Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Causes of Unconditional Love

In getting ready to write a new essay tangentially related to contraception, I recalled a dialogue I had with someone regarding an essay I had posted on social media. I thought about just posting my own words since I pretty much dominated the conversation. I regret doing this sometimes, typing so much, but there's always so much on my mind that I want to be able to express it all. I am trying to become more concise in my writing, but as I care for this person, I felt it my Christian duty to get this person introduced to some ideas that they may not have been aware of.  I apologize if anyone tires of the length of my blog posts. Please know that I don't do it because I'm full of myself or like to hear myself "talk". In putting my thoughts here, and in dialoguing with other people, I hope to find answers. I just go about it in a way many millennials would rather not.

In any case, here's the selection of the essay, entitled "The Death of Unconditional Love", I posted on social media: 
"The widespread availability of contraception ushered in an age of sexual intercourse without consequence. Unconditional love was taken out of the equation and replaced with immediate, self-serving gratification. Love became inconsequential to sexual relations. With the possibility of procreation and the need for commitment gone, sex went from being a wonderful gift from God and an active participation in his work of creation to a sterile act, devoid of meaning and transcendence. 
"Likewise, easy, no-fault divorce has played an enormous role in the death of unconditional love. Marriage went from being a permanent, lifelong relationship to a temporary one. Our very high divorce rate signals the fact that as adults, few are capable of unconditional love. By rejecting our wives or husbands, whether we intend to or not, we tear apart our families. What is left is a broken reflection of what once was.
"In essence, without using words and often without even intending to do so, we tell our children 'My personal needs are far more important than your need for a loving home, nurtured by both Mom and Dad.'"
Below is our conversation. Some things have been edited out, but the bulk of it is still here:
The Triumph of Divine Love- Peter Paul Rubens
Jo: Hey Nicholas, saw your post on divorce, contraceptives and unconditional love so wanted to respond. I've been trying to use messenger more since it lends itself to better dialogue. Would love to hear more on your thoughts as well. And very important--Agree to disagree. =)

Here are my thoughts:

Yikes, I think that guy's views are pretty bleak. I don't think things are quite as bad as he makes them out to be and I think many of the issues he brings up are not due to recent history but have been problems for all of history.

Agreed, the ease of divorce is hugely problematic but I'd say it's a bit dramatic to call it the death of unconditional love.

Historically people have chosen self-gratification over unconditional love for centuries (not just the 1960s...which is what that guy's opinion paper implies) so it seems unlikely that contraception is the sole problem for unconditional love. I actually find it really interesting that the inventor of birth control was a Catholic man who truly thought he was helping out the Church and women. He, of course, felt that contraceptives should only be used within the sanctity of marriage:


Nicholas: Thanks for taking the time to read the article and for your thoughts. I guess I should probably start out by explaining why I felt moved to post this story. I wanted to point out real quick, that even though it's a common term in modern parlance, I don't agree to disagree. I just hate that term because then it seems to simply relativize our positions on certain things. I agree to simply exchange our thoughts and dialogue from there. I know it might just boil down to semantics, but I hope you understand. 

Anyhow... I'm working nights right now: 6/12s 7:30-7:30 and this is my only night off. At this [place] we can't work more than 6 consecutive days. Needless to say, I've been spending a lot of time with my co-workers. As a pipefiter, I'm in a pretty male-dominated work force, and unfortunately, many of the discussions that take place center around lewd descriptions of sex. Locker room talk basically. Kind of like how we saw Donald Trump doing in that recording before the election. Except what I hear is much much worse, and is downright disgusting. It's also depressing. Even though I've only been on this particular job for a couple weeks, I've seen first hand how broken some of these people's lives and families are, in large part thanks to what was mentioned in the article I linked to.

Most people in my "crew" are divorced. Some twice. Others have live-in girlfriends that they don't plan on getting married to. One man I know is in the middle of divorcing his second wife (so still legally married), is currently living with his new girlfriend, and is actually cheating on this new girlfriend with another woman he "reconnected" with behind her back. All these men also have children. Some of them have young children, like the 33-year old father of two who just divorced his wife. It's sad to see this happening to so many children, and gives some credence to the author's point that many people put their own selfish needs before the good of their families, not to mention the vows they had made to their respective wives.

