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Monday, January 28, 2013

SUBLIMATIONS AND PARAPHILIAS


Some things are obvious requirements for the basic existence of any creature, but a few  are unique to human beings because they happen in the cerebral frontal lobe -- no other animal has evolved in this way.  Probably not all human beings have these needs and it’s clear that a person could live without them, though the quality of their life would be diminished.  I’m talking about relationship, pattern/meaning, and holiness. 

These three phenomena weave in and out of each other in confusing ways.  Relationship is a complex that includes sexuality and community.  It’s closest to basic mammal necessity.  Pattern is both produced from inner response and imposed from outer necessity.  Holiness or significance can be attached to objects, geology, words, events or persons.  Then all three might interact in what we call “paraphilias” -- sexual obsession with possibly inappropriate objects, acts, persons -- or “sublimations” -- substituting one thing for another, displacing love or desire or knowledge from natural channels into unnatural ones.  (Like, from suitable adult sexual partners to children.)  Hopefully the substitution might be constructive (art instead of drugs), but if not, there can be a dark side, a sucking vortex in life that drags us down. There is a hydraulic or pneumatic quality to these things because they are dynamic processes.

The powerful ground of art, dreams, desire, and sacredness can NOT be properly guided by institutions, which only try to capture the energy in dogmas and roles.  Individuals succeed because of what we call “creativity” and “inspiration” and having a “muse.”  They need an anchor point and resources, but trying to codify and confine them is hopeless.  Some cultures will honor visionaries and poets -- others are threatened by them and will try to suppress or eliminate them.  Sub-cultures of them form for protection or just to have a sympathetic community.  It CAN all be a grand fulfillment.

Sometimes the whole field goes wrong, Satanic, evil, destructive.  Those qualities are culturally defined but there is nothing that says these processes must obey the culture.  If they become neutral, pleasant, entertaining, taken for granted, then they are leaving their true nature in order to conform to the culture that wants to control them, either for the sake of profit or in order to avoid trouble.  The power goes out of them.  Marilyn Manson becomes Andy Williams.   

In a way, it’s too bad when a sub-category like atypical sexuality becomes normalized and accepted, because the power of its free defiance is diminished.  Like every process, its energy is shaped by interactions and forces, so that new dynamics emerge -- maybe unexpectedly -- and transform everything.  This can happen as easily from a small accumulation of unnoticed changes as from some dramatic “black swan.”  Transforming and interacting is the very definition of “life.” 

Humans have the capacity to create a “virtual” world in their cerebral forebrain cortex that both warns them and calls them to creation without committing physical actions until some hypothetical scenarios and calculations are considered.  Feeling around for what is sacred, imagining communities and narratives, “making love” in both physical and mental ways, are how we go along into the future.  Done in community, it can become a religion, an institution.  So believers can say “God has a purpose for me,” and to them it is true, to their church it is true.  If you are not part of that group, it might not be true at all.  And the group might slowly become sclerotic.  But now -- while people are starving and the planet is going barren -- it’s time to quit quibbling over whether God has a mustache and other trivia.

“The Human Experience”  is a movie that is intended to create hope.  (It streams on Netflix.)  Two handsome smart well-spoken young men (buddies) go live on the streets for a few days.  The cameraman is there, obviously.  The film is edited, obviously.   It’s actually safe.  It only skips over the surface.  But it’s a start and it’s very much about this human frontal lobe stuff.  This is the kind of story religion used to promote:  both the talk and the walk.  These days such idealism seems to have become a secular phenomenon.  NGO turf.  Mostly admirable: helping sick kids, philosophizing with street people -- though none too high or drunk, none too “dark” or sexy.  Visit an AIDS program, do some sweaty digging, shake hands with a leper, forgive your alcoholic abusing father.  And include a little surfing.  Not the web -- the ocean.   These young men are what we used to think priests were like.  Christianity was originally a young man’s religion, not an old man’s sinecure.   

In fact, this same set of young men as created “The Human Experience” made a short documentary called “Fishers of Men” which has inspired many to enter the priesthood.  That makes me nervous.  Thirty years ago I sat in a group with a young priest as he described his seduction/rape on his first night in the priesthood -- an unwelcome initiation at a vulnerable time.  That’s probably the least of it.  Fighting through the predation, the doubt, the loneliness, the narrowness is tough.  If I knew his name, I would look for it to see if he survived. 

There’s no reason to accept a pre-fabricated historical religious institution.  A person can find one, build one, grow one.  These splendid young men with their vitality and ideas -- don’t look at them.  Look at what they’re looking at.  

After thirty years things might be very different for these fellows.  If they find church placements that suit them, that provide a decent place to live, a caring congregation, good meals and enough practical help, they’ll be staunch and cheerful still.  But maybe someone will manage to smash the stained glass, so to speak.  What then?  Gradually through the movie we discover their points of vulnerability: a mother who died of AIDS, a father who beat his son, a shriveled arm from birth.

The original theory and perhaps reality of living a dedicated celibate life in service to the Roman Catholic Church was that faith in an All-demanding and All-rewarding God would be enough.  The priest would be filled up with joy by the blinding light of righteousness.  Right.  Machiavelli, who knew quite a bit about the Roman Catholic officials, would laugh.  Caravaggio, who knew even more, including their fondness for boys, would put that light in his paintings and hope to get paid well for it.  Just because a person’s frontal lobe is full of amazing tricks, the rest of the body still needs the basic food, shelter, and so on in order to stay alive.  Those who don't get enough of them are deformed and stunted.

The Roman Catholic Church only pretends it doesn’t change.  There are dead spots but there are also growing edges.  Urgently the priests need to be “re-faithed.”  They know about evolution.  They know there are no Pearly Gates in outer space.  Change won’t happen because of lawsuits or financial reparations.  Something has to be emergent from forces within the priesthood.  That’s how it all got started in the beginning and how it continues on the growing edge, probably more with the missionaries in the field than in suburbia or downtown, though a person should never underestimate monasteries -- or nuns, no matter where they are.  We’ll wake up one morning and the terms of the institution will have changed, just as the USSR did.  Then the real work starts, as we know.

___________________

Another version of the same opinion:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/bruni-catholicisms-curse.html?pagewanted=1&ref=general&src=me&_r=0

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