That pretty much sums up what I've been hearing via email and Facebook from a host of young Catholic singles this week, from all over the U.S., since I started writing about the peculiar world of Catholic dating. It's strange that I should be writing about this, as I myself have been married for many years, and when I was single I was far from Catholic, but I'm drawn to this issue both because I've known many amazing young single Catholics over the years (almost all of whom are terribly frustrated), and also because I think the Catholic courtship issue indicates a serious problem within the Church at large.
What is that problem? Part of it has to do with the erotic (don't get excited, I'm not using the word the way you think I am).
I began this series of posts last Tuesday, and my main point thus far has been that devout Christians have a limited concept of love, which Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est points out (with Magisterial authority) is both Agape and Eros, both a selfless regard for the good of another and an intensely desirous hunger for the other. In yesterday's post, I quote G. K. Chesterton ...
... the philosophers of today have started to divide loving from fighting and to put them into opposite camps. [But] the two things imply each other ... You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it. You cannot fight without something to fight for.
But what's the main thing that children are taught in school these days? Besides recycling. Besides the joys of gay sex. Besides cultural illiteracy.
The one great message is don't fight. Ever. In John Lennon's melodically beautiful song "Imagine", heaven on earth comes when we have "nothing to kill or die for". In other words, when we no longer care deeply about anyone or anything. And that is the great heresy of the age: the virtue of tolerance is achieved, but at the price of our own vitality.
And you can remove a young man's irascible spirit by neutering him like a house cat (which most modern education apparently aims to do) - and this will certainly do the trick - but if he doesn't care enough to fight for anything, is it at all surprising that he doesn't care enough to love anything - other than video games? Or that he simply doesn't care? Period. Call it ennui - but the Catholic term for it is Acedia.
But the death of Eros is only a symptom of something deeper.
Before he wrote Deus Caritas Est, before he became pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger wrote of the now 500 year old philosophical separation of God from creation, the idea that nature, although it may bear the fingerprints of God's design, is no longer viewed as being connected to God in any meaningful way. This leads to scientism in the secular world, and to what I would call Unreality in the religious world. Ratzinger explains ...
A mere "first cause" which is effective only in nature and never reveals itself to humans, which abandons humans -- has to abandon them -- to a realm completely beyond its own sphere of influence, such a first cause is no longer God but a scientific hypothesis. On the other hand, a God who has nothing to do with the rationality of creation, but is effective only in the inner world of piety, is also no longer God; he becomes devoid of reality and ultimately meaningless. Only when creation and covenant come together can either creation or covenant be realistically discussed - the one presupposes the other.
What he's saying is that if we lose sight of a God who created nature and who became incarnate in nature, and who is intimately in love with His creatures (with a love that is both Agape and Eros), to a point where He enters into created reality - and even into death - in order to redeem it; if we lose sight of that, then we fail to see how nature reveals God's covenant - His laws and His love for us. If that happens, our faith becomes unreal, and what were once our natural desires become merely our affectations.
Divorcing God's logos from nature leaves us with mere Voluntarism - mere will, or willfulness. And in the modern world, will trumps nature every time. For instance, if you have male genitalia and an XY pair of chromosomes, you can override that fact of nature by an act of will. You can become a woman, if you will to. And you can will that others are forced to recognize this fantasy of yours and pretend, along with you, that you can choose to change your sex.
In the same manner, you can separate sexual intercourse from its consequences, consequences that are built into nature. You can have sex outside of marriage, or even within marriage, without producing babies. You can have physical intimacy without emotional intimacy. You can hook up and move on. You can even separate sex from any human connection whatsoever, if you so will it, with a simple internet connection and an active imagination.
In politics, the will of the people determine what is right and what is wrong. The will of the people is the supreme good. Nothing beyond our will can negate what we want. There is no order in the cosmos that constrains our desire.
This is what people believe - at least secular people. But it's the hidden belief of most religious people as well.
In all of these examples, we see men believing that there is no point to nature. There is no natural law. Meaning is an arbitrary construct that we impose on our experiences. We don't discover the meaning of our life, we create it.
Therefore we come to a point where Catholic guys (to put it crudely) don't know where their erections point (if they even get them). They don't understand that their natures (though fallen) have a design, a purpose, a telos, and so they are suspect of and afraid of anything that intensely interests them. The solution? Ignore nature by an act of will. Cut the reality out of the situation - out of your relationship with God and with your fellow man (or in this case, your fellow woman). In this way, the religious culture ends up mirroring the secular culture.
This may sound like a harsh assessment (and I admit I'm generalizing), but consider what one of my female readers wrote (my emphasis) ...
With Catholics and Christians (men AND women), there's a curious kind of non-sexual hook-up culture where you seek someone of the opposite sex to talk to and open up to and pray with without confronting the demands and scary questions of a real relationship.
Indeed, I have known devout young Catholic women who developed relationships with guys that were intensely intimate in every way but physically - emotionally intimate, spiritually intimate, psychologically intimate - and (more than once) I've seen them drop these guys the minute the relationship became the least bit inconvenient, with a heartlessness that rivaled the dumping of a disposable partner in the hook-up culture whose sex appeal had waned and who was no longer useful. ("When I'm through, then I'm through, and I'm through - toodle-oo.")
For women in particular this is shockingly unnatural.
These are all aspects of the strange Unreality that pervades our culture - both our religious and our secular culture. In short, we're in a real stew.
Benedict pointed out that the mix of ingredients that makes up this stew have been marinating in the world of philosophy and theology for 500 years. Add to that recipe the modern mania that elevates will over nature, throw in a heaping tablespoon of access to hard core pornography, add a pinch of the emasculating effects of the modern educational system, and kick it up a notch with a hefty dose of the hook-up culture and its mindset - serve this dish to a background of easy listening music whose lyrics extol the virtue of divorce, trans-gender mania and the joys of shacking up, and is it any wonder that devout young Christians have a bit of trouble finding a date for Saturday night? You can't really stomach this smorgasbord and still do "dinner and a movie".