Conservative Colloquium

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Posts Tagged ‘love’

We Need Love-Only Sex Ed, Not Abstinence-Only

Posted by Tony Listi on January 17, 2014

We need a Love Only approach to sex ed, not abstinence-only. If you are not married to a person, then love demands you abstain from any sexual activity with that person, regardless of any urges or feelings you have.

If you have not publicly committed to give your entire life exclusively to the other person in lifelong loving marriage, then what makes you think you have any right whatsoever to derive any intimate physical or emotional pleasure from them/their body? What makes anyone think they have any right to use someone else/someone else’s body merely as a sex toy for their own individual pleasure, ego, and/or self-esteem? Even if a person consents to be used in such a way, it is still a harmful and unloving violation of their human dignity and thus wrong. Consent does not change the inherently harmful and unloving nature of sexual use. A person is still a person with dignity and should not have their dignity violated even if that person himself or herself consents to have their dignity violated.

It is the lifelong commitment to the other person in marriage that allows and empowers sexual acts with that person to be acts of self-giving love rather than acts of selfish use. Because of our dignity as human persons, without marriage, there would be no truly legitimate, moral, and loving reason for sexual acts; such acts could be nothing other than selfish, harmful, and thus immoral without marriage. Without marriage, sexual acts always treat the human person as a sex object or sex toy (intended or not), and that is not loving or right. Only within the context of lifelong  marriage can sexual acts recognize and reverence the person and his or her full dignity. It is the marital commitment (and fidelity to it) that ensures that the person is not abandoned and thus thrown away like trash when they no longer sexually satisfy (at all or as much as another person) and when love demands sacrifices. Sexual love by its very nature demands and entails lifelong commitment and sacrifice.

Of course, it should be noted that while lifelong marriage is necessary for loving sexual acts, it is not in itself sufficient for love or loving sexual acts. Just because a commitment is lifelong and exclusive does not necessarily make it loving. To be loving, the marriage must be a lifelong and exclusive commitment to the good of the other person in all aspects of their personhood, not merely a lifelong and exclusive commitment to live together and be monogamous.

Critics of abstinence-only education are only partially right. Without this Love Only perspective, abstinence is indeed largely arbitrary repression, which is indeed harmful and in many cases inadequate long-term for remaining abstinent. Arbitrary repression does not quell sexual urges but merely holds them in tension, and if the sexual tension builds up over time, the person will likely succumb to acting out their sexual urges in an unloving way or context (e.g. premarital sex, rape, homosexual behavior, etc.). So strong are sexual urges sometimes that even the fear of potential STDs and pregnancy may be forgotten and unable to prevent a surrender and lapse into unloving sexual behavior. Besides, technology will likely continue to mitigate or remove fears of sexual disease and unwanted pregnancy. But technology will never make unloving sexual acts loving; technology will never mitigate or remove the emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage of unloving sexual acts (least not without inflicting greater damage on the person).

But abstinence grounded in love and chastity is not arbitrary repression but rather fully recognizing the dignity of the other person and choosing to love and respect them and their dignity, choosing not to treat them as a mere sex object or sex toy that satisfies a physical or emotional urge or desire. And when we are truly loving and chaste in our abstinence, we can quell the sexual urges, release or sublimate the sexual tension in a chaste loving non-sexual way, and not be frustrated. If we truly love the person, frustration should give way to joy and peace.

It may not be easy to practice loving and chaste abstinence in our hyper-sexual, hyper-stimulated, selfish, and pornographic culture, but it’s a lot easier than arbitrary and brute repression. And the deep joys and peace of love are always worth the demanding difficulty and cost (however, I should add, ideally, we should love for the sake of love and for the sake of the person, not even merely for such profound peace and joy, however transcendent and sublime).

Posted in American Culture, Education, Government and Politics, Marriage, Moral Philosophy, Sex, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why Euthanasia Is Immoral & Harmful

Posted by Tony Listi on January 31, 2013

Love is neither selfish nor unfair but rather is firmly grounded in the truth and the good. True love has no limits, and our love for one another should have no limits. If “love” were to transgress the truth or the good, it would cease to be love.

What is the truth about human dignity and suffering? What is good for the suffering person? These are the questions that must be answered objectively first before addressing the subjective feelings of the suffering person and others.

The suffering person, like all persons, has human dignity. Suffering does not take away that dignity (nothing can). That dignity commands reverence and love for the suffering person, even if that person himself or herself does not understand and embrace that dignity. What is good for the suffering person is love. The suffering person needs love. Loving a person requires recognizing the dignity of that person and showing the person due reverence because of that dignity rather than violating it.

