Thursday, February 7, 2013

Answer to Sylvia II

Sylvia D. Lucas has responded to my post about the “childfree” lifestyle in the comments there. As Blogger’s often-frustrating comment system thinks my reply too long, I shall repost her comment and my reply to it here.

She writes:

Thank you for your reply[.] I enjoy the quote used in the header of your website and think it therefore interesting that you begin your answer to me by calling the child-free "narcissistic." I don't know how that could possibly promote a culture of respect or friendship.

I understand that your religion dictates that you have children even if you don't want them, but as someone who doesn't follow your religious tradition, I don't have the pressure of God guiding my reproductive choices, and I believe not wanting to have children but doing it anyway is a irresponsible. It does a disservice to both parent and child, in my opinion.

You are, of course, entitled to your own beliefs and to live your life in the way you see fit, whether that means having zero or ten children (assuming you can afford them all financially, emotionally, and psychologically). I make no judgments about your lifestyle. I'd appreciate the same respect. There's no need for the vitriol between people like you and people like me.

I'll continue to not judge you and to respect your adherence to your beliefs. I hope you will eventually realize that others deserve the same treatment from you.

My response is below. It begins with a requotation of the first part of Sylvia’s comment.
I enjoy the quote used in the header of your website and think it therefore interesting that you begin your answer to me by calling the child-free "narcissistic." I don't know how that could possibly promote a culture of respect or friendship.
You’re right. I’ve been uneasy about that since I wrote it. I apologize. My intention in calling the lifestyle “narcissistic” was to call it out as self-centered rather than other-centered. There are other, less obnoxious ways to do that. I’m sorry. Thank you for noticing the quote, and keeping me honest. I was wrong, and I'm grateful that you passed judgment on my error, so I can correct it here with an apology.
I understand that your religion dictates that you have children even if you don't want them, but as someone who doesn't follow your religious tradition, I don't have the pressure of God guiding my reproductive choices, and I believe not wanting to have children but doing it anyway is a irresponsible. It does a disservice to both parent and child, in my opinion.
An unwanted child is in a terrible situation to contemplate. I think a more accurate reading of the Catholic tradition here is that in being “open to life,” we are not called merely to avoid artificially thwarting conception, but we are called, if we are married, to seek to grow psychologically into being the sort of people who will want and cherish any child God should give us.
You are, of course, entitled to your own beliefs and to live your life in the way you see fit, whether that means having zero or ten children (assuming you can afford them all financially, emotionally, and psychologically). I make no judgments about your lifestyle. I'd appreciate the same respect. There's no need for the vitriol between people like you and people like me.
You’re right about the vitriol. Again, my apologies. I’d change the post, but I leave it as is so that your comment retains its context.

As for whether I can withhold judgment, that is a different question. Under the laws of our country, we are blessed not to have religious dictates enforced on others. In that sense, we are all “entitled” to live in whatever way our whims dictate. However, while a person might be legally entitled to live a dysfunctional lifestyle, others are “entitled” to disapprove of it. Although I am not in any comparing childlessness to alcoholism, an analogy would be that although a person is “entitled” to drink themselves into cirrhosis of the liver provided that they aren’t driving drunk, the rest of us ought to urge them to reform their lives, not merely sit back nonjudgmentally waiting for the drunk to die.

I'll continue to not judge you and to respect your adherence to your beliefs. I hope you will eventually realize that others deserve the same treatment from you.
I respect the sincerity of your beliefs and the way that through your book(s) and your blog you attempt to live them out and model the best of them for others. You seem like a thoughtful, decent person.

However, part of any set of beliefs is the belief that what we believe is in fact correct. If you met a racist, to give an analogy that again I am in no way comparing to childlessness, you might “respect his adherence to his beliefs,” but you would feel free to criticize them as being both false and destructive to him, his fellow believers, and to the victims of his racism.

Catholic believe that Christ has called us not to judge sinners. We are all sinners, and the prideful self-righteousness of preening about not being as bad a sinner as so-and-so is a sure path to Hell. Pride, after all, not lust, is the deadliest of the sins.

However, we are called to judge sin itself. If someone has a blog celebrating abortion, or contraception (as do the “childfree”), or some other sin, we can and must judge the ideas therein as wicked. Not the people espousing those ideas–that is not for us to judge. But just as an astronomer is confident in telling a geocentrist that he is wrong–however a nice person the geocentrist may be–a Catholic of Thomist philosophical convictions is and should be confident that “childfree” viewpoints are flatly false. We can respect the believers in the “childfree” ideology, but we cannot pretend that the moral Sun revolves around the moral Earth just to make some error-prone people feel better about themselves.

None of this is to say that the Catholic Church is going to lobby the government to force you to avoid living out what it rightly considers to be a false vision of the good life. It is and should remain a free country, where you can live your life as you see fit. But Catholics in discussions on places like Catholic blogs are going to continue to speak the truth as God has given us to see it.

Frankly, I imagine you will continue to share your viewpoint on your blog as well. I can respect you while openly thinking your views are false. You seem like a good person, well worthy of respect. That you advocate for a sinful lifestyle doesn’t change the fact that you may very well be, overall, a far less sinful, better person than me.

But your viewpoint itself is false. Not judging others does not mean not judging their ideas. You may be the least narcissistic, most generous person I might ever meet. I don’t know. But the idea that marriage should merely be about the pleasure of the spouses, and not about wider duties to God, to children, and to society, is a narcissistic idea. I do not and must not judge you, but I do judge your idea against the whole prophetic witness of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the philosophically grounded morality of Natural Law. I can do nothing else.

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