2014 Religious Trends
Three Questions in the Name of Love
Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Catholic community here.
Jesus, Elton John tells us, "was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together and that is what the church should be about." Therefore, he claims, Jesus would have, without a doubt, approved gay marriage.
This sort of assertion is hardly limited to Sir Elton. Most actions that run contrary to Catholic morality with regards to human life and sexuality are currently accepted, justified and promoted in the name of love: any form of sexual activity outside of marriage, same-sex marriage, artificial contraception, artificial procreation, abortion, euthanasia—say it is "for love" and one must bow before it or be cast aside.
This is a tyranny of sentimentalism that affects all of us; we are all its victims when we adhere to sentimentalism's irrational and destructive axioms by engaging in or approving "the loving thing to do" even when it makes little moral or natural sense. We are also made victims when we refuse allegiance to the subjective diktat of sentimentalism, since we are automatically labeled as blinkered, fundamentalist killjoys in the eyes of a relativist world. You cannot dialogue with sentiment: you either love or hate. Conform or be marginalized.
In this context, the Catholic formation of adults, and particularly of couples, requires not only a faithful, merciful, and accessible proclamation of Church teaching in matters of sexual morality, but a preliminary cultural detox so as to avoid pitfalls and dead-ends. An articulate demonstration that artificial procreation is against the law of God and the good of the couple will make little impact on a sentimentalist who will often maintain that it is still the "most loving thing to do," and do it anyway.
The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family scheduled for October is meant, in large part, to address failures in catechesis and new modes of pastoral outreach. As the Vatican has made a point of asking for feedback, here is a non-exhaustive model of three steps I recommend take place as a preliminary to Catholic teaching. These will help to disarm sentimentalism, by inviting adults to engage in a simple act of thinking through three questions:
1) What is love? Until you come into agreement about the definition of love, there is no need to proceed further. To love is to seek actively the good of the other above my own good. The finality of love is not myself, but the other person. Married or unmarried, if I seek the other person for the sake of my own unsubordinated sexual or emotional gratification, I am using this person. I (in my sexual or emotional needs) become the finality of my commitment to love. This applies also to the desire, acceptance, or refusal of a child, when it is subordinated to my emotional needs. Moreover, unconditional love does not mean unquestioned acceptance of a person's opinions or desires. To love diabetic persons unconditionally does not mean to encourage them unconditionally to eat the sweets they crave.