Life threatened by consciousness

Plants can grow only when their roots are in the dark. They emerge from the dark into the light. That is the direction of life. The plant and its direction die when the root is exposed to the light. All life must be grounded in what is not conscious and from that root emerge into the brightness of consciousness. Yet I see consciousness becoming more and more deeply the root of our life. A relation to other lives is seen, one event is brought under the same law as others, and we get closer and closer in our scrutiny to the beginnings, the origins of life. The root of life itself, what is innermost to it, is lit up. Can life sustain this? Can it become consciousness and at the same time remain alive?

Romano Guardini

Letters from Lake Como

Katie van Schaijik

Anniversary of the death of Newman

Aug. 11, 2009, at 10:34am

On August 11, 1890, John Henry Cardinal Newman died in Birmingham, England, where he will be beatified next May. The words on his tombstone: “Out of the shadows and into Reality.”

Among my favorite of his sermons is On the Greatness and Littleness of Human Life.

Read at least these two paragraphs, if you haven’t got time for the whole beautiful thing. They give us a taste of the absolute joy he must have experienced on that day 119 years ago, and of how he had yearned for it his whole long life. They also give a feel for his profound personalism.

This is from the early part, leading the congregation toward a more vivid sense of the fleetingness and relative insubstantiality of our earthly existence.

And this sense of the nothingness of life, impressed on us by the very fact that it comes to an end, is much deepened, when we contrast it with the capabilities of us who live it. Had Jacob lived Methuselah’s age, he would have called it short. This is what we all feel, though at first sight it seems a contradiction, that even though the days as they go be slow, and be laden with many events, or with sorrows or dreariness, lengthening them out and making them tedious, yet the year passes quick though the hours tarry, and time bygone is as a dream, though we thought it would never go while it was going. And the reason seems to be this; that, when we contemplate human life in itself, in however small a portion of it, we see implied in it the presence of a soul, {216} the energy of a spiritual existence, of an accountable being; consciousness tells us this concerning it every moment. But when we look back on it in memory, we view it but externally, as a mere lapse of time, as a mere earthly history. And the longest duration of this external world is as dust and weighs nothing, against one moment’s life of the world within. Thus we are ever expecting great things from life, from our internal consciousness every moment of our having souls; and we are ever being disappointed, on considering what we have gained from time past, and can hope from time to come. And life is ever promising and never fulfilling; and hence, however long it be, our days are few and evil. This is the particular view of the subject on which I shall now dwell.

And this from the penultimate paragraph:

To those who live by faith, every thing they see speaks of that future world; the very glories of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, and the richness and the beauty of the earth, are as types and figures witnessing and teaching the invisible things of God. All that we see is destined one day to burst forth into a heavenly bloom, and to be transfigured into immortal glory. Heaven at present is out of sight, but in due time, as snow melts and discovers {224} what it lay upon, so will this visible creation fade away before those greater splendours which are behind it, and on which at present it depends. In that day shadows will retire, and the substance show itself. The sun will grow pale and be lost in the sky, but it will be before the radiance of Him whom it does but image, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing on His wings, who will come forth in visible form, as a bridegroom out of his chamber, as His perishable type decays. The stars which surround it will be replaced by Saints and Angels circling His throne. Above and below, the clouds of the air, the trees of the field, the waters of the great deep will be found impregnated with the forms of everlasting spirits, the servants of God which do His pleasure. And our own mortal bodies will then be found in like manner to contain within them an inner man, which will then receive its due proportions, as the soul’s harmonious organ, instead of that gross mass of flesh and blood which sight and touch are sensible of. For this glorious manifestation the whole creation is at present in travail, earnestly desiring that it may be accomplished in its season.

Katie van Schaijik

Tocqueville’s definition of individualism

Aug. 10, 2009, at 1:13pm

An ISI-sponsored lecture by Berry College professor Peter Augustine Lawler has Alexis de Tocqueville defining individualism as a disease of the heart, involving “the mistaken judgment that love is more trouble than it’s worth.”
That’s very well put, is it not?
Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s free online audio library is a treasure trove.

