Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Three Divorces II: Love and Responsibility

In the previous post, I observed that what is true of a married couple—what God has joined, man must not put asunder—is true of other things as well.  Just as the divorce between a husband and his wife divides what ought not be divided, so too those today who divide faith and reason either insisting on faith alone or reason alone, wrongly try to rend and tear a seamless garment—to the detriment of both.  In the  same way that modern man has often wrongly parted faith from reason, he has also sought to divide the indivisible in other spheres.  He has sought to divide love from responsibility.

Not long ago, I was engaged in my dissertation research in Rome where I was staying in an apartment in Centocelle with an Italian and two Americans.  When one of those Americans, a Californian, and I were walking to the subway to Rome, he was telling me of his various love interests.  When I suggested in reply that it was only possible to love one women, he objected.  He suggested that it was only possible to love one woman responsibly, but that one might still love other women.   The conversation moved onto other subjects, but I could not help reflecting that my then-roommate had fallen into an error common in the modern world in trying to divorce love from responsibility.  In reality, however, such a “love” is scare worthy of the name.  

Love without responsibility is no more love than a story without plot is a story.  In reality, responsibility is at the center of the story.  It suggests duty, an obligation not to self, but to others.  It means not only something a man might want to do, but something that he ought to do, whether he will or no.  This responsibility causes love to look not to self, but outward.  It is what leads a soldier to fall on a grenade for his friends, a wife to care for a sick or alcoholic husband, a parent to suffer for a child.   

Where real love, complete with duty and responsibility, would have a man look outward modern man often prefers to look inward.  He would make himself happy for it is his life to live, he must look out for number one, do what makes him happy, and be true to himself.  An man who looks too much to himself, however, cannot look to anything outside of him.  Such a man can rise to no responsibility nor answer a call to duty.  Those things would require him to look outward, but our modern individualist looks only inward.   Rejecting any real obligation or responsibility, real love becomes impossible and all that remains is a poor shadow where one loves not others, but as Fulton Sheen says, but only one’s own self in others.  One loves another not for their sake, but for one’s own.  

This poor shadow of love has fallen across much of modernity and modern relationships, which only suffer for it.  The divorce between love and responsibility may be seen in the use of contraception where a couple accepts the pleasure associated with sex, but none of the responsibility.  The man rejects both the potential obligation of having to support a woman whose own career may be injured by having a child and the responsibility to raise that child.  Indeed, the tremendous responsibility of having a child and the rejection of responsibility may explain the decreasing birthrate in an individualistic western society.  It may explain the high rate of abortion, for little other explanation of the 4,000 children aborted each day is possible, than that their parents reject their own responsibility towards them.  The burden of a child seems too great only when love is too small.    

Other examples might be multiplied.  There is the high divorce rate, the tendency for couples to live together without marriage, or even the promise of it.  All these show what happens when a modern  world rejects the responsibility associated with love.  A traditional captain might go down with the ship, but a modern captain would be first in the lifeboat.  Such a love scarce deserves the name, but is rather a pale shadow of what it ought to be.   In yet another case, what God has joined, man has put asunder. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Three Divorces I: Faith and Reason

In his book, The Great Divorce, the Christian philosopher and theologian wrote about two things that ought never to have been joined, heaven and hell.  The two were never meant to be joined, but often were by a modern world that denied God and so denied the existence of a real right and a real wrong.  What God has joined, man must not put asunder; but neither ought man to join those things that God has placed asunder. 

Lewis wrote about the attempt to join what ought never to be joined and to put together what ought always to be kept separate.  If a modern world without God will sometimes put together things that ought to be kept apart, it will also keep apart things that ought to be put together.   The separation of a man and woman who have pledged their faith to God and each other in marriage is a common example of this today.  While this separation, divorce, is most common today, other divorces are also common to a pagan world.  

One is the divorce between faith and reason.  Today, many are convinced that to accept one is to deny the other.  To be a man of faith is to deny reason, and to be a man of reason is to deny faith.  Both camps have found adherents throughout history.  In the present day the “new atheists,” led by their prince, Richard Dawkins, call faith, “the great cop-out... belief in spite of, or perhaps even because of, lack of evidence.”  For them, to be rational is per se to reject faith.  At the other end is the fundamentalist Christian who would deny reason, who considers the Bible the only science book necessary, and who would benefit greatly from Galileo’s remark that the Bible tells us the way to heaven, not the way the heavens go.  

The atheist, thinking reason demands the rejection of faith, fails to understand that reason itself is a matter of faith.  As Chesterton remarked, “it is a matter of faith to assume our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”  The atheist cannot prove reason is trustworthy, he assumes it.  In short, he takes it on faith.  

The attempt to reject faith leads only to absurdity and the atheist must do one of two things.  Either he must be consistent to his claim to take nothing on faith and accept only what may be proved by evidence or else he must surrender his principles take reason itself on faith.  In the first case, his position leads only to what Chesterton called “the suicide of thought.”  Accepting only what may be shown by evidence, he is forced to deny reason itself for which no evidence may be found save on pain of circularity.  In attempting to accept only reason, he has destroyed reason.  Only one thing will save him: a leap of faith.  

The fundamentalist attempt to accept only faith and deny reason leads to equal absurdity.  He ought to consider that if the universe is reasonable and the mind able to know it, it is because God made it so and one does no honor to God to reject His gift of reason.  If God made the universe knowable and gave man the ability to know it, then to renounce the attempt (1) can hardly be termed an act of faith at all. 

Some things were never meant to be divided.  What God has joined man must not put asunder.  Two of these things are faith are reason, though there are others.  When one is separated from the other only absurdity can result, in one case, the suicide of reason itself, in the other, the end of faith.  The only hope is to recognize that faith can be eminently reasonable, and that reason itself demands faith.  

See also:
The Three Divorces II: Love and Responsibility
The Three Divorces III: Body and Soul