by Christian Y. Cardall
The proliferation of priests on television the past couple of weeks reminds me of a joke I often heard missionaries tell in Catholic-dominated Chile.
A Catholic priest invites a mormon Bishop over to discuss issues of mutual concern in their community. The priest is a good host, but not past needling his ecclesiastical colleague: "May I offer you a cup of coffee?"
"You're very kind," replies the Mormon bishop, "but no, thank you, we don't drink coffee."
"Why, Bishop, you don't know what you're missing! How about some tea?"
"Very gracious, Father, but again I must decline. We don't drink tea either."
"Ah, you don't know what you're missing. Well, perhaps we could ease into our discussion with a glass of bourbon and a fine cigar?"
"Father, I appreciate the gesture, but we don't smoke or drink."
"Well, you don't know what you're missing! On to the business at hand, then."
Their business is dispatched smoothly. Turning back as he makes his way out, the Bishop issues a final farewell: "Give my best to your wife."
"Why, Bishop, you know we don't marry."
The Bishop shakes his head: "Father, you don't know what you're missing!"
It may be utterly juvenile on my part, but while watching the priests "pontificate" on television, for some reason the celibacy thing distracts me to the point that I can hardly hear what they're saying. In the two worldviews I've taken seriously, sexuality and reproduction play a central role: In Mormon theology, it is practically the defining characteristic of godhood; in evolution, it defines "survival of the fittest." From these perspectives, to be without family or expectations of it is to practically not exist. (In Mormonism, even those who must do without look forward to receiving in eternity all blessings they were denied in mortality.) To choose celibacy willingly seems so abnormal, so out of sync with reality, that it makes it hard for me to lend credibility to anything they say.
There is a strong emotional response on my part here. Seeing sexuality as an integral part of manhood, and unwilling to conceive of anything different for myself, it is perhaps hard for me to think of them as "real men." The revulsion is similar to that evoked by the punishment Odysseus meted out to the wicked suitors, who had their privy parts ripped off and fed to the dogs. (As I recall, for some reason the epic insists on repeating this over and over.)
But there is an intellectual component too. Now, I may have a lot to learn about the fine points of theology (even Mormon theology---I haven't read Blake Ostler's book). But I can't help thinking that for all the much-vaunted "intellectual consistency" of the Catholic "culture of life," the wheels must have come off the logic wagon in a major way when it came to celibacy. Artificial birth control is banned; how ironic, then, to bestow the title of Father upon those whose elective unnatural lifestyle amounts to the most severe method of artificial contraception imaginable! Unlike other methods, this one appears to be waning in popularity---a reality that might, someday, bring someone to their senses.