Lovely Mess

‘I couldn’t wait for the end of year footy trips to Hawaii and Bali, as I enjoyed the excitement of picking up girls and rushing back to tell the boys what had happened. I had sex pretty much as often as I liked; for a guy my age I was living the dream.’ Jason Stevens (former NRL player and Australian rep).

Jason goes on to say, ‘Sometimes I would recall that day in class when I had raised my hand like a moral crusader, and I’d think to myself, “What the hell did I say that for?” I had gone in the opposite direction and even argued with a friend of mine that sex is supposed to be fun and saving it for marriage is ridiculous and old-fashioned. I’m not sure why I took that stance. Maybe I was trying to justify my behaviour to him.

‘Sex is fun let’s face it. I enjoyed having sex in short term non-committed relationships, but saying these relationships was hard for me because the sexual excitement would soon fizzle out. My problem was I didn’t know how to develop a deep connection with someone. However, even when a relationship was lifeless and unexciting, it still hurt me whenever break up time came. Sometimes the pain was unbearable, so I would numb it with another sexual encounter.

‘Between the ages of 17 and 21 I had six relationships. It was like being on a merry-go-round, with each relationship taking me to a place of pain and frustration. I had to get off this ride.

‘Eventually I came to a point where I had to think about the way I was living. I started to question whether my “do it cause it feels good” attitude to sex and relationships was working for me. Although I was leading the typical single footballer’s lifestyle, dating great looking girls, getting VIP entry into the best nightclubs, and hanging out with the odd celebrity, it still wasn’t enough.

‘But a part of me had begun to accept that this is the way life is and that I couldn’t really expect much more from relationships that what I had experienced. I had heard of people being soul mates, but realistically I didn’t fancy my chances of finding one.

‘My parents had a troublesome marriage that ended in divorce, and for me this was more proof that that relationships rarely work out. It is harder to make a relationship work when you have never seen one work. Nevertheless, I wanted something different from what I had seen and experienced, so I took a step back and listened to the people who cared for me most and thought about what they had to say. Until this point I did whatever my hormones felt like doing, and found myself emulating my friends’ values and those presented on TV instead of developing my own…

‘Eventually, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life, which was not to have sex until the day I stand at the altar and say, “I do”. The first friend I told about my decision was a high school buddy. I wasn’t sure that he would understand because we had chased girls for as long as I can remember.

‘I felt nervous and awkward as I spoke to him on the phone, and when I told him about my decision he was disgusted. I will never forget his reply: “Jay, you’ve lost the plot. It’s unreasonable. You can’t expect that from anybody. As if we are expected to save sex for marriage when sex is so good!” It was hard to hear but I knew deep down I was right.

‘Funnily enough, three years later, my friend, who all but hung up on me that night, decided to save sex for marriage too. He changed his mind after he listened to me explain why it is better to wait. We now laugh about his initial reaction to my decision, but believe me, he didn’t think it was funny at the time.’32

How could it be that a society supposedly as advanced as ours could fail its young so miserably when it comes to something as sweet as romance, home and family and sex? Firstly, it doesn’t actually see itself as failing them. It has gone out of its way to teach them that (as the Russians say) ‘the lawyer is your conscience.’

The very idea that a young NRL player would refrain from sex because of his conscience (or his faith), is held up as ludicrous. We all know don’t we that lifestyle choice is an untouchable golden cow? How dare anyone teach a young man that certain lifestyle choices are wrong: not just for him but for everyone!

Jason was daring to challenge the idea that we are actually free to choose whatever lifestyle choice we like. He began to realise that we are broken people, that a part of us wants to actually choose what is evil and what will damage us and our family. That things are sinful because they are harmful, not because they have been randomly deemed to be wrong. Yes, it is true that ‘a man’s first duty is not to follow his conscience but to enlighten it’, but we must approach that ‘enlightening’ with the greatest respect and care.

Secondly, when a nation is having a crisis of meaning and has no foundation for making moral choices other than the majority vote, or vague feelings, you have a recipe for an outpouring of fundamentalist extremism on the part of whoever has enough money to hire the lawyers. The whole vision of the law being an ass and being a curse (both thoughts abounding in the bible by the way) is forgotten.

What shape might such extremism take? Bombs and flames? That’s highly unlikely in a society like ours, which prides itself on being ‘nice’, meticulously nice. It was recently said of a famous inquisitor, for example, that, ‘He was in possession of a brilliant intellect, he was a religious fundamentalist and you could not hope to meet a nicer bloke.’33 Niceness is a favoured quality of all the best dictators whether they talk of Jesus, PC Democracy or the Third Reich.

