The Personalist Project

Reading a short biography of the nineteenth century American feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, I came across an intriguing line of argument in favor of changes in the (then) marriage laws to allow more easily for divorce. Speaking of “English radicals of the Enlightenment,” the author, Vivian Gornick, tells us:

Among people like William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and later, Robert Owen, the French Revolution had sharpened the conviction that beyond the need for political equality [between men and women] lay an equally great need to create the conditions in which the inner life could flourish. First on the list of their demands was a radical revision of the marriage laws. For these remarkable thinkers, marriage without intimacy—that is, the marriage commonly made without friendship or love out of economic and social considerations—was a prime villain in the matter of stunted or deformed inner lives. They saw that, at best, such arrangements promised neutrality of feeling, and they wrote eloquently to demonstrate that neutrality of feeling is a dangerous illusion: to live without intimacy in the most intimate of circumstances is to sustain permanent damage to the spirit. Forced by law to live in the presence of such an absence, one’s inner being closes down—is made cold, defensive, remote—and all too soon one becomes incapable of human empathy: a danger both to oneself and the world. Goodwin and Owen became known as “sexual radicals” as a consequence of writing and speaking endlessly about the death-in-life that is marriage without friendship or love.

Setting aside the question of divorce and laws governing marriage, I find it a remarkably personalistic insight, and one that is deeply true. The same line of thought could, I think, be used to make a compelling case against both arranged marriages and the hook-up culture prevailing in our society today. The objective intimacy of bodily union must be matched by subjective intimacy and self-giving or it becomes positively harmful.
But I’d love to know how it strikes others.

Comments (23)


#1, Jul 2, 2009 11:14am

I can only say that I think that it is too much to ask of your website readers to “set aside questions of divorce and marriage laws” (i.e., the quoted reformers’ role in them) when talking about people like William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Robert Owen. These are people who outright condemned the institution of marriage; people, who, inadvertently or not, partook of the Lockean/Hobbesian/Machiavellian (i.e., Enlightenment) hypothesis that the institutions of marriage and family are voluntary and not natural, are a matter of what appeals to historical-man’s usefulness. 

The passage you quoted contains only apparently true insights, but not “deeply true” ones. How are we to know, for example, what the “English radicals of the Enlightenment” meant by “intimacy”? How are we to know that their conception of it did not partake of an eclipse of what Christian personalists define as “person”? 

They argue that “neutrality of feeling,” and “lack of intimacy” are the destruction of marriage, but how are we to know what they actually meant by these phrases? HOw are we to know that a subjectivism didn’t pervade their conceptions of intimacy and neutrality? In fact, how are we to confirm for sure that they simply weren’t just bored with their spouses (or projected this boredom onto the marriages they witnessed in their time)? How are we to know that they did not aim (unconcsciously perhaps) to reconstruct new meanings for intimacy that go well beyond the natural.

Does Madonna the pop star share the same conception of intimacy as Pope John Paul? We laugh and say “no.” But don’t laugh, because Madonna would have much much more in common with Wolstonecraft on the concept of intimacy than she would with Pope John Paul.

I will only suggest that anyone (i.e., the “radical thinkers of the Enlightenment”) who asserts that what follows from the historical prevalence of crippled marriages is the doing away of marriage is not thinking reasonably at all. For this reason, I would not trust that what Godwin, Wolstonecraft and Owen take to be intimacy is what a Christian personalist would take to be intimacy. 

Did not all three advocate free love? If so, can’t we assume that their notions of intimacy and positive (versus) neutral feeling are grounded in materialist and animalist philosophy and primitivism? They “seem” to speaking “for” the human person, but are they, could they if their atheist conceptions necessarily exclude the imago dei to which Christian personalism hinges?

I think that Christian personalists ought to be more careful about what spokespeople they use in a discussion about human intimacy. Unless, of course, one’s aim is to marry the aims of Christianity with the aims of the Enlightenment. The it would seem right to make such a move.

Jules van Schaijik

#2, Jul 2, 2009 11:16am

I do not know the authors in question (Godwin, Wollstonecraft and Owen) very well. But even if all you say about them is true, why should that preclude some of their insights from being “deeply true” instead of just “apparently true”? Doesn’t that sort of thing happen all the time? Think of Nietzsche, Sartre, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, etc.

I like the passage Katie quotes in her post very much. It makes clear that for all their faults, both intellectual and moral, the early feminists had good and real grounds for wanting to change the way in which marriage was lived and understood in their time. There really is something oppressive about having to live “without intimacy in the most intimate of circumstances”. One does not have to agree with the solutions these feminists propose, to sympathize with the problems they experience.

That problem - sexual intimacy without love - is worth dwelling on for its own sake.  Why is it felt to be so problematic, often even downright degrading? What does it reveal about human sexuality? How is it that so many people engaged in the contemporary hook-up culture no longer feel this problem? What can we do to “make” them feel it? Or perhaps they do they feel it; perhaps they have just given up on their higher hopes.

Moreover, I think the problem is not limited to the sexual sphere. There are plenty of non-sexual situations in which the degree of intimacy that is somehow expected of persons far outstrips the degree of intimacy that is truly warranted. I have sometimes felt this way in religious “share groups”. But there are many other, similar cases.

So, while the larger historical and philosophical context in which these early feminists were operating is interesting, let’s not let ourselves be distracted from the main point of Katie’s post, which can easily be discussed apart from them.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jul 2, 2009 11:17am

Lots to say in response to this, but let me at least begin with some questions of my own.
Do you think it’s impossible to set aside an author’s presuppositions and practical aims and consider the truth value of his or her words in themselves? 
Do you think we have nothing to learn from “Enlightment radicals”?
Do you consider the Enlightment through and through evil and bad in its effects?  (If yes, then you disagree with JP II and B XVI’s encyclicals.)
Do you see nothing wrong with pre-modern marriage laws?  No legitimacy in the concerns of the early feminists?  (Here again, if yes, you’d be at sharp odds with JP II and countless other serious and devout Catholic thinkers.)
Do you disagree that intimacy without love or friendship is damaging to the spirit?  Do you deny that marriages arranged for social and economic reasons are therefore problematic?

And finally—not a question, but an emphatic declaration—I can quote a particular insight without endorsing its author’s general philosophy, never mind making him a spokesman for Christian personalism.  Jeepers.


#4, Feb 26, 2010 9:24am

Perhaps my last comments were a bit harsh. I am sorry.

Yes, I indeed think it’s possible to appreciate the truth value of a person’s words, independently of that person’s presuppositions and practical aims.

I more question whether the “Enlightenment radicals” you (and Gornick) mobilize have any stake in the value of truth whatsoever, have any stake in what I assume you would regard as the true meaning of “intimacy,” “inner life,” “friendship,” “love.” I would not automatically assume when you cite them that they mean what you mean with these words.

Obama uses the word “dignity” in speeches about “persons.” But don’t we know about the nature of the qualifications that attach to his definition? Just as pragmatic presuppositions form the basis of his meanings, so too do pragmatic presuppositions form the basis of meaning for Gornick’s Enlightenment radicals, and so too do pragmatic presuppositions form the basis of meaning for any true Enlightenment thinker. 

That is, Truth—once upon a time conceived as the conformity of a proposition to reality—for Gornick’s radicals becomes functionalized: intimacy is true only when it achieves some “success.” The proposition of intimacy in the hands of a these radicals is true only insofar as it contributes to overcoming alienation, to liberating some alienated people or persons.

But what is intimacy in itself.  Do we define it by its effects, its fruits? Or does it have any value in itself?

Do we make it?  Is it what we feel or will to feel? Or is it what we are or aspire to be? Do we simply will intimacy into being? Or is it a gift?  Does Mary Magdeline simply will to be intimate with Jesus and get what she wants automatically? Or does she first will to predispose herself to that intrinsically right human condition which is right for the flourishing of the gift of a human intimacy that she, that no man or woman, can initiate? Doesn’t the flourishing of this gift arrive not because man insists on its arrival but because the conditions are finally right for it to arrive?

