WHAT THEY WILL NEVER KNOW
Adapted from Anthony Esolen, Crisis Magazine
In recent days, the Canadian Christian television show, 100 Huntley Street, has been uncharacteristically aggressive in its denunciation of the anti-culture around us. The topic is teenagers and smut - sometimes it is good to return to direct and morally charged words.
Their guest has been Josh McDowell, who has spent his whole adult life bringing Christ to young people. About five years ago he began to notice a change in his audience. One might say he began to sniff the sour tang of a cesspool; or he caught sight of a film over their minds, like scum floating atop stagnant water. That was when he discovered how many of them had been wallowing in the smut, which they ushered into their lives with terrible ease. If a young person has a hand-held internet device or a computer in his or her bedroom, only a fool would bet against it.
So one of the crew of 100 Huntley Street set out to interview young people about sex - meaning, these days, not the rich mystery of being male or female, but habits of copulation. One comment struck me especially. A young man said that a "couple" he knew would view pornographic videos as "education," and would then try out for themselves what they had seen.
Education, "the great Mumbo-Jumbo and fraud of the age," as Malcolm Muggeridge so memorably called it, education justifies everything. How can anyone oppose curiosity? How can anyone wish to prevent people from learning things? Yet we know that Evil darkens the mind. Evil causes ignorance.
Christian poets understood the principle too. Virgil leads Dante into hell, where he will see those who have lost il ben dell' intelletto, "the good of intellect." When Beatrice brings the poet to the highest of the heavenly spheres, she says that it occupies no physical space, but exists wholly in the mind of God. Milton's Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, and then, after giving us ironically ignorant displays of their ignorance, they make love, consummating their guilt.
At least Adam and Eve were married, and were in love. Their deed here was amorous, anyhow; not what Milton derides as the "casual fruition" of whores and whoremasters, whereby men and women view one another as rutting beasts, or as implements for self-gratification. The cold and mechanical term "hookup" had not yet been invented.
Love, says Christopher Marlowe, is not gentle, but cruel when it means to prey. Our young people are becoming experts in the cruelty of lust; no surprise that some of them cross over to the lust of cruelty. A person of the other sex, the one I cannot easily fold into my own ego, is a world of mysterious possibilities. What does it mean to be such a person? What is it like, to beget a child one cannot bear? What is it like to bear a child? What does he long for, in his manhood? Or she, in her womanhood? What does he fear? What does she fear?
Our teenagers who know so much about the mechanics of copulation miss the sweetness of simple humanity. People used to sing merrily about holding a girl's hand while walking home from the dance - holding a hand. With that touch, they knew the thrill, perhaps for the first time, of being deemed worthy of love. What is it like, to be a boy or a girl who could be made dizzyingly happy by so simple a touch? We will never know.
No one opens an operator's manual with reverence and trembling. A vacuum cleaner is not an object of love. But a human being is not a tool. What is it like, to be growing into an adult body, with one's innocence (so far as it is possible for a sinner) preserved? What is it like for a girl to look upon a handsome young man and be fascinated by his face - the set of his eyes, his smile, the turn of his head, the person in body and soul shining through? What is it like for a boy to look upon a beautiful young woman and be swept away by the grace and goodness of her actions, from the way she plays with a small child, to the way she sings to herself, as if summing up in one all the beauty of the world about her? We will never know.
A boy used to have to pay court to a girl, to win her love. They did so in view of parents and kin, and, if they were Orthodox, in the haven of the Church and her Holy Mysteries. That meant that they entered a vast field of meaning, both earthly and heavenly. What might it be like, to be invited to attend Liturgy with the girl's family for the first time? To stand with her to receive Communion? Then to return to her home, with brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins? To see one's love in relation to all those other bonds of love? To know, without having to express it in words, that the flutter in the pulse that you feel when she smiles upon you, is a part of the symphony of love that God has ordained?
What is it like, to know one's spouse for the first time?
We are a generation of the dull, blank, listless, hopeless; a generation of youth without mirth, age without wisdom. Even our eros is pallid and nerveless. The words of Isaiah again: "It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite" (Is. 29:8).
But what can an old prophet tell us, anyway?