As a Christian I believe that various moral restrictions are intended to preserve good things. They aren’t arbitrary or meaningless. My society tends to want to abandon them in pursuit of “freedom,” but the result is always a lessening, a loss, a degradation. The current decline of fatherhood is an example. I said yesterday that our various liberations are our problem. I mean that we have been freed from the rules intended to protect us from ourselves.
As another example, Christianity has always taught abstinence before marriage, and then marriage as life-long monogamy. Society rejected both in pursuit of liberty, but liberty from what?
The Christian understanding was that our physical relationship was important, because it was never merely physical. We were always more than bodies, we were hearts and minds and souls that deserved care. Our physical relationship was just a part of a deeper and more meaningful connection between two people, which was an important connection, a help to each. That connection took effort and time, but was enriching precisely when it was challenging. We learned to love someone, and rewarded them by our love and rewarded ourselves by becoming loving.
Even more, every person was so unique and valuable that nothing less than a lifetime could approach a reasonable season of appreciation. We committed to one person for life precisely because he or she was valuable enough to deserve focused, thorough, undivided attention for even longer than that.
Is it honestly better to use each other and be used by each other for pleasure and entertainment, but only so long as our passing fancy lasts? To stay together based on whether or not we’re getting something out of the relationship, consuming other people like the various other products we buy when we think they’re useful? Is it honestly better to assume our physical relationships are meaningless fun and our romantic relationships are a sort of temporary expedient? Have we really risen to some point where we appreciate human dignity and freedom more?
It seems to me that we’ve sunk to the point of abandoning dignity altogether. We treat other people like we treat our cell phones; we like them when they’re new–when they make us happy and do whatever we want them to–but we don’t want to be tied to them too long.
That’s our liberty. We are now free to treat other people like obsolete and worthless trash. We’re free to do cost benefit analysis on our relationships, expecting other people to benefit us while only grudgingly asking what benefit we’ll be to them. Basically we’re free to mistreat each other, because we have freed ourselves from the standard which told us how to treat each other well.