The place of theology in liberal education

A friend and former classmate from my grad-school days recently wrote to me about the role of theology in a liberal education. He explained that he has been turning over in his mind an old, familiar argument for why theology should be the heart of a liberal education, but he has begun to wonder whether this argument is after all the best one. The argument goes like this:

A genuinely liberal education will principally consist in the study of sacred theology. For liberal education aims at the knowledge proper to the free man. Now the free man, in contradistinction from the slave, is one who lives not for the sake of another, but for his own sake; hence his life consists in activities choice-worthy in themselves. The kind of knowledge that he will pursue, therefore, will be knowledge worth exercising for its own sake, and this will be theoretical knowledge rather than practical knowledge. But theoretical knowledge is desirable because it perfects the knower as a knower; to engage in it is to exercise one’s intellect in the most perfect way. But knowledge, considered in itself, is defined by its object; hence the most perfect knowledge will be knowledge of the most perfect object. And this is God. Hence liberal education will principally consist in the acquisition of the knowledge of God. But the science whose proper object is God is sacred theology. Hence liberal education will principally consist in the study of sacred theology.

My friend’s unease with this seemingly ironclad reasoning is that the motive for studying theology ends up being so that I can perfect myself—while the real motive for theology seems to come from the supernatural virtue of charity, of love for God. As it happens, in our efforts to define the role of theology at Wyoming Catholic College my friends and I have wrestled with the above argument for a long time. Continue reading “The place of theology in liberal education”

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It’s all downhill from Damasus

While the Catholic blogosphere explodes with news of the Synod, I have tried not to think much about it. “It gets darker and darker,” a friend wrote on Facebook, “worse than the worst of the Dark Ages or the Renaissance.”

To keep my mind off the present, I read about the past. I have finally found a biography of St. Jerome that I like: Saint Jerome and His Times, by Jean Steinmann. The major critical biography by J.N.D. Kelly and the shorter but more recent work by Stefan Rebenich both suffer from the same problem: the authors despise St. Jerome. It’s like reading Ann Coulter’s biography of Hillary Clinton.

But Steinmann reveres the great doctor. He also does a marvelous job of setting the scene around Jerome, with all its drama and brilliant characters. Yesterday I chanced upon this manly bit about Jerome’s one-time employer, Pope Damasus:

The death of Pope Liberius in 366 saw the Christian community in Rome divided. The die-hards, who were in the minority, met in the basilica of St. Mary Trastevere, where seven priests and three deacons elected the deacon Ursinus Pope and consecrated him. Meantime, the majority of the clergy and the faithful were meeting in the basilica of St. Lawrence of Lucina, where they elected the deacon Damasus Bishop of Rome. When they heard of Ursinus’s election, the supporters of Damasus attacked the occupants of St. Mary’s. For three days Rome was torn by riots in which people were killed. Damasus won the day. He was consecrated, and the Prefect of Rome took his side, possibly as a result of Evagrios’s representations to the Emporer, and exiled Ursinus. When Ursinus’s supporters went on meeting and holding services in the Trastevere basilica, the Prefect had his priests arrested. Their congregation set them free. The followers of Damasus made up their minds to settle the question once and for all, and stormed the basilica of St. Mary again, and this time more than a hundred people were killed in the rioting.

A year later, Ursinus came back to Rome, and the trouble started all over again. The faithful of the two conflicting churches were involved in constant and sometimes bloody clashes, and the pagan Pretextatus, the new Prefect of Rome, disdainfully commented that this was a curious way of showing charity. The feud put the Church to shame.

Oh, for the good old days, when prelates killed each other with actual knives and clubs! In my imagination I see our wimpy modern cardinals at the Synod’s opening Mass, exchanging the sign of peace with fingers crossed behind their backs. Their backstabbing is so metaphorical! Silly redhats, proud of their “cutting” remarks. How have we fallen so far?

You can learn a lot about a man by locating his “downhill point”: where does he think the slide began? Everything in the Church started going downhill—at what point? Do you put it at Francis? Vatican II? Trent? One historian I know says everything has gone downhill since the Council of Florence in 1439.

Maybe the “downhill point” was the election of Pope Damasus in 366. Or maybe the Robber Council of Ephesus in 449, where bishops voted on doctrine with spears in their backs. Somehow, we’ve just never recovered that spirit.

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Marriage and Martyrdom

As you may have noticed, the blog is on the back burner these days.  We began the home school year here in the house, classes begin at WCC next Tuesday, and baby Matthew continues to be an intense little man.

Nonetheless, I want to toss up at least a quick thought on the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist.  Liturgically, he is celebrated as a martyr, as one who died for the faith, and traditional commentators explain that because he died for the truth he also died for the Truth, which is Christ.  One wonders how far the argument can stretch, and whether anyone at all who dies “for the truth” is a martyr.

But before we go too far in that direction, let’s recall the specific truth for which John died.  John, who called himself “the friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29), was beheaded because he said loudly and publically that Herod Antipas should not have divorced his wife and married another woman who herself had been in a previous marriage to his own half-brother.  He died for the truth about marriage.

The close connection between marriage and Christ is worth pondering in our day–as is the connection between a public stance and martyrdom.

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Theology at thirteen

David
Photo credit: Hannah Voboril

If I were a carpenter, I hope my kids would have hand-crafted furniture; if I were a shoe-maker, I hope all my kids would have wonderful shoes. Since I am a theologian, I try to make sure my kids don’t miss the one thing I have to offer them. I often talk about the faith at the dinner table or on Sunday mornings before Mass, and I bring up current issues and talk about them in light of Catholicism. But because I work for a living, my wife ends up doing their catechesis. My contribution tends to be spontaneous rather than planned.

While I was driving a trailer load to the dump today, one of those spontaneous moments popped up. My thirteen-year-old son David usually talks non-stop about programming and tech news, but today he suddenly began to talk about how strange it is that God does not make decisions: God knows everything that is going to happen, David reasoned, including what he himself is going to do. Continue reading “Theology at thirteen”

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Three ways to manage your “inner other”

[This is the third in a series: 1. The “Inner Other”; 2. Discovering the “Inner Other”; 3. Three ways to manage your “inner other”.]

My posts about the “inner other” may come across as despairing, as a lament of the human condition, but they are not meant that way. In the end it’s a beautiful thing that we are built for relation even in what is most human about us.

But clearly, the “inner other” needs managing. Anything that boosts objectivity in thought will help to counteract the problems I have outlined in this blog series, so one could go on and on about what to do. In this last post, though, I just want to note three tactics that work directly on the “inner other”:

1. Move in more than one circle.

If the “inner other” is a composite of the people we interact with, we can make it a better and better conversation partner by interacting with people who think very differently from one another. We can make friends in different circles, or just make a habit of reading authors who think very differently from one another. The different circles don’t necessarily have to hate each other or disagree with each other about everything; they just need very different ways of getting to their conclusions. Round him out, make him complex, and talking to the “inner other” may be more profitable than talking to yourself.

2. Silence

The “inner other” comes into play in our moments of interior talking, so we would do well to have periods where we avoid all chatter, exterior or interior, and simply gaze at reality. My own experience has been that the more exterior talking I do, the more interior talking I do, so it is useful now and then simply to shut up for a while. If I am working on a particular question, I need to take some time to look at reality in silence. This always leads to more honesty with myself about what I really think, and sometimes it leads to a breakthrough: the mind has ways of working without words, if we will only let it.

3. Prayer

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange once wrote that as our spiritual life progresses, our interior conversation should tend more and more to be conversation with God. Besides contributing to holiness, a habit of talking to God does wonders for your “inner other,” for several reasons.

First, God is not imaginary but real. I don’t mean that he “talks back” in the usual way, although I know several people who have heard God speak to them audibly at least once. But the fact of God’s reality makes him more satisfying to speak with than an imaginary interlocutor, even when we don’t notice a direct response. In itself this doesn’t contribute to objectivity of thought, but it does contribute to happiness.

Second, the more we refine our understanding of God, the more we come to see how far removed his way of thinking is from everyone around us. Early in life, talking to God may be a lot like talking to anyone else, because we think of him as a very big but somehow invisible human, but for a mature Christian talking to God takes the conversation away from the usual reference points and above the usual horizon. Instead of cramping our viewpoint, God expands it. The same is true of speaking to Jesus as God Incarnate: the more we meditate on the mysteries of his life and his glorification, the more we see the degree to which he rises above the current concerns of Democrats or Republicans or any other merely human group.

Third, we know that God actually sees right through us. Unlike our family or our friends or the authors we read, God sees our thoughts and our desires directly, and we imagine him as doing so. Consequently, we are less likely to let ourselves get away with crap when speaking to God. Even with nothing supernatural going on, when we are just interacting with God as we imagine him, we still imagine God as stopping us short, cutting us off, giving us “the look,” when we say something blatantly selfish or lie about our feelings or thoughts. He doesn’t wink-wink nudge-nudge the way the standard “inner other” is wont to do.

So there you have three ways to live with that natural phenomenon, the “inner other”: make him better, shut him up, or baptize him. But if you don’t do anything else, at least become aware of his existence and you will be better off for it.

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Discovering the Inner Other

[This is the second in a series: 1. The “Inner Other”; 2. Discovering the “Inner Other”; 3. Three ways to manage your “inner other”.]

In my last post, I spoke about the mystery of the “inner other” and the power it exercises over our interior life. And I asked, Where does this shadowy figure come from? We make him up ourselves, but how do we do it?

Usually the answer is fairly straightforward: the imaginary, interior interlocutor is a composite projection of our real, exterior interlocutors. He reflects the circle that makes up our lives, and he changes when we change from circle to circle. In fact, that is how I first became aware of him.

When I was young, my family and my friends were conservative and religious. This remained true when we transitioned from Protestantism to Catholicism, throughout my college years and all the way up to the completion of my masters degree. To the extent that I dealt more than superficially with people of a different persuasion, it was through reading.

When I began my doctoral program, however, I suddenly found myself in a completely new world: my professors and my fellow students were religiously liberal and sometimes not religious, they all focused on the same professional conferences and talked about the same books, and in general they had a coherent but entirely foreign set of priorities. What my social circle considered important and acceptable was suddenly different.

Part of this transition was helpful. I realized after a while that I had accepted certain arguments about Scripture not because they were strong arguments but because they had satisfied my interior interlocutor. When I imagined myself speaking argument X, in my imagination the results were great: Yes, of course, triumph! It was like making an argument against climate change in a room full of petroleum executives. So in certain respects my thought gained a new rigor from the transition to a new social group.

But not all the results were happy. In spite of my personal inclinations and background, I found that my own mental horizons swung slowly around to a closer match with that of the new group. I was aware of it at the time, and I could even feel the effects spike when I attended a conference: temporarily, the kinds of things likely to make for publication in such-and-such a journal seemed REALLY important while other things shrank. While I myself remained religiously conservative, my “inner other” was becoming a liberal biblical scholar.

I even noticed the effect when I tried to read the Bible devotionally. To read the Bible subjectively was anathema in the group, the worst thing one could do. But the objective meaning of Scripture was not what you might think: biblical scholar John Meier famously wrote that the objective meaning of a Scripture passage is what you would get if you locked a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, and an agnostic—all biblical scholars—in the basement of Harvard Divinity School and did not let them out until they reached a consensus. I felt that committee always judging me, even in my most private moments. The loose and comfortable feel of spiritual reading vanished.

During this period I also struggled with my Catholic faith. Because my own beliefs differed drastically from those of my “inner other,” my interior conversation turned into a never-ending debate: Oh yeah, prove this! Oh yeah, prove that! I felt that I was on trial every hour, and it was all the harder because the only evidence acceptable to this inner other was the kind of evidence that would have been acceptable to my professors and fellow students and all the people at the conferences. I found myself replaying and replaying and replaying arguments for the existence of God, parrying and thrusting, meeting objection after objection, running over the same ground again and again.

A number of things fell together for me around this time and saved me from mental exhaustion and possible loss of faith. My academic advisor was a true believer, a very important witness; I came to a new understanding of faith, as I have described in my blog series on faith; other things I will probably never write down. The relevant part for the present post is this: I realized that I had been trying to convince the “inner other” instead of trying to convince myself. When I honestly asked myself what persuaded me, Jeremy Holmes, I saw that the existence of God is actually easy to prove, stupidly obvious: the facts are apparent and the arguments clear. What is hard is not demonstrating the existence of God; what is hard is persuading an atheist. As soon I escaped the limitations my shadowy interlocutor imposed on the conversation, I found that I was not in anything like the trouble I had thought.

As I have gone on in life, I have observed the “inner other” phenomenon in myself time and time again. When I move to a new job and find new friends, suddenly I see the world against a new horizon; a new set of things seems to loom large and some things that seemed important before suddenly seem to shrink. When I withdrew from work this past year for my sabbatical, I found that I was able to reshape my horizon and realize that some things that seemed like big problems at work were neither big nor really my problem at all. When I am reading more of a particular set of authors, those authors shape my “inner other” for a while.

While my experience is pretty typical, not everyone reacts to a new social group the way that I do. I have met people who seem to be immune to transition because their “inner other” does not readily change, so that when they move on to a new social circle they retain the old interior conversation partner. The ongoing mismatch between their own priorities and those of their group create the impression that they are objective, above influence, free-thinking. But over time I have realized that their “inner other” is no less present, just more stubbornly persistent.

Similarly, I have known people of a less social disposition who form their “inner other” largely from books. They read constantly, and the “group” formed by the authors they read serves as a basis for the “inner other,” again creating the illusion that they are free of such influences because they don’t seem to measure their thought against the people actually around them.

In both cases, the impression of objectivity makes the situation more dangerous, because we tend to notice things when they move or change. When your “inner other” remains the same over time then you are less likely to notice “him” as something other than “you”.

So are we hopelessly and helplessly chained to the “inner other,” incapable of objective thought? By no means. In my next post, I’ll describe three approaches to making your “inner other” not an obstacle but an ally in the pursuit of truth.

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The Inner Other

[This is the first in a series: 1. The “Inner Other”; 2. Discovering the “Inner Other”; 3. Three ways to manage your “inner other”.]

It may sound paradoxical to speak of an “inner other.”  How can what is within be what is without?  How can “inner” be anything but “same”?  But in fact our rationality, because it is human, is social:  we only learn to reason after we learn to speak, and our reasoning is largely done in words, and yet we learn to speak in order to speak to others.  An orientation toward the other is built into human thought.

Hence the “other” right within us.  Because words are of their nature other-oriented, the interior conversation that constitutes our mental life is often—perhaps more often than not—carried out as though it were a dialogue with someone.  Although we might describe this interior conversation as “talking to ourselves,” usually we talk to a vague, imaginary interlocutor we have constructed, a shadowy “other” that acts as a kind of objective check on our subjective excesses.  It is easy to mistake this interlocutor for our own selves, but the otherness of this other turns out to be important.

When we speak to a real “other,” a flesh-and-blood person, the dynamic is clear.  If we argue, we bring up facts likely to be accepted or deemed important by the person with whom we are arguing.  If we just make conversation, we avoid certain topics if they are very offensive, and tend towards the topics our companion will find both interesting and sympathetic.  All the while, we may be aware that other facts are also real and other topics even more important, but we know that bringing them up to this individual would be useless.  We have more interiorly than we display exteriorly.

Something similar is true of our interior conversation.  The vague “other” with whom we converse most of the time, the inner other, limits conversation in the same way as a real person:  we only appeal to facts “he” is likely to accept and to arguments “he” is likely to deem important.  But now the result is amazing.  Because our interior conversation is our mental life, the “inner other” effectively determines the horizons of our mental life, deciding what facts and arguments we possess interiorly.  Speaking to a flesh-and-blood person, we reserve something of our interior life; speaking with the inner other is our interior life, most of the time.

Obviously, we need to discover who this inner other is.  Where does he come from, this powerful figure?  He is somehow our own creation, and yet he exercises tremendous control over us.  To understand ourselves we have to bring him forth from the shadows.  Who is he?  I’ll take up the problem in my next post.

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Quaeritur Utrum Sim—The Problem of My Existence

My attention was recently drawn to studies on whether prayer really works.  Scientists track a bunch of people with problems who pray about them, follow a control group of people with problems who don’t pray about them, and compare results to determine whether Anyone out there is listening.  This clear and simple approach eliminates the guesswork in religion.

Since my attention was on the question, I began tracking how many times I said “yes” to my children’s requests as compared to how many times I said “no.”  The results were discouraging.  Children approaching me have about a fifty-fifty chance of getting what they want, and younger children have even slightly worse odds.  It’s pretty much what you would expect from flipping a coin.  But the experiment has led me to an important conclusion:

I don’t exist.

At first I was deflated, even though non-existence, according to experts, is something I have in common with God.  But then I realized that, as a non-existent person, I do a lot of important things for the family.  At our place, you see, Nobody cleans the kitchen floor regularly, Nobody tends the garden, Nobody reads to the girls at night—the list goes on and on!

