|George Bernard Shaw|
There are only two ways to tell if a man is serious about something: he'll pay for it or kill for it.And
What is life but the daily and hourly selling of our soul for trifles?
One of the themes of that electric and witty comedy is that money is a great and good impersonal force that measures how serious we are about things. What people spend money on shows you where their priorities lie, at the very least.
Now I'm an actor. Actors have no money. We have a bit more than free-lance writers, but less that folks who have day jobs. One of the reasons we have no money is we work cheap - or free. Most actors love what they do so much that they'll do it without getting paid for it. This creates some really bad theater, which I've written about before.
But it also gives us some lessons on love.
How on earth are we to love? That's the main question of life and the primary theme of Divine Revelation.
Some folks will tell you all love is free love, or love can only be true if we can make a vow and then break it when we've "grown" or when we've become "another person" - of which G. K. Chesterton says ...
And the end of all this is that maddening horror of unreality which
descends upon the decadents, and compared with which physical pain
itself would have the freshness of a youthful thing. The one hell which
imagination must conceive as most hellish is to be eternally acting a
play without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be human. And this is the condition of the decadent, of the aesthete, of
the free-lover. To be everlastingly passing through dangers which we
know cannot scathe us, to be taking oaths which we know cannot bind us,
to be defying enemies who we know cannot conquer us--this is the
grinning tyranny of decadence which is called freedom.
Let me unpack that paragraph for you. For more on "unreality", click the link. It's a word Bl. John Henry Newman occasionally used, but here it is in Chesterton. It's a great word and it means a life of eternal contrivance or make-believe, a Peter Pan existence, the hell of the inconsequential - "inconsequential" meaning both nothing following from another thing (in-con-sequence), and also nothing being important enough to die for or to live for - everything is inconsequential or trivial. Everything is a trifle for which we sell our souls.
This life of artifice and living death is a "maddening horror" of unreality, which Chesterton says "descends upon the decadents". The decadents are the poets of Chesterton's youth, the Oscar Wildes and their ilk, who gave themselves over to prancing about with great affectation, often to the point of being "gay" - the greatest of all unrealities.
(Parenthetically, here, let me say something about the whole gay nonsense. We typically have a natural revulsion for sodomy - even "gay marriage advocates" don't want to go there in their minds - but how often do we really think about the even more frightening unreality of Lesbianism? Most guys are turned on by the thought of women being sexually aroused in that way, but St. Paul is very clear in Romans that Lesbianism is a result of something else; it's the result of a cause that comes first - abandoning the reality of God's revelation in nature - in other words, Lesbianism is a kind of punishment, a consequence that God permits, resulting from a life of affectation, of devotion to unreality. Does this mean that girls who experiment with Lesbian encounters are depraved and being punished by God? Not today, I don't think, as it's almost become a cultural rite of passage; it's "chic". But women who devote their lives to this are far more disturbed than we care to admit.)
Getting back to Chesterton, he then says that,
The one hell which imagination must conceive as most hellish is to be eternally acting a play without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be human. And this is the condition of the decadent, of the aesthete, of the free-lover.
To be continually pretending, to be always cut off from reality, to be a "free lover" who can pack up and move on when the fancy fades, is "most hellish". This is because love is not free; love exacts a price; love demands commitment; love binds; love consists of sacrifice. Love has boundaries.
Thus, to shack up is never an expression of love, for either party may move on at any time, once the fancy fades. Even to get married, now that we've ignored Christ's commandment on divorce and remarriage, becomes an example of this artificial life where we are constantly "taking oaths we know cannot bind us". And extra marital flings, even emotional infidelities that do not pass beyond Skype or the internet, are doomed to this same fate. For the Unreal never works - for long. The Unreal always brings in its wake this "grinning tyranny of decadence".
We keep thinking we can love on our own terms, but He keeps showing us that love is far more real than we wish to make it. For He is Real and He is love.
Thus, when we actors give and give and give without reciprocation - when the producer tells us he loves us but he won't even pay us what the stagehand makes - when we preach the Gospel and are met with stony silence - when we love a friend who won't pass that barrier of Unreality and pretense - then we must shake the dust off our feet and move on.
For Shaw was wrong. Our lives are not the daily and hourly selling of our souls for trifles. Our lives are a gift of self to God, as the widow who puts in her mite (all that she has) - for man finds himself only in a gift of himself. And what we seek in return is not mere trifles. If we seek money in the marketplace, it's only because money facilitates justice in trade. No, if we give everything to God, He gives everything back,
homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--along with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:30)
... but when we work in His vineyard, in this age, in the here and now, we are to expect reciprocation, which in the world is measured by money, but which in the Bible is measured by any kind of return- the fig tree that ought to bear fruit (Luke 13:16 & Mat. 21:19), the talent that should return profit (Mat 25:14 ff.) and the Good Soil that should bring forth much.
Unreality is sterility, however - affectation and "gay sex" and contraception lead nowhere and produce nothing. And yet that is what's all around us. The worst of us receive much and give nothing in return. The best of us give much and get nothing in return.
Unless we give to Him and learn to love within the bounds God (who is Love Himself) has set for us.
See my follow-up post on this subject: The City of Small Sins and the Way Out.