Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Week 24: In Defense of Traditional Marriage (Part II)

In Defense of Traditional Marriage (Part II)
Why the tradition of marriage is dead, and how we can bring it back to life. (continued from last week)

In the battle over California Proposition 8, nostalgia won.

Nostalgia, masquerading as tradition, fooled us all into believing that the ritual and form of white weddings and heterosexual love were timeless and universal truths. 

But dig deeper, and we find that weddings are not always white, the participants not always so pure (or heterosexual, for that matter), and that the love binding two individuals together is so universal a truth that no grammatical modifier can or should ever be used to limit its meaning: There is no gay love or straight love. There is just love, love.

Love awakens us to our common humanity, enabling us to work together and achieve more collectively than we ever could as individuals. Without love, we become destructively independent, and communities fall apart.

Love forms the bedrock of our society, and marriage—at its core—is about love.

It is love that allows two biologically distinct entities to create a single life together: to learn together, grow together, and then to pass on their values, culture, and experiences to the next generation. This description—stripped of all superficial ritual and form—is the true tradition of marriage.

Does same-sex marriage really break with this tradition? What meaning is there in the love between a man and a woman, that is absent in the love between two men, or two women?

Some would argue that marriage isn't about love; that it's about having procreative sex that produces biological heirs to their worldly fortunes. Marriage, they argue, is about sex.

But how can this be right?

Sex is base. It is animal. To define marriage based on sex is more in line with modern day Satanism (which encourages one to indulge the pleasures of the flesh) than with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other major 'system' of belief.

If marriage is about producing children (i.e. making babies), then that means sex is paramount to the union, and love need not be involved.

But if marriage is instead about rearing children (i.e. raising responsible adults who don't get angry at the world for their own failures and then channel that rage into senseless acts of violence that cripple the community), then really, love is paramount, and sex is irrelevant.

So which is it? Which is more important: producing biological heirs to inherit all our worldly fortunes, or producing spiritual heirs to inherit all our cultural wealth?

Love or sex? Which is paramount?

I think the answer is obvious: Marriage—this sacred institution—must be about love.

Marriage has always been about love. The tradition of marriage is the tradition of love, and to deny same-sex couples the right to marry because they can’t procreate is to redefine marriage as it has existed for generations. It is to cross over from tradition and into nostalgia.

Today in California, as a result of Prop 8, the phrase “Defending Traditional Marriage” is a misnomer. There is nothing left to defend.

The tradition of marriage is dead. The people who voted to defend their “traditional” definition of marriage were fooled, and Californians have been split into two well entrenched, self-destructively independent groups of thought as a result.

We have abandoned love in favor of ceremony, sown mistrust into our communities, and allowed blind faith to make a mockery of our Constitution.

Marriage has no meaning now to a true traditionalist—a true conservative. It will have meaning again only when we stop worshiping the ritual and form of marriage, and allow it to evolve with time and place.

It will have meaning again when we recognize that there is a difference between love and lust, and that when we practice abstinence we never learn to distinguish between the two.

It will have meaning again only when we remove all traces of nostalgia from our timeless founding documents, abandon the restrictions we have placed on love, and embrace the true tradition of marriage once more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Week 23: In Defense of Traditional Marriage (Part I)

In Defense of Traditional Marriage (Part I)
On the critical distinction between tradition and nostalgia, and why we shouldn't eat lobsters. 

Architect Peter Calthorpe believes in traditional neighborhoods: small streets, town squares, and walkable districts. These old, traditional built forms enable the effective interchange of new ideas via the formal and informal networks of a community that, by design, make efficient use of limited natural resources.

In contrast, the “new” cities of today, lined as they are with gas-guzzling SUVs and tract McMansion housing, enable only isolation, ignorance, and wasteful consumption.

And yet Calthorpe is criticized for his traditional beliefs. For believing in human-scale neighborhoods populated by small, local businesses supporting a balanced diversity of life; he is accused of ignoring present-day realities—of indulging in nostalgia.