And the beauty part is, I have discovered a phenomenal time-saving technique.  Instead of fielding requests from my kids, I give them each a quarter and tell them “Heads means ‘yes,’ tails means ‘no.’”

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“Fulfilling and meaningful” is not the same as “good”

An intelligent philosopher recently commented that he had known some people who adopted lifestyle X and that they seemed to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.  As a consequence, the philosopher had decided that lifestyle X was not a bad or immoral lifestyle after all.  That phrase about a “fulfilling and meaningful life” caught my attention:  when did we begin to speak that way?  I do it myself.  And yet, on reflection, I think that a person living a bad lifestyle can have a fulfilling and meaningful life.

It often happens that a person living a bad life feels empty, like something is wrong.  It often happens that a bad life is a trivial one, disconnected from society and the world at large, focused on the selfish self.  So the lack of a fulfilling and meaningful life could well mean that the life in question needs moral reform.  What I am saying is that you can’t turn it around:  You can’t say that the possession of a fulfilling and meaningful life means for sure that the life in question needs no moral reform.

Let’s look at the meaning of the terms.  I take “fulfilling” to mean that a person feels no void or lack in his life, but is, so to speak, filled up.  He’s tanked, supplied, not missing anything.  And I take “meaningful” to be an expansion on the same idea, indicating that his life makes him feel connected to something bigger than himself.  This could be a mental connection, situating him in some larger vision of the scheme of things, or it could be a practical connection, meaning that he has a positive impact on lots of other people.

To figure out whether a morally bad life can be fulfilling and meaningful, I need an example of something that everyone will admit is morally bad—a tough thing to find these days, but not impossible.  Let’s take up the example of slavery.  I hope that everyone who comes across this blog believes that treating human beings as slaves is a morally bad thing to do, and not just bad but very bad.  So let’s look at slave owners in the American south.

Did slave owners in the American south generally sit up at night wrestling with a void in their lives?  Did they suffer continually from a sense of something missing?  Subjectively speaking, were they unfulfilled?  One does not get that impression.  In fact, they lived somewhat as aristocrats, enjoying culture, education, and a high social life.  They took part in charitable endeavors, played a key role in the governance of a nation, and had an abundance of material goods.  Their lives were full of good things.

To put a sharp point on that:  Their lives were full of good things because they owned slaves.  Slave labor financed their exalted lifestyle, paid for their education, and provided leisure to enjoy it all.

When we look at the term “meaningful,” we find the same thing.  If we take the term as referring to a sense of connectedness to a broader vision of reality, slave owners truly saw their slaves as lesser, as lower, and so they seem to have experienced slave owning as a way of fitting into their proper place in the universe.  They were below God, equal to their fellow plantation owners, and superior to their slaves; there was—according to their perception—a natural order to things, and they were in the correct slot.  If we take “meaningful” in a practical sense, as having a positive impact on others, we find that the wealth they derived from owning the plantations made it possible to do good for others, to help friends in need, to build colleges and churches.  They seem to have lived meaningful lives.

And again, notice that they did so because they owned slaves.  They didn’t lead fulfilling and meaningful lives despite their morally bad actions but because of them.

And yet, owning slaves is a morally bad thing to do.  If we met a slave owner and realized that he seemed to feel fulfilled and to have found meaning in life, our conviction would not be shaken.  He does not seem like a monster when you get to know him; what of it?  We know that what he does is exceedingly bad.  If we became convinced that he was invincibly ignorant of his own moral failing, we would pity him because his ignorance was causing him to be something inherently shameful.  Intuitively, we know that his feeling of fulfilment and of being situated in the cosmos does not make his bad deeds good.

One basic problem with the terms “fulfilling” and “meaningful” as commonly used is that they have to do with feeling rather than reality.  A small cup can be just as full as a big one and yet hold far less water; a small soul can be just as fulfilled as a great soul and yet remain a cramped instance of humanity.  If moral good and evil are not just feelings, then they cannot be fully captured by terms that describe feelings.

The more practical sense of “meaningful,” having a positive impact on others, seems more objective and measurable, and yet even this has its problems.  A slave owner might have a positive impact on far more people than he enslaves, and yet his chosen lifestyle is a morally bad one.  A business man who runs an important pharmaceutical company could abuse his wife and kids while making it possible for millions of people to have essential medicines.  He could be a morally bad man and yet lead a truly meaningful life.

