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Isn’t that a Sin? Love and Responsibility Series (Post #20)

Posted Oct. 19, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

In this section of Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla analyzes what concupiscence is and what it’s not. It’s not a sin, but it is a challenge to the growth of mature love between a man and a woman. “Concupiscence is a consistent tendency to see persons of the other sex through the prism of sexuality alone, as ‘objects of potential enjoyment.’”[1] Wojtyla points out that overcoming this tendency does not mean becoming “a-sexual” or “blind to the value of ‘the body and sex,’” but rather that it is integrated into love of the person, the whole person, which includes his or her body.[2] (There’s a sweet song about this kind of integration called “You Wouldn’t Mind” by Colleen Nixon.)

Wojtyla writes that this integration is a struggle within every person, a battle between the tendency to “enjoy” and the call to love. He emphasizes again that concupiscence is only the “germ of sin,” not sin itself, since it is not a choice.[3] Our reactions toward one another are “muddied” because of original sin, so that “it is not altogether safe to put one’s trust in the reactions of the senses” or emotions.[4] That is hard! We want to just relax and go with our desires and feelings, but that’s not always a good plan.

Wojtyla points out that because of original sin, human beings tend to desire others sexually even if they don’t “love” them at all—concupiscence pushes people in that direction. Therefore, for concupiscence to become lust, “passive acquiescence suffices.”[5] In other words, if one does not actively guard against lust (the sin), one will most likely lose the battle. Concupiscence will win. At the same time, one shouldn’t mistake concupiscence for the sin of lust. It’s the will that determines whether we sin or not. “As soon as the will consents,” Wojtyla writes, the desire becomes something that the person is “actively doing” rather than something that is “happening to” him or her.[6]

Some people (perhaps all!) have a hard time finding that boundary between what is just happening in them and what they are choosing. Wojtyla says that since concupiscence pushes the human being toward lust, the person may mistake this push for the choice. But just because a person feels something doesn’t mean they will or choose it. In fact, “an act of the will directed against a sensual impulse does not generally produce any immediate result… [the sexual reaction] general runs its full course even if it meets emphatic opposition in the sphere of the will.”[7] If you didn’t choose it, it’s not a sin.

So far in this section, Wojtyla has been focused on sensual reactions, but now he turns to emotions. He reiterates that love cannot be reduced to emotion and that sin comes when “the will puts emotion before the person.”[8] He notes that, “Authenticity of feeling is quite often inimical to truth in behavior.”[9] In the footnote to this statement, Wojtyla notes that on should treat one’s feelings, “with a certain distrust,” noting that often, someone’s being “true to their feelings” is used to justify bad actions, like leaving one’s spouse for another.[10] “The particular danger of ‘sinful love’ [lust] consists in a fiction: immediately, and before reflection, it is not felt to be ‘sinful,’ but is, above all, felt to be love… it makes the sin more dangerous.”[11]

Lust is dangerous because it is not experienced as what it is: wrong, a sin. The persons justify it by a false idea of love as emotion. Instead, the will must “demand of reason a correct vision of love and of the happiness which love can bring to a woman and a man.”[12] It is the will that guards the person against a “sinful love” and if the will guards one person, it simultaneously protects the other.

[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 159.

[2] Ibid, p. 159.

[3] Ibid, p. 160.

[4] Ibid, p. 161.

[5] Ibid, p. 161.

[6] Ibid, p. 162.

[7] Ibid, p. 162.

[8] Ibid, p. 163.

[9] Ibid, p. 163.

[10] Ibid, p. 302.

[11] Ibid, p. 165.

[12] Ibid, p. 166.

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Subjectivism and Egoism: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #19)

Posted Oct. 16, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

“Emotion can develop and adapt itself to the shape which a man consciously wills”[i] Wojtyla writes at the beginning of the next section of Love and Responsibility. Human beings can mold their feelings, gradually, by conscious thoughts and choices.  If you’ve ever gone to therapy, you’ve experienced this: thinking about something differently changes how you feel about it. “The integration of love requires the individual consciously and by acts of the will to impose a shape on all the material that sensual and emotional reactions provide.”[ii] So even if a man and woman are strongly attracted to each other (bodily and emotionally), it is their choices that will determine whether love will grow.

Wojtyla makes a quick distinction here. Subjectivity is just a fact of human life and experience. A person experiences the world from the “inside,” i.e. with one’s distinct point of view. Subjectivism is when subjectivity is raised up as the only or the highest criteria by which to evaluate love. In other words, as long as two people feel in love, that’s all that matters. While it’s absurd, Wojtyla says, to think of love without emotion, it is equally absurd to reduce it to emotion alone. In fact, “emotion has its dangers,” he writes, and “may affect one’s apprehension of the truth.”[iii] Emotion may blind a person to facts; he or she gets caught up in the feelings of love and judges the relationship’s goodness based on these feelings. When this happens, Wojtyla warns that emotion may be detached from realty (“He’s so wonderful… okay, he hit me that one time, but…”), and the objective rules of behavior may be replaced by “authenticity” (i.e. since we really love each other, we can have sex even though we’re not married yet). “Genuine emotion,” writes Wojtyla, “may inform an act which objectively is not good.”[iv] When it comes to the relationship of man and woman, true and strong (and good!) feelings can lead to actions that are not truly loving. They do not correspond to the value of the person and their ultimate happiness. Just because it “feels right” doesn’t mean it is right. This is what Wojtyla means by the subjectivism of values. “Pleasure becomes the only value, and the only scale by which we measure values.”[v] It is not hard to imagine what would happen in a world where everyone just looked for pleasure at the expense of everything else. It ain’t pretty.

This is how egoism grows in a relationship, Wojtyla writes. An egoist only cares about himself or herself, and this means that an egoist cannot love. The crazy thing is that, as Wojtyla points out, there can be a “bilateral accommodation between egoisms,” because egoism “permits calculation and compromise,” even while it excludes love.[vi] So there could easily be a relationship that looks pretty good from the outside but is really still based on two egoisms: two people who are both self-centered but want to be “in a relationship” enough to make certain concessions. Pleasure is really the only goal of each of them, whether sensual or emotional. Perhaps surprisingly, Wojtyla notes that, “Emotional egoism can be the cause of unchastity in a relationship between the man and woman just as surely as sensual egoism, though in a different way.”[vii] (The book Emotional Virtue touches on this!)

Wojtyla ends this section with an exhortation to always seek to integrate the objective and subjective sides of love, even though this takes “special effort.”[viii]

[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 153.

[ii] Ibid, p. 153.

[iii] Ibid, p. 154.

[iv] Ibid, p. 154.

[v] Ibid, p. 155.

[vi] Ibid, p. 157.

[vii] Ibid, p. 158.

[viii] Ibid, p. 158.

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