Catholic Bones

For those of you who haven’t seen the show Bones, the basic premise is that the forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan and FBI agent Seeley Booth work together to solve murders.  One is all brain, and the other is all heart.  Together they make an unstoppable team.  The two characters represent the battles between evidence versus intuition, academic intelligence versus social skills, and reason versus faith.  Because we know that in today’s society the two things are considered mutually exclusive.

It’s this last battle that I find particularly interesting, as Agent Booth is a Catholic.  It is always interesting to see how Catholics are represented on television.  Like most  people who adhere to a religion, they are not usually portrayed in a flattering way.  The underlying assumption is that a person of faith is either a fool or a hypocrite.  Overall Bones does a better job of handling religion than many other shows.  For instance, a recent episode centered around an anthropology intern who has been faking an Arab accent so that the other scientists won’t harass him as much for being a devout Muslim.  He makes the very good point that you can still believe that God created the world in all of its mysteries and and also believe that science can help us to understand His work even better, sometimes.  Even science doesn’t have all of the answers.

I find Booth’s Catholicism particularly interesting, because in some ways he represents the “average” Catholic.  You know the kind that would probably be referred to as Cafeteria Catholic, one who picks and chooses which tenants of the faith they want to follow.  For instance, he doesn’t  seem to follow the Church’s teachings on chastity.  He has a son out of wedlock and there are references to other non-marital liaisons.  And in a last season episode, he is willing to be a sperm donor for his work partner Dr. Brennan even though the entire process goes against Church teachings.  However, you get the impression that he does attend Mass somewhat regularly.

Since Dr. Brennan is atheist, she often makes comments about Booth’s faith.  The most recent one that inspired this post revolves around the vow of poverty.  Brennan and Booth are riding along when she makes a reference to a long standing argument they have been having about the Pope’s hat.  I was just waiting for some crazy reference to it being designed to represent an obscure fish god, but instead Brennan offers the just as misguided, “I’m just saying it’s pretty ornate for someone who made a vow of poverty.”

The fact that Booth didn’t offer a rebuttal just goes to show that he is as ignorant about it as she is.  You just don’t know if this ignorance is intentional or reflects the ignorance of the writers.  Many Catholics today are very ignorant when it comes to the tenants and inner-workings of their faith.  They don’t know which things are essential to know and believe and which are optional.  They don’t really understand Church history or what things are or mean.  Welcome to the break down of Catholic religious education since the 1960’s.

Now, despite the deficiency of my Catholic religious education in some areas, I would have at least been able to point out one thing her comment.  She is misunderstanding what a vow of poverty is.  It does not mean that you can not own any possessions.  As Sister Rose explained it to us, due to her vow of poverty her paychecks went directly to her order where it was redistributed based on need.  She then received a stipend each month to cover her rent, food, and any other minor expenses that she might have.  If she needed extra one month in order to replace clothing or some other necessity she would have to apply for it.  Anything left over each month was hers to do with as she wished, and she was also allowed to keep presents.  She was always given enough to live comfortably but not extravagantly.

Last year I learned of a second misconception in Dr. Brennan’s comment.  Not all priests or religious women make vow of poverty.  Diocesan priests in fact do not make a vow of poverty.  They get a small, regular paycheck to do with whatever they wish.  As a diocesan priest Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) would not have made a vow of poverty.  This is a very common misunderstanding out there that I regularly came across while doing research to verify my knowledge on the subject.

Now as Pope, he probably does not have to live off of his paychecks.  As a head of state, his personal needs and expenses are probably taken care of much in the same way as those of the President of the United States.  Also, like the President of the United States, there are probably many extravagant things in his keeping that do not actually belong to him personally but to the office he is fulfilling.

Personally, I think it was a rather idiotic statement for Dr. Brennan to make and not just because it was based in ignorance.  Of all the things to criticize for being too costly, she chooses the Pope’s hat??  The Pope most often wears a zuchetto or a mitre, which are both made from cloth.  It’s not like those things are encrusted with priceless jewels.  Unless she is making a reference to the now defunct Triregnum, or papal tiara.  Either way it seems like a rather silly criticism for someone of her purported intelligence and reasoning skills.

I will continue to watch and enjoy Bones despite its sometimes anti-Catholic banter.  I understand that this is sympotomatic of media in general.  And I will not hold Booth’s “cafeteria” Catholic ways against him.  Because, you see, you just can’t see inside a person’s heart.  I don’t know if Booth disobeys Church teachings out of ignorance, misunderstanding, willful disobedience, fear, an inablility to resist temptation, misplaced priorities, or more probably because he is written that way so that on one hand he can represent a religious viewpoint without crossing that line of being considered kooky.  Because the general assumption is that anyone who truly tries to allow their religious beliefs to guide all aspects of their life must have something wrong with them.

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