Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gothic Faith

On October 1, I looked at my nightstand and had to laugh that Halloween had come early. My computer was halfway through Children of the Corn, and beside it were stacked Dracula and Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, each half-read. The devil and vampires and hyper-Calvinists, oh my!

Dracula, of course, is quite well known, although I’m not sure how much of the mythos is actually from the novel. But there is plenty of praying and blood and inversion of holiness. I’m not quite sure how popular Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is. I’ve never heard anyone reference it, but I picked it up from a Classics bin at a book fair a few years ago. Fortunately for me, the introduction explains, I have an unedited version. It was edited in some printing because of how much it bashed Calvinism. I’ve got to say, I’m impressed it got published in 1820s Scotland at all. It takes some tenets of Calvinism to its logical extreme. If one is elect, one is good. If one is unelect, one is bad. One’s actions do not change one’s status. Therefore, a man who chosen by God can justifiably be a lying, fornicating, murderer, as his actions ultimately must be good. And surely it is alright to harm someone who is unelect, for they must be evil and an enemy of God. There is no room for morality when one’s salvation is so exact. So far, the book is gothic and trashy in all the right ways, though I wonder (and doubt) if the anti-protagonist will actually make a change in his theology.

The theology itself is arguably the villain of the story. And sometimes, I like indulging in breaking down all that’s wrong with some Protestant theologies. Prosperity gospel? Slimy. Rapture a la Darby? Silly. Hyper-Calvinism? Scary.

But sometimes those Protestants have points Catholics ignore. Like Hell. Don’t get me wrong; Catholics cover Hell. Check out medieval art, Dante’s Inferno, and Día de Muertos. But fire and brimstone sermons, we’re lacking. Which is fine by me; I’m not much for being scared into loving God. And yet Hell, judgment, and wrath do have a proper place in Christian theology. Last week, the priest quoted Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in his homily. While he pointed out the differences in theology, he did give Jonathan Edwards credit: there is a place for fear. Christ warns of consequences. Sometimes we need to be jolted out of our routines and habits. We need to know that our actions (and inactions) lead to certain conclusions. Our faith must be an active one, working toward the Church’s goal. As high schoolers (when most of us first encounter Edwards’ sermon) we are shocked by the brutality and the blunt certainty of the words. As Christians, we should occasionally be shocked by sermons or scriptures. They should be bold and certain. They should make us uncomfortable, prompt us into action.

There is a reason that rebellious subcultures appropriated from Catholicism. Towering edifices, gargoyles, Petrine (upside-down) crosses, communion with the departed, the ritual focus on body and blood. The faith can be dark and jarring and downright spooky. This fall I’m enjoying seeing the grim side of the faith, the dirty and twisted and fearful. Because even with stories of vampires and justified sinners, I know the dark parts of my faith aren’t scary after all. The story of my faith has a happy ending. It can shine into cobwebbed corners and stodgy parishioners. It takes a detour through dark alleys, because the dark needs the light the most.

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