Same-Sex Marriage and the Mockery of Being
Within a short space of time, the states of California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland have taken steps toward greater recognition of same-sex marriage. These steps have prompted a number of statements from various groups of bishops around the country, statements which can do little more than offer proper instruction in an apparently losing cause. The same-sex juggernaut rolls on. Why?
Of the episcopal statements I have seen, the one issued on May 22nd by the Maryland Catholic Conference is perhaps the frankest and the most entertaining. Referring to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s long-standing promise to the gay lobby to sign their domestic-partnership bills into law, the bishops said that “he punched their ticket without first checking where their bus was headed,” putting Maryland “on the road to becoming California East.” Very pithy, but perhaps the best recent episcopal statement was issued on June 9th by the New York State Catholic Conference, after Governor David Paterson directed state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
Consider the clarity of the New York bishops’ central point:
Marriage always has been, is now and always will be a union of one man and one woman in an enduring bond. This is consistent with biology and natural law, and should be obvious to all, no matter what their religion or even if they have no religion at all. It is a mutual personal gift between the two that serves the individual couple in many ways, allowing them to grow in love and, through that love, to bring forth children.
Just as important, this union also serves the larger society. Marriage provides a stable family structure for the rearing of children and is the ultimate safeguard so that civil society can exist and flourish. This is why civil society through the ages has recognized its duty to foster and respect marriage between a man and a woman.
Moreover, while acknowledging that benefits can be provided to unmarried couples as desired, the New York bishops are quick to remind us that “the question of such benefits should not be allowed to cloud the discussion because, in truth, the movement for ‘same-sex marriage’ is less about such benefits than it is about societal acceptance and approval of homosexual relationships.” Other statements were issued by the California Catholic Conference, the Bishops of Los Angeles, and the Bishops of Sacramento, responding to the California Supreme Court’s ruling permitting same-sex marriage. But if you can read only one of these local episcopal statements on what is a common problem, I recommend the complete text from New York.
How Is this Possible?
Despite these episcopal efforts, however, the same-sex juggernaut rolls on. It seems that a large number of Americans—especially those in the privileged classes of education, media and politics—simply do not see what was obvious to everyone as little as a generation ago. They do not see that marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is a contradiction in terms. Instead, they see same-sex marriage as part of a universal right of self-determination, a right which must be actualized in our laws and policies if we are to avoid unfair discrimination. How is it possible that the minds of so many have become so clouded on this issue in so short a time?
The answer lies in the widespread mechanistic and instrumental view of reality progressively adopted by our culture over the past two hundred years. By “mechanistic”, I mean the idea that anything and everything may be tinkered with, adjusted, altered, or manufactured to produce a desired result. By “instrumental”, I mean the attitude that anything and everything is an instrument to be used for my own ends. This view of reality can be traced back a very long way in various forms, but the explosion of material progress through the manipulation of nature and machinery beginning in the 19th century catapulted this view to dominance. The further dramatic explosion of both information and material benefits in the latter part of the twentieth century served to complete and intensify this gradual shift of perception. As a result, most of us now view reality far differently than would have been possible in an earlier era.
The problem with this shift is that it ignores the nature of being as a given, as something which we receive so that it might disclose itself to us on its own terms. If I instinctively see everything as an instrument for my own purposes (including my own body), and if I believe I can always figure out a way to manipulate things to suit my purposes, then two things happen: First, I become extremely self-centered; second, I become blind to any meaning which exists in the very nature of things, closed to the gift of creation which beckons me to live according to a purpose that has been stamped into my own being from outside.
The Mockery of Being
The evidence that we are largely closed to this gift is all around us. Sin is nothing more than the act of making instruments for our own purposes out of things which possess their own independent finality, and of manipulating (or mechanizing) things in ways which abuse their own natures. One reason our culture no longer recognizes sin is that mechanization and instrumentalization constitute our standard view of the universe. Occasionally this problem is called to our attention in some new and even more extreme departure from reality, such as same-sex marriage, but the underlying worldview passes almost beneath our notice.
When an instrumental approach to reality becomes a substitute for love itself, it is particularly damaging. Though we may not understand this, we feel it very quickly whenever we are used by someone whom we love and who claims to love us. We feel cheapened; we feel betrayed; ultimately, we feel that we have been mocked. In fact, whenever love is replaced by manipulation, whenever what should be the object of love becomes a mere instrument for something else, things have gone terribly wrong. The same cheapening is at work. The failure to recognize and act on the true worth of the other is always a betrayal, always a mockery.
But this mockery of being that some of us so easily see in same-sex marriage—and which many others can no longer see at all—was preceded by a great deal of the same in other areas. Our culture has worked itself up to it bit by bit. We don’t make a life-long commitment to the “other” in a marriage; instead, we are in it for what we can get out of it, and we use easy divorce as a means of serializing our use of others for this purpose. We don’t “have” babies out of the love engendered in this union; rather, we “make” babies, or not, to suit our desires, contracepting and aborting (or engaging in necessarily sterile sexual acts) to prevent an undesired consequence, and resorting to a manufacturing process (such as in vitro fertilization or surrogate motherhood) when the reproductive “process” doesn’t “work”. We don’t commit ourselves to the authentic family which grows from the intense self-giving of a marital relationship; instead, we create alternative families, celebrating single parenting or homosexual adoptions. We don’t nurture life: we manufacture it to cure our own diseases and to slake our own thirst for immortality, disposing of it when it becomes a bother.
If all this is true, we must face a serious question: What grounds does our culture have for denying to same-sex “couples” the same “rights” to mechanize and instrumentalize that we prize so highly in our heterosexual relations—and indeed in too many other aspects of our lives? If we too are closed to the gift of being, blind to its disclosure of interior mystery, and incapable of that radical self-giving and receptivity which is love itself, then what possible line can we draw in the cultural sand?
Breaking the Cycle
I am well aware that there are many who, through openness to being and to God Himself, strive to avoid all of this mockery, and to live in reverence for what we have been given. Nonetheless, all of us have been influenced by the pervasive mockery of being that characterizes our culture, the constant demand to instrumentalize and mechanize for our own purposes, to use everything for self-gratification, to ignore all meaning beyond our own desires. Indeed, the relatively obvious contemporary issues related to homosexual rights are but the tip of a large and treacherous iceberg floating largely beneath the surface of our perceptions.
For this reason, we must frequently remind ourselves of the pervasiveness of our own mockery of being, of how common it is in so much that we take for granted as unobjectionable, of how many excuses we make for it in our own lives and the lives of those we love. If we have any understanding at all, we cannot be surprised by what is happening in the area of homosexual rights. Nor can we foolishly believe that what is happening can be stopped without a deep reform of our culture’s entire attitude toward being. This is a reform that must begin in our own hearts, our own perceptions, our own openness to that which is given. Granted, this is not a political solution. But it is the only possible basis for one. We—you and I—must cease to mock.
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