On the other hand—living side-by-side with this resentment for Catholicism—is a disproportionate loathing for Protestantism which exceeds just cause. This is where the complexity comes in. We're all familiar with the recurring impulse to defend members of our family—even those whom we may openly despise—simply because they are being attacked by outsiders. Likewise, when these small-town, spittle-flying pastors, in their churches like barns or, else, shopping malls, decry the heresy and idolatry of Catholicism, I have an incredible urge to bitch-slap them. Repeatedly.
When I was a Catholic—as a child and by default—it was the very things that distinguished Catholicism from Protestantism that appealed to me. (And, no, I'm not talking about institutionalized child molesting.) I loved the massive, echoing cathedrals—those ornate behemoths whose great expense was itself an affront to the church's mission to help the poor and needy. These gothic palaces, fortified, it would seem, against reason, were comforting in their history (or their seeming history) and their literalized imagery: the snake-stomping Mary, the hippie Francis, the CGI heart of Jesus... Maybe it was more exciting to me because I loved Greek mythology—and these statues and rituals recalled those absurd myths. I saw the original Clash of the Titans more times than I could count, and as a consequence I pretty much pictured God the Father as Sir Laurence Olivier, in his flowing satin robe, with those blue neon lights radiating from his head in the distance—the marks of his divinity blinking like Times Square at dusk.
Another major East Coast-West Coast beef that Protestants have with Catholics is that the latter places far too much emphasis on the Virgin Mary—even that they 'worship' her, which is clearly blasphemous or heretical or at least very, very bad. In response, Catholics, in a legendary fit of hair-splitting to rival Clinton's 'not inhaling,' claim that they venerate the saints; they do not actually worship them. Now, you're welcome to consult a dictionary to seek out the difference between worship and veneration if you're really interested, but frankly I had no problem with worshiping the Virgin Mary. Whenever I prayed—you know, those kinds of Santa Claus prayers when you wish to be miraculously given something good—I always prayed to Mary. Let's face it. She's infinitely more approachable than that Jesus dude, who too often resembles Devendra Banhart. (Yuck.) In the same way you knew that your mother was usually a lighter touch than your father, you also suspected Mary was more accommodating than her emotionally distant, goody-two-shoes son. I mean, do you remember when Jesus went postal on those merchants in the temple? If he pulled that shit today, you can bet TMZ would have the footage on tape and it would be remixed to dance music like the Christian Bale rant.
I always imagined the Virgin Mary to lie somewhere on the temperament spectrum between Barbara Billingsley and Betty White. She'd be the one to tell your father (God the Father, that is) how you fucked up big-time, but she'd soften the blow and deflect some of the force of the punishment with her maternal protectiveness. (It's interesting that this particular view of motherhood didn't exactly match up with what I experienced at home. My mother was far more fiery-tempered than my father and more apt to smack the living shit out of me. But I learned all that I really needed to know about the mythos of motherhood from television.)
One thing that honks me off about Protestants—and, yes, I realize that this is a huge generalization—is that they seem more passionately committed to their faith. All of that fire and brimstone, speaking in tongues, rapturous sermonizing, evangelism, and religious assertiveness seems to come from the Protestant side of the church. Have you been to many Catholic masses? You'd almost swear the zombie convention was in town. A lot of people just stand, sit, kneel, stand, sit, kneel and don't ever say a word. Sometimes they move their lips to a hymn or two, but they're about as convincing as Ashlee Simpson on SNL. Fortunately, Catholic churches often make use of a cantor who sings loudly and off-key into a microphone in the hopes of covering up the fact that nobody there seems to give a flying fuck about any of this.
You'll never see anything more Dawn of the Dead-like than a procession of psychologically weary Catholics trudging to the front of the church to cannibalize their Lord and Savior. Could the imagery be any more complete? Since so many of the devout tend to be elderly and physically impaired in some way, these flesh-eaters often hobble stiffly to the chow line, just like your garden-variety zombie. All we need are cheap prosthetics and some spirit gum and George Romero would be good to go.
I guess what I'm saying is that I am not a fan of enthusiastic or, worse, angry worship. The impenetrability of your average Catholic churchgoer will never upset your peaceful daydreaming about what you're having for lunch or what the woman two pews ahead looks like naked. You can go deep inside yourself with your thoughts, close the panic room doors—and you usually will remain undisturbed. There's something so distasteful about these Protestant shucksters with their undignified ravings. During Catholic mass, you can be like C-3PO in Star Wars when he says to Luke, 'Sir, if you will not be needing me, I'll close down for a while.' And then his eyes go dark.
I would be all for Catholic ritual if it were somehow unattached to a religion. It would be fun in a Halloween sort of way to dress up in a long flowing robe like those statues pleure [i.e., memorial statues of cloaked weeping women, usually found at grave sites] and perform meaningless rituals in one of those imposing, intensely atmospheric European cathedrals like Notre-Dame de Paris. It wouldn't be all that much different from the innocent thrill you experienced that one week in your adolescence when you discovered the writings of Anton LaVey and wanted to paint your bedroom walls black and buy a human skull candle holder.