Near the end of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov, the eldest brother Dmitri is wrongly accused of his father Fyodor’s murder. Spectators at the trial had mostly assumed Dmitri’s guilt, and many in the crowd felt that Dmitri’s personal wrongs against them were being avenged. Only the reader has witnessed the scene in which Dmitri, seething with rage at his wretched adulterer of a father, grasps a pestle in his pocket—and then, mastering himself, swallows his anger and backs out of his plan to kill his forebear. Only the reader has seen Fyodor’s illegitimate son Smerdyakov admit to the murder.
The Brothers Karamozov concludes, some months after Dmitri’s trial, with the funeral of a peasant boy named Ilyusha. Earlier, Dmitri had learned that Ilyusha’s impoverished father, the “Captain,” was involved in Fyodor Karamozov’s illicit business dealings. Dmitri, who had been swindled by the Captain, exacted a humiliating revenge, dragging him through the street by his beard as his son and neighbors looked on. Ilyusha’s schoolmates teased him violently for the incident, throwing stones that hit him hard in his chest. Ilyusha died from his wounds two days after Dmitri was found guilty for a murder he did not commit.
No court could ever convict Dmitri for Ilyusha’s death. The legal system can only sentence the person immediately responsible for a murder. But Dostoevsky’s genius shines a floodlight on the intricate and thorny web of moral cause and effect. Continue reading Conservatism and progress
Conservatives: we don’t have to freak out about National Review. They haven’t “sold out,” and they haven’t endorsed same-sex marriage, as you can see fromarticleslikethese. Their only error is that they continue to employ a managing editor who suffers from intellectual and moral imbecility.
But we must offer them sympathy in this. One wouldn’t, after all, want to cast such a person out on his own resources. He might be driven into prostitutionsex work (not that there’s anything wrong with that, by his reasoning).
Joseph Bottum had at least the decency to be wrong in a literary and interesting way. Not so Jason Lee Stearts, whose entire argument—all five thousand, four hundred gassy words of it—rests on an inability to define or use the word “fulfillment” properly. I’m not kidding—there is literally nothing of substance there.
Karl Marx quipped that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Unfortunately, Stearts’s article doesn’t even rise to the level of farce. It’s just flatulence, and not even of the kind that’s likely to provoke intellectual climate change.
Gracchus has given a dowry of four thousand gold pieces
For a horn-player, or one perhaps who plays the straight pipe;
The contract’s witnessed, ‘felicitations!’, a whole crowd
Asked to the feast, the ‘bride’ reclines in the husband’s lap.
O, you princes, is it a censor we need, or a prophet of doom?
Would you find it more terrible, think it more monstrous
Truly, if a woman gave birth to a calf, or a cow to a lamb?
He’s wearing brocade, the long full dress, and the veil,
He who bore the sacred objects tied to the mystic thong,
Sweating under the weight of shields. O, Romulus, Father
Of Rome, why has this evil touched the shepherds of Latium?
Where is it from, this sting that hurts your descendants, Mars?
Can you see a man noted for birth, wealth, wed to another man,
And your spear not beat the ground, your helmet stay firm,
And no complaint to the Father? Away then, forsake the stern
Campus’s acres, you neglect now. ‘I’ve a ceremony to attend
At dawn, tomorrow, down in the vale of Quirinus.’ ‘Why’s that?’
‘Why? Oh, a friend of mine’s marrying a male lover of his:
He’s asked a few guests.’ Live a while, and we’ll see it happen,
They’ll do it openly, want it reported as news in the daily gazette.
Meanwhile there’s one huge fact that torments these brides,
That they can’t give birth, and by that hang on to their husbands.
But it’s better that Nature grants their minds little power over
Their bodies: barren, they die; with her secret medicine chest,
Swollen Lyde’s no use, nor a blow from the agile Luperci.
Yet Gracchus beats even this outrage, in tunic, with trident,
A gladiator, circling the sand, as he flits about the arena:
He’s nobler in birth than the Marcelli, or the Capitolini,
Than the scions of Catulus and Paulus, or the Fabii,
Than all the front-row spectators, including Himself,
The one who staged that show with the nets and tridents.
Most people reading this are already aware of former First Things editor Joseph “Jody” Bottum’s recent rambling essay, “The Things We Share,” in which he apparently defects to the supporters of same-sex marriage. The essay has gathered a lot of scorn from both opponents and supporters of same-sex “marriage” and does seem to be meandering, contradictory, and ultimately unsatisfying in its arguments.
Other bloggers have done well in pointing out the essay’s explicit nonsense, and I do not intend to retread the same ground. Rather, I want to take a more careful look at the essay from the standpoint of “Straussian” criticism.
Persecution and Democracy
In “Persecution and the Art of Writing” Leo Strauss suggests that modern critical scholarship has overlooked a fundamental factor that affected the writing of many of the great philosophers: the threat of “persecution.” A Jewish or atheistic philosopher writing in an Islamic context, for example, would have been in danger of denouncement if his true beliefs were too openly shared. For this reason, Strauss posits that philosophers living and writing in an intolerant age developed ways of expressing the free thoughts of their minds while apparently endorsing the current official “orthodoxy.”
“Nobody would prevent him [the philosopher] from publishing a passionate attack on what he would call the liberal [i.e., heterodox] view. He would of course have to state the liberal view before attacking it . . . Only when he reached the core of the argument would he write three or four sentences in that terse or lively style which is apt to arrest the attention of the young men who love to think.”
The philosopher would even present the “liberal” view more lucidly than its own proponents, before eventually mounting a relatively flat, conventional attack upon it in the customary style of the time.
It is important to note that, in Strauss’s opinion, the most significant instances of esoteric writing appear in societies that exist somewhere between the two extremes of utter persecution of free thought and complete license. ‘Persecution’ does not necessarily mean the Spanish Inquisition. Strauss lists a panoply of philosophers he considers to have written esoterically to some degree — all of whom lived in relatively tolerant societies: Plato, Maimonides, and Locke, to name a few. A common feature of these societies is a strong state, with some degree of official religious tolerance. Free inquiry may have been more circumscribed than religious belief and practice. Without pretensions to divinity, the secular power was considered to be “right,” a correct embodiment of the political truth. In democracies, this ‘truth’ is of course the “will of the people.” Political “orthodoxy” then, in the democratic context, is first to assume that the opinions of the majority are natural and correct, and then to seek to determine what those opinions are and declare one’s opinions to be in accord with them.
According to Strauss, it was in a context of quasi-persecution that Plato developed the concept of the “noble lie.” In the Republic this is expressed when Socrates says that political society ought to be organized around a fictitious hierarchy of social classification; the “myth of the metals.” The divisions don’t actually exist but it is better to say that they do for the better ordering of society. Strauss believes that this public-spirited “lie” is a subtle hint to guide the careful reader toward Socrates’ more “liberal” true beliefs. Elsewhere, in the Laws, the philosopher suggests that vice, in this case the consumption of alcohol, can help to teach the virtue of moderation. However, in Crete, where the Laws is set, drinking is forbidden. Strauss draws the analogy between the “vice” of drinking, which loosens the inhibitions, and the “vice” of talking about the illegal act of drinking, which liberates the philosophically inhibited mind to consider a truth that exists beyond the law of the state.
Strauss observes that during the rise of modern liberalism, liberal philosophers abandoned the caginess which characterized ‘liberal’ philosophy in earlier ages (as Strauss interprets it), most notably eventually abandoning the concept of the “noble lie” in favor of strict sincerity. This tendency did not take shape immediately though, and even the plain-speaking John Locke exhibits strong esoteric tendencies and a capacity for concealing his true thoughts, especially in his hidden critiques of religion. It is not until the complete triumph of the Enlightenment, when even Immanuel Kant wondered if the French Revolution had gone too far, that liberals completely scorned the “noble lie” in favor of a kind of radical truth-telling.
The other assumption that changed with the rise of liberalism was the question of whether “the masses” could, or should, be able to understand a philosophical argument. Esoteric writing tended to shield unorthodox thought by writing inoffensively on a level that the literate populace could understand, but by means of certain techniques pointing toward a subtler meaning that only the truly thoughtful, considered to be “men of good will,” would recognize. Democratic ideology takes for granted that the majority of the public are in fact people of good will and understanding, since they hold, by franchise, the public trust. To conceal one’s meaning from them became a “vice.” Thus the practice of esoteric writing apparently withered away after the Enlightenment, at least among sincerely liberal philosophers.
In today’s intellectual world, liberalism has assumed the “orthodox” position. Thus, one intending to advance an un-liberal argument might do so under the guise of attacking it from the viewpoint of the liberal “orthodoxy.” He might exercise certain techniques to conceal this intention from the mass of readers.
One characteristic of Bottum’s essay which marks it as not being for the masses is the fact that it is prohibitively long: 90 full paragraphs or about ten thousand words; much longer than the average length of an Internet essay. What is also immediately clear is that he did not need this much space to make the argument he claims to make. He does most of that in a few paragraphs at the conclusion.
Everyone acknowledges that for an intellectual as wise and respected as Joseph Bottum, as good a writer as he is, this is some remarkably strange and sloppy work. Might it be that his essay should not be taken at face value? Perhaps he is, as Strauss puts it, “writing between the lines.”
The Funding Acknowledgement
As others have observed, the essay’s most significant feature does not at first glance appear to be part of the text. The acknowledgment at the end of the piece appears on the surface to be merely conventional: “Funding for this essay has been provided by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.” However, given on one hand the argument the author claims to have made, and on the other hand the moral and religious views the author attributes to himself which are in conflict with this argument, the reader is led to the rather unsatisfying conclusion that the writer is corrupt — i.e., that he is accepting payment to write in support of views not fully his own. To claim to be a person of good will and yet to draw the reader’s attention to the possibility of corruption is unmistakably to raise the suspicion that there may be intentions buried beneath the surface reading of the text. It raises the possibility of unfree or even coerced action on the writer’s part — in Strauss’s terms, of “persecution.”
For this reason, as good Straussians, we must return to the text, paying more careful attention to aspects of its arrangement and style which the ordinary reader might have overlooked or dismissed as accidental lapses in style or unintentional errors in fact.
One of the first indications that a writer intends to communicate on both an “exoteric” and “esoteric” level is when he, not being the sort of writer to make casual mistakes, errors of fact, or self-contradictory statements, seems to do so. This may be a signal that the surface interpretation of the work is not to be trusted.
A pleasing feature of Bottum’s text is the folksong, “Shady Grove,” with which he begins and ends the essay. He describes it in the last paragraph as “A bit of old-timey Americana, the stuff we all still share.” The verse he quotes in the first paragraph goes:
When I was just a little boy, / all I wanted was a Barlow knife.
But now I am a great big boy, / I’m lookin’ for a wife.
In the last paragraph he quotes the verse:
Some come here to fiddle and dance, / Some come here to tarry.
Some come here to prattle and prance. / I come here to marry.
Given the subject of the essay, is not at all clear whether we all do in fact share this “bit of old-timey Americana.” The song is about romance and married love of the decidedly traditional kind. Maturity, it implies, is about valuing and seeking the joys and responsibilities of marriage. In the course of a ten thousand word essay Bottum has done a lot of fiddling and dancing, a lot of prattling and prancing, a lot of shucking and jiving, but not much talking about marriage itself — that is to say, he has devoted hardly any time to actually arguing in favor of a view of marriage that would include same-sex couples.
Another contradictory element is Bottum’s purported Americanism. Catholics, he suggests, should support same-sex marriage because it is now (possibly) an accepted part of American culture. This reminds me of Strauss’s observation that in states where speech is restricted, the law of the land is regarded, especially by the young, to be right by virtue of being the law. The authority speaks truly, according to the “logica equina,” and since nobody is contradicting him, the young person assumes what he says must be true.
Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage
The clearest indication that Bottum intends an esoteric reading of his essay is the way he addresses the arguments against his stated position. Toward the beginning of the essay he off-handedly dismisses Ryan T. Anderson with the remark that the view of natural law Anderson wants to promote has “no purchase,” i.e., no widespread acceptance in American culture. Nevertheless, a few paragraphs later Anderson pops up again, with the writer calling his 2011 essay and 2012 book, What is Marriage?, “the clearest, most cogent defense of traditional marriage.” This seems, at least, like a book recommendation or a whispered word to the wise: If you want to understand the best argument in favor of traditional marriage, read this book. Those who take this implicit advice will find that its authors do not in fact rely on any obscure, hackneyed ideal of “natural law,” but present a prudent, comprehensive political defense of traditional marriage as a common good.
In no way does Bottum mount a critique of Anderson’s secular arguments. Instead, he spends most of his time in the realm of religion, lamenting how darned inconvenient the consistent Catholic teaching on sexuality continues to be. His citations, from G.K. Chesterton to Pope Francis, present an unchanging — one might almost say, a God’s-eye view — of marriage and sexual morality. Reading Chesterton, one is reminded that the Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality was countercultural long before the vaunted “sexual revolution.”
This also Bottum acknowledges. His narrative of the “disenchantment” of modernity would, in a less defeatist context, form an excellent program for a young Catholic culture warrior, more clearly stated than most of the popular Christian literature on the subject of sex and marriage. This reminds me again of what Strauss wrote. For ‘liberal’ read, in this case, “Catholic”:
“He would of course have to state the liberal view before attacking it; he would make that statement in the quiet, unspectacular and somewhat boring manner which would seem to be but natural; he would use many technical terms, give many quotations and attach undue importance to insignificant details; he would seem to forget the holy war of mankind in the petty squabbles of pedants.
One may recall here Bottum’s petulant excursus on his quarrels with Maggie Gallagher and Chuck Colson over the “Manhattan Declaration.” Strauss continues:
“Only when he reached the core of the argument would he write three or four sentences in that terse and lively style which is apt to arrest the attention of young men who love to think. That central passage would state the case of the adversaries more clearly, compellingly and mercilessly than it had ever been stated in the heyday of liberalism, for he would silently drop all the foolish excrescences of the liberal creed which were allowed to grow up during the time when liberalism had succeeded and was therefore approaching dormancy. His reasonable young reader would for the first time catch a glimpse of the forbidden fruit.”
The “central passage,” the fruit of knowledge which Bottum explicitly commands the reader not to grasp, is found in the following paragraphs, just after the writer has reminded us of Pope Francis’s latest recapitulation of the unaltered Catholic teaching on the family:
The stony ground on which the church must sow is the landscape created by the sexual revolution. Made possible by the pill, accelerated by legalized abortion, aided by easy pornography, that revolution actually needs none of these any longer to survive, because they never defined it. They merely allowed it, and the completed change is now omnipresent. The revolution is not just in the way we use our bodies. It’s in the way we use our minds.
One understanding of the sexual revolution—the best, I think—is as an enormous turn against the meaningfulness of sex. Oh, I know, it was extolled by the revolutionaries as allowing real experimentation and exploration of sensation, but the actual effect was to disconnect sex from what previous eras had thought the deep stuff of life: God, birth, death, heaven, hell, the moral structures of the universe, and all the rest.
This is nothing less than a comprehensive critique, an unmasking of the liberationist creed, stripped of its sentimental trappings, in a few words. Bottum even underlines it with some sly satire:
The resulting claim of amorality for almost any sexual behavior except rape reflects perhaps the most fascinating social change of our time: the transfer of the moral center of human worry about the body away from sex and onto…well, onto food, I suppose. The only moral feeling still much attached to sex is the one that has to hunt far and wide for some prude, any prude, who will still condemn an aspect of sexual behavior—and thereby confirm our self-satisfied feeling of revolutionary morality.
The turn against any deep, metaphysical meaning for sex in the West, however: that is strange and fascinatingly new, unique to late modernity.
What kind of moral or social victory do you obtain if the marriage you’re granted is defined as nothing more than a way in which individuals define the concept of their own existence?
Bottum goes on to argue, I think satirically, that since secular protestantism has, through embracing divorce, contraception, abortion, pornography and the like, already destroyed any real meaning that sex and marriage have in the modern world, why should we not allow same-sex couples to participate in this meaningless farce of “marriage?”
He references G.K. Chesterton’s tract The Superstition of Divorce:
G. K. Chesterton once suggested that if there truly exists such a thing as divorce, then there exists no such thing as marriage. The root of the paradox is his observation of the metaphysics implicit in marriage ceremonies: “There are those who say they want divorce in the second place without ever asking themselves if they want marriage in the first place. So let us begin by asking what marriage is. It is a promise. More than that, it is a vow.” If we allow divorce, then we have already weakened the thick, mystical notion of marriage vows. Adultery is an everyday sin. Divorce is something more: a denial of a solemn oath made to God.
Then, as if nodding before the hearth, he rouses and seems to abandon this line of argument with a sort of disclaimer: “I’m not trying to argue here directly for an end to the culture’s embrace of legalized divorce, much as the sociological evidence about the harm to children now appears beyond dispute.” The important word here is “directly.” Indirectly, as I have shown, he does much to strengthen the Catholic case against perversions of marriage; little to actually promote the views he claims to hold.
Since the essay is addressed to Catholics, and yet the argument is based on secular Protestantism, the implied rhetorical critique, the “esoteric” teaching if you will, is clear: Why should Catholics (or other orthodox Christians) play by these rules? Why should we pawn our Christian identity and beliefs for a mess of stale American pottage?
If any devotees of Ockham’s razor, having read thus far, are inclined to think I have built up an elaborate structure of bogus argument in order to extract something other than the plain sense of Bottum’s words from his essay, consider one final point before you give my arguments a close shave. I do not want to be uncharitable to the man, and in order to be charitable I am even willing to consider that he may not have intended to be correctly understood by every reader. After all, there are only two other possibilities:
That Bottum is a candid, well-meaning, but stupid man who cannot reason or coherently express his sincerely-held views without accidentally contradicting them; or
That Bottum has sold himself out to a cause he does not believe in, for money, while attempting to play both sides with his incompatible and vague sympathies, in a way that provides little support or comfort to either.
Yet Bottum is both a good and honorable man, and a capable and even excellent writer, as his friends and associates all testify, even as they disapprove of his essay. My interpretation allows this essay to be the work of a virtuous and sincere man, as well as an excellent, even subtle writer, as long as you accept that he does not intend to be correctly understood by everyone. I think Bottum hinted at this in an interview he gave, in which he said,
“I didn’t really think that it would be misread in quite the way that it has been.”
I think I can make a reasonable guess as to what Bottum believes the young Christian truth-seeker should be doing:
He goes so far as to say openly that theological and philosophical reasoning has “no purchase” among the American public. This does not mean that it is wrong, just that your average Joe will not find it convincing by itself.
Again, he explicitly argues that the real problem is “disenchantment,” the loss of a sense of wonder at things that points to the spiritual realities of creation.
If disenchantment is the problem, it should follow that re-enchantment, rather than renunciation, is the answer.
Since for most of us, this cannot be done through reasoning alone, those who understand the truth on a philosophical level need to communicate it in other ways.
The reason we say “the naked truth” is that in order to conceal her own ugliness, Falsehood steals Truth’s garments. The naked Truth is still beautiful, if severe. Clothed in her own raiment — poetry, art, music, kindness, and peace — she is glorious. Here are some ways that young Christians can present her more effectively:
Telling the truth about sex and marriage in clear and sympathetic ways;
Being living examples of married and unmarried people who honor their vocations;
Making art and music that adorns truth with beauty;
Being gracious and sympathetic to our friends who suffer from various kinds of sexual pathology, whether it be lust, pornography, or disenchanted self-image;
Standing up against all forms of domination and sexual violence;
Recognizing the gift of children as precious souls, neither to be destroyed in the pursuit of ‘freedom’ nor selfishly commodified in any way.
In doing these things, we will be counteracting by deed, word, and example the “disenchantment” of secular modernity, attracting our friends, neighbors, and even adversaries to the holistic, truly affirmative way of life to which God calls the world through Jesus Christ.
Mark Regnerus, the sociologist who developed and carried out the New Family Structures Study at the University of Texas at Austin, writes that the question of whether same-sex ‘marriage’ will “…cause harm to opposite-sex marriage” is “empirically unanswerable any time soon.” Since legally-privileged same-sex unions have only just become a feature of the moral, legal, and political landscape in various American and European states, it will take a long time to collect empirical sociological data on how re-structuring the marriage institution impacts families. Perhaps we will have to wait a generation or so to claim “scientific” knowledge of these effects. Regnerus writes:
But the question itself is empirically unanswerable any time soon. We are arguably years away from gathering quality longitudinal, nationally representative data on the matter. And even then, assessing — let alone agreeing upon — causation will remain difficult. Same-sex marriage may, after all, be a later-stage symptom of the general deinstitutionalization of marriage rather than, as many assert, a cause of it. So the question remains less an empirical one than a theoretical one at present.
And yet we can build plausible hypotheses about the broader influence of same-sex marriage by looking around the neighborhood — that is, at what we already know about gay and straight relationships, about what’s happening to marriage, the mating market, and how institutions change.
In other words, if sociology were merely a matter of long-term studies, social policy would always be a case of shooting first and asking questions thirty years later. This is often how political sausage is made. Lobbyists and activists pressure politicians to pass or change a law, the change is enacted in a hurry, and, years later in some cases, we discover the terrible long-term effects of, for instance, pressuring banks into granting balloon rate mortgages to unqualified homebuyers.
Regnerus himself, the author of a large study on adulthood outcomes among children raised in various types of “non-traditional” families, prompted many supporters of marriage redefinition to lose their shit when his study’s results suggested that rates of social pathologies among children raised in non-traditional family structures were higher than among those raised in stable mother-father homes. Yet he admits that his research is not definitive in the empirical sense and more work is necessary. The question he raises here is whether sociologists need to wait for huge, long-term empirical data sets to say anything worth saying about an issue — especially an issue as important as whether we ought to make fundamental changes to the institution of marriage.
It seems to me that we might fairly compare the relationship between long-term studies and the “[a]ssociations, probabilities, and educated guesses” of short-term sociological opinion to the relationship between experimental and theoretical physics. Theoretical physics consists in jacking around doing who-knows-what while living with your odd buddies in a really huge apartment constructing hypotheses about how the universe works by bringing together previously-observed phenomena, theoretical paradigms, mathematical logic, and intuition. Experimental physics then attempts to design and carry out controlled experiments to test these hypotheses. Often theoretical physicists intuitively discover a truth before there are instruments precise enough to test it. Albert Einstein developed his theory of special relativity by attempting to reconcile seemingly contradictory observations of gravitational and electromagnetic field behavior. Mathematics and intuition both played essential roles in guiding him to surprising conclusions, subsequently proven by experiment. His theories provided the incentive for a vast amount of subsequent technical innovation and discovery over the past century.
“Social science” is not a science in the same way that physics is a science. But like physics, it seeks to interpret and predict phenomena and construct theories to explain observed phenomena. And like theoretical physics, social science does not merely rely on huge sets of observed long-term data. It can draw on the tools of observation, intuition, and analogy to seek out new insights. It can dialogue with philosophy, ethics and theology to better understand its subject, the human person. And enabled by this broader conception of its work, such a science can help us navigate the difficult social problems that can’t wait thirty years for a solution.
My wife and I have an open marriage. Before any friends have a heart attack or misunderstand, let me say that I am misusing this stupid term provocatively to make a point. Nevertheless, the type of relationship we have is the most authentic and open relationship to be found on earth. I will explain.
A year and a half ago, my wife and I were united in holy matrimony, which is a covenant not only between two people, but between them both and God. What this means is that our relationship is not defined as a closed-off, limited agreement between two contracting parties, but instantiates our complete giving of ourselves to each other, and our openness to God’s presence and guidance. This openness is important because it means God is involved in our marriage and is interested in whether we are continuing faithfully in it.
Openness to God in our marriage is key, because God is the ground and source of our being, and it is to him that we ultimately refer when attempting to understand the mystery of marriage. We learn from his Son that marriage is built into the nature of human beings; that it is God’s design for a man to “leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” We also learn that this mystery itself is a symbol of the Son’s relationship to his people. He is the Bridegroom, he says, and his bride is everyone who he has redeemed from the curse of sin that entered the world through disobedience. In marriage, then, we create an image of the unconditional love God offers to mankind.
Holy matrimony, as a living image, an instantiating symbol of God, is a way of opening ourselves to ultimate reality by establishing a special, sacramental connection to the ground of our being.
This openness manifests itself in other ways. Just as God welcomes anyone into his family, holy matrimony means having a welcoming and generous attitude toward the gift of children, and a commitment to bring those children up to know the love of God. Hospitality and charity too, being ready to welcome and meet the needs of others, are important aspects of the marriage vocation.
What marriage is “closed” to is anything that disrupts the union between one another and God. This is why the church prohibits sexual activity outside of the marriage union. (Law and custom also have powerful reasons to discourage adultery, but those aren’t the subject of this essay.) The marriage union acts out the relationship of desire and affection that draws us to one another and to God. I take the view that our love for God is erotic in the Socratic sense. We are drawn to him with desire in a dynamic, directional movement. Marriage is thus a form of noetic exaltation. Non-marital sex, by contrast, breaks the noetic chain between us and God. It is to some degree an opposite movement away from divine love, receding back into the disorder of primordial chaos from whence we emerged.
The sexual chaos of the modern world is one of the clearest signs of its overall disorientation to the divine ground of being. Not just “gay marriage” and the divorce rate, but especially the direct and indirect sexual exploitation of women and children reveals our age as one of the most severely blind, heartless, and gnostic epochs in history.
“No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society” wrote Eric Voegelin; “on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this crisis and live his life in order” (Science, Politics, and Gnosticism). With this watchword, we reject sexual alienation and instead embrace holy matrimony as an expression of redeeming grace for our time and for all time.