Katie van Schaijik

Ronda Chervin on Anger

Aug. 7, 2009, at 10:50am

These remarks in a comment thread below by Dr. Ronda Chervin deserve an entry all their own:

I am a disciple of Dietrich Von Hildebrand,a professor of philosophy at Holy Apostles Seminary and author of many books including one on anger entitled Taming the Lion Within: Five Steps from Anger to Peace.
I would like to share a few key points about anger that might be helpful:

First we need to distinguish hot anger, expressed in screaming, throwing things,etc,and cold anger characterized by inner resentment, withdrawal, etc.
Then there is just and unjust anger. Just anger is directed to real injustices directed against us or others. Unjust anger comes when we are furious without cause, for example when rightly upbraided for bad behavior (the pouting child in the corner for example).
Self-righteous anger can be just or unjust. In any case, according to Thomas Aquinas, even if anger is just, it should never be disproportionate, out of control, unforgiving, or vengeful!
Dietrich Von Hildebrand analyzes Pharisaic anger as involving enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations at others. Even if we are justly angry we should be deeply grieved by the sins of others vs. enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations.

I have been involved in a great self-help group called Recovery, International (not 12 step). The founder, a psychiatrist Abraham Low, coined an expression that is greatly helpful to me.

It is symbolic victory. We like to feel strong. In many things in life we are weak or inferior to others in talents or virtues or just in ability to overcome adversaries. To compensate for our feelings of weakness we indulge in hot or cold anger because anger makes us feel, to use Biblical imagery, like lions instead of weak lambs.

Examples I give to illustrate this: a driver is speeding dangerously. We are weak. Even if we called 911 it could be too late for avoid an accident killing us or our loved ones. Some compensate for this unbearable feeling of weakness by screaming at the driver through his or her CLOSED window. This is a symbolic victory. The curses don’t actually hurt the dangerous driver who can’t even hear them, but they give the lawful driver a feeling of being a raging lion instead of a lamb ready for the slaughter.

Take any example of anger if your own life or in controversies you read about such as handing of pedophilia by the Bishops and check to see - even if my wrath is justified, is it disproportionate, unjustifiably sarcastic, unforgiving, vengeful in the sense of indulging in symbolic victory in my head as I wish the bishops disaster and maybe gloat over the millions that are being paid out in law suits.

How should I deal with it instead? It is right to be angry at cover-ups. I should pray much more for the victims, the pedophiles and the bishops than I do. I don’t think that I am okay if I say a one line prayer for each of these groups after 2 hours of vitriolic sarcastic hurling of denundiations from the throne of truth.

Katie van Schaijik

Suggested weekend reading

Aug. 7, 2009, at 10:40am

Robert P. George on Marriage and the Courts.
Fr. Angelo Geiger’s latest critique of Christopher West.
The 1982 National Review article by Allan Bloom that grew into his classic, The Closing of the American Mind.
Russell Hittenger on Christopher Dawson’s view of technology (not secularism) as the true enemy of classical liberalism.

Katie van Schaijik

Anger, passivity, bureaucracy

Aug. 4, 2009, at 7:37pm

Mona Charen’s column today jives nicely with the discussion about wrath.

Here’s one line:  “Some of this is the bureaucratization of America — the deliberate attempt to drain individual judgment and initiative from life.”

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (3)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 6:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (2)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 5:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath?

Aug. 2, 2009, at 4:03pm

A Zenit item about the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ $660 million settlement with over 500 victims of sexual abuse is titled, “Spokesman: Church Saddened by Pedophelia”.

Father Lombardi spoke of the attitude the Church takes regarding the crime of sexual abuse.
He said: “Cardinal Mahony explained—as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said many times—that the Church is evidently and above all saddened by the suffering of the victims and their families, for the harm caused by the grave and inexcusable behavior of some of its members, and is firm in its resolve to avoid future vile acts of this kind.
“The agreement, and the sacrifice it involves, are also a sign of this resolve, of the decision to close a sorrowful chapter in history and to look forward in terms of prevention and the establishment of a secure environment for children and young people in all areas of the Church’s pastoral work.” [my emphasis]

I raise this question for discussion:  Is sadness the right response to wrongs of this kind?  What about wrath?

