“I appreciate the energy of this essay,” my professor wrote at the end of a longish paper I had written on Faulkner’s Light in August, “but there is no reason to go outside the covers of the novel to explain what he had to say.” He was a New Critic, and for reasons I never understood felt that the world of Faulkner’s art was the world of Faulkner’s art. He would not allow anyone in his classes to stray into context, or history, or other such remote places. Well, he made the rules–but I didn’t follow them (my grades were all B++++++, which I guess was a back door vindication).
I may have just spoken a parable. The George essay, “What Is Marriage?”, is gathering attention in pagan liberal circles precisely because he and his co-authors insist on invading enemy territory and out-arguing them on their ground, rather than holding to the truths that their own have defended for many, many centuries.
John Creech has done a heroic job of precis, and then another heroic job of doubling back on the initial assaults against the George position. This could go on for some time, if the George team defense continues to push back at the relativist counterattacks they seem so happy to receive. Philosophers love this stuff, almost as much as New Critics loved to defend art for art’s sake. I detect an undertone in John Creech’s summaries that hopes for George, et. al. to get off the other team’s turf–but I may be wrong and don’t want to put words into anybody’s mouth.
But I must offer what seems to me to be a simple-minded correction to all of this. Without God there is no marriage. Natural Law doesn’t cut it (at least not by itself), nor do sociological arguments (and that’s what most of them are) make a convincing case for something so fundamentally a part of the order of creation. Why shy away from Christian, especially Catholic Christian, conviction that God is Creator, we are creatures, the Creator made us male and female, and that we fulfill part of the order of God’s creation by becoming one flesh? One can make all the ingenious arguments one wishes, and engage the liberal pagans wherever one wants to; but they have the ground covered. God defines marriage by revelation, and for believers there is no way out of that truth.
The George team theorem boils down to “conjugal marriage between one man and one woman works better for the man, the woman, children they produce, and in the public square.” True. But why stop there? It all works better because of its Creator, not because of any properties attached to the creatures.
I remember reading both 1984 and Brave New World in the same year–probably in 1965, just about a year before I read The Conservative Mind, which changed my life. Most of my graduate student friends read the same things (and saw the movies) at about the same time. They all thought Orwell was much more frightening, because he seemed much closer to Cold War realities. Huxley’s dystopia terrified me much more than Orwell’s, however. By “The Year of Our Ford, 632” (26th century), Huxley saw a world where conjugal marriage and the family had been completely eliminated. For those of us young married couples who were trying to raise families amidst the moral chaos of the mid-60s this hit home. It didn’t help that the Rock of the Church seemed to be crumbling between 1965 and 1970 (for those of you who think that the immediate aftermath of Vatican II was exciting, fun, promising–I’ve got news for you: it wasn’t).
Huxley saw in 1931 that the only important issue in bringing about the Brave New World was getting the family under complete control, ultimately eliminating it, after which all other barriers between the autonomous individual and the World State would be swept away. In 1966, I read Kipling’s “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” for the first time, sent to it by something that Russell Kirk had written:
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
And the final stanza,
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Oh, the energy good, sensible men and women have put into reasonable arguments with folks such as the George team is engaging! I can’t help but think that the energy would be better spent trying to lay out the horrors of ideology and the mystical wonders of the sacramental life. See, Mr. Koppleman and Mr. Deutsch, and all the rest of you perhaps well meaning relativists, the Brave New World is what you are leading us to, and I’ve got a better idea!
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.