A Skirmish in Scotland, but We Need a War
The bishops of Scotland are speaking out against same-sex marriage with a considerably more militant tone than has been the case in most other places. Since only 16% of the Scottish population is Catholic, what the bishops are able to accomplish will likely depend on the alignment of other forces. In any case, led by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, they are speaking frankly as the government considers a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage.
Frankness in this case consists primarily of stating the obvious: “No government can rewrite human nature; the family and marriage existed before the State and are built on the union between a man and a woman.” Therefore, “any attempt to redefine marriage is a direct attack” on society, a form of “madness”, and “a grotesque subversion of a universal human right.” The Cardinal also scoffed at the notion that the whole thing would be essentially voluntary. Pointing to the example of Massachusetts in the United States, Cardinal O’Brien noted that once gay marriage was legalized there,
school libraries were required to stock same-sex literature; primary school children were given homosexual fairy stories such as King & King; some high school students were even given an explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled “The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century”, which the Massachusetts Department of Health helped to develop.
“Education,” Cardinal O’Brien pointed out, “suddenly had to comply with what was now deemed ‘normal’.”
Nor is it lost on the bishops that defining a same-sex commitment as marriage is no different than defining a commitment among multiple partners as marriage, such as “three men or a woman and two men.” One might wonder too about adults and children, or adults and animals. People may deny these things could ever happen, but they would be foolish to do so, as there are already advocacy groups at work. The problem, of course, is that huge numbers of people have absolutely no significant reference point for what marriage really is. If marriage is thought of as merely an emotional commitment with legal benefits, then as soon a culture’s views on legitimate emotional commitment change, the definition of marriage will change again and again.
What the bishops in Scotland are saying is good; it is very good. But we need to remember that all this was predictable. It could have been foreseen. Yet very few bishops in Scotland or anywhere else in the world took any significant steps to strike at the root of the problem.
Now what would striking at the root mean? It would mean confronting contraception and divorce with exactly the same vigor as the bishops are now showing in their rhetorical opposition to gay marriage. Contraception has facilitated the myth that marriage need not intrinsically or ordinarily have anything to do with children. Divorce has facilitated the myth that marriage depends for its existence on the emotional connection between the parties concerned. This mythology leads straight to same-sex marriage.
The corrosiveness of these myths on both personal life and the social order as a whole is nothing less than staggering. We now live in a world in which huge numbers of men and women lack anything like the deep inner security which is absolutely required for fundamental contentment, fruitful relationships, and positive social development. This deep inner security is shattered when men and women treat each other as objects, as they do routinely in contraceptive marriages, and when the commitment of spouses and parents depends on the mood of the day rather than on an unalterable act of the will.
Yes, an act of the will. This may seem like an inversion of love, but the security of love does not come from the emotions commonly associated with romance. These emotions may be wildly pleasant, but by themselves they actually breed insecurity, possessiveness, and the fear of loss. The security of love comes from the willed essence of love, the irrevocable commitment to act for the good of another. The husband and wife who know they will be true in good times and in bad, and who are willing to give themselves to each other unreservedly to bring forth new life, gain from their mutual gift that precious security—a security rooted in the very character and commitment of the beloved, a security expressed in a resulting community of love.
Without this security there is only a deep anxiety, and not just for the couple. The child who sees his parents breaking up and leaving him, because their “feelings have changed”, experiences exactly what an abandoned spouse experiences—a deep, shuddering emptiness; a conviction that “something is wrong with me”; a certainty that both trust and commitment must, in the future, be no more than partial, provisional or feigned. This seriously weakens or even destroys not only personal lives, but the social order as a whole.
Again, our society is now populated by countless men and women who have had their own inner security shattered, and it keeps getting worse as people thrash about, yearning for a commitment that neither sexual attraction in any form nor emotion in any form can give. When, I wonder, will courageous bishops begin to address this deeper problem? Surely it had better be soon. Only a miracle of grace can save a culture that does not know where to look for love.
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