In a review of Leon Podles’ disturbing book, Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, Adventist pastor, Bill Cork, argues that lack of due anger is part of the problem.

For Thomas Aquinas, anger is a necessary element of the virtue of fortitude—fortitude isn’t a matter of just putting up with evil, or of enduring sorrow, but includes actively resisting evil, bravery in the struggle, and anger at the evil which has led to sorrow. Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, Q. 123, Art. 10.

Leon Podles is angry, and wants us to be angry, too. He wants us to be angry at the sin of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. But more than that, he also wants us to be angry at the bishops and pope for not being angry at that same sin. That’s what irks him about this crisis more than anything else—never have the bishops or popes expressed any anger that priests molested kids or that other bishops covered it up and transferred the predators to new hunting grounds.

I tend to agree with him.  But I would love to know what others think.

Katie van Schaijik

Persons and power

Aug. 1, 2009, at 1:41pm

In the course of an insightful analysis of this revealing photo
at the American Thinker blog, Thomas Lifson hits on a central theme of personalist ethics:

In my own dealings with the wealthy and powerful, I have always found that the way to quickly capture the moral essence of a person is to watch how they treat those who are less powerful. Do they understand that the others are also human beings with feelings? Especially when they think nobody is looking.

The tendency of the human condition since the fall is to succumb to a master/slave dynamic of interpersonal relations, with the strong vying for power and the weak cringing in fear and begging for favors.  Meanwhile, at the heart of our true nature as persons is a call to give ourselves in love, to put ourselves at the service of others.  Those who tend to be slavish have to learn to be self-standing.  Those who tend to “Lord it over others” have to learn to be self-giving.  This is why the answer to the question: “How does he treat the weak and powerless?” tells us so much moral essence of a given individual.

Like Thomas Lifson, I have often observed in strong and successful people a habit of contempt for weak people.  They seem to imagine that their strength and power and riches make them admirable as persons.  What a disastrous mistake!

Katie van Schaijik


Jul. 23, 2009, at 1:45pm

I am reading Catholic poet and mystic Caryll Houselander’s book Reed of God. It begins with a rich mediation on emptiness—contrasting the meaningful kind, the kind that is shaped for a purpose, like the warm round nest prepared to house a little bird, and the modern kind, of which our world is full.

Emptiness is a very common complaint in our days, not the purposeful emptiness of the virginal heart and mind but a void, meaningless, unhappy condition.
Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions, unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears, and these sometimes further overlaid with exhausting pleasures which are an attempt, and always a futile attempt, to forget how pointless such people’s lives are. Those who complain in these circumstances of the emptiness of their lives are usually afraid to allow space or silence or pause in their lives. They dread space, for they want material things crowded together so that there wil always be something to lean on for support. They dread silence, because they do not want to hear their own pulses beating out the seconds of their life, and to know that each beat is another knock on the door of death. Death seems to them to be only the final void, the darkest, loneliest emptiness.
They have no sense of being related to any abiding beauty, to any indestructible life; they are afraid to be alone with their unrelated hearts.
Such emptiness is very different from that still, shadowless ring of light round which our being is circled, making a shape which in itself is an absolute promise of fulfillment.

Katie van Schaijik

Who really inspires the political left?

Jul. 22, 2009, at 11:39pm

Over at the American Thinker, Kelcy Allen provides an eye-opening (let us hope and pray!) comparison of the rhetoric and principles of liberal sentimental favorite, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Saul Alinsky, whose political philosophy and program shapes so much of the American left. He uses quotations from both to imagine a verbal boxing match between them.
Here is just a taste:

Round One: Saul Alinsky opens with, “To hell with charity…morality is but rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest.”

Martin Luther says, “Now is the time to make real the promises of Democracy.”

Round Two: Alinksy fires, “Ours is a world not of Angels but of ‘angles’. Reconciliation is when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation”.

MLK parries, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children”.

Round Three: Alinsky jabs, “Radicals…have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized and corrupt…they are right.”