If people recognized and revered their own dignity, they would not want others to kill them merely because they are suffering.

It is not loving to kill someone merely because they suffer; it is loving to comfort, console, and ease their pain and suffering. The dignity of the human person requires us to refrain from killing others except in self-defense. To “remove their suffering” by killing them, removing them from the world, is a violation of their human dignity, whether they want to be killed or not. The dignity of the human person has a higher value than the absence of suffering. Just because someone wants others to violate his or her own dignity does not make that violation any less of a violation; it is still wrong and harmful.

It is much more loving and compasionate to serve and comfort those who suffer rather than to kill them. Killing is merely easier (in a material sense) for those who do not suffer in certain ways (yet); loving another person is harder (in a material sense). In this sense, euthanasia is a kind of cruel sloth and laziness. But killing an innocent human being should be hard psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually for the decent and upright person. The suffering person should not want to impose this guilt on others, whether intentionally or not.

Life is always worth living because of love. If we stopped killing people who suffer and started loving and comforting them, many of them would no longer want to be killed. Love gives life purpose, despite suffering. Love gives purpose to suffering. And we all suffer in common ways and in our own individual ways. No one is immune from suffering.

Posted in Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dance and Theology of the Body

Posted by Tony Listi on June 12, 2011

Traditional dancing between men and women (i.e. ballroom dancing) is a great way to teach and illustrate Theology of the Body. Such dancing reveals visually with the male and female body what God wants men and women to be as men and women in erotic love.

1) Consent: The man should not try to force the woman to dance with him; he should ask for and have her consent. She shouldn’t have to dance if she doesn’t want to. Of course, it goes both ways; the man shouldn’t have to dance with anyone he doesn’t want to either.

Likewise, a man should not try to force a woman to date him, to be in an exclusive relationship with him, or to marry him. The man must ask her and respect her decision. And no woman should try to force a man into such things either. Love cannot be coerced.

2) Male Initiative: Traditionally, the man should ask the woman to dance. Yes, sometimes women do ask men to dance with them, but it is not the norm. The woman taking the initiative to ask in itself may not necessarily impair the dancing, but it could reflect an underlying predisposition of the man being unable or unwilling to assume proper leadership of the dance (see section on Male Leadership below), which would be a problem.

Likewise, the man should take the initiative to ask the woman out, to ask to be in an exclusive relationship, and to ask her hand in marriage. The man should prove his interest, love, and commitment. If the man doesn’t care enough to ask or can’t even muster up enough courage to ask, then he doesn’t really love her. Cowardice is self-centered and unloving, regardless of whether she says “yes” or “no.” It’s not good if the man is more worried about himself and his pride than about the woman, her well-being, and what he wants to do for her. If a sincere and loving man asks, and the woman says “no” haughtily and cruelly rather than compassionately and gracefully, then the man should realize that he is better off without such a woman, who is unworthy of his love and incapable of loving.

Yes, sometimes women take the initiative to ask men out, but again, it’s not the norm and could cause problems down the road, though not necessarily, for the same reasons as stated above for dance. At the higher and more serious level of marriage, I’ve never heard of a woman asking a man. There’s a reason for that spiritually: the man should lead and prove his love.

3) Male Leadership, Activity, & Responsibility: Once she agrees to dance, the woman follows and the man leads. The man actively chooses what dance moves will be done and where the dance will go on the floor. If both try to lead and neither follow, no dancing really occurs. In fact, in the extreme case, they hurt each other and/or part ways. If the man leads terribly, both suffer. Such leadership thus carries with it very important responsibilities. For example, the man must take pains not to lead the woman in such a way that she (or both of them) runs into other dancers on the dance floor.

Why can’t the woman lead the dance? In theory, I guess she could, but have you ever seen a dance where the woman is leading the man, spinning him, dipping him, holding him in her arms, etc.? Does it work? Does it look good? No, it doesn’t because such a dance is not in accord with the natural qualities of the male and female bodies and character (which I will discuss further in later sections). Such is the reality of dancing; different natures must be taken into account and obeyed.

Likewise, in a marriage, the husband is the natural leader, the head of the household, and thus has important responsibilities, including providing for his wife and children. Dating and courtship should be a process of the man gradually learning how to lead his girlfriend in love and service of her.

It is important to point out that Christian leadership is servant leadership. The greatest in the kingdom are the servants of others, using their power and authority to serve others rather than themselves. A leader who abuses his power and authority, lording it over others, is abhorrent. But contrary to modern thought, authority in and of itself is not evil or oppressive.

I think it is also important to point out that, despite the contrary case in dance perhaps, a good leader knows when to follow and let others take the lead, if only temporarily. A good husband has humility and knowledge of both his own and his wife’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows when to follow his wife’s lead and never dismisses or stifles her strengths. Such a good husband never really surrenders his authority but rather exercises it wisely and prudently.

So in a certain sense the man too is called to surrender, to surrender his self-interest for the sake of love and “surrender” his direct and explicit leadership role. These are the kinds of surrender that men must make if they wish to lead well.

4) Female Obedience, Surrender, & Receptivity: Again, the woman’s role in the dance is to follow. She is supposed to let the man lead her. If she doesn’t, both dancers are going to have problems dancing. This follower role doesn’t make her any less of a partner, dancer, or human being. Following is not a role of lesser dignity in dancing; it is merely different.

When a woman is a good follower of a man in dance, she is surrendering herself, especially her body, to that man. If she follows him obediently in more intimate dancing and dance moves, she surrenders her body, herself, to him even more. The more intimate the body movement the more complete her surrender.

Likewise, once married, the role of the wife is to obediently follow her husband’s lead. Admittedly though, a good husband who will lead lovingly and humbly like I described above can be hard to find these days. A woman would be better off avoiding marriage if she cannot find a man who will love her as Jesus loves the Church, eager to serve her and willing to sacrifice himself and suffer for her sake even unto death, despite her flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections.

Dating and courtship should be a process of the woman gradually learning how to trust, how to surrender herself to her boyfriend. Of course, the man has to gradually earn this trust of his girlfriend through acts of love. And the ultimate physical, emotional, and spiritual surrender and act of trust is the sexual act, which is properly reserved only for marriage because the life-long, total fidelity of marriage is a stable foundation for the total trust necessary in the sexual act.

If the woman refuses to surrender like a female dancer who refuses to be led, or if a woman never learns to surrender like a female dancer who never learns from her male lead’s physical signals what he wants her to do, the relationship will have problems, if not collapse.

Contrary to modern thought, authority and dignity are not equivalent or proportional. The fact that the husband has more authority than the wife does not mean he has any greater dignity as a human being (the same could be said about the authority of the pope and bishops in relation to Catholics and non-Catholics). So when St. Paul says a wife should be subordinate to her husband’s authority, he is not saying women have any lower dignity; he’s merely stating their specific role in the marriage dance.

5) Male Height, Size, & Strength: The male body is naturally taller, bigger, and stronger than the female’s on average. It is the man’s height and strength that makes him the natural leader of the dance, for he is able to easily spin, dip, and hold the woman. She typically cannot do the same with him. If the man is not tall enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to spin the woman. If he is not strong enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to dip her, hold her, and do other moves requiring strength. If the man is not tall and strong enough, both suffer.

Likewise, men should put the height, size, and strength of their bodies at the service of women and thus love the women in their lives. A man should open doors, carry things (especially if they are heavy), fix things, and provide other services to women that require strength. This principle is true generally apart from erotic love but finds greater focus and deeper expression in erotic love.  A man should use his strength and size to protect his date, girlfriend, or wife from harm, even to the point of sacrificing his bodily health or life for her sake.

Indeed, men should seek to be physically stronger for the sake of serving their girlfriend or wife. Lifting weights should not be motivated by ego (as hard as that is for us to avoid) but rather by a desire to be prepared for loving service to our girlfriends or wives, to strive for ideal masculinity. This kind of striving for strength should continue even after one has gotten married. Sometimes married men or even men in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being strong for their girlfriends or wives because they think strength is merely for attracting and getting women rather than also serving the one woman who is yours.

With all this in mind, it is quite natural that women desire and seek out men who are taller, bigger, and stronger than themselves. Just as naturally, men desire and seek out women who are shorter, smaller, and weaker than themselves. Despite the best of intentions, disharmony is more likely to arise where these physical inequalities are the opposite of these natural desires. Physical characteristics of the body naturally have psychological and spiritual consequences.

However, physical strength is not enough; a man in a relationship should have emotional, psychological, and spiritual strength to protect the woman’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Indeed, this kind of protection is even more important than physical protection, so cultivating emotional, psychological,and spiritual strength is more important than lifting weights. A boyfriend or husband should be the protector of the body, mind, and soul of his girlfriend or wife.

