The following is from a remarkable piece by Rod Dreher called, “Ecumenism And Life’s Shipwreck” at The American Conservative. In it he writes about how the Roman Catholic sex scandal “broke [his] spiritual and intellectual pride as a Christian.”
The passage reproduced here today quotes Tolkien on the subject of having a “chivalrous” view of true love and then applies that thought to his former infatuation with the Church.
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…I find myself thinking of one of the books that has meant the most to me in my life, a birthday gift in 1995 from my friend Tom Sullivan: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. One letter in particular changed the way I thought of women, and courtship — and, I think, helped me see through a kind of self-deception that prolonged my own immaturity and unhappiness. It was a missive Tolkien sent to his son Michael, in 1941, warning him that as he pursues women, not to be deceived by the false ideals of medieval chivalry. Excerpt:
It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly ‘theocentric’. It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man’s eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of ‘true love’, as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a ‘love’ that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).
This is true about the Church, as I now see (and by “the Church,” I don’t mean the Roman Catholic Church only, but the church universal). I had what you might call a chivalrous view (in the sense Tolkien means) of the Church, and built an entire faith around this ideal. Had I been wiser, I would have seen the Church as a companion in shipwreck. As it was, I reacted as if I had learned that my Fair Lady was a whore. It was an honest reaction, but not a mature one.
I hope I am a more mature Christian now. I am no longer a Catholic, of course, but I can never see the Orthodox Church, or any church, with the same eyes that I once viewed the Roman Catholic Church. This is good, because it is truthful, and more realistic. I passed through — at least I hope I passed through — a period of cynicism that Tolkien mentions above, with reference to the disillusioned romantic. I no longer look for the ecclesiastical ‘love that will always keep me warm in a cold world.’ I used to, but I think to do so is to set oneself up for disillusionment that will end in bitterness.
…Life is a shipwreck, and we’re all staggering around on the beach, trying to help each other make sense of it all, and get through this catastrophe and find our way back home.