King fades right, “...Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

MLK, Jr. was a moral hero, deeply influenced—even in a sense “saved” from the temptation to violence, radicalism and revenge—by the encounter with Christian personalism, which shaped his theory of non-violent resistance.

Katie van Schaijik

The limits of central planning

Jul. 22, 2009, at 4:11pm

Yuval Levin makes sense on health care, reminding me again of Newman’s idea of the illative sense in the moral life.  In the Corner today:

To me, this all looks like a demonstration of how much of what you conclude about public policy from social science really depends on the implicit assumptions you bring to the table about human behavior and human fallibility. When I look at the immensely complicated picture of American health-care decision-making that emerges from those Dartmouth studies, I don’t think “we need to centralize this,” I think “this can’t possibly be centralized.” I take it not as an indictment of local variability but as proof of the limits of imposed efficiency. Those limits, if we take them seriously, argue for rules that set general incentives and then give individual players the freedom to find their own ways of responding to them, because we cannot know in advance the peculiar pressures that will drive behaviors in different parts of the system, and we cannot hope to eliminate those pressures. There has to be room for local and individual decision makers to find what works for them. That certainly means that the system won’t be optimized for efficiency, but optimal efficiency is not in fact the alternative to this kind of messy market approach. The alternative is artificial shortages.

Katie van Schaijik

What freedom is not

Jul. 22, 2009, at 1:06pm

The July 6, 2009 issue of National Review includes a review by the excellent David Pryce-Jones of a new book about the demented and destructive sex life of Lord Byron.

Bertrand Russell, of all philosophers, pointed out that Byron’s concept of freedom was the same as that of a German prince or a Cherokee chief: the pleasure of doing as one pleases and not having to account for it.

Pryce-Jones ends the review with a melancholy reflection that Bryon’s notion of freedom has become mainstream.

Byron opened the way for men and women everywhere to indulge in whatever they like without moral judgment or acceptance of responsibility.  Conduct that was once offensive has become commonplace.  The outrage and destructiveness that surged around Byron have long dissolved into a sense that his poetry is a full and complete justification of the man.  Radical politics like his have become a standard intellectual property, and transgression in personal relations and matters of art is considered perfectly normal, altogether in the order of things.  Where once this singular English peer staggered the world by abusing the privileges of his class and his times, now innumerable demotic copycat Byrons feel born to opposition of their society, and they too have no idea that they are spoiled, abusing the very things that have protected them and made them what they are.

Contrast this notion of freedom with the Christian personalist notion, as expressed, for instance, in this article by John F. Crosby.

Katie van Schaijik

Reagan explains what’s wrong with socialized medicine

Jul. 18, 2009, at 3:07pm

More than worth listening to.  Hat tip, Jonah Goldberg at the Corner

Katie van Schaijik

The failure of institutions

Jul. 14, 2009, at 10:40am

As I mentioned below, Archbishop Chaput recently gave an address to Legatus titled “Catholics and the Fourth Estate.’” You can read here. I found it via the American Papist, where host Thomas Peters praises it with the words “not a single word wasted.”

When I began reading it, I expected to be writing a Linde post about the need for genuine Catholic journalism. Up until lately it seems to me that Catholic journalism has tended either to be dissenting or to be controlled by the bishops in a way that prevents its being able to play the role it’s supposed to play, i.e., helping to shape public opinion and keeping leaders accountable. What is desperately wanted is Catholic journalists who are faithful to the Church and unflinching in their critique of it.

But, reading the whole thing, I got mad. It is Archbishop Chaput (whom I generally admire) preaching about the failure of the secular media to live up to its institutional vocation to inform the public truthfully. I got mad because of all institutions to have failed to live up to their mission in society lately, I think I’d put “Catholic bishops” at the very top of the list, with “Catholic laity” a close second.

In the size of the gap between what we are and what we should be, the mainstream media doesn’t come close.

Katie van Schaijik

De-personalizing, cultish tendencies in the Church

Jul. 13, 2009, at 3:50pm

Former Legionary, Fr. Thomas Berg, in an interview today (hat-tip life-after-rc) offers his insights into the central disorder of Legion spirituality.

