Progress, Life, and Happiness
No more than eighty years ago, contraception was rejected by Protestants as well as Catholics, as being gravely contrary to the natural order and dignity of married sexuality . Sixty years ago, divorce was an exceptional phenomenon, and one that carried with it a considerable social stigma. Fifty years ago, abortion was a criminal offence in all countries and in almost all cases; it was moreover something which practically no woman would contemplate.
The picture looks very different today. Contraception, divorce and abortion are approved by the legislations of almost all countries, and for millions of persons are accepted facts of modern life. If people in Western countries were asked, "Do you regard the legalization of divorce or abortion, or of the sale of contraceptives, as a mark of a progressive society?", the great majority would in all probability answer that they do.
Many people, then, are prepared today to identify these phenomena as signs of progress. But, on what do they base their opinion? Is it supported by sociological evidence? Is it the result of their having personally thought the matter out in depth? It is not at all clear that it is so.
Progress is a fine word. But progress can mean all sorts of different things. Is a society progressing because it has acquired the capacity to produce atomic weapons, or its spacecraft can get to Mars or farther, or its citizens can dial Australia direct?... The techniques of warfare may be progressing, the speed of intercontinental or interplanetary communication may be progressing. But - is man progressing? That surely is the real question.
Is man progressing? As should be clear, it is not possible to answer this question without assigning a goal to man, because progress does not mean advancing in any direction (to advance in any direction may be actually to lose ground); it means advancing towards a goal, i.e. towards something that one positively wishes to attain, because it seems worth attaining.
Few people would object to the proposition that man's goal is happiness. What man really wants is not mainly more speed, or more efficiency, or even more money, but more happiness. Is that what he is getting nowadays? Is modern society unquestionably progressing towards greater happiness? Again, it is not all that clear.
Along with the right to life and liberty, the right to pursue happiness is a precious human right. But just as one can lose one's life or freedom, so one can lose one's happiness, or fail ever to find it - however much one pursues it. One can fail to find it because one does not look for it where it is, or does not look for it in the proper way. There are certain rules for finding happiness, and for keeping it once found; just as there are certain rules for finding and keeping one's freedom, or as there are certain rules for living itself. Life has its rules, and if they are not observed, the result can be a loss of life, or at least the failure to achieve a free or a happy life. Freedom and happiness are ours not absolutely, but conditionally; the condition is that we respect the rules of life.
Some people just don't know these rules, and so they break them out of ignorance. But the rules still operate, and the consequences of breaking them have to be paid. Ignorance can be very costly. An electric current can kill; so can poison: these are not just laws of physics or chemistry, they are truths about the effect of physical or chemical realities on human life. Therefore, they are truths or laws of life itself. A person may not know that a live electricity cable can kill, and so touches one; a person may not be aware that a certain chemical mixture is poisonous, and so drinks it... Such persons may be quite sincere and blameless in their ignorance. But ignorance does not insulate against electricity, and sincerity is no antidote to poison. Certain actions have been performed, actions that contravene a fundamental law of life - the law of survival - and the inevitable consequences must follow.
Other people affect an ignorance which is certainly not intelligent and can hardly be sincere. A person, for instance, may choose to ignore the law that demands respect for other people's property, and make off with his neighbor's wallet; another may similarly decide to ignore the law of gravity and step off the top of the Empire State Building, insisting that he has a right to a "happy" landing... In these cases, the question whether ignorance is due to affectation, delusion or insincerity, can be shelved, since it will scarcely modify the definitive consequences of such persons' actions, which is that they do not find happiness. One will quite probably find prison. The other will certainly find death. One can of course call prison or death happiness. Some people do. Most people don't.
One meets other cases still: persons, for instance, who are not so much ignorant of the rules of life as irritated by them. They don't "see" why they have to be dictated to by life (by Nature, by God)... They prefer to do the dictating. They want happiness from life; they want it now, and they want it on their own terms. They are determined to live their own life, without having to heed all those complications and bends. But, does the life they live turn out to be a happy life?
