Sad . . . worrisome . . . but hardly surprising.
That’s how I answered another concerned person who asked my sentiments about Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision allowing the redefinition of marriage.
Sad, because the ominous erosion of the pivotal institution of society and civilization — marriage – has been accelerated. Yes, the decision could have been more troublesome, but it’s still somber.
The understanding of marriage as the lifelong, faithful, loving union of one man and one woman, as a husband and a wife become a mom and dad to their babies, and bring about a family, is a given in the human heart, a constant in history, flowing from what philosophers term the natural law, a definition embedded in reasoned reflection on the human person, antedating any government, written law, or religion.
To protect and foster that union has been the driving force of civilization. Sure, it’s been under pressure from the start – by, for instance, cheating on one’s spouse, abandoning spouse and children, lack of selfless love, or divorce, just to mention a few threats — but culture has always understood that such pressures could not prevail, and that this ancient institution had to be cherished if the human community were to flourish. Governments then have a duty to enact and defend laws that protect this special relationship, in order to promote the common good of all.
For those of us who believe in God, things get even better, because this God has revealed that this foundational relationship of marriage is a mirror of the way God loves us! In other words, God loves us like a wife loves her husband, like a husband loves his wife. Since God’s love for us is forever, faithful, and fruitful (bringing life), so is marriage!
The creator elevated this natural understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, faithful and forever, giving us new life in babies, to a supernatural level, as Jesus taught.
In recent decades, this fundamental relationship of marriage has been under dramatic pressure: no-fault, easy divorce; living together like a husband and wife before marriage, or even for years without the formal bond; glorification of promiscuity; and even same-sex “marriage.”
In the face of each threat, people of faith, and thoughtful, reflective people of no faith at all, have expressed genuine concern that the ordinary, intended, given definition of marriage was almost becoming the exception. People of faith have tried — not always successfully, I admit — to do this in a non-judgmental, calm way. In other words, we discourage divorce, without harshly judging those who have to suffer through it; we oppose same-sex “marriage” while never condemning those with same-sex attraction (a bigotry God also abhors); we consider adultery wrong, while forgiving adulterers. In other words, we’re pro-marriage, not anti-anyone. Thus, while we highly respect the Supreme Court, we find very troubling the statement that one’s defense of marriage as historically and naturally understood to be based only on bigotry. The justices have the responsibility to interpret law, not the motives of honest citizens.
We love many people: our parents and siblings, our good friends. But we don’t marry them. Marriage is about love, yes, but a unique love that procreates children.
This past Wednesday, marriage as classically defined, naturally understood, and historically defended, took a big hit. That makes us sad.
We’re also worried, because those of us who will continue to hold to the definition of marriage consonant with reason, nature, tradition, and faith, might now be coerced to accept, promote, and allow what we find so sad and ominous. We’ll be told to “keep our oppressive, bigoted, medieval, outmoded” opinions to ourselves. If we want to hand those “opinions” on to our children, teach them to our people, behave in accord with them, and exercise the duties of our faith publicly — to serve, teach, heal — we’re worried we’ll be harassed.
We’re worried enough to ask, now just who is doing the imposing? We’ve been stereotyped as imposing our strange “view” of marriage upon others. We worry, because now the highest court in our land has undermined the definition of marriage, and imposed a new definition on everyone else.
We also worry about an apparent understanding of government that considers itself able to exercise such power. If I remember my American Studies courses correctly, the wisdom of our founders, as we’ll celebrate Thursday, was that they viewed government as a human construct to protect and defend mediating institutions such as family, marriage, and faith, not to change or tamper with them! Kings claimed a “divine right” to alter the natural order, and our founders rebelled against that claim.
So, as one commentator observed, “The government can talk and issue rulings all it wants, but nobody can change the very definition of marriage.”
Sad, worried, but hardly surprised. I confess that I won a $5 bet last week, as I had wagered months ago that the Supreme Court would follow this rush. The powerful engine to redefine marriage left the station about a decade ago. Somberly, we’ve come to realize that, once Hollywood, the entertainment industry, college professors, the society and editorial pages of our big urban newspapers, the sit-coms, movies, and talk shows get behind something, get out of the way.
What becomes normative, then, is not natural law but the polls, not the Constitution but the “correct,” not the Bible but the blogs and the TV, not the Church but the chic.
No surprise . . .
What to do? We can get mad, bitter, angry, and harsh. Forget it. That’s hardly decent, and it’s counterproductive.
We could “circle the wagons” and retreat from a culture that more and more finds our values toxic and wants to stifle us. Don’t go there. We’re to engage the culture, not run from it.
We could long for the “good old days,” and wring our hands about these awful modern times. Of course, the older you get, the more you realize there were no good old days, and that our job is “to make pasta with the dough we got,” to work and live honorably and justly in the here and now.
We better start with ourselves, because, a good chunk of people of faith, even among our own Catholic people, do not share this sense of sadness and worry over Wednesday’s decisions. Part of the New Evangelization is to present the timeless teachings of our faith – - like true marriage – - in a cogent, coherent, fresh way, re-convincing our people.
We remind ourselves of what Blessed John Paul II called our duty to be counter cultural: that our beliefs are often at odds with contemporary trends, but that this reality only encourages us to live them out more heroically. True freedom is not the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought.
We recover a sense of faithful citizenship, and, as loyal American citizens, continue to explore every method of reversing this sad and worrisome decision, reminding our elected officials and magistrates that the rights of conscience and religious freedom are not government favors or concessions, but flow from the very nature and dignity of the human person.
And, we never give up hope. The witness given by our husbands and wives, moms and dads, to faithful, life giving, lifelong love is more cherished and essential than ever. These days, the vocation of a man and woman, united forever in faithful love, leading to babies and families, is as potent a sign as celibacy is for priests!
Besides, “the truth shall set us free!” That always gives us encouragement, and trumps worry and sadness, right?
A blessed Independence Day!