Monday, 8 November 2010

Brass Tacks

Poppets, soooo many letters this weekend! I will get to posting them eventually. Meanwhile, I have confirmed that I will be going to the Edith Stein Project at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, USA (Feb 11-12), so if you live in the midwest and it's worth the drive, sunny South Bend is where you will find little me.

Now, some interesting combox conversations with two noted Catholic bloggers, who are single women, has led me to reflect on what my blog is about and what its theological and anthropological underpinnings are. I think it would be helpful to write them out. Does that sound like too much for first thing Monday morning? But as my readership snowballs, I feel it is important to tell you where I stand. I have an M.Div., you know, and it was banged into my fuzzy red head that with influence comes a lot of responsibility. So here goes.

Theological Assumptions of Blog

1.1. God is, and God is a loving God Who has a plan not just for history but for each and every one of us. God knows better than we do what is good for us and loves us better than we love ourselves. Therefore, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to pray that we are given the strength and wisdom to help His plan and not hinder it through sin and stupidity.

1.2. God wishes us to live in certain ways, and not in others. God's teachings can be found in Scripture, tradition and the human heart.

1.3. The blogger being a practising Catholic, this blog assumes that the guardian of Scripture, tradition and (in so far as She is able) the human heart is the Catholic Church. And Catholics, believes the blogger, are not supposed to stay in their comfy ghettos 24/7 but to go out into the world and hang out with people of other religions or none, finding common ground and offering the wisdom of Catholicism for acceptance or rejection in a not-annoying way.

1.4. Marriage is the natural end of the human person,BUT the tradition of the Christian Church has held that the state of virginity/celibacy, since the Incarnation, is superior to marriage because it is a sign of the Kingdom, in which there will be no marriage.

Before the Incarnation, getting married was almost always what you were supposed to do. After the Incarnation, thousands and thousands of Christians have answered a call to remain Single.

The Single Life has traditionally been a life of great honour. Amongst the Jews of first century Palestine, sexual abstinence was associated with prophecy. Single Life has taken many forms during the history of the Church.

1.5. Through original sin, creation was broken. Although the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ began the healing work and gave us reconciliation with God, the effects of the Fall persist. There is perhaps no sadder proof for the Fall than the continuing war between the sexes, which I think is unnatural and simply appalling.

Anthropological Assumptions of Blog

2.1 Almost all men and women are good and wish to do good, not evil. Nevertheless, men and women sin. Good people can worsen through sinful habits; the evil among us can be transformed by accepting the promptings of grace to repent and live according to God's will.

2.2. Men and women are different in important ways, and their biological and psychological differences are complementary, not contradictory. This means that the differences are good, not bad, and they should be respected and even cherished.

2.3 Both men and women participate equally in reason and love, however. Men and women are both in the image and likeness of God, which means that they can (A) love, even to the point of complete self-sacrifice and (B) reason.

2.4 Men and women need each other for flourishing. Even a hermit or monk, a man who has made a tremendous sacrifice in eschewing the company of women, needs to have a relationship with Our Lady, to ask the prayers of female saints and to read their works.

Meanwhile, men and women living in the world, be they Single, married, consecrated, lay or clergy, have a duty to get over any resentment regarding the opposite sex and learn to love them as brothers or sisters.

2.5 Men and women were made for themselves and for each other. The position of St. Edith Stein was that Man was made for himself and Woman for Man. The position of John Paul II was that both Man and Woman were made for themselves. My own position is that of John Paul II with his caveat that both are called to serve others. Even a hermit is bound to at least pray for others.

Sexual Assumptions of this Blog

3.1 Sexuality (eros) is a powerful force deeply rooted in the human person. It is experienced differently by men and women. Itself inherently good, it can be used for great evil.

The purposes of sexual intercourse are (1) to create a bond of mutual love and commitment between husband and wife that will help them get to heaven and (2) to continue the human race. It should be quite fun once you get used to it. It is not worth losing your soul over. It is the Vitamin C of marriage.

3.2 Premarital/extramarital sex is a serious sin that destroys friendship, not only with God, but with other human beings. Sex is a powerful force that our age has set up as a rival to God. (Quite literally, in fact. Freud seemed to think that sex, not God, was at the bottom of everything.) Recognizing the life-giving but also incredibly destructive force of sexuality, all human societies--sometimes with a ear to God's will--have always surrounded it with boundaries, both helpful and unhelpful. Reducing women to chattel or sub-humans and demonizing our sexuality is not helpful. Hatred for men and women who experience same-sex sexual attractions is likewise not helpful.