6) Mysterious and Unveiled Female Grace, Elegance, & Beauty: The female body is naturally more graceful, elegant, and (in some sense) beautiful than the male body (perhaps I’m biased, being a man, but I don’t think so). When the female body is spun, dipped, and held, the natural grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body shine through. It’s very hard to put these mysterious qualities into words, to articulate this mystery of the female body…. But perhaps a man is in a better position than a woman to delve into this mystery.

It seems as if the male body’s leading movements in dance enhance or unveil the grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body that was hidden or not as manifest in the stillness or unrhythmic movement before the dancing. Sometimes the female body seems like it radiates a graceful, elegant, and beautiful energy and dynamism all its own that the male body merely tries to direct and contain like a nuclear reactor directs and contains enormous atomic energy.

Likewise, I’ve always observed that women seem to become more graceful, elegant, and beautiful when they are dating or in a relationship. Sure, one might say that such women have someone to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for, and so they take more pains to be so. Indeed, women should seek to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for the sake of their boyfriend or husband. Make-up, skin care, hair care, etc. should not be motivated by vanity (as hard as that is to avoid for some women) but rather by a desire to look one’s best for and thus please and serve one’s boyfriend or husband, to strive for ideal femininity.

But I think this phenomenon goes or should go beyond merely what the woman does in response to having a partner; the man who she is in a relationship with can and should draw out and unveil her grace, elegance, and beauty by means of his relationship with her, by means of his loving service of her.

Sometimes married women or even women in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being beautiful for their boyfriends or husbands because they think beauty is merely for attracting and getting men rather than also pleasing and serving the one man who is yours.

Of course, it is true that grace, elegance, and beauty are more than skin deep. It is more important for women to cultivate a spiritual kind of grace, elegance, and beauty that infuses the personality than for women to spend hours in front of a mirror. But the body should not be wholly neglected, for the body is who we are too.

As for marriage specifically, the ultimate unveiling of the feminine by the man happens in the sexual act and the consequent motherhood that follows. The grace, elegance, and beauty of the feminine is nakedly exposed in the marital act. The nurturing love of motherhood from development in the womb to nursing at the uncovered breast also has a mysterious grace, elegance, and beauty to it.

7) Only One Partner: A man can only ballroom dance with one woman at a time. He only has one body with two arms and two legs and can only look in one direction. The human body itself places natural limits on what the man can do in the act of dancing. Same goes for the woman.

Yes, it is possible to dance in groups, but that kind of dancing involves little to no intimacy with other human beings. Either no physical touch is involved or the physical interaction is very limited with regard to intimacy because one’s body and attention is divided between two or more other people.

Likewise, a man can only be in a serious relationship with or married to one woman. Sure, it is perfectly fine to date many people at once, to search for a partner who deserves your exclusive focus and attention. But dating is a means to an end, not an end in itself; it is a means to finding an exclusive partner. Treating dating as if it were merely a recreational activity rather than a search of love will cause harm and pain and make it even harder to obtain a stable, loving relationship or marriage.

Marriage is a “dance” in which the “song” doesn’t end until one partner dies and in which we cannot “switch” partners in the middle of the “song” without hurting ourselves, our partner, and others “on and off the dance floor.”

Just as in dance, the human body itself naturally places limits on erotic love. God designed our bodies in a very specific way sexually. Abnormalities of fallen physical nature aside, the body of each and every physiologically normal man and woman has only one set of sexual organs, of genitalia. Thus only one man and one woman can engage in the sexual act at any one time (any attempts to contradict this is a perversion). This act is the climax and consummation of the marriage and is exclusive by nature. If God had designed the male and/or female body in a sexually different way, then we Christians (Catholics) would have a different Theology of the Body. Monogamy is thus natural and right because of the exclusivity of the sexual act itself.

8 ) Focus on One’s Own Partner: Not only does the body place limits on dancing, but so does the mind. While dancing, a man must focus on his own female partner, her body, and leading her well. If the man’s attention wanders, he, his partner, and their dancing will suffer for it. The same goes for the woman. If she is not focusing on him and his leadership, problems will occur.

Likewise, dates, relationships, and marriages are going to have problems if the man or woman isn’t focusing enough on the other and is getting too distracted by others. Obviously though, erotic relationships should not consume our entire lives. Family and friends deserve our love and attention too.

