Andrew Greeley, in The Catholic Imagination, points to the “metaphorical nature of creation”—particularly, here, the idea of sex as an Earthly manifestation of God’s love—as imbibing Catholic sexuality with sacramental powers. Literally. Martin Luther advocated only two sacraments—Baptism and Communion—a philosophy which is by no means universal, in a practical sense, to Protestantism but it’s certainly ideologically powerful—for Lutheran political-ideological reasons that I probably don’t need to walk you through.
In Catholicism, though, sex is, almost literally, a sacred act. Not in the restrictive sense (although that has happened as well), but in the ritualistic sense. From Greeley:
In the Protestant heritage, there is considerable reluctance to equate human love with the divine […] Marriage, while good and holy, has never become a sacrament. If one says in this tradition that human sexual union is like the union between God and Her people, there is an immediate need to insist that God’s passion is very different from human passion. Thus, the Protestant imagination…stresses the ‘unlike’ dimension of the metaphor and is in fact very uneasy with the idea of metaphor.
It’s an interesting possibility, right? The idea that this religion which aimed to bring you closer to God ended up defining you as separate from God.
Of course, Greeley and Heartney both are dealing more with Medieval and Baroque Catholicism and American Catholicism is so bound with Protestant culture that I think this metaphor and the role of sensuality takes a different form (and, of course, American Catholicism is so rooted in Enlightenment Catholicism rather than Sensual Catholicism to begin with). In short, you could say that American Catholicism, especially Midwestern Catholicism, is like Catholicism + Weber (and so much immigrant culture that you really can’t separate). Posing the question: can you have this kind of sensual, metaphorical spirituality in Capitalism? Et cetera.
My comfort with Weber is only peripheral, really, and for Marxist functions (ah, the embarrassing Marxist first two years of college). I remember in one of my Mexican History classes, a guy of Mexican origin talked about how Weber has been historically used to actually argue that Mexicans—and their Catholic and/or indigenous religious backgrounds—inherently don’t value hard work. It’s something I need to chew on for a while, it’s a really powerful perspective. If anything, in America, we are an ideologically Calvinist country and and we can’t separate that reality from discussions of other Christian perspectives. Especially not in working-class, immigrant Catholic midwestern communities.
I think that Baroque Catholic sensuality—and I love this idea of God metaphors especially—is totally prolific in feminist art. Distill all these discussions into bite-sized pieces: you cannot separate sex from guilt of sin. You cannot separate sin from femininity. We are bookended, first by Eve’s original sin and finally with Mary’s act of perfect redemption, giving birth to Christ. You cannot remove Western Feminist art from this lineage of feminine sin, sin which is defined through the body: through eating, naked; through entering a world in which you’ve gotta stop being naked (I would make the argument that, Biblically speaking, we can all thank Eve for fashion ‘cause without original sin we don’t need to wear pants); through a pregnancy which is both pure—bodyless-and completely cosmically sensual (again, depending on your denomination). This is even on top of two thousand-some years of embodied miracles—the history of Catholic nuns and lady-saints might actually be an underground history of the famale orgasm. Just sayin’. Throw in a few ancient Platonic assumptions and you got a whole pile of “woman is no more than, and wholly synonymous with, her body.” It’s empowering and limiting, both. Infinitely. It’s a way to start talking about yourself, and it’s a way to reflect on how you’ve been talked about for all of history. And if there’s any unifying principle of feminist art it is that: to explore how you’ve been talked about, and how to talk about yourself.
If there is a theological history of using your body as a metaphor for your relationship God—in good and bad ways—well? You know, that makes sense to me.