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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Romantic Love is NOT an Inalienable Right

I love Andrew Klavan. He’s bitingly witty, reflective, clever, generous-spirited and brave. His Christianity is firmly grounded in the real world and whether arguing for his faith, conservatism or just common sense, he takes no prisoners. We could use more like him.

That said, this blog post lacks the usual Klavan acuity; in particular, this paragraph:
“If, on the other hand, sex is a spiritual act, then you might have an argument that some types of sex are sinful, but if you make that argument, you are advising a fellow spirit to forgo the consolations of romantic love. And if you want to condemn an individual to a life without romantic love, you better make a much more compelling case …”
There are a few things I’d take issue with here:

1.    The assumption that sex is either a “spiritual act” or “purely mechanical”.

This seems to be the sense in which Klavan uses “spiritual”, rather than in any Biblical sense, because by “spiritual” he seems to mean something intrinsically good. Spirits are not. The spirit beings in our universe, per Scripture, are very much divided into two camps. In fact, the New Testament teaches that “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” encourages the status quo, in which humans live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”, a state of being that sounds remarkably like what Klavan is imprudently defending.

But if Klavan means to use “spiritual” in the good Biblical sense, then all kinds of things are “spiritual acts”. What makes something “spiritual” in that sense is not the action itself but the motive behind it: If an act proceeds from any combination of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”, it could be said to be “spiritual” in the good Biblical sense.

I would draw your attention to the words “self-control”. The qualities produced by the Spirit of God are of a piece; they do not conflict with one another. Therefore “love” cannot be set against “self-control”. If an act lacks self-control, it is unloving, and not of the Spirit.

Anyway, the fact that sex can potentially be a “spiritual act” does not make it always so. There is nothing about sex that makes it (a) special, to be prized above all other spiritual activities, or (b) intrinsically good.

Furthermore, in the most “spiritual” state of all, sex has no place, for “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage”.

So please, cease and desist with the magical invocation of “sex” and “spiritual” in the same sentence.

2.    The assumption that anybody “condemns” anyone to anything by not enthusing about his choices.

If you are a man with an attraction to men, or a woman with an attraction to women, you have the absolute freedom to act on that choice, just like a person with a bad temper has the absolute freedom to engage in bar fights or road rage. In North American society, nobody is restraining you. In fact, people are celebrating you.

If we believe in the God of the Bible, though (or, in the case of the person with a bad temper, the legal system), we probably also believe in consequences for our choices.

So when, out of love for Christ and respect for his word, a believer allows the Holy Spirit to restrain his or her desires and inclinations, that is not something he or she is “condemned” to. It is a sacrifice one may personally choose to make or not to make, just as many other Christians sacrifice things they would prefer, or would have enjoyed, in the interests of the glory of God.

3.  The assumption that anyone has a right to romantic love.

Klavan assumes this right in the absence of any evidence at all and puts his detractors to the proof of their position (“you better make a much more compelling case”). I would absolutely disagree.

Romantic love is one, arguably small, component of marriage. It is not the entirety of it by any stretch. Until recently, and even today in many countries, marriages were most often arranged. Romantic love didn’t enter into it. Marriage was assumed to have virtues that made it worthwhile even without soaring passions.

The experience of romantic love does not define us as human beings, still less as Christians. I’ve been married and I’ve been single for long periods of my life. I didn’t cease to be fulfilled, functional or happy outside of a romantic relationship.

Furthermore, marriage and romantic love are not remotely synonymous, as many honest married folks will tell you. Most good long-term marriages are strong friendships with a side helping of sex, seasoned with occasional and joyous moments of romantic love. But romance is neither the best reason for marriage, nor the sole motivating force behind it.

What about people for whom romantic love is not even a possibility? What about people who choose to prioritize a higher calling? The Lord seems to have managed a third of a century on this planet without a single verse or word of Scripture suggesting that he missed out on anything crucial; the apostle Paul likewise.

Romantic love is a blessing and a privilege. It is not universal and nobody has a “right” to it.

Still less does anyone have a right to claim that the pursuit of it justifies what the Bible calls sin.

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