Here I repeat the text of a commentary post shared on Facebook June 27th.
The world is being remade in every direction at once. There were just everywhere re-energized celebrations of Pride Month. Then, the day I thought I would finish such-and-such letter to the editor, the Supreme Court Dobbs Vs Jackson decision overturned both the Roe-v-Wade and the Casey-v-Planned Parenthood decisions. But the words of the latter decision have come to fruition already: for most, liberty now means “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
For example, the Vermont Agency of Education had a 2018 guide to implementing LGBTQ+ inclusive sex ed language, entitled Full Spectrum. Trained as a chemist and philosopher, this lexicon of terminology worries me greatly. The evolutionary results of the DNA genome are now considered an unjust imposition if referred to as an important human reality. Our chemically constituted existence, it is said, must not insinuate that our bodies might be part of any objective world patterns, let alone be tied into an objective morality above our individual autonomy.
But I hope the idea of morals is still appealing. My own morals I unabashedly confess I get from the famous Jewish carpenter of Nazareth. He is the real reason I believe in miracles, but also the reason I believe in debating good and bad actions in society: questions of liberty, goodness, action, and love.
I can start with Pride Month. I consider the LGBT community as a coalescence of two or more sometimes overlapping but not intrinsically connected ethics. One says that sexual liberty is good in absolutely all desires within the bounds of mutual consent. That is, the only intimate act or partnering or commitment that should ever be off limits in the social consensus is that which violates another’s consent.
Another ethic implies that commitment and love are ideals higher even than sexual liberty. Here I see a favorable interpretation of the replacement of debate on sexual ethics with the constant tautology that love is love. But, what is love? This is a question I hold as more sacred than things such as the definition of marriage contracts.
Love is different than liberty although it relates to it and adds something greater. I propose love is not a sentiment, the relationship that feels right to me, or the enjoying of some shared experience with pleasure. Rather, love is good when it seeks objectively good things for someone other than me. In this sense love is not interested in gender, orientation, or procreation. It is interested not in some experience or accomplishment, things, but in a dignified human other than me.
I distinguish between love of some-thing about myself and love of some-one other than myself. If pride is to keep any good meaning, before it is used to indicate the former, in good conscience it will mean the honest claim that each of us has truly sought after the latter.
Mustn’t we love ourselves before we can be in a place to love others? The Christian saints say you will never consider yourself to be lovable unless you have learned the supernatural reality of loving the other. We can’t be fulfilled in either thing until we have done both. And here is the point I confess I believe in the grace of God. Love fulfills liberty by some gift, some mystery.
By nearly all interpretations of his record, Jesus of Nazareth waged a campaign against pride. Was he the enemy of liberty? His secret to life may now be more outrageous than Francis of Assisi throwing himself into thorn bushes. Yet if there is anything to the idea that our practice of selfless love really is what gives meaning to life, the path to maintain liberty would not be in claims of affirmed identity, but in that impossible ideal that love must go out of oneself, even to “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27).
Let me conclude on the practical metaphors, a self-challenge and appeal that each of us, me included, get beyond ourselves, past ourselves, outside ourselves. Per my anecdote of Saint Francis, it is no good trying first to find ourselves by a searching among experiences; for he famously said, “it is in giving that we receive.” Love is the challenge that makes us sincerely search for a “concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe” that is both shared and objective.
I happen to hold this view with a kind of afterlife in mind. Others may see it with a notion of Karma. Others may take it as a testable hypothesis about “the mystery of human life.” It is truly a religious question open to all. But, this articulation of the challenge of love, all could hold it, or seek to live authentically by it.
Father Tim Naples
Saint John Vianney Parish