Carl’s (Lovely) Cuts for Valentine’s Day, 2014

Love and marriage, love and skeptics, love and truth, love and poverty, love and conversion. And some other stuff you’ll love.

• These Valentine’s Day Cuts are belated. Much like my Valentine’s Day card for my ex-girlfriend. Who I’ve been married to for almost twenty years.

• G. K. Chesterton, the master of paradox, on Valentine’s Day: “St. Valentine was a priest and denied himself the love of women; but his feast has been turned into a day for love-making.” From Alarms and Discursions (1911).

• What is love? And why do we love? And what is the basis of love? I tackled those questions, in however lacking manner, in an essay, “Love and the Skeptic”, published in This Rock several years ago. An excerpt:

But what is willed by loving? When we say to another: “It is good that you exist, that you are!”—what do we mean? The question is not nearly as abstract or obtuse as it might sound, for it does serious damage to the flippant claim that man is able to “make a meaning,” for love is not about making something ex nihilo, but the recognition and affirmation of what already is. Or, put another way, in seeing the good of another, we choose to embrace and treasure that good.

So Pieper makes an essential distinction: “For what the lover gazing upon his beloved says and means is not: How good that you are so (so clever, useful, capable, skillful), but: It’s good that you are; how wonderful that you exist!” (On Love II). This seemingly simple point has profound ramifications, for it is an affirmation of what is. It involves the recognition that something outside of myself is objectively good and worthy of my love. Because reality is knowable and has objective meaning—not shifting, subjective “meaning”—love is possible and can be known. This, of course, raises the question: Where does the objective meaning of love ultimately originate from if not from myself? It is a question routinely ignored by skeptics, but worth asking of both those who deny God’s existence and those who reject the existence of objective truth: “If your love for your spouse or family is subjective and of a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ sort, what meaningful, lasting value does it really have?”

The true lover, Pieper argues, intuitively understands, even if not with precise logic, that an affirmation of the beloved’s goodness “would be pointless, were not some other force akin to creation involved—and, moreover, a force not merely preceding his own love but one that is still at work and that he himself, the loving person, participates in and helps along by loving” (On Love II).

Human love, therefore, is an imitation, a reflection, of the divine love that created all that is, including each of us. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritas Est, “there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence” (5). Even Sartre, who is not known for being happy about much of anything, remarked in Being and Nothingness, “This is the basis for the joy of love . . .; we feel that our existence is justified” (3.I).

Hardly the final word, but perhaps of interest. Even to skeptics.

• Did Pope Francis say this, that, or the other thing? There’s a good chance that he didn’t.

• Speaking of Pope Francis and what he actually said or wrote, do read, “The Liberationist Pope”, by Dr. Michel Therrien, penned for Homiletic & Pastoral Review. It is a very thoughtful and insightful analysis of the pontiff’s comments about economics.

• College football player and NFL hopeful Michael Sam recently came out of the closet and announced that he is “gay”:

“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he said. “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”

However, for every sentence that Sam has expressed about his “truth” and story, the talking heads at ESPN and similar networks have uttered lengthy speeches, most of them extolling the young man’s “courage”. President Obama tweeted, “Congratulations on leading the way …That’s real sportsmanship.” And so forth. Of most interest to me is Sam’s statement: “I want to own my truth.” That, in sum, is the slogan for our age, isn’t it? First, it’s about me; secondly, it’s about me owning and controlling something; third, it’s about conforming truth to myself and my desires.

Far better to say, “I want to be owned by truth.” Of course, it’s also far more difficult.

• “It seems preposterous now, but Amazon began as a bookstore.” Twenty years ago this year, in fact. But has been good for books and book lovers?

• Here is some news from France that is getting little attention, especially compared to the Olympics and gay football players:

Over 100,000 conservative French marched through Paris and Lyon on Sunday accusing the government of “family-phobia” for legalizing gay marriage and other planned policies they say will harm traditional families.

The marchers, expressing growing frustration with the unpopular left-wing government, denounced new sex equality lessons in schools and urged the government not to legalize medical procedures to help same-sex couples have children.

Most demonstrators were middle-class families, some pushing little children in prams, posing no apparent risk of violent confrontation with the police that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had said would be dealt with severely.

The government of President Francois Hollande, suffering poll ratings near record lows, has delayed further social reforms until after next month’s municipal elections following massive protests against legalizing same-sex marriage last year.

One Paris protester, Severine Chevrier, said: “Mr Hollande doesn’t listen to us or want to talk to us (and) Mr Valls … will do everything to shut us up.”

Thanks goodness we don’t have to deal with such things in the United States! Ahem. Anyhow, it’s worth pointing out that Mr. Hollande, who is 59 years old, has apparently never been married. He had four children with Ségolène Royal, his partner of 30 years, then was soon partnered (is that the correct term?) with journalist Valérie Trierweiler. Late last month, Mr. Hollande announced his separation from Trierweiler—who had been acting as First Lady (although she was not, in fact, the first or the last) after a tabloid magazine exposed his affair with an actress, Julie Gayet.

