In The Good of Sex, I discussed what I had figured out about the various aspects of that good we are after in pursuing sex. But as the first sentence of that essay indicates, another way of getting at the same understanding is to go ahead and answer the question it asks: what is it that we most want from sex? That way, we can discover the answers quite concretely, and when we get them, we can proceed to wonder why we gave the answers we did, and then – as I tried to do in that article – try to explain them.
What is it that we most want from sex? We want the admiration, trust and love – the will to do us truly good – of a truly good person of the opposite sex, whom we love and trust and admire, with whom we have pledged before God and man our utmost mutual loyalty, even unto death. If we have that, then the consummation of any given sexual act is an accident – is not of the essence of what it is we most desire. Furthermore, only if we enjoy the essential aspects of sex can we possibly be satisfied of our sexual urges. A sexual act that lacks those essential properties is a simulacrum, that cannot satisfy; that cannot but leave us somehow empty, and craving more.
What are those essential properties? They are all mentioned in the second sentence above, but each deserves a word or two.
If the notion of the social construct is true, then the notion of the social construct is itself a social construct. It is without any basis in reality, so that there is no real reason we should notice it, or order our lives thereby.
The consequence is that when someone argues that, e.g., marriage is a social construct, so that we may change it if we like so that gays can marry, it can be argued with equivalent force that the notion that gays ought to be able to marry is likewise a social construct. We may therefore reject the notion of gay marriage, under the banner of social construction, and there will be no way that the moral nihilists can gainsay us. If there is no moral reality, so that no one has any basis in that reality for an argument against gay marriage, then by the same token no one has any basis in moral reality for an argument against the proscription of gay marriage – or anything else, whatsoever.
In general, it’s no good to argue from moral nominalism to any moral realism. You can’t get any ought from “there is no such thing really as an ought.” Thus to talk at all about what it is right or proper to do is implicitly to recognize the falsity of moral nominalism; if moral nominalism is true, then nothing is really right or wrong to do, and such talk is all just nonsense. Moral discourse of any sort at all implicitly agrees to the presupposition that moral discourse has something real to discuss.
Birth rates are plummeting globally, so that even in countries where fertility is above replacement, it soon won’t be. In 150 years or so, the only people around will be religious conservatives, because other sorts of people with looser morals aren’t reproducing (thanks to the Pill, and all its knock-on social and economic effects, noticed in this video).
We have to step back and realize that what is happening to man right now is a pervasive and radical winnowing, comparable almost to the Flood. It’s natural selection at work, weeding out liberalism from the gene pool, and via co-evolution from the meme pool. Put another way, liberalism is a lethal intellectual mutation. Whether it takes 50 years, or 1,000, liberalism is doomed, because it is at war with reality. Not only is it not nice to fool Mother Nature, it can never, ever be done in the first place. The Logos of the world is not mocked, no matter how amusing our petty pranks at his expense seem to us.
Fortunately for those who are deleting their own ilk from the world’s future, this winnowing may not involve catastrophic war, plague, or economic collapse. The autophagy of liberalism need not destroy civilization in the process. Civilization, even the West, might just squeak through and prevail in the end, preserving some of the best bits of what it has so far achieved. We might get through this winnowing with very little pain and suffering: no mass death, just a series of successively smaller, successively more traditional generations, as liberals die off after long, entertaining, meaningless lives.
St. Paul, picking up on several of Jesus’ allegories, acknowledges in his epistle to the Ephesians that marriage is a type of the Church — that is, that marriage, while real in itself, also symbolically alludes to or foreshadows some greater reality. He thus admonishes wives to be subordinate to their husbands, as the Church is to Christ, and husbands to love their wives, as Christ loves the Church.
Yet the Church, we know too, is made up of sinners, and our sins are acts of adultery — literally, of infidelity — against our Lord and the covenant he has made with us. We are always cheating on him, rebelling against him, hiding from him, spurning, mocking, casting longing glances to the world, the flesh, and the Devil. And is our Lord not a faithful lover? Does he not continue to withstand our abuses and admonish us to be and do better? Is he not always wooing us?
I suppose we should be glad, then, that the Father is not so merciful as Cardinal Kasper, that he would spare his only-begotten Son the difficulty of our continued company.
When, several semesters ago, my department chair asked me to teach the local version of the nowadays-pervasive “popular culture” course, I consented with some mild misgivings and, as I like to do, took a mostly historical approach to course-content. I have no investment in contemporary popular culture, the wretchedness of it striking me as consummate. My students, for their part, being morbidly, continuously immersed in contemporary popular culture, require no one to acquaint them with it. At least they require no one to tutor them in it directly, since it regrettably is their ubiquitous, hortatory guide, and their authoritative cue-giver, for all facets of life. But one might apprise them about the insipidity of existing mass-entertainment indirectly by putting it in contrast with the popular entertainments of the past, including the classic films that most of them have never seen and, more importantly, would never seek out on their own. One film that I showed to students was the Errol Flynn vehicle The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), directed by Michael Curtiz. Another one, not so well known as Robin Hood, was the Roger Livesey/Wendy Hiller vehicle I Know Where I’m Going (1945), directed by Michael Powell (1905 – 1990).
But remember, same-sex “marriage” doesn’t concern you!
[This is a much-revised version of an article that originally appeared some years ago at The Brussels Journal.]
Prologue: Contemporary popular culture is as jejune as contemporary politics, with which it is more or less indistinguishable: Strangled by political correctness and by contempt for form and etiquette, “pop” culture eats away like acid at what remains of courtesy and memory. But the past of popular culture – in literature, illustration, and the movies – has much nourishment to offer. One of the most widely read authors of the Twentieth Century, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 – 1950), had a penetrating insight concerning the health of the body politic and the positive relation of a vital culture to its founding traditions. The author of Tarzan (1912) and its many sequels, the inventor of the extraterrestrial sword-and-sandals romance, ex-cavalryman, admirer of the Apache and the Sioux, anti-Communist, anti-Nazi, self-publishing millionaire entrepreneur, religious skeptic, “Big-Stick” patriot, Southern California real-estate baron, sixty-year-old Pacific-Theater war correspondent, Burroughs has, with a few ups and downs, maintained an audience from his authorial debut in 1912 to the present day, nearly sixty-five years after his passing. Burroughs has a place in the culture wars, standing as he does for the opposite of almost everything advocated by the elites of the new liberal-totalitarian order. I offer, in what follows, a modest assessment of Burroughs’ work.
The Eucharist is a participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. But then likewise a true wedding is a participation in the Sacrifice at Golgotha. The bed of marriage is properly an altar, where bride and groom offer their lives in a total sacrifice, joining and thereby engendering a new and larger organism.
When Paul says, “I beseech ye, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” [Romans 12:1], he refers to the whole and perfectly general motion of the Christian toward his Savior and Lord, howsoever expressed: whether in priesthood, or martyry, or marriage – or at Mass.
The rites of the altar – the bed, the table, the throne – are the basis of society: “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” And, vice versa: where there is no altar, there is no civilization; no cult, no culture; no culture, no polis.
Recently, I mentioned fighting other Catholics over gay “marriage” and similar issues. What is especially maddening about them is their tendency to affirm the doctrinal question in a technically minimal way, but then to articulate a pastoral exception so broad that it devours the doctrinal rule. Yes, of course gay “marriage” is a grave moral evil and a mockery of divinely-ordained matrimony; but we mustn’t say so out loud! We might offend someone, and it’s hardly very Christian to do that, now is it? And meanwhile you shouldn’t order your life or act in any way as if you believe gay “marriage” is evil, because Christ calls us to love one another in a way higher than mere doctrinal correctness, and –
Well, you can see the problem. Are there any limits to the “pastoral exception”? None that are typically spoken of, certainly none that are evident to me. The result of this line of thinking is a world where gay “marriage” in the abstract is accepted to be a moral evil, even if no particular gay “marriage” can be said to be.
We are seeing this already in anticipation of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which certain elements in the Church (evidently with at least some sympathy on the part of the Holy Father) desire to make into an occasion to (very quietly) affirm the Church’s ancient teachings on the indissolubility of marriage while (very publicly and aggressively) relaxing the disciplines that support the lived reality of those teachings; in other words, to canonize the current arrangement of practical lawlessness in the administration of the Sacraments and to formalize the Church’s heretofore merely material complicity in adultery. It’s hard to say what direction the Synod will go in, of course, but the trend here is not encouraging. It is very possible that, by this time next year, the Church will have automated the American annulment factory and exported it to the entire world, and that divorce-for-any-reason-or-none-at-all will become, if not doctrinally acceptable, tolerated with a knowing wink and nudge.