Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why We Will Lose the Marriage Battle (part 1 of 3)

     Perhaps  because the assault in the academies on traditional western thought  and freedom of speech has been overwhelmingly successful and continues without abatement (even at the level of elementary education) the christian response has been largely intellectual and political in nature; we have debated, explained, and asserted the nature of marriage in public and in private, sponsored bills and signed petitions in defense of marriage as it has been entered into in every human society in history. The attack on the family is out of the closet, so to speak, and one thing we can do, and do effectively, is to answer argument with argument and defeat lies with truth. This is our duty as Christians. We can win on this battlefield, we think, and we remind ourselves that the Berlin wall came down, and Poland was freed, because in some times and places the truth cannot be suppressed any longer and with God's help it breaks free, and everyone can see it.

     The civil war freed the slaves, we tell ourselves. Segregation was struck down and (we tell ourselves) ended. Opportunities were given to those we had enslaved (we tell ourselves) to participate in America as equals. The truth is what we believe in, what our political system is founded on, and what our soldiers have died for.  Freedom of speech is guaranteed, (we tell ourselves). So an intellectual defense of our values and principles in the face of forces we understand as representative of moral evil is not only possible, but essential if we are to continue existing as a civil society. Civil discourse, the honest exchange of ideas, and if that fails, political victory, will enable us to at least hold our own as Christians and perhaps to raise our children in the faith and keep them safe from the antisocial elements which appear to be causing America to disintegrate as a cultural entity with a firm sense of its own place in history as a beacon of freedom and human dignity.

    It's not going to work, and it will fail on many levels and for many different reasons. And the fault will not be the superior numbers of the enemy, or the people who are in power, or the academics who live in a post-christian universe. It will be our fault. There will be gay marriage, and it should surprise nobody. For one thing, because it is already here. What we are talking about fighting in the legislatures is a phenomenon that is widely practiced and tolerated already. Another reason homosexual marriage will be publicly legitimized is because the war we are fighting began a long time ago in the early 20th century and was never declared publicly or in academia, but became an assault on cultural mores and was fought in every arena but the public one. The weapons used are not weapons which reason can defeat or even engage. They are the weapons of fashion, psychology, emotional persuasion, and rhetoric. But the most fundamental reason we will not be able to declare ourselves, publicly, a nation which defends marriage as an institution involving a man and a woman is that we do not, in fact, have the least respect for the institution we claim to defend, nor do we live as if we did.  There is no respect for the institution of marriage as it is practiced in America, either in the Catholic church or outside of it.

    Years ago I was reading a book of aphorisms and quotations by Padre Pio and something struck me. He was asked what he considered to be the greatest evil of the 20th century. Now remember, we are talking about a century in which genocide was not only practiced but seen as praiseworthy, where totalitarian societies imprisoned and killed tens of millions in the name of atheist utopias and imprisoned entire nations. Where abortion became legal first in the Soviet Union, and then in our own civilization.  His answer? "Divorce." Does that surprise you? It surprised me, and I thought about it. I have been thinking about it for a long time, because it's Padre Pio, I think it deserves to be elucidated.  If it is true it explains a lot. Because participation in this evil, tolerance of it, and political acceptance of it, has been a prominent and insidious element in American culture for over a century( and I include the American Catholic church as perhaps one of the worst examples of a divorce culture, though in  our case it is a hidden culture of divorce. We can call it the culture of annulment).  And by divorce I mean specifically something labeled "no fault divorce" which became legal during the eighties, but which was in fact enforced in other guises before that. Although it happens sometimes because of what the courts call "irreconcilable differences" it usually involves adultery of some form. And by divorce I do not mean the separation of one spouse from another which must occur in certain cases for the good of children or the victim of violence or abuse.  The divorce I am talking about is a civil action enabling the abandonment of one spouse by another for reasons other than abuse, drunkenness, or violence. It is condoned and widely practiced, in fact recommended by therapists and counselors, when a marriage is in crisis, as a valid solution to the crisis. That this is a falsehood which leads, most often,to shattered lives I am not going to debate here, although I believe it to be true. What I propose to discuss is the prevalence of divorce among those most publicly committed to living exemplary christian lives and why, despite our protestations of orthodoxy and piety, and despite our eloquence and political courage in attempting to defend marriage and the family, the way we have lived our lives as Catholics has almost guaranteed not only public tolerance of homosexual marriage, but public repudiation of our values and religious freedom as well.

  We are in the worst possible position in relation to the secular culture, that of having singled ourselves out as enemies of a phenomenon the public perceives as benign while at the same time living our lives in hidden obeisance to to something I will call the Therapeutic Gospel---a persistent belief among American Catholics that Christianity must and will result in one form or another of emotional well-being, safety, and stability if we can only accommodate, somehow, or assimilate, the values of secular society, into our nominally Catholic lives.

   I had a typical American adolescence, sin and rebellion and all. At the end of it I married--when one has a baby, if one is paying attention, everything is different, and one suddenly has a completely different orientation. Christopher Buckley, an avowed atheist, experience this when his small son asked him what happened to people after they die. "They go to heaven," he said, knowing that he had subordinated his own beliefs to his love for his child. And that is as it should be.  Although I had been in absentia, I became a practicing Catholic. The first obstacle I encountered was the fact that the Church  condemned the use of birth control. Since I knew abortion was murder I could make the connection---when one thinks of a child as an inconvenience or sacrifice ---as if the child were a gift of the parent and not a gift to the parent--anything seems to be possible. The first time I brought it up in confession the priest reassured me that it was "up to my conscience". Which I took to mean (and which it was intended by the priest to mean) that if I thought birth control was ok, then it wasn't a sin. Although it didn't take me very long to figure out that I had been sold a bill of goods, and that I had to find out for myself exactly what the story on birth control really was, I had been consigned to that tightrope that as an American Catholic I was to walk between the culture I lived in and belonged to and the Church which would save my soul.





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