Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Path With No Happy Ending

I have been struggling with something for a little while regarding how I approach something more and more common in the popular culture.

It is very rare to find a relationship depicted in television or film that coincides with God's plan for romantic love.  Most TV romances have the characters meet, fall in love, and then begin sharing their bodies with each other before they share their souls in the bonds of marriage.

Despite this, I still find myself emotionally investing in these relationships.  On The Big Bang Theory I want Penny and Leonard to work through their tough times.  I enjoyed watching Jim and Pam hide their pre-marital pregnancy from Michael Scott on The Office.  I recently rewatched The Silver Linings Playbook.  Bradley Cooper's character is a married man whose wife cheated on him.  He plans to reconcile with his unfaithful wife but begins to fall in love with Jennifer Lawrence's character.  In God's eyes, he should stick by his commitment to his wife.  Yet I could not help but feel a preference for his blossoming romance with the other woman.

So you can see that I find myself connecting to and rooting for these relationships despite their questionable moral state.  Yet that is not the issue at hand.  The main issue is this: though I find myself emotionally investing in these relationships I have never been able to do so for  homosexual ones.

The proliferation of gay characters and plot lines means that there are more and more romantic stories in the pop culture involving homosexual relationships.  And yet no matter how many times I have encountered them, I can never find myself being drawn into the story.

Why is this a problem?  Some of you might be thinking that since all sexual contact between two people of the same sex is always wrong, then the case is cut and dried.  But as I just wrote, I find myself emotionally tied to other romantic relationships that are also sinful.  Why am I tolerant of these and not the others?

I am not one to simply assume the goodness of my own motivations.  If the reason for my reaction is simple-minded homophobia, then that is a problem that I have a moral responsibility to address.  As Christians we are called to love and respect our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attractions.  Any illogical or close-minded view of them should be rooted out.

So the way I see it, there are 3 possibilities going forward.

1.  I have an unwanted homophobic prejudice that must be removed.
2.  I have been too tolerant of all sinful romantic relationships and the detachment I have to homosexual relationships should be applied to heterosexual sinful relationships.
3.  I must discover a real difference between the two types that can account for the different reactions.

As to the first, I shall examine my conscience on this matter.  Regarding these characters, I do not wish them ill or despise them because of their orientation.  I simply cannot root for their relationship to advance.  When I used to watch Modern Family I found that Cam was one of my favorite characters.  I enjoyed his personality and his humor.  But I had no desire to see he and Mitchell get "married."

As to the second, this bears a good deal of thought.  I have heard from many people I respect that the popular culture has essentially devolved into a cesspool of moral depravity.  Interacting with it leads to moral corruption.  I do not dismiss this point out of hand.  I have seen how corrosive pop culture can be and I should be arrogant to think that I alone am immune from its glamours.

I don't think the second scenario applies to me either, though.  I am emotionally tied to the relationships, but that does not stop me for acknowledging that any sex outside of marriage is wrong.  But I will be exploring this and other issues at length in a new feature on this blog (more on this later)

So this brings me to the third possibility: that there is a substantial difference between sinful heterosexual relationships I see and the homosexual ones.  And I think this one is the key.

I believed I figured it out when thinking about the movie Oldboy.  For those who haven't seen the movie, I am going to spoil it here.  I admit that I myself have not seen the movie either.  The reason I haven't is that I found out what the plot entailed and it turned my stomach.

In Oldboy, a young man is locked away in a private prison for several years by an unknown captor.  He is then mysteriously released back into the world where he tries discover the mystery of his imprisonment.  Along the way he meets a young woman who helps him and the two become lovers.  Over the course of the movie, he discovers that his imprisonment was part of an elaborate revenge plot which involved him starting a sexual relationship with the young woman who, it turned out, was his grown up daughter.

At the end of the movie, the main character undergoes hypnosis to forget that his lover is his daughter.  When she finds him, she embraces him and it is unclear whether the treatment worked.  I read somewhere that this meant that it was unclear if the movie would have a "happy ending."

And I remember thinking, "There is no happy ending here."  If he remembers, he will be haunted by his terrible sin.  If he does not, he will persist in this relationship that goes against the human designs of sexuality.

This is when I think I finally understood the difference between all of those sinful relationships I do invest in and those that I do not: redeemability.

If a straight couple is fornicating with each other, this is obviously sinful.  But this romantic love can be redeemed by the two of them getting married.  It does not mean the fornication wasn't sinful, only that now their physical relationship can now be expressed in a moral way.  Recently Pope Francis married a couple in the Vatican that had been "living in sin."

If a divorced couple gets remarried, in the eyes of God that is still adultery.  But if they seek the processes of annulment and obtain it, they can express their physical love in a licit marriage.

Most of the heterosexual relationships with moral problems that I see on TV have the potential to be placed right.

But that is not the case with homosexual romantic relationships.

As a faithful Catholic I hold to the moral truth that sexual intimacy is only for marriage and that marriage is only for man and woman.  The Church does not teach that there is anything wrong with two people of the same sex sharing affection, friendship, or self-sacrificing love for one another.  But romantic love has as its ultimate endpoint a union between the lovers that involves the sharing of bodies.  And this sharing can never be in line with God's plan of human sexuality.

So when I see a gay romance begin to blossom, I am filled with a sense of sadness more than anything.  Because these two are going to burn with the same intense romantic flames that singe the hearts of so many.  But if they continue down that path, there is no place where they can end happily.  There is no point at which this romantic love can be made licit.

In this way it reminds me of the end of Oldboy: to continue forward would be to go against God's plan and thus go further away from our natural happiness.

I pray I have expressed my conclusion with sufficient logic and tenderness.  My experiences with many of my gay friends is that they feel like they are shunned and alienated from God and the Church.  God forbid that we should be anything but loving towards all, gay or straight.

But we can only love in truth.  We do no one any favors by exchanging the truth of God for a lie.  If I believed that someone could live an active homosexual lifestyle and find true happiness, then Christianity would be a lie and I could not believe in the faith any longer.

Regarding the morally problematic heterosexual relationships discussed above, just because they can be redeemed, it doesn't mean that they will be redeemed.  If, for example, a couple persists in a fornicating state permanently, then they choose not to redeem that romantic love.  They choose to walk down a path away from God's plan.

And the truth is that any path that leads you away from God will lead you to a place with no happy ending.

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