Humans can’t simply demand that man has a right to intimacy and then will it to be so. Intimacy arrives on ITS own terms and in ITS own time. We humans only have to predispose ourselves to learning the conditions for its arrival and praying that it will arrive. 
Does Gornick or did her radicals ever hold themselves accountable to knowing what human intimacy is in itself and with achieving this “right human pre-condition” for its arrival? Do they hold themselves accountable to anything? No. They simply demand intimacy, but do they accept (or even re-cognize, see, acknowledge and talk about) the demands that intimacy objectively demands as preconditions for Its arrival on the scene between two people?

BTW, in light of my claims, it wouldn’t take too much effort to make the case that arranged marriages between two receptive and open strangers have a better chance of achieving intimacy and of staying together than do non-arranged marriages between two people who believe they have a “right” to intimacy. Why? Because people who insist on the “right” to intimacy will quickly be bored and discouraged through periods of ITS disappearance, while the people who see IT as a gift will appreciate it when its around and then better (i.e., humbly) predispose themselves to it when its not. 

We are probably agreement with each other on the meaning of intimacy but the radicals are not in agreement with us. Read them and find out. Don’t take my word for it.  Intimacy and friendship for them are instrumentalized, functionalized, and therefore crippled and not “true.”

Did God will for us to possess holy intimacy or human intimacy? What is the difference? I believe the answer lies in Jesus’ statement: any publican can love, can be intimate with, someone who loves them back.  Are we not commanded to be intimate even with those who do not wish to be intimate back?  We are not only called to human intimacy; we are called to holy intimacy.

I agree with your diagnosis and your prescription for diseased arranged marriages (not all arranged marriages, by the way, are diseased) and the disease of hookup culture, but I don’t agree that Gornick’s radicals would agree with your prescription—unless, of course, you hold to a functionalized definition of intimacy. 

I personally think that Gornick’s radicals did not offer a solution to hookup culture; they created the conditions for it to thrive.  They were not “for” marriage; they were “against” bad marriages.  What, then, were they “for”? Answer: Intimacy without marriage, which is another way of saying love with no responsibilities or love with no vow. Or better: a love that loves love when it enlightens but hates loves when it accuses or becomes difficult.

Anyhow, you are right: we certainly “can” quote a particular “insight” without endorsing its author‚Äôs general philosophy. But ought we not first find out whether or not the insight we attribute to the author is really a disinterested insight, is really the insight we assume it to be, and not instead a self-interested claim masquerading as an insight?

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Feb 26, 2010 7:41pm

Thanks for sticking with me, mr.  These are just the sort of conversations we had in mind when we launched the Linde. 

I dislike your use of the term “mobilize”—as if am engaged in a military operation: good guys against bad guys.

I am reading Gornick lately because I find her amazingly insightful.  She is helping me understand more deeply and sympathetically the legitimate concerns and aspirations of “moderns.”  It’s enriching.  And—I can’t help thinking—this kind of careful listening and thinking through the sincere thought of those who don’t share our fundamental presuppositions and convictions is an indispensable part of the cultural engagement we are all about here.  (I take JP II as my particular model on this score.) 

One of the things I most regret in my fellow Catholics and/or conservatives, is the hostile and defensive mode they so often fall into vis a vis the world.  It makes us seem all the more alien and unattractive, while it deprives us of the wisdom available to us through the encounter between the Truth we hold and huge swathes of human experience.

I was not concerned in this post with radicals’ understanding of intimacy.  I had in mind rather intimacy as such or in itself (as I understand it), persons as such, marriage as such.

According to my understanding of those things, I agree with what Gornick says: if objective intimacy is not matched with subjective intimacy, it is damaging to the human spirit.  And I find it remarkable and interesting that this truth seems to have been grasped at least to some degree by early feminists—that it was apparently a significant part of their motivation.  (Would that Christians had perceived it then too—instead of perceiving only the threat to traditional morality the radicals posed!)  It makes me inclined to think that they were driven at least to some extent by concern for truth and reality, which means, there is hope for authentic dialogue with them and their cultural and intellectual descendants. 

And, without having read these radicals myself, I can say I’ve read enough great nineteenth and twentieth century literature to find truth in their diagnosis of marriage laws and customs, if not in the solutions they proposed.

I do not quite grasp, I think, your distinction between holy and human intimacy.  Can the two be separated?  I doubt it.  I doubt we are commanded to “be intimate” with those who do not wish to be intimate back.  I doubt that that’s even possible, or desirable.  It takes two to be intimate.  (It does not take two to love.)

About arranged marriages, I did not say or suggest that they are all diseased—nor that they cannot become beautiful, true marriages.  What I claim rather is that we have learned over the course of centuries that marriage (of its nature) ought not to be arranged by third parties.  It ought to be freely chosen.  And it ought to be motivated primarily by love.

I agree with you, of course, that these radicals who advocated intimacy and interior flourishing (because of their mistakes and errors and sins) bear much of the blame for the mess of the hook-up culture.  Out of the frying pan into the fire.  On the other hand, I think conservatives bear some too.  Because we refused to listen to what was true in what they said.  We allied ourselves with their oppressors.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Feb 27, 2010 6:37am

Another point, mr.  I just re-read your original comment and saw in it an antithesis proposed between “voluntary” and “natural”.  Would we not say that both are true of marriage? 
The Church clearly holds both, as can be seen, for example, in her demand that the priest ask the couple whether they come to the altar freely.
Developments in Church teaching regarding marriage over the course of the last century seem to me to reflect a basic agreement with many of the radicals’ concerns.  For example, the promise “to obey” has been dropped from marriage vows as unbefitting the dignity of women.


#7, Feb 27, 2010 6:39am

Thanks for your followups. I see what you mean: Yours is simply the humane practice of knowing what drives such modern thinkers and tracing their deep concerns, so as to be able to enter into a dialogue with them—and also to discover from them the places where human love seems to be impoverished and why and what solutions they offer.

Again, though, I mainly questions whether there exists in the “critic” or “radical” an openness and readiness to enter into the drama of love, to take upon themselves the tensions that necessarily attach to love and intimacy and which pre-exist lovers and call them to greater and greater senses of renunciation and self-offering. In other words, without this readiness, with the fullness of this “yes,” and without the fore-consideration of all that such a “yes” entails, there can be no human capacity to even identify and know and live truth and love. That is, how can the claim to discontent be credible and valid in the person whose feeling-centric expectations about love and intimacy already move beyond what can be expected of intimacy between humans on earth. That is, it may be that case that where idealists and romantics and moderns identify an impoverishment, the Christian identifies reality, the reality of the fact that love between creatures is not the “end” of intimacy, but an icon, a pointer to a greater invisible (but yet tangible) intimacy, which, if totally and finally and completely brought down to earth, would blow the human person to smithereens.

Again, moderns ought to be led out of the discussion about what love is not and into the discussion about what love is. This latter discussion is scary to most because the moment you come to know and agree on beingness, the is-ness love; the moment you adhere to the principle of non-contradiction and say love is this and it is not this—this is the moment most people bail, because it is at this moment they become accountable.

So, it’s easy to talk about what love is not, but the moment we begin to talk about what love is, we must look at and into ourselves for what needs to be fixed for love and intimacy to thrive: “I have not loved rightly. So and so does not need to fulfill x, y and z for me to love rightly. I either love rightly or not, love the lovableness of love or not, whether or not love exists apparently outside of me or not, whether I get love or not. I must love rightly and fully and I have not. Help me, God, to love better. Help me to love better the loveless and to love in spite of the ubiquity of lovelessness, so that the loveless see that they are gratuitously and not conditionally loved and, in this way, they may come to put love where love has never been.”

In short, the common denominator among radicals, I find, is their obsession with “what’s not” and their refusal to take up the hard work of discovering “what is.”

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Feb 27, 2010 8:16am

You wrote: “it may be that case that where idealists and romantics and moderns identify an impoverishment, the Christian identifies reality”.

Would that it were true!  I think as a matter of sad historical fact, it happens rather often that those who grasp important truths first (including the truth about, say, “the absence of a crucial presence”) meet with harsh antagonism from narrow-minded Christians, who see only the threat to establishment and convention, which they confuse with truth and righteousness.  In other words, Christians have all too often been on the side of reality-denial.  And pioneers on the frontiers of truth (whether Christian or not) have been unjustly despised and vilified as accomplices to the devil.

I’m not sure I agree with you that it’s easy to talk about what love is not—especially to talk about it in the face of establishment dogmatism and overwhelming social prejudice.  It takes real insight, fortitude and courage. 

I personally have found it depressingly difficult to speak with many devout Catholics about the nature of love, because they tend to be too sure they know it already.  They’ve got their theory down pat; they’re entirely closed to new perspectives and new depths of experience.  And, as I said earlier, they are in a defensive crouch against the world.  A single word, like “subjectivity”, can launch knee-jerk screeds against modernism, subjectivism, relativism, and with them dogmatical repetitions of text-book definitions of love and truth.

Who wants to dialog with people like that?


#9, Feb 28, 2010 10:37am

For the devout Catholic, the model of love and intimacy par excellence emerges from the divine substance of the Trinity, the eternal and undivided (and un-suspicious) relation of subordination and love that exists between the Father and the Son. No one gets this “down pat.” It is an infinite mystery and calls us to ITS apparently impossible heights. One approaches this love on one’s knees. Are you sure the people you call devout are really devout? A devout person, it seems to me, would be so awed by such love as to not be able to speak about it in hackneyed terms.

BTW: I didn’t know that one can be a pioneer on the frontier of truth.

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Feb 28, 2010 12:14pm

mr, with respect, I think you have no idea how narrow minded even very devout Catholics can be.  It is possible to have a high degree of religious faith and devotion combined with a ill-formed, shallow, and/or rigid intelligence.  It is possible to sincerely maintain as an article of faith that God is love and that love is a great mystery, while holding deep-seated bad ideas about the actual ontological content and practical demands of love (and being oblivious to the fact that you hold bad ideas; being, in fact, highly confident that you’re ideas are correct.)

Were not Copernicus and Galileo pioneers on the frontier of truth?  Was not every Doctor of the Church?  Was not JP II?  If, as the Gospels indicate and thinkers like John Henry Newman have elaborated,  even theological doctrine develops over time, how much more other forms of truth and human understanding?  And if it develops, it has frontiers—which is to say, outer edges in risky territory. Those who go there in the interest of finding and furthering truth are rightly considered pioneers, IMHO.

And, speaking of the mystery of love, I’d like to know better what you mean by “subordination” and why you see it as part of love’s essence.


#11, Feb 28, 2010 12:40pm

Newman, you remember, does not think on the basis of an antithesis between subjectivity and authority, an antithesis between a dogmatic proposition and subjectivity, between “objective” neo-scholasticism and the thinking-feeling-groaning subject, between an authority which is a threat to my freedom and a subjectivity which expresses my freedom. This is why for Newman, the development of doctrine has nothing to do with being a pioneer, but a “rememberer” of what memory and reason had not caught site of previously, namely that which was ALREADY handed down in the original WORD but was missed due to errors or blindspots in man’s thinking and feeling.

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Feb 28, 2010 4:49pm

But, mr, neo-scholasticism is a 20th century phenomenon, is it not?  I mean, it came after Newman.

And, in his Development of Doctrine, he speaks of the way doctrines develop.  Truth, he shows, unfolds and emerges in time, through reflection on human experience (under grace) and in part through the “collision of mind with mind.”


#13, Feb 28, 2010 5:10pm

(Sorry, I had to take a phone call, and so I published my incomplete last remarks for fear of loosing them.)

Apropos of Newman and doctrine development, I was going to add that the subject, making room in his being for what his subjectivity had necessarily kept out of recollection, gets taken up into an objectivity that had always existed but was beyond his grasp. If what you mean by pioneer is he who transcends self as he makes room in himself for what he is inclined by error to keep out of himself, then we are in agreement. JP 2’s formulation is: Christ shows man to himself. (Although, this is not to say that I am in agreement with JP 2’s philosophical or theological emphases. Pope Benedict is worlds apart for JP 2 on matters philosophical and theological.)

