Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Gift Given to be Received

While sexual ethics are not, by any means, the whole of moral concern, they have become so for contemporary culture. Even as other areas of human life come more and more under societal, and even governmental, control, human sexuality seems to be something of a cultural free zone. Where political power is brought to bear at all it is in the service of imposing of sexual freedom grounded in individualistic desire. Contraception, abortion, divorce, to name only three, are all in the service of undoing and even defiling the natural symbolic connection between human sexuality and community. No longer do we see society embodied in procreation. Instead of new life as a gift from a gracious God and the fruit of conjugal love between man and a woman, we come to see procreation more and more as the expression of our own mastery over the human bodies. No longer is a child a gift given to us or not as God (or the gods) decide.

Shorn of gratitude and its connection to what is beyond the person, sexuality has become an instrument of mere self-expression. Culturally, human sexuality no longer reminds us that even in our most intimate desires and moments, we are meant for something larger than ourselves or even each other. Now it seems, that which is larger, that which is shared, has come to serve intimate human desires and moments. But in this service, what is larger is made smaller and cheaper.

Where in traditional societies, immanence and transcendence existed in an ordered partnership (hierarchy) each with its own place and integrity relative to the other, we now see a new hierarchy being proposed in which transcendence is to serve immanence. In doing so, however, transcendence has ceased to what orders human affairs and so both have ceased to be themselves. Returning to what I said above, in this submission of the transcendent to the immanent, the communal to the individual, I see a parody of the Incarnation.

St Paul says of the Incarnate Son,

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11)

The self-emptying (kenosis) of the Son is in the service of human transcendence, deification (theosis) in the traditional language of the Christian East. Or, to borrow from Hasidic spirituality, my self-contraction is always in the service of your self-expression; I make myself small so that you can grow larger.

Alas, where have now come to a place culturally (and safer sex and condom education are illustrative of this) where we have lose sight of the anthropological fact that I do not grow except by the gift of another's self-limitation. It is “ your” kenosis that makes possible “my” transcendence. And the first step of that transcendence is gratitude for the great gift of your self-limitation.

This all reflects an anthropological vision that is greatly at odds with contemporary understandings of the person. In place of an anthropology of mutual kenotic self-limitation as the means of our shared self-discover and self-expression, contemporary secular culture offers an autarkic anthropology that sees the self-discovery and self-expression of others (whether human or divine) as obstacles to my will. What you have, you have taken from me and so my self-realization must, necessarily, proceed along the path of your destruction or at least submission to my control.

While traditional (and Christian) societies often fail to realize the anthropological vision I have outlined, secular autarky has proven itself to be deadly efficient and terrifying popular in embodying its own anthropology.

More tomorrow.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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