Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Men Should Propose to Women (and not the other way about)

I have never been a particularly huge fan of the so-called Sadie Hawkins dance, or "Morp" as they call it around here (prom backwards). I am not dogmatic about it, I just think that there is more virtue and value in men asking women to these events than the other way around. In order for young men to reach beyond their little "man-cave" mentality, they need to learn how to address and reach out to the other half of the species. Simply learning how to ask a lady out on a date is one of the first steps in a man's journey beyond the typical grunts and growls of their adolescent reality.

Call me sexist if you like, but men would never have dreamed of writing poetry, singing love songs, or behaving in a chivalrous manner were it not for the feminine. Indeed, this co-mingling of the sexes allows for the full expression of the Yin and Yang of reality, elevating both sexes according to their own respective needs. Boys are perfectly content to be catered to as long as the opposite sex is willing to do them the honor. The problem is if you only "do them the honor" they may never learn to honor you.

All I can say is the hardest/scariest words that I have ever uttered in my whole life were; "Will you marry me!" Not because my wife isn't wonderful and beautiful (she is), but because I knew I had to own them, and I didn't know if I was "man enough" to be a "man of my word". Yet how much more would I have doubted myself, or the situation, had those words not come from me; "You pressured me into this, I wasn't ready!"

Obviously it is easy enough to dispute this claim by simply pointing out that my circumstances are not the same as others, and that in such and such a case it might be just as "romantic" (and necessary) for a woman to propose to a man. Perhaps. But allow me to explain why, historically speaking, it makes sense that every woman (especially the feminist), should revel in the fact that it is a man's duty to propose to a woman.

In the ancient world the norm was not to honor power in its more subtle forms, but rather to emphasize personal or collective might (viz. "might makes right"). An individual's ability to impose their will on the rest of the world came- not from their value as an individual- but rather from their particular fate/birth. The recognition of an individual's dignity, or the idea that they were a part of some "underprivileged class", did not warrant you any special attention or sympathy. To the contrary, it re-enforced your destiny. The "fates" dealt you a particular hand, slave or free, and their wasn't much you could do about it, nor were you under the impression that you could (or should) do anything about it. This kind of fatalism was part of the air they breathed in the ancient world.

For this reason, unless a woman was born into nobility, she too was treated according to her physical power and influence. In other words, she was not "here own" in any sense of the word. Because women were presumed to be the "weaker sex" they were treated as such. That doesn't mean their weren't exceptional cases here or there, but on a general scale, no one presumed, including women, that they were free to do anything but obey. And servitude extended even to the bonds of marriage (both in choice of spouse and during the marriage itself).

If for no other reason than this alone, the symbol of a man proposing to a woman on one knee should be honored. Indeed, the above photo(s) do not suggest a new kind of liberation for women, but rather the re-establishment of the old order (however ironically it may be re-envisioned).

What tends to be honored today is more of a generic equality of the sexes, one which simply assumes equality involves only having a woman do everything that a man used to do, without any regard for what makes a woman unique in her own right. In other words, a woman (in my humble and right opinion) is not only valuable because she is capable of performing every task that a man can (whether that is true or not), but because she can perform many that he can't! I must admit I am for a higher equality in this regard, or rather a higher "inequality."

I am for the Christian revolution that turned the pagan world on its head, not by castrating men (see above photo), but by compelling them to use their swords in the service of their lady (as opposed to using it to subjugate them). A man genuflects when proposing to a woman, not as a means of diminishing her, but as a means of diminishing himself. He does this as a courageous recognition of her power over him. At this moment, the man is not only saying that he intends to place himself in her service, but even that she is free to reject his offer. There would have been no such choice for women in antiquity. And wherever this kind of chivalry is not embraced in the world today, we can see just how ugly the consequences may be.

There is so much in this gesture that is both a rejection of what was wrong with the ancient world, and an an embrace of what was right (if we truly wish to be truly liberal about the whole thing). In itself, there is nothing at all wrong with a patriarchal sense of duty, ruggedness, and responsibility. What this small gesture introduces into the narrative (in one fell swoop) is a shift in the balance of power from a kind of primitive Darwinism, to a story that is a little more like a romance. The king will reign, yes, but his power will come from his love and service to the queen… So much so in fact, that one will have trouble distinguishing who's reign it is in the end.

Incidentally, it is important to note that this shift in power is not a happy coincidence of history, but rather a direct result of the Biblical narrative. Christ triumphed over evil through his vulnerability to his bride as expressed on the cross. He won the battle over death and evil because he exercised a form of weakness that is more powerful than any worldly strength; a love, as it were, which is "stronger than death" (Songs of Songs 8:6). And thus as the curtain was/is lifted/will be lifted in the book of Revelation, it seems highly appropriate that we should find ourselves at a wedding ceremony, awaiting the sacred "yes" of a mysterious Bride, the veiled one who has such profound dignity, that even God must await her answer to his proposal. If that is not a higher equality, I do not know what is.
Thus, wherever you see a double standard with regard to sex and sexual behavior today, do not blame Christian theology for such a terrible misogyny, rather blame a culture that is backsliding towards the worst of paganism. Blame a culture that no longer recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of women,  and instead views them as chattel for consumption. Indeed, it was only with the advent of the doctrine of Christian dignity, coupled with the notion that as Children of God we all have the power to choose our own destiny, that people for the first time began to subscribe to any notion of equality of the sexes. In fact, in the beginning such a disparity apparently did not exist at all. For according to the book of Genesis, it was only in the communion of flesh between a man and a woman, that one was truly able to witness the face of God. (Genesis 1:27)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Are You Saved? If You're Sure You Are, Then You May Not Be… Here's Why

Are you saved?! If you live in the south like I do, then at some point you have probably heard this phrase either directly or indirectly. In a more religious age, such a question might have more rhetorical punch. However, in a culture which is essentially post-Christian, the question might come off like a bizarre non sequitur. To put it another way, what does this phrase even mean in an age which is post (post) modern? "Why yes, of course I'm saved, after all, there's really nothing to be saved from..." or perhaps, "Of course I'm saved… I'm a good person!"

From the standpoint of an Evangelical, things were never meant to turn out this way. The question was intended to be self-evident, and/or to lead to a deeper question about Jesus and the how one was to find salvation. Now in the most ironic mockery of the idea of being "saved by faith", the average person really does feel at peace about their eternal salvation, but not because of their faith in Jesus, but because, well, they just feel it in their heart. Yet between us folk who still think Jesus is necessary for salvation, what should we say about the specific requirements surrounding our eternal fate?  

According to some interpretations of Scripture, salvation is a relatively clear process. By grace you are moved to accept Jesus in faith, and by doing so you become justified in the sight of God... Signed, sealed and delivered. However, the minor (or major, depending on how you look at it) dilemma on this front, as acknowledged by many Christians themselves, is the fact that some Christians may not be sincerely saved in the first place (even when they claim to be), because they lacked the necessary sincerity at the moment when they claimed to have accepted Christ into their heart.

For those who acknowledge this fact, one Scripture passage may be particularly instructive; "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my heavenly father" (Matthew 7:21). Consequently, it seems relatively clear, based on this passage, why it is not so easy to say who's in, and who's out.

Another reason for the lack of certitude in these situations has to do with the fact that everyone about whom we are speaking is still on earth, and is not as yet, in the strictest sense, saved. There is a reason why they call this life a valley of tears. And so, in truth, until "every tear is wiped away", we cannot really say that we are completely "saved". Thus, it may be more accurate to say, in all humility, "I was saved, am being saved… and God willing, I will let Him finish the job!"

However, rather than go down the circular rabbit hole of trying to figure out (on earth) who has completely filled the requirements for one who is saved, and who has not (including those who have done so in a phony or unsatisfactory way), let us go up to heaven, so to speak, and find out.

In Matthew 25 we get a description of the Last Judgment. Most people are aware that "sheep go to heaven and goats go to hell" (to quote the band Cake), but what is rarely mentioned is why the sheep are particularly heavenly, and why the goats are particularly infernal. The truth is the final judgment has very little to do with poor genetic breeding, or rather if it does, it has far more to do with our subsequent treatment of the ill bred.

Jesus states that our final judgment is directly proportional to our treatment of the most poor. In fact, in Matthew 25, Jesus identifies so completely with the "least of our brethren", that he practically calls them Jesus. There is no other group or person, apart from the Father, with which he identifies more.

Still, the fact that we appear to be judged based primarily on our acts of mercy (not simply based on our acceptance of Christ in our heart), isn't even the most interesting and ironic part of the passage. The "kicker" on Judgment Day, at least from the standpoint of Matthew 25, is the fact that the people who are saved/condemned are apparently confounded by the nature of God's decision. Not only is judgment day, not merely a re-affirmation of those who thought they were saved, but it is practically the opposite!

From the standpoint of grace, as well as virtue (as opposed to vice), this makes a lot of sense. Grace is fundamentally an unmerited gift. And in order for a gift to be truly a gift, it must have some element of surprise. The greatest enemy of surprise is presumption. Presumption is to gratitude, what parasites are to good wood. Hence, the devil is in hell (along with the rest of the goats), not simply because they deserve hell, but, more importantly, because they "deserve" heaven. Heaven is owed to him. He is confounded, like all the rest of the goats in hell, because this is not the way things ought to have played out. He is obsessed with being right, but funny, he is not so much interested in being good for goodness sake.

Consequently, the souls in hell are already saved! In fact, they are so "saved", that they never had any need of salvation at all. They are good people. Worthy people. God is the one who is unjust.

On the other hand, the sheep are both elated and confounded because they can't believe that God would count them worthy to share in such a sublime gift. They are like the ones for whom a surprise party has been thrown, or rather the one who has, in spite of all the odds, won the lottery. Like St. Matthew pointing to himself, they say, "Who, me?" How is it that the Lord might come to me this day!? One is surprised because holiness is never presumptuous, while the other is miserable, because "naturally," the wedding feast should have been celebrated in their honor. One believes themselves to be saved, and thus good to go, while the other is saved because "goodness" is the last word they would use to describe themselves. For them virtue is an act of justice, or rather it is the result of God's generosity towards them.

To put it in the form of a fable, saints are a little like the Tortoise. The Hare has, by his own estimation, already won the race, and thus he loses it. While the tortoise keeps his head down and "peddles" never assuming anything. Quite the opposite, because he assumes that he may in fact lose the race, "he runs so as to win" (to quote St. Paul), and thus prevents himself from being "disqualified."

However, in fairness to those who do claim victory before it is firmly in their grasp, perhaps their confidence is like a battle cry. Perhaps it motivates them to press onward, not because of their own prowess, but because of the love they have for the One waiting for them at the finish line. And so like a lover's boast, they too declare from the rooftops their "victory" even as they continue to woo her unceasingly. Nevertheless, this does not change the importance of having a humble disposition as it relates to the Lord, a disposition which is inclined to boast of the Lord's goodness, yet one that never takes for granted, or presumes, that salvation and victory are firmly in hand, until they actually are.    

"Oh Jesus, watch over me always, especially today, or I shall betray you like Judas."
                                                                                       -St. Philip Neri

Saturday, September 5, 2015

#LoveWins (Part 3): When is Sex An Act of True Love?

I want to write this post about as much as I want to drink a glass of liquid barium. So why am I doing it then? 1) Because I left the question hanging in one of my last posts and I said I would answer it; 2) Because it needs to be answered, and in a way that is both reasonable and compassionate. Unfortunately, I feel that more often than not you get one virtue without the other.

The problem I find in writing something like this is that it is hard not to come off as superior and snooty, especially when explaining, rather mechanically and clinically, why this or that action is wrong. I get it. I really do. The problem is compounded by the fact that this "mechanistic" mentality seems too often pitted against the mentality of love and mercy.

To be clear, I do not savor getting on the wrong side of people (I am no Donald Trump). Like anyone else, I love to be loved. I speak about these things not to add insult to injury for those who are struggling with such questions, but rather to add context and meaning to sexuality and intimacy itself. I speak about these things not to feel superior or to ostracize anyone, but because understanding the Catholic position on sexual morality actually saved me from a life of moral misery (which I was well on my way to indulging in), and if I do not offer that "life raft" to others, I would ultimately be betraying the very One who offered me His.

I do not deny that there is a kind of peace that comes from admitting one's secret desires and proclivities, but there is an important distinction to be made between personal honesty and the consequences of sexual behavior. Indeed, I would argue that there are some moral actions that bring anything but peace, no matter how much we wish they would. So you might ask: "then why do we have these desires and inclinations in the first place?"

The Christian word for this apparent riddle is concupiscence (i.e. because of our fallen nature, our desires, much like a set of misaligned tires, are not necessarily disposed to lead us on the straight path). The Gospel (along with the help of practical witnesses) offers us a example of how to realign those desires. All the same, even if you reject this Gospel remedy, no one can deny that there are some desires (perhaps even persistent ones) that must be redirected and "realigned" so as to avoid ruining our lives and the lives of others. This is not a homosexual problem, it is a human problem.

I recognize that listening to this position requires a certain level of openness to change (at least that was my own experience in these matters). I also recognize that love, rather than logic, is actually a far more motivating influence when it comes to sacrificing for a cause. However, what may initially seem like an unpleasant prospect, is in truth (I would argue) the key to finding a deep and abiding sense of peace and joy (whether one is straight or gay). That being said, the Church's teaching on sexuality is not simply about being sexless, but rather about marshaling our "potency" in such a way that is constructive as opposed to destructive.