On Subordination: see the usage in Pope Benedict’s last encyclical. I mean it exactly the way he means it.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Feb 28, 2010 5:26pm

No, that’s not all I mean.  That’s not all I think Newman means.  I would argue that Newman is not so much of a Platonist as to identify knowledge with recollection to the extent that you seem to do.  He seems to me to elaborate a sense by which truth itself grows and is made manifest in the world, as the oak tree grows out of the acorn.

I mean by pioneer someone who discovers, draws out, and makes known truths previously hidden or only implicitly present. 

Examples abound.  Besides the discoveries of science, St. Edith Stein’s writings on the dignity and vocation of women are one.  (She called herself “a radical feminist.”)  JP II’s on subjectivity another.  Dietrich von Hildebrand’s writings on the heart and the affective sphere are another.


#15, Feb 28, 2010 5:44pm

Question: Is one always aware of one’s own capacity to draw out and make known previously hidden truths or does one come to an awareness of this capacity through a kind of metanoia?

You say “truth itself grows and is made manifest.” To whom? Newman, Hildebrand, Stein spend a lot of time with this question.

Another question: Does one pay one’s way through college to this capacity to be a pioneer of truth? Can my grandmother who never graduated high school achieve it? Also: Did Newman ever call himself a pioneer? Did Hildebrand? No. Because the mea cupla never left their sights, and because they never succumbed to the temptation of the tua culpa that drove the Frankfurt School.

Yes, Newman, as you say, elaborates a sense by which truth itself grows and is made manifest. But he over and over shows and insists upon the fact that truth reveals itself to a person in the right condition, namely “little babes—“unless ye be like this child…” 

Pascal and Augustine grew up and became like this babe-child when they in their own ways asserted with extreme humility that it is infinitely reasonable to known that there are things infinitely beyond the grasp of reason, things which we need and love but can only grasp by means of another muscle.

We can call Newman a pioneer. But Newman wouldn’t dare call himself or think of himself as one.

Katie van Schaijik

#16, Feb 28, 2010 6:37pm

mr, you write as though to chide me for calling myself a pioneer when I haven’t.  I have only expressed admiration for those who are.

What real pioneer is concerned with his own capacity or with identifying himself as a pioneer?  He (or she) is typically too occupied with the matter he is concerned with to think of himself in such terms.  It is for others (often later generations) to name him (or her) for what he was.

“Truth grows and is made manifest” to the world.  As Newman expresses it (following Augustine): “Securus judicat orbis terrarum”.  The world, or the faithful, accepts and rests in the “new truths,” recognizing them as true developments.  I take the Vatican II declaration in about freedom of conscience and religion as a case in point.  On the surface, it can seem almost a direct contradiction of earlier Church teaching.  But the faithful “at large” have peacefully recognized it and assimilated it as a true and organic development of the mysteries of our faith.

The same is true of humbler truths.  Copernicus had to keep what he had learned hidden, for fear of causing scandal.  It took time for it to be accepted as true.  Galileo was excoriated for his work initially; now he is universally acknowledged at a scientific pioneer.  Many great benefactors of humanity have suffered unjust religious scorn and rejection, because the world was not yet ready and willing to see what they saw.  Some of these were humble pious Christians; some of them were arrogant unbelievers.  Or arrogant believers. 

As for me, I try to be open to truth wherever it is to be found.  (I remember my brother telling of von Balthasar’s response to the question: “What do you think of Hegel?”  He paused, then said: “I have learned much from Hegel.”)

I don’t understand your question about college and your grandmother.  What has that got to do with the matter at hand?  Clearly, “pioneerhood”, like every form of human greatness, is a mysterious and inscrutable combination of aptitude, calling, formation and grace.  Sometimes it is the fruit of long training; sometimes it seems to come from nowhere.

I’m not sure what you mean to say with your point about Newman insisting that truth reveals itself to a person in the right condition.  Do you mean to suggest that we can dismiss whatever those we deem to be in a poor moral condition have to say?  Then we’d be way out of step with Newman, who likened God to a sower scattering seeds of truth throughout the world, falling on believer and unbeliever alike, so that we perpetually find it blossoming in unexpected places.


#17, Feb 28, 2010 7:32pm

This will have to be my last post, because I’ll be away for a few weeks beginning tomorrow. I found it fruitful and enjoyable. Thanks for the posts, Katie.