If people who do bad things were always unhappy, dislocated, and unproductive, then the world would be a much simpler place.  I remember some time ago a picture of Nazi soldiers went around the Internet and upset a lot of people.  It showed the soldiers on break, sitting around and talking, enjoying a beer—looking like normal people instead of like the monsters we see in World War II movies.  We all know life is more complicated than the movies.

Of course, I haven’t even touched on whether you can really know that someone else feels fulfilled and connected to something greater.  Every year it seems I read another story about someone who seemed happy to all his co-workers and then suddenly committed suicide.  I know I have had dark pits inside that no one could possibly have known about unless I told them.  One of the reasons we love biographies of famous people is the contrast between their glittering appearance and their hidden struggles.  However, my point in this post is not that bad people can hide how miserable they are, but that people who do very bad things are not always miserable.

The punchline:  If you meet people who do things you thought were morally wrong, don’t be unsettled if you find that they seem to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.  “Fulfilling and meaningful” is not the same thing as “good”.

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Same-sex marriage denies the reality of traditional marriage

On more than one occasion, an advocate of same-sex marriage has asked how I can tell other people that their marriages are not real.  My response has been that that the street runs two ways:  his promotion of same-sex marriage tells me that my marriage is not real.  Every time, my conversation partner has been truly and sincerely mystified by my claim.  How on earth can his claiming his marriage take anything away from mine?

It’s hard to explain briefly.  It’s hard to explain even at length, because by the time we are having this conversation we have hugely different background assumptions at work and we hear very different things when we hear the word “marriage”.  Nonetheless, in recent posts I have tried to sketch out at least some of the background for my claim:

1. Only if there is such a thing as a human nature can masculinity and femininity be an expression of something deeper than mechanical structures.  (I have also meditated here on one way our imagination can hinder us from seeing that human nature is real.)

2. Only if masculinity and femininity are real can marriage be a body-and-spirit, organic union of persons.

3. Only if marriage is a one-flesh, organic union of persons can there be such a thing a natural (as opposed to conventional) marriage.

To someone who has really grasped what I was saying in those previous posts, I can explain why claims to same-sex marriage do in fact take something away from traditional marriages.  What follows is sheer fiction, a little parable I just made up to illustrate what I’m thinking.

Once there was a man named Victor who had three boys and raised them as a loving father.  Victor was wealthy and generous and became a benefactor and mentor to a lot of other young men, to such a degree that he became famous for his altruism.  He reached old age and passed away, leaving a great legacy behind him, a happy family and a host of grateful friends.

So legendary was Victor that it became a mark of honor for a young man to have been associated with such him.  People made a big deal out of having had him as a mentor, calling themselves “sons of Victor.”  Victor’s natural children began referring to themselves as the “natural sons of Victor,” and saying that others were not “real sons of Victor.”

The others became upset:  they did not like any appearance of one-ups-manship.  So they sued Victor’s natural children, saying that the three boys were taking away their right to sonship.  Eventually a court declared that everyone who had been helped by Victor was just as much his “son” as anyone else, and that these people had every right to that title and whatever it implied.  The whole country was moved by these proceedings, and soon it was considered a hateful and intolerant thing to claim that some people’s sonship was “real” and others’ not.

And they all lived litigiously ever after.  The end.

In my little story, some people’s claim to be children of Victor took something away from others’.  The three natural children were of course denying real “sonship” to others:  they claimed natural sonship and argued that everyone else only had “sonship” by stretching the word to include a nice but artificial arrangement.  The others could have objected, “We’re just trying to claim our own, not taking anything away from anyone else.  How does our claiming our sonship take anything away from yours?”

But when the others prevailed, the implication was that Victor’s original three boys were only his “sons” in the sense that anyone else could be.  Their natural and biological relationship was made equivalent to an artificial and conventional one.  In the end, Victor’s three natural children were told that their sonship was less than what it had really been.

That’s the point about same-sex marriage.  The body-and-spirit union of man and woman is a natural thing, and everything else called “marriage”—whether it be two men, two women, two men and a woman, or whatever—is an artificial arrangement.  When we insist that both are equally “marriage,” then we mean that there are no natural marriages, only artificial things based on our preferences.

[Some people who agree with me in principle may object that the “sons of Victor” story is not quite on target, because honorary sonship is “not natural” while same-sex marriage is “unnatural”.  I understand, but every analogy limps.]

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