Friday, March 16, 2012

Love, The Leap of Faith

I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through his Holy Church.

The Church is not a barrier or a mediator between me and God.  Rather, there is One mediator between God and Man, the Man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).

The Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is her head.

The Church is also the Bride of Christ.

Marriage imagery is used extensively in both the Old and New Testaments to describe the relationship between God and His people.  God is the Bridegroom.  His people are His Bride. 

Faithfulness is enjoined upon the participants in this Holy Matrimony, this Matrimonial Covenant.

Unfaithfulness to God is Adultery.  Israel was oftentimes likened to an unfaithful wife, an adulteress, and even a prostitute. 

God told the prophet Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her.  This was to be a representation of God’s marriage covenant with His unfaithful people Israel.

Human marriage, therefore, is a type and a sign—a shadow—of the true marriage between God and His Holy people, His bride.

Jesus constantly referred to himself as the Bridegroom.  When asked by some Pharisees why his disciples did not fast like the Baptist’s disciples, Jesus answered them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?”

For you see, the Christian religion is not primarily adherence to a creed or set of beliefs.  The religion of Christ is primarily a relationship with a person—the person of God.  That relationship is a love affair.

What proof is a man able to offer his fiancĂ© of his love for her prior to their getting married?  Can he prove that he’ll be forever faithful?  Can he prove to her that he loves her more than anyone else?  Isn’t it rather a leap of faith?  Sure couples can give each other motives of credibility.  A man can make it credible through his actions and by his words that he loves her, that he can be faithful, and that he can be trusted.  But what proof is any of that of his real feelings or his future intentions? 

A woman can’t know on her wedding day that the man she’s marrying will love him in fifty years and yet on the day of the marriage a man and woman promise to love each other for the rest of their lives. Can they believe those promises?  Do they mean to keep them?  How can they KNOW how they’ll really fell about each other in fifty years, in forty years, or even in five years?  Both are incapable of proving the truth of what they say to each other and yet they still believe.

The faith a woman has in the love of her husband is like the faith we have in the love of Christ and our own love must reflect that love.  The things of faith aren’t any more verifiable than the things of love and yet we DO LOVE.  Many of us have chosen to make that leap of faith in our human relationships when positive proofs were impossible.  When promises had to do. 

How much greater; how much more trustworthy, the promises of God?

God is Love

Jesus, who is God, said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

The seeker after Truth, then, is also the seeker after Love.  Truth is not merely something we know.  It is SOMEONE we love.

So the Church—“religion”—doesn’t stand between me and my relationship with God.  The Church IS my relationship with God.  Through the Church I’m grafted in to the body of Christ and given a share in his divinity.  2 Peter 1:4

I could no more leave the Church than I could leave my wife.  And my marriage doesn’t stand between me and my relationship with my wife.  IT IS the relationship I have with my wife. 

And so is the Church the relationship I have with God.  And it is as intimate as it could possibly be while I’m clothed in mortal flesh and surrounded by corruption.  Through the Church I touch Christ, I taste Christ, I drink in Christ.  I speak to Christ and Christ speaks back.  I spend time with Christ reading in silence and talking with him.

What greater relationship with Christ—with God—could I hope to have before I go to join Him in Heaven?  In the words of Walker Percy, “What else is there?”  In the words of St. Peter, “To Whom else shall we go?”

Materialism and the Evil of Slavery

It has been suggested to me that the president ought not to take his spiritual views into the White House.  Or that the president ought not to make his spiritual views a factor when making policy decisions.  But upon what basis is he to make decisions? Based upon material considerations?

The principle that I ought to treat others as I would like to be treated is not a material principle but a moral one.  This moral principle has both a subject and an object.  Any being for whom the obligation imposed by the principle can be said to constitute a duty is the subject. And the end towards which the duty is directed is the object.

If the object is spiritual than the spiritual views of the subject must somehow be involved.  And if we’re agreed that this principle is a good principle and we don’t wish the President to disregard it when he enters the White House than he has to take his spiritual views along with him as well. 
I propose in what follows to show that this moral principle—namely, that others ought to be treated as we would like to be treated—is the only rational motive for actually opposing slavery and then only if its object is spiritual and not material.  And that, thus, if Lincoln had kept his spiritual views out of the White House he’d have had no motive for opposing the injustice of slavery.

“Why ought we to treat other as we ourselves would like to be treated?”

