2012 is barely a week old, and I can’t wait for it to be over. Okay, there are some things that I’m looking forward to this year: the possibility that with or without Prince Fielder, the Washington Nationals may make a serious run at the postseason; the release of the first Hunger Games movie; and of course there’s the December release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, featuring both Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Even with these things to look forward to, I’ll need to keep all four of the Noble Truths in mind to make it through 2012. That’s because it’s an election year. When I fantasize about buying a houseboat on the Columbia River in Oregon or a house with a vineyard in Uruguay, the “it all” I dream about getting away from is politics, specifically culture-war politics.
Charles Pierce is right when he compares culture war politics to a “dumbshow.” Another apt analogy is Kabuki. In both instances, exaggerated gestures, posturing and lots of makeup are substituted for actual communication and dialogue.
Sound familiar? Just as the audience at a Kabuki performance knows what is going to happen and would be distressed if events unfolded in a non-prescribed manner, most culture-war kerfuffles follow a script that’s every bit as predictable as a Hallmark or Lifetime movie and every bit as true to life.
Case in point: In a “debate” prior to the New Hampshire primary, former Senator Rick Santorum was asked, “What if you had a son who came to you and said he was gay?”
It’s hard to imagine a more stupid and pointless question than that one.
After all, even if Santorum really were the Torquemada of some liberals’ imaginations, he would hardly say, “I’d stab him in the chest, call a priest to administer last rites, and thus ensure that he died in a state of grace.” He would answer the way any decent, loving parent would: “I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it.”
Cue the mimes: No sooner had Santorum responded then we once again were told that it simply not possible to really love a gay or lesbian person and simultaneously believe what Santorum’s and my church teaches about same-sex attraction and relationships. One commentator at Rod Dreher’s blog compared Santorum’s response to a “prejudiced person” saying that he is “ok with his black/gay/Latino/female colleague/relative who is ‘one of the good ones.’”
Sigh. This is one reason I hate culture-war politics: It seeks to deny me my God-given right to ambivalence. Like Chesterton’s madman, culture warriors seek to substitute a kind of logical consistency for the way people really live.
‘O look, look in the mirror, O look in your distress: Life remains a blessing Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window As the tears scald and start; You shall love your crooked neighbour With your crooked heart.’
Even in the Information Age, we don’t have much choice as to whom we are supposed to love as we love ourselves. In fact, from what I’ve learned about God, I’m pretty certain that Samaritan-to-Jew ratio is going to go a lot higher than I would prefer. So, to say that I cannot love someone who I believe is, in some regard, acting contrary to God’s law, is to deny that I can love anyone or that anyone can love me, for that matter.
To be fair, I understand where at least some of the confusion on this score comes from. In another comment on Rod’s post, someone tells the story of a Catholic couple whose son told them that he was gay. Their response, as quoted by the commenter, was, “You are our son, and we love you and always will. That you choose to embrace the homosexual lifestyle and live as an active homosexual is something we believe to be gravely morally sinful. We can’t tell you that it’s good for you. We can’t rejoice that you have a boyfriend. We can tell you that your actions are threatening your immortal soul, and that we will always pray for you.”
Without knowing more about what happened—the son may have issued an ultimatum of sorts to the parents—I don’t know what the purpose of such a declaration might be. Presumably, children raised in faithful Christian homes know what their parents believe about homosexuality. This kind of reiteration strikes me as a kind of showing the flag: It states which “side” the parents are on, draws a line, asks the child to choose where he will stand.
Even if you think, which I don’t (for reasons to be explored below), that this is appropriate within families, the fact remains this showing of the flag is very selective. Imagine the following exchange:
Son: I’ve decided to go into investment banking. My goal is to become rich.
Dad: Son, you know that your mom and I take our faith seriously. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and mammon.
Mom: I saw that documentary An Inside Job and I was appalled at the part about the rampant drug use, use of prostitutes, and other hedonistic behavior on Wall Street.
Dad: Absolutely. What’s more, I read that a majority of those surveyed on Wall Street said that they would be willing to break the law if they were sure they wouldn’t be caught. Son, you know we love you and we want to be supportive, but we worry that your career choice might put your soul in jeopardy.
It’s difficult to imagine an exchange like this, even though, one, there’s more choice involved when it comes to the pursuit of mammon than in matters of sexual orientation and, two, Jesus had a troubling way of associating said pursuit with eternal perdition.
You don’t like that one, fine, here’s another: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
What bothers me more than the selectivity is the idea of turning our families into yet another front in the culture wars. What Homer Simpson said about alcohol—“the cause of . . . and answer to all of life’s problems”—is even more true about family.
Family is a “haven in a heartless world” and it’s why home is “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” It’s also why you would ever want to leave such a place. Family is where what Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life called the “way of nature” and the “way of grace” are learned.
Family wounds us and it binds those wounds. The brother you fought with about, well, everything, is the person you trust most in the world. The sister who drove you to distraction becomes the person who knows exactly what to say when you need to hear it. You resent your parents; you love your parents; and then, when you’re not looking, you become your parents.
Family is forgiving and being forgiven. It’s messy, improvised, and it’s forever. It’s where love, not logical consistency, is the measure by which relationships are judged. Line-drawing and ultimatums have no place here.
That’s what makes questions like the one Santorum was asked not only stupid but pernicious. That’s why treating children like projectiles to be shot at your culture-war adversaries is beyond pernicious. In a world where relationships are increasingly instrumental and the idea of “friendship” is increasingly insubstantial, shame on anyone who would tamper with the real thing, whatever their motives.
Is the houseboat ready yet?
Roberto Rivera is senior writer for BreakPoint.
 Major thanks to Rod for introducing me to this poem.
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