On Gay Marriage: Piling it Higher and Deeper in Virginia
Where we live in northern Virginia, our major problems are relatively infrequent, unless you count traffic. But this week we were faced with two of them, one right after the other. On Wednesday night, mother nature dropped twelve to fifteen inches of snow, ensuring that most of Thursday was spent shoveling. And while we were shoveling, mother Arenda Wright Allen (a U.S. District Judge in Norfolk) declared Virginia’s voter-approved ban of same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Which means, in popular parlance, that we have a lot more shoveling to do.
The Republicans having narrowly lost the last election for both governor and attorney general in Virginia, the state government decided not to defend the people’s law restricting marriage to a man and a woman. It was struck down, predictably, for ostensibly violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. One of the dangers of any constitution is that eventually it will be used to enforce policies which those who wrote the constitution never even dreamed would be desired in the first place.
Who, in the 18th century, would have imagined that equal protection would mean that two women could marry, or two men? To compass this, you have to live in an era of legal positivism, totally divorced from the natural principles which are supposed to undergird all law. You have to live in an era in which people really believe that meaning is something one makes up for oneself. Lewis Carroll was probably thinking of judges when he wrote, in Through the Looking Glass: “’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’”
And that is why we have so much shoveling to do.
When living in a Humpty Dumpty world, one finds tremendous satisfaction in simple material tasks which satisfy uncontroversial needs. The difference between sanity and insanity is illustrated by the fact that we do not regard Judge Allen as insane simply because her faulty beliefs render her incapable of consistent rational thought. In her direct use of material reality, when she is not pressed to explain its underlying meaning, Judge Allen is most likely still quite sound. She does not believe she can pop a rabbit into a stew and cook it into cherry pie. Severe confusion, of course, resembles insanity at times. But this very modest distinction explains why those who are sane can temporarily escape incessant ideological conflict, and add rich enjoyment to their lives at the same time, by cooking a good meal or whittling a piece of wood.
Shoveling, shoveling, through the snow
Or by shoveling snow, which is less objectionable than shoveling the other stuff. So there I was yesterday, trying to get rid of the thirteen-inches of snow on my 1,500 square-foot driveway, with nothing but a shovel and my 66-year-old legs, back and arms. It was hard work for me, of course, and in some sense uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as reading about Judge Arenda Wright Allen in the coziness of my heated office this morning.
Now it so happens that, during a good part of the four hours or so that I was shoveling, my next door neighbor, Joseph, was shoveling his driveway also, the two driveways being about thirty feet apart. Joseph is not afraid of hard work. He pretty much matches me stroke for stroke, the only significant difference being that Joseph is 83 years old. This makes the competition physically unfair to him—and psychologically unfair to me. I prefer to shovel against younger men, so that I can lose gracefully.
Anyway, we had each gotten through about a quarter of our work when a few of the neighborhood teenagers came up our street, shovels in hand and looking for work. My eyes gleamed and my heart leapt, for after clearing Joseph’s driveway, they would surely move on to my own. I was more than ready to negotiate, so I watched out of the corner of my eye as they approached my neighbor and offered their services.
Joseph, however, was having none of it. In his heavy German accent, he solemnly replied: “No, I do it myself.”
Suddenly it was my turn, but clearly there was only one option left. I lowered my eyes, avoided the hopeful glances of the itinerant teens, and started tossing shovelfuls of snow up on the banks even faster than before. For the two minutes it took them to pass on to the next house, I made it perfectly clear that the task was completely under control. I needed no help! Oh, I admit that I briefly considered tipping them the wink to return after dark, but I simply could not hire someone to clear the driveway while my 83-year-old neighbor was still cheerfully shoveling away.
In the end, of course, I felt the elation that goes with tangible achievement. There is, as I said, a certain satisfaction in the materially obvious tasks. They sometimes begin unexpectedly like a blizzard or a war, but they have their own prescribed actions, and they also come to an end. But making things bright spiritually is like cleaning out the Augean stables, a never-ending task rewarded primarily by deferred satisfaction. We will be shoveling for a long time to clean up the mess created by Judge Allen and the countless others like her. Just removing the rubble in their minds is a formidable assignment.
Yet these are undoubtedly our true huddled masses, yearning to be free. So let us change metaphors. Humpty Dumpty, it seems, is the personification of our natural state of affairs. And he is falling, falling, falling. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put him together again. There is no end to the patching. But making all things new is something very different (Rev 21:5). Making all things new requires only the right man for the job.
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Posted by: koinonia -
Feb. 17, 2014 12:05 PM ET USA
First, men over sixty ought to consider carefully shovelling heavy wet snow, or any snow. Just friendly advice from a former paramedic/ ER RN. The importance of principles cannot be ovrr-emphasized in this discussion. Several generations of Catholics have either abandoned or have never learned some very important philosophical principles. We have endeavored to come to terms with new ways of thinking. We have a great deal of shovelling to do and many of the baptized have been complicit.