Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On love, 2

These postings about love caused me to reflect today as I was driving home that part of the problem I experience in loving another adult is my early training as a Catholic.

As a child I was taught (indeed, terrorized) to love a God who was never present, never close, never responsive to my needs. I was told that I must give my whole body and mind and soul to a being that never spoke to me, never returned my love, was never available in my trials or desires. I could not see this beloved, could not hear or touch it, and every conversation I had with it in prayer - and we were compelled to pray all the time - was a one-way communication, "Like dead letters sent to Him alas away," As Hopkins wrote.

And so I was taught that the ultimate form of love, the consummate love, was for a creature that did not exist outside my desire and ability to love - outside my need. A creature that had no apparent effect on my life, that never spoke, never consoled me, but demanded my absolute affection and devotion despite those facts. And what a selfish, aloof and unattainable object of love that was. Yet such was the model for love that I was given by priests and nuns who never loved anything but themselves, and their exalted status as sanctimonious clerics, as far as I can tell.

And so it is no wonder that as I grew up I sought such a love in the world, and especially among women, and never found it. Trained to love a God which did not exist in any proximate sense, I found it impossible to love any human being who did exist near to me, no matter how much she loved or cared for me. And I rejected the love I was offered, and I did great harm to those who offered it, precisely because that love did not measure up to the apotheosized and sterile love that was foisted on me in my childhood by men and women who themselves had fled earthly love in fear and loathing - not of love, but of themselves.

What a crime against childhood this was, what an abuse of the innocent. Yet it is entirely consistent with the systematic abuse of children which characterized the Roman Catholic Church of my youth, and which, I very much suspect, still characterizes it today. The longer I live, and the longer I deal with the consequences of my Catholic upbringing, the more strongly I feel that the Catholic Church is guilty of crimes against humanity - the humanity of its most innocent and vulnerable members: the children in its care.