More recently Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist and cultural theorist wrote about our fascination with the simulated over the real. In other words, we like the map better than the territory it represents. Baudrillard broke our simulations down into four stages.
The first is a faithful copy of reality. I think of the scale model of the USS Constitution that sits on my fireplace in my study. The second and third move progressively away from reality to the fourth, which is pure simulation. It represents a reality that doesn’t exist. At the fourth level, experiences are so overwhelmingly artificial that even claims to reality are in artificial or “hyperreal” terms.
Think of the Vatican and the pomp and circumstance that re-enforces a simulated kingdom that doesn’t exist: Old holy men in flowing colorful robes, waking ceremonially among spectacular art and architecture, situated in its own empire.
My experience with the simulation of Roman Catholicism goes back a long way to my youth. As an altar boy and student, in a small town in the Midwest, the church was the center of my life from about eight to 18 years of age. I was totally entranced by the simulation.
When I was about 13 years of age a young priest showed up, newly out of seminary and ready to engage his duties as assistant pastor. In those days, there were enough priests to have assistant pastors, even in small towns. And today as I write this sad truth about him, I feel as though I’m doing something wrong. That’s the lifelong effect a beloved simulation can have.
He was a pedophile. But I admired and loved him anyway. Really, it was the simulation he reinforced so well that I loved. In every way, he was kind, caring and responsive to our emerging adolescent personalities. Nonetheless, he was a pedophile. He was never prosecuted. His pederasty was never discussed openly, except among us boys. We, the boys, who had to titillate him by disclosing every detail of our impure thoughts in the confessional before he’d give us absolution. And at 13 we had nothing but impure thoughts.
It was during those times I got a peek at true reality; the one the simulation was designed to replace. The same one that all the pomp and circumstance in the parish was designed to hide.
The priest had a favorite boy whom he regularly took to his bedroom in the rectory he shared with the pastor. The pastor was the “keeper-in-charge” of the simulation.
All that said, the pedophile parish priest followed the normal career trajectory. He was eventually promoted to pastor of his own parish. And the simulation was maintained.
Fast forward to today and the Church is being forced to face-up to its history of distortions, cover up’s, denials and failure to protect the innocent faithful in its efforts to preserve the simulation and the hierarchy that governs it.
But why today? What is going on today that brings it to a head after centuries of varied scandals? From Barges again, “In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied.” I believe the same is happening in the Roman Catholic Church today.
I know I’m generalizing but, my experience with modern-day American Catholic practice today is, it is a hodge-podge of selected insensitivities to traditional teachings. The majority support female and married priests, birth control, and re-marrying the divorced. Very few people I know attend Mass every Sunday as required under penalty of mortal sin. And even fewer go to confession regularly. In fact, the holiest sacrament of all, the Eucharist, is no longer taken just by those in the “state of grace”; meaning without sin. The map is in “tattered ruins.”
The questions to be answered by the selection of the new Pope are, will the simulation continue in the Vatican and here in “In the Deserts of the West, will there remain the Tattered Ruins of that Map?” Or will he re-unify a crumbling theological artifice and replace it with a modern model of Christianity that is compassionate and inclusive of all human beings without qualification?
I hope for the best but simulations are like neuroses; the more holes you poke in them, the harder they strive to perfect themselves.