Tolkein on Divorce

While haunting the internet, trying to find writers who wrote on Tolkien and Catholicism, I found an interesting quote from a site called Singulare-Ingenium.

The writer there (He identifies himself as Patricius of Kent, a hobbit–I would condemn this as an odd conceit, but since my profile identifies me as a dark-cloaked vigilante of the Night who can cloud men’s minds, and tireless fighter against gangland, I am in no position to criticize) was commenting on Anglican reservations touching Catholic sexual self-discipline, and wondering whence it arose that our modern society regards sexual incontinence not only as tolerable, but normal and desirable. He goes on to quote JRR Tolkien.

A quote from Patricius:

The Church’s teaching on the use of artificial contraception concords naturally and truthfully with her teachings about Marriage, the legitimate birth of children, temperance – all of these things harmoniously facilitating the will and fathomless love of God in nature and our lives. And so to a society increasingly annexed by secularism, this teaching has become not only ”inconvenient” but deplorable. How dare the Church interfere in peoples’ private lives! Of course, anyone who remains faithful to the Church’s teaching is accused of having recourse to a stern, authoritarian, unimaginative and certainly Medieval sexual morality – And you shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake. But he that shall endure unto the end, he shall be saved (Mark 13:13). That artificial contraception merely reflects the various grotesqueries of human sexual tendency is a self-evident truth that doesn’t occur to the secular mind.
Where does it all come from, and why? The bottomless pit of human iniquity? The legalisation of Divorce (the legalisation and tolerance of abuse) was certainly a catalyst in the social sphere of promiscuity. In 1943, J.R.R Tolkien wrote a letter to C.S Lewis (it was never in fact sent, it was found years later in Tolkien’s copy of Lewis’ work) criticising his views on marriage in his booklet ”Christian Behaviour.” The letter (well worth the read, if you have a copy of Tolkien’s Letters it is number 49) begins by trashing Lewis’ view that there ought to be two kinds of marriage, ”Christian marriage” which is binding and lifelong, and ”civil” marriages, solemnised solely by the State and making no such demands. Tolkien says:
”A Christian of your [Lewis’] view is, as we have seen, committed to the belief that all people who practice ‘divorce’ – certainly divorce as it is now legalized – are misusing the human machine (whatever philosophical defence they may put up), as certainly as men who get drunk (doubtless with a philosophic defence also). They are injuring themselves, other people, and society by their behaviour. And wrong behaviour (if it is really wrong on universal principles) is progressive, always: it never stops at being ‘not very good’, ‘second best’ – it either reforms, or goes on to a third-rate, bad, abominable. In no department is that truer than in sex – as you yourself vividly exhibit, in the comparison between a dish of bacon and strip-tease. You show too that you yourself suspect that the break-down of sex-reticence in our time has not made matters better but worse. Anyone in any case can see that the enormous extension and facilitation of ‘divorce’ in our days, since those of (say) Trollopean society, has done great social harm. It is a slippery slope – leading quickly to Reno, and beyond: in fact already to a promiscuity barely restrained by legalities: for a pair can now divorce one another, have an interlude with new partners, and then ‘re-marry.’ A situation is being, has been, produced in which ordinary unphilosophical and irreligious folk are not only not restrained by law from inconstancy, but are actually by law and social custom encouraged to inconstancy. I need hardly add that a situation is thus being produced in which it is intolerably hard to bring up Christian youth in Christian sexual morals (which are ex hypothesi correct morals for all, and which will be lost which depend upon Christian youth for their maintenance).”
This letter was written in 1943. The cracks in the moral edifice of the West were beginning to show, even though the collapse was not until our generation.

Professor Tolkien’s is a comment I must take to heart, for I, like C.S. Lewis, am tempted to separate secular from real marriage, and grant the magistrates of non-Christian commonwealths the social duty to recognize types of marriage, such as polygamy, anathema to Christian teaching, provided such marriages maintained the peace and public order of the state.

(I must parenthetically mention that one of my guests here criticized my comment — took it as an insult to married couples! — that I made the argument that marriage acts as a disincentive to sexual competition, and therefore tends to lower violence between rivals. He thought I was making a condemnation rather than an observation. The brother of a friend of mine is in prison because he killed a man in a dispute over a lover. Such things happen not just in books.)

Patricius goes on to say:


The secular mind (which is necessarily, an unsound mind) is imbalanced in its view of sexuality. At an official level (at least) homosexuality is socially acceptable – the legalization of genital homosexual acts between consenting parties in the 1960s, the existence of ”gay” bars, the monstrous procurement of these ”civil partnerships” etc, are sufficient to show this. However, underneath this pretence, people are still uncomfortable with it. In the playground (and the workplace!), for instance, if you call someone ”gay”, it is an insult. If only people fully understood the implications of such labels. Imagine for one moment the agony of a man, tragically homosexual, who realises that he cannot ever possibly love or be loved naturally, who must perforce (according to the discipline of his Faith) remain alone and chaste, without succour (for the most part – since the Church is indeed riddled with small-minded men) etc…then on top of this having to put up with almost unanimous scorn, scorn from people with a thousand vices of their own. Well, as Oscar Wilde said in De Profundis, I would rather have one unnatural vice than a thousand natural ones (or words to that effect, I am currently isolated from my copy). It is a rare mystery of the Faith, I suppose, to have at least one such penitent – but I often wonder if such penitents really, truly repudiate their ”condition” (whatever it is, unfortunately the English language is famously inept in the taxonomy or definition of things using one word), for surely such repudiation must entail some element of self-loathing? I don’t know what the suicide rate is among homosexual men (particularly teenagers), but it must be great…

This touches me, since I am both one of those scornful who admittedly has a thousand vices of my own (I am the chief of sinners), and someone who had a family member taken away by suicide (and as best I can tell from the outside, this self-destruction was not because of the scorn of society, but because society gave him the false promise that leaving his wife, abandoning his young children and cleaving to his male lover would make him happy and fulfilled). Modern society made it easy for him to leave his wife, and made it easy for my father to leave me and mine. My father raised that man’s children. Neither man did his duty by his wife, and both men were free to throw the cost, the problems, the turmoil of their decision onto their children, who, of all parties involved, were the least able to bear it.

Make of that what you will — the know-nothings of the world call me a homophobe, someone possessed of a neurotic phobia, because I approve of chastity and do not approve of no-fault divorce. Strangely enough, no one bothers calling me a divorcophobe, perhaps because there is no psychological or politically convenient reason to demean the opponents of the no-fault, no-honor, no-fidelity culture.

I ought to re-examine my conclusions about the wisdom of civil unions for homosexuals. The utter insincerity of those partisans who have expressed an opinion, either in public or to me personally, excites in me the suspicion that the argument for the social utility and simple justice behind the claim for gay civil unions does not apply.

It is not justice to grant the honor of civil unions to gays if the ultimate outcome is to dishonor marriage: for then we are not able, whether we would or no, to grant them the honor they seek. The question becomes moot, if the effort is self-defeating.

I deem it insincere because (among several reasons) no one seems to be agitating for a type of civil union where severe penalties accompany infidelity, or where separation is difficult, divorce impossible. I deem it insincere because, among other parties, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts scornfully rejected the compromise of civil unions that had all the legal benefits of marriage, but denied the name and the imponderable honor associated with the name to gay couples. I deem it insincere because the movement is not taking place in a vacuum, but as part of an openly secular, messianic, and postmodernist mission to dechristianize and derationalize America and follow Europe into the postchristian postrational abyss.

The gays who are sincere, who actually want the honor and legal protection of marriage, and want strict legal penalties to follow infidelity and divorce from their partners, are wholly outnumbered by those partisans of the antinomian movement whose main wish is to privitize marriage, and render it of no legal effect: make it merely a contract, as for example the libertarian argument suggests.

What are we to make of a coalition of a small number of gays, Left and Right, who want only the honor of marriage, carried on the shoulders of the large number of Leftists, gay and striaght, who want only to dishonor marriage, and, insofar as human nature allows, to destroy the institution?

Let us leave aside the intentions of the claimants–what happens to the institution when the claim is granted? What are the expected legal outcomes when family law courts sit and try to render judgments on difficult cases of divorce, abandonment, trusts and estates, child visitation, and the other issues that (with apologies to my Libertarian friends) Libertarian-style contract-based marriage does not and cannot address? Even the partisans who are sincere must be counted as insincere if they do not contemplate and support the likely or inevitable outcomes.

It is the insincerity that gives me pause. In my personal life, I have dealt with people who project their inward guilt and self-loathing on the society around them, and demand of friends, neighbors, and kin approval and applause unearned and undeserved, even to the point of demanding honor for their dishonorable deeds, or praise for their blameworthy acts. In my personal life, I have found the best way to deal with such neurotics is to love the person and hate his sins. I begin to suspect that the same logic operates on the political level as on the personal: if so, I should not cave to group-grievance politics for groups suffering neurotic self-disesteem.

A man and his sins are deadly enemies. If you love one, you hate the other.

Unfortunately, sin darkens the judgment (this is what makes sin, an offense against one’s own divine soul, different from crime, an offense against the current social order). In the famous words of Mark Shea, sin makes you stupid. When a drunk, or someone else lost in vice, comes to regard his vice as the essential part of himself, as his political and personal identity, he has made a false-to-facts identification, and he takes those who love him and hate his sins as an enemy, and he takes those who hate him and love his sins as friends. This is a dangerous identification, because it acts against self-interest. The are reasons why perfect strangers would encourage you to sin and to approve of sins. A concern for justice or equality is not one of those reasons.

The concern of the magistrate in a non-Christian commonwealth must be to examine, first, how far the zone of privacy extends, second, where, if at all, the state has an interest, or an overriding interest, and third, what disorder and lawlessness, if any, is caused or cured by the proposed case, and the legal precedent those cases will set. I am not sure the simple Libertarian argument, which once convinced me, takes into account any but the first of these three considerations.

* * *


By the way, I acknowledge that I open myself up for personal attack from howler monkey Left merely by discussing this matter, much less discussing it in a Catholic framework, or making such reference to unfashionable concepts like law and order, the balance of interests, honor and integrity.

I confess that even my Joblike patience and Spocklike dispassion are exhausted, and I discover myself terrifically bored by such attacks, so those who indulge in them run the risk of being deleted without apology if they mar an otherwise interesting comment with some remark about my moral or mental shortcomings.

We can all take those shortcomings for granted, but they are irrelevant to the topic. Persons of greater intelligence and integrity than my humble self have come to the same conclusions, and therefore it does not defeat the conclusion, or even address it, to flap one’s red buttocks like a baboon in a purely symbolic and otherwise meaningless gesture of scorn.

In terms of my sentiment, my emotions, I agree with the opposition, and have done so for years. I am naturally inclined to despise busybodies, and wish all men to live and let live: your private vices are no business of mine, and I pride myself on my ironclad and Olympian indifference to the same. Hence, appeals to emotion, sentiment, and pride are meaningless when it comes to me: on that ground, my honorable opponents, you’ve already won me over.

Ah, but I am not like you. For it is not mere emotion that I consult when attempting to deduce what follows from particular axioms.

On an emotional level, for example, I find Einstein’s theory of Relativity ungainly and disheartening: I would prefer the stars were within reach of faster-than-light ships. The distortions of metric caused by Lorenz transformations I find as ugly as the distortions of Picasso or Dali. But you would not expect to convince a physicist in a debate on a matter of physics by yowling slanders at him, hoping to cow his emotions and sentiment into conformity with a clique of his intellectual inferiors — Hence, I am not sure why you expect to convince a lawyer in a debate on a matter of law, or a philosopher in a debate on a matter of philosophy, by such childishly risible, dishonest and ineffective tactics.

In the first week of the first semester of Logic Class, Philosophy 101, we all learned that argumentum ad hominem is an informal logical error. And your mother should have taught you that insulting your host is bad manners. Don’t mothers teach manners at home these days? Don’t they study logic in school these days? Even atheists know these rules.

Are you not embarrassed, Oh ye partisans of the Left, that your behavior during the long slow mental disintegration of your party, makes such post-scripts as this one, lecturing readers like a schoolmarm wagging her finger about common sense matters of simple logic, not just a necessity, but expected?