But ultimately, once one is married, one’s spouse should come first before all other men and women, and one’s actions should demonstrate that. And serious boyfriends and girlfriends that could become our husbands and wives naturally deserve a degree of priority. However, good partners allow their significant others to spend quality time with their family and friends and take the time to steadily incorporate them into their own circle of friends and family.

9) Union & Intimacy: Ultimately, the goal of good dancing is union. If both the leading and following are done well enough, the dancers achieve a unity of mind and movement virtually to the point of becoming one dancing body rather than two. But unless the two dancers are of one mind first, agreeing on whether to dance and on who will lead and follow, and actually agree on such things according to their own natures, there will be no unity of body movement.

This may seem kind of obvious, but for the purposes of Theology of the Body it’s worth pointing out that you can’t really dance with someone while they’re all the way across the room or if you can’t even see them. Too much distance makes dancing impossible or, at the very least, much less intimate and hardly dancing at all.

It does not matter really whether the man and/or woman intend intimacy or not when they dance; intimate dancing creates intimacy between the man and woman. Sure, some dancing moves are inherently more intimate than others. Holding hands, standard practice in traditional dancing, is not quite as intimate as moves where the man is actually holding the woman in his arms or close to his own body, however momentarily. Yet the very fact of the man leading and initiating and of the woman following and surrendering, this reality in itself, is intimacy of some sort. So in this sense, dancing is inherently intimate. 

A man should not lead a woman into dancing moves that are too intimate relative to his actual relationship with the woman (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, girlfriend, wife?). And a woman should not surrender her body to dancing moves that are too intimate relative to her relationship with the man (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, boyfriend, husband?). Men and women who are in a serious relationship or married should discipline and guard themselves against too much intimacy when they are dancing with someone other than their boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse.

Likewise, as with dancing, erotic relationships of various levels will succeed if the man and woman are fulfilling their natural roles well and thus achieve unity of belief and action. Dating and relationships should be a process of ascertaining whether such unity is possible and of working to establish such unity where possible. Marriage should be the end goal when one has found and established sufficient unity.

With this fact in mind, it is easy to see that erotic relationships between people of radically different religions, politics, and worldviews generally are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be truly loving because these differences prevent union. Couples have to be “on the same page” on a lot of important issues to achieve a loving union.

And of course, the obvious and ultimate union of the bodies of man and woman is the sexual act. But this bodily union cannot be loving unless an emotional and spiritual (sacramental) union precedes it. Without this previous kind of union, the physical union will merely bring pain, disharmony, and separation.

Just as with “long distance dancing,” long distance relationships are kind of an oxymoron. You can’t be in an intimate relationship with someone if you aren’t physically present to them on a regular basis (cf. the Eucharist). It is possible for relationships to endure long distance strain only if intimacy and depth to the relationship have already been built up by prior personal interaction. A marriage, if entered into seriously, should be able to withstand a short period of time of long distance (strictly speaking, a marriage should be able to survive anything with God’s grace, except the death of one spouse).

As with dancing intimacy, it doesn’t really matter whether a man and woman intend commitment or intimacy when they have sex or engage in very intimate touching. The very acts in themselves are the language of commitment and intimacy. To speak this bodily language of commitment and intimacy and yet to will and act otherwise is to lie and harm the person of the opposite sex.

Dancing of any and all kinds has always been something of a spiritual exercise, not merely physical. It is not mere motion but rather an expression of the soul. And thus dancing between men and women is naturally going to reflect the sexual spirituality of the dancers, not mere body movement.

Ballroom dancing and the ettiquete surrounding it were developed during an earlier time when the sexual spirituality of the Western world was much more Christian and thus much more grounded in truth. It is no coincidence that as ballroom dancing has declined and been superceded by unchaste grinding and more individualistic and autonomous dancing, true Christian erotic love has also declined. There is a correlation and probably a symbiotic causation involved. A lack of love leads to unloving dancing and vice versa.

Posted in American Culture, Art and Creativity, Catholicism, Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Sex, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Rejoice in the Downfall of Evil, Not of the Evildoer

Posted by Tony Listi on May 4, 2011

Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezk 33:11)

God takes no pleasure in the death of those created in His image and likeness, whether they turn from their evil ways or not. When an evildoer is justly killed, are we going to imitate our heavenly Father or not?

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4) 

God never gives up on anyone, even someone like Osama bin Laden. God wants everyone to be saved, not just Americans, not just those who call themselves Christians, not just “good people.” And as the parable of the Good Shepherd and Ezk 33:11 reveal, God rejoices when the lost are found, when the evildoer abandons evil.

