It was a time of life I'd rather forget. In fact, it's a time that brings me pain to remember — and deep shame, and gratitude to God for having pulled me out of it by main force. I'd strayed from my Catholic faith, not because I had been persuaded intellectually that what the Church taught was incorrect. I hardly knew what the Church taught, so I had no basis from which to judge. I'd strayed for what I've come to call pantological reasons: that is, I was young, and had trouble keeping a certain article of clothing on. Not always; in fact, most of the time I had no trouble at all; but in the company of a certain young woman, it was another matter.
I fully intended that the two of us should marry. It is the available excuse. You don't have to have a plan in the world; or you might have all kinds of plans and even a house and a bank account; none of that matters. All that counts is the bare godlike or daemonic volition: we intented to marry. But God who brings good out of evil made sure that we did not, for that might have been the most colossal misjudgment of my generally lonely and always confused youth. We would undoubtedly have made one another miserable. In any case, we were separated for the summer: I was living at a Catholic Worker house in Washington, and she had gone back home to Minnesota. We wrote letters to one another faithfully for about four weeks. The the letters from Minnesota stopped cold. A phone call resolved my doubts. She had taken up with a ski instructor named Sven.So I was torn up over it, and went to speak to the Jesuit novice who was assigned to our house as part of his pastoral preparation. I liked the novice a great deal, though we had disagreements on the nature of Jesus; he was the first person to introduce to me the wondrous notion that the miracle of loaves and fishes was actually a miracle of unheard of charity, wherein everybody all at once brought out the lunch they were hiding — making the evangelists simultaneously into theologians of the deepest sophistication and blockheaded dupes. Anyway, I asked Fred what the Church had to say about my situation. Fred said he didn't know. "If only," I said, revealing my laughable ignorance — graduate summa cum laude from Princeton, which may partly explain it all — "If only the Church had developed a moral philosophy of sexuality." Yet I had read Augustine's Confessions and The City of God, by then at least. I simply thought that the old strictures no longer applied. It was a new world. I was wrong: it was the old world, as old as Adam, and I was growing old and stubborn in sin.
I wanted something, of course, to say that the young woman had "cheated," because I felt betrayed. Surely moral philosophy had been invented to salve the emotional turmoil I felt. Not that we had made any vows. We were engaging in house-playing, marriage-pretending, the most common form of pseudogamy in our time. We wanted the perks of marriage, and expected from one another the faithfulness of marriage, without having made the promises of marriage. The pain I felt was the pain of frustrated sin, though I didn't see that at the time. Nor did I see that I had been living a diabolical lie.
The effects of this pseudogamy are fascinating — wholly destructive, but fascinating. Because people build up a history of play-marriages that end in wreckage, complete with the thorny sexual roots pulled up violently out of the soul, they are primed for yet another wreck, in divorce; they (we) are damaged goods. We end up treating marriage as but a continuation of what we knew before marriage, and can hardly help doing so, until perhaps the grace of God intervenes. I blanch to think how often I was on the point of stepping over a precipice. Perhaps it would behoove our pastors to think of those precipices and to remind us how many people are dancing on the brink; it's a false charity to look the other way, when young people are endangering their lives on earth, and beyond. It does not take a prophet to see the results of our indulgence: only someone who trusts the Word of God and who keeps his eyes open. For the damage is everywhere. To play at marriage before marriage causes one to play at play-marriage after marriage; the sharp distinction is lost ("It's only a piece of paper!" laugh those who fear the marriage certificate), and both the unmarried and the married states are thereby corrupted. Had I died then, what could I have pleaded before my just Judge but sheer stupidity? And maybe I could not have pleaded that, either.
And I haven't even gotten to pseudogamy as a "lifestyle," with children from one or two or three fathers, with series of shackups and breakups, and mutual contempt of man and woman. That's what the sexual revolution looks like in my old mill town, away from its sophisticated and partly sanitized forms among the professional class. No civilization can endure such an atomization. Ours, I'd say, has not endured it. I'm not arguing that we are on a slippery slope. I think we're looking up at that slope. Same-sex pseudogamy raises a yawn; traditionalist Mormons are suing in federal court for their right to practice something a lot more natural than same-sex pseudogamy; and the supposedly "conservative" television network features a popular cartoon too vile to describe. And in all of this, the churches have been at best muffled in their defense of continence and chastity. And as for same-sex relations, they can only be defended after one has consigned the sixth commandment to irrelevance or oblivion for heterosexuals. As I did, for the sake of the sin. We are all pantologists now.