A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Creepy Church Design & Christian "Normals"

In the past, I've blogged a bit about the way Christian cultures sometimes use the "creepy" or the grotesque for religous purposes. For example, the way the film "Corpse Bride" was occasionally dismissed because it looked "weird." Or the way Roald Dahl books are rejected by some because they are "too morbid" for children. And I've rambled on about about Halloween and gargoyles. As my more recent posts about ghosts should make clear, I generally think that spooky stuff is cool, and I'm generally interested in how Christians respond to "the creepy." I think there's sometimes a bizarre tendency to assume that "scary" means "bad" or "unChristian," as if a healthy Christian worldview would be devoid of the creepy, the grotesque, and the frightening. (But it's okay to talk about Hell, right? Even to tell children about it? Yeah, I'm wondering how that coheres just as much as you are.)

Well, I'm not the only one to notice that American Christianity's approach to human mortality and death is some times out of touch with Christian treatment of death on a global-historical scale. (Note: you may wonder what "global-historical" means. So do I. I am not sure it is a real term, but it sounded good here, don't you think?) Today, for example, Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has an interesting post on the use of human remains in ecclesiastical artwork/furnishings. Is that creepy, or what? It certainly does add a challenging view to arguments about whether human remains constitute an object to be used. And if you think that's not an interesting subject, it's only because you haven't thought about the potential application to organ donation. {Thanks to Evangelical Outpost for calling this issue to my attention.}

Now it's time for me to make some rambling generalizations:

In general, it is much too easy for Christians from a specific time and location to assume that their way of approaching an issue through the lens of religion is clearly the right way, the Christian way. Our treatment of the dying and our handling of human remains serves as just one example of an area where our ideas about what constitutes the proper "Christian response" are heavily influenced by our own culture and time, in ways we don't always see. It's as if, because we belong to a Christian subculture, we assume that the way our subculture handles a specific issue must be the Christian way. Even when we are aware of much we are shaped by our own culture or tradition, it may be hard to avoid the initial gut reactions that say "that's just wrong" or "that's an unChristian way of handling that issue."

A similar thing happens in marriage, as Wolgemuth, Wolgemuth, Devries and Devries demonstrate: each partner enters the marriage with certain daily living patterns, ways of doing things which appear to be the right or normal way. Even when spouses theoretically know that their way of doing things is not, objectively, the only right way of doing something, it is very hard to see alternate approaches as anything but wrong. The authors of The Most Important Year in Every Man's Life/The Most Important Year in Every Woman's Life call these expectations about what to do and how to live "normals." We all have normals, and in general, we all tend to (mistakenly) assume that our normals are right, and that they are shared by our whole society. Part of learning how to be married means learning how to negotiate a new set of normals. This includes learning how to recognize the difference between normals (ways of doing things) and morals (guidelines on how to act rightly). Sometimes the two look very similar. Even when the difference is clear, though, it can be very, very hard to let go of your own normals.

Likewise, I'd argue that an important part of interchurch communication is learning to recognize which "religious normals" are actually moral or doctrinal issues, and which are merely different approaches to the same issue. Not all differences are created equal. But, as in marriage, it can be very hard to admit that someone else's religious normal may not actually be wrong. "Lord, help me recognize the limits of my normals!" might be as good a prayer for conversation between Christians of different communities as it would be for married couples.


Anonymous Becky said...

I thought that Roald Dahl books were generally rejected because they taught disrespect for adults?

11:12 PM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

I think you're right that the disobedience is the main issue wrt Roald Dahl, but I did read one critique that found the books "too morbid" and "dark" for children to read. That objection really bugged me, because it seems such a. . . stupid? naive? shallow? view of the role of literature.

4:35 PM  

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