So, with all the pc courtesy in the world, and without the complications of inner meaning in the heart of the ‘young man’, we can do our work unhindered by any gods or sacred texts. Our dilemma of course is that in our efforts to create meaning inside ‘the young man’ through politically correct pronouncements, we have come full circle to law as the only means: politically correct law. All we now have are shame and coercion, rather than wisdom and grace, as our weapons of choice. Government administrators—not friends, not parents, not the young man’s soul (he’s not even allowed to have one)—make the calls on what family, marriage, home and family life will look like.

Not that all pc is bad. The original thought behind courtesy and duty of care etc. was love. Where it all begins to go wrong is when we lose the heart and soul of it and begin doing it for no other reason than the fact that it is ‘the done thing’. As TS Elliot said, ‘The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.’

Another way it can go awry is when an entire nation loses its spiritual core and pc becomes the only moral compass left. Suddenly everything must be legislated and we find ourselves living in an absurd world where freedom of speech, freedom to camp somewhere, freedom to walk somewhere, freedom of expression and all kinds of other freedoms are seen as threats. Classroom Moralists who were once politely tolerated, are now heroes, even Prime Ministers.

Art is one of the first things to begin to wilt in such a poorly fertilised garden. A brilliant song will be written but all the audience will think about is the fact that it used a stereotype, wasn’t inclusive, was done by someone of the wrong racial grouping or didn’t fit the funding criteria. How did this disease of thinking like a responsible social scientist creep into so many souls, even (God-forbid) artistic souls? How the mighty have fallen! I once came away from a writers’ festival with the distinct impression that every writer there had been tamed, de-clawed and de-fanged.

When a society (that idolises lifestyle choice) invites people of faith to agree with its opinions about what is right and wrong in sex and marriage, it’s asking ancient mythical music to sit down at table with bureaucrats and lawyers and endorse the majority vote. Since when was God the puppet of the government? Lots of times unfortunately, thanks to compliant priests and ministers of the Royal Order, as the bible (and recent history) shows us.

The real question is, as Ravi Zacharias says, ‘How does anyone ever know if anything is right or wrong?’ The only solid ground the prosecutors found—at Nuremberg—for prosecuting the Nazis, was to invoke the moral law of God. In the heat and the dust of legal debate, this point of view was almost lost.

Not that legal debate is a bad thing. Everyone should be allowed to have their say. For example, a ‘magazine for homosexuals explains that people today “Don’t want to fit into any boxes—not gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual ones.” Instead “they want to be free to change their minds.” The article was addressed to people who had come out of the closet as homosexuals, but later found themselves attracted to heterosexual relationships again. So ‘What am I?’ they wondered. Not to worry the author reassured them. The idea that one is born with a certain gender that cannot be changed is so modernist. Society is moving to postmodern view in which you can choose any gender you want, at any time.” It’s being called the ‘PoMosexual view.’ 33 (a)

Steve Gershom (a gay Catholic), has another perspective: ‘I have heard a lot about how mean the Church is, and how bigoted, because she opposes gay marriage. How badly she misunderstands gay people, and how hostile she is towards us. My gut reaction to such things is: Are you freaking kidding me? Are we even talking about the same Church?

‘When I go to Confession, I sometimes mention the fact that I’m gay, to give the priest some context. I’ve always gotten one of two responses: either compassion, encouragement, and admiration, because the celibate life is difficult and profoundly counter-cultural; or nothing at all, not even a ripple, as if I had confessed eating too much on Thanksgiving.

‘Of the two responses, my ego prefers the first—who doesn’t like thinking of themselves as some kind of hero? — but the second might make more sense. Being gay doesn’t mean I’m special or extraordinary. It just means that my life is not always easy. (Surprise!) And as my friend J. said when I told him recently about my homosexuality, “I guess if it wasn’t that, it would have been something else.” Meaning that nobody lives without a burden of one kind or another. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said: “The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?”

‘Where are all these bigoted Catholics I keep hearing about? When I told my family a year ago, not one of them responded with anything but love and understanding. Nobody acted like I had a disease. Nobody started treating me differently or looking at me funny. The same is true of every one of the Catholic friends that I’ve told. They love me for who I am.

‘Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle: “Celibacy?! You must be some kind of freak.”

‘Hooray for tolerance of different viewpoints. I’m grateful to gay activists for some things—making people more aware of the prevalence of homosexuality, making homophobia less socially acceptable—but they also make it more difficult for me to be understood, to be accepted for who I am and what I believe. If I want open-mindedness, acceptance, and understanding, I look to Catholics.’ 33 (b)

The Royal Order ‘god’ of the West. doesn’t want to know about the above point of view. It always insists that its way of doing things—’acquiring enough power and knowledge to tame the terror and eliminate the darkness’ and make it easier for us to indulge our appetites—is making ‘everything better and better’. It must insist on this, and it must silence the voices raised in alarm—especially those voices in non-western countries. Hence it’s indignation, its strident affirmation, its determination to keep it’s perspective on the issues on the front page and to never, ever talk about what is being assumed behind these issues. In our case, what is being assumed is that ‘we all know what is right and what is wrong’ when it comes to sex and marriage: ‘we all’ being that wealthy minority group (in the global village) known as ‘the west’.

Seriously, how can we—the western, secular enlightenment world, which is lousy with ‘free sex’, drugs and broken families—even begin to talk to the non-western world about what is right and wrong with marriage and sex? Our social workers tell us that we are facing a virtual tsunami of abused children right here in Australia. The rumour is that—in order not to cause too much alarm—childhood trauma categories are being re-written.

Words come to mind, words like, ‘self-importance, sense of superiority; high-handedness, condescension, contempt, sneering, scoffing; presumption.’ According to the thesaurus, these words relate to one single word: ‘arrogance.’ Perhaps even embarrassment. The world of horse racing might use the metaphor of a ‘nerve-blocking operation’ being carried out in order to hide the truth of the embarrassing social train-wreck called ‘Australian family life’.

It’s the kind of thing that provoked Jesus to say, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’ (Matt 23:27)

‘If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything,’ John Mellencamp used to sing. But what if the thing you’re standing for has been made to look ridiculous? “Do not give dogs what is holy,’ Jesus said. ‘And do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.’34 It’s no surprise that there’s so much anger directed at God. We sense that our Maker has concluded we won’t be told, has walked away from us and is allowing an ‘unmaking’ of what we have made so well.

A few years ago I was reading a book on Spinoza (a philosopher from the 17th Century) where the author/editor, in his preface, had this to say: ‘For to-day in marriage, if anywhere, it is glaringly evident that the legal or religious or social ceremonial law can at best secure man or woman wealth and social position.’35

The writer (Joseph Ratner) had a point but in making it he betrayed something about himself. What he failed to see was the fact that many couples will tell you they took the marriage vows not primarily to secure their happiness—or because they thought their love was so great it would never fail—but because they loved each other and God so much, they wanted to give themselves to creating a mysterious thing called a home and a family. They wanted to grow a garden where children would be safe and blessed and where friends (and even the lost and hurting and broken) could come and enjoy the warmth and grace of a lovely fountain of faith, hope and love.

What an ambition! What a high hope. Of course they know their love will waver, it’s why they take the vows. And it’s during those times they will need something as sober and as public as a vow (supported by a God who is a forgiver, and a community of family and friends) to hold them to what they promised each other. And this promise is not just a matter of ‘staying married’, it’s a commitment to cultivating a beautiful garden where things like kindness, forgiveness, honesty, reconciliation and communion can grow.

Even so, if it were to stop there it would merely be another ‘lifestyle choice’ thing: ‘what floats your boat’ as they say. What really makes this other way of living and of seeing life so shocking and so dangerous as far as our secular world is concerned is that first and foremost it’s a commitment to another world, and another King. In this world the very idea of putting any form of ‘life style choice’ first is laughable. Those who live this way are following Jesus the Messiah, who said, ‘Anyone who would come after me must deny all right to themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me.’36

Yes, of course this is open to dangerous abuse but what a fear-breaking (individual elevating) force it has proven be against all the ruthless might of Pharisaic misogyny, stonings, Roman cruelty, English Monarchy, African Warfare, Protestant and Catholic Inquisitions, Soviet terror and now—perhaps—it might be just what is needed to give people courage to stand up to a democratic society so obsessed with democracy that it’s creating a coercive PC Dictatorship.

