Archbishop Chaput: “these things always have consequences”
A couple of excerpts from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s new book, which is titled Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.
“God asks us to live our sexuality virtuously according to our calling. For some this means celibacy, setting aside marriage for love of the larger family of the Church and a different form of fertility in service. For most people, though, in most times, it means sexual intimacy within marriage.
As the philosopher Roger Scruton puts it, “A society based on agape [selfless love] alone is all very well, but it will not reproduce itself: nor will it produce the crucial relation—that between parent and child—which is the basis on which we can begin to understand our relation to God. Hence, the redemption of the erotic lies at the heart of every viable social order.”
Of course, very few couples—at least the ones I know—fall in love to redeem the erotic or build a viable social order. They have other motives. But the end result is the same: By its nature, human erotic love is ordered to creating and raising new life, and to the mutual joy and support of a man and woman vowed in a covenant of love.”
“Again, from 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.”
“But what we do in the world, how we live and how we love (or misuse love)—these things always have consequences.”