We have a material object in mind if it’s to avoid friction in our relations with other people and to engender good will from them.  So do we treat others as we would like to be treated because we see others as valuable beings in their own right or do we value them simply for what we can get out of them?  Does my neighbor have any real value other than his value to me?  And if I think he does, in what does that value consist?  Because from just a material point of view his value can be measured in three ways; by the value I (or society) ascribe to the physical material of his body, to the services he can perform, or to the goods he can produce.  A child who can perform no valuable service nor produce any valuable goods is thus worth less than $1.00 at a given moment in time.  Any other material value we might chance to ascribe to the child is based on our calculation of the estimated value of his or her future contributions.

Material objects don’t have an intrinsic value—their value is purely subjective.  If we wish at all to ascribe an intrinsic value to persons we must therefore see them as something more than material objects—as subjects.  But on the other hand if we wish to see persons as nothing but material objects than we have no ground for ascribing to them any intrinsic value. 

So if we think persons have value just because they’re persons we’re admitting a belief (a spiritual view) that persons are not just material objects.  And that may seem like a good enough place to stop.  But the wish to ascribe to persons an intrinsic value does no good unless we can know what a person is. 

If “person” is merely a word used to describe something that possesses certain randomly chosen attributes or abilities, the exact number and quality of which being open to serious and interminable debate, then the question of who is and who is not a person can’t be answered by scientific inquiry upon material facts alone because in that case the material facts themselves are the object of the debate.  Rather than being something “knowable” and attached to individual natures, i.e. “what things are in and of themselves”, personhood would only be an arbitrary distinction made by those whose position of authority enables them to decide for everyone else the attributes by which “personhood” can be known.

And so if personhood is extrinsic, that is “on the outside”, than whatever real value an individual has is only a value in relation to other people. 

Since the individual himself has no value apart from the group than it is the group itself which much be credited with the ultimate value.  As a necessary consequence the individual is expendable to the degree that he, by his actions or by his existence causes the aggregate value of the group to diminish.  (The aggregate value of the group we shall call the “common good”)

Thus no defense remains to those who wish to keep all but material considerations out of government but who wish nevertheless to uphold the intrinsic value and dignity of the individual person.  For if both a person’s value and their status as a person is due to immaterial considerations than material considerations alone will not be sufficient to govern persons effectively—or, shall we say, equitably. 

Even if you agree with all I’ve said above, you may still wish to object that individual value could be recognized by a government relying on solely material considerations as a matter of simple justice.  But justice considered in just its material effects is really just a demand for fairness.  It’s nothing more than the belief that two like things ought to be treated alike.  But why ought that to be the case?  If the common good is the only measure of individual value, then if it’s better for the common good that like things be treated differently than that’s what ought to be done.  It may not be fair to the individual but it’s right so far as the interests of the group are concerned and is thus “fair” on that basis for the individual as well.

So also if in the time of Abraham Lincoln the common good demanded that a disenfranchised minority be held in slavery for the benefit of the majority than that’s what ought to have been done.  It may well have been to the material advantage of the United States to permit the “keeping of slaves”.  But what happened as a matter of history was that the spiritual view of great numbers of Americans enabled them to recognize the immaterial, intrinsic value of black people as persons apart from their utility.  Consequently they were able to take upon themselves the duty of treating other persons as they would like to be treated and they could do it for the sake of something higher and better than what they themselves could get out of it—for something other than material considerations.  Only by embracing this spiritual view could hundreds of thousands of men and women risk life, limb, and property for the liberation of a persecuted few without any hope or expectation of getting anything in return.  Only by virtue of a spiritual view could the love that compels a man to lay down his life for his enemies as well as his friends take root, blossom, and find expression.

Because if human reason is confined to material facts it can make judgments of public policy and matters of life and death only on the basis of expediency, efficiency, convenience or comfort.  And the near universal belief that slavery is actually wrong cannot be defended under such limitations.  If a man’s value is to be judged by the same standards as a horse or any other beast of burden than he may be compelled to work under the same conditions.  A man’s life would be judged not of value but of waste.

It could not therefore have been material considerations but the spiritual views of Abraham Lincoln that helped lead finally to the end of a great evil that might otherwise have been endured for decades longer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In the comments section of a friend's Facebook post concerning marriage and the Catholic Church I quoted some of what Gandhi had said in the 1930's and 40's about contraception.  I do not include any of that exchange or make references to the people involved simply because I have not asked their permission.  I take my argument outside the arena because Facebook is such a poor venue for carrying on a debate about serious subjects.  This explanation is for those who happen upon this post without the benefit of context.

First, this is what I quoted from Gandhi:

“Contraception is a dismal abyss, an insult to womanhood, inconsistent with her dignity.”

He said its widespread use would be “likely to result in the dissolution of the marriage bond and result in free love.” Contraception, ...Gandhi said, is “like putting a premium on vice, making man and woman reckless . . . it will be the undoing of man.”

