Obviously the times have been trying, even more trying than usual, for Latter-day Saints and friends who support real marriage – that is, the kind with a man and a woman and (they normally hope), a child or two or more. Our new sovereigns, the Supreme Court (that is, five of the nine justices) have thrown their massive weight, both legal and ideological, squarely behind the suddenly unanimous commitment of our media and intellectual elites to the abolition of marriage as it has always been understood. (Of course I am well aware of variations within the real, natural understanding of marriage. But the man-woman-child thing has always been the whole point.)
What we have witnessed is an aggressive rebellion of our elites, including our rulers (the arrogance of rainbow-illumination of the White House was the topper) against any belief or institution that dares suggest authoritative restraint on adult sexual expression. This rebellion is inevitably more than disappointing for those of us who see that the family, which depends upon such restraints, provides the essential foundation for a good life for individuals and communities: it is confusing and disorienting. How can such goods be cast aside so thoughtlessly by cultural and political leaders we thought deserved our respect? Amid this confusion, the clear and steady voice of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides a much needed anchor and balm.
Still, the most troubling feature of the reigning confusion is the fact that so many friends and loved ones, including family members and fellow LDS, not only disagree with the Church’s clear position, but seem to be unable to comprehend why any intelligent modern person would possible object to people who “love” each other sharing the “right” of “marrying” each other. “Love wins” – and who could possibly object?
The objection against “love” as a license to abolish a fundamental institution has of course been explained a thousand times; learned and reasonable authors such as Maggie Gallagher, Robert George and Ryan Anderson (just to name a few), marshaling lucid reasoning and ample evidence, have spared no effort to make the argument for real marriage accessible to all reasonably literate people of good will. To be sure, no argument concerning human existence, individual or collective, will ever reach the level of mathematical demonstrability. But this limitation includes arguments on both sides of the marriage question: we have to choose between visions of the just and good life that can be explained, supported, and defended by reason – but never absolutely demonstrated.
The Argument for Marriage
Here is a brief statement of the anti-“Love Wins” argument, drawn from a recent article by the brilliant and indefatigable Ryan Anderson:
For marriage policy to serve the common good it must reflect the truth that marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife so that children will have both a mother and a father. Marriage is based on the anthropological truth that men and woman are distinct and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and a father.
The government is not in the marriage business because it’s a sucker for adult romance. No, marriage isn’t just a private affair; marriage is a matter of public policy because marriage is society’s best way to ensure the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage acts as a powerful social norm that encourages men and women to commit to each other so they will take responsibility for any children that follow.
Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution fundamentally changes marriage: It makes the relationship more about the desires of adults than about the needs—or rights—of children. It teaches the lie that mothers and fathers are interchangeable.
Let us call this the “anthropological” argument for real marriage, which simply means that it appeals to permanent features of human nature and the human condition- to “biological facts” and to a “social reality” closely linked with those facts. (And here is a website offering a superb summary of this argument, including replies to common objections.)
No Counter Argument Allowed
It would be a slight but welcome consolation to those of us who find the anthropological argument compelling, and who are (for now) losing the cultural-political war if the (for now) winners could bring themselves to acknowledge the existence of reasonable argument and evidence on the other side (our side). But unfortunately this war has not been moderated by any sense of legitimate debate on the part of the vanquishing progressives.
“Love wins” – that’s all there is to it. How could any nice and reasonable person be against “love”? What could explain opposition to such “progress” except plain, dumb “bigotry”? Sure, our new elites are saying, I suppose it’s necessary, up to a point, because of, you know, the Constitution and all, to concede to backward groups their “religious freedom”– but certainly not to the point of actually accepting the legitimacy of any obstacle to the public, authoritative recognition of people expressing “love” however they define it.
This new “love” brooks no counter-argument, because the opposing argument is invisible to it. This “love” has teeth in it.
At the same time, from the “anthropological” point of view, the “love wins” point of view seems lighter than air, strangely oblivious to fairly obvious features of the human condition. The concentration on a wide-open “love” appears to be doubly seductive to persons who may be perfectly well intentioned but who have grounding either in revealed law or in reason understood anthropologically. From the anthropological point of view, revealed principles and historical and philosophical learning are necessary to inform the concrete meaning of “love”; human beings are a certain kind of being (a child of God, part of an orderly and lawful creation, a fallen creature with great potential for evil as well as good).
To identify Christian charity with the once counter-cultural “all you need is love” mentality (what Elder Holland called the “village love-in” mind-set) thus seems logical only for those whose warm emotions are impeded neither by definite, specific and non-negotiable religious commitments (a.k.a. “covenants”) nor by belief in a permanent human nature as portrayed in learned traditions of political philosophy, history and literature. Without such religious or rational complications to consider, the rainbow-faced advocate of pure and simple “love” is seen to enjoy at once the thrill of moral sincerity and the prestige of supposed intellectual superiority (since anyone who disagrees is obviously just a bigot) – and both at a very low cost, morally as well as intellectually.
To count as a great lover of humankind, all I have to do is to let my neighbor do as he or she likes – and assure him I respect his right to express himself as he likes. Since I would not impose any view of human nature on anyone, I am not responsible for the consequences of his actions. And to count as an enlightened mind, all I have to do is to be on the “right side of history,” to show contempt for any vestige of an inherited moral structure. (Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow… yesterday’s gone!…) “Love wins” = the thrill of moral elevation + intellectual superiority, – responsibility for natural consequences or divine law.