What the critics miss, Calthorpe maintains, is the critical distinction between tradition and nostalgia.

“Tradition,” he explains, “evolves with time and place while holding strongly to certain formal, cultural, and personal principles. Nostalgia seeks the security of past forms without the inherent principles.”

In other words: Tradition perpetuates meaning through space and time; nostalgia perpetuates ritual and form after all meaning has been lost. It is a subtle, but important distinction. 

Left unchecked, nostalgia grows increasingly destructive, destroying historical meaning and leaving future generations without links to their past. This is because nostalgia does not dig deeper: it does not ask why. Nostalgia simply accepts—blindly.

Like literal interpretation of the Bible, nostalgia clings fiercely to the practices of a bygone era, suffocating all meaning beneath a blanket of ritual and form. If nostalgia permeated our legal system today, we would be executing the handicapped, stoning the acne-ridden, and condemning to death those who eat clams, crab or lobster—as the Bible literally commands—without ever asking why.

But where nostalgia accepts, tradition questions. 

Tradition asks "why" because it has a faith in the universal. It has faith that there is meaning behind the ritual, and realizes that to seek out and understand this meaning is to pay homage to and celebrate the wisdom and knowledge of our progenitors.

This is what it means to uphold tradition. This is how our ancestors live forever.

Take the issue of shellfish: Nostalgia obediently denies itself the pleasures of eating shellfish, as commanded by the Bible—no questions asked. Tradition on the other hand, understands that shellfish are bottom feeders that consume dead and rotting flesh, and so freely chooses not to eat these abominations. 

In understanding why shellfish are abominations unworthy of human consumption (i.e. because they eat some nasty shit), a two thousand year old observation, largely ignored and forgotten by even the most devoutly Christian, is made relevant once again.

Tradition, like a great library, protects and guides future generations, spurring life forward upon a solid foundation of timeless wisdom.

Nostalgia, like a fire set upon that library, destroys such wisdom—leaving future generations to flounder about in the dark.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Week 22: Don’t Know Why [I Didn’t Come]

Don't Know Why [I Didn't Come]
There is something remarkably transcendent about the fact that we speak so many different "languages" but still end up saying the exact same thing.  

From Week 21: 
All my revulsion over literal interpretations of religious texts the world over, and the mental slavery such readings impose; all my contempt for a “people’s movement” that perpetuates the superficial form of marriage over the real tradition of love, simply because “that is how it has always been;” all the weight of the world comes into sharp focus over the head of an unsuspecting 8 year old boy…who promptly bursts into flames and dies a shrieking heat-death.
From Theodore B. Olson, representing the LGBT community in the trial over their fundamental right to choose who they want to marry: 
The latest words from the...proponents [of Proposition 8 are], "We don't know. We don't know whether there is going to be any harm [in allowing same-sex marriage]."
[I would argue that] "we did it because we don't know" is the same as saying "we don't know why we did it."  And I would submit that "we've always done it that way," that "it's a traditional definition of marriage" the same [as saying] "because I say so."
From Jean-Luc Picard, representing Commander Data (an android) in the trial over his fundamental right to choose his own destiny:
"Commander Riker has dramatically demonstrated to this court that Lieutenant Commander Data is a machine. Do we deny that? No, because it is not relevant – we too are machines, just machines of a different type. Commander Riker has also reminded us that Lieutenant Commander Data was created by a human; do we deny that? No. Again it is not relevant. Children are created from the 'building blocks' of their parents' DNA. Are they property?
From Marilyn Manson:
Those who move beyond the album's title and the most blatant aspect of what I do, will then understand what I am trying to say.
From Vexen Crabtree, the minister of the London Church of Satan:
Any Satanists who actually worship the Devil, rather than revering Satan as an abstract value, are immature, unstable, and nothing to do with us.
Through which we can infer:
Any Christians who actually worship Christ, rather than revering Christ as an abstract value, are immature, unstable, and the reason why people like Becky Fisher (of Jesus Camp fame) should be jailed for pedophilia. 
A sentiment echoed by Origen Adamantius, an early Christian scholar and theologian; and Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle to the Gentiles:
Origen: Christ crucified is teaching for babes.
Paul: But when I become a mature man, I put away childish things.
Finally, from the lovely Emily Dickinson:
As by the dead we love to sit,
Become so wondrous dear,
As for the lost we grapple,
Though all the rest are here,--

