It all sounds really good – you need to love yourself. And that is absolutely true. But I think – no, I know – that we have largely lost the truth in application of what that actually means. And it’s a very difficult discussion to have in these times when we define “who we are” by so many thing, most of which are things that should not define us.
I’m going to share in its entirely a post that showed up on my Facebook timeline. This friend of mine is a family member who grew up in a Catholic family but in adulthood came out as gay and left the Church. He is not a person who spews agenda and vitriol. He often talks of love and peace and acceptance, and even desires good for those who will treat him badly. All of which says a lot of his personal character in many ways. He talks of God, but in a sense that is far from Catholic and mainline Christian. To my shagrin, though, he has fully embraced the “goodness” of “who he is” (i.e. gay) and all that goes with it from a lifestyle perspective. He is in Hollywood and has produced films, one of which was featured at the Cannes film festival, which is about his story growing up gay in a Catholic family. While not outright anti-Catholic, the undertones are there – he simply believes the Church’s teachings are wrong, not loving, and archaic. He is actively promoting the goodness of living “who you are” as an expression of self-love. Unfortunately, he is in a position to influence and affect the way others think as well. As he does this, he believes he is professing truth.
I am reproducing the post he made today to demonstrate where he is coming from:
“This weekend I will take a vow of silence.
For the words, clotted in the tormented throats of those told they are loved unconditionally, but cannot be who they are, because it will send them to an eternity of fire.
For those raped physically, mentally, and emotionally by the guilt and fear of an ideology that taught them to keep their beauty silent, and utter a string of Hail Marys instead.
For those carrying the weight of an unspeakable defilement in their bodies, minds, and spirits and have never since been able to connect God and Love, because they cannot understand how these two synonyms can feel so horribly different.
This weekend I hold silence to hear the screams that still linger in the air, audible when you stop to lend a sobered and reverent ear. I hold silence to hear the voices and the stories they never got to tell. I hold silence for those who wander, lost and lightless, on this Earth, in for and out, due to the false representation of unconditional love that has stolen the inner children and turned them to husks of what were once powerful, unquestionably self-loving beings.
This weekend, if it resonates with you, and even if it just for a small chunk of time, I invite you to join me in respecting those who have been conditioned by ideologies of all kinds with silence. And if not, quieten and listen whenever you can. Collective awareness can heal the deepest energetic wounds , and our woprld needs it now.
I love you, truth warriors.”
This is not the ramblings of someone who is unloving and ill-intentioned. And not everything in that post is wrong. And it also highlights how important it is that we do a much better job of finding ways to characterize God’s love for us in a way that can reconcile the tough questions about what that means in the context of the very real existence of Hell.
But he has been misled in a very diabolical way.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the term diabolical conjurs up imagery of demons and monsters and ugliness. And for good reason, for that is what lies behind the mask of it all. But something that is diabolical does not have that appearance to one who is swayed by the diabolical. The very nature of the diabolical is to take something that is evil and disguise it and present it as good. Or to take something good and pervert it and re-present it as something else (e.g. traditional marriage is about being happy, people want to marry people of the same sex, therefore same-sex marriage is good. The premise here is faulty, but is widely accepted.)
The post above perverts the entire idea of what self-love is. The problem is that the entire underlying baseline is now faulty, so all other arguments and conclusions that stem from it are faulty. Regardless of how thoughtful, well-meaning, emotional, and even loving the case is, if the case is made on a faulty premise everything else is flawed.
In this case, there are a couple faulty premises. The first is that unconditional love necessarily implies that there are no expectations of behavior attached. This is wrong. Unconditional love, by definition, means that you are loved despite your flaws and your behavior. Unconditional love in no way dismisses anything bad as acceptable. It means that I love you anyway. Unconditional love could even mean that you find ways to point out issues of belief, faith, behavior, etc. but always in a spirit of charity. It also means that if all these attempts fail, you will still love that person. This is different from accepting behavior as good and right. It can be a difficult distinction when emotion and humanity of the individuals is involved, but from a purely logical standpoint, this is really not all that difficult a distinction to make. The main issue is that we want our children, brothers, in-laws, and friends to be happy. It is difficult to see someone struggle with their weaknesses and tell them they need to control this thing or that thing, especially when all the world is telling them that it’s OK, and what you were taught is just an archaic ideology. It is much easier from a relationship standpoint to relent, and let be what be.
The second problematic premise here is that self-love is about what makes you happy. “God made me that way” is a common refrain. God made all of us with infinite dignity, and it is true that we are His creation, warts and all. But never has this been an excuse to purposely give in to our own weaknesses. We all have them. Some weaknesses society has decided to celebrate and some weaknesses, not so much. Those who are prone to anger are asked to control that urge. And this is the right thing to do. Some people really struggle with it. We are asked, in our maturity, to keep it under wraps. But if someone has a weakness in the area of sexual perversion (of any sort, really – both heterosexual perversion and same-sex attraction, among many other things) it is difficult to find anyone admit this is a weakness that needs to be controlled, other than when issues of violence is involved. We suppress other things and say it’s for our own good, but in this area it is claimed that suppressing it is a horrible thing. There is no consistency.
The issue at hand is that we tend to define ourselves – and thus the self we love – according to what we feel, think, and do. I am sorry, but this is a flawed idea of self. It is true that our experiences, thoughts, feelings, education, urges, etc. form our character. But that is not us. We can, at any time, change our opinions. We can change our behavior. We can control our urges – perhaps with help in doing so. This is not “us.” What we are is human. What we are is body and a soul. What we are in baptism, quite literally, is an adopted child of God. What we all are is an image of God. All the rest takes who we are and puts it to work in what we do, what we say, and how we act. I am not defined by my heterosexuality, my marriage, my kids, my job… these are all outward signs to people around me what I think and feel and believe and what is important, and may very well then indicate to them who I actually am. But who I am is actually fundamentally the same as who everyone else is. The question is, are we exhibiting this outwardly or aren’t we?
I don’t want to make it sound like we’re all clones. Obviously, the last item of “who we are” is our particular and unique DNA. Between the genetic code and the soul, we are all individuals and unique. It is said that no two snowflakes are alike, and yet every snowflake is made through the same process and is made of the same components. How a snowfall drifts or flies or melts or sits does not define what that snowflake is. It is a snowflake, pure and simple.
I fear that fewer and fewer people understand this, and even if explained, would accept it.
If you really want to “be who you are” then you need to be a child of God. And if you are to act like what you are, then what you think and do and say needs lead with “am I thinking of self-love in terms of what I want or in terms of what God wants for me? “ That is not an easy question, because sometimes God calls us to suffer, to struggle, and to use those weaknesses to utterly rely on Him for our happiness, and not the things of this world – even relationships.