Jesus was praying for His enemies while on the cross and told us to love our enemies. How can this example and command be reconciled with joy over the death of of Bin Laden?

As always, this is really a matter of Christians (and everyone) needing to separate the sin from the sinner, the evil from the evildoer. We absolutely should celebrate the downfall of evil and increased peace and security that comes as a result of Bin Laden’s death. But taking pleasure in the death itself is not Godly and Christ-like.

Of course, loving our enemies doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t kill them, for our love of them and others may require using potentially lethal means to prevent or end their evildoing and defend others from harm.

Don’t take me for a pacifist. As a concealed handgun license holder, I wouldn’t hesitate to “love” my enemy and others by using potentially lethal force. I would rejoice in the fact that evil had been prevented or stopped, that I had protected myself, my girlfriend, my family, or my friends. But it would be un-Christian to rejoice in the death itself of a criminal or sinner rather than in what the death resulted in.

Lethal self-defense has a double effect: self-defense and the death of the evildoer. The Christian should rejoice in the former and lament the latter, for these are the demands of Love Himself.

Are you unaware of how the earliest Christians cared for their Roman persecutors in the earliest proto-hospitals? Yet another example of Christian love of the enemy.

How many enemies of the faith have come to embrace the faith because of the transcendent Christian love of one’s enemies? We should never doubt the power of God to turn His most vicious enemies into His greatest saints. Just ask St. Paul….

Posted in American Culture, Christianity and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Parental Love Should be God-like Love

Posted by Tony Listi on December 5, 2010

To be a good parent is to love as God loves. There is a reason we call Him Father.

A good parent is married before having children. He or she enters into a faithful, life-long, and loving commitment with an apt partner, laying a foundation of stability and love for future children. The three persons of the Trinity cannot help but be faithful and loving to each other, for they are the same One Being. The Father was ever faithful to the Son. But God too entered into a faithful commitment, a covenant, which would lay the foundation for His children’s well-being, their salvation, the climax of His love in mercy. God was ever faithful even though His children were not. So too should parents be to disobedient and wayward children.

The Father created us generously out of love, loved us before we could love Him, and enables us to love Him. So too do good parents procreate children out of love, love their children before their children can love them, and teach their children how to love. To be married without children is to lack this divine love, the primary purpose for which God ordained marriage.

To love is to suffer and to offer that suffering as a generous sacrifice. Good parents necessarily suffer for the sake of their children. They suffer through the mistakes they must allow their children to make. So too did God suffer for us on the cross for our sins that God allowed us to freely choose. Parents suffer the toils of caring for a totally dependent, self-centered human being who will not truly be able to love them or care for them until a certain age or level of maturity and not without the parents’ help and guidance. We too are totally dependent on God and are self-centered. Parental love, at least for the beginning of the child’s life, is a one-way relationship from parent to child. So is it also between God and man in the beginning. Despite all the suffering, God and good parents remain faithful, generous, and loving.

God’s love is tough love sometimes. So too must a parent’s love be sometimes. Only those with an intimate knowledge of a child and of his or her unique character and needs can know when to show mercy and when to show wrath. God knows us better than we know ourselves. Parents should know their children better than anyone else, well enough to know when to show mercy and when to show wrath. But both the mercy and wrath should spring from love, as with God, not from weakness, indulgence, intemperance, or other vices.

Despite the suffering and wrath, God’s love is also joyful when His children grow and mature in love, obey His commands and teachings, accomplish great things in His name, and share His love with others. So too do good parents take joy and pride in their children when they grow, mature, obey, achieve, and love.

A child will never be able to “repay” the love of his parents in full. Neither will any of us be able to come close to “repaying” the love and generosity God has shown us. God and good parents give generously with this fact in mind, expecting their children to pay it forward to their own children (if called to marriage), their spiritual children (if called to the religious life), and everyone they meet and interact with. For love is meant to be shared and thus expand.

“And yet it is not an equal return, first to be loved, afterwards to love. For even if one were to contribute that which is equal in amount, he is inferior in that he comes to it second.” -St. John Chrysostom

Posted in Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Tragic Triumph of the Welfare State over the Church

Posted by Tony Listi on December 29, 2008

church1By Will Herberg

ALONG with this overwhelming impact of the technological spirit on our culture, and therefore on our religion, we must take account of the effects of the Welfare State, of our Welfare Society, on religious attitudes in this country. Through the past century, the welfare services that ordinarily support human life in society have more and more passed over to the modern State, operating as a huge, centralized, bureaucratic, omnicompetent welfare agency. This has come as the culmination of the relentless secularization of life in the past four hundred years. In earlier days, through antiquity and the middle ages, into the sixteenth century, most of the welfare services that sustain life—taking care of orphans, jobless, old people, sick and incapacitated —were regularly rendered by family and friends within the scope and function of the Church, which was thus bound to the people by a thou- sand threads of everyday welfare interest. For the Amish people, this is still a reality today. In April 1965, wind and flood did wide damage in the midwest and destroyed many an Amish community. Groups of Amish people from the outside came to help their brothers rebuild their communities and their lives. On a TV news broadcast, a commentator noted: These days, when people are in trouble, there is one direction in which they look—to the federal government in Washington. But the Amish people don’t look to the federal government in Washington for help. They look to each other in their church.

That’s how it still is with the Amish people, but that’s how it was once all over in Christendom. I bring this forward not to encourage us to try to restore conditions long gone—that is a human impossibility—but to illustrate the profound changes that have taken place in recent centuries in our relation to religion and the Church.

With the deep and thoroughgoing secularization of Western society, the hopes and expectations of the masses of people have steadily been turning from Church to State, from religion to politics. This is a fact that no one, whatever his opinion or ideology, can deny, or has, in fact, denied. Consider how far this has gone in our own mass society, and our American society is only beginning to take its first steps in the direction of the Welfare State ; if you want to see a Welfare State in its full development, look at Sweden. But already in our own society people have been so stripped of their human bonds in Church and community that they are driven to look to the State for the most ordinary human associations and services. The State has not only become Big Father and Big Brother. It is actually brought to the point of having to supply to the forlorn members of the “lonely crowd” a State-appointed Good Friend. For, what is the modern social worker but a State- appointed Good Friend to the friendless denizens of mass society?

The modern State, in fact, becomes a divinized Welfare-Bringer. In the ancient world, the Hellenistic monarchs, and later the Roman emperors, prided themselves on being Welfare-Bringers (Euergetes, Benefactor), passing on the gifts of the gods to their subjects. They depicted themselves on their coins—the primary vehicle of State propaganda in those days which were without journalistic mass media, radio, or TV—as divinized figures holding a cornucopia, a horn of plenty, from which everything good is shown flowing to the grateful people. This is the modern Welfare State ; even some of the ancient symbols are being revived in cartoons and pictures. The omnicompetent Welfare State thus becomes the modern substitute for God and the Church, “from whom all blessings flow.”

Seen in this perspective, it is not difficult to understand why the Church as a religious institution has become more and more marginal in the everyday life of the people. The broad scope of its interests has become drastically narrowed by the galloping secularization of life. What does the Church do, what can it do, when the State takes over everything and comes to engage our deepest loyalties and emotions? Our religious feelings and religious interests have been more and more diverted from the attenuating Church to the expanding State. Is it any wonder that people are losing their interest in religion? They identify themselves religiously, belong to churches, and attend religious services, but for very different reasons (I have discussed this elsewhere) than once bound them to religion and the Church.

http://www.mmisi.org/ir/06_01_02/herberg.pdf

Posted in American Culture, Budget, Spending, and Taxes, Christianity and Politics, Economics, Government and Politics, Health Care, Intellectual History, Liberalism, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Poverty, Social Security, Socialism, Welfare State | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Sexual Attraction is Not Love: A Critique of the Movie “Closer”

Posted by Tony Listi on June 9, 2008

If you have not seen Closer, you might want to familiarize yourself with it here (will spoil the movie) or just skip this post. The style of story-telling is very clever and imaginative. The characters are powerfully portrayed by each actor. But it is the substance of the film that I am most interested in.

This movie is about 4 messed up people who cheat on each other and have no idea what love really is. It is a reflection of how dysfunctional and hyper-sexualized Western societies have become in their relationships. It is the tragic and perverse culmination of so-called sexual liberation. It is hard to find a theme or moral that is not negative in formulation (e.g. “Don’t do this!”).

