Freed From Good

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.

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Mothabouting Myself

I’m pretty sure that if you love someone because he or she is like a mirror, you’re a narcissist and should talk to someone about that.  (Although of course it might be more helpful if you didn’t talk about yourself.)  I know this has been said before, but I just listened to that particular song, “Mirror,” for the first time.  Usually I don’t listen to whiny-sounding arhythmic drivel, but my hands were full so I couldn’t change the station.

Would that my ears had been full too.

In any event, one of the nice things about marriage is precisely that it lets one labour to love someone who is very much not oneself.  (And yes of course love is work, sometimes drudgery, and frequently difficult.  That’s been said before as well, and is quite as true as ever.)  There are a few dozen directions I could go with that, from discussing the differences between men and women to discussing the rather bold theological claim that pantheism is silly.

Instead let me change the subject.  (Because my wife told me to, although she was not aware that she did so at the time.  Yet another thing to like about marriage:  complex depth.  It’s very difficult to develop complex depth in a relationship without an earnest endeavor to be thorough.  So I suppose this is also something to like about committed monogamy.)

Back to changing the subject.

I imagine that most parents hope that their children will have better lives than they have themselves, will be more successful and have fewer troubles.  I certainly hope that, and have found a clever way to insure it:  I am so ridiculously unsuccessful at everything that my children would have to strive heroically even to match me, and much more to surpass me by going lower.  And of course if they then did match me, it would have been after a successful heroic effort, so they would be successful after all rather than unsuccessful.  In any event, I have guaranteed for them that they will be “better off” than I am.

Now if only there weren’t that pesky business about generational poverty, where the children of struggling parents are more likely to struggle themselves.  Perhaps I have doomed them with my pathetic blessing.  Fortunately there are innumerable dooms available anyway–from natural disasters to war to the inexorable desolation of everything by our stubborn unwillingness to be good stewards of anything–so I suspect I have not hurt them that much, in terms of the big picture.

And in any event, I certainly haven’t hurt them on purpose.  I would be successful if I could.  But of course the odds are against anyone who uses the phrase “in any event” as much as I have in this post.

Sigh.  What a day.

I’ve forgotten when I started typing this.  I don’t know how much (if any) time I have left.  How about I just end with a quote by Chesterton?  This is from his book about Charles Dickens, somewhere in Chapter 2:

“The bitterness of boyish distresses does not lie in the fact that they are large; it lies in the fact that we do not know that they are small. About any early disaster there is a dreadful finality…. I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is preeminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now.”

On Love (Part 2)

Previously I started talking about my culture’s desire for lasting relationships and its confusion over how to produce them.  We know that successful relationships survive trials and difficulties, but we’re just not certain how they do that.  I’ve suggested that our current society promotes two possible methods of succeeding where so many relationships fail, and that these methods are apparent in contemporary love songs. Continue reading

On Love (Part 1)

My culture seems to have a strange relationship with marriage.  On the one hand, we value it so highly that the thought of denying it to anyone constitutes an egregious violation of that person’s rights, but on the other hand, we think it so insignificant that we ignore it, breach it, break it, and abandon it almost as a matter of course.

The divorce rate is staggering, but we’re too indifferent to be staggered by it.  We’re occasionally chagrined when people cheat–at least enough to say sympathetic sounding things to the cheater’s spouse–unless of course the cheater was motivated out of love for Continue reading