The assumption of this blog is that sexual relations are spiritually, psychologically and even socially dangerous unless between a man and a woman pledged in matrimony. It assumes the the teachings of the Catholic Church on the subject of sexuality are true.

It warns that passionate kissing, which has been celebrated lovingly in stage, song, and Archie comics as a harmless past-time, should be avoided between those who are not engaged to be married. Any kind of physical sexual activity can lead to premature and illusory feelings of committed love. In short, it makes us harder to be reasonable, and this being also a Thomist blog, that gives this blog kittens.

3.3 Permanent virginity is superior to marriage, for it is a sign of the Kingdom. Temporary virginity is a very good thing for it is a sign of obedience to God's will concerning sexuality. It is also a defense against sexual sin. Virginity can only be lost through an act of the will, ruled St. Augustine. Destruction of the hymen, through violence, sports, dancing or whatever, does not make a woman a non-virgin. Homosexual rape does not make a man a non-virgin. (This last bit is not St. Augustine, but I'm sure he would agree although he did think that homosexual rape was the absolute worst thing that could happen to a man, short of damnation.)

3.4 It is the opinion of this blog that any man who commits self-abuse has no business judging women they believe, for any reason, to be sexual sinners. Everyone is a sinner, and just about everybody is a sexual sinner in some way. Most of us have times when we really have to work at being chaste, and when we fall, we have to get up again, say sorry, and strive to do better.

3.5. It is the opinion of this blog that staying chaste is a greater challenge for men than it is for women, although western society has been doing its damnedest to make it extremely hard for women, too.

Epistomological Assumptions of this Blog

4.1 Human beings come to knowledge through experiencing, understanding (the answer to "What is it?") and judging (the answer to "Is that really so?").

4.2 Human beings are often in a flight from understanding, usually because we are frightened of reality. We ought to get ALL the necessary data before we make judgements about anything.

4.3. It is better to be rooted in reality than to live in a dream world or to cower in a isolated corner.

4.4. In the blogger's experience, women have a much more difficult time remaining rooted in reality when it comes to romance, the opposite sex, etc., than men do. Women marry men they don't really love (and sometimes don't like) all the time, denying their feelings and hoping desperately that it will all turn out okay. Men, however, tend to put their ears right back and don't get married unless they really, really want to or are hiding a homosexual orientation or are gold-diggers. On the other hand, many Single men seem to get irrationally angry about their state. Hmm.

Authority of the Blogger

5.1 The blogger has no teaching authority whatsover. I am no substitute for your mother, your confessor, your doctor or anybody at all, except perhaps secular advice columnists. Theologians (among whom I was in training to be) should assist not rival the teaching office (magisterium) of the Church.

5.2. The blogger is 39 years old, a recently remarried woman, who married stupidly at 25, divorced at 27, received a church annulment at 28, accepted at 35 that she might be Single for the rest of her life, and had a church wedding at 38.

Before I turned 35, my so-called "dating life" consisted of dozens of lessons of what not to do and how not to be. This is where I get the great bulk of my opinions about dating and courtship, keeping in mind that my goal is not to marry everyone off but to give comfort and a sense of dignity to Single people who need it. I also hope to strangle divorce in its cradle by discouraging doomed marriages.

5.3. I am a Roman Catholic who goes to Mass every Sunday, usually in Latin. I think Benedict XVI is the bee's knees, and when certain (always older) people call him "Ratzinger", I gently say, "I think you mean 'the Holy Father'."

5.4. I have no problems with Vatican II, although I understand why some people do. I believe the new Mass is valid, although I wish it more often looked like the Mass Vatican II actually asked for.

5.5. I have an M.Div./S.T.B. and graduated Cum Magna Laude, thank you very much. I have worked in a number of lay ministerial roles, some of which I am hiding from my tradition-loving friends.

5.6. I write for two Catholic newspapers, one rather centrist and one rather "progressive". I am probably the most (if not only) "traditionalist" writer in the "progressive" paper. I would love to be a bridge between "traditionalists" and "progressivists" but it is a very hard thing to do and stay sane, let me tell you.

5.7 I began my "Seraphic Singles" blogs to help myself and other Single women feel better about being Single in a chaste Single-despising world. When I realized Single men were reading, I decided to write about their concerns, too.

