Thursday, March 29, 2007

Divorcing From the Bigger Issue

I wrote this last night, and it's too big to work as one of my weekly articles, so I'll simply post it here:

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column titled “The Morality of Gay” wherein I noted the diametrical opposition of Christianity to homosexuality. Allow me several points before moving onto other matters.

First, in referring to homosexuality, I am referring to manifestations thereof, not the orientation itself. A predilection to sin simply marks one among the brotherhood of men; a desire to do that which is immoral is the very definition of fallen man. It is the sin itself which proves problematic. The desire itself may exist, but it is not something one ought to always act upon. As Chesterton succinctly put it, “There are some desires that are not desirable.”

Second, I have something of a hard time bringing myself to understand how people can object to something so obvious as the fact that acts of homosexuality constitute sin according to the moral code posited by Christianity. From the beginning, God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Thus openness to procreation is an intrinsic element to Christian sexuality, one which homosexual union can never fulfill. There are also the passages both in the Torah as well as the New Testament, specifically the Pauline epistles, which condemn homosexual union explicitly, but anyone who cares for the matter can find such passages by utilizing a simply Google search. Suffice it to say, condemnations of homosexuality occur with a surprising degree of regularity in the Bible, and the Good Book is entirely free of even the most tepid endorsement of the behavior.

Now, although I firmly believe that homosexual acts are immoral, that was not the point of my article. Neither is it the point of this one. Christianity, like any religion which preaches truth concerning a transcendent spiritual reality, must be taken on faith. As such, it can also be rejected. Christianity may be no more valid than the mythological and philosophical systems of the ancient Romans and Greeks. But you can't simply pick and choose what you like out of a system of belief and pretend that the system is the same. You cannot pick up the ball and run around with it and insist that I am playing soccer. You can't make a sandwich consisting of wheat bread and mayonnaise and call it a reuben because it also contains corned beef and sauerkraut. You can't say you like what Jesus had to say about the meek and ignore what he said about divorce. You cannot accept Paul's teaching on homosexuality and ignore what he has to say about adultery. At least, you can do none of this and expect people to take you very seriously. You may form other games; you may create a new type of sandwich. You may even make other religions. But you should have the common decency to call the thing by a new name.

Tangentially, as atheists such as Bertrand Russell and James Joyce observed, this was the fundamental flaw of protestantism. Russell predicted that since protestantism allowed each man to be the judge of true Christianity, ultimately each man would constitute his own private church, leaving the Roman Catholics—to which I would add the series of orthodox churches who split during the Great Schism over a relatively minor theological matter and who may be approaching reunification with Rome—alone as a unified body of believers with a cogent philosophy. To keep with the old metaphor, protestantism is an attack on reubens. It may have created a wonderful array of new sandwiches, but I am of the opinion that truth, unlike sandwiches, should not contradict.

Joyce couched his more severe observation in the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The protagonist Stephen Dedalus declares to his friend Cranly that he will no longer serve God; he has lost his faith and no longer considers himself a Roman Catholic. “Then, said Cranly, you do not intend to become a protestant?”

“I said that I had lost the faith,” Stephen answered, “but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?” But I digress, doing my best to leave off what Flannery O'Connor correctly termed “Catholic smugness”.

All of which brings me, at long last, to my point. I can't help but feel that homosexuals have gotten a raw deal as of late. I refuse to retract any of my statements from above. But I get the feeling that homosexuals know that they are sinners—or anyway, that a bunch of us think as much. There is something to be said about knowing when to shut up, and I think it is probably time for the conservative Christians to shut up about the homosexuals. Certainly an occasional summary of the facts is in order, as people tend to forget these things. But there is no shortage of sinners in the church, and, from a purely proportional perspective, sermons condemning the dreaded sodomites ought to be reduced in number.

I take, as if from a hat, the sin of divorce. I note shamefully in passing, that, at least in America, Christians have a higher rate of divorce than atheists and agnostics. Note too that this is an interesting juxtaposition to some of the statistics I mentioned in last week's article, though in my defense I will add that couples who use natural family planning instead of birth control have a divorce rate of just two percent. But the benevolence of birth control will be reserved for another day. Very strict Catholics aside, it seems that those who desire to divorce choose to ignore passages which illuminate the error of their intentions. Take, for instance, chapter 10 from the Gospel of Mark:

The Pharisees approached and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?"... He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?" They replied, "Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Strong words, and ones Christians should be hesitant to dismiss. There are two points I wish to leave in closing. Christians should not be entirely surprised that homosexuals do not take Christianity's provisions against sodomy seriously given that Christians who have no trouble condemning homosexual acts, acts which only a minority of them would even possibly be attracted to, do not take other tenants of their ostensible faith to heart. Blatant hypocrisy on behalf of adherents speaks poorly of their religion. Neither should they be surprised at the growing disdain, or stunning indifference, on behalf of non-Christians, homosexuals and otherwise to what was once the faith of all of Europe. Bashing gays over the head with a book does little good, for the gays or for the bashers. A daily walk with Christ, and an acceptance of his discipline, is sure to produce better fruit.

There is a saying that reads: “They will know we are Christians by the love we have for one another.” Might be nice to see it somewhere besides print. Meanwhile, as smugness is connected to the deadly sin of pride, I'll be taking a key from Dante, pushing a rock round and round a ledge. I reckon I might be here awhile.


Sheila Kippley said...

If any of your readers are interested in systematic natural family planning and the Seven Standards of eco-breastfeeding, they can do to for a free, short, and easy-to-read "How To" NFP manual. There is a lot there to support Church teaching as well.
Sheila Kippley

Donny said...

The sin comes with permanent adultery following divorce and remarriage. The church will always be opposed to remarriage, but in some cases, divorce will be permitted. The church teaches that divorce in itself is the situation where men separate that which God has joined. However, 2383 of the CCC talks about divorce being permitted where care of children and rights may be violated.

Donny said...

Everyone knows that the real truth is contained fully in the crunchy peanut butter and raspberry jelly sandwich.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Thanks Sheila. I'm solidly single now, but I'll be checking into NFP more should my situation change.


You're absolutely wrong in regards to sandwiches; even if PBJ > Reuben, Strawberry Rhubarb Jam > Raspberry. Good try though.

Also, with divorce rates well above 25%, the care of children and their rights is less a concern than how mother and father feel about each other. Love is not a feeling; it's a commitment, and no one who makes decisions based on purely emotional whims is mature enough to get married. Or remarried, which is where further disaster sets in.