Dan, Alice, Anna, and Larry are all weak, broken people. Each has their own unique faults, but all of them fail to realize what love really is. The men measure their relationships and “love” based on mere sexual attraction or in terms of power. Alice seems unable to love herself and who she is, and so she lies to herself and Dan from the very beginning. Anna is too weak to rebuff the advances of Dan and her own attraction to him, a married man. Both women prostitute themselves and thus degrade themselves. None of the characters seems to realize that love is not sexual attraction, not something that one feels. Love goes beyond mere feeling that intensifies and fades away (perhaps in cycles) with time. Love between men and women is a permanent, exclusive commitment to sacrifice for and serve one another till the death of one spouse. It is a relationship that is to be strengthened and made sacred before the eyes of God through the institution of marriage. How can love be more than bestial urges, mere irrational biochemistry, without an anchor in the Transcendent?

One line of the movie (paraphrased) stands out among others as a potential takeaway message: “Without the truth, we are nothing more than animals.” True enough. And yet Larry, the doctor character played by Clive Owen, is scrupulously honest with others throughout the film, as far as I can tell. But he behaves like a sex-crazed, vengeful animal just like the other three. He is vain and malicious. For all his honesty, he is a monster. So if the message of the movie is merely “tell the truth,” that merely begs the question: what is the truth that we should tell? How can we be honest with each other when we don’t know what the truth is?

Of course, the previous question is not quite the best interpretation either. Each of the characters knew it was wrong to cheat on their spouse. Each should have plainly seen how their choices, actions, and approach to sex and love were destroying their lives. Guilt was no mere “social construction” for the four. The real question is this: how can we be honest with one another when we aren’t honest with ourselves, when we don’t heed the moral truths written on our very hearts that are confirmed by human experience and history?

It has been said that art is a reflection of life (among other things); Closer, sadly, probably is a reflection of real life in many Western cities, especially those which embrace modern liberalism. It is gritty, sexual realism of a sort. Because the movie accurately portrays the consequences of breaking moral laws, especially with regard to sex and marital love, I cannot help but like the movie for its honesty.

But as I’ve suggested above, honesty is not enough. There was no closure to Closer. There was no offer of a better alternative to the moral chaos and misery of these characters. There was no offer of hope. Marriage is treated as a superfluous social convention rather than as something made holy and seriously contemplated. The film is devoid of any reference to the Divine, which points the way to real Love. But perhaps one cannot expect too much of one movie. The detailed intensity of the havoc of sin in the movie (especially of a sexual nature, which is often hard to demonstrate abstractly) may be valuable enough to those who already know what the alternative is or those who are spurred to search for a meaningful alternative.

But I can’t help but think that many people are going to accept the moral chaos at face value as “a fact of life” and search no deeper. Some will conclude there is no truth, no morality, no exit. Some will watch the movie and embrace its nihilism, its poetic meaninglessness. They will embrace it as a “feel good” movie because the harsh reality was “beautifully” presented. They will take hollow comfort in the beauty of tragedy without seeking a better escape. That is what I fear. That is what I object to.

Yes, art can be an honest reflection of life but it can do better than mere honesty. Art can be a reflection of Truth. It can be a reflection of moral truths, of ideals that may never exist in full in this world but which we should constantly aim towards nevertheless because the alternative is the observable fate of Dan, Alice, Anna, and Larry. Art can be a reflection of Purpose, of meaning to our lives because we embrace certain truths. Art can be a reflection of Faith, of trust and submission to something higher than ourselves, higher than the tragedy of fallen humanity. Even the ancient pagan Greeks and Romans recognized this higher plane of art. Ultimately, if art is not grounded in Truth, Purpose, and Faith, it merely intensifies the maelstrom of confusion, chaos, misery, and hopelessness.

Posted in American Culture, Art and Creativity, Culture War, Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Sex, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments »

A Heart Both Frightened and Free/Love Isn’t Just for Day

Posted by Tony Listi on April 22, 2008

This is one of my favorite hymns. It expresses what our relationship with God should be and what love really means.
We are called to both love and fear God. We are called to love Him, each other, and especially our spouses as He loves us: not “just for a day,” but with a “faithfulness [that] never grows old.”

All That We Have

Refrain:
All that we have and all that we offer
comes from a heart both frightened and free.
Take what we bring now and give what we need.
All done in His Name.

1. Some men rely on their power,
Others put trust in their gold.
Some men have only their Savior
Whose faithfulness never grows old.

2. Sometimes the road may be lonesome;
Often we may lose our way.
Take courage and always remember,
Love isn’t just for a day.

3. Sometimes when troubles are many,
Life can seem empty, it’s true,
But look at the life of the Master,
Who lovingly suffered for you.

Posted in Catholicism, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Religion and Theology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »