Selfishness vs. Love

Today, my son wanted to watch “A Muppet Christmas Christmas Carol”.
True – it is almost April – but it is also two days since the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when we celebrate the Word becoming flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  That means it is only 9 months ’til Christmas!
Also – it is a Friday in Lent.  A penitential day.  A day to reflect on our own sins.  It is actually a great day to watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol”!  Ebeneezer Scrooge undergoes a process of conversion which prompts us to think about ourselves.

Currently, readers of the blog are engaged in a pretty intense debate in the comment section of the page devoted to alerting readers to the dangers of indulging in fantasy.  (See here.)  I’d like to move this discussion over to a new post, and I want to direct the attention of the participants to a specific topic – that being, selfishness vs. love.

Anyone who knows A Christmas Carol (and the Muppet version is my favorite) knows that Ebeneezer Scrooge is a very unattractive character at the beginning of the story.  He is, truly, the epitome of a selfish man.  You may say that he views those around him as parasites – and therefore treats them accordingly.  Ebeneezer is not a happy man, though, in spite of a life dedicated to taking care of #1.  Part of living in community is recognizing that we all need one another.  Individualism is not a virtue.  Ebeneezer cannot see that at the beginning of the story.

During the night, he is visited by the souls of a couple of his damned friends, but also by three different spirits – the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.  It is interesting to notice that the ghosts do not sit down and argue with Ebeneezer.  They show him reality.  Is this emotional manipulation?  Of course not.  Emotion is a necessary part of human existence.  It can enable us to experience sorrow, but it also enables us to experience joy.  Putting a brick wall up around our heart (our emotional center) may protect us from certain sorrows, but it also makes us incapable of joy.  It is like eliminating the nerves that enable us to distinguish between hot and cold.  You can’t just feel hot things and not cold things.  If you lose your ability to distinguish, you can’t feel either.

So – Ebeneezer is shown the ramifications of his decisions.  Selfish decisions.  They have cut him off from the rest of the community.  He is particularly moved by his encounter with the Cratchett family.  Tiny Tim – a little crippled boy (or frog, if you are watching the Muppet version) could be considered a parasitic individual.  He takes and takes… can’t even walk home on his own.  What is it that makes Tiny Tim a person?  Does he have human dignity because his parents (Kermit and Miss Piggy) want him?  What is it about seeing Tiny Tim interact with his family that has such a profound effect on Ebeneezer?  Could it be precisely the fact that the Cratchett family love Tiny Tim?  That they see a dignity in him that is utterly beyond their ability to ascribe to him based on their wants?  That Tiny Tim is intrinsically worthy of love?

Perhaps Ebeneezer has never encountered something like that up close before.  If he had, perhaps he had written it off as emotional manipulation or sentamentalism.  Maybe it took an examination of his own life, and the context of his own failures and hurts, to put things sufficiently on the line for Ebeneezer to have his eyes opened.  The world did not change on the night Ebeneezer had this experience.  Ebeneezer changed.  He had been blind, but he – through the aid of others – discovered his sight. 

So – this brings us to love vs. selfishness.  

Love will sacrifice for the sake of the beloved.  In some cases, the only loving thing to do is to walk away from a relationship if it will harm the beloved.  This is why I have argued all along that Edward does not love Bella.  He fundamental decision is to use her for personal satisfaction in spite of where he can see it leading (ultimately Bella becoming a vampire, the hideous pregnancy, etc.).  Theirs is a relationship of obsession.

I think a lot of people reading the series do not see this because they may be experiencing similar challenges themselves – having emotional needs that they are trying to meet through fantasy (which is where the other post comes in).  The Twilight Saga is harmful to a person in that situation.

So – let’s have a discussion of love vs. selfishness.

What is love?  How do we define it?  How do we live it?

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6 Comments

  1. “Love will sacrifice for the sake of the beloved. In some cases, the only loving thing to do is to walk away from a relationship if it will harm the beloved. This is why I have argued all along that Edward does not love Bella. He fundamental decision is to use her for personal satisfaction in spite of where he can see it leading (ultimately Bella becoming a vampire, the hideous pregnancy, etc.).”

    Um… yeah… uh… have you read New Moon? Like, even glanced through it?

    Because I’m pretty sure that the entire plot of that book involved Edward leaving to protect Bella. Like the ENTIRE PLOT. Like if you opened the book and glanced at any page past 50, you would see Edward has “walk(ed) away from a relationship if it will harm the beloved”.

    And as for the “hideous pregnancy”… as you have so often been saying (or maybe other anti-abortion people on this site), the child is not responsible for the parent’s sins… I’m sure Nessie can’t help the fact that her father is a vampire… there are human pregnancies that result in the mother dying while giving childbirth… are those “hideous pregnancies”?

    Not to mention (not sure about the page number, to lazy to go and check, so I’ll just paraphrase instead of quote), the entire family, including Alice the future seer, was completley taken by surprise by the pregnancy. So I’m not sure how Edward was supposed to predict it well in advance…

    And he was trying to convince her through… 3 and a 1/2 books, give or take, not to turn into a vampire. Considering how much Bella liked sex/was afraid of bloodlust, maybe she would have eventually given in and stayed human, had not the pregnancy required the change.

  2. Dear Teenage Girl -

    You know I have read New Moon.

    My point is this – by New Moon, Edward has messed up Bella’s head so badly that the damage has already been done. It’s too late. He can’t “protect” her by leaving any more. That’s why she does all those dangerous things – to hear his voice reproving her. She is already totally obsessed. He was in control of the situation from the start because he was the one who had the knowledge. Bella really didn’t know what she was getting herself into, but Edward did. He should not have pursued the relationship.

    I think Meyer wants us to believe Bella’s pregnancy can be compared to any other pregnancy – but I think it is a manipulative caricature. Yes, women lay down their lives for their children. That is heroic. No, a child is not responsible for it’s parent’s sins – for example, a child conceived in incest or rape. That does not make a child a monster. A human pregnancy is not hideous. Bella’s pregnancy is. Why? (Obviously we are talking fiction here – this could not happen.) Nessie is a vampire and keeping her alive requires that Bella drink human blood. That is monstrous. The birth is unnatural. A child eating its way out of its mother? That is monstrous. For vampire mothers, none have ever survived the birth. None. Vampire childbirth is certain death. In human childbirth, death is rare and an aberration. And what is Nessie’s first act? To bite her mother – to suck her blood. That is monstrous. What is a human baby’s first act? Nursing. I think there is a sickening parallel there.

    No one should ever be “surprised” when sexual activity ends up in pregnancy. That is one of the huge problems stemming from mass promotion of contraception – people now have in their minds that sexual activity and pregnancy needn’t be linked and they seem to forget that the biological purpose of the act is to cause pregnancy. Apart from the fact that it is bad for us morally to separate sexual activity from the possibility of procreation, it is also the case that nature will not always be fooled… abortion is often used as a “back up” due to failed contraceptive methods.

  3. I lent my copy of Twilight to a friend, so I don’t have a hard copy to refrence. And I have really bad chronology issues… so forgive me if the timeline is slightly off. Not to mention finding the exact

    Anyhow, in the very beginning, Edward has no intention of dating Bella – in fact, he leaves for several days in order to avoid her. They don’t really have a relationship until he saves her life at least once – and after saving her life, he goes back to ignoring her, to protect her again. Their relationship doesn’t really start until after the second time he saves her life in Port Angeles. While perhaps staying isn’t the best idea, Edward probably considered it safer for Bella in order for him to stay – after all, he saved her life twice in a relatively short span of time.

    I fail to see how Bella didn’t know what she was getting into – before the start of the relationship, she knew pretty much everything about Edward and his vampirism. And you can’t expect Edward to be constantly and perfectly selfless – he’s at least as in love with Bella as she is with him – he’s the one that immediatley tried to kill himself after hearing that she was dead.

    Actually, that response is obsessive, and more so then anything Bella pulled – but hey, it’s in Romeo and Juliet, where the characters have known each other for less time, not to mention that Juliet is THIRTEEN… If you’ll go out and say that Romeo and Juliet isn’t a love story and in fact shows a much more obsessive theme than anything in Twilight, I’ll admit that Bella and Edwards relationship is somewhat obsessive.

    And the pregnancy is unexpected because vampires tend not to have children… it’s sort of like a guy getting castrated or something like that – and then getting someone pregnant.

    And all things considered, I really think that Nessie ought to be touted, if anything, as an anti-abortion kind of image -” if Bella was willing to go through all that, and felt that it was all worth it, then how can you be unwilling to through a much simpler human pregnancy”.

    And I think that as fiction, especially fiction that involves things that don’t exist in reality – vampires and werewolves – certain things need to be taken with a grain of salt. In writting a vampire novel, there is a certain amount of bloodshed that is necessary – every person that I’ve spoken to (that doesn’t like Twilight) thinks that Twilight has “sissy vampires”…

    And the blood drinking isn’t exactly monstuous – it’s like getting a blood transfusion, only directly through the mouth… it’s not like the vampires are doing it to get a kick out of it, they’re doing it to survive. This isn’t basis for the arguement that it’s alright for them to kill people for it – it’s not right to kill people in order to use their blood in a transfusion either… but it’s not inherently monsterous.

  4. I would love to believe that your little muppet tangent was not directed at me personally, but I’m a bit too egocentric for that–besides, heavy-handed extended metaphors are exactly your style.

    Without further ado, continued from previous page:

    You’re right, I did use omnipotence when I meant omniscience. Hopefully the meaning was clear to anyone else reading.

    If God is omniscient, then he created humans knowing they would fall. Why didn’t he make us just a little bit stronger, a little bit more pure, a little bit more capable of withstanding evil? Why did he give us 5 senses instead of 4 to lead us into temptation? Maybe with one less, Eve wouldn’t have wanted that tasty apple. I’ll admit that God would never have influenced Eve to eat it, but before time existed and before man was conceived, he knew she was going to do it and he made us anyway. I’m not saying I’m sorry it happened, but I am saying that it was a part of the plan the entire time. God doesn’t make mistakes.

    I’m sorry, but you cannot actually believe that being a coffee ‘addict’ is indicative that you would also be a drug addict if given the chance. Social acceptance is what it’s all about, because it is society’s acceptance of a thing that classifies it as ‘unhealthy’ or ‘deviant.’ That’s how we self-regulate, by internalizing social beliefs. If you become an avid coffee drinker and society accepts coffee-drinkers, then you cannot separate your motives. You will never know if you became a coffee-drinker because you have an addictive personality (which is pejorative statement, merely because you have become addicted to one thing does not mean you are likely to become addicted to something else.) or because you like way it tastes and are rewarded for drinking it with inclusion.

    Adoption statistics doesn’t enter into it. I’m talking about if abortions were halted today, all of the babies that resulted would have to go directly into the Foster Care system before they could even be considered for adoption. The amount of money required to keep them while a Foster family is found, feed/house them while an adoptive family is located, screened, and approved, pay for the social workers/lawyers to straighten out everything, and keep up with each new influx of children that resulted would be astronomical.

    The word ‘ridiculous’ was referring to the completely biased language the presenter used; ‘unborn child’ and ‘silent scream’ are loaded phrases. The film is presented as a neutral documentary, but gives itself away with its obvious rhetoric. I find this ploy ridiculous.

    We pro-choice people use the rape argument because it is the best defense against the anti-choicers. Anti-choicers rely on pathos to whip the readers into a frenzy, blinding them with shiny pictures of babies in fuzzy blankets and menacing doctors. This puts all thoughts of logos out of their heads and they forget that they wouldn’t want to have an important decision like this taken out of their hands, that the government that legislates an issue like this is starting down a slippery slope in terms of interference with private citizens, and that no one can prove that life starts at conception because only one Guy knows all that much about the process. The rape argument is charged with enough counter-pathos to make them pause for at least a second. Hopefully they’ll use that second to think about all the other good points.

    I’m not necessarily saying that The Pope Paul VI Institute is getting money from the Catholic Church or anything. However, the founding member is a Catholic doing research that just happens to support their main beliefs, and as the founding member, he’s not going to go out of his way to find people who’s beliefs differ from his–assuming those sorts of people bothered to apply to a place named after a Pope and involved in that sort of research. After all, if you needed to fly somewhere and the John Wayne Airport and the Belmont Airport are the same distance from you, with the same prices, and same rewards/drawbacks, but you happened to be a John Wayne fan, which would you pick?

  5. I’ve been following this discussion on and off, and I think it’s pretty interesting. I like Twilight, and I’m pro choice, but only for the fact that I see it as God’s job to judge and our job to do the best we can while we’re here. Love one another, respect one another, and leave the rest to Him.

    But one thing that’s kind of bothering me is the whole “sex for reproduction” thing. In all seriousness, if the only purpose of sex is procreation, why does the woman have the ability to orgasm? There’s no biological purpose; only pleasure.

  6. Dear Heather -
    Thanks for your comment. You are right to be bothered if you think that anyone is saying that sex is only for procreation. The insertion of the word “only” is incorrect and misrepresents the position. Often that is used as a caricature – but speaking from the perspective of a Catholic (most often caricatured in this way… although Mormons are too, sometimes), the Church has never taught that the only purpose of sex is procreation. We have to be very careful about how we read or represent things.
    The sexual act has a two fold purpose – union (pleasure is part of that) and procreation. What is interesting today is that many people want to deny the two fold purpose – they want to keep the unitive element in there but deny the procreative part. This, of course, is as disturbing as denying the unitive element. Either way you slice it, saying that there is only one purpose to the sexual act is wrong. There are two purposes.
    I am speaking here of the law of nature. This is nothing uniquely Catholic – either religiously or philosophically – in this position. Nature acts for an end – and the end of the sexual act is creation of new life. This is why, despite all of humanity’s efforts toward sterilizing the sexual act, there is no form of artificial birth control that is 100% effective in rendering sex infertile. Most of us know at least one – maybe several – couples who have conceived “by accident” due to failure in a method of artificial contraception. So – you are correct. It is bothersome if anyone were to suggest that the only purpose for sex is procreation. It is equally bothersome (and we’ll see how many people will actually admit this) to suggest that the only purpose of sex is union (pleasure included). The Catholic Church in this regard has been a voice crying in the wilderness calling people to a respect for the order of nature as intended by God – our Creator. A lot of the problems we encounter today with casual sex, unintended pregnancy, abortion, etc. is directly related to the fact that people do not have respect – even reverence – for the dual nature of the sexual act as given to us by God. They want one element without the other – but the laws of nature defy them.
    Another common caricature that is used to attempt to discredit those who oppose artificial birth control is to suggest that they think sex is immoral unless it causes pregnancy – that they believe every sexual act must result in pregnancy each and every time. This is a false understanding. I would claim it is designed to make those who oppose contraception look crazy. The truth is that not every act has to cause pregnancy in order for it to be moral. In other words – married couples who are past menopause or infertile due to a physical abnormality (low sperm count, etc.) do not have to refrain from sexual activity because they will not conceive – nor do married couples when the wife is in the infertile phase of her menstrual cycle – which is most of every month. Women are actually infertile more than they are fertile. There has been tremendous research done in the field of fertility awareness, which has actually been done largely by Catholics in response to encouragement by the Church – of understanding the menstrual cycle (there is a reason it is a cycle) in order to teach married couples who have serious reasons for postponing pregnancy how to avoid intercourse during the fertile phase of the cycle. This is NOT the “rhythm method” as those who would discredit it like to claim. In other words, it is not some sort of generic looking at a calendar and taking a wild guess. What I am talking about here is a system of charting a woman’s natural signs of fertility (the most important element being cervical mucus). The woman is taught how to observe these signs in the privacy of her own home – no pills to take, no chemical to pump herself full of, no mutilation in the form of sterilization… and it is customized because it revolves completely around her own fertility cycle. Not her neighbors. Or her mothers. How easy is it to learn? Mother Teresa’s nuns taught it to the poorest of the poor in India. It is actually empowering to women and does give them sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions. They come to know their own body, base their decisions on the natural functions of their own body and don’t become one more cog in the pharmaceutical industry’s money making machine. Which is better? Well, seems to me I would rather respect and cooperate with my fertility that treat it as the enemy and, effectively, break it. You can read more about it here: http://www.creightonmodel.com/ This is what I tried to show Hillary but she was put off by the fact that the medical center was named in honor of Pope Paul VI. She was unwilling to even engage with the information there. If you want to see effectiveness of the system, click here: http://www.creightonmodel.com/effectiveness.htm. Given how much “natural” family planning is discredited, you will probably be shocked at the effectiveness percentages. It is also important to note that this is not merely a tool for avoiding pregnancy. Understanding our fertility also assists us in preventing/treating disease and overcoming infertility. Topic discussed in their manual:
    Targeted hormone assessment of the menstrual cycle.
    Sonographic classification of human ovulation disorders.
    Evaluation and treatment of premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression, ovarian cysts, and unusual bleeding.
    Applications in infertility evaluation and treatment (and its effectiveness), osteoporosis, cancer detection, follicular and luteal phase deficiencies, and thyroid system dysfunction.
    Effects of hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian dysfunction, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease, pelvic adhesive disease, amenorrhea, and anovulation.
    Perinatal applications: progesterone use during pregnancy, preventing preterm birth, evaluating and treating recurrent spontaneous abortion, and diagnostic laparoscopy.
    Surgical techniques for endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, uterine leiomyomata, ovarian wedge resection, and tubal occlusions.

    Why would women want to avoid this information? Often, it is lack of knowledge. Do we really think pharmaceutical companies making vast quantities of money off of contraception would want women to know that they can chart their own fertility and plan their families for free? Who is going to get further in the media? Drug companies who can pay lots of money for ads, doctors who make money from sterilizations or women who manage their fertility in their own homes so that it truly is a private matter?
    One last point. Sometimes people refer to “natural” family planning as Catholic birth control – that it is basically the same thing as artificial contraception. It is not. The difference is very, very simple but critically important. Contraception and sterilization is an active attempt to thwart the laws of nature by placing a man made impediment in the way of the procreative element of sexuality. It wants to deny the two fold reality of the sexual act. “Natural” family planning, on the other hand, does not erect a barrier to the laws of nature. It respects the fertility cycle – and if the intention of the couple is to avoid pregnancy, they avoid intercourse during the fertile period (usually around 1 week per month) and instead wait until the infertile period to engage in the sexual act. To use an analogy – if I wanted to tell my brother something, but his gossipy friend was in the room with him, I could either knock out the friend, rendering him unconscious, or I could simply wait until the friend leaves. Waiting until the friend leaves shows respect for the human dignity of the friend but an awareness of not wanting to share secrets in his presence. If I knock him out, it is a disproportionate and unnecessary act that is probably criminal (!) and is most likely driven only by my own impatience. Contraception is like knocking out the friend – done usually out of impatience. (Sterilization would be more like killing the friend!) “Natural” family planning just waits till the friend leaves. It may mean that the wait can be difficult, but often it is difficult to do the right thing.


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