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Archive for October, 2010

CATHOLIC CELEBRITY PROFILE: Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

This famous pop artist, avant-garde filmmaker and so much else was the darling of Hollywood celebrities and the wealthy. He delighted in what many of us would regard as tacky or mundane. I can still remember his Campbell’s Soup Can picture— ah, made me hungry to look at it! Although some thought his work was cheap, many critics today rank him in the same category of creativity with Picasso, although with more diffused interests.

As a child, his family attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, PA. When he died, his two brothers had the body brought back to Pittsburgh. During the wake, he was posed with a small prayer book and a red rose. The Mass was held at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church. The eulogy was given by Msgr. Peter Tay. After the Mass, the priest and procession drove to the old family church cemetery where he was buried next to his parents. Another memorial service was later held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

If his work was regarded as peculiar, his personal life was no less enigmatic. Many regarded him as a homosexual and yet it is also said that his personal virginity was unassailed.

I have to wonder if he did not purposely exalt the commercial and secular so that we might better see the naked truth about ourselves and our culture. His juxtaposing a religious message and consumerism in his last works seems to demonstrate this fusion and/or contradiction with which we live. Many of us did not like his work and many of his messages, I suspect, because he pushed up into our faces the artificiality and market-mentality that possesses us. Even Leonardo da Vinci’s LAST SUPPER, has become the stuff of home decoration, with cheap rip-offs but void of true meaning. He took this work and multiplied it over and over again with secular signs added. It was awful— it was our society held up against a mirror.

THE LAST SUPPER (1986)

Many people are surprised to discover that Warhol was a practicing Catholic, although of the Eastern or Byzantine rite. He often went to Mass at Roman Catholic churches. He saw himself as a religious person and personally volunteered at New York homeless shelters. A number of private religious works were discovered in his estate after his death. He went to daily Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer in New York. The pastor reported that he would kneel or sit in the back but rarely came up to the altar for communion for fear of being recognized. It is said that, given some of his art and films, he was afraid to bring scandal upon the Church. One of his brothers stated that he was “really religious” but also intensely “private” about his Catholic faith. The art historian John Richardson in a eulogy noted that he was devout, saying, “To my certain knowledge, he was responsible for at least one conversion. He took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood” (Wikepedia).

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Muslim cleric Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed tells a reporter on THE SAMOSA website:

“It is not an aggression, it is not an assault, it is not some kind of jumping on somebody’s individual right. Because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage. Of course, if it happened without her desire, that is no good, that is not desirable. But that man can be disciplined and can be reprimanded.”

We as Christians often speak about our beliefs and our witness as signs of contradiction on behalf of the Gospel. Where the Judeo-Christian faith once heavily informed Western culture, there is today increasing tension and conflict. Scandal has made the situation even more critical, not only the past presence of predators among certain clergy but the passivity of many of the laity toward deviant lifestyles and the mass destruction of the unborn. However, although individual Catholics fail to be everything they are supposed to be, the Church stands for the dignity of the person and for justice. More aberrational and sometimes in conflict with our views from another angle is the rise of Islam in our society. The tendency toward religious relativism is hard-pressed to sustain itself in light of a religion where many still espouse forced conversions and the subjugation of women. As one secular critic remarked, “In light of Muslim rigidity, maybe we did not have it so bad under the Church and the Pope?” I would contend that the best of our values and the most objective truths about things are gifts from the Church and developments from the Good News of Christ. We should be careful not to stereotype religions and their adherents, but there should also be a critical honesty in reference to them.

This morning there was a MSNBC headline which brought this point home: “U.K. cleric: Rape is impossible within marriage.” I can imagine some readers looking at this and immediately asserting about the danger of Islam, “I told you so!” The topic itself is a difficult one to discuss. Over the years I have had to counsel women who were assaulted. Many think it is all about sex. Actually, it is more about violence and wrongfully asserting power over another. Such crimes are extremely serious and should not be taken lightly. Many women take years to heal and some scars may well be permanent. It is a sin that might leave bruises, but more than this, it wounds a person’s soul and destroys trust. It is also a very prevalent crime, often unreported.