I’ll only add something in reference to your original claim about intimacy without love or friendship being damaging to the spirit. This is a true statement, yes. Who would disagree? But how does one go about reversing this condition if one should begin to experience it? You identify a problem. What’s your solution for the person trapped in this condition or for the person who initiates this condition? I really want to know, because I am still yet to meet a single person on earth who is either not already in this condition or is a razor’s edge away from falling into this condition of a “damaged spirit.”

A lot of people need help. What do we do with the persons (or are they exempt from personhood?) who do this to us? What do we do with ourselves if we find ourselves doing to other people what we hate having done to ourselves?

Is it that you are impervious to having anything at all in common with the archetypal cold, hard, Calvinistic, tyrannical monster-husbands that you co-construct and knock down on your site? Of course there is “truth” in what the Bronte’s, what Dickens, what George Eliot, what Wolestonecraft have to say about the archetypal evil man they so easily build up to knock down. No one in their right mind would disagree with your/their images. But, is “truth” enough? As Alice Von Hildebrand says, truth or justice without mercy and charity is crippled.

The woman I know who “love” these authors and the “truths” they communicate hardly have an easy time loving men. There’s something about being in possession of merely natural truth that hardens the spirit. Supernatural truth, God willing we ever get to it, is another thing. As Aquinas reminds: mercy without justice is disillusionment; but justice without mercy is cruelty. This is something your radicals are yet to discover, and this is why their truths absolutely need to be qualified, supplemented, completed. Can’t really blame them, though, for offering partial truths: they had not read Dostoyevski.

Katie van Schaijik

#18, Mar 1, 2010 7:33am

I’ve enjoyed the exchange too, mr.

I’m glad you’ve brought the conversation back around to the original point of my post, which was that the same personalistic insight apparently at the core of feminism’s legitimate concerns could also be used to make a case against the hook-up culture that feminism unleashed and endorses.

This insight, which as you point out, no one now disagrees with, was not always generally grasped, including by Christians.  Its practical consequences are still resisted by many.

There is, plainly, no single earthly solution to the problem—just as there is no single solution to the problems of poverty and ignorance.  Diagnosing it is one important step.  Educating about it is another.  Proposing and advocating for practical changes in custom and law is another.  Many of these have already been embraced by the Church—for instance in improvements to marriage preparation courses and in making it much easier to obtain annulments. 

Lots more can still be done.

Thanks for all your comments.  Bon voyage!

Scott Johnston

#19, Mar 1, 2010 8:12am

Interesting discussion. Although, the pioneer subject while also interesting was a tangent.

Mr commented,

The woman I know who “love” these authors and the “truths” they communicate hardly have an easy time loving men. There’s something about being in possession of merely natural truth that hardens the spirit. Supernatural truth, God willing we ever get to it, is another thing. As Aquinas reminds: mercy without justice is disillusionment; but justice without mercy is cruelty. This is something your radicals are yet to discover, and this is why their truths absolutely need to be qualified, supplemented, completed.

I agree with this. And I don’t see this as necessarily in opposition to anything Katie said. I also agree with Katie that much can be learned from modernist authors to help understand our times better. Much discrimination is needed to separate out the helpful from the unhelpful.

On the topic of this thread may I offer the following. I see two scenarios that are especially relevant. First, the case of a couple who have indeed attained some degree of real intimacy on the natural plane (perhaps an example of the highest peak of this might be Van and Davy in A Severe Mercy, in their pre-conversion relationship). But, they are not married.

Second, the case of a couple (married or unmarried) who each believe they have a fairly high level of intimacy, but, in fact, they do not realize that they do not have a very high degree of authentic intimacy. What they do have is a mixture of true intimacy (in a small proportion) along with a hard-to-detect-especially-by-the-young pretender to intimacy which is a personal experience of the emotional thrill of the idea of being in love (i.e. in love with being in love). They go through the motions of being a close, intimate couple, and think they are. But, individually, when they kiss or hold hands, or gaze into each others eyes, each is more taken up by their own self being in the midst of the thrill of the experience than they are truly engaged in the goodness and depth of the other person before them.

