Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Because Popeye is Catholic

Posted by Webster 
Earlier I wrote that Catholicism is a full-time job, compared with the Protestant observance of my youth. A mind is a hard thing to shut off, and mine has come up with more analogies. I will be accused of churlish negativity by my Protestant brothers, but as Frank and Farragut would say, “Damn the torpedoes!

1. Catholicism is Popeye, Protestantism Bluto. Let’s face it: Whatever Luther’s original intent, in the final analysis the Protestant Reformation was a Rebellion, a Revolt, and not a Reformation, as Ferde loves pointing out. The Reformation, which was needed, took shape at the Council of Trent and remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, Protestants’ total identity is about being against the Catholic Church and its perceived abuses. That revolt is still intact, as one Protestant sect rebels against another and the whole human experiment fractures into crazy glass.

Likewise, Bluto’s only reason for being is to destroy Popeye. But Popeye has spinach (the Eucharist) and Olive Oyl (the Blessed Mother).

2. Catholic is chess, Protestant is checkers. Catholic means messy, complex, ambiguous; it is as wild and weird as a Gothic cathedral crawling with gargoyles. Protestant is a one-way road to heaven: do not pass Rome, do not collect $200 in indulgences; it is straight as a New England church spire. In checkers, movement is only along diagonals and the end game is total destruction of the enemy force. In chess, movement is every which way, and checkmate is an elegant resolution of conflict in which the king resigns, he is not exterminated. Chess has knights and bishops, checkers only kings.

3. Catholicism is a monkey house, Protestantism is a zoo. I’m not totally sure where to go with this one, but you just have to hang out in a Catholic parish for a while to discover that we are a wacky bunch. Protestants probably have their share of wacky, though they seem pretty straitlaced to me. But one thing you can say about Protestants: They’ve got every animal in the known world, and all in separate cages. 

4. Catholicism is a deluxe twenty-volume encyclopedia, Protestantism a paperback dictionary. Every time I watch “The Journey Home” on EWTN, Marcus Grodi’s series of interviews with converts, I have to listen ad nauseam to how much Protestants know about the Bible. Given that it’s the only book they have to know, this no longer impresses me. Try stacking the Bible up against the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the collected writings of the Early Fathers, the complete works of Augustine and Aquinas, Pascal’s Pensées, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, anything by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, . . . and the Bible.

I grant that there have been great intellects among the ranks of Protestant theologians. I studied (well, I read) bits of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich in boarding school, and I can’t tell you bupkis about any of them. But I felt, while reading them, that each was cooking up his own recipe with hand-picked ingredients. I can read any Catholic theologian and know that his or her work is a bud on a two-thousand-year rose bush, which taken as a whole is vast, colorful, and aromatic.

5. Catholicism is The Fellowship of the Ring, Protestantism is Harry Potter. Give me a Bible and a moment of inspiration, and I can be a Protestant with a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” The Protestant movement is full of lonely wizards: Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Smith—each breaking away from his forebears and setting up business in a storefront. A Protestant means an individual in direct relationship with the Almighty, no intercessors needed, thank you.

Meanwhile, Catholics function well in groups, especially if the groups include wizards, elves, hobbits, assorted bearded men and willowy women, tree-like things called ents, and a bunch of other weird, but loyal allies. And they believe in obedience to higher authority (Gandalf, Aragorn). I have never ever had the same sense of belonging that I have in the Catholic Church—an assortment of oddities my mother never warned me about. And I am quite comfortable, thank you, heeding the words of my pope and my pastor.

Give me time and I’ll come up with more analogies. But dinner’s almost ready, Marian has just made a killer guacamole, and she returns to school in North Carolina tomorrow. So TTFN. Which makes me think that maybe Catholicism is Tigger, Protestantism Tony the Tiger. But I’ll work on that one . . .