5.8 Now that I'm married, I feel less like a wise-talking, gunslinging companion-in-arms, and more like a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks under her wings. When John Paul II said that every woman was a mother, I think he was including this kind of thing. Meanwhile, I try not to flutter annoyingly.

What a long post! If you're still there, go reward yourself with a cookie.

Update: Many thanks to Andrea Mrozek for her thoughtful review of Seraphic Singles/The Closet's All Mine. I think it is worth mentioning that Andrea, one of Canada's loudest, brightest, pro-life voices, adheres to the Reformed tradition.


Fritha said...

Wow, awesome post. Bookmarked for future reading! I'll now go and have my cookie.

Clare C said...

Do you think chastity is harder for men than women in every single case? I agree that perhaps that's a good general assumption, but then the problem is that women for whom chastity is as serious a struggle as men sometimes get demonized or treated more harshly when they do fall. (speaking from personal experience.)

Great post. Am considering printing it out and tacking it to my desk.

some guy on the street said...

cookies! Yum...

Andrea said...

I made it to the end! So I get the great thrill of seeing you mention my blog (and a cookie).

Andrea Mrozek :-)

dark but fair said...

Thank you so much for courageously standing with the truth of the Church Seraphic! (And I completely know what you are talking about on the subject of bridging the "traditionalists" with the "progressivists"!)

Seraphic said...

Clare C: I imagine some women do experience temptation to sexual sin just as much (or more) than some men.

A thirty-five year old widow or reformed serial monogamist is probably going to feel a lot more tempted than a sixty year old monk who has strictly practised abstinence his whole life. Also, teenage girls who read and watch a lot of sexy trash in books, magazines and TV are going to have a harder time than a married man of fifty-five.

The penalties, reputation-wise, are harder for women who sin sexually than for most men (not priests, though), just as they always have been. Although sad in itself and OUTRAGEOUS when it includes actual stonings and other barbarisms, it could add extra support to remaining chaste. That, too, for good and for bad, is one of the established ways of keeping sexuality from destroying. Of course filial fear is better than servile fear, but servile fear is better than nothing.

In my experience, younger men and women are much, more more judgmental about perceived sexual sinners than older men and women are. To this day, however, there are people who sneer about my divorce/annulment/remarriage. The shame, I think, is on them, not me. And when I hear someone do their damnedest to destroy a woman's reputation, I do feel disgust, but not for the woman being slandered.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with unchastity in women as opposed to men is that the "real life" consequences of it are so much worse. It's not just our reputations that are more at stake - or rather, our reputations are more at stake than men's because our real-world penalties for unchastity are so steep. Sorry for this statement of the obvious, but it seems important to stress that these things haven't really changed.

I liked this post very much, Seraphic One. It was such a clear and concise (in spite of its length!) profession of faith.


Seraphic said...

By the real-life consequences, the things I can think of that are different for women are that women get pregnant (and are sometimes then abandoned and/or frightened into killing the baby) and that women get their hearts broken because sex "means more" to their psyches than it does to men--in general. Some men argue that sex has a huge effect on their psyches, too. I am not sure, though. There are too many men roaming around trying to have casual sex by any means possible, including (especially) lying their heads off.

Another consequence, quite apart from a heighened risk of venereal disease (which women apparently contract more quickly than men do), is the risk of cervical cancer, which apparently condoms do not necessarily prevent against (cf Natalie Angier). The risk is particularly high for teenage girls.

Quite apart from these worldly concerns is the real-life consequence of being in a state of mortal sin, which is something of course that men share.

And religious men who sin sexually know this and are apt to think of their partner in crime (if they aren't truly in love with her) as an occasion for sin, to be avoided, if possible, ever after. "She made me do it" is as old as Adam and Eve.

Meanwhile, given how much collosal damage women can do to themselves through sexual sin, it is perhaps not unreasonable for religious people to wonder why on earth the girl holds herself so cheaply as to risk all that. Of course she doesn't, though--she's just not rooted in reality and her passions are overcoming her reason, and it probably has to do with some women's insatiable need to feel loved more than sexual desire, anyway.

Loss of reputation is just one more of a list of calamities which which chastity speakers terrify teenagers at big assemblies. I am not myself a chastity speaker, and I don't think fear works so spiffingly well after high school, when one goes to college and makes friends with a lot of women who are supposedly having a lot of sex and yet are not visibly struck down by misfortune. Some women have darned good luck.