I was working with one of these guys in the process of a divorce, a 26 year old, the other day. We were lifting some hardware up with a very slow electric hoist, so we had time to talk while waiting around. He has no children, but we some how got on the topic of mine. He asked how many I had. I told him I had two boys under three. The next sentence that came out of his mouth was "Wow, you going to get snipped soon?" Not, "Oh that's cool", but he implied that I already had too many kids and needed to get a vasectomy. It's that contraceptive mentality that I grow tired of, and it's a logical progression that comes from the use of chemical or barrier contraceptives: once one uses and justifies temporary sterilization, justifying permanent sterilization (i.e., a vasectomy) as morally permissible isn't really that much of a stretch

Being inundated with this stuff for the last couple weeks, I saw this essay posted and it was a great answer to what I was experiencing with my co-workers. It was a breath of fresh air, and I really felt the need to post it to get these frustrations off my chest; to show that not all people have accepted the glamorization of such things as no-fault divorce by an increasingly secular society. 

So for the article itself, to an extent I can agree with you. The author paints somewhat of a bleak picture, and perhaps there is a bit of hyperbole used at certain points, but I think the overall message he's trying to get across is spot on. As I mentioned above, I've seen first hand the brokenness of families in the wake of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960's. I think it'd be good to note that, typically, most authors do not choose the titles of their essays. My editor has always chosen my titles when I write for Midway Madness or other websites. It's the same here too. The editor could've picked a better title. As the author of the piece mentions in his conclusion, "Thankfully, unconditional love is not yet dead. It never will be, as long as it is practiced by some who fight for it, who swim against the tide." So I don't think he is saying that no-fault divorce and contraception is "solely" the death of unconditional love, but that the various points he highlights in the essay lead to an erosion of unconditional love in our society. I'm sure there are many other points he could have made, but he focused on some of the most glaring points.

As for the PBS article on John Rock you linked to... I always find it fascinating how secular publications measure the religiosity of certain people. It often seems like a dissenting Catholic makes a good Catholic. Much like how former VP Joe Biden and Senator Tim Kaine were praised for being pro-choice, in total opposition to Catholic Christian (not to mention, mostly all Christian) teaching. So like you, I do find it interesting that Rock thought he was helping out the Church with modern birth control, but probably for slightly different reasons. My thoughts on this...
The Holy Spirit- Corrado Giaquinto

I know you aren't Catholic, Heidi, but for me as a Catholic Christian, I recognize that the Church is the Body of Christ, with Jesus as its Head. To clarify for you, Catholics believe that you cannot separate Jesus from the Church, as He gave the visible Church on earth a special teaching authority (what we call the Magisterium) which interprets Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As He says in the Gospel of John,
 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever... He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 
“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (Jn. 14:15-16, 25-26)
So we as Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church in her teaching. Therefore, since it comes from God, it cannot be false. The point I'm trying to make here in mentioning the above is this...

Rock is hailed in the article as a "devout Catholic"; yet a devout Catholic does not dissent from the teachings of the Church. To say otherwise is an oxymoron. If the Church is wrong about even just one article of faith or morals, than we must conclude from C.S. Lewis' famous trilemma that Jesus is not Lord, but a liar or lunatic, and the Church is a false church. Perhaps this is why the once daily-Mass attending Rock lost his faith after Pope Paul VI published Humanae vitae. I find it truly sad that he did lose his faith. If Rock were a devout Catholic, specifically before 1968, he would've realized that the Catholic Church had always condemned the use of artificial contraceptives from day one. This was made very clear, and reaffirmed, by Pope Pius XI in 1931, after denouncing the rulings made in 1930 at the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church.

