You Want Funny?

Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributer to the Living Faith quarterly devotional.

After all, where would any of those people be without Catholics?

What would the contemporary art scene be without Catholic iconography to fling dung on and immerse in urine? What would the movies be without tortured celibates and breathless scenes in dark confessionals? What would they write formulaic never-ending off-Broadway shows about if both goofy AND fascist nuns were suddenly off-limits?

Imagine any of the arts without weeping statues, rosaries, banks and banks of votive candles, monks, exorcisms, stigmatas, cassocks, collars or habits. What would movie soundtracks be without Gregorian chant?

How can you dramatize institutional evil and hypocrisy without Vatican bureaucrats? What would death scenes be without last rites?

How could you have a horror movie with not one muttered Latin prayer? Where would criminals have their shootouts if marble-tiled churches with huge crucifixes looming overhead shut their doors?

I mean, really. If they’re going to use us and abuse us, the least they can do is pay us for the pleasure.

After all, if they didn’t have our rituals, symbols and quirky values to exploit for atmosphere and use as a foil for their own agendas, where would they turn?

To ladies in flowery dresses scooping out green bean casserole at the First Community Church covered dish supper? The entire congregation of the Second Street Assembly of Community Pillars falling into a stupor on padded pews midway through a stewardship sermon? Thousands of participants at the MegaHuge Cornerstone Worship Supercenter clapping their merry way through the youth choir, the young adult’s choir, the senior choir, the handbell brigade, clown ministers, pantomimists and jugglers? Unitarians sitting on plastic chairs in bare rooms still talking about the Sandinistas?

No. With all due respect, there’s only a few of us with the goods to deliver for artistic fodder: Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Orthodox Jews and Asian religions, of course.

It’s not that I really mind, except when the line to plain and simple Catholic bashing and bigotry is crossed and defended in the name of Art, even though what’s really at stake is Mammon.

But there’s a subtler point of irritation as well. It has to do with the whole reality issue.

So you want to use Catholic imagery and issues as a starting point for commentary and maybe even satire? Okay, but do you really think that one more turgid Vatican conspiracy novel or movie is really a lucid comment on the state of the Church? Do you actually believe that your play depicting a mythic despotic Catholic school regime has anything to do with contemporary reality? Is your ever-so-predictable conflict between the Bad (superstrict inhumane institution) and the Good (tolerance, diversity and individual freedom) really a meaningful satiric jab at the Catholic Church of the twenty-first century?

Have you been to a conference of Catholic professional ministers lately? I didn’t think so.

So you want to satirize the Catholic Church in your movie or television show. Go ahead. But don’t reach back forty years to do it. There’s plenty of material right around the corner. Satirize this, buddy – before I beat you to it.

Catholic “justice” activists maintaining silence on abortion.

American Catholics, after decades of being preached at about the centrality of community and social justice,(since, of course, that old-fashioned concept of “charity” is just too authoritarian for the powers that be these days) – falling and remaining at the rock bottom of every survey of church and charitable giving in general.

Catholic children spilling out of years of catechesis with nothing but collages and discussion questions to show for it.

Catholics being shocked – shocked – when bishops issue statements reminding everyone that cohabitation before marriage isn’t right.

Catholic college administrators who use their institution’s Catholic identity as a selling point to parents willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars in tuition being shocked – shocked – at the Vatican’s insistence that this same Catholic identity be more than a cynical PR ploy.

Popular Catholic spirituality abandoning its own rich history in preference for Eastern traditions, Native American mythology, pagan earth-centered sensibilities, pop-psychology and evangelical “devotions.”

A Catholic university (Georgetown, FYI)refusing to hang crucifixes in the classroom.

Talk about material ripe for satire. Keep your men in dresses and funny hats. Hang on to those icons. Catholics refusing to be Catholic?

Now that’s funny.

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