Thursday, August 18, 2011

Getting In Character


Is the YOUCAT, the Youth Catechism, a work tantamount to heresy, as some on the internet are suggesting, or is it an effective tool of catechesis that talks to young people at their level?


One answer to this question brings up one of the most profound analogies between Acting and the Faith.


But first, let me take a moment to agree with one thing the YOUCAT recall website says. The writer of this page quotes the YOUCAT as stating that the Church rejects "all artificial means of contraception". This is a common but flawed assertion, and it is one that is loosely and wrongly used by proponents of Natural Family Planning (NFP). For a long time this drove me crazy, as I couldn't understand why the Church would object to artificial contraception (such as the pill or condoms) and not "natural contraception" such as NFP. Are we Christian Scientists? I would ask myself. Or worse - are we New Age Pagans, who hate what is artificial and love what is "natural"?


I really was stuck on this teaching because it made no logical sense to me, and this was the biggest logjam I faced after becoming Catholic. Then I realized it: the Church prohibits contraception, period. Natural Family Planning is not contraception at all. It is simply periodic continence, or not having sex if there's a good reason for a wife not to get pregnant. When during the month the wife is fertile, if you don't want babies, don't have sex. This is not wilfully frustrating the procreative aspect of the marital act, which is what contraception is. The "natural" and "artificial" labels are not only misnomers, they cloud the coherence of the argument.


So that point is a good one - but I'm not so sure of the rest of the critique of the YOUCAT, and I don't really want to address that, since I haven't read the YOUCAT (though I have read the Catechsim cover-to-cover) and I'm not really here to talk about the YOUCAT itself, but instead the issue it raises that leads back to Acting and the Faith


So let's stop talking about sex and talk about something interesting instead.


At the Catholic Answers Forum, a commenter named Manualman makes an excellent point; and while I don't know if this applies to the YOUCAT debate, it certainly applies to the Torture Debate, the Super-Disciples Debate, and the Lying Debate.


Manualman writes:


... God is not arbitrary. Sin IS indeed sin. But what sin IS is something that by its nature damages our ability to give and receive love (both human and divine). Not just the commission of an act 'on the list.'


You technically cannot make a list of mortal sins in catholic theology. Even murder might not be a mortal sin if the killer is mentally incompetent. Look it up: mortal sin requires three elements: grave matter, knowledge that the matter is evil and consent.


What Youcat is trying to do here (IMO) is avoid the mistakes of previous generations. Masturbation is grave matter precisely because it twists the blessed gift of human sexuality that was meant to be re-gifted to one's spouse into a narcisstic experience. Youcat explains that to my satisfaction. It's not about 'demonizing' the temptation a person experiences, but helping him understand what is appealing about it and why giving into it is not just a violation of a rule, but a genuine harm.


Another later poster here fails to recognize that he makes my point better than his own: simply attempting to make people be good via following the rules never works. [my emphasis] They always find a loophole. The way to help people to do good and avoid evil is to explain to them what evil IS and how much damage it does. Again, Youcat passes the deeper test. The last thing teens need is a list of rules that appear to be arbitrary to them, have no clear explanation and seem disconnected to their own experience of reality. Youcat avoids that pitfall and speaks to people where they are at.


If you're looking for a rigid, rules based religion that doesn't require you to comprehend, [my emphasis] but only obey a fixed list of rules, then I agree Youcat isn't for you. But perhaps catholicism isn't either.


Yeah, I know, we were supposed to stop talking about sex, and this is all about YOUCAT's teaching on masturbation, the act being both grave matter for sin and also a habit that young men in particular can find almost impossible to break. Apparently, the YOUCAT is trying to acknowledge this by putting the teaching in context (so that it does not seem arbitrary) and by acknowledging the fact that someone addicted to this sin should not heap self-abuse upon self-abuse (as it were) and feel demonized by something they often can not control.


As I say, that's what the argument seems to be about, and whether the YOUCAT should have worded this section differently (see footnote below) I will not address. But what does interest me is the argument Manualman is making.


The argument is really this: Think with the Mind of the Church, which is no less than the Mind of Christ.


Or in other words: GET IN CHARACTER.


Every actor knows the feeling: you struggle with a role over and over again in rehearsal and even in performance and it never seems to click. Then, all of a sudden, a word or a gesture makes the whole character come together for you, and every line you speak in the play makes sense. You become engaged in the role, you discover the part, you get in character, and the organic unity takes care of itself. Suddenly you stop struggling over lines here or there that don't work for you, or looking to motivate certain moments that seem to stick out - for suddenly it all comes together and everything in the play works the way it obviously should, but the way you just couldn't imagine it working earlier in the creative process. Actors know this, and actors pray that this happens for them - at least before closing night!


The Faith is like that. That's why words like "artificial" or "natural" can cloud an issue, as can words like "demonize" when applied to certain sins. The Faith is a whole, the teachings are all one thing. The Church's view on sex, for instance, is rooted in love, marriage and mutual self-sacrifice. Once you see that whole, then you know instantly how wrong something like masturbation is. Outside of that whole, beyond that organic understanding, Church teaching may indeed seem like unrelated arbitrary bits and pieces - which it never is, for it is the Way of Christ, the most whole and complete Way in the world. It is a living teaching.


Thus St. Paul tells us "I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with the understanding; I will sing with the spirit, I will sing also with the understanding." (1 Cor. 14:15)


Our job as Christians and as Good Actors is to understand, not to follow or mimic from without, but to be transformed from within, so that the whole makes sense, and that with the understanding we will have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16)



Footnote - from the YOUCAT:


Question 409 (Page 222)

Is Masturbation an offense against love?

Masturbation is an offense against love, because it makes the excitement of sexual pleasure an end in itself and uncouples it from the holistic unfolding of love between a man and a women. That is why “sex with yourself” is a contradiction in terms.

The Church does not demonize masturbation, but she warns against trivializing it. In fact many young people and adults are in danger of becoming isolated in their consumption of lewd pictures, films, and Internet services instead of finding love in a personal relationship. Loneliness can lead to a blind alley in which masturbation becomes an addiction. Living by the motto ‘“For sex I do not need anyone; i will have it myself, however and whenever I need it” makes nobody happy.


1 comment:

Aquinas3000 said...

There is also however the poorly worded (at best) section on biblical inerrancy which is liable to lead someone astray..