When Love… What?
This post is going to be harsh.
I mean, not pussycat harsh. Mundabor harsh. Keep reading at your peril. Complaints will not be published.
Where I grew up, divorce was a heavy social stain. It was already so in bigger cities; but far more so in littler ones.
The reasoning was, and is, very simple because in the end, life is a simple thing: marriage is a cooperation for life, for which two people decide to stake the only card they have. It is also the most important decision of their lives. Therefore, if the marriage fails they have – irrespective of the individual circumstances – both failed in the most important thing of their lives. It’s as simple as that.
I can’t tell you the times I have heard this music in my family, and I can tell you my family was not dominated by churchgoing Catholics – though cultural Catholics, yes.
The man, or woman, you choose, is the man or woman you have deemed good enough to get the only card you have. If the cooperation fails, there’s no way one of the two can call himself innocent. Yes, the wife is a slut. But a real man does not marry a slut, only a child does. Yes, the husband has a wandering eye. But a woman – like the man just mentioned – should have known beforehand what deal she was getting, instead of drowning in a sea of emotionalism and marry just because of “luv”, and then refuse the delivery of the parcel she ordered.
This is why in case of divorce – or separation, which was always the case before 1970 – the stigma remained attached to both. To one side generally more, if there was an obvious culprit. But to the other too, because it had managed to screw up the only thing he or she was required to get right in life. Because again, in that kind of society how much money you make, what a career you have, what house you live in and what car you drive was always far, far less important than whether you have an intact family. I can’t tell you the times I heard the phrase “se divorzi, sei un fallito”; “if you divorce, you are a failure”. Yes, this was so more clearly among the socially conservative minded. But boy, there was an awful lot of them.
Of course, this worked in that way because this was the way society worked. You can’t export this situation to work in countries, like all the Anglo-saxon ones, where such deadly seriousness in matters of marriage was probably dead after the First World War. But Italy was different, being blessedly free from divorce until 1970. When laws change, you will have to wait an entire generation until the morality of the common man follows the legal situation; but then the entire society is screwed, as a generation of children grow up knowing every marriage has a huge door with “emergency exit” written over it. Take away the door, and see how people’s perception of marriage change. Divorce is pure poison.
The results of this brutal social pressure were, though, beautiful. Low divorce rate even decades after the introduction of divorce, and a pervasive social control that worked rather well particularly in smaller centres, and not badly at all even in the big cities.
Note, though, that few people, twenty or thirty years ago, would have bought the thing with “luv”. Once you have married, they would have said, you have lost any right to look for “luv” elsewhere, until and unless your spouse does you the favour and kicks the bucket. If there were children, this search for “luv” was seen – and rightly so – as the madness of middle-aged adolescents, unable to take their responsibility and understand that when you have children, your own “happiness” must give way to a superior interest. Yes, it must give way to a superior interest. There are things bigger than oneself, and one’s happiness. Things like God, Fatherland, and Family; requiring you not to play with sacrament, to give your life on the battlefield if necessary, and put to put your family before your individual quest for emotional satisfaction. Millions of my generation grew up like this. We saw it work. We now see the new generations growing up with a different set of values: divorce, concubinage, even “same sex unions”, and one’s own selfish interests as the metre of what is good and worthy of legal and social protection. What a load of rubbish.
The old system worked. Was it harsh? You bet it was. Is it harsh to mock the young woman who looks like the White Whale at 28, and give her nicknames like “Forrestal”, “Nimitz” or the more generic “aircraft carrier”? Is it harsh to mock the boy who behaves like a girl at 15? Not many of those in the Italy I grew up in. Social control works a treat, but only if it’s harsh.
This has all gone now. Largely in Italy, and completely in more northern latitudes. If you ask me, divorce destroyed it more than anything else.
Nowadays, individual happiness is a human right. Your husband sleeps around, so you have the right to scar your children forever. Your wife is a nagging champ, so you have the right to be tempted by the younger colleague. A family is destroyed; but who cares, because there is simply no social price to pay: not in front of God, about Whom very few care; and not with the neighbours, about whom many more do.
Nowadays, everyone is so full of understanding. “It didn’t work. How sad”. “I am sure you’ll find a better man/woman soon”. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”. Crap like that. Emotions galore. Families destroyed.
No. The violent drunkard is still your husband. The whore is still your wife. Even in those cases where you cannot live with them, you can still pray for them. That’s the lot you chose. That’s the card you played. It’s yours now. Yes, it’s harsh. Life is. The German poet Friedrich Schiller said it wonderfully:
“Drum prüfe, wer sich ewig bindet /Ob sich das Herz zum Herzen findet!”
“Let him check, he who binds himself forever, whether the heart matches the heart!”.
The same poet lets this follow by a short, but ominous warning: “Der Wahn ist kurz, die Reu ist lang”. The madness is short, the repentance long. Nowadays the madness is short; then up to the next madness. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure” has become “marry in haste, complain about the Church”.
As always, the destruction of family values has far-reaching consequences. In the last two or three generations in most Anglo-Saxon countries, divorce has been an obvious possibility for everyone. So obvious, that people are born with it. Therefore, all my readers from the US, Canada, Australia, the UK have been born and grew up in a society that accepted divorce. How can such a society breed and instil that concept of sacredness of a marriage that is so vital for the marriage to stand the inevitable tempests? If happiness is the new religion, why would a man not go away with the pretty young thing? Who will tell him “no, you must stay on the side of the mother of your children”? Why? He only wants to be happy! Who are you to judge? Has Francis not told you you should not condemn him? I could make similar reasoning for the other sex, but you get my drift.
If Argentina is anywhere similar to Italy – and I am pretty sure it is – I think this is the situation mentioned by the Bishop of Rome when he complains about those who condemn those who “experience failure” in their “luv”.
Being post-Catholic, Francis is obviously unconcerned with the social consequences of such “failed luv”. We were told at University – where people were also far more Catholic than Francis on his most Catholic day – that “every divorce is a bomb put under the chair of society”. Everyone understood it, and understood why. I doubt Francis does, or cares. It was fairly common thinking then; certainly it was among practising Catholics, and very often among conservative cultural Catholics. When one married, “luv” was just not part of the equation anymore, marriage was. The bed you made, and all that.
This is not Francis’ world, of course. He isn’t one to “judge”. It is not told, but implied “luv” is his sacrament. It is not told, but implied marriage must, if “necessary”, give way in some way the Synod will care to elaborate upon.
Implied, mind. Others, like Cardinal Kasper, will dig the marriage’s grave. Francis merely prepares the ground.
But I grew up in times when average people were far more Catholic than today’s Pope; when the social rules were fairly well-known; and when people were expected to decide like adults, and to live with the consequences. They knew – all of them knew, because those were the times – that there was only one go, and they were expected to use it well, and to know what they were doing. Marriage was, as people jokingly used to say, “the prison you chose”. It gives you the idea people were expected to live with the consequences of their actions, like adults; not run away like adolescents. It worked. It worked very well, and most people were smart enough to understand that the second chance wasn’t really likely to be better than the first; then when one has been able to screw the only important decision of his life, the probability he will make it all right the second time is – sacrament aside – slim.
This, as far as the “luv” thingy is concerned.
One suspects, though, that Bergoglio has another target in his sights: the communion for public adulterers. He does not say so, of course. But again, he creates perceptions; he builds a climate; he creates a “do not judge” narrative that can be exported ad libitum to any other situation. Don’t be a pharisee. We don’t do casuistry. You are a bad, bad Christian.
Comments are allowed, but only if they do not touch personal matters. I understand this touches some of you from rather near. I wasn’t there. I do not know you, whom you married, your circumstances, your social system. I understand you did not grow up in Italy. I am talking of the society I know, which I think is the society Bergoglio knows.
But please understand I have no desire to hear personal stories of recrimination. Where I grew up, no one was.