Filed under: Books and Movies, Culture and Catholicism | Tags: Catholic, Catholic church, Catholic values, grace, marriage, morality, polyamory, Sigrid Undset, slave marriage
Mercatornet has an article today on Boston’s new thing: “polyamory.” It means a ‘committed relationship’ among a group of people rather than between one man and one woman.
It’s not that new, actually. About as old as sin.
The comments are as to be expected: anti-polyamorous people throwing up their hands in disgust, the polyamorous defending their’ ever-so-sensible’ and ’emotionally mature’ arrangements, and mocking monogamy’s divorce rate.
Sigrid Undset, the Nobel-prize winning Norwegian writer, called such loose arrangements “slave marriages.” She called protestant marriage the same, since divorce accompanied protestantism from the very beginning (Luther even flirted with polygamy). This is due to the inherent contradiction of protestantism, in which rebellion against authority of any kind is elevated, and in which the authority of the one true Church is replaced by the authority of each individual in his own cozy paradise. Each man is free to make his own law, worship his own god, and hence, naturally, to fall out of love as he chooses. (It is better, of course, if he manages the breakups gracefully and without undue conflict! Let us ‘be civilized about it,’ by all means! All the yammering polyamorous agree on that!)
Sacramental marriage, Undset remarks (it is Catholic church teaching), is not based on gratification of the sensuous desires of the individual, but rather on ensuring their ultimate end in heaven, and since human beings are not naturally monogamistic or faithful, but rather are sinful creatures in need of Divine assistance in the form of grace, it takes a sacrament (literally renewing assistance from God) to make life-long fidelity possible. And even the prevalence of sacramental marriage in any society, very difficult to achieve, does not guarantee success for all persons. It is the ideal, and Undset appreciated its absolutely essential function when she wrote that a woman could be true to an ideal when she could never be true to a man.
No, Undset observes, even when a society, united in one Church, united in one set of values with clear and painful sanctions against defection, tries as hard as it can to hold on to the ideal of sacramental marriage for all, the reality is achieved for only a few. Most couples fall into sin–heterosexual sin, homosexual sin, polyandrous sin, polygamous sin, and sin with sheep. It’s all the same, in the end, sexual selfishness, as commenters at the linked site have pointed out, although they have nonetheless drawn the wrong conclusion.` They conclude we should give in, give up the ideal.
And yet that ideal is the platform for that extremely effective society which is capable of honoring a contract. One which made a whole world possible, one which paganism with its slave marriage ‘ideal’ could never manage to achieve, nor will it ever. Not enough glue, not enough steel, not enough grace. Too easy by half, a kingdom built on sand. (Ah but the children–where there are children–are excellent consumers! Practically defenseless!)
It’s worth noting that NPR, always so supportive of ‘freedom’ when it comes to honoring the marriage contract, is appalled when the same logic is applied to mortgages.
It is our national defection from that sacramental ideal (left over from the Church’s great triumph in medievalism, actually, and much battered now by protestantism, and yet still passed on to a great many of us even to the last generation) that is drawing our own national experiment in protestantism/secularism to its natural close. We are losing the sense of life-long marriage, and it will kill us. According to a new study reported in the New York Times, “gay marriage” does not have the component of monogamy and will necessarily “evolve” our conception of marriage into a new thing. The US is heading toward second world status financially, because of our retreat from the difficult–no, impossible, without Divine help–absolute of sacramental marriage, the humble platform on which it all was built.
Or we could make a fight of it. But we would need a new party. We need one anyway. The Republicans are not serving in a number of important areas, and their protestant base will never support an initiative to end no-fault divorce.
The best party we could put forward right now is not only one that does not support gay “marriage” or any form of “marriage” except the sacramental one between a man and a woman, but one which also ends no-fault divorce in America and begins to rebuild our sense that marriage is for real, for keeps, no outs. The best party we could put forward right now would bear the name Catholic. And its platform on marriage, abortion, contraception, and divorce would be a financial strategy as much as a social one (although Catholics have an explicit economic program as well, in freshly applied distributism). Economists like Steve Hansen of Seeking Alpha are beginning to talk about doubling our population as the way out of our crisis. The two are really one thing, and that’s at least one enormous reason why this discussion matters. Joe Blow Boston’s happy little love nest of three or more, tra la, tra la, is costing us our future in many more senses than one.
End note: you may find Undset’s powerful remarks in the two books of her essays, Men, Women and Places, and Stages on the Road, available from Abebooks and probably at your local library. The remarks attributed in this post come from Stages on the Road, “Reply to a Parish Priest.” Hardly anyone discusses Undset’s non-fiction, as she is much better known for her fabulous historical fiction set in eleventh and twelfth century Norway (if you haven’t a favorite already, start with The Axe!). But Undset’s broad personal background in the social sciences and her viewpoint as a passionate and wounded Catholic living and writing in northern, protestant Europe makes her an exciting essayist.
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