Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Life Without Sin

When I met my husband, he posed this question very early: "What is Satan's greatest lie?" (To certain girls, it doesn't get much more romantic than that. I know. I was eighteen. You hush.)  That the answer --- "Satan's greatest lie is that he doesn't exist" --- came from Anthony, not French poetry or even a Kevin Spacey movie, was the beginning of my fascination with and attraction to him. My husband seems like a bombastic personality to many people, but how quickly he deflects my swooning over these moments now. ("Honey, I probably got it from a movie. I was just trying to sound deep.")

We were married one year later. We lived together for the entirety of our engagement. The doors of Christ were thrown widely open for us, sinners seeking an anchor without much knowing we were drowning. We've needed a life raft more than once in our travels together, including being civilly divorced and remarried, and relapsing on a host of favorite vices, all the while clinging to the virtue of Love itself and our unquenchable thirst. That 'God-shaped hole' I first heard about as a teenager, and visited in adulthood by finding the heartfelt vocabulary of Saint Augustine, has never left us. We are grateful.

And yes, we immediately began having sex when we met ---- that's how people express an interest in getting to know each other, in the world we came from. I don't make these admissions out of pride or even shame --- just an attempt to be clear about my moral formation. I also mean to draw a larger conclusion about the arrogance of chronic sin, and how it blinds us to our own brokenness. This is well-illustrated by a Western priest's report on the number of people standing in line for confession vs. those in line for communion on Sunday, comparing the ratio now to that of forty years ago. Hint: one is shrinking while the other is growing. I described this to my husband and he replied sardonically, "See, it's working, Father! People are living lives without sin." Our sadness isn't smugness.

If you didn't know grandstanding has found new heights
via cartoon imagery, you should check out social media!
No Guts, No Glory
In the wearying discussions about same-sex 'marriage', both online and offline, the conclusion is clear. Either align yourself publicly with the crushing tide of nihilism, or prepare to opt out of cultured society. The prevailing argument ("Don't H8! ForniK8!") has revealed a dirth of contemporary authority so vast, I find myself shocked.

I don't hold a shred of ill will towards people who have gay sex, but I'm also not that impressed by it. Christians know the ground to be level at the foot of the Cross. Letting sexual sin be defined as sexual sin is enough for us --- please work it out privately. For reaching this unglamorous conclusion, we're termed "nothing but hateful, ignorant bigots". Ignoring the effects of overturning the expressed will of voters, or the implications of further eroding states' rights, these simplistic dismissals are met by applause in the name of tolerance. Short-sighted, heartless and frankly moronic comparisons to interracial marriage are made.

Dialogue either stops or turns lukewarm when a person announces they have a gay relative. I remember when my affection for the gay people in our life was enough to satisfy my hope that I was making the right decision by saying nothing on this subject. I considered hearing no resistance as evidence that I was on the winning 'side'. Is there a notion that our individual lives and peers are sufficient for the wisdom we need? Must I seek a deposit of faith and wisdom from anywhere broader than my family reunion or the university? What a plebeian bore I am, then. I'm watching a parade of souls begging to be redeemed by United States Supreme Court Justices. When we refuse to conform our hearts to the authority of Christ, isn't it curious that we'll force conformity on the people around us? We long so deeply for approval, all the while yelling about rebelling against the patriarchy.

I know some really nice drug dealers --- hardworking men who donate to charities and support their families. Should that remove any objections I have to the trade? Moreover, does it free me from the responsibility to think? God's greatest earthly gift is our sense of reason --- we must employ it fearlessly if we believe the state of our souls depends on accepting His ultimate gift of salvation.

So why can't I just 'shut up'?
My duty to my Creator includes sharing what He has done for me. God's truth sets us free from a host of suicidal tendencies, most of which fall under the umbrella of selfishness dressed up as license. (My rights!) My friends have written more personally. In the short time I've been maintaining this glorified Pinterest page I call a blog, I've felt called to write on topics outside of polite conversation, mostly because those are the topics I think about and find most relevant.

It's not about me, or some climactic reveal when it comes to my views. Nobody cares or is surprised, on the whole. I'm sad to be called a bigot, but eager to form my witness in a way that welcomes private dialogue with my "Questioning" friends. (Let's use the word for questioning politically correct trends, not methods of getting off sexually. Only one of these requires secrecy in our society.)

My alternative is silence, or a sort of counterfeit truce. Notice this truce requires silence only from those who uphold a heterosexual ideal for marriage. I'd rather have honest and respectful conversations than pretend. 

The Catholic Church is the sole purveyor of a consistent pro-life ethic, and her teachings on abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, birth control, and sexuality don't deviate a whit. Yet our silence, confusion and disobedience has contributed massively to the desecration of marriage. Possessing the truth isn't enough, we have to share in an honest and love-affirming way. We can ask those whose faith we admire to help us in discussing this freely. If it's all so noble, why the insistence on euphemisms?

We rightly want to be affiliated with noble causes, and when a Facebook friend tosses out a vague clich√© about injustice or civil rights, the temptation to join in can be strong. This is where silence is better than a forgery. Not everyone is an activist. Ask questions in real time and in real life of people whose spirituality you admire. Listen for authentic love. Be careful of who you consult. Nothing sends me running in the opposite direction faster than attempts at faux sisterhood, and life is filled with sources of bad theology dispensed by people with Good Hair. I'll take my moral waxing from someone who wouldn't think of waxing anywhere else, if you don't mind. I'm not making attention to fashion trends a litmus test which must be failed in order to have intellectual credibility, but --- oh wait, yes I am. Great thinkers necessarily seem to opt out of the parade of vanity. People who neglect hygiene in order to socialize (or not) are often fantastic. The day my eyebrows are finally just growing in concentric circles, you'll know I've reached scholastic nirvana.

The bare truth is, marriage was redefined fifty years ago with the introduction of no-fault divorce and artificial contraception. This is detail. Gird your loins: if sex is merely the joining of two people (without the possibility of creating a third), then so is marriage. The unexamined life Socrates warned against has won. Ironically, it can't stop preening in front of the mirror.


  1. Another great essay. Couple of comments:

    Either align yourself publicly with the crushing tide of nihilism, or prepare to opt out of cultured society.

    Is any part of modernity really "cultured"? Really? Methinks our eyes have become inured to ugliness.

    MacIntyre in After Virtue does a good job explaining why negotiation with the current culture is a waste of time...because it's going way faster than it can be converted, and thus withdrawal and creation of new forms of culture is the answer, not engagement:

    It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the more misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age...and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are...What they set themselves to achieve—often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point... This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.

    1. Your words + the included quote are a salve in my wounds, at the moment. Thank you! (and I agree --- I originally wrote 'pop cultured society', but as I try to keep up with favorite writers, who perhaps //never were// as sublime as I wished, I'm feeling more estranged from the elegance of the arts & letters crowd).

      Also, I forget how to write even rudimentary html. ha!

  2. It seems that "the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages..." must (perhaps only) be The Family, aye? Back to basics!

    1. Agreed! But only partly. Families follow cultural and women marry with cultural expectations (today this means negotiating birth control, trophy children, women working, not to mention the legal threat of divorce and child support, and so on).

      So while families are indeed key, they require cultural support. As an example of this, look at the rapid decline of Catholic families over the last 50 years as the Church pretty much imbibed modern family structure rather than move against it. Compare this with the relative strength of LDS families, who have firm church support and structure from the youngest ages...who in turn support the Mormon church. So family and community need and support each other, and neither can operate well alone.