The Afterthought

The Afterthought April 20, 2011

…in which I say all that I wanted to say in Beauty-Addicts.

Besides the really long name, another funny thing about the Holy Roman Catholic Church – may she live long and prosper – is this: While she struggles to unite her own children into some form of agreement with her teachings, she maintains the extraordinary habit – it might even be called the extraordinary knack – of uniting mortal enemies in common disagreement with those very same teachings. Thus a lesbian activist and a Southern Baptist might put down their arms long enough to lambaste the Church’s antiquated ‘no’ on condoms. A creationist and atheist might find it within in them to go to dinner and a movie, providing that the evening’s discussion revolved around the Church’s obviously ridiculous ruling on divorce.  Or – for a real life situation – the Nazi and the Communist could – and did – manage to find common ground in their mutual disgust with Catholic Social Teaching, what with all its calls to care for the poor and weak. There often seems to be but two Churches in our modern world; the Catholic Church and the Definitely-Not-Catholic Church. So it is no real surprise that we find the Puritans – who can be fairly described as the neighbor who thinks you drink too much – holding hands with the Hellenists – the neighbor who thinks you drink too little – in defiance of the Catholic Church’s terrible and sensible statement: that the naked body is beautiful.

Of course it is? I hear the world agree with me in word, but not in action. One the one hand we have the Puritan reaction: it would have no children running naked, it would have nude art covered – as a few counter-reformation popes did in the Vatican – and it is based on a fear that associates the naked form immediately with sex, and sex with evil. It is the art critic who hit Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ with a cane, declaring it “too immodest”. It’s the abstinence programs, the “don’t have sex or you’ll burn in hell” talks. It is not human, to fear that so close to home. On the other hand, there is the Hellenistic reaction. This is one is more apparent in our Brave New World; it is the porn industry, the sex-sells mentality. It is the strip-clubs and the immodesty. It’s attitude towards the naked body can be fairly summed up in a word; worthless. Oh, to be sure, it will make money, this nudity thing, but beyond that it is an object, an object for pleasure, and who is it to tell anyone else that they shouldn’t star in pornography, to reveal this meaningless flesh? It is not human, to place so little value on that so innate to us.

Thus, on the side of Puritanism and an excess of prudence we hear the stern cry to “hide!” our nakedness, while from the side of Hellenism and the absence of modesty comes the cruel call to “expose!” But on the side of the Church – which is no side at all, but the center around which all sides are drawn – our bodies are neither evil nor worthless, but beautiful. And here the Church shines. She shines resplendent because she does not pick a middle ground between two fashions, but drives home what both fashions miss – that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and if we cover it is not to hide or to fear, but to protect and cherish. If we reveal it is not to sell or tempt, but to give and be appreciated. It is merely a way we try to be human – we appreciate beauty by respecting it, making it all the more lovely.

Would the world follow.

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