Sunday, October 9, 2005

"You and me, baby, ain't nothing but mammals..."

". . . so let's do it like they do it on discovery channel." - Bloodhound Gang

Remember that objectifying hit song that came out about 6 years ago? Well, I hope you don't, but I reference this portion of the lyrics because it captures the mentality of our pornographic culture which views people as objects primarily seeking sexual pleasure and as objects to be used for the sexual gratification of others. (In no way do I believe sexual pleasure to be an evil, but rather it is not man's primary good. When viewed as such, our priorities and loves are all out of whack, and as our selfish desires play themselves out in our lives they will wreak havoc.)

The author of Love & Responsibility (that is Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II) begins by emphasizing that a person is not a "thing" but rather a "somebody". . . a person. Persons are different from other living things, including the most advanced animals, because we have a unique ability to reason; we are "rational beings" and can think conceptually. We also possess an "inner life" or "spiritual life." Although animals have a sensual existence and strive to fulfill their own particular desires, man's cognitive abilities allow him to desire and strive towards goodness and truth. Animals do not make such willful choices in their desires and behaviors; they do not have a conscience.

Because we exist as real, physical, cognitive beings in space and time with a will and self-awareness, it is natural that we ask, "What is the ultimate cause of everything?" (23) Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why are things the way they are? With our ability to will and to desire we ponder "how to be good and possess goodness at its fullest" (23). Sometimes we are mistaken about what is actually good and true, falling for the "shadow" of the real thing. Bruce Marshall in The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith writes, "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God" (108). He is seeking a good in a union with another person, albeit inappropriately attained, but his deepest longing is to be knowingly known and loved by God and to be one with Him. JPII calls these ponderings about our existence and about what is good "natural tendencies of the whole human entity" (23).

JPII writes: "The person's contact with the objective world, with reality, is not merely 'natural', physical, as is the case with all other creations of nature, nor is it merely sensual as in the case of animals. A human person, as a distinctly defined subject, establishes contact with all other entities precisely through the inner self, and neither the 'natural' contacts which are also its prerogative, since it has a body and in a certain sense 'is a body', nor the sensual contacts in which it resembles the animals, constitute its characteristic way of communication with the world." (23) Not only does the inner life of a man cause him to relate to the physical world in a unique way, but he also possesses a unique relationship to the invisible world . . . namely to God.

Of course, we all begin with a sensual and natural relationship to the outside world, but as we grow our inner life evolves and affects how we relate to all things and persons. JPII writes, "Man's nature differs fundamentally from that of the animals. It includes the power of self-determination, based on reflection, and manifested in the fact that a man acts from choice. This power is called free will" (23-4). Man is his own master, sui juris (24), because he has the gift of self-determination in a unique way. We should seek to conform our desires and wills to objective reality.

In relating to the world, man intercepts messages, interprets them, and reacts thoughtfully, not merely spontaneously, instinctually, or mechanically. Also, because every person is an individual "I" with a will of his/her own, it is proper to man that he relate to other persons in such a way as to respect their free will. The very nature of man demands that he assert himself, his "I", in relation to the outside world. It is proper to man to be his own person in this respect.

No one else can will for you. You cannot ever actually will on behalf of any other person. JPII labels this alteri incommunicabilis, meaning "not capable of transmission" (24) in Latin. This is the fact we must face when we are romantically interested in someone who does not reciprocate our interest. We face the reality of their free will and our lack of control over their will. This is why it is beneficial to conform our understanding of the world to REALITY. Painfully liberating, huh?

JPII explains: "This is the moment when the impassable frontier between him and me, which is drawn by free will, becomes most obvious. I may not want that which he wants me to want--and in this precisely I am incommunicabilis. I am, and I must be, independent in my actions. All human relationships are posited on this fact. All true conceptions about education and culture begin from and return to this point" (24).

Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . everybody knows this stuff. It's common sense. What's the big deal?

Well, all of these things should be common sense, but it is clear by looking around that we often times do not live in accord with these simple realities about persons. This is all setting the stage and laying the foundation for further talk about the human person and proper sexuality. (If you can't tell by now, I'm just a little bit obsessed with sexual ethics.)

Sometimes we may be the subject acting upon another. Other times we are the object, the one being acted upon by another. Many of our actions involve other human beings as our object. Love & Responsibility is focused on sexual morality, the thrilling principles which should guide all sexual actions between persons of the opposite sex. "The woman is always the object of activity on the part of a man, and the man the object of activity on the part of the woman. . . . We know already," writes JPII, "that the subject and the object of the action alike are persons. It is now necessary to consider carefully the principles to which a human being's actions must conform when their object is another human person" (24).

Please, continue to join me as I blog my way systematically through JPII's Love & Responsibility.

1 comment:

Leonardo said...

Hi Natalie,

May I add a little to your post? What you say is so true. We live in a society where we are consumers of everything, and we are told to believe that we can have everything we want, and that everything is supposed to serve our desires and urges. Matrimony is seen as a contract, and not as a covenant... it is seen as a deal between 2 people (even if they are of the same sex), and not as an exchange of persons whose purpose is to grow in holiness by mutual edification. In today's secular society, there is no such thing as giving of self, as it is supposed to be in matrimony and in the Christian life. As you pointed out, even people are seen as objects to be had and lusted after... even spouses!

JPII wrote (p. 53 of L&R), "The man and the woman facilitate the existence of another concrete person, their own child, blood of their blood, and flesh of their flesh. This person is at once an affirmation and a continuation of their own love." In His view, and in the view of the Catholic Church, procreation is the goal of love between husband and wife, and the means is the sex. Sex can only be justified as a means to true conjugal love, and never an end in itself, for then it is directed to self. In today's world, sex is promoted as if it were necessary outside the context of marriage. In fact, people who are virgins are made fun of, instead of respected; fidelity and chastity are discouraged; lust is the norm.

I could not imagine myself as a non-Christian, believing that I am just another animal with sexual urges... or someone else's object. Or worse, an object who needs another object to temporarily feel satisfied, like a baby with his pacifier. Only in Christianity (and the Judeo-Christian Tradition) do I find the dignity of every human being respected for what it is: we are made in the image and likeness of God, and nothing less.