When men fail women

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One of my more reliable informants—the calendar on the wall—tells me that today is Valentine’s Day. I will not object if my reader omits the word “Saint” in front of that, for as I understand, the Valentine we celebrate, these days, is no saint. He is rather an abstract embodiment of sentimentalities popularly associated with the pagan god Eros.

A dark pagan god of desire and fertility. Sometimes, to understand him better, I have identified Eros with the pan-Hindu god Shiva, whose symbol is the lingam—“lord of the dance” and of the typhoon.

“Erotic love” passes through the lives of little humans, as the hurricane through the trailer park, creatively and destructively. To say one does not believe in dark pagan gods, on a bright sunny day, is like saying one does not believe in hurricanes. We might call the gods personifications of the forces in nature, and leave it at that—“myths”—except that modern man does not begin to understand what myths are. Nor is he generally prepared for a hurricane.

I am told the building codes are prepared, in Florida and up the coast of Georgia; but I am instead referring to the building codes within the human heart: to the emotional convulsions that we must ourselves be built to withstand. There are dark gods that can only be withstood, because they cannot be appeased.

Without speaking for other cultures, I will only say that this has been the “Wisdom of the West”—to stop propitiating the dark gods, to seek instead a divine alliance against them. In Jewish and Christian teaching, “Be still and know that I am God” is not a propitiation, but an answer to the storm.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”

And we have tried to harness the forces of nature to our own ends, yet conceiving those ends to be harmonious with goodness and truth and beauty, with “be still and know.”

It is a civilizational ideal, which is a very different thing from a public policy. A civilization lives in every human heart, or dies there. Even when we fail to live up to our ideal, we acknowledge that ideal, we observe our shortfall, we aspire to amend. Or else we don’t, and we fall back into the uncivilized state, where we become again the playthings of dark pagan gods.

In the past week I wrote twice about the extremely painful subject of abortion. I received in my inbox a selection of the usual remarks. Perhaps the commonest and shallowest is the assertion of feminists (both female and male) that, “A woman must have the right to decide whether she is going to carry a baby.” Whom do these people think they are fooling?

A woman, who is not the victim of a rape, has always had that right; and even my Catholic Church recognizes a method of contraception that is quite infallible. Gentle reader may guess what that is. And while it is only a rule of thumb, “no sex without babies, and no babies without sex” does in fact provide adequate guidance for any conceivable life issue.

This moral injunction is dismissed as “too simple.” Yet merely by trying to draw some alternative line, say between contraception and abortion, we have already found the means to become irretrievably lost. All moral injunctions are simple, and the sinful heart has always cried out for a little complexity.

Valentine’s Day strikes me as the perfect occasion to recall the distinction between true love and the storm of sexual desire. And yes, I intend to make this over-simple.

If the writer of the Valentine truly loves the recipient, he will carry her best interests in his heart. “Love is patient and kind, does not envy, does not puff itself up; is not perverse, nor self-serving, nor irascible, nor delusory; does not rejoice in iniquity,” etc. I am paraphrasing St. Paul to the Corinthians, but surely everyone knows this is true.

And that it is the only answer to the dark gods: “I will not propitiate. Instead I will defy you.” Try as I will, I do not see how the human lover can say better than this.

I am speaking for men, because I am a man. Men, traditionally, were the “aggressors” in affairs of the heart, but should a woman wish to aggress she could play by the same rule, recalling that a love that does not compass the best interests of the beloved is impatient, unkind, envious, puffed-up, perverse, self-serving, irascible, and delusory.

If men were good, there would never be abortions. If men were good, women would never have cause to seek them. If men were good, women would be loved.

Therefore, regardless of the state of any law, the immediate answer is for men to be good, and to address their Valentine wishes accordingly.

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