Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Spayed Sentiments and Sterilized Sex: More on Catholic Dating

Flannery speaks ... read on!

I'm going to tie together some threads that have been hanging loose in my posts on Catholic Dating.

Remember what Chesterton said ...

To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust… but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. 

This is the knot that ties together the lack of Eros in both our secular and religious arenas and the bizarre non-sexual hook-up culture that one finds in the weird world of devout young Christians.

What this "airy lust" ignores is this.  Sex and sentiment both have points.  They both are deadly serious things that have a final cause, or an end in their design.  The pornographic mentality of the secular hook-up culture denies the purpose of sex, while the sentimental mentality of the Devout-Christian-hook-up culture denies the purpose of feelings.  In the one case, sex is indulged in for its own sake, apart from the awesome ends for which it is designed, and its enjoyment is cut off from the responsibilities that naturally come with it.  In the other, men and women indulge themselves in intense emotional feelings and intimacies, which likewise are severed from their purpose, and cut off from the responsibilities that these feelings imply - loyalty, friendship, mutual obligations - yes, and marriage - and other things that lovers of the Pornography of Sentiment would rather avoid.

Flannery O'Connor wrote about this long ago.

If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be something of a Manichean.  By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to a pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only
two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment, usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence; and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite.
We lost our innocence in the fall of our first parents, and our return to it is through the redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography, on the other hand, is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purposes, disconnects it from its meaning in life and makes it simply an experience for its own sake.

Note that Flannery sets this observation in the context of the Manichean tendencies of the modern Catholic - the idea that matter is bad and spirit is good, the idea that God's grace could not possibly operate in the real world of sexual desire, intense emotions that imply an obligation, or in the general mess of our everyday lives, which is the philosophical backdrop to this problem that I identified earlier in these series of posts.

In other words, as Chesterton pointed out, if you separate loving and fighting, if you separate grace and nature, if you separate sex from its purpose or feelings from their purpose, you are left not with love but with lust; perhaps an "airy, philosophical and disinterested lust", but lust all the same.

If our desires do not bind us, we are shirking the cross.  If our shared emotions do not obligate us, we are no more "friends" than two people who get drunk and have a one-night-stand are "lovers".  If we believe that sentimentality and the cheap grace of the gay guitar Mass are anything but shortcuts to a "mock state of innocence", we are fooling ourselves.


So, what I think this phenomenon shows us is this ...

  • There exists a floating heresy that all secularists and most Catholics take in by osmosis, by the air they breathe.  It is the unexamined assumption that grace does not penetrate nature, and that God would never deign to do such a messy and demeaning thing as working through our bodies or our passions.

  • This leads to a great suspicion of nature and a blindness to the teleology that is built in to nature - which is the death of nature as a meaningful concept, including human nature.

  • This "death of nature" leads, in the secular culture, to things as ridiculous as the conviction that "gender" is an individual choice, or that "marriage" has no inherent meaning, that we can define it or redefine it as we will, and that arbitrary human will trumps nature every time, either in the life of an individual or in the laws of a community, in the community's economy, and in the meaning of life itself, which cannot be found in creation, but exists only as we will it, and can change from person to person, from culture to culture, or from age to age.

  • Young Devout Catholics growing up in this culture thus cannot trust either their natural desires or their natural emotions as having any purpose, as carrying with them any incumbent obligations.

  • Add to this the miseducation of American youth, in which fighting for anything is always and everywhere taught to be wrong, and you get a great timidity of spirit, a loss of the sense of romance, and a world that's flattened, pale and uninteresting.  

  • And while Devout Young Catholics - women in particular - shy away from pornography (or at least try to), the great unmet need of male / female bonding nonetheless often leads them to an irresponsible indulgence in affairs of the heart - except in such a culture of sanctimonious sentimentality, an affair of the heart is like a very tame Hallmark movie that you can switch off after you've had enough artificial emotional payoff.  Thus what my friend termed the "non-sexual hook-up culture".

I appreciate the many public comments and private emails I've been getting on this issue.  Please keep them coming!

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