As a further elaboration on my response to Emma Green’s review essay on The Benedict Option, I’d like to offer this excerpt from Archbishop Charles Chaput’s new book, Strangers In A Strange Land: Living The Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. In it, he’s talking about the meaning of sexual love in Christian thought, and how it’s woven inextricably into a web of family and community life:
Again, from [Roger] Scruton: “[A] vow is a self-dedication, a gift of oneself”—open-ended in its commitment to a shared destiny between parties. “A vow of marriage creates an existential tie, not a set of specifiable obligations.” And it’s these irreversible ties, which can’t be revoked, that hold marriages, families, communities, and societies together over time. They’re the sinews of a genuinely human world, connecting the past with the present, and the present with the future. Thus they’re different in kind, not merely in degree, from a contract or a negotiated deal. “[The] world of vows is a world of sacred things, in which holy and indefeasible obligations stand athwart our lives and command us along certain paths,” whether we find it convenient at the moment or not.
The paradox of Christian faith is this: It affirms the importance of every individual, no matter how weak or disabled. God loves each of us uniquely and infinitely. But our faith also binds us in a network of mutual obligations to others. God made us not just for ourselves. He also made us for others.
In this, our beliefs directly oppose a growing dimension of American economic life. The nature of that life, says the Lutheran theologian Daniel M. Bell Jr., may be disguised by its remaining biblical residue. But in practice, it “encourages us to view others in terms of how they can serve our self-interested projects.” Other people “become commodities themselves— mere bodies to be exploited and consumed, and then discarded”:
As a consequence, marriages are viewed as (short-term) contracts subject to a cost/benefit analysis, children become consumer goods or accessories, family bonds are weakened and our bodies are treated like so many raw materials to be mined and exploited for manufacture and pleasure. Those individuals rendered worthless as producers and commodities by obsolescence—the old and infirm—are discarded (warehoused or euthanized) and the nonproductive poor (the homeless, the unemployed, the irresponsible, the incompetent) are viewed as a threat.In current American experience, true to Bell’s words, marriage often resembles a real estate transaction. Two autonomous individuals enter into a limited liability partnership that can easily be dissolved. Children serve as the various shared properties. And in such a world, an unplanned, unwanted unborn child is clearly the most annoying kind of drain on the emotional profits.
Read the entire excerpt at First Things — and better yet, buy the book. It’s essential reading for all small-o orthodox Christians, not only Catholics. It is difficult to present Christian teaching about marriage and sexuality in all its wholeness and complexity, especially in a soundbite culture. You can’t do it in a four-minute television appearance. The stand traditional orthodox Christians take against same-sex marriage is not based on “gays, ick,” but on our view of what the human person is, what sex is for, and what marriage is. As I say in The Benedict Option, we wouldn’t have same-sex marriage if not for heterosexuals revolutionizing the idea of sex and marriage in the Sexual Revolution. Straight people who affirm the sexual autonomy in the Sexual Revolution but who wish to deny the same to gays really are hypocrites. Small-o orthodox Christianity insists on the same standard for everybody.
So many Christians, Catholic and otherwise, who reject what the church teaches on sexuality don’t really know what the teaching is — perhaps because it was never presented to them.