A commenter on my post on artificiality has observed that Catholicism has it’s share of sentimentalism, and he is correct. For some reason he associates Catholic kitsch with sentimentalism. I’m not sure the connection is apt, or at least not big enough for we have far more sentimentalism in the Catholic Church than is represented by the souvenir stalls at Lourdes.
Baroque is sentimental. Flamboyant Gothic is sentimental. The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Divine Mercy and the Little Flower and the Seven Sorrows of Mary are sentimental. I could go on and on. Geesh, Catholicism is overflowing with sentimental.
I never said sentiment is bad or that kitsch is wrong. I can’t bear aesthetes, and I have grown to love the devotional expressions of ordinary Catholics–even when they are in ‘bad’ taste. Good taste in religion is the preserve of Anglicans. I’m happy to belong to a religion with tacky souvenir shops selling plastic rosaries and holy water bottles shaped like the Blessed Virgin and her crown unscrews to splash the holy water about. I’m happy to belong to such a religion because it is the religion of the unwashed, the unschooled and the holy poor. I love the Kings College Choir, but if I have to choose give me a fat Italian woman muttering her plastic beads faithfully before an image of the Infant of Prague. There’s real religion. The other (in my experience) is all form and no content.
Sentiment in religion is only wrong when it becomes sentimentality. In other words, when all there is, is sentiment. When all there is, is subjective emotionalism. Yes, we have sentimentality and high emotion in Catholicism, but underneath it all is the solid dogma, discipline and devotion of 2000 year of the Catholic faith. Within Protestantism, however, all that remains is subjective sentimentalism.
Whether it is the Protestant charismatic with his oozing emotions or the Evangelical Anglican who wants you to have an emotional experience called ‘getting saved’ or the urbane Anglican academic the underlying quicksand is, “I feel this is true for me therefore I feel it is the right way to be…” The sentimentalism of the Catholic pilgrim buying a post card of Jesus with googly eyes from a souvenir stand in Lourdes is, on the other hand, built on the rock solid objectivity of the Catholic faith.
Do we have dissenters from this faith in the Catholic Church? Of course we do. Big deal. Even the fact that they are dissenting proves the objective claims of the Catholic faith–otherwise they would have nothing to dissent from. They might be kicking against a rock, but at least the rock is there, and the fact that they are kicking against it validates it.