The number one reason why someone should not give into temptation to sexual sin is because to do so is to insult God. Wishing not to displease God is called "filial fear." That should be our primary consideration.

The absolute number one rule I have about sexual sin is that you must not tell anyone about it except a priest in confession and, if you really need to sort it out, in spiritual direction. Really. You simply must not tell anyone but a priest. Let silence be part of your penance. Heaven only knows how many girls have told all to female friends to have those female friends spread the tale to the winds.

Too often women are their own worst enemies.

Clare C said...

This is very true. My only caveat is this: "it probably has to do with some women's insatiable need to feel loved more than sexual desire, anyway."
My problem with chastity lectures growing up was that they assumed that boys want sex and girls want to make boys happy. But women are complicated and sexual desire is powerful thing. The image of a woman holding herself cheaply, bartering or giving herself for security or affirmation, does not speak to women who are sexual actors, not investors of sexual assets.
Is this making any sense at all?
This really interests me, and I could talk about it for a while.
Basically I am saying that to modern, non-traditionally raised women, the idea of not giving themselves away cheaply, or protecting their assets from rapacious men, is likely to be a turn-off. (Seraphic, I know this isn't what you are saying.. I'm speaking of a trend I see in certain Nice Catholic Circles and what a certain demograhic is likely to read into it.)It may be counter-intuitive, but I truly think that in this day and age, filial fear is the most effective way, if not the only way, to make chastity attractive.

Seraphic Spouse said...

Clare C, you are absolutely right that women over a certain age are indeed sexual subjects and sexual actors.

However, a girl of 13 in general does not experience sexual desire the way a girl of 19 does and certainly not the way a woman of 25 does, especially not if that women is already sexually active. And yet there are sexually "active" 13 year old girls--mostly because there are boys and men who enjoy having sex with 13 year old girls.

In grade school I knew a 13 year old girl with a 19 year old lover. I suppose I should have told somebody. She was a foster kid, and I think her boyfriend was the only "loving" man in her hardscrabble life. She'd already had a miscarriage.

Every woman who does not have a morbid fear or hatred of sex knows that she is a sexual subject and, if sexually active, a sexual actor. Most sexually active men must be aware of this, too, these days. However, it is a very bad idea for a NCG to stand up in a chastity lecture and announce this, for it will scare the living daylights out of NCBs and catch the attention of every two-bit Lothario in earshot.

Sadly chastity lectures are too often given in mixed company. I'd love to give a really rip-roaring, I-know-what-you-think-at-night-ladies lecture to a bunch of college-age women, but I would never do so to a mixed group.

Seraphic said...

And I have just had a nightmare vision of announcing to a dinner party of NCBs that I was a sexual actorr, to which their vision-selves replied, variously, with "Father wants to see your Katie Price costume" and "I think you should keep that thought to yourself."

Clare C said...

hahahahah oh lordy.
I think we agree, so I'm going to stop being cantankerous.
Invite me to that ladies' night lecture. I'll bring the whiskey

Pat said...

great great post!
Where have I been to so lately come to this blog???

Alisha said...

I like the brass tacks. They are solid gold. :)

theobromophile said...

Sadly chastity lectures are too often given in mixed company. I'd love to give a really rip-roaring, I-know-what-you-think-at-night-ladies lecture to a bunch of college-age women, but I would never do so to a mixed group.
College age? Why not older, too? (Some of us spent our college years being scared out of our wits by men, and it wasn't until older, calmer, kinder men backed off that issue that we matured. :p )

And, um... okay, chastity rant time... why, oh WHY are ANY chastity or sexuality lectures given in mixed company? It's either impractical or immodest or both. You're either not doing justice to the full range of emotions of both sexes (impractical) or you are, at which point it's immodest and not a little bit terrifying.

And marital-sexuality lectures should - please, please - be given only to married or about-to-be-married people. I'm going to clobber the next Single man who starts quoting Dennis Prager and talks about how women owe it to their husbands to put out whenever the husband wants sex, the wives' desires and emotions be damned. Ditto for those (Protestant, always) pastors who smirk in front of a mixed Single-Married congregation and talk about how sex is soooo good and having more of it always helps marriage (smirk, smirk, and nudge, nudge, ladies). It's at once both overly personal and entirely depersonalised.

(I did say this was a rant, right? :) )