• Early last month, Fr. James Schall, SJ, wrote a CWR article, “Pope Francis, Economics, and Poverty,” that garnered much attention. The Acton Institute recently posted a lengthy interview with Fr. Schall titled, “Poverty and Ultimate Riches”, that carries on the conversation.

• There is a lot of discussion about what Pope Francis has said or did not say. There is also some discussion about what he will say, specifically in his next encyclical, which is reportedly about ecology and poverty and related matters. William Patenaude, a regular contributor to CWR, has written a helpful post, “Seven things to know about Francis’s planned eco-encyclical”, on his “Catholic Ecology” blog.

• Pop culture cut: thirty years ago, the band Foreigner had a massive hit with the song, “I Want to Know What Love Is”. It included these lyrics:

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
I can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life

I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me

Singer (and song co-writer) Lou Gramm, considered one of the finer voices in rock music, nearly died of brain tumor about 15 years ago, and made a life-changing decision during that time:

We had played a sold out concert at Madison Square Garden and there was the record company party afterwards that lasted until four or five in the morning. Everybody was in that condition and I ended up back in my hotel room, of course I wasn’t able to sleep. I just started doing a little self assessment and thinking about what I had become and was very upset about it and worried about my children seeing me like this. I finally fell to my knees and asked God to take this plague away from me.

A couple of hours later I called my attorney and asked him to book me into Halzeden and I wasn’t going home. I spent the best thirty days of my life there. I’m a devout born-again Christian. God plays a role in everything I do. I know he gave me life and saved my life. I serve him.

More here.

• On a Chesterton kick!

It is often said by the critics of Christian origins that certain ritual feasts, processions or dances are really of pagan origin. They might as well say that our legs are of pagan origin. Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; and no Church manufactured the legs with which men walked or danced, either in a pilgrimage or a ballet.  What can really be maintained, so as to carry not a little conviction, is this:  that where such a Church has existed it has preserved not only the processions but the dances; not only the cathedral but the carnival.  One of the chief claims of Christian civilisation is to have preserved things of pagan origin. In short, in the old religious countries men continue to dance; while in the new scientific cities they are often content to drudge.

• Francis Cardinal George on marriage and other relationships:

Behind many of the conflicts in public life and even in the church in our day lies a difference in the understanding of who we are as human beings. This is an issue deeper than the particular battle lines over sexual morality, the nature of marriage, the history of the sacrament of Holy Orders and the exercise of authority in both the home and the church.

Without always saying so explicitly, even to themselves, some people believe that we truly are only the result of our individual free choices. If relationships get in the way of who we choose to be, then they are oppressive. Relationships given before we come to consciousness of ourselves, relationships to God, to nature, to family, to the church, must be sacrificed so that we can be truly who we choose to be.

Others in our culture realize that we are related before we begin to make choices and that choices that destroy basic relationships leave us isolated and without the connections that are part of human life. We are related naturally to God as creator and supernaturally to him as Father. We are related naturally to our mother and our father, along with brothers and sisters and other “blood relations.” We are related to nature itself as members of the human race, created “male and female.” We are related to the church in which we have been reborn in baptism, permanently marked to the roots of our very existence with the sign of Christ our Savior.

Read his entire column on the Catholic New World website.

• I always enjoy Jonah Goldberg’s columns, even when I sometimes disagree with him. His most recent column, “From Russia with Euphemisms”, is exceptional:

What to say of the gormless press-agent twaddle conjured up to describe the Soviet Union? In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”

To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.

In America, we constantly, almost obsessively, wrestle with the “legacy of slavery.” That speaks well of us. But what does it say that so few care that the Soviet Union was built — literally — on the legacy of slavery? The founding fathers of the Russian Revolution — Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky — started “small,” merely throwing hundreds of thousands of people into kontslagerya (concentration camps).

By the time Western intellectuals and youthful folksingers like Pete Seeger were lavishing praise on the Soviet Union as the greatest experiment in the world, Joseph Stalin was corralling millions of his own people into slavery. Not metaphorical slavery, but real slavery complete with systematized torture, rape, and starvation. Watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you’d have no idea that from the Moscow metro system to, literally, the roads to Sochi, the Soviet Union — the supposed epitome of modernity and “scientific socialism” — was built on a mountain of broken lives and unremembered corpses.

Read the entire piece. For the record, I missed the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Actually, I’ve not watched one minute of the Olympics. But that’s another story.

• Chesterton, again: “The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a joke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being as it is a yoke consistently imposed on all lovers by themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black v. white contradiction in two words — ‘free love’ — as if a lover ever had been or ever could be free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover with an ill-favoured grin the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.”

Here are five things the mainstream media could do to improve its (often horrible) reporting about the Catholic sexual abuse scandals. With some additional thoughts from Phil Lawler.

• And here’s something I’ve long considered writing about but never have: “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators”. I’ll try to comment more on it later. Someday. Down the road. When I have a chance. Never.

• Samuel Tadros on the “The Future of Egypt’s Copts”:

When Copts leave Egypt, it is not only a loss to them and their church. A country and region will lose a portion of its identity and history. Devoutly religious, Copts point to the promises of the Lord in Isaiah 19:19 of the altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and to the Coptic Church’s history. Coptic history has been an endless story of decline and despair, but it has also been a story of survival, endurance in the face of persecution, and the courage and blood of martyrs becoming the seeds of the church. Persecution has taken its toll on the church and on Copts, but Coptic history has also been a story of triumph amidst despair and of the Lord’s protection of his people. Under the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo are the relics of two men: St. Mark, who brought the message of Christ to the Egyptians and ultimately shed his blood on its soil, and St. Athanasius, the defender of faith and the man who stood against the whole world and kept the Orthodox faith alive. It is as if the cathedral and the whole Coptic Church stands on those two pillars, martyrdom and faith.

Pope Tawadros II who rose to the throne of St. Mark on November 18, 2012, faces enormous challenges. He has declared his intention to focus on organizing the Coptic Church internally and has already undertaken some very positive initiatives in that regard but, no matter what his intentions are, he will inevitably find himself forced to deal with the growing plight of his people.

The Coptic exodus from Egypt will pose a colossal challenge to the Coptic Church. Today the Coptic Church has more than 550 churches outside of Egypt. At a moment in the not so distant future, the center of gravity of the Coptic Church will no longer be inside Egypt’s borders. The nature of this challenge is one the church has never faced before and is currently ill-equipped to address: how to become a truly universal church and open up the Coptic Church to the rest of Christendom while maintaining its uniqueness; how to keep both the Christian faith of the new immigrants who will move to Western countries and the specific Coptic identity in face of an open market competition between Christian denominations; what does being Coptic actually mean for those living outside of Egypt’s borders; how to provide for the material needs of the new immigrants who cling to the church not only seeking spiritual guidance; and how to cater to the ones who remain and whose lives will be increasingly difficult. These are all open questions that await history’s judgment.

• Lots of interesting pieces about marriage out there. Dr. Francis Beckwith has just written one about why privatizing marriage cannot work. Meanwhile, a federal judge has struck down Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

But this really caught my attention:

The self-promoting nature of the Sochi protests speaks to a broader truth about today’s Culture Wars in the West: these conflicts over lifestyle and identity are driven less by a serious attachment to universal values or proper liberalism than by a desire to demonstrate one’s superiority over Others, over communities whose traditions and ways of thinking one judges to be lesser, backward, dangerous. Across America and increasingly in Europe, too, the big divide within various nations is no longer between left and right or between different economic classes, but rather between lifestyle tribes and cultural groups. Our cultural outlook, our beliefs on matters such as gay marriage, abortion, gun ownership, immigration and so on, have been dramatically politicised in recent years, to the extent that a person’s entire moral worth can now be judged by whether he is pro- or anti-gay marriage, with no regard whatsoever to his economic views, his broader ideological beliefs, or his class attachments. Increasingly, people are judged, sorted into boxes marked ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, according to the position they take on relatively isolated issues of culture and tradition. …

The gay issue has in recent years been absolutely central to the ramping up of the Culture Wars, to the fashioning of a new divide between allegedly enlightened elites and apparently bigoted mobs. In Western societies, being gay-friendly has become absolutely the least controversial stance a politician or corporation can take. Indeed, gayness has become a kind of sacred symbol of moral authority, and celebrating it has become a means of winning almost instant media and activist support. Supporting gay issues has become the key mechanism through which modern Western leaders do that thing they’re all so keen to do – distance themselves from traditionalism, from the past, from what are now viewed as outdated ideas and institutions, such as old-style marriage, long-term commitment, traditional family set-ups. The reason the gay-marriage campaign has been feverishly embraced by everyone from President Barack Obama to David Cameron to Goldman Sachs to Google and Coca-Cola (both of which kicked off 2014 with adverts depicting gay marriage) is because this most highly politicised of cultural issues is a shortcut to the moral highground as defined by the media and political classes, and it allows political parties to jettison their more traditionalist supporters and constituencies in favour of garnering favour with urbanites, younger voters, and the upwardly mobile.

And that from an atheist. Imagine. Or just read the entire essay on the sp!ked website.

• Finally, some thoughts about love from one of the greatest theological minds of the past fifty years:

First, eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who “abandons his mother and father” in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become “one flesh”. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love. This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.

Thank you, Benedict XVI

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.