Mr. Hitchens — may he rest in peace — was far too involved with Christianity to have ever become a Christian. If he had spent a little more time being an Atheist he might have considered the Body of Christ. But he couldn’t leave the non-God alone. He spoke of Christianity more than Her priests. He engaged Her more than Her followers. He lived the life of a pious Christian with several thousand misunderstandings of Christianity. Forever seeing Her through a microscope of misconception, Hitchens never saw Her at all.
And so I come to his misunderstanding of Heaven. For grump-machine-Christopher, Paradise is a ‘celestial North Korea’ where man is doomed by God to repeat the same actions of praise, worship, and love, forever. And ever. And ever. Amen. He decries Heaven as dreary, monotonous, awful, and well — he’s absolutely correct. That’s right folks, I’m becoming an atheist.
But he got this right: If Heaven is merely an eternal choir, it may as well be a Hell. Any action infinitely repeated would be intolerable. I swear, if I get handed a harp and am told to “start playing, never stop,” I’m pulling a Paradise Lost, Book 6.
Thankfully, it’s a ridiculous understanding of Heaven. (I’m surprised Hitchens never stopped to realize that the only people agreeing with his interpretation were literalist Christians.) He should have paid less attention to bad theology and more attention to having sex.
A sex life is monotonous. It is repetitive. It is ritualistic. It is the carrying on of certain motions that lead to certain results, again and again, forever and ever, till death do you apart, or some other tragedy occurs. It is a routine (more and more so as the children grow up, I imagine. (I know a girl who at 20 just figured out what her parents daily nap-time was all about. (Sorry if I just scarred any one for the rest of their lives. (Please still read my blog.)))) But you’d be slapped — and rightly so — if assumed that all this monotony means that the act is boring.
Sexual union in its fullness — and unfortunately I can only go by literature here — is not a limited thing, but an experience of infinity. No couple views sex as a finalized experience (it’s this awesome and no more), but as an attempt at infinite joy. Thus everyone, atheist or otherwise, naturally gasps things like “more,” “God,” and other such infinities during the act. Ritual unveils the infinite.
Think about it: If you gaze on the face of your lover again and again, you dive into her infinite worth. No one would say, “Alright, I’ve got it! You’re a 9! No more and no less!” No, the cliche “words cannot express how beautiful you are” is simply a statement of fact: Who can express the infinite? So your gaze becomes a ritual, you gaze again and again.Or returning again and again to a truly beautiful piece of music — again you dive. For who among you can imagine saying, “I’ve discovered all Mozart’s Requiem has to offer!”? No, it’s precisely in feeling we could never discover everything a piece has to offer that we feel fulfilled. Ritual — the again and again — unveils the infinite.
So it is with sex. You live a natural, ritualistic sex life — you grow ever deeper in the infinities love, communion and joy. It is not an Erotic North Korea, this repetition. It is the very method by which we are fulfilled.
And in a beautiful binding of infinities, all these experiences make us groan. What is the human response to the terrible beauty of the soprano’s highest note in Miserere Mei Deus? A groan. What is the natural end of gazing at Michaelangelo’s Pieta? A groan, audible or otherwise. And what is the natural response to the fact of sex? A groan. Infinity stings us sweetly. It is a paradox — we cannot grasp it, yet we must. We cannot fully contain the Evermore, but we will try. We cannot comprehend the Beauty of our lovers, but we will try. We are simultaneously satisfied and dissatisfied — and so we groan in sweet frustration at the convergence of the twain, at the crashing of opposites that creates a thing entirely new.
And is that not the very face of sex? Both dissatisfaction and satisfaction? Pleasure and pain? At the risk of losing a few readers: Why is it that the words most associated with the act of sex are words of extreme dissatisfaction — f**k — and in the same breath those of ultimate fulfillment — God? It’s not as if these words are entirely intentional (I hope.) They are reactions to the act. I hold it is because sex is an awesome sacramentalizing of the fact that we are not made for comfort. We are not made for an ending world. No, we are made for things we can never grasp, for love unimaginable. We are made for infinity. The things we desire the most are the things that make us groan.
This is my response to Christopher Hitchens: If the tastes of infinity available to us on earth — art, love, sex, and all the rest — are best unveiled through ritual and repetition, I can only conclude that the Ultimate Infinity we call Heaven will be unveiled and enjoyed through an Ultimate Ritual — and that we will pant for it. The best part being that I already do — it is called the Holy Mass, and I hope to God you are experiencing it right now.