MAILER: I’m trying to understand you. I’ve got to say that you’re self-centered.
MADONNA: I’ve been accused of that many times.
All the same, one of the reasons Sex had proved shocking to large portions of Madonna’s loyal audience was a particular full-page photograph of the lady with her nose poked between two cheeks.
MAILER: Either you are kissing him in the crack of his ass or you are biting him there. It’s hard to tell. There’s also a crucifix in the background. On his arm.
MADONNA: It’s his tattoo. That’s a coincidence.
MAILER: But the picture was chosen. You had several hundred pictures in the book, and I think I read in the advance publicity that there were twenty thousand contacts to choose from. So this photo was certainly… it’s a dangerous area.
MADONNA: Oh, yes, oh, yes.
MAILER: Still, religion and excretion are not all that separate. You eat your food, and whatever spirit was in the food is changed greatly. Then it’s excreted. It reaches the waters again—that’s like a passage into death. And organized religion is certainly concerned with preparedness for death. Did you choose that photograph because you felt a connection?
MADONNA: Maybe unconsciously.
MAILER: It shocks the hell out of people, and at the same time you’re saying something. Isn’t that your idea of intellectual heaven?
MADONNA: Yes, thank you for noticing. But also he happens to have a beautiful ass, and I was enjoying that.
MAILER: Isn’t that what we all work for?
MADONNA: Exactly [Laughs.] But I didn’t really answer the question. I do believe religion and eroticism are absolutely related. And I think my original feelings of sexuality and eroticism originated in going to church.
MAILER: I’m sure you’re right. I’m not a churchgoer, but if I were to join any conventional religion, I’d be a Catholic.
MADONNA: It’s very sensual, and it’s all about what you’re not supposed to do. Everything’s forbidden, and everything’s behind heavy stuff — the confessional, heavy green drapes and stained-glass windows, the rituals, the kneeling — there’s something very erotic about that. After all, its very sadomasochistic, Catholicism.
MAILER: It also enables you to drink the blood and eat the body of Christ.
MADONNA: Yes. Its carnivorous.
MAILER: Incredible taboos are gathered in and made life-giving… a considerable intellectual and spiritual achievement.
MADONNA: And when you’re – bad, you go into a little booth and ask God for forgiveness…
MAILER: And it works, to a degree…
MADONNA: And you get forgiven.
MAILER: You may go out and commit the same sin again, but the nature of it has been altered. Which is all a church can ever do for you. You know, when you’re raising children, you can never control them, merely alter the nature of their perception a little bit at a time. The confessional does something of the same, I would assume, but in a much more theatrical and awesome manner.
MADONNA: Yes, it’s very operatic.
MAILER: Can you ever see yourself going back to the church?
MADONNA: I go to church a lot just because a lot of Catholic churches are very beautiful architecturally. I love, especially right around Christmas, the smell, the candles, the incense, the ritual, as I said, and I find churches are probably one of the quietest places you can go. People somehow recognize respect when they go into a church, and you can go there and feel a real sense of tranquillity. But I can’t imagine becoming a practicing Catholic again, no.
MAILER: I was talking once to a very intelligent Catholic a priest who’s a friend of mine, and I said I could never become a Catholic, and he said, “Why? Because of the transubstantiation in the mass?” I said that didn’t bother me a bit. I can believe in ritual miracles. He said, “But you don’t believe in the Immaculate Conception?” I said, “I could never be a Catholic because I do not believe that God is all-powerful.” It fascinates me. The idea of a god who is not all-powerful. I wonder if you can believe in that or not.
MADONNA: A god who makes mistakes?