Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

For those who don’t know, Dappled Things is a magazine highlighting the art, poetry, and prose of young authors, primarily Catholic ones. That alone would catch our interest, but one of Dappled Things’ founders was our former assistant editor Mary Angelita Ruiz, so there’s a personal connection to the endeavor too. The current issue has the most intelligently written piece I’ve seen in their pages: an essay on chastity, friendship, and sexuality by our incoming junior fellow Stefan McDaniel, who thinks that the reason our culture doesn’t understand chastity is that it confuses friendship and erotic love. Stefan writes:

I was determined not to have it thought that my embrace of chastity was an arational religious taboo—like refusing to walk on my feet on Thursdays in honor of Mumbo Jumbo—which I had the forensic right to embrace myself but no moral right to urge on others. But though I had my many arguments and had them by heart, my confidence invariably failed when it came time to argue this or that point . . . .

My predicament is the predicament of the Church as a whole. Over the past several decades we have struggled to develop a response to our society’s new sexual norms that optimally combines moral clarity with charity. I suspect that our arguments (though many are in themselves quite good, and possibly conclusive) are unconvincing to so many because they are too superficial, lacking the solvent simplicity of our Lord’s summary rebukes. Homosexual activity, for instance, clearly cannot be reconciled with Christian morality, but we must recognize that it is merely part of a deeper affective disorder from which our entire society suffers, and it is to this disorder that we must give the better part of our attention.

This disorder may be described as an unnatural and unhealthy conflation of erotic love and friendship. This conflation impairs people of any “orientation” in their pursuit of both “platonic” friendship and romantic love. More important than, say, arguing homosexuals out of homosexuality, is the task of fitting our children for healthy friendships. And the primary way to do that is to make them virtuous. Let me explain what I mean by this, beginning with a discussion of the distinction I have just drawn between friendship and erotic love.

Friendship and erotic love have this important feature in common: the relations between friends and lovers may both be spoken of as relations between second selves. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that, while we may speak of “friendships” in which people treat each other as instruments or as playmates, in the focal case of friendship, each loves the other primarily for his virtue. If I am a friend, in the true sense, to somebody, then his excellence and well-being are a good for me. In willing his happiness I therefore will my own. Between true friends, then, the well-being of each is so integral to the well-being of the other that it is as though they share a single state of happiness. People who share a single state of happiness are as two persons in one.

On and on the rich prose flows. I could quote more, but read the article for yourself. And keep an eye out for Stefan’s work here and in other publications.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles