Monday, August 12, 2013

The autonomous self. . .

As former Congressman Barney Frank once said "what harm does it do you if me and my partner are together?"  It would seem that both the question itself and the answer "none" seems to have dominated the discussion of gay and lesbian relationships and marriage.  The question, which is not the only question nor even the primary question in this arena, is but one more example of the way we have turned freedom into the liberty to do whatever we darn please, without limit, so long as it does not hurt anybody else.  Some may suggest that it all began with the Supreme Court and the invention of the right to privacy.  Others suggest that this idea has its roots in the Enlightenment and humanism gone awry.  Perhaps there are as many ideas as there are people pondering the seemingly unabashed eruption of narcissism that has flavored nearly every moral issue of our modern times.  Of course, I could be old fashioned and call it sin.  You may recall that old Latin phrase curavtus in se from Augustine.  Or you may recall the Scriptural context of sin -- a nation and a person without a king who did what he or she determined (in effect becoming a law unto themselves).  Joshua 17:6 However you put it, we have become a people so intent upon going our own way that the only constraint laid upon us is the possibility of harm to our neighbor.  Even then, harm to the neighbor is sometimes not enough to make us pause.

Moral conviction is not so much in vogue today -- except the kind of moral conviction which affords the cover for a person to do what he wants to do, even when harm may ensue.  So former NJ Governor McGreevey was lauded by some as brave and courageous for embracing his true self as a gay man even though it caused his former wife and children hurt and humiliation for the lies they had unknowingly endured.  True to self is less the noble virtue of integrity than it is the license to do what you please until or perhaps in spite of harm or hurt it causes to others.

We have people transforming marriage from its foundation in sacrificial love to a fickle feeling that comes and goes.  We marry today not for better or worse but until we grow tired of it all.  The gay contribution to marriage may be the weakening of any concept of sexual fidelity since statistics tell us that monogamy seems to be an even more impossible chore for the homosexual than it is for the heterosexual and that liberation cannot abide restraint no matter what the context.

Everything from sexual mores to abortion are all framed by the unwelcome and unpopular intrusion of others into the privacy of the autonomous self or the real of consenting adults.  It is unthinkable that people would or should restrain their sexual desire so prevention of pregnancy and disease are essential if a person is to be fully free.  It is untenable to think that any woman's life should be unnecessarily constrained by pregnancy or childbirth and so abortion is as great a civil right as the voting franchise itself or any concept of impartial justice.

The complaint is often made that men are not men anymore.  It may be true.  But the idea of a "man" is itself the subject of serious question today.  With our interchangeable and genderless society which is more feminine than masculine, we no longer want or need a "man."  Reproductive technology has rendered the last domain of a man non-essential.  He is not man or husband or father but merely sperm donor.  With such freedom from accountability, man has become the overgrown child that always was his alter ego.  He worships at the god of pleasure without responsibility and seems perfectly content (on the outside) to be the immature adolescent he thinks he is.

Those churches which do not practice the ordination of women (or gays, for that matter) are castigated for prevention gifted women from their inherent right to express those gifts.  Why, who are you to say that I cannot use my gifts and abilities as I desire?  Yes, it is the greatest of all affronts to human kind -- the refusal to honor the autonomous self with every right to full expression that self desires.  We want a God only to affirm us, to allow us our self-expression, and to assure us that desire is always good so that we can live without regret.

Yes, I am writing somewhat scatterbrained and should be organizing my thoughts a bit more.  But that does not betray the truthfulness of my words.  The autonomous self is the undoing of society and the ticking time bomb waiting to destroy us all.  Rome was not done it by its technology or battlefield achievements but by a lack of restraint, a sense of self-indulgence, fueled by the presumption of entitlement.  It was not their failure that was their Achilles' heel but their success.  They used their prosperity to indulge themselves even more and they lived without shame or constraint.From body art to sexual expression to our manner of dress to the way we spell or the words we invent to serve as our names, we want the freedom to be me because we believe that "me" is always good.

Romans 1 describes this weakness long before the empire fell:  they became vain in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. Could our own lack of common sense and common values be the weakness that will tear down what our forefathers' built?  It could be.  Meanwhile the Church has remained somewhat silent in the face of this all.  We have adapted to the changes in society instead of resisting them.  We have bought into our own lies about the misogyny of Paul, the oppression of women by Christianity, and the Puritanical fear of sex that has turned us into a mess of sexually obsessed prudes.  According to the media it is the Church that is fixated upon sex -- not the culture. 

Until we call the autonomous self what it is, we will be left only with our lies and our fears.  For the true outcome of giving into self is not freedom at all but a terrible bondage of fear coupled with unsatisfiable desire.  Without any real sense of shame, we are left with a morality which sees the worst sin as intolerance and righteousness as giving into self with a slight nod against harming others in the unrestrained pursuit of desire.  We do not need a church friendly to our overblown sense of self.  We need a strong and unwavering voice to call us to repentance. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Barney Frank once said "what harm does it do you if me and my partner are together?"

This does harm to all of us in at least two ways:

1) It teaches Barney Frank that there are no limits, no constraints on his behavior, and he carries that thinking over into his other activities, such as being a Congressman.

2) As a public figure, Barney Frank is taken as a role model, to some extent, of what is acceptable behavior. He is sending an evil message to society, to all who look at him as a role model. While I realize that few, if any, will look at Barney Frank as a role model to be imitated, they will look at him as an example of what a person can do and still be accepted as a respected, honored person in this society.

He should be ashamed of himself, but he has long since passed shame. He knows no shame, but he will know punishment when the Judgement comes.

Fr. D+