Before that conference in 1930, no Christian church or community had ever permitted the use of artificial contraceptives. They were universally condemned by early Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, and Jerome, as well as by the Protestant reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and John Wesley, to name a few. The 1930 Lambeth Conference permitted contraception in limited cases between married couples. We see today that the Anglican and Episcopalian Churches have since lifted such restrictions on artificial contraception. Pope Pius XI replied to this in his 1931 encyclical "On Christian Marriage", reaffirming the timeless teaching and Tradition of the Church that Rock had supposedly adhered to devoutly:
"...we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act... 
"Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her... raises her voice... and proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the [conjugal or sexual] act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin." (para. 53, 56)

Pius XI cites the "uninterrupted Christian tradition"; that this is something that cannot be changed. Hence, his later successor, Paul VI, also upheld this teaching of the Church in the 1968 encyclical Humane vitae, which thoroughly disappointed Rock. So even decades before Rock started advocating for the Pill, the Church he belonged to had already vehemently condemned any attempt to thwart the life-giving end of the conjugal act via artificial contraception. Of course, it's worthy to mention that the Church understands that there are two ends to the sexual act: the procreative and the unitive. Pius XI mentions the importance of the unitive act in his 1931 encyclical as well:
"Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony... there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved."

Pope Pius XI
In other words, the procreative end of the conjugal act cannot be separated from the unitive act between spouses. This is also why the Catholic Church prohibits in-vitro fertilization; the unitive act of the spouses is divorced from the creation of new life. Essentially, the two ends of the conjugal act are two sides of the same coin. If Rock had been as devout a Catholic as PBS claimed, he would've been fine with this teaching. I do think it's unfair for the PBS article to say, "Rock's views on the Pill, once daring and radical, had become commonplace among the rank and file of the Church." 

I reject the notion that such a mentality has become commonplace among the Catholic faithful, although a large number have indeed gained this same mentality as Rock had. And this is a horrible witness; that is, Catholics dissenting from the teachings of their Church. I hate to admit that in a recent Pew survey, a large number of self-professed Catholics denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is a central tenet of the Catholic faith. Just because some outwardly devout Catholics dissent from a given issue (i.e., contraception, abortion), this doesn't mean that they are correct or reflect what the Church actually teaches. If you were to ask... other [Catholics] who practice their faith about their views on contraception or divorce... you'd see how they differ from Rock and line up in perfect sync with that of the Magisterium (or teaching authority) of the Church.

As for me and [my wife], we do not utilize artificial contraceptive methods. This was something we decided on way before we were married, and was affirmed in this decision by our mutual reading of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, a truly beautiful work. We space our births using Natural Family Planning (NFP). This is entirely different from our grandmas' "rhythm method" which the PBS article makes a passing mention to. There are several methods of NFP available, and we use what's called the Sympto-Thermal Method. We're also promoters for the Couple to Couple League and we work with my diocese in spreading awareness about the various types of NFP available to couples. 

I apologize for the length of my reply, but I wanted to be sure to give you a thorough account of my thoughts and the reasons behind them. 

Jo: Thanks so much for sharing Nick! I'm going to have to reread everything you said, but I really appreciate it. It gives me a lot to think about (which I love)...

I'll probably come back to this in a few days (need more thinking time lol).

...I'm thoroughly enjoying this...I used to talk theology with my [grandfather] all the time.


As you know I don't identify as a Catholic, but I am a Christian. I was struck by your phrase "It often seems like a dissenting Catholic makes a good Catholic," it seems that we're both trying to navigate what it means to be Catholic Christian or Christian in a world where so many people identify themselves as such, but don't act as such. I think one of the basic questions I'm struggling with is just "what does it mean to be a Christian in today's world?" (I'm not as eloquent as you so bear with me). 

For me, the most important parts of my faith stem from belief that He has saved me and his words to love my enemies and treat others as I would want to be treated. I see many people who claim to be Christian, but don't (from my point of view) follow those basic tenets and so I'm at a loss. Like what does being "Christian" even mean anymore? And is dissent always a bad thing? Or is that sometimes what thoughtful people do? Is it a problem there are so many different Christian denominations? or when does it become a problem? Sooooo much to think about.

Nicholas: ...yea, I agree that there is a lot to think about! But I believe that’s why becoming more Christ-like is a lifelong endeavor: we come to faith, we fall at times, we seek forgiveness, we contemplate, then the cycle repeats, and through it all, we keep on working towards a greater perfection.

It sucks to see people around us who may be “culturally Christian” solely because of upbringing or other factors, as well as those who have become totally lukewarm in their faith. It just plays no real role in their life. Others completely distort the Gospel. An extreme example that comes to mind is the Westboro Baptists. Another example coming from a different vantage point would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses; they claim to be Christians, yet they do not recognize the divinity of Christ, nor do they believe in the Holy Trinity, two of the most basic tenets of Christianity. This is what can make it hard to answer your question, “what does it mean to be a Christian in today's world?” This is how I would answer that question, though…
Apostle Paul- Rembrandt

It means the same thing it meant to the Christians of the 1st century A.D. It means we must rely solely on Jesus; we are redeemed by His sacrifice on the Cross, and like the Apostle Paul, (cf. Phil 2:12, 1 Cor 9:27) we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, yet with hopeful confidence. It means we must be witnesses to the Gospel. We must also spread the Gospel, especially in an increasingly secular world. The Archdiocese of Boston has a good description of what it means to be a Christian in today’s world, and I totally agree:
“We preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, both in word and in action.  We are willing to stand up to opposition and preach Gospel values in a world whose values are often contrary to the message of Jesus.  We are willing to endure suffering and rejection, as did Jesus, for the sake of the Gospel and to speak up for what we believe to be right, just, and true.”

To be a Christian today means we spread the Good News to the world unapologetically, just like the Apostles and the early Christians did. But we have to “do it with gentleness and reverence”, as Peter reminds us in his First Letter. Certain communities that spew hateful messages or shun others aren’t really understanding what’s written in Scripture. Our end goal hasn’t changed, and that’s because God is unchangeable. He is immutable:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. (Heb. 13:8)

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed." (Mal. 3:6)

“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

So while it might be tempting to ask “What does being a Christian even mean anymore?” because of all the hypocrisy and brokenness we see around us, I think the better question to ask and reflect upon would be “What do I have to do to spread the Good News and love of Christ in the same way the Apostles and early Christians did, in spite of living in a drastically different world?” If God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then His Gospel is too. We may have to tweak our implementation, but our identity today remains the same as those Christians who heard the preaching of the Apostles yesterday. Let’s not be disheartened by the bad examples of others; I know I feel as if I’m at a loss sometimes too. Instead we just have to keep giving the world a strong witness of what it truly means to be Christian.

To your question, “Is dissent always a bad thing?”… if it’s dissenting from the Truth, the Way and, the Life, then I have to answer, yes, dissent is always a bad thing. People may be full of various thoughts when they do dissent from Christ’s Church, but are these thoughts that conform to the will of Christ? What does Scripture tell us? Our Lord reveals, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Paul is also very clear in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). That particular translation comes from the RSV. Other Bible translations, such as the NIV, KJV, and Douay-Rheims use either “divisions” or “schisms” instead of “dissensions”. The word in the original Greek text is rendered σχίσματα (schismata). The definition of the word: a rent; a division, a dissension.

I think that should pretty concretely answer your next two questions: “Is it a problem there are so many different Christian denominations? or when does it become a problem?”

As we can see from Holy Scripture, yes, it is a problem, and it immediately becomes a problem. It’s scandalous, especially to non-Christians, to see the thousands of Christian denominations there are throughout the world. “Who is right?” they might ask. “How can they come to so many divergent opinions on the same sections of text? Why should I even bother with this Jesus business if Christians themselves can’t be united amongst themselves?” The various different Christian denominations are also scandalous because, in and of themselves, they contradict the very words of our Lord in the Gospel:
“[Father,] I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word… I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they might all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (Jn. 17: 6, 20-21)

Holy Trinity- Il Pordenone
The Church is to be one just as the Son and the Father are one; they are two separate persons, yet one God. Think of it this way; I would be willing to bet Jesus and God the Father agree on everything. I don’t see them disagreeing on whether salvation is a one-time event or an ongoing process. I don’t see them arguing over baptism being salvific or simply an ordinance. I doubt they disagree over how many books are contained in the Bible. So if God the Son and God the Father are one, and they wish for all of us Christians to be one just as They are, how can we tolerate any dissensions and divisions? The divisions we see in the Body of Christ should cause us great sadness. These divisions lead the various Christian denominations to disagree on a number of important topics that directly affect our salvation and well being. They cannot all be right; otherwise, we’ll fall into the trap of moral relativism and the “God on the mountain” fallacy. 

I think in this case, it helps to look at our history and see how the early Christians lived. How did they look upon divisions in the Church? The Early Church Fathers (such as Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Augustine of Hippo, to name a few) of the first few Christian centuries were as vehemently opposed to a “Christian pluralism” as Paul was in their writings and in their preaching, if not more so. Some non-Catholic Christians seem to justify the various denominations by noting there is an agreement on essentials.

Well, my question is, just what are those essentials? Where are those essentials listed in Scripture? If they are not in Scripture (and I have never seen such a list in Scripture), then where does the authority to determine the “essentials” come from? What is non-essential? For example, Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and others believe that baptism is salvific and regenerative, and that infants should be baptized. Baptists and Reformed Christians do not believe that infants can be baptized, as baptism is not salvific [in their view]. The former group believes that since it is essential that all must be baptized to be saved, baptism should not be denied to infants. The latter group however, believes that to be saved, it is essential to declare that you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior. Baptism is non-essential. Both can theoretically be wrong, but both cannot be correct. Who has gotten the essentials of the Christian faith right? Not to mention Holy Scripture itself. Does the Bible contain 66 or 73 books? Since there’s no inspired table of contents, how can we know which books are divinely inspired and which are not? 

That’s why the divisions in the Body of Christ always make me sad. Each dissension has led to more and more fractures throughout the Body of Christ, and so many divisions are a poor witness to our non-Christian friends. That’s why I continue to pray for the day all Christians no longer have these divisions between us, and we are one as Jesus desired.

Jo: I agree the denominations of the Church have always made me sad. It's why I've always referred to myself as a Christian or Christ Follower. I may have been raised in a Presbyterian church but I've never called myself "Presbyterian." And it bothers me so much that the Westboro baptist church, Jehovah's Witness and Mormons claim to be Christian. Your words also make me realize that being a Christian now is probably actually quite similar to being a Christian in Paul's day. Technology may have improved and the world might look a little different but we're still facing many of the same societal, economic and political problems.

Nicholas: I find it interesting talking to JWs. Whenever they drop by we always invite them in. We had some good conversations with one couple on a few occasions. It was interesting learning more about what they believed. It was also amazing to see how even though we have the same Bible (well, almost the same, except for the parts they changed to fit their theology), they have reached such warped and false conclusions on our Lord. The conversations were still fruitful though, and I was able to learn even more about my own Catholic Christian faith in defending it.

I agree, the world still does face a lot of the same problems that it did during Jesus' time. It's like everything always comes full circle, and history repeats itself. It's just that the historical figures and names change. Hopefully we can utilize that technology though in a positive way. Pope John Paul II called for people to use what they had at their disposal; he called it the "New Evangelization". It's purpose is to bring those back in who have lost their faith, or have become lukewarm to it. There are a lot of "nones" out there, so even though we still have the same Gospel message to spread, we have to adapt to more effective ways of getting out there in our own time. I often wonder if the scandal of Christian communities not being united lead to these people not embracing Christianity. I think so, but all we can do is pray for unity and that the Church will heal those wounds of division and become more visibly unified in a more concrete way as the Church of the first couple centuries was.

Anyways, I hope you have a blessed and fruitful Lenten season!

Jo: Same to you... I've enjoyed discussing with you!

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