At the core of serious problems in the internal culture of the congregation is a mistaken understanding and living of the theological principle - in itself valid - that God’s will is made manifest to the religious through his superior. The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal “dependence” on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience.

Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding “reporting to,” “informing,” “communication with,” and “dependence on” superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God’s will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity.

More seriously, the lived manner in which Legionaries practice obedience is laced with the kind of unquestioning submission which allowed the cult of personality to emerge around the figure of Maciel in the first place and covered for his misdeeds. Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.

It sounds like a more extreme version of what I witnesses of the Covenant Communities in the ‘80s. It likewise brings to mind the clericalism and lay passivity that allowed the priests’ sex scandal to get as bad as it did. Truly Catholic education has to focus much more on developing a proper sense of adulthood, freedom, responsibility, and self-standing in its members.

Katie van Schaijik

A personalist pet peeve

Jul. 13, 2009, at 10:41am

I am just now reading an address by Archbishop Chaput on Catholics and the media about which I’ll have more to say soon. For now I just want to mention a personalist pet peeve of mine. It is the propensity seen everywhere lately to use the computer metaphor “hardwired” to refer to human nature, the sexes, or individuals. A friend of mine described her husband to me as “wired” to love fast cars. Men are frequently said to be “wired” to respond sexually to female flesh. Women are “wired” to love babies. It’s everywhere. The Archbishop does it in this address:

The great Jesuit defender of the American experiment, John Courtney Murray, argued that the natural law – the idea that human nature is hardwired with universal, basic understandings of right and wrong – gave all Americans a common language for their democracy, regardless of their creed.

I dislike it. I find it misleading, degrading, depersonalizing. Computers are inorganic and unfree. Persons, are genitum, non factum. Begotten, not made. And it is of the very essence of our nature and dignity (confer Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture) that we have spirituality; that we are open to the world as it is, that we are capable of relating to it in truth and through freedom. We don’t find murder evil because we are “wired” to find it evil—as if we might have been wired otherwise by some omnipotent techie in the sky. We find it evil because it is evil and we have been endowed by our Creator with the moral and intellectual power to recognize it as such.

Not “wiring”, endowments. Gifts. Powers.
Let’s take care to cherish and promote human dignity in small matters as well as large.

Katie van Schaijik

Great anti-Jansenist quote

Jul. 10, 2009, at 2:06pm

Touching our discussion about prudishness, I came across just now in a book by Greg Popcak, this remark by the great English convert to Catholicism, Fr. Ronald Knox:

Jansenism never learned to smile. Its adherents forget, after all, to believe in grace, so hag-ridden are they by their sense of the need for it.

I can recognize this clearly in the Irish Catholic milieu I come from. And it occurs to me as I type that this same dynamic is at work in the anti-NFP providentialists I have clashed with over the years. So full of mistrust of themselves are they—so concerned about the possibility of illegitimate motives in the practice of NFP—that they believe and teach that married couples are best off, morally, leaving the size of their family up to God.

I see it, too, in the courtship movement. Since sexual sin is such a near and present danger, the best thing, i.e. the safest thing to do (its proponents argue) is avoid all physical contact until the wedding day. Here is convert from Calvinism, Steve Wood, in his The ABC’s of Choosing a Good Husband:

Postponing all physical affection until marriage is insurance for a relationship that you really care about. The wisest answer to the “Just how far can we go?” is: “Zero,” “Nada,” “Zip.” Save all the fire for your marriage, and your relationship won’t get burned.

The more I think about it, the more sympathetic I become with Christopher West’s sense that prudishness, or Jansenism, is a much more serious and widespread problem in the Church than we commonly realize.

