Like unsuspecting characters in an Agatha Christie novel, we are all witnesses to the commission of a murder still in progress, carried out in slow motion. It is happening so slowly, and its ongoing occurrence is so protracted, so pervasive, and so familiar that we haven’t sensed the magnitude of the violence being done or the loss we’re incurring.
The victim is unconditional love. All of us are witnesses. Most of us are guilty.
Unconditional love is a mighty barrier that stands between each of us and evil encroaching in our minds and relationships. It makes us impervious to temptations to harm those we ought to love, whether family, neighbors, or strangers. When unconditional love is missing, self-centeredness expands and sin rushes in to fill the void, and it is often sin of the very worst kind.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Its presence raises up ordinary people, such as Mother Teresa, or Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, to be true saints, whose lives demonstrate extraordinary, selfless love. Its absence can make a monster of any of us.
The Insidious Reach of Pro-Choice America
As one clear piece of evidence, consider abortion. Abortion’s impact on unconditional love goes beyond the murderous act itself. Its casual acceptance among adults who are parents produces breathtaking, unintended consequences in countless families, robbing children of a sense of personal security and self-worth.
Although it may sound strange, I suspect there is a correlation between this form of parenting and our politically correct generation of snowflakes populating university campuses today. Why do these kids crave safe spaces—utterly impossible, womb-like campus environments—free from contention, from any form of ideological disagreement, and from anything that might trigger unhappy thoughts or unwelcome feelings? Perhaps it’s because they’ve never actually felt truly safe at home, especially since that day mom informed them she wholeheartedly supports abortion rights. What could be more insidious, more damaging to a young psyche than to know that mom was open to the proposition of ending your existence, banishing you from her womb, limb by limb, and then going on without remorse, as if you’d never existed?
And there may well be another component to this. As parents weed out their “wanted” children from the “unwanted,” discarded ones, they of course end up with fewer children to raise, and so not only more time and attention goes into those not aborted, but higher, unrealistic expectations are foisted on them as well. The kids know it; how could they not? They were chosen to live, so they had better live up to expectations, otherwise they might, at worst, be discarded by mom and dad too at any step along the way, or at best, they might be deemed more worthy of disappointment than love.
Those who are chosen to live also tend to be over-parented, and this too contributes to these children becoming snowflakes.
The point is, the insertion of the acceptance of abortion into any family creates an exceedingly weird dynamic as unconditional love—that which lies at the heart of any flourishing family—is irrevocably ripped out and children are left to suffer the consequences.
For a parent to admit support for abortion to his or her child is a form of child abuse. The admission snuffs out any notion on the child’s part of unconditional love of the parent for the child. Personally, I wouldn’t know how to begin to tell my kid, “We aborted your older brother and younger sister, but we kept you.” How does that not erode a strong foundational sense of parental unconditional love?
Our family has been built through adoption. I was agnostic toward abortion until we brought our eldest son home. Abortion was something I had simply never thought much about. That night over twenty years ago, as I rocked our son to sleep for the first time, it occurred to me to be very grateful to his birth mom who chose not to abort him. In the very next moment, I was seized with horror over the realization that millions of boys and girls just like him had been killed in their mother’s wombs, denied the opportunity to take even their first breath. I felt sick to my stomach.
Abortion represents an outright rejection of unconditional love. God creates life, and invites us to participate with him in that work. But for many, children are no longer viewed as a gift from God. Instead, each and every child conceived now falls neatly into one of two categories:
The message to all children, beginning in a special way with millennials, is “You are expendable. You are lucky to be here.” Our throwaway culture has diminished us all more than we know.
Contraception and No-Fault Divorce
The widespread availability of contraception ushered in an age of sexual intercourse without consequence. Unconditional love was taken out of the equation and replaced with immediate, self-serving gratification. Love became inconsequential to sexual relations. With the possibility of procreation and the need for commitment gone, sex went from being a wonderful gift from God and an active participation in his work of creation to a sterile act, devoid of meaning and transcendence.
Likewise, easy, no-fault divorce has played an enormous role in the death of unconditional love. Marriage went from being a permanent, lifelong relationship to a temporary one. Our very high divorce rate signals the fact that as adults, few are capable of unconditional love. By rejecting our wives or husbands, whether we intend to or not, we tear apart our families. What is left is a broken reflection of what once was.
In essence, without using words and often without even intending to do so, we tell our children “My personal needs are far more important than your need for a loving home, nurtured by both Mom and Dad.” Divorce is an abandonment of unconditional love, an abdication of our roles in providing it. Parents who are meant to serve as conduits of God’s unconditional love for our children shut off the flow through divorce.
Again, as with abortion, through separation and divorce unconditional love is abandoned as the dominant quality in a family, and a strange dynamic between parent and child is given space to invade and take over. While abortion might give rise to helicopter parenting, divorce cripples or ends parenting. Parental love may still be present, but it becomes grossly, horrifically distended, like a reflection in a funhouse mirror. No child deserves to see that when they look at mom or dad.
Same-sex “marriage” also replaced unconditional love with self-interest and self-love. What begins as an uneasiness with the other in young men or women becomes either outright fear and/or rejection of that which is complementary.
My good friend, the scripture scholar Fr. Francis Martin, once shared the following reflection with me regarding the opening chapters of Genesis:
No one human being exhausts the reality of humanity: There is always the “other” who cannot be reduced to what I am. Man and woman together make up humanity: They are not only “distinct but inseparable realities,” they are also ordained to an ultimate unity that is not that of parts making up a whole, but rather two modes of existing as human that are irreducible to one another—they are identical and different—as they make a third reality, a communion of persons.
Genderless marriage is a suppression and rejection of that which men and women need most, whether they realize it or not. Our souls long for an intimate relationship with one who is “other,” our complement, in order to be whole.
Our generation is trading the heritage of complementarity for a future of state-enforced genderlessness, undermining our children’s rightful understanding of their own personhood. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, has articulated a masterful, vivid, easy-to-understand explanation of complementarity:
Every society in the history of the world has seen that yin and yang—the masculine and the feminine—are not limited to humans or even just to animals.
Every language that I know of, except English, has masculine and feminine nouns. The sun is always he; the moon is always she. The day is always he; the night is always she. The water is she; the rocks are he. Most of us today think that’s projection of our own sexuality into the universe. That makes us strangers to the universe.
The shore is the most popular place on earth. Waterfront property is the most expensive property anywhere in the world. Why? Because that’s where the sea and the land meet. That’s where man and woman meet. The land without the sea is kind of boring. Desert. The sea without the land is kind of boring. “When are we going to land the ship?”
But the place where they meet—that’s where all the action is. And that’s where we want to be.
And whether all of us who are same-sex attracted, all who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered realize it or not, that is where we want to be. That is where we are born to be.
That is where we are drawn but often resist. By enacting same-sex “marriage,” we are making ourselves strangers to the cosmos. We are creating a sterile, synthetic environment isolated from the rest of the universe. We are impoverishing ourselves. Engaging in genderless marriage keeps the same-sex attracted from experiencing and expressing the riches of unconditional love.
No same-sex couple can reproduce without extraordinary medical and scientific interventions. Male mono-gendered couples can’t get around the fact that they need to acquire eggs and employ a female surrogate. Female mono-gendered couples can’t escape the fact that they need to obtain sperm, either through friendly donation or by visiting a sperm bank.
As a result, children produced for same-sex couples are being commodified. Obtained only through truly complex, non-normal means—namely, the buying and selling of genetic material and the renting of wombs—children become little more than chattel. Today, it’s considered normal for adults to assert their right to obtain a child for their own personal fulfillment through any means possible.
Love Never Ends
Alice Miller, in her acclaimed 1994 book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, tells us:
Far too many of us had to learn as children to hide our own feelings, needs, and memories skillfully in order to meet our parents’ expectations and win their “love.” …
When I used the word “gifted” in the title, I had in mind neither children who receive high grades in school nor children talented in a special way. I simply meant all of us who have survived an abusive childhood thanks to an ability to adapt even to unspeakable cruelty by becoming numb…. Without this “gift” offered us by nature, we would not have survived.
The abusive childhoods to which Miller refers are the nearly universal experience of every child. We proponents and enjoyers of the sexual revolution were, as children, some of its first collateral damage. Now we put our own children at risk.
In this revolution, some of us have been perpetrators. All of us are victims.
Thankfully, unconditional love is not yet dead. It never will be, as long as it is practiced by some who fight for it, who swim against the tide. But as a quality of our culture and in many lives, it barely has a pulse. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have God’s unconditional love available to each of us, and in turn, we can become conduits of that love:
[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…. (1 Cor. 13:8)
Editor’s note: This essay first appeared February 3, 2017 on Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute, and is reprinted with permission.