On Human Sexuality, The Church, and Gandhi

The Church’s stand on certain issues relating to human sexuality is often mocked and ridiculed by the cynics who credit to her leadership nefarious motives at every opportunity.  Oscar Wilde said, “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  I just hope consideration may be given to the possibility that the Church’s doctrines are not inspired by nefarious motives but rather are the outgrowth of a genuine love for the whole human family and an authentic desire to heal its ills?  That’s been her stated motivation in the 2000 years since her foundation in any case.  The claim that the Church may really know what ails us might possibly be true as well.  So might the remedy she prescribes.  After all, the illness consuming humanity has received the same diagnosis by those outside of the Catholic Church.  Humanity has been given a second opinion, as it were.  It was in this connection that I quoted Gandhi.

If Gandhi was wrong about the dangers of cheap and medically reliable contraception leading to the greater degradation of women, the further profanation of sex, and the continued debasement of humanity as we become more and more the slaves of our primal biological urges; then maybe Gandhi was wrong about war and passive resistance.  Or maybe, if he was only right about contraception for his time and for his culture he was only right about the evils of violence and war for his own time and culture, too.  Maybe wars—even wars of naked aggression—really ARE the answer, at least sometimes and for some people.   And who’s to say otherwise?  But on the other hand if Gandhi was right about non-violent resistance and civil disobedience than maybe he was also right about contraception and the proper attitude towards sex.  Because after all, both aspects of his philosophy are derived from the same source and if one is wrong the other’s likely wrong as well.

It’s also been asserted that in times past both the common man and his religious leaders could have sex with whichever women they wanted, regardless of consent, and without consequence.  But an attempt is made to correct for such injustices to the extent that marriage forces a man to assume the duties of responsible fatherhood.  After all, biological necessity has not bequeathed to men an obligation to the children that they cause to come into the world.  But women are faced by a biological necessity with either the responsibility of caring for their children or the responsibility for choosing not to.  Women cannot just walk away, even in our advanced day and age.  (As an aside, abortion is in fact not the abdication of all responsibility however much it may be presented that way.  It is in reality to take on a much graver responsibility than the care of any child in love would have possibly demanded.) 

I do not believe that the union of husband wife is of human institution, but from the merely human point of view marriage can be  seen as the consequence of a recognition that the right to one’s children comes with duties and obligations, the fulfillment of which society has a right to demand. 

And it has been helpfully pointed out that sex has value beyond its procreative function (or aspect).  Indeed that is the Church’s position as well.  But in saying that sex has a value beyond its procreative aspect it’s admitted that conception is nevertheless one of the aspects of sex with the unitive being the other.  Both aspects together form the “whole sex”. 

The story is told of three men each asked to wear a blindfold and put their hands against a certain object.  The first feels rough, cold, and hard.  The second feels soft, smooth, and flexible.  And the third feels short, thin, and hairy.  We know the object being felt is an elephant.  Each man, though, knows the elephant only in a single aspect, the first a knee, the second the trunk, and the third, the tail.  But the whole elephant is not just one of its aspects singly apart from all the others.  Nor is the elephant whole if it’s missing one of its aspects no matter how inconsequential.

And so sex—the WHOLE SEX—consists in ALL of its aspects together and not any one taken apart from the others.  Sex is about pleasure and the union between husband and wife and that union is, by nature, intended to be fruitful. SEE NOTE  If an obstacle is imposed, the intention of which is to block any of those aspects (female genital mutilation as practiced in some African countries being an example of an attempt to separate one aspect—pleasure—from the whole), then real violence has been done to the whole nature of sex. 

Neither is this just “what the Church teaches”, as I hoped to show by quoting Gandhi.  That sex contains multiple aspects, each of which being necessary for the fulfillment of the whole, may be arrived at by natural reason, by the analogy of hunger and the food appetite, for instance (which analogy I'll draw out in another place).

NOTE By “nature” I mean what something is in-and-of-itself.  For example, it’s the nature of an eagle to be a flying creature and an eagle is an eagle whether it actually flies or not.  That is to say that the part of the eagle’s nature which it is to fly need not be realized in act and, indeed, if the eagle has been born lame in one of its wings it cannot fly.  But it remains an eagle just as much as the eagle that does fly.  The lame eagle holds its ability to fly in potential.  So if what is roughly equivalent to “wings” in the sexual faculty of husband and wife has been lamed in one or the other spouses, the sexual act still holds its fruitfulness in potential.  And because there has been no deliberate attempt by either partner to frustrate that potential (or destroy it) the nature of the act remains just what it would be in the fullness of health and virility.