Playtime for the Atheist

The only way to approve of or even condone any form of mock-marriage, homosexual or otherwise, is to deny that we have access to objective reality outside of our feelings about it.

When the young Augustine was in his long years of struggle, he was not searching for surges of good feeling. He got that from the mistress he kept, to whom he was faithful, and who bore for him his dearly loved son, Adeodatus. He was not searching for eminence in the world. His brilliance as a writer and teacher could win him that. He did not want the comfort of being told that God would respect his Manichean notions of a deity spread out through the universe like an all-penetrating ectoplasm, corporeal but too slender to see with the naked eye. 

He wanted to find the truth, and to rest in it, as in an assured dwelling place. When he found it, he found Christ, whom he sometimes called by the simple and powerful name Truth. He was not the only ancient father to do so.

Our minds are made to hunger for the Truth and to be satisfied by it and it alone. Who would take a spouse on the condition that he or she only seemed to love, no matter how persuasive the acting was? Or who would say, “I accept this faith because it pleases me, and it helps me through the sufferings of this life, but I do not care whether it is true”? We do not want to be deceived, even when we are the ones doing the deceiving. 

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

When Augustine found the Truth, he rejoiced in it. Such a joy is natural, in harmony with our nature as rational and intellectual beings. Jesus did not say that Satan was, at the center of his evil, the father of hurt feelings and bruised egos. He said that Satan was a murderer from the beginning, and a liar, and the father of lies. Satan does not rejoice in the truth because the truth is not in him.

I ask, now, whether the leaders of our Church do indeed rejoice in the truth. The psalmist did when he meditated upon the law of God, who was a lamp unto his feet. There is no clash between the truth of the things that are made, says St. Paul, and the truth of the invisible things of God; and there is no clash between the moral law and the law of love. God is the Creator and author of all.

When you see a man, you see—whether you are aware of it or not, whether you consider it or not, and whether it pleases you or not—a person fashioned to be, in his mode of physical existence and also, as we believe, his spiritual existence, a father. He bears within him the seed of new human life. You see the woman, and in the same way, regardless of the same things, you see a mother, the field, the nurturing soil whence the new life will spring. These are truths. From them, and from the nature of the human child, we can deduce the whole of the moral law regarding sexual action.

It should be a joy for us to do so. We should revel in it. That we do not revel in the moral law implies not that there is something defective in it, but that there is something defective in us. 

Imagine someone going to a place of tremendous and sublime beauty—to Angel Falls, to the Grand Canyon, to the foothills of Mount Fuji. Imagine that he is quite unmoved by it, perhaps bored, or even irritated. We would not lay the blame on Angel Falls. We would lay the blame on him. 

If he said, “I like the shopping mall better,” and named a store where he could buy, or gape at, lewd clothing, we would begin to wonder whether he had gone quite mad. And that is exactly our condition, to some degree or other, with regard to this or that field of the moral truth. We shy away from it, we turn our eyes aside, we drag our feet, we grumble. It is often a long operation indeed to straighten the warp of a human soul. That God endures the tedium of it is itself an act of divine love. I imagine that even the angels yawn.

Now I hear that bishops in the spiritual wastelands of western Europe deny that, in this matter that is at the heart of all human cultures because it bears most powerfully upon that fundamental society called the family, one can find out the invisible things of God from the things that have been made. For them, the man is not a man, and the woman is not a woman, but rather they are indiscriminate persons with a variety of sexual inclinations which they may licitly indulge without regard to objective reality that can readily be seen by anyone with eyes and a mind. 

The only way to approve of or even condone any form of mock-marriage, homosexual or otherwise, is to deny that we have access to objective reality outside of our feelings about it. But our feelings rather must conform to the reality, not the other way around.

The man who wants to sodomize another man may call it love, and I have no doubt that powerful passions may be involved and that some of those passions may include misused movements of charity. That can be said of all human connections that are immoral: the passions and the truncated self-giving of fornicators such as Augustine and his mistress; the blood-loyalties of a criminal gang; the withered generosity of a harlot with her customer; the self-sacrifice of pirates on the attack. It does not matter. God peers into the deepest recesses of the soul, but we cannot, nor is it required of us. The moral law is a public thing, and if we were innocent, it would be an obvious thing.

It is obvious that the man in question cannot love the other man in the other’s fullness as a man. For him, the seed is not seed but something else—I wish not to get into the details; and the man is not in his essence a father. Someone who looks upon a child with sexual desire is not thinking about the child, who in the flesh bears witness to the mature man or woman he or she is to become; rather, he is thinking of an arrested creature, a plaything of the here and now. Someone who looks at a woman with lust, thinking of the pleasure of sexual union but not of what that union is and what it necessarily means, is not thinking of the woman as such, but rather of a female body fitted out with the desired accoutrements.

We cannot do what these bishops want without overthrowing the whole doctrine of creation as it is revealed to us in Scripture. It seems to me that they feel the truth as a clog upon the will, a ball and chain, and that the personal will alone, as vague and wayward and apt to self-deception as it may be, must reign. Such an attitude is, of course, not Christian. I do not think it can subsist with any religion at all. It is playtime for the atheist.

[Image: Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich (credit: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images)]

  • Anthony Esolen

    Anthony Esolen, a contributing editor at Crisis, is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts. He is the author, most recently, of Sex and the Unreal City (Ignatius Press, 2020).

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Share to...