Monday, December 16, 2013

Sex, Symbols, Sacraments, and So Forth

C. G. Jung
One of the games Carl Jung and his followers used to play was this.  They would claim that they were not obsessed with sex the way the Freudians were, that they (the Jungians) wouldn't say that

Paschal Candle = Penis  (Freud would say this, and Christopher West does say this)

but instead they would claim

Paschal Candle = Penis = Creative Power of God = the Self = Individuation

("Individuation", by the way, is a three-dollar word for, "Do whatever you want to do").

"The Paschal Candle does not simply symbolize the penis!" they would exclaim (though they'd say phallus instead).  "Because the phallus itself symbolizes creative energy, which symbolizes God, and God is the archetype for the Self - that thing beneath the ego that we must cultivate through the process of Individuation."

But here's the problem - where do you choose the symbol to stop?  Even if Candle = phallus = God = Self = Individuation ... well, what does individuation symbolize?  Could we not go further?  Could we not say ...

Individuation = Rebirth = Baptism = Death to Self and Life in Christ?

This is how bad symbolism, bad mythological analysis, and bad literary criticism works.  It becomes utterly arbitrary.


But more than that.  It begs a very big philosophical question.

Paul Stilwell has a long and complex post on the relation between analogy and reality.  

I'm not sure I completely understand what Paul is saying, but I think it comes down to this.  If everything is analogous, then we must eventually ask analogous to what?  There must be some ultimate reality that the thing is analogous to.  Indeed, there must be two things in this equation - the thing that serves as a symbol must be real and the reality it indicates must be real.  But which is more important?

Stilwell points out that marriage, for example, is a real thing with a concrete embodiment - love, sex, babies, diapers, mortgage payments, arguments, forgiveness, and the thousand daily things that make it up.  It is also analogous to the Second Coming of Christ, the great Nuptial Feast in which Christ, the Bridegroom, unites with His bride, the Church.  The latter, in Stilwell's terminology, is the "analogous sense" and the former is the "vital sense".  Stilwell writes ...

He [West] will then take marriage in its "vital" sense and cut it down at the ankles as limited and analogous, while forcing the analogical and subjective into the "vital" plane that is reserved for poopy screaming children and spaghetti on the stove (or in other words, reserved for our becoming sacraments), replacing it as the paramount significance of marriage - that is to say, making the analogical and limited to take that place of marriage which is not limited and analogical. Forcing an analogical sense down thus, we can "rocket-pack" towards our target - to the stars. To the unending celestial orgasm.

 The man who does this, who sees everything as pointing towards something else, suddenly becomes free to see a bogeyman in every bush, or more likely he will

see vaginas around every corner he turns, awaiting the decoding of this saint-in-the-making who is learning to read the sign language of God the alien who left us ineffectual esoteric signs and not Sacraments.

A Sacrament differs from a sign as much as a flower differs from a "reproductive organ".   It is real both as a symbol that points to something else and as a thing we experience and participate in that actually conveys grace.  In other words, it has both an analogous sense and a vital sense - and that vital sense actually communicates what God intends it to (given proper matter and proper disposition on our part).

In other words, is it more appropriate to say that a flower symbolizes female genitalia or that female genitalia symbolizes a flower?  There is an analogous connection - and it is certainly real - but it is not "vital", as Stilwell would say.  Both things are beautiful and proper in their own way - each has its analogical sense and also its full and thoroughly valid "vital sense" - so much so that it is not appropriate to say that one stands for the other, without ignoring the question which stands for which?  To ignore the quiddity or the "vitality" of any thing in and of itself is, ultimately, to deny the Incarnation, and simply to play games.  For what this all comes to psychologically is using one reality as a mere vehicle to get to another reality that interests you more.

And what interests us more?  Well, there is a certain kind of mind that is thrilled by sexual imagery: I would characterize it as a middle school mentality.  There is also a certain kind of mind that is thrilled by esoteric nonsense.  Indeed, we see this even in literary circles with Shakespeare scholars who read the plays as if they were merely coded means of conveying messages that a secret spy ring in a Cracker Jack box could decipher.  In doing so they (as Paul Stilwell would say) cut the plays off "at the ankles".

But the Theology of the Body rises above the ankles.  And, though you wouldn't hear tell of it in pop-Catholic circles, it actually rises above the belt.

For our lives are not mere pointers.  The Sacraments are not mere symbols.  Marriage is not merely a sign of the Eschaton.  And the Paschal Candle is not merely a phallus.  (In fact, it's not a phallus at all).


However, what I mean to say here goes beyond any goofy games with symbols.  What I mean to say is this.

God operates in our lives in ways that are more real and more "vital" than we care to notice.  He is not content to be the distant God that things point to; He is a God who shares our joys and sufferings, our very suchness, our very vitality, and the things that exist are not a mere prelude to the Kingdom: they have a dignity - an ontological dignity - all on their own, though it is a fallen and broken one, needing badly to be redeemed.

And anyone who participates in the Sacrament of Matrimony - that is to say anyone who is married - knows the funny mixture of "poopy screaming children, spaghetti on the stove" and a profound and sacrificial love that hints at the Coming of Christ Himself.  It is very tempting for us married men to turn from this, to seek cheap thrills elsewhere - either through adultery in deed or adultery in our hearts - or even to waste our Eros on a kind of dreamy dead end mulling over "what if" - to think that the grass is greener in the other lawn, or that our happiness is not really to be found in bed beside us, overweight, snoring, and mad at us for something we did that day.

But this is life.  This is vital.  And this great mess, frustrating as all get out, is - like the manger (with "poopy lowing animals and nothing on the stove") - the silent herald of a great and rich and wonderful joy to come.




Anonymous said...

Didn't Chesterton also make a similar criticism against double meaning, against the kind West here makes? There was a quote once around a similar line, can't remember it word for word.


Chris said...

I must admit it is kind of comical to see various supporters of West contradicting themselves on this point. Janet Smith, Thomas Loya, and Michael Waldstein all attribute the paschal candle notion to West and thus try to defend the idea. Others, such as Jim Russell, will try to deny that West make this attribution; but at the same time then try to posit an indirect defense that such a notion can be gleaned from tradition!

Kevin Tierney said...

When West's editor did the scholarly study and said "hey, Eden and friends have a point here", they shoulda just dropped the issue.

What's striking about the Pascal Candle thing is how small ball it really is, and yet why they feel the need to die on that hill astounds me. If they conceded it..... they would lose nothing on their overall argument.

Which is interesting because most of them abandoned the "two bishops" story once it was proven to be a "symbolic story" as his editor said in a rather curious defense of the subject.

o said...

Everything on earth with a point is a phallic symbol and everything with a dent is a vaginal symbol and everything flat is a hermaphroditic symbol.

Now, let us get our head from the gutter, down the mountain, and up off the floor.

So much sex talk, I'm tired.

o said...

Everything on earth with a point is a phallic symbol and everything with a dent is a vaginal symbol and everything flat is a hermaphroditic symbol.

Now, let us get our head from the gutter, down the mountain, and up off the floor.

So much sex talk, I'm tired.