In the first post that I wrote on these matters, I argued that a vigorous but respectful debate about morality is not only not hate, but is rather the very recipe for a just and well-ordered society. Every law on the books in some way dictates how we should (or should not) use our bodies (and yes, in some cases those laws do involve various sexual prohibitions… and some still do). The second post was written primarily to point out that there are different kinds of love, and that sexual love is only one kind of love, and should not necessarily be conflated with the others, lest it be introduced in every kind of situation and relationship.

As suggested before, this final post will be- more than anything else- dedicated to arguing why it is that Catholic teaching on sexuality (far from being hateful and irrational), is instead both logical and loving. It is interesting that when people go after Church teaching on these matters, they often denounce the Bible and the Church as wrong simply because it is ancient and therefore "Bronze age barbarism" (sounds "ageist" to me). I wish however to take a broader look at this topic, and present the best case available for the position the Church espouses. Reject it if you will, but do not say that there is no reason at all to hold this position. After all, I would not say the same of those who happen to oppose me on this issue.

What convinced me of the Gospel's teaching on sexuality...

The truth is the Bible is neither right nor wrong because it is "old", nor is it true or false because someone happened to be in a desert when they wrote it (sounds "desertist" to me). The question is whether it makes sense logically and practically to believe it, and whether or not there is a substantive reason why so many people have found solace and meaning in these "desert scribblings".

In any case, I am not a Biblical fundamentalist, and I do not believe these particular things about sex, love, and marriage only because they are in the Bible (or in any other place), I believe them because they are rational, make a lot of sense, and can be expressed quite cogently and concisely in language that is both clear and demonstrable- not to mention rooted in the natural law (which is a method of understanding based on Greek philosophical tradition).

As a matter of fact, when I initially returned to the Christian Faith, it was not because I "felt Jesus in my heart". To the contrary, despite my own wishes to the contrary, I found myself seeing the rationality of the moral teachings of the Church in spite of not feeling anything even approaching a bunch of warm "fuzzies" for Jesus (no offense meant to the "warm fuzzyists" out there). Thus, I reverted to Christianity not because it suited my agenda (it didn't), but because, despite my own proclivities, I found that it was true. And even more importantly, as difficult as it was to practice, when I did begin to practice it in full, I slowly began to discover the true meaning of peace and joy, a consolation that had eluded me for so long.

The opposite of me...

Our current status as a society...

In former times, when the sexual ideal wasn't reached, we at least recognized the ideal was still the ideal. Today the ideal is that there is no ideal, and the only real sin is believing that sin actually exists. And this might be fine, were it not for the fact that human beings do have a nature that cannot be ignored, we do have a conscience that isn't simply conditioned according to time or place (i.e. murder and cowardice may exist in a society, but they can never really be regarded as truly progressive principles), and when that nature is denied in any substantive way, terrible things begin to happen in the culture. In truth, my only virtue in this whole ordeal (if you could call it that) was the fact that I ultimately wanted to be happy, and was willing to sacrifice my own comfort for a much higher one. This has always been the struggle, but now the truth seems even more muddled amidst this house of carnival mirrors that I like to call dogmatic subjectivism.  

My main goal here is not to get into a bunch of details about sex, or provide a long litany of moral "don'ts" (there are plenty of ways to go wrong with sexuality, and many of those exist within the context of marriage itself). What I will attempt to argue is why- as a society- we should be careful about drawing equivalencies between marriage as it is has been formerly understood, and all other types of committed arrangements. I bring this all up not to start a fight. In fact, I did not bring it up at all, it was rather introduced by a number of activists looking to turn it into a civil rights issue, and they were thoroughly successful in doing so.

I will therefore attempt to argue my thesis from a scientific standpoint, a legal standpoint, and a religious one. All of the explanations I provide should hopefully contribute to a deeper understanding of the meaning and purpose of sexual intimacy, and why it can only be described as an act of true love (agape) when it is set in the context of a sacramental marriage open to life.    

The Argument from Science and Nature (and Bill Nye)

Without the (practically) universal practice of birth control, as well as the now relatively common practice of conceiving children in a petri dish (or a borrowed womb), we wouldn't be having this conversation at all. Whatever you think of either of these innovations (which are incredibly recent by historical standards), they have inevitably changed our conception of, well, conception, and created the impression that sex and babies have only a tangential relationship to one another.

Consider how much of our popular culture is built on the premise that we can utterly gorge ourselves on sex- while simultaneously modulating the pro-creative element to suit our appetite for it. Consider the content of TV, music, and movies since the dawn of effective forms of birth control. Would the majority of those story lines have even been possible were it not for the proliferation of the Pill? Compare the family arrangements on sitcoms prior to the sexual revolution to the ones after (Three's Company, Friends, 21/2 Men, Modern Family). I do not think this "evolution" of sex and family is an accident. And this doesn't even include the numerous shows built on the premise of divorce and broken families. Is there even a market anymore for a Family Ties, a Cosby Show or a Growing Pains? Which brings me to my main point.

We have reached the point in our society where we have embraced gay marriage as equivalent to traditional marriage, not simply because we are more open-minded and/or sensitive than our predecessors (which I think is progress in many ways), we have accepted it primarily because there is hardly any discernible difference between the two types of relationships in our present world (or any other arrangement for that matter). Sex is had, and babies are (sometimes) added via methods which quite often are entirely divorced from the sexual act itself. And so when babies do arrive as a result of sexual intercourse, they only come to the extent they are desired and/or intended (a luxury that abortion provides). If sex and babies do happen to coincide with sex, so be it, but that is only a secondary consideration. As a consequence, the same-sex and opposite sex couple are practically indistinguishable from one another. Heterosexuals may have the extra faculty of fertility, but psychologically and in practice both couples essentially perceive things in precisely the same manner.

Nevertheless, imagine for a second we lived in a world where we shunned artificiality at its deepest level, where we rejected- on the whole- the systematic effort to replace the real with the virtual/artificial,  (a consideration which is once again becoming more and more popular- at least as it relates to food and nature in the generic sense). In the midst of this simple imaginative exercise, perhaps it is possible then to perceive a very simple truth. There is no living arrangement on the face of the earth which breeds greater happiness, as well as emotional confidence, than does a family from whence children spring as a consequence of sexual intimacy between two committed spouses. The fact that some marriages are bad no more changes the recipe for success than does a bad cook make a good recipe a bad one by trying it and failing. The happiness of children that actually come from the union of flesh between a man and a woman, and who grow up in an environment wherein both parents are committed at the deepest level to their goodness, is the very recipe for sanity and success.

Unfortunately, what we are doing instead actually militates against this very rational happiness. Indeed, it is one thing to foster a deeper sympathy and understanding for those families which do not fit this particular model, and quite another to help proliferate dysfunction among families. The truth is we are actually canonizing family situations that are broken simply because we feel guilty for saying that they are less than ideal.

Sympathy is great, but we shouldn't pretend that an environment is successful simply because we don't want to judge anyone. Because there are exceptions to the rule does not disprove the rule itself. This is reason, not religion, speaking. Just because we've manipulated nature in such a way so as to remove babies from sex and sex from babies, does not mean that nature no longer applies. Plain observation and fair-mindedness gets you there, but we are arguing in essence that because there can be love and success in other living situations, that the ideal should no longer apply. Is surrogacy not doing this? Is sperm and egg donation not doing this? Is IVF in many ways not responsible for this? Sadly, our consumeristic mentality has even crept into the way we make babies.

From the standpoint of nature, children are a "marriage" of the flesh of a mother and father. Consequently, it is optimal for them to be joined to the very ones from whence they came; both for identity purposes, as well as for developmental purposes. Love does not equal "love" in this regard. Children require a strong maternal and paternal influence (or so dictates nature). This is not a bunch of desert scribblings, this is psychology 101. Headline: Children are happier with both a mother and father. All of this is rooted in the complimentary nature of the sexes, a bond which creates that tiny little community we call the nuclear family (it is the "nucleus" of society). Break that down and you break down society as well. Call me a desert scribbler if you like, but you may as well call nature a bigot while you're at it.

For those who point out that homosexuality exists in nature already, all I can say to that is, who's arguing that it doesn't? Of course it's there. However, the problem with this argument seems pretty obvious. Does the fact that something occurs in nature then justify or validate its value? I think we can all agree that there are plenty of behaviors that "occur" in nature that should never be tolerated, certainly from a human standpoint. The question is not whether a thing is "there," but whether it serves a purpose in the progress of the species (at least from an evolutionary point of view). Listen to what Bill Nye has to say about it:

Notice Mr. Nye says nothing about the general value of homosexuality on an evolutionary scale- other than to say, well, it's there, and that he has known homosexuals who have married and had children. He then discusses a spectrum of sexuality, and admits that everyone probably falls somewhere on that spectrum. All this too say, from an evolutionary point of view, we are biologically (based on our sexual organs) designed to be heterosexuals who, on occasion, have tendencies that fall outside of our natural design. However, from a purely Darwinian point of view, homosexual actions serve no biological purpose (other than perhaps limiting the species). Ironically, it is only on a religious and moral level that the homosexual person takes on real quantitative and qualitative value (i.e. they are beloved children of God).  

