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. 

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