Their attitude is comparable to that of an irritable motorist who suddenly wants to know why the blazes the road isn't straighter, and therefore drives on as if it actually were straight, as if the curves didn't really exist. The result of such driving is pretty obvious. So it is with the person who demands the "right" to find happiness in sex, in drink, in drugs. On they go, on their way to happiness. But their way does not lead to happiness. Along that way what they find is not happiness, but obsession or alcoholism or addiction, which are simply forms of slavery. Some people, again, may call slavery happiness. Most people do not.
All of these people presumably want (or wanted) happiness from life. They are not or were not wrong in wanting it. They were wrong simply in wanting it in the wrong way. They were, one might say, wrong in trying to lay down the conditions of happiness, to dictate those conditions to life itself. We cannot dictate to life as we please, certainly not in the matter of happiness. No one finds happiness on his own terms, but only on the terms on which life gives it. We cannot lay down the terms of happiness. Life itself, with its rules, lays down those terms. If one plays the game, if one accepts the terms, if one obeys the rules, one can have a reasonable hope of happiness. Not otherwise.
Marriage and Happiness
Now there are certain things to which all of this applies in a very special way. There are realities in life which are specially capable of giving happiness, but not to the person who attempts to bend them, at will, in any way. They are not meant to be bent that way, or to be bent that far. And if they are so bent, they break. They incidentally almost always break their benders with them. Among these realities is the relationship between man and woman, particularly as experienced both in their union in marriage as well as in the family, that is, in the children to whom their union naturally tends.
As the title of this book is intended to suggest, the happiness that marriage can and should give is rooted in the covenantal and committed nature of married love: "the covenant of conjugal love... is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator. A person's freedom far from being restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer in creative Wisdom" . And a person's happiness, far from being restricted by the covenanted commitment to marriage and the family, is endowed by it with depth, maturity and permanence.
The first chapters in this book deal with sexuality considered in general, with the approach to marriage, with its nature and ends, and with factors that affect the happiness of husband and wife, in their mutual relations and their understanding and planning of married life. The commitment of husband and wife is of course not just to one another; it is also and especially to their children. And the personal happiness of husband and wife is necessarily interlinked with their children's happiness. Particular attention therefore has been given to the question of divorce which not only splits spouse from spouse, but also of course separates children from parents.
In two successive chapters we examine the temptation (greatly intensified in our days) of looking on divorce as the easy (the happy?) way out of married difficulties; and argue that a husband or wife, in divorcing, sacrifices far more in terms of real personal happiness - for himself or herself, as well as for the children - than he or she can ever get out of it. The marriage covenant, with its commitment not to divorce, places demands on the spouses' love for one another, and especially on their love for their children. But it is a condition of real happiness for all concerned in married and family life.
Are children a plus or a minus with regards to married happiness? Does contraception help or hinder the growth of married love? We try to ponder these themes; adding some not too frequently made points regarding Natural Family Planning.
Parents naturally want their children to be happy. Without a well-formed conscience, and without true and worthwhile ideals, young people are not prepared for life and can never find real or lasting happiness. So we devote two further chapters to considering ways in which parents need to form their children's conscience, from early childhood; and to how, later on, they need to understand and foster their adolescent and christian ideals.
The happiness of a family can be threatened by softness or selfishness coming from within, but also and very strongly by forces from outside. If parents are committed to building the present and future happiness of their children, the permissiveness of modern society is certainly not their ally. And so we have included some considerations on how parents must help their children realize that if happiness is a prize that can be won or lost, generosity and firmness are necessary if a person is to keep his or her ideals, also in the midst of a permissive society that is largely built on the false proposition that happiness can be had on one's own terms, without self-control or generosity and basically through self-centered living.
We conclude with two chapters on the impact that truly Christian couples and truly Christian families - couples and families with personality - can and will have on our modern society so weak in ideals and so short in happiness.
An Appendix on the subject of abortion is included because, apart from the other moral considerations involved, abortion has come to be probably the greatest threat to the peace of mind and happiness, and to the souls, of so many women and girls in today's world.
In short, we will try to analyze the reasons why married love and family life so often do not seem today to give the happiness that people surely have the right to expect from them, and what needs to be done in order to refind that happiness, and spread it to others.