Sunday, April 03, 2005

The DaVinci Code as Sin and other Reflections

I was talking recently with a friend about the death of the Pope. We were talking about the process for selecting a new Pope, and the subject of the novel The DaVinci Code came up. I asked her if she'd read it. "No," she replied, "The church says it's a sin to read it." Clearly, my friend was familiar with the concepts in the book and our discussion continued, but her comment stayed with me and I've been pondering it ever since.

How can reading a work of fiction be a sin? How can exposure to an imagined idea be a bad thing? Does the church not believe that its followers can think independently about the ideas in a novel?

I guess I understand the concept, generally: if you start from the proposition that the ideas are the work of Satan, then turning away from them and not letting them into your head (and not exposing yourself to the temptation to believe them) is the preferred course. I guess. You can see I'm not convinced.

I consider myself a spiritual person, although I prefer to keep my beliefs about God to myself. They feel very private to me. I'm not a church-goer. I was raised Episcopalian. I've also had lots of exposure to the Catholic church, as my father's family is Catholic and we frequently attended ceremonies and masses for various purposes. I've also attended other churches in my explorations...but to my mind, the organization of religion is a separate matter from inner spirituality. I understand the importance for many people of the church community, and I deeply admire the people I know who are truly and positively guided by their religion. But I have not had an easy relationship with the group experiences of religion I've explored.

So, the flurry of news stories about the Pope has got me thinking again. I know some people who believe in the precepts of the Catholic church, and follow what the Pope says, as a matter of faith that as the leader of the Church he knows what's right. Like my friend who didn't read The DaVinci Code... She was told not to, and she won't. I couldn't do that -- I don't believe that any one person has a direct line to God which is superior to anyone else's -- but I have deep respect for the faith that guides them when they choose to follow what the leader of their religion tells them.

But I know lots of other Catholics who simply disregard the Church's precepts when they disagree with them. And that puzzles me. If the Church is based on the foundational concept that one person is the leader of the church and sets its dictates for the entire religion, and you choose to be a member of that religion, how can you reject some ideas and accept others and still consider yourself a faithful follower of the religion? Doesn't that mean that you ulimately don't trust the judgment of your church's leader? Honestly, I don't understand.

I don't mean any disrespect to anyone by these questions. I truly don't understand how people can consider themselves Catholic while disregarding basic tenets of the Catholic faith. Is it the belief that what the Pope says about birth control, for example, or abortion, or homosexuality, or the role of women in the church, isn't considered applicable in American culture? Is it the inner belief that one has to find one's own direction from God, regardless of the Pope's instruction? But doesn't that conflict with the idea that as a Catholic, you're bound to follow the Pope as the leader of the Church?

It's hard to raise these questions with my Catholic friends without sounding like I'm accusing them of hypocrisy, however subtly. And I don't mean to do that. I just don't get it. How do they reconcile their beliefs when they contradict the church's, when the church itself says you're not permitted to pick and choose?

Regardless of my own beliefs and disagreements with the Catholic church about a whole host of issues, it's difficult not to react to the Pope's death and solemnity of the occasion as Catholics mourn and prepare to elect another Pope. It's amazing drama.

13 comments:

Scrapmaker said...

Religion is a deep subject. I appreciate the thought provoking comments and have sent you a private email. Jen

Gerrie said...

Catholics who ignore many of the tenets of the church abound, and it is an enigma. Perhaps they have the same philosophy as the Rabbi I once talked to. I asked him about the many and tedious laws in the old testament. He told me that when most Jews get up in the morning they decide which of the laws they will follow today because it is impossible to follow all of them! He said it sort of tongue in cheek, but I think it is what members of most religions might say to themselves when faced with so many don'ts.

teri springer said...

As a lapsed catholic (or, as I prefer to think of it, a *saved* Catholic) I can tell you, the propensity for US Catholics to pick and choose which of the Church's laws to follow is exactly why there will NOT be a US Pope.

As for the Pope having a direct line to God....becoming Pope is a popularity contest. Whoever is most popular with the largest number of Cardinals, will win. If no clear winner (2/3's majority) is determined after a certain number of votes, the man with the most votes will win. This is how Pope John Paul II was elected....simple majority because not enough of the Cardinals could agree. It was believed that the, then Archbishop Wojtyła, would be easy for the Cardinals to control and manipulate....BOY did he fool THEM!

While I don't agree with everything the Church teaches, I have a great deal of respect for the man who was known for the last 26 years as Pope John Paul II- he was no hypocrit and his love of humankind was all-encompassing. To go and forgive the man who shot him, pray with him and, later, grant that man a pardon.....well, THAT'S a true Christian. He lived a difficult life and dies a difficult death....but he never gave up.

teri

Mill said...

Jen,
There is a big difference between a practising catholic and a person who just hangs a sign over his or her head which says 'catholic'.

God sees only our heart and not just the signs or titles we hang on ourselves for others to see.

Besides we should never judge a religion by the behaviour of others. The only person that we can model ourselves and see the faith is in the life of Jesus Christ.

Hope this helps...

Mill said...

By the way...I am Catholic and reading the Da Vinci Code is not a sin.

If you have any more questions on the catholic faith I would be have to try to help you or direct you to some of the answers you seek :)

God Bless!

Sonji Hunt said...

I like it when you get all deep and stuff! Really, I've been thinking everything that you wrote and I'm sure that many others have too. I appreciate your addressing the issue.

Cathy said...

exactly all the reasons why I'm not Catholic any longer.

Deborah said...

The pope struck me as a deeply spiritual, loving guy. This is certainly to be commended. That said, lots of the Catholic is very troublesome to me. Particularly their belief that only Catholics can receive communion in their church. Last I checked, Jesus was the host of that party, I think he gets to make the guest list. As far as reading the book being "sin." Poppycock. Sin is whatever separates you from a relationship with God. This means sin can be different for different people. A famous Episcopal Bishop, John Spong, once wrote a book raising lots of controversial subjects. A bunch of conservative Episcopal bishops said that what he had written was "outside the realm of Christian discourse." Can you image? What could possibly be outside the realm of discussion? I think God wants us to talk, learn, study, pray and discuss whatever we need to in order to become the very best we can be and really learn what He wants from us. In a way, that's exactly what we're doing here.

Diane said...

Thanks to everyone who commented. I apprecate your understanding of the genuine-ness of my questions... All of the Papal ceremonies have given me a lot to think about.

Diane said...

By the way, spurred on by a comment here I looked for more info and see that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa, Italy urged Catholics not to buy or read The DaVinci Code. This has been reported by news organizations and discussed by others as a "blacklisting" or "banning" of the book by the Vatican. I'm guessing this is why my friend concluded that it's a "sin" to read the book.

claudia said...

As a lapsed Catholic, I have to agree that picking and choosing from the Catholic 'menu' seems hypocritical. That is, in fact, one of the reasons why I stopped going to church. It just seemed way to hypocritical to me to make up my own mind about birth control and yet sit there pretending to be a good Catholic. However, on CNN the other night, I say Aaron Brown interviewing some (American)priest who is an expert on theology and church teachings on this very topic. First of all, he said that the forbidding of birth control, celibacy for priests, and non-ordination of women are 'church disciplines' not church dogmas. They can be discussed and changed by the cardinals. Secondly, he said that if church teachings have been promulgated but not recieved by the faithful, then they are not binding. I don't quite get that, but he seemed to be saying that if the faithful do not agree with a particular church teaching, then that teaching has not been 'received' so it is not binding. I do not know the name of the priest who was being interviewed, as I came in after the start of it.

claudia said...

As a lapsed Catholic, I have to agree that picking and choosing from the Catholic 'menu' seems hypocritical. That is, in fact, one of the reasons why I stopped going to church. It just seemed way to hypocritical to me to make up my own mind about birth control and yet sit there pretending to be a good Catholic. However, on CNN the other night, I say Aaron Brown interviewing some (American)priest who is an expert on theology and church teachings on this very topic. First of all, he said that the forbidding of birth control, celibacy for priests, and non-ordination of women are 'church disciplines' not church dogmas. They can be discussed and changed by the cardinals. Secondly, he said that if church teachings have been promulgated but not recieved by the faithful, then they are not binding. I don't quite get that, but he seemed to be saying that if the faithful do not agree with a particular church teaching, then that teaching has not been 'received' so it is not binding. I do not know the name of the priest who was being interviewed, as I came in after the start of it.

Gladys Cortez said...

Exactly what Cathy said. My mother gives me a periodic "why-you-should-go-back-to-church" lecture; I don't tell her (because that would be One Of Those Conversations) that I don't agree with the teachings of the Catholic church and I can't see myself claiming to be a part of an organization whose teachings I don't believe.

(Found your site via the Next Blog button--also a quilter here, although I'm sort of a rank beginner. Squares. I'm very good with squares. Any non-square shapes? Not so much, just yet.)