Indeed, from the perspective of human design and natural law, the answer is obvious. Things do not exist in nature in order not to function, and if they do exist in this way, they will not exist for long. What endures from an evolutionary point of view are those things which are most fruitful, generative, and adaptive. By contrast, those things (and actions) in nature which are intrinsically sterile and fruitless are self-negating, and thus self-eliminative. Yes, it is true that artificial contraception as well as artificial conception (IVF, Surrogacy, etc.), have complicated this issue in our mind, but remove these mechanisms from the discussion, and the truth becomes all the more obvious.

From the perspective of law...

The word "marriage" is first and foremost not a legal concept; it is rather, as it were, pre-legal. Indeed, the distinctive bond that exists between a man and a woman (and their potential offspring) is so thoroughly unique and distinctive (not to mention essential) that humans chose to ascribe a name to it, (not the other way about). This is how and why words are made. This word "marriage" does not find its origins in some vague and abstract modern notion of commitment, but rather in a concrete physical and biological reality that was, prior to the advent of birth control, practically indisputable. 

This is not a religious truth, it is a linguistic and biological one, borne out by the fact that none of us would be here, including homosexuals, were it not for this solitary and exceptional relationship. The word itself is simply an affirmation of what the eyes and intellect already confirm. The world could exist without homosexual behavior, it could not exist without the family as constituted by a mother and father. Stating this is not meant to hurt anyone, but there are some things that can and do hurt people if we willfully ignore them. 

Surely if Dolce and Gabbana can testify to this (individuals who themselves are openly homosexual), then it can hardly be a form of bigotry to say what two homosexuals by their own admission are freely willing to admit; "The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed… A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from his mother." Understandably, they have backed off some of the harsh verbiage, which admittedly could have been expressed in a more charitable manner, nevertheless what they have spoken (as have others), is something anyone can recognize, assuming one is willing to admit what is patently observable. 

But why then would a government take sides when it comes to any relationship at all? In the past governments have defended so called "traditional marriage", not because of their great devotion to Chuck Woolery, but because the society at large perceived a vested interest in their success (which is why the sin of adultery was a crime in some states). If the family is depleted, then surely the body politic will go down with it (like in the case of a poverty-ravaged ghetto). Any society that replaces this deeply rooted psychological and social bond with some sort of loosely affiliated collection of individuals seeking to mimic the former, will surely fall prey to the powers of the State. Thus, it is through the solidarity of the family, and the values therein, that a healthy counterbalance can be created to the prerogatives of the State.

Consequently, the reason the State should defend marriage is not based on religion at all, but rather the very rational and practical goal of creating a happy and healthy society not enslaved by that self-same government. For if the family isn't healthy by its own right, then who else will bring health to it? But then what about those who will in any case live on the margins of society? A society with strong communities and good families is far better equipped to help those on the margins then are those in government, who, more often than not, practice a one size fits all approach. Is that not preferable to a society where everyone is in essence living on the margins, and thus we are beholden to an excessively paternalistic government? At the very heart of Christian charity is the notion that anyone in real need is to be helped regardless. Without this natural sense of solidarity, the state would find itself more and more inclined to answer every need, not as a last resort, but in the name of the worst kind of surrogate of all, Big Brother.

To repeat, there is really only one compelling reason that the government has ever been invested and involved in the success of the traditional family, and it has nothing to do with the government being some sort of bureaucratic cupid- it is rather because it has/had a clear and plain vested interest in the success and perpetuation of the very society that it was charged by families to govern. In the past the government has "preferred" these relationships, not due to its profound affinity for sweet romance (though that obviously helps), but in the name of the very thing that law exists to protect: the common welfare and stability of the state. 

This doesn't mean that it is acceptable to persecute someone on account of rejecting these values, nor does it mean that individual liberty should be rescinded thereof (this is not Geneva after all), but neither does it mean that the government should regard every commitment, no matter what it may be, as something which is equally beneficial to society. After all, the government can be permissive about certain kinds of relationships without drawing false equivalencies and/or investing in them. 

