Have I Sinned?

Do I have to go to confession for attending Madonna's Confessions tour?

Readers Respond

Thousands of you read my recent article confessing my ambivalence about attending a recent Madonna concert in New York City. I love her music, yet her anti-Catholic messages are offensive. Click here to read the article.

Here are a few of the thoughtful letters we received. They offer interesting perspectives on many of the questions I raised, so check them out below.

-Dr. Christine B. Whelan

Shock and Profit
I, like you, used to love Madonna and would’ve given anything to have attended her concerts way back when. However, as a Catholic, I am deeply offended by her blatant insensitivity to Christians everywhere with these stunts during her concert. I also am appalled – I don’t know why, though – at the images of the Pope and President Bush that she showed with evil dictators from around the world.

I think it’s time that Americans made a big stink about her insensitivity. It’s all for profit and shock value. We all know that… but her concerts are so full of excitement and glitter that people want to overlook the immortality of it all in order to enjoy their night out (and get their money’s worth!) I would love to see you pursue this issue more vehemently!

Vote with your wallet
When I don’t like the business practice of a corporation, I don’t buy its product or shop in certain stores like Wal-Mart until they give their employees a fair wage and benefits. I wouldn’t buy Madonna’s albums for the same reason–it would only confirm what she is doing as being acceptable. In this country, Catholics are the one group that tolerates anti-Catholic behavior.
-Antoinette Merenda Carbone

Look behind the antics
I too bought the “Confessions” CD. I also recently saw an interview with her on the BBC where she talked a bit on why she left the church. She is a person who wants answers to life’s questions and isn’t finding what she’s looking for.

Most of the people I know who have left the Catholic Church have done so because something painful happened in their lives, and they felt when they went to other Catholics for either compassion or advice they were given: “It’s God’s will, just carry your cross [and don’t bother me with it].” I say this because I’ve gotten it from my fellow Catholics when I have been going through tough times, and it really made me feel like finding something else. When people feel so cut off they tend to gravitate towards anything that is openly anti-Catholic, and this is most obviously done through sexual irreverence and obscenity.

Would I go to one of her concerts? Probably not, and I’m glad that I can’t really afford to. I do offer a small prayer for her each time I hear her music though. I know God is listening to her music, and patiently waiting. I guess we have to wait as well.

In all honesty, if Madonna didn’t have some sort of attraction to the church still in her heart, she wouldn’t try so hard to get its attention.
-Crystal Ward

Confession Can’t Hurt

In all honesty, if Madonna didn’t have some sort of attraction to the church still in her heart, she wouldn’t try so hard to get its attention.

It can never hurt to confess something that you think might have been a sin. A good priest can help you to figure this out within the sacrament. It is often hard to avoid what some call “materially cooperating with evil”: shopping at a place that does not pay fair wages, etc. Some of Madonna’s music seems harmless–just a good beat, but does it possibly contribute to an anti-life or anti-Christ mentality in our society? You are probably right that you can protect your soul from her stunts, but if others cannot, is it a problem that you are supporting her?

Here are a few relevant questions for you to consider:

  • Did I endanger my faith by joining or attending meetings of organizations opposed to the Catholic faith?
  • Have I committed the sin of sacrilege (profanation of a sacred person, place or thing?)
  • Now, you may have done the first, and Madonna certainly did the second, but another question is, what difference does it make that you attended the concert? Imagine a headline that said “Madonna cancels tour, attendance to low in New York as Catholics opt out.”

I say yes, you should probably go to confession. Sin is something that separates you from God. It can be like a friendship, with big fights that require big apologies and awkward times that require a clearing of the air. Perhaps you need is more of the second, to tell God that you did not mean to offend Him, and to tell Him how sorry you are that in this world people are abusing His name and his Holy Cross. Would you hang out with someone who makes horrible jokes and disparaging remarks about your father? If you did, would you feel guilty the next time you were around your father? Would this gradually set up a little bit of distance between you and your father? What if your father knew about it, but you tried to tell him and yourself that it was no big deal? What if your father told you that it hurt his feelings? Would you apologize?

Confession is a sacrament, but it is not some sort of magic eraser. We are in a relationship with God, and confession is the formal means to apologize within that relationship, something that could probably benefit our earthly relationships, too!
-Mary Alice Teti

An Opportunity for Learning
Sometimes we just have to experience some things for ourselves, especially with the line of work you’re in (social historian). How can you give an honest appraisal of Madonna’s “work” if you don’t see it for yourself? I still listen to Rush Limbaugh once in a while just to see what kind of rhetoric he’s putting out now. I hope I’m not counted as one of his faithful listeners. I probably ought to go to confession for that!
-Greg Hamel

Material Girl Too Money-Hungry
I don’t think you need to go to confession, but I think Madonna does–not necessarily for criticizing the pope, who probably handles criticism well, but for prostituting her God-given talent to make tons of money. I, too, like a lot of her music, but find her outrageous publicity stunts — like comparing the pope to murderous dictators just for the shock value — ridiculous and morally repugnant.
-Leonel Martinez

A Balance Between “In” and “Of” the World
Confession must be done if you are convinced that you have sinned. But, as you said, you feel “ambivalent,” so it’s not real proper to confess something before God that you’re not really sure is negative. Plus, the statement that you would gladly buy the next CD and aren’t really sorry about going doesn’t exactly smack of “repentance”.

As for whether or not Christians should mingle in this sort of thing at all (buying CD’s, attending concerts, etc)…

The microscope you use affects the results as much as the specimen on the slide. How you internalize that experience will ultimately, for you, be the ending point of its morality or immorality. I’m convinced that Christians can’t hide from culture, and the more we shield other Christians from the culture by censorship and condemnation, the more we make those unpleasant aspects a forbidden fruit rather than something the Christian sees for what it is and can process effectively. You alluded to this when you said that by this stage in your life you could see Madonna’s antics for what they were “and not much else”.

It’s always a dangerous slope between “in” and “of” the world, and sometimes we fall, but we can’t be part of the redemption of the world if we don’t at least witness the vices of our culture before passing summary judgment. I think we should perhaps get into the habit of taking parts of culture more seriously in general. Like you were saying about how Madonna’s music was “wallpaper” for your life, many feel that way about even the chauvinistic rap or sexually explicit nonsense. But I think that’s not good enough.

If we listen to crap and read crap and watch crap over and over and constantly blow it off, then we become the type of people who have accepted cultural attacks on our faith. At what point have we sold out? At what point have we lost our right to call ourselves “resident aliens” or to say that we are God’s people whose true citizenship is in heaven, no matter where we live in this world?
-Ray Fulmer