Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: How to Get to I Do

How to Get to I Do is a fascinating psychological study of the contemporary Catholic dating scene, but I would hesitate to recommend it as a guide for anyone who wishes to actually find a husband.

Author Amy Bonaccorso is described in the back-of-the-book flavour text as a “veteran of the Christian dating scene,” and so she is. She spent nearly ten years searching for men at Christian college groups, parish social events, and on on-line dating sites. Although numbers are not given, one has the impression that she dated dozens, if not hundreds, of men before settling down with her husband. Her insights are certaintly hard-won, and there is a lot of good advice here, unfortunately what she consistently illustrates through her practical examples and her personal anecdotes soundly contradicts the thesis of her book. She promises to help young Christian women to get down off their high horses, abandon their dreams of Prince Charming, get real, and get married. In practice, however, the horse is only lowered by a couple of millimetres, and one is largely advised to settle for Prince Charming’s slightly-less-charming younger brother.

One of the lines that I found most telling was the claim that “Even the most patient, long-suffering women eventually need to abandon men who say they love Christ but who nevertheless lack good relationship skills." This, for me, sums of the tone of the book. Bonaccorso seems to think that most men are simply not relationship material. They are insufficiently sincere, honest, faithful, chaste, affluent, well-educated, respectful, or well-mannered to function as a life-partner. The majority of her practical advice focuses on recognizing and weeding out unworthy candidates. Although she often says that it is necessary to be compassionate, understanding, patient, and humble, it is difficult to square this with most of the specific behaviours and practices that she recommends. Bonaccorso does eventually find a husband, but this reviewer gets the impression that it is more in spite of her methodology than because of it.

This book seems to take it for granted that the average unmarried Catholic woman is financially independent, has lots of disposable income, lives in a large city, and has a huge amount of free time to spend perusing on-line profiles and going on trial dates. Bonaccorso further assumes that you are desirable, well-educated and self-confident enough to attract a large pool of potential marriage candidates who can be easily discarded if they don’t make the cut.

Needless to say, this is worse than useless advice for the majority of girls who have suffered for a long time in the Catholic dating scene, most of whom are fighting over the relatively small handful of chaste and devout men that haven’t been snapped up by the end of high-school. She does not give advice for the perennially lonely, the socially awkward, the inexperienced, and the chronically shy – yet that probably describes the greater part of her readership. Perhaps Catholic girls who love Jesus but “lack good relationship skills” are to be thrown into the same outer darkness as the similarly afflicted men, permanently unloved and unlovable, even by the most long-suffering of Saints?

I wrote this review for Tiber River, created by Aquinas and More.

You can get the book here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hustlers and Condoms and Popes -- Oh My!

Most people are aware of the current controversy surrounding the Pope's (extremely mild) statement that in the case of a male prostitute with HIV, the use of a prophylactic might be a sign of moral growth. Naturally, this has produced all sorts of outrage and speculation. The secular press has declared that the Pope cares more about male prostitutes than married women. Conservative Catholics are terrified that this is going to cause massive scandal. Liberal Catholics are hailing it as the long-awaited loosening of the Church's position on contraception.
It's interesting, because the problem is one that I've looked at in the past, before it was a major controversy, and I was somewhat scandalized by the fact that Catholic bodies, such as the US Council of Bishops, stubbornly refused to publicly permit Catholic medical authorities to recommend the use of condoms in the case of HIV infected (or potentially HIV infected) gay men who are committed to continuing in a homosexual lifestyle. From a moral point of view, the issue has always seemed to me to be a no-brainer: condoms are not permitted in the case of a normal sexual intercourse because they are contraceptive. In the case of homosexual sex, a condom simply is not a contraceptive device. It's only purpose is to prevent the transmission of a potentially fatal disease, and as such there should be absolutely no moral controversy whatever surrounding its use.
It's interesting to see, however, how this has played out. I, and perhaps Benedict as well, seem to have been unduly optimistic about the world's ability to deal with this sort of issue in a rational and mature way. Instead of saying, "Oh, yes, that is morally consistent, and makes sense, and follows from the rest of Catholic teaching," the world has taken this as an opportunity to fly off into various fits of fanciful speculation.
Granted, the fact that the prophylactic use of condoms is not only justifiable, but is arguably a grave moral obligation in the case of HIV positive persons who are engaging in sexual acts which could not possibly lead to conception, does raise some interesting questions. Naturally, people are going to speculate about these. The problem is what gets overlooked in all of the hubbub, which is the fact that the Pope has made a fairly courageous statement: one that is totally orthodox, and which at the same time demonstrates a fully human and compassionate response to the problem of HIV in gay communities. To me, at least, the desire to prevent putative "scandal" is less important than the desire to save lives. Obviously, as Benedict stresses, condoms are not a solution to the problem of AIDS. The true moral obligation resting on anyone who has HIV, is to curb their sexual desires in order to protect the lives of others. But realistically, people who are facing a long-standing sexual addiction are not likely to succeed in suddenly going cold-turkey the moment they gain the most psychologically devastating news of their lives. Denial, hopelessness, moral despair, anger, and extreme loneliness are all common, normal reactions to an HIV diagnosis. The Pope is absolutely right: for someone in this position, the decision to move from a state of total moral denial and culpable recklessness, to adopt at least some measure of responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof, is a sign of greater moral and emotional maturity. It's not a complete solution, it's not a full embrace of the moral obligation to respect for life and chastity, but it is a move in the right direction.
And I'm glad that someone in the Church had the courage to say so.