In broken mathematics
We estimate our prize,
Vast, in its fading ratio,
To our penurious eyes!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Week 21: Tell Me Why [Ain’t Nothin’ but a Mistake]

Tell Me Why [Ain’t Nothin’ but a Mistake]
Billy becomes a mere proxy through which I air my grievances against the world. Is it fair for me to project my own frustrations onto him? Am I asking too much?
“What’s nine times eleven?” I ask.


“Use the eleven-trick.”


“And nine times twelve?”
Billy starts counting on his fingers, but quickly gives up after realizing that 9 x 12 is too unwieldy a summation to subdue with fingers alone. He can’t remember, and doesn’t understand multiplication well enough to realize that 9 x 12 is just a hop-skip away from 9 x 11. And so he gives up, head collapsing into forearms crossed in quiet resignation on the table.

This has become an all too familiar scene, and it leaves me feeling as trapped and hopeless as he does. We spent weeks learning about what multiplication means. Why doesn’t he get it? Am I pushing him too hard? Is it my fault? Am I a bad teacher?

Or is it him? Is he incapable of learning? Have his parents and their liberal Waldorf approach to education spoiled and coddled Billy into a state of un-teachable complacency?
“Okay, shake it out.” I tell him (“shake it out” is our code word for “empty your mind and start over from the beginning”). He lifts himself from the table, shaking his head and flailing his arms vigorously. “Good. Now, again, what is nine times eleven?”

“Ninety-nine.” he answers.

“Good. Why? Why does nine times eleven equal ninety-nine?”

“Because of the eleven trick.”

“Wrong. The eleven trick helps us remember that nine times eleven equals 99, but it doesn’t tell us why nine times eleven equals ninety-nine.”

“Oh.” He nods in feigned understanding. But I know better.

I ask him to open up his journal and read the entry from a few weeks ago when we first started learning about multiplication: “Multiplication is an addition shortcut. It is an easy way to add the same number over and over again.”
Something about his recitation strikes a nerve...

All my revulsion over literal interpretations of religious texts the world over, and the mental slavery such readings impose; all my contempt for a “people’s movement” that perpetuates the superficial form of marriage over the real tradition of love, simply because “that is how it has always been;” all the weight of the world comes into sharp focus over the head of an unsuspecting 8 year old boy…who promptly bursts into flames and dies a shrieking heat-death.
“So why does 9 x 11 = 99? If you tell me it’s because of the 11-trick, I’m going to throw you out the window.”

Billy giggles a disarming giggle: “No you won’t!”

“Okay come on, I’ll help you.” I write 9 x 11 and its lengthy vertical addition form on a piece of paper. “9 x 11 is the same as 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 +… 9—how many of them?”

“11 of them!”

“Right. And 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 +… 9 is equal to 99. That’s why 9 x 11 = 99. 9 x 11 is the same as adding 9, 11 times, which is the same as 99. Now watch what happens when we add one more nine.”

I add an additional 9 to the vertical addition problem. “Now we are adding 9, 12 times. Do we really need to add 9, 12 times?”

“Yes..?” he offers meekly, studying my face for clues.

“No!" I snarl, slamming my fist down on the table. "We know that 9 x 11 = 99, so we can just skip all the way to the end here, and add just one more 9 to get 108. 9 x 12 = 108. This is why multiplication is called an addition shortcut. It’s okay to memorize your times tables, but it’s not okay to forget why. If you don’t know why 9 x 12 = 108, you don’t really know anything.”

I write the word “why” in his notebook, furiously tracing dark blue circles around it with my pen. “If you don’t know why,” I repeat, jabbing the paper repeatedly with the tip of my pen, “you don’t know anything!”