However, now that same-sex marriage has been successfully re-branded as an equal rights issue, the Supreme Court, it would seem, has thoroughly painted itself into corner. For, after this ruling, how can they possibly turn around and deny anyone else the right to define their relationship however they so choose (this logic is already being tested). Moreover, thanks to this dubious decision, this generation (and the subsequent ones) will be raised by (and in) a culture whose formula for marriage, family and sexuality is utterly undefinable. In light of all this, who can say, including homosexuals themselves, how marriage and family should be defined? Now does this sound like the recipe for love and mercy (e.g. to subject children to that kind of moral confusion)? Which brings me to my final point... 


Why sexual love, if it is to be true love (i.e. agape), must take place in the context of sacramental marriage...

The ultimate question is not whether two homosexuals can love each other. Of course they can and do! The question is whether sodomitic acts (among others) can ever be regarded as part of the program of agape love. There is no doubt that affection can exist between people who identify as homosexuals, but do the sexual acts themselves constitute anything deeper than the desire that originally begat them? 

Moreover, does the act of sex between two men or two women dignify or elevate them in any way, or rather does it not denigrate and undermine the genuine bond of friendship that may already exist between them? To put it another way, can anal sex, or strapping one on (as they say), ever be a sign of agape/divine love, or is it not simply a frustrated attempt to make reality conform to the shape of our/their  particular erotic or emotional desires? And notice I have not even brought up the genuine medical concerns that frequently arise from engaging in activities that involve using the body in ways that it was never designed to be used.

I have directed this post primarily at same-sex relationships, but of course this applies to everyone. For by the same token, sex cannot be an act of love when two individuals are willing to jeopardize the other's future by engaging in "hetero-sex" outside of marriage? And what about the potential child who may grow up in a home without both parents? You might call it a calculated risk between two people who have affection for one another, but agape? Is it "love" to say with the body "I give you all of myself", but in reality to mean something that falls considerably short of that?

The Jersey Shore "hook up" board 

Once again, there may be some element of deep affection between various parties engaging in sexual activity, but can the action itself be regarded as true love? The contrast becomes particularly apparent when you compare it to the ideal of sacramental marriage. You may believe the ideal is impossible, but do not say that if it were actually practiced faithfully that it would not in most cases bear the fruit of happiness.   

Yes, I know what I am saying will be rejected by both heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Why? Because Church teaching on these matters demands sacrifice on everyone's part. Thus, it's easier to dismiss what I am saying as impossible and go about the business of mediocrity than it is to take it seriously, or as G.K. Chesterton once put it; "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found very difficult and left untried." I am here to say that it is possible to live chastity, and that in spite of all the sacrifices I have made in the name of it, I am truly happy because I have learned to manage my passions, and order them according to their purpose. Nevertheless, it might be fair to quote Gloria Steinem in this case; "The truth will set you free… but first it will piss you off."  

The theology of marriage in a nutshell...

If God is the creator of humanity, then biology and theology would seem to be two sides of the same coin. Thus, from the perspective of Christian marriage, sexual intercourse is a sacramental sign, it is an extension of the wedding vow, wherein both parties "become one flesh." Moreover, the vow, combined with physical sign (i.e. consummation), is meant to embody the eternal marriage (and fruitfulness) that exists between Christ and his Church. Can any other form of sexual activity and penetration be considered a sacramental sign in the same sense? And if so, what might it represent in those cases?  

Surely there is more to sex than mutual consent among adults coupled with amorous feelings. For the Christian, eros must always be placed at the service of agape in order for it not to be abused. If one opts to ignore this imperative, then there really is no criteria to set limits on it at all. Yes, determining legality in these matters is important (i.e. mutual consent), but surely that can't be the highest ideal for love.

Subsequently, sex is meant to be much more than a basic expression of mutual affection- it is rather a visible sign of something far more concrete and permanent; a Trinitarian symbol which must include a permanent vow of fidelity (not just in heart but in body). This is why Catholic theology prohibits artificial birth control/prevention, for without at least a minimal openness to life, the act itself represents (or at least begins to represent), nearly the opposite of its original purpose, an act of willful barrenness, which in time actually becomes an antagonism towards its original end (both biologically and supernaturally). 

Sex is about uniting partners in a permanent bond, but when sterility is imposed on the act, the action subsequently becomes (almost) indistinguishable from any other sexual expression, which is one of the reasons why we are where we are today.     

Seen in this context, we can then begin to imagine why and how the word agape could become attached to the action of sex (and not just the feeling of love). By opening one's self up to the full implications of sexual intercourse, both parties must also recognize the full responsibility that is borne (both literally and figuratively) of that communion. Indeed, there can be nothing flippant about this kind of commitment, a commitment which fuses the two together in a life long project that is all more binding by the addition of this tiny third person. This new life that is introduced requires an "all in" approach for the optimal psychological, emotional, and spiritual welfare of the child. And why must we be so meticulous about this new person? She is tomorrow. In this sense sex means pleasure and joy, yes, but also sacrifice, duty, and a responsibility that goes well beyond that physical bond of affection. There are obviously relationships that can embody sacrificial love, but this is the only one that is literally meant to "embody" love. 