In his intro to Spinoza, Ratner goes on to say, ‘Happiness or blessedness lie altogether beyond its (lawful marriage’s) powerful reach. Marriage is sanctified or made blessed not by the ceremonial law or priest or city clerk but by the divine law of love. Natural love or free love, free from all ceremonial coercions, is not merely not a questionable source of marital happiness: it is the only source. The ceremonial law, the legal or religious marriage custom, has nothing whatsoever to do with human happiness. If by free “love” is meant love free from all legal, social and religious ceremonial restraints, then free love is, according to Spinoza, the only basis of rational marriage.’37

There are things to admire in Ratner’s words, his point that laws will never give us happiness for example. But what does he mean by the ‘divine law of love’? And what about ‘natural love’? In the end ‘what is natural’ is defined by the nature of the individual. A predator will tell you that their behaviour is perfectly natural, and so also will a paedophile. Who decides?

One minute we are nodding our heads in agreement about the banality of it all. ‘The law is an ass’ we say, but then (on the basis of that) we are expected to take a great leap of logic and say that ‘free love’ is the only basis for rational marriage. This is a high and optimistic view of human nature. ‘Viva the revolution’—or maybe not.

Ratner wrote before the era of atheist empires where ‘60million people were killed by the Soviet Communists, 35 million by the Chinese communists and 21 million by the Nazis –not to mention one quarter of the population of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.’38

Jesus had a much more realistic approach when he warned us, ‘For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.’ (Matt 5:19). Does this have to be a formula for hating ourselves? Of course not. Jesus directs us to love ourselves in Mark 12:31 and especially to learn how to confess and forgive.

But isn’t this outlook an impetus for harsh laws? It could be, and it has been by those who take the bible the wrong way. One major point of the bible’s library of thousands of years of history is that ‘living just by the law brings a curse’. Our only hope is something new on the inside: people who live with courage, grace and humility because of what they have become on the inside, of what they are, not because they have to.

“You search the Scriptures,’ Jesus said, ‘because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!’39 In another place, the Apostle Paul says, ‘The plan wasn’t written out with ink on paper, with pages and pages of legal footnotes, killing your spirit. It’s written with Spirit on spirit, his life on our lives!40

The fact is that we need grace and we need each other, which means we need laws to help us and even to hold us back when the ‘beast within’ threatens to destroy us and our loved ones. But without that mysterious grace within, we have nothing but pc laws, shame and coercion.

History itself gives us plenty of examples. Whoever said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe in something’, hadn’t thought about Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler. Sooner or later, experience forces us to realise that a person’s soul is far too beautiful and dangerous for their beliefs to be a matter of their own private business. We fail to care, to pray, and fail to challenge, debate and disagree at our peril. Like it or not, we are forced to be our brother’s keeper. And who better than Jesus to be our guiding light for that impossible task?

On the one hand, there’s much fun to be had in this great ‘lovely mess’ and then there are these awful consequences—when we don’t give a #@*!—that few want to speak of, and if they do, they are howled down. ‘You’ve lost the plot!’ Jason’s friend said. But that friend would now say he is so thankful Jason spoke up. Both men realised that there is such a thing as becoming lost like sheep. But if there’s no meaning (or only pc coerced ‘classroom meaning’) ‘being lost’ is not a concept. We realise why CS Lewis calls nature a ‘dumb witch’, she beguiles us with her magic but she’s unable to teach us anything.

Eva Cassidy sings a song that says it all …

‘Tall trees in Georgia
They grow so high
They shade me so
And sadly walking
Through the thicket I go

The sweetest love
I ever had I left aside
Because I did not
Want to be any man’s bride

But now I’m older
And married I would be
I found my sweetheart
But he would not marry me.

When I was younger
The boys all came around
But now I’m older
And they’ve all settled down.

“Control your mind, my girl
And give your heart to one
For if you love all men
You’ll be surely left with none”.

Tall trees in Georgia
They grow so high
They shade me so
And sadly walking
Through the thicket I go.’41

32 Jason Stevens, Worth The Wait—True love and why the sex is better… (Griffin Press, 2002) 15,16

33 James Hannam, God’s Philosopher’s—How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Icon Books, 2009), 309

33( a) Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel, eds., PoMosexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality—Quoted by Nancy Pearcey in Saving Leonardo, (B&H Publishing, 2010), 65

33 (b) Steve Gershom) http://www.strangenotions.com/catholic-gay/

34 Matt 7:6

35 Joseph Ratner (editor/author) in his preface to The Philosophy of Spinoza, (General Books LLC, 2010 reprint from the work of 1927), 22

36 Luke 9:23
37 Joseph Ratner (editor/author) in his preface to The Philosophy of Spinoza, (General Books LLC, 2010 reprint from the work of 1927), 22
38 Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey, 238

39 John 5:39

40 2Cor 3:6

41 http://lyrics.wikia.com/Eva_Cassidy:Tall_Trees_In_Georgia