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Is It, at Long Last, “Love”? Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Author’s Note: I couldn’t help noticing that this piece marks the sixth anniversary of my very first piece for this web journal of ours, “Congregationalists All?” (June 10, 2008). Bob Royal launched us all with his opening column, The Catholic Thing six days earlier on June 2nd. None of us knew how long we could keep at it, and yet:  we’ve kept filing these pieces on-time, without looking back. It was a project brought forth by this band of brothers and sisters, who had once collaborated in Crisis magazine. And it could only have been sustained, as it has been, not by the money, but by the shared love of the project by the friends who have held together. Bob puts out a call every so often, as he must, for the contributions that keep this journal going. But at this anniversary, others of us should step in and invite our readers to join yet again, where they can, to convey their support for this project, sprung from the wit and conviction of Bob Royal, sustained by the writers he has drawn to his side – and by the community of readers that has formed about us. – Hadley Arkes
 

When the question of sex and the law arises in classes, the reflex of my students at Amherst had been to say that these matters of love and sexual attraction were inscrutable and subjective: Reason had little to do with them, and no more did it furnish a ground for casting moral judgments on the love that expressed itself in sexual engagements.

I would put to the students this problem:  A man tells us that he was attracted to his wife by “her ravishing blondness, her exquisite complexion – she went perfectly with the drapes in my apartment.” But those looks had altered with time, and now, he said, “I’m doing the whole apartment over in Art Deco, and she no longer really ‘goes’ with the place.”

Even with the sensibilities of the young these days, this account will still elicit laughs. I’ve remarked often on the connection between comedy and philosophy, with the comedians making their livings from the play of logic and the shadings in our language. The laugh is the telling sign that the point has been grasped.

But what it told still needed to be explained. There was a natural reaction to something strikingly, comically, out of scale: to treat the decision for marriage on the same plane as the choice of drapes was to reduce the marital relation to the plane of the trivial. And reduced in the same way would be the “love” that the marriage would mark. It was a love and marriage that would claim to last no longer than the  “sensations” that made the blondness and the complexion pleasing at the time. There would be no hint here that “age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”

But to speak of a love that will endure even as looks atrophy is to speak of a non-material “good,” a good of the soul. It must imply that there is something about one’s spouse that is admirable in a lasting way, a way that rightly draws one’s enduring respect and attachment. But that is to say, there is an ineffaceable moral component to love that is understood in this way – love in its most serious meaning, the love that finds a coherent expression in the commitment of marriage.

What brings forth all of this now is that we are approaching the anniversary of that moment last June when the Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Windsor, took another critical step in unraveling the institution of marriage. We heard all about us at the time that “people should be allowed to marry the ones they love.” 

Even without inquiring too deeply into the meaning of “love,” that summoning line was instantly revealed as an empty slogan to anyone willing to subject it even to some minimal questioning.


         True marriage: Cupid and Psyche by Orazio Gentileschi, c. 1630

In the very nature of things, one could not deny the serious love that subsisted between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, and yet those could not be demeaned as “loves” because they were not expressed in sexual touching and confirmed in marriage. There was also the problem of the “polyamorous” and the polygamous. Their loves were not confined to a coupling, but woven together in an ensemble of three, four or more. Why would these people not be allowed to “marry the ones they loved”?

And yet, apart from all of that, it struck me recently that we were not even speaking the same language when the advocates of same-sex marriage made their heart-felt claims to the honoring of “love.”  Gareth Kirby, editor of the gay-lesbian newspaper Xtra West, wrote in September 2001 that: 

we know that a 30-year relationship is no better than a nine-week or nine-minute fling – it’s different, but not better. . . .We know that the instant intimacy involved in that perfect 20-minutes. . .in Stanley Park can be a profoundly beautiful thing.
I have thoughtful friends on the other side of this issue of same-sex marriage, and I’m certain that Jonathan Rauch and others would not accept this account of the “love” they would seek to respect in a same-sex marriage.

Those lines of Gareth Kirby are quoted by Robert Reilly in his recent book Making Gay Okay. The flip title is belied by the fact this is a probing, serious work, recalling Aristotle, Aquinas, and Rousseau along with empirical studies. Those studies have confirmed over the years the bizarre number of sexual partners sought by gay men.

In one extensive study in 2009,  35 percent of the men “reported that they had engaged in sexual intercourse with fewer than 100 men; 42 percent had engaged. . .with between 100 and 499 men, and 23 percent. . .with 500 or more partners.”

Even the most dedicated gay activists would hold back from placing the mantle of “love” on sexual encounters with several hundred men, some with men unknown, and lasting twenty minutes. But then what is the upshot? Even gay activists will cast an adverse judgment on patterns of activity that have been strikingly characteristic of gay men for years.

In that case, how could it be inadmissible for anyone else to raise the same kind of critical questions about the meaning of the homosexual life? And how could it be defensible for the law to impose punishments on those who would cast the same judgments cast by gay activists on the way that some people act out their “sexual orientations”? 

 
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. He is also Founder and Director of the Washington-based James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
 
 
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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by myshkin, June 17, 2014
The attempt to shut down debate on moral issues like homosexual acts, abortion and religious freedom is being conducted by rigid ideologues at just about every place of every institution. Even the Pope pooh-poohed a high level of moral seriousness about this when he defended Monsignor Battista Ricca and his scandal-ridden, homosexual conduct when at the nunciature in Uruguay (1999-2001). It was in defending Fr. Ricca, that Pope Francis infamously opined "who am I to judge?"

So, Dr. Arkes, was the Pope right to simply ignore Fr. Ricca's past in appointing him to be the prelate for the Institute for the Works of Religion (Vatican Bank)? Or should a more stringent moral approach have been taken?
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written by Manfred, June 17, 2014
As Prometheus says in The Masque of Pandora: "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad." Alan Dershowitz, not exactly in the pro-life camp, has written twice that he cannot find the right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution, yet we have had 55 million "legal" abortions since Roe v. Wade. When a son of mine was a state trooper on patrol, one of his tasks was to stop at unattended rest areas on highways and simply get out of his car and begin to copy license plate numbers of the parked unattended vehicles. Within minutes, men would come running out of the woods pullimg up their clothing entering their cars and driving away. This might be 11 AM in the morning!
N.J. state police often found GOVERNOR Jim McGreevey in an assignation in a rest area at night with a man while his wife and child awaited him at home.
This nation is completely corrupted and this is a great benefit to serious Catholics as they know to no longer feel any affection for it. As the psalm says:"Place not your trust in princes, those sons of men in whom there is no salvation. When they pass from this earth their plans die with them."
Great piece, Cr. Arkes. Thank you.
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written by Rich in MN, June 17, 2014
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson announced last month that he and Mark Andrew are getting divorced after 6 years of mirage.
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written by Dan Deeny, June 17, 2014
Excellent! Now you need to get on TV and tell us about this.
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written by Dan, June 17, 2014
I do public speaking on abortion and the other major issues relating to sexual morality, and I've found that the question that is most predictive of a person's view about these issues is the question "What is love?" People who grasp and accept that there is is deep interconnection between love and suffering invariably are open to Catholic teaching on sexual morality. Those who reject the idea that love and suffering are interrelated are impervious to the Church's teachings
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written by Mr. Levy, June 17, 2014
Incisive and compelling, Prof. Arkes. Now how do we defend your true tolerance in the face of the merciless enforcement of the New Dispensation by the other side? They have taken our entertainment, our universities, our press, and our legal class, and they have greatly weakened the church and the family. With what are we to fight against the ever-growing barbarism? Words alone are nearly futile at this point.
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written by Paul, June 17, 2014
From my experience; It's not just that we're not "speaking the same language" we aren't even having the same argument. Supporters of SSM figure you can just legally change the definition of marriage to fix what they see as an injustice with no problems. Haven't they looked in the rear view mirror and seen what carnage their other quick fixes have wrought.
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written by Juie A. Shuyler, June 17, 2014
For anyone seriously interested in defending the sanctity of marriage in the public square, Robert Reilly's book, "Making Gay Okay," is a must-read. This book is filled with shocking truths about the consequences of same sex behavior. To speak these truths with love is an act of charity to our gay brothers and sisters. The physical and emotional toll on them can no longer be ignored or hidden, no matter what the price paid by those who speak these truths. Perhaps these horrifying statistics will not prove futile in changing some minds and hearts.
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written by Athanasius, June 17, 2014
Myshkin, add climate change to the list of ideology that we dare not question. Many religious fall for this hook, line, and sinker. As with other leftist ideas, they fail to see how leftists use this issue as an inroad to increased power, a power that is most hostile to authentic Catholic truth.
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written by Mr. Levy, June 17, 2014
Paul -

In this regard, I think often of an April 6, 1859 letter by Abraham Lincoln to Henry Pierce, in which Lincoln wrote in part:

"One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but, nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms."
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written by Rich in MN, June 17, 2014
I am just finishing up the interesting book by J.Budziszewski entitled, "What We Can't Not Know," which definitely gives some food for thought regarding possible talking points. In addition, Fr. Robert Barron made an interesting, albeit disconcerting, claim in one of his "Word on Fire" videos that we as a society have lost the ability to debate. It is not the superior argument that wins but rather the superior narrative. Now the question becomes, how do we get a hearing for the narrative that proposes that persons, places, and things have purposes not merely in the will of the individual but rather in the nature of the thing itself? I think Prof Budziszewski's book adds to that discussion. Possibly Dr. Arkes has some recommendations from his own published work as well?
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written by Hadley Arkes, June 17, 2014
I want to thank the readers who have written in today; I very much appreciate their comments—and the citations to friends such as J. Budziszewski. Paul and Rich touch on a point I would bring out more fully. In my book, First Things (Princeton 1986), in the chapter on Cultural Relativism (“Or: Abbott and Costello Meet the Anthropologists”) I imagined a conversation between two people, affecting to argue over the question of whether, years hence, Martin Luther King or Jesse Jackson would be regarded as the more important figure on civil rights. The man making the case for Jackson cites “Jackson’s three home runs in the World Series of 1976.” He has the wrong Jackson (Reggie). Were they really having an “argument”? With ignorance on one side, or a simple want of comprehension, there is no real meshing of remarks to form a real “argument.”

With this vexing matter of sexuality, we have not really approached the state of any serious “argument,” for people on the other side simply label as a bigot anyone who would raise critical questions and ask them to give an account of themselves. If this were simply a matter of taste, there should be no rebuking of people who do not share their taste. But if they would brand as morally “wrong” anyone who would find fault with them in any way, they should be obliged to explain why they are justified in casting that moral judgment on their critics. The “argument” here has been waged only on one side. The other side has gained its way by refusing to enter any argument—in fact, by insisting that their own side is so clearly right that it is an insult to demand that they give reasons to support their position. The astonishing thing is that, in a society with so many college graduates filling the media and the professions, this contempt for reason has glided to success. And all of this has taken place with little embarrassment on the side of the “educated classes,” or with little sense that there has been here any intellectual vacuity worth noticing.
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written by Rich in MN, June 18, 2014
Thank you, Dr. Arkes, for your followup remarks. J Budziszewski, in his aforementioned book, brings attention to the distinction between "those who don't get it" (ignorance) and "those who won't get it" (militant refusal to be challenged in their position). There might be a tendency to think of the latter group as composed strictly of radicals screaming slogans, but I find my most frustrating encounters are with nice people who just don't want to be challenged. A case in point: one of my friends is a woman with three daughters in their 20s. All of them have apparently experimented sexually with other women. (I am told repeatedly that "women are more bisexual by nature.") Anyways, when the Minnesota Marriage Amendment came on the ballot a few years ago, her daughters were "all in" with their "Don't Limit the Freedom to Marry" signs. When I asked my friend, who is a graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota (no 'mean' school, as they say), why SHE supported SSM, she said, "I want my daughters to be able to get married if they want." I tried to discuss with her some of the issues -- e.g. the child's right (and usually innate desire) to know, love, and be loved by the people who created them, the complementary nature of women and men, etc. Her rebuff was simply, "I want my daughters to be able to get married if they want." I bought her books (e.g. John Corvino [et al.] versus Maggie Gallagher, "Debating SSM") which my friend refused to read.

As you know, the Rob "Meathead" Reiner funded tsunami came through Minnesota and defeated the amendment (although, given the Windsor decision last year, it may not have made any difference in the long run). Now, my friend's oldest daughter works as an attorney for Lambda doing Heaven-knows-what to advance the cause of gay rights in the areas of marriage and adoption. But, hey, at least my friend's daughters will be able to get married if they want!

Such is my frustration regarding one very sweet, well-educated person among the ranks of "those who won't get it." It is all so very painful.
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written by Julie , June 18, 2014
Sadly, there are no reasonable arguments when dealing with barbarians, especially moral barbarians. I believe we have passed the opportunity for public discourse. Grave sin darkens the intellect and weakens the will. I think we may have reached the tipping point where most of our college graduates for the last 20 (30? 40?) years are living in persistent mortal sin, at least objectively speaking. Their self-serving "culture of death" choices are destroying civilization while many of those who know the truth are silent through apathy and/or fear. I believe that the only argument that will ultimately effect change is the witness of those willing to die for what is good, true and beautiful. This is not discouraging; this is the blessed opportunity for heroic virtue! May our good, true and beautiful Savior equip us with the grace to be morally heroic when necessary.
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written by Rich in MN, June 18, 2014
Well said, Julie. About 10 or 15 years ago, the late Msgr William B Smith was on the 'EWTN Live' program. As I recall, he posited your same prediction regarding the "tipping point." The moral abomination of abortion and euthanasia had put this country and Western civilization on the very edge. He said that, should homosexuality became normalized with gay 'marriage', he saw no way our civilization could survive. Not only is it becoming normalized, but it is being enforced with a vengeance. May Jesus equip us with the grace to be morally heroic.
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written by Mr. Levy, June 19, 2014
Julie, I agree, which is why I believe we need to move toward a more assertive political and, especially, judicial strategy. For instance, rather than passing a constitutional amendment to stop abortion, law-respecting justices could use the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment to enact the same thing (just as leftist justices have done hundreds of times but extra-legally). The 2nd Amendment and the 14th Amendment should be relied upon to guarantee full self-defense rights to every American (as was very clearly intended by the framers of the 14th Amendment). The 14th Amendment could also serve as a basis for upholding real marriage in the name of equal protection for children. And so on.

Rich, to build on your story: what is worse than the arrogant fundamentalism of the left is the confusion of the right. Many who are conservative on matters not involving the family ask now, "What harm can same-sex marriage do?" Those who are supposed to look to tradition, history, nature, and perhaps even the Bible, instead assume that there is no point in resisting and that anyone who does resist bears the burden of explaining himself. Such "conservatives" cannot endure being on the wrong side of majority opinion, even by a few percentage points. Americans were always susceptible to this weakness, but never moreso than in our time of indoctrinated ignorance. Unless we make a stand politically and legally, the ruin of the Republic will soon be complete. We are, as noted by Prof. Arkes, Julie, and you, well beyond the time of verbal persuasion.

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written by eric smith, June 23, 2014
what about gay women?

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