Last weekend was Jody Bottum weekend in the Catholic blogosphere. Reading Bottum and the commentary on Bottum — those who agree with him that fighting for marriage wasn’t worth the effort, and those who disagree — was a wearisome task, to borrow a phrase from Matthew Franck.
But as I did so, a line from a Marie Bellet song kept returning to me: “There are things worth losing for.”
It’s from her song “The Man of the House” (a song I like better than “Shady Grove,” for what that’s worth):
And he fights the good fight ’cause there’s wrong and there’s right
There are things worth losing for
I think that is the best response to Bottum, though she didn’t mean it to be. That’s not to deny that some smart people have said smart things about Bottum’s smart essay. My favorite is Simcha Fisher’s “My thoughts on the Jody Bottum Controversy” the sum total of which is:
“Last time I read 6,000 words at one sitting, they were written by Herman Melville. That is all.”
Actually, Bottum’s piece was 9,384 words – excluding title and byline, but including the sentence, “Funding for this essay has been provided by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.”
(At word 8,312 comes this sentence: “One more aside before we arrive at the argument for same-sex marriage …” There are about 1,500 words in just the paragraphs about his friend Jim. There were zero uses of the word “mother” [excluding Mother Teresa] and zero uses of the word “father” [excluding a book-title “Fatherless”] … But who’s counting?)
At the heart of Bottum’s essay is the claim that marriage is a losing proposition for the Church. Marriage is a hopeless cause and that ship has sailed and all we are doing is making people mad with no hope of that changing.
I probably agree with all of that. I much prefer arguing, “Don’t kill people!” in the abortion debate to arguing “Don’t marry people!” in the marriage debate.
I understand and feel for homosexual people. I really do. I love them; I want the best for them.
But marriage is fundamental. It is the institution that says potential parents deserve a special status. In the normal course of events, heterosexual couples who live together in love will beget the next generation. We want them to raise the next generation too, together. So potential parents need special protections, special encouragement, special help. Special status.
To give these potential parents a special status is better for all of us — we the same-sex attracted, the opposite-sex attracted and the not-all-that-attracted-to-sex. Because it is the fundamental relationship on which our society is built.
Will saying so make the Church look bad, and leave people feeling disenchanted?
I don’t know. I guess. But I am pretty sure that doesn’t matter.
In a few days we celebrate the beheading of John the Baptist. He was beheaded for defending marriage. Peter Wolfgang points out that he is therefore a saint for our time. But why? Because he won?
John the Baptist opposed Herod for a transgression against the Mosaic Law – which forbids the union of a man with his brother’s wife while the brother is still living.
How did that dying for the Mosaic Law thing work out? Did the Mosaic Law win the day?
Or did the Christianity that John the Baptist helped bring us sweep away most of the Mosaic Law John the Baptist died for and change the whole paradigm he was working with?
And how about the other marriage martyr, St. Thomas More? Mark Shea has a nice bit reversing the Man for All Seasons line by proclaiming “Jody Bottum: God’s Good Servant, but the King’s First.”
How did Thomas More’s quixotic opposition to divorce in England work out? By winning the marriage fight? Reversing the tide? Of course not. His death was a blip on the march of divorce, like John the Baptist’s. But his death looms large in the march of the faith.
Would Jody Bottum have argued against both of those guys that they should not spend the Church’s spiritual capital on a losing battle? I’ll say it again: I don’t know. I guess. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.
Maybe marriage has always been a losing cause.
But it has also always been the fundamental building block of society.
As a Catholic I have spent my whole life fighting losing battles over fundamental things: fighting abortion, fighting poverty, arguing against war, fighting for religious freedom. Heck, I even promote natural family planning.
Maybe Bottum’s right, and God’s marriage cause is utterly lost in the 21st century, and to defend it is to look like a jerkfaced idiot.
Well, it hurts to put it that way, but we have been jerkfaced idiots for far too long to try to save face now.
Or maybe the opposite is true, and our witness will change the culture after all. It wouldn’t be the first time “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,” as St. Paul put it. Or the last.
John the Baptist, saint of the losing cause of marriage, pray for us
St. Thomas More, saint of the hopeless defense of marriage, pray for us.
Give us the grace to lose big for marriage, like you did.
Addendum: Marie Bellet explained the genesis of her song in this comment on my Facebook where I linked this post …
“Thanks so much for the mention, Tom. I was asked to write that song for Crisis Magazine when they wanted to honor Henry Hyde for his pro-life work. I studied up a bit on Hyde and found that his hero was St. Thomas More. Hyde addressed the newly elected house members in 1990 and, inspired by St. Thomas More, told them: ‘There are things worth losing for.’ Well there certainly are!! We all know who wins in the end.”