Given the many sexually laden influences around us and massive promiscuity, it is often hard or impossible to prove that such encounters were not consensual. When purity was more of a premium, the righteous anger and justice of society against the violation of a virgin and another’s wife was swift and severe. Today, it is suggested that a third of teenage girls under 18 have endured attempted date rapes. Forgive me for a moment more, as my mind frequently wanders, but I also recall a situation where a diminutive young man was ridiculed for bringing up charges against a woman for raping him. He became the butt for all sorts of jokes. As one sick person remarked, “Men might be rapists, but outside of gay sex, men cannot be raped.” I would categorize such a critic as “sick” because he can envision a man as an abuser but not as a victim. Such a person is very dangerous.

Looking at the news article today, I suspect there are many other “dangerous’ people as well.

The Imam in question is not a wildcard or a rare fanatic. Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed is the president of the Islamic Sharia Council. He is a leading Muslim cleric in London. We are often told that we have nothing to fear from the “real” Islam, well the rape of human beings is pretty serious and word games make it no less so. The controversy is simple. Speaking as a teacher of his faith, he argues that it is impossible for a husband to rape his wife. Consequently, he says that the husband should never be prosecuted by law for raping his wife. The most we can request, he continues, is that the husband ask her forgiveness for any roughness. He concludes that should be enough. He is right that “sex is part of marriage,” but as I said earlier, this is a crime of violence. He explains on the Samosa website, “Maybe aggression, maybe indecent activity… Because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage. Of course, if it happened without her desire, that is no good, that is not desirable.” He qualifies his remarks, but take note of the use of “maybe.” There is NO MAYBE about it. He does not believe a husband can rape his wife— period. He would have it that women should have no recourse to the authorities for justice and protection!

Illegal in Britain since 1991, this basic protection for married women would probably be stripped away by Islam. Proof of such an eventuality is in how Islamic countries so often treat their women. We have read the stories. Apologists would say that we do not understand and that they are isolated incidents. But the fact is that the problem is systemic and that even one such tragedy is too many. Women, married are not, are not property but persons with a sacred dignity, worth and calling. Husbands and wives are helpmates and companions. While they have different roles in the home, there is never an excuse for brutality or for oppression. Christians may view the husband and father as the head of the home but the wife is the loving heart. That heart must always be treated with respect and gentleness. They give each other to one another. They belong together. They are as the Scriptures remind us, one flesh. One commentor observed, “A religion which permits multiple wives and utterly subjugates them under the husband’s authority is jarring to our culture but also to the sensibilities of Christians.”

The cleric continued, that if the husband “does something against her wish or in a bad time,” he “may be disciplined, and he may be made to ask forgiveness. That should be enough.” Again, look at how carefully he couches his language. The conditional “may” is used again and again. These are hesitant allowances, but really he is giving up nothing about his view.

He is really saying that husbands have a right to rape their wives, but afterwards, if they feel like it, they can say they are sorry. Maybe they can give them flowers? Of course, they can rape them again tomorrow, and do so with impunity. But you wait and see, there will soon be people defending the cleric and brow-beating “intolerant” secularists and infidel Christians for criticizing him, the Koran and Islam.

Islam is a religion of the LAW. What the cleric is giving us is a legal definition and interpretation of rape under Muslim law. He told The Independent, “In Islamic sharia, rape is adultery by force. So long as the woman is his wife, it cannot be termed as rape. It is reprehensible, but we do not call it rape.” At least he calls it “reprehensible,” but still it is regarded as not something that can be prosecuted.

Although I am increasingly tempted toward cynicism, I am still hopeful that we will hear sane voices from Islam, Christianity and the secular world about this question.

Out of curiosity, I went to DICTIONARY.COM and looked up the definition of rape. The first entry reads: “the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.” A secondary entry omitted the reference to gender. I would elaborate that it also refers to a lack of consent. Husbands and wives should want to share the marital act, but sometimes because of the spacing of children, fatigue and illness, there should be a measure of restraint and understanding. The marital act is a duty of their state and hopefully a joy open to the generation of new human life. Respecting human dignity, consent needs to be present.

Apart from the question of married couples, it should be added that some like children and those mentally challenged need to be protected because they cannot lawfully give consent and get married.

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