Katie, I know, does not mean this when she speaks of intimacy. She means the real thing, which at the very least reaches out in humble earnestness and eagerness to know and respond to the deepest core of the other.

I do wonder, though, whether the early feminists, while pointing out a genuine element (intimacy) that should indeed be present in marriage, perhaps themselves would have been unclear or poorly equipped to discern in their own lives a false form of intimacy (which is more of a subtle self-absorption) from the real thing.

And (here I think is the line of thinking that mr. was tapping into) there is another datum that must always be present in the midst of Christians talking about relationships in a fallen world: we are fallen creatures and cannot attain relationships that approach what the man-and-woman dynamic is meant to be without grace. Even with grace, God does not promise us perfection (i.e. perfect intimacy with a spouse) in this life. He assures us that the life killed by grave sin can be restored, but the tentacles pulling us down into selfishness and strife remain, and only gradually and with grace and effort are cut away one at a time. In the meantime, even well-intentioned, Churchgoing, Jesus-loving couples are going to fall short of what God calls them to be for each other ideally.

So, I guess I want to say that while it is very important (and something appropriately given a new emphasis in modern/post-modern society) to look for and desire true intimacy in a marriage relationship, this has to be tempered by the reality that no spouse (even with grace) is capable of entirely fulfilling the total depth of the emotional needs of the human heart in this life. For that we await the life of heaven. And it is this important datum that I wonder if, by not knowing, secular feminists who do not have the benefit of a Christian understanding of man could never be satisfied in this life with any measure of intimacy whether false or genuine.

Scott Johnston

#20, Mar 1, 2010 8:13am

I would like to add a little background to my above remarks. I know from my past personal closeness to the ministry of priests that sometimes married women can have unreasonable expectations of their husbands in regard to providing perfect intimacy that are simply unattainable by anyone this side of heaven. This is an injustice on the part of the woman and a guaranteed source of ongoing personal turmoil for her as well as tension in the marriage.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I do not imply in this that men have no responsibility to pursue and improve in the area of intimacy. They do and they should. But there has to be a realism here on the part of both parties of the unavoidable gap in this life, even as progress is being made, between fallen earthly life and the ideal. Mr’s remark about justice and mercy both being needed in abundance is very on point.

Scott Johnston

#21, Mar 1, 2010 8:15am

I feel I should also acknowledge for the sake of balance that in the case of spouses who suffer from a serious dearth of intimacy in their marriage, their suffering is very real.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Mar 1, 2010 9:27am

Scott, I agree entirely with your central point, viz. that perfect intimacy between two fallen creatures is not possible on earth, and that lack of perfection is therefore no just basis for divorce.
But I want to point out that the feminists in my post were objecting to marriages entered into mainly for socio-economic reasons.  That is to say, love was a virtual non-consideration.

Scott Johnston

#23, Mar 2, 2010 2:27pm

Thanks, point well taken. I suppose it is a sign of the success of a more modern outlook of having a certain right to intimacy with one’s spouse that the very idea of marrying mainly for socio-economic reasons sounds so foreign. Sure, one hears jokes about this and such, but it seems very rare to hear someone actually using this as a serious basis for considering marriage, especially among younger people.

Currently, it seems to me, a very large problem is young people mistaking what is really a pseudo-intimacy for the genuine thing. It’s amazing to me to observe teenage couples in public who are obviously dating act like they have deep levels of intimacy between them when in all likelihood the basis for what they think to be intimacy is shallow and self-absorbed. (This is not to say I think all teens by definition are incapable of intimacy—quite the contrary—but our culture sets them up to chase a sham in place of the real thing.)

Feminists are certainly right in objecting to marriages in which love is not a primary consideration.

In light of all this, it is very interesting to bring to mind how tender some of the language in the Old Testament is where God speaks of Israel in spousal terms. To me, one of the most hope-filled and amazing elements found in the context of the old covenant is God’s promise to give His people, “a new heart,” replacing their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. (see Ezek 36:26) And then when confronted by the Pharisees, Jesus tells them that Moses only allowed divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts (see Mt 19).

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