"Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. ... A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once."
— G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
I remember, a few years back, sitting around a little round table in a crowded Minneapolis bar with two former co-workers. They were talking about their work and home lives — their wives and children (one each at the time) and the challenges of unwinding after a day at work. One of the two enjoys computer games, but said he had to wait until after his wife — and especially his daughter — went to bed, because he didn't want them walking in on the particularly violent or sexual scenes in the game. The other agreed, saying very matter-of-factly that it was the same with viewing online pornography — you always had to be looking over your shoulder, not because your wife doesn't know
, but because it's better for everyone if she doesn't see
They spoke very openly about it, as though everyone does it and it's perfectly normal. I know only too well that these are common — even rampant — habits in our society, but I'm always dismayed when men pretend that they are natural, insurmountable, or even desirable as part of being an adult male. Another co-worker used to speak of men "in their natural state" as being herd bulls, biologically inclined to breed with as many females as possible — and he marveled that I could appear so happy in an intentionally lifelong and monogamous relationship.
The idea that men are nothing more than rutting bulls ignores God's intention in the matter, to be sure, but it also ignores anthropology and common sense. From a common-sense perspective, the drive to breed is not what motivates a lustful or promiscuous male — in fact, many go to great lengths not
to leave offspring behind. From an anthropological standpoint, the idea that there were ever primeval human males, free of cultural constraints, who could breed with whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, flies in the face of what scientists currently think about evolution. Current theory suggests that culture predates the modern human species by millions of years. In other words, even if you are convinced that God has nothing to say in the matter, we were already "artificially" overcoming our biology well before we were human.
That's not to say that our presumed prehuman ancestors were lifelong and faithful spouses — it merely makes the point that we have been re-writing the rules of strict call-and-response biology for eons now, so claiming that we can't do it today, or in this particular case, is a cop-out.
Pope John Paul II once wrote, "There are people who try to ridicule, or even to deny, the idea of a faithful bond which lasts a lifetime. These people — you can be very sure — do not know what love is." We can be faithful, lifelong spouses — knights in shining armor — and the Church shows us how.
The great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton discovered in the Catholic Church the wonder and hope and beauty that had inspired him as a child and helped him to understand the world. The romance of the Church struck him as a more Truth-filled worldview than the coldly scientific view of the cosmos that many of the great thinkers and writers of his day espoused. No doubt many of his contemporaries saw him as a hopelessly devoted to a way of life that was quaint at best, and dangerously outmoded at worst.
We live in the same world as he did — you could argue that we fight the same battle as the knights of the middle ages. In The Power of Myth
, Joseph Campbell paraphrases another scholar of stories, Ortega y Gasset, in talking about the famous, foolish romantic Don Quixote:
Don Quixote was the last hero of the Middle Ages. He rode out to encounter giants, but instead of giants, his environment produced windmills. Ortega points out that this story takes place about the time that a mechanistic interpretation of the world came in, so that the environment was no longer spiritually responsive to the hero. The hero is today running up against a hard world that is in no way responsive to his spiritual need....
Now it has become to such an extent a sheerly mechanistic world, as interpreted through our physical sciences, Marxist sociology, and behavioristic psychology, that we're nothing but a predictable pattern of wires responding to stimuli. The nineteenth century interpretation has squeezed the freedom of the human will out of modern life.
But like Quixote, if we take a hard look at the world around us, we can see the marauding giants — especially with regard to marriage and sex. Divorce, in particular, is so widespread that many children shrug it off as commonplace, and men and women joke that marriage isn't worth it because the wedding is too expensive and lasts longer than the commitment. Roughly half of marriages end in divorce, and the results aren't significantly different for Catholic couples, because even with traditional Catholic marriage preparation, many couples simply go through the required motions and never actually come to understand the why
behind the Church's teachings. Why does the Church oppose living together or having sexual relations before marriage? Why, in the 21st century, does the Catholic Church stand essentially alone in opposing artificial means of birth control?
According to Christopher West, the well-known Catholic speaker who has dedicated his life to spreading Pope John Paul II's Theology of Body teachings, in the past two millenia, the Catholic Church has written roughly 6,000 pages on marriage and sexuality — and 4,000 of those were written by John Paul II since the 1970s. Obviously he saw giants, too, and knew they must be fought and slain. He armed the Church with a renewed understanding of the essential relationship of marriage and sexuality to what it means to be human and created in God's image. Until recently, however, relatively few people had been exposed to these teachings.
Through the efforts of West and other impassioned lay leaders, bishops and parish priests, awareness is growing — and marriages are changing for the better. My own marriage is a case in point. My wife and I came late to understanding and embracing the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality. We've been married 13 years now, with four kids, ages 11 to 5. Catholic marriage preparation wasn't easy for me — while I admired the strength of my bride's faith, I didn't have a strong religious upbringing. Although I had been raised with many of the same values and was quite proud of the fact that we had both "saved ourselves" for marriage, I wasn't a fan of some of the Church's teachings, especially on birth control.
I'm sure the married couples who discussed Natural Family Planning with us at our Engaged Encounter weekend told us that NFP is a scientifically safe and sound way for couples to determine a woman's fertility each month in order to achieve or avoid pregnancy. I know they told us it was completely aligned with the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality — and while I argued with them about how NFP was different from contraception, inside I had two thoughts, one positive and one negative: