbands who stray, stray because their wives will not allow themselves to be degraded sexually. And it is then all out in the open, the sinner knows he sins, and the wife is allowed at least some dignity.
There are psychological theories which teach that a lack of sexual expression can lead to cancer, neurosis, and misery. It is hard to say which came first, the heresy, or the bad science. But the dignity of woman is not just a slogan. And the dignity of woman is not something to be abandoned once she enters the bedroom. I attended a moral theology class at a very respectable and upright Catholic university, and the teacher was talking about the gravity of the sin of abortion--I raised my hand, and asked, "But what about the aborted women?" (I have met many of them, and marched with them in Washington).
The professor waved his hand dismissively--" Well, they should repent!" And changed the subject. A psychiatrist told me once that in his opinion abortion is worse than rape. What befuddles me is why the selective indignation against the women--why does society not blame the fathers who pay for the abortions, or who walk away from their children?
The person whose body contains the mystery of creation should be cherished, protected, and most of all, respected. Because we can give birth, all women have dignity. A mother assumes a responsibility a father cannot understand. To prepare our daughters for this we must first respect their mothers, and not treat them either as whores or as slaves. It is no accident that the greatest consumption of pornography is in the Bible Belt.