Katie van Schaijik

Recommended weekend reading and listening

Jul. 10, 2009, at 11:46am

L.E. Ikenga, 40 Acres and a President
George Weigel, Caritas in Vertiate in Gold and Red
Christina Hoff Sommers, Persistent Myths in Feminist Scholarship
Peter J. Colosi, What’s love’s got to do with It
Mark Steyn, The State Despotic

Jennifer Roback Morse, on love and economics.
Mark Henrie, Rethinking Conservatism
Baritone Thomas Hampson singing Schubert’s Der Lindenbaum

Katie van Schaijik

New light on prudishness

Jul. 8, 2009, at 5:49pm

I am reading an extraordinarily touching and beautiful book, loaned to me by my friend Janene, called The Little Locksmith. It is the memoir of a woman born in Massachusetts to a happy, loving, bourgeois family at the end of the 19th century. In childhood she developed tuberculosis of the spine and was forced to spend ten years flat on her back in bed. When she finally arose, she found she had a hunchback. She also had all the spiritual sensitivity of the true artist, honed by suffering.
The whole thing is full of personalist resonance. And just now I came to a passage that seems to me to throw some light on the discussion of prudishness we had below. The quote is long, but so lovely and rich in perception I don’t think you’ll mind. In it, she has just emerged from a deep and long depression stemming (she later realized) from intense loneliness and “sexual starvation.” (She uses that term not to indicate a mere physical urge and need, but rather a soul-sickening yearning for love.) She writes at a time of dramatically changing social mores. It was the end of the Victorian era.

The great war between mothers and daughters was then only just beginning, and I was one of its most passionate fighters on the side of the captives. My friends probably thought of me as being much wiser than I really was partly because, as a partisan of the wistful daughters, I was always reiterating my belief that every human being must fulfill his or her own destiny. It must have been for these two reasons that my friends who were hesitating on the brink asked for my advice. They knew that I would be sure to give them the advice they wanted—that which was contrary to the world’s and to their New England consciences. They knew I would urge them to go ahead and risk everything.

I did urge them. For my conception of love was that it was merely another form of man’s assertion which he makes in every work of art, that life is not ordinary. I was a fanatic in my belief that life is not ordinary, and in my hatred for all the acts, manners, talk, and jokes which treat the mystery of life as if it were comic and obscene, to be handled with contempt and laughed at or kicked around like an old rag. I believed that the experience of being born, of living, and of dying was all a poem, and that it should be received—all of it, every part of it—with wonder and gratitude. I thought that love was a power, like the artist’s, which suddenly gave to a man and woman together the sense of wonder. When I saw a man and a woman in love regarding each other with an intense awareness of each other’s mystery and preciousness I believed that those two had for the time being cast off the corruptions of ordinariness which makes most people blind to the miracle of existence. I believed that their sudden vision was like a saint’s or an artist’s vision. And I knew that when two unextraordinary people are in this state their happiness is in great danger. It is new to them and they do not know how to hide it and protect it from its enemies, and therefore it is in grave peril at the hands of those traditional enemies of the ones who see visions, those members of society who make and enforce they rules which are hostile to anything they themselves cannot understand, and who take upon themselves the right ot treat the most sacred experiences in the manner of the police court. Whenever I heard or read in the newspapers about some poor devil of a hard-working respectable bank clerk or businessman whose career was suddenly ruined by the astounding discovery that he was keeping a mistress, I always used to imagine that he was a man who was merely trying to find for himself some reassurance that life is not ordinary—some escape from an existence that had been made intolerably unmiraculous for him by a prosaic wife. Most lives, I thought, lacking art, lacking religion, were choked and suffocated by the continual insistence of the personal, and of all its wearying insistent paraphernalia. I thought that husbands whose lives were so choked and suffocated with too much boredom and talk and anxiety and struggle wanted only a chance to worship love in the abstract, as it could be represented for them by an unknown woman or an anonymous girl in the darkness of an unfamiliar room. For this reason I believed that even prostitution should be regarded not as something evil, but as a sacred ritual as necessary for human beings as books and music and paintings are. I felt that my old favorite magic of transformation could show that it can be a good service just as easily as it can be a profane one.

Now, obviously I find her conclusion deplorable and her reasoning full of errors and problems. She projects her own romantic sensibility and poetry onto everyone else, overlooking the fact that sexual affairs (not to mention prostitution) can also be banal and prosaic and much worse than that. They might have nothing to do with love. Further, I find the whole notion of “love in the abstract” almost an oxymoron. But still, I understand what she means. And I think it may come close to what Christopher West has in mind when he speaks of prudishness.

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