Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Familial Proposition

There is a shocking proposition in Amoris Laetitia which my friend brought to my attention in just about the most interesting way imaginable: a question.

Specifically, this question:

Is he saying we basically turn ourselves into whores!!??

And it's profoundly worse than that, which we will explore in a minute. First let's take a look at the question that spurred this reaction.

My friend was chewing on Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families, specifically paragraphs 32-34. You should go and at least skim these paragraphs for better context. I'll wait.

Back already? Great. Let's go.

In this chapter the Holy Father addresses the good and the bad of modernizing our notions of relationships, especially those of the family. From a western perspective, that can be somewhat simplistically put as evolving out of our Victorian notions of marriage. This is not a bad thing in and of itself - for their were many faults with the Victorian interpretation of marriage - the concern is this: What is replacing that interpretation?

In the midst of paragraph 32 we find this, praising the rejection of the Victorian ethic:

Several decades ago, the Spanish bishops noted that families have come to enjoy greater freedom "through an equitable distribution of duties, responsibilities and tasks”; indeed, “a greater emphasis on personal communication between the spouses helps to make family life more humane", while "neither today’s society nor that to which we are progressing allow an uncritical survival of older forms and models".

And in 33:

We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice...

For example, we can see a proper concern for the rights of married women, especially in circumstances of domestic abuse, recognizing that marital rape is a thing, recognizing the independence of the wife to be a fully human person, and not merely property of the husband. This is a good thing: as Catholics, we must never accept society uncritically - that is without discernment. However, what happens if we do not properly discern what was good in the past, and uncritically accept the new?

The Holy Father continues in paragraph 33:

Equal consideration needs to be given to the growing danger represented by an extreme individualism which weakens family bonds and ends up considering each member of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the idea that one’s personality is shaped by his or her desires, which are considered absolute.

He continues:

Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others. Indeed, in many countries where the number of marriages is decreasing, more and more people are choosing to live alone or simply to spend time together without cohabiting. We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services. (Emphasis mine).

Clear, yes?

Let me reiterate.

We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services.

So I ask again: Is he saying we basically turn ourselves into whores!!??

And I say again, it's profoundly worse than that.

So, yes, I think the Holy Father is concerned that we are whoring ourselves out, but not just in matters of sex. I think there is an element from the more Marxist (maybe? let's go with that) and extreme feminist elements that equate work with sex. All sex is simply a transaction, all work done for another is the prostitution of your labor. This is their narrative, and while it doesn't have to be true, I think in an extreme case it can be true.

So, if we think of merely sexual sin, the happily married man may have his home and family life, be a devoted husband and father, and yet engage a prostitute, or consume pornography. I do not mean to say that these activities are not detrimental to the family life, or to diminish their seriousness, but simply to offer contrast. There is in some sense (at least in the mind and practice of many people) room for both the contractual and the familial.

What the Holy Father is pointing to is a situation where the intimacy of family becomes contractual, a hyper-"girlfriend experience," if you will. That is, in the older ways you would see someone contracting a prostitute, and it was "just sex" (not that that's ever true, but that is the perception/interpretation). What is coming to be is a certain all-encompassing prostitution, where the marriage is not one of mutual love and support, but mutual gain and tit-for-tat. That is, I serve my family not because I love them, but because that is the price for receiving the acceptance of society (which is not so different than the Victorian mores in some regards).

As my friend surmises, "I want to live in the gated community: so I need a wife, a stable home, a BIG home, two kids who are quiet and congenial, a gigantic SUV, probably a dog, a vacation home, a 120" television screen, and a patio on which to grill while my wife serves everyone drinks and my kids look pretty as they sit 'pon yon granite staircase." We are after the form, and not the substance, and sometimes cannot see the substance of a solid and holy family, because it doesn't look the way we think it ought to look.

In the extreme case of those not even cohabitating, it would seem that not merely the intimacies of sex, but even the intimacies of family life, of shared experience, of shared lives, are up for sale. One could understand it when it comes to sex, because of the power of the drives and the passions, but we have become so wrapped up in our individualism that we cannot conceive of a true two-become-one wherein one person is not subsumed into the other (the fault of the past), and so we do not attempt it and rather become two-stay-two-and-act-like-one-in-certain-circumstances-as-long-as-is-mutually-beneficial.

The relationship now becomes an opposition of needs where sacrifice is not for the benefit of the beloved, but a down payment on future prizes on the auction block: "I'll trade you dinner with your parents for a night out with my friends" as opposed to, "Sure we can do dinner with your parents, also I'd like to go out with my friends." They have the same result - dinner with in laws and a night out with friends - but whereas the latter is focused on human flourishing (building family ties as well as the bonds of friendship, in harmony with the core relationship), the former cheapens both to a mere transaction.

Even the familial becomes contractual with no room for real intimacy - which is only possible with self sacrifice.

So yes, we are turning ourselves into whores, but not just in physical intimacy, but rather in all areas of intimacy.

The Holy Father is calling us to a renewal of our understanding of relationship according to the teachings of the Church, not the passing fads of Victorianism or the Sexual Revolution. To balance the necessary reforms against unnecessary and unhealthy radical individualism which prevents any true relationships.

In the old way, the woman becomes a part of the man completely, merely an appendage with no agency, while the man retains full agency. She is subsumed, and this is not a true partnership.

In the new way, she retains complete autonomy and agency, which the man also retains, so the old ill of her sublimation is avoided, but has gone too far and turned an intimate and familial relationship into a business one.

In the really old way, from the beginning, it's somewhere in the middle, where the man and woman's agencies are directed toward each other freely, not in contest.

Is there not in this a parallel to the reality of Mary: Mediatrix of All Graces? She has full agency and identity, AND her will is fully conformed to that of her spouse the Holy Spirit, who out of love does not obliterate Mary's identity, but rather upholds it. So there's a sort of image there of what our earthly marriages ought to be like. The two retain their individuality and uniqueness while still being of one mind, out of mutual love and respect rather than the subsuming of one into the other.

Is this not what is REALLY meant by the two shall become one?

Woman, submit to your husband; husband, lay down your life for your wife as Christ did the Church.

Mutual love and mutual self giving lead to strong families and human flourishing.

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