Fathers and Megalomaniacs

A second post in one day!

I’ve fallen behind in reading the series of newsletters I read on a weekly basis. And this most recent cycle has been very good.

Martyn Wendell Jones has a great newsletter, Dang, where he reflects on having recently become a new father. As a new father myself, it’s been a wonderful reading companion.

From last week’s edition:

I want to be a father who stays; I already want Fox to stay as well. As our culture continues moving into decadence and repeating crisis—as I watch Fox roll with sudden ease, raise himself on his elbows, and look to the walls—I wonder if his hungry life will take him far away from me someday, too.

Starbuck couldn’t deter Ahab from his fate; perhaps it’s telling that the first mate’s name has taken on a more primary association with a massive corporation, the owner of which wants to pilot the ship of government simply because he thinks he’s the right one to do it. This world makes seaborne megalomaniacs of us all.

 

History that begins with Confession

A timely and insightful argument from Matt Anderson on the relationship between evangelical and LGBT communities:

As an evangelical Christian, taking history seriously means beginning with something like confession. If the LGBT community is in fact motivated to constrain religious expression out of vindictiveness, the question naturally arises whether we Christians deserve it. Any sober answer can only acknowledge the misuses and abuses of power and politics by conservative Christians in their defense of traditional marriage. As legitimate as concerns about the importance of marriage to the common good are, the argument was sometimes pursued by activists and ordinary citizens (even if not by lawyers or other leaders) in ways that undermined our credibility with those we were ostensibly seeking to persuade. At the same time, our failures to uphold appropriate sexual norms within our own communities—such as the Catholic sex scandal, or rampant divorce within evangelicalism—made us too easily susceptible to charges of hypocrisy. Moreover, we required instant transformation of gay and lesbian individuals within our own communities, burdening them with wildly unrealistic expectations and subsequently exhausting them.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to his newsletter.

You Always Marry the Wrong Person

I’m really enjoying Matt Anderson’s email newsletter The Path Before Us. If you like ethics, philosophy, and Christian theology, then you’ll probably like it as well. Go sign up here.

Recently he’s been experimenting with the “Advice Column” format. He is a philosopher of ethics after all, and an advice column is fertile ground for considering questions of ethics in relation to concrete examples. I say “experimenting” because he’s not interested in writing a full-fledged advice column. He truly is more interested in the philosophical and theological underpinnings that shape our approach to the ethical dilemmas of everyday life.

At the end of each letter he includes a quotation of some kind. Mostly these come from Stanley Hauerwas, Karl Barth, Oliver O’Donovan, and G. K. Chesterton. If you know anything about Matt, then it’s no surprise that these four figures make a regular appearance.

At the end of the most recent issue on the question of bad marriages, he gives this quotation from Hauerwas:

“Moreover, that is why I always taught ‘Hauerwas’s Law’ to my classes in marriage and the family at Notre Dame: ‘You always marry the wrong person.’ Like any good law it is, of course, reversible. You also always marry the right person. My law was not intended to instill in students a cynical view of marriage, but rather to help them see that the church rightly understands that we no more know the person we marry than we know ourselves. However, that we lack such knowledge in no way renders marriage problematic, at least not marriage between Christians; for to be married as Christians is possible because we understand that we are members of a community more determinative than marriage.” – Stanley Hauerwas

As far as marriage advice goes, I don’t think you can do better than this paragraph from Hauerwas. The idea that there is no such thing as a “soul mate” was one of the most liberating realizations I had as a young college student. Oddly enough, I have Plato to thank for that: his dialogue Symposium includes a speech by Aristophanes who tells a comical (and horrifying!) tale of what having a soul mate would entail–it includes ball-like people smashed together rolling around, suddenly split apart by lightening bolts from Zeus, etc. etc.

Despite having grown up in the Christian faith, I don’t recall anyone communicating to me the Christian vision of marriage like the one Hauerwas argues for. The more theology I read, the more I’m convinced that Hauerwas is right. Marriage is preparation for heaven, and it entails a process of sanctification akin to monastic asceticism. Learning to deny our inordinate desires and to seek the good of another requires a lifetime of work. It’s work that must be accomplished before stepping foot in paradise–the place where our individual wills will be aligned with God’s will, untainted by pride and selfish desires.

I know this vision of marriage doesn’t sound romantic in the usual sense of the word. But in reality, it holds the most romantic potential for married life–a life that eventually leads both persons to communion with God, the end and source of every desire. In a word, marriage can lead to happiness.