I saw a movie about marriage this weekend, and it was a window into the wounded soul of a culture so far gone in selfishness as to be almost unrecognizable as civilized. Sitting in a darkened theater in the midst of a cheering crowd, I had one of the more bizarre experiences of my life, so odd in fact that laughter seemed to me the best response. My fellow movie-goers were cheering the moxy of a likable main character who had successfully managed to foil her husband's philandering ways by contracting a venereal disease from her own extra-marital exploits. Yeah, she showed him. Or so the crowd seemed to think. These people were cheering, I mean jumping out of their seats and pumping their fists in the air, interacting with the characters on the screen before them and apparently deeply identifying (or at least sympathizing) with them.
It was beyond bizarre, and while the movie itself was fairly inoffensive (at least visually), thanks to a PG-13 rating, the philosophy was so perverted it made me blush. Never have I encountered such a straightforward utilitarian view of the human person. I've seen greater understanding of the dignity of human life while conversing with pro-choicers in front of abortion mills.
These people on screen were trapped in the most lifeless, blood-sucking marriages imaginable. My worst college roommate experiences couldn't have compared to the hell these couples were co-habitating in, and yet the majority of the audience responded with sympathetic laughter, nodding in familiarity at themes of adultery, deception, substance abuse and domestic violence.
But what can we expect from a culture that regards human life as having so little value? We are to one another little more than modes of entertainment, distractions, products to be consumed and appetites to be satiated. There is such a poverty of understanding of the concept of self-gift that selfishness has become almost virtuous. Looking out for number one is essential you see, because no one else, least at of all your spouse, truly has your best interests at heart. It's asinine to practice selfless giving as a finite creature; you're bound to run out eventually, and when you do, you're done. Better to jealously guard the little you have been given, lest it be spent completely and leave you with no other means of fulfillment.
This is the fatal philosophical flaw of modernity, the dualistic divorce of the finite human person from the superabundant infinite grace of the Divine Person. Without Heaven's resources funneling into a marriage through the channels of divine grace (the spouses), this awkward pas de deux arrangement between incompatible strangers (read: men and women) breeds familiar contempt over the years, and sometimes far worse than that.
Marriage was designed in Heaven for use on earth; there's no worldly way around it. When you remove the selflessness, the charity, the willingness to sacrifice and to forgive, what remains is not a bad marriage, but isn't actually marriage at all. Here the argument for civil unions holds water, because indeed, this is what comprises most marriages today: a mutally convenient domestic arrangement yielding sexual, financial, emotional and social benefits to the participants, subject to immediate dissolution per the request of either party.
What a waste.