Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Maggie Gallagher has written her take on same-sex marriage:

Advocates of gay marriage are trying to persuade us that SSM won't affect anyone but the handful of gay and lesbian families. Don't believe it. Listen to Matthew, who has absorbed the message of SSM very well.
Fathers are optional. Children are resilient. Adults are fragile, and their emotional needs come first.
Ms. Gallagher touches on a point that has become evident to me as I've read more about the 'Modern World:' the primary focus of current social thought has been self-edification.

Sloan, a Canadian group with which many in the US may not be familiar, had quite the radio hit a year ago that seems to sum things up nicely. The chorus went something like this:
"If it feels good do it/Even if you shouldn't/Don't let people mess you around."
This type of thinking, of course, is nothing new (the Dionysians of Ancient Greece were very good at it), and so I can't exactly call its appearance in political and social spheres a 'new phenomenon.' But it is one that hasn't recently been around in such a blatant diisplay.

Mark Steyn recently addressed this issue of self-gratification with respect to homosexuality and the Church (the article itself is off the web, but here's the relevant portion):
Needless to say, [openly gay] Bishop [Gene] Robinson had no time for such pretzel logic. He cut to the chase. ''I believe that God gave us the gift of sexuality so that we might express with our bodies the love that's in our hearts,'' he announced to his fellow bishops. ''I just need to tell you that I experience that with my partner. In the time that we have, I can't go into all the theology around it, but what I can tell you is that in my relationship with my partner, I am able to express the deep love that's in my heart, and in his unfailing and unquestioning love of me, I experience just a little bit of the kind of never-ending, never-failing love that God has for me. So it's sacramental for me.''

The bishop would seem to be comparing gay sex not with anything so footling as the Sacrament of Marriage but with the Anglican Church's two ''Sacraments ordained of Christ''--that's to say, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, through which one experiences ''God's good will toward us'' and ''by which He doth work invisibly in us.'' If Bishop Robinson feels God working invisibly in him during gay sex, good luck to him. In older times, he and his partner would have set up their own church founded on the principle thereof. But back then the Episcopal Church still understood itself to be part of the Kingdom of God, not a federation of self-esteeming cantons where a sacrament is whatever turns you on.

And that seems to be what matters to Gene Robinson, a man who broke up his family because he put his sexual appetites before his daughters. I doff my hat to the bishop. This week he got the church to endorse not just his gayness but his narcissism. Sacramental for him, but what's in it for the church?
I think it might be educational to examine what the adherents of this kind of 'feel good' ideology looked and acted like back when the concept was first thought up. Euripides' "The Bacchae" has examples:
When the Bacchanals become possessed in The Bacches, they exhibit signs of ecstatic predominance as they start to live in an alternate reality where conscious responsibility, control, and rationality become secondary in importance to following the flow of nature and truly acting in accord with their inner selves. All worldly inhibitions set upon the Bacchanals by society are rendered void, and the initiates become true to their inner guides in life.
Sound familiar yet?
...another basic characteristic of Dionysus comes to light. Dionysus is a god driven by passion...His emotions drive him to act without too much importance given to rational thought. He furthermore displays excessive behavior by ripping the king to pieces, which is in a way analogous to the excessive indulgence in both wine and ecstatic rituals that are characteristic of his religion. The picture that Euripides paints of Dionysus is a god who is very close to his natural impulses. In this way, all of his followers are portrayed as equal to each other (as they are to the rest of the world) on account of their common basic attributes as human beings.
Interesting, no?
In the end, Dionysus' character is very simple to describe. The sum of what he has to teach his followers is that they cannot really experience reality unless their basic emotional characteristics are allowed to guide them. The world cannot be seen as it truly is unless one becomes mad in society's eyes, because a sane mind has closed eyes.
The cult may be gone, but the ideas and adherents remain. The idea that the only person or people that matter is one's self or one's group, the abandoning of rational thought (especially when it contradicts one's position), and the worship of pleasure above all else are three staples of our post-Modern world. Granted, the Dionysians took these ideas to the extreme (that was pretty much the point), but if we travel a path (literal or figurative) without knowing where it ultimately leads, the probability of a 'bad ending' is very high. And, of course, that probability is a certainty when one does know where such things lead, and yet pursues them anyway.

I'm not going to make pronouncements about the future of society (other than to say in general terms that things can be modelled after a pendulum's arc), for those kinds of things are very easy to get wrong. I'm not going to say that we're heading toward a Dionysian future; but it is important to note that, at the heart of things, we as a society are incredibly self-centered. We increasingly pursue pleasure at the expense of other, more rational and necessary things.

Don't get me wrong - pleasure is a good thing (by definition). Like all good things, however, it can also be a bad thing if attained or pursued in excess. If we are not careful, this pursuit can and will lead to our own destruction. The things we want are not always the things we need, and if we pursue our desires at the expense of our 'requireds,' then we have no one to blame for our demise, save ourselves.

So what's the application? It varies in varying situations (as most things do), but I think a guideline or two might lead us in the right direction.

1) That which pleasures the self is not necessarily that which benefits the self.
2) Pleasure is not the ultimate goal in life, and sacrificing too much for its sake leaves one empty and pained.

More will come, as I think on this further.
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