In a more global and practical sense, sacramental marriage is an act of true equality, whereby the two halves of humanity, meet in a veritable anthropological summit of the sexes, a pact/peace treaty, designed to bring harmony to the yin and the yang of human existence (as opposed to perpetuating the battle of the sexes). But even more than that, it fulfills in an unparalleled way the need for a biological communion with the opposite sex, a communion which nature (for whatever reason), has inscribed into our bodies from birth, and endorsed and blessed above all other forms of intimacy as a means to perpetuate the human race.

Perhaps the most popular objection to this vision of sex, marriage, and love (other than the understandable complaint that it's too difficult) is the apparent hypocrisy in the fact that some couples suffer from infertility, either because of old age, or because of an inability to conceive life in the ordinary fashion. Setting aside examples, both Biblical and otherwise, where "infertility" turned out to be quite the opposite, let us assume that a couple nevertheless remains childless throughout the duration of their marriage despite their being open to life. 

The fact that a married couple, for whatever reason, does not get pregnant during intercourse, does not then vindicate every other sexual act that is of its nature sterile (a position which would serve to ratify just about every sexual act), for in one case the action can never bear fruit, whereas in the other case there is always the potentiality for it (at least in principle). One act is designed towards that end, whereas every other is designed (or rather is not designed at all) for pleasure without its biological purpose. These two approaches to sexuality can hardly be regarded as equivalent. It is a bit like saying on a multiple choice test that all answers are correct simply because in some way they all resemble one another. 

The Church is not arguing that one should get pregnant every time a man and woman have sex, for clearly no one does. Yet it is not just a matter of pregnancy which is at issue here (for that would be too utilitarian), but the fruitfulness which is implied when a man and a woman become united in this way. Nature herself has given her endorsement by making it fruitful (notice the "bad fruits" of sex when exercised outside the confines of Christian norms), and just because that "fruitfulness" does not always result in a child, does not then mean that her endorsement is therefore completely rescinded. The action itself still implies what it has always implied (conception on demand is not possible). 

Even when the couple cannot conceive a life together the sexual act still holds value, for the communion of the flesh, and the consummation of the two sexes, still enriches the couple as well as society through the strengthening of their bond. And since (presumably) the openness to life is still present, there is if nothing else a powerful solidarity in their mutual sorrow and desire for new life, a disposition which is quite different from those situations where sterility is inevitable (though admittedly one may still grieve their baroness in those situations as well). That being said, infertility can pose a genuine challenge to the couple that experiences it, for the reality of raising a child (a child that represents the communion of their flesh) unites them in a common destiny, one which is the clear manifestation of the union of their flesh. 

Conversely, when it comes to homosexual acts, it is not just that they are incapable of generating life that is at issue here. There is a much deeper problem. Whatever one thinks of the validity of homosexual acts, they can never be regarded, at least from a natural standpoint, as behavior that in any way even begins to imply the generation of life (to put it gently). To put it another way, homosexuality could be described as a form of sexual redundancy, which is not complimentary, and is thus not generative.  

However, this is what the law tells us to accept to today. We believe in essence we can re-engineer reality, and that no matter what we put in the equation, as long as it matches our collective desires, it is true. It is amazing how much people honor both science and nature today, yet they cannot/will not recognize the basic fact that the two approaches cannot be regarded as equal simply because, to quote Woody Allen again, the "heart wants what it wants." This is neither good law, good science, nor good religion.

However, the biggest problem with the argument for gay marriage is, well, the argument for gay marriage. In other words, gay marriage proponents argue for the rejection of the old order because they perceives it to be inevitably close-minded and anachronistic. Yet in doing so it holds itself up for the same critique. You cannot establish a new authority by simultaneously borrowing from and ridiculing that same authority. If Biblical marriage does not hold, then it doesn't hold… and thus the new definition doesn't hold either. Why? Because the new definition is deriving its power and credibility from its apparent resemblance to the old; the very one that it is holding up to scorn. By defending the most recent version of marriage as the new absolute, you then become the latest close-minded bigot, on the logical decent to do away with marriage altogether. Indeed, if "traditional marriage" is no longer the standard bearer for how we are to envision marriage and family, then by what authority do you now refuse anyone's definition of love, sex, and marriage?