For “love wins,” to love means always to accept a person’s own conception of what is good for that person. For the anthropological lover, love is harder, because it can mean telling the loved one something he or she doesn’t want to hear – telling about consequences and about repentance, for example.
The “anthropological” and the “Love wins” views talk past each other because one side is interested in human nature and its implications, in permanent features of the human condition as taught by both reason and revelation, and the other side — well, not so much.
Freedom Requires Limits and Consequences
The anthropological view accords moral and intellectual authority to an order seen to be God’s creation. On this view, freedom or agency requires limits and consequences; freedom is not only limited by but informed by responsibility to eternal truth (even though our access to such truth is only partial and imperfect). Only moral agency (freedom limited and informed by covenants with God and by the structure of reality) is truly agency. Freedom is inseparable from the recognition of limits and consequences, and indeed includes gratitude for a moral order that we did not invent. While all actual political and social orders will fall far short of the eternal truth of moral agency in some respects (and should be held to account as far as possible), it is good to be subject to flawed but reasonable authority because we all need practice accepting limits on our freedom, bonds that make us free. Acceptance of traditional authority is necessary to develop the habits of character and acceptance of limits that can qualify us to be responsible critics of the authority of tradition.
The “Love wins” view cannot even see the point of this authority or of the anthropological view in general, because it does not believe we need to pay any attention to “the laws of nature and Nature’s God.” For “Love wins,” we no longer need a guiding political philosophy or theology, for these concern permanent features of the human condition with their limits, constraints, or consequences, and there is no need now to credit the authority of such limits.
Smart People and the Love Wins Argument
Now please don’t take me to be denying that very smart people can argue for something like the “love wins” viewpoint. There have been very learned and acute (if not wise) thinkers who argued very powerfully that humanity’s natural and political limits could be overcome. Karl Marx envisioned a world beyond morality and politics that would combine absolute individual freedom and the perfect satisfaction of collective humanity. John Stuart Mill, founding father of our contemporary liberalism, imagined a similar outcome without the need for global class warfare to bring history to an end. John Dewey shaped our educational system on the basis of a new faith that the idea of a limited “human nature” was a prejudice we could leave behind. For Marx, Mill and Dewey, very smart and learned people all three, “human nature” was a fiction created by human history, and now human history can dispose of this fiction. We humans are masters of nature.
Our progressive believers in “love” are disciples of Marx and Mill and Dewey, whether they know it or not. They don’t need to know it because, living in a world in which the burdens of law and morality (I mean real, socially authoritative morality) have become so light, it seems obvious that we can just do without them. We no longer seem to need a post-political philosophy like Marx’s or Mill’s to feel sure that we can do without a shared morality governing essential and permanent features of human nature.
Like Marx and Mill, the “love wins” advocate does not believe in any such essential and permanent features, and so cannot even see why any reasonable and nice person would disagree. For the “love wins” mentality, the whole “anthropological” argument is just so… “yesterday.” Isn’t it obvious that each generation, each decade, now even it seems every year or season is freer and therefore better than the one it has left behind? Even liberals, after all, said things just a few years ago (homophobic things about marriage) that we now can see showed residues of bigotry. To believe in love is to believe in today.
The “love wins” attitude is a post-anthropological attitude. And it finds this attitude – well, natural, even a matter of common sense and simple decency. If a publicly imposed sexual morality and family structure are hurtful to some people, then why not cast it off? What could the problem possibly be? What can those bigots possibly be talking about? What bad consequences could possibly follow from leaving behind antiquated restraints on the freedom of human love?
From the anthropological point of view, good people have to be made; from the “love wins” point of view, people are just good (if not corrupted by tradition).
If human nature is a real given, then the intricate web of moral, social and legal norms that on balance produces civilized human beings is a precious and fragile fabric that merits our deference. If human nature is a prejudice, then good people arise spontaneously, and there can be no harm in leaving them free to express themselves. Love means never questioning the free expression of the inner self (for the first time now free to be itself in broad daylight) – as long as the self is not corrupted by traditional “phobias” of course, not disqualified by “bigotry.”
Of course there is large role for human intelligence in the “love wins” viewpoint. But this role is not to know enduring laws or limits governing the human condition, but to criticize and relativize these laws and limits. And there is a more positive role as well: as it frees us from traditional restraints, reason in its scientific and technical form can master the transformations that result from this emancipation from tradition. If sexual freedom results in unwanted reproduction, then contraception and abortion can deal with that. If same-sex oriented individuals wish to have all the same choices available to them as heterosexuals, then science can make babies for them on demand. Reason serves freedom by criticizing tradition, and then as techno-science it stands ready to clean up any messes and facilitate transitions.
From the anthropological point of view, there must be consequences to ignoring permanent general features of the human condition, including their social and political implications – moral, social and political consequences that will not be mastered by technology. There is such a thing as the natural form and limits of the human condition, and nature will have its day, whether we believe in it or not. The “gods of the copybook headings” will return, with a vengeance*. Indeed, are they not already returning? As C.S. Lewis saw with great clarity more than seventy years ago, man’s mastery over and oblivion of nature, the abolition of nature, can only end in man’s mastery over mankind, “the abolition of man.”
So it seems to those with anthropological convictions that the effective truth of “love wins” is finally human power unchecked by God or nature. The authority of law and of the state, which, like Marx, we may imagine can wither away to nothing, can in reality only become more absolute in the absence of any higher authority. Absolute freedom from the traditional family can only mean the state’s power against the family.
“Love” wins. “Love” also bites.
* …As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
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!