I was watching a TV broadcast of a game between the Red Sox and the Devil Rays, comfortably insulated, so I thought, from all the trouble and turmoil of the outside world, when their single avenue of invasion into my home, the telephone, began sounding its alarm. It was a long distance call from a friend who had, perhaps with some misgivings, accepted the task of appearing on a television show to bat for traditional marriage against opponents who would be promoting the benefits of “swinging.” He was soliciting ammunition from me in the form of brief and hard-hitting lines that might prove effective before a TV audience not known for its desire or even capacity to follow the tedious path of rational argumentation.
In late December of last year, Canada’s Supreme Court, as the press noted, “redefined” indecency to mean “causing harm.” This meant that such activities as swinging, partner swapping and orgies (even for participants as young as 14) would no longer violate canons against indecency. The court, of course, does not possess such far-reaching powers. It is quite incapable of changing the meanings of either words or realities. By no stretch of the imagination or power of judiciaries can “indecency” come to mean “causing harm.” What the court did was replace the notion of “indecency” with the notion of “causing harm.” And it did this because it no longer understands the meaning of either “decency” or “indecency.” It also rejected “community standards,” since we now live in a highly “diverse” society.
Beverley McLachlin, who wrote the ruling, made it clear that such notions as decency are anything but clear: “Over time, courts increasingly came to recognize that morals and taste were subjective, arbitrary and unworkable in the criminal context and that a diverse society would function only with a generous measure of tolerance for minority mores and practices.”
The court, however, remains unconcerned about the delayed harm that indiscriminate sexual activities would bring to its practitioners in the form of disease, unintended pregnancies, marital discord, public humiliation and all the personal shame that results from treating others and being treated as objects. The court prides itself on being “tolerant” and “liberal,” whereas it should be castigating itself for being morally bankrupt. “Let us not decide what is good,” as G. K. Chesterton once remarked. “Let us decide that it is good not to decide.”
Meanwhile, back at the homestead, it was the home half of the third inning. A more noble form of swinging was taking place right before my very eyes. The Bosox were banging the ball all over the park while the bedeviled team from Tampa witnessed seven runners crossing the plate. The phone call dampened the fun for me a bit. On the other hand, the Red Sox best offensive display of the young season made my friend’s plea more agreeable.
I promised to e-mail him some material the next morning. When I wakened, rather early, I must say, the following thoughts were rattling around in my head, which I duly dispatched to my most receptive ally. “Swinging” is for monkeys who swing from limb to limb. Their realm is the jungle. But mature human beings are called to build a civilization. They are not content with oscillating endlessly from one thing to another. They seek a foundation from which they can build a future for their children and grandchildren.
It is easy to make any idea seem appealing in a discussion. But the ultimate test of the value of an idea is the test of time. Man is the only animal who knows his grandparents and conversely, his grandchildren. Man is a historical being; he achieves his life’s purpose on the horizon of time. Human beings find meaning, not in indecisive, uncommitted “swinging,” but in a firm dedication to a vision. We should have learned from history by now that we need to be dedicated to a purpose that transcends the moment. Self-indulgence is not the road to progress.
The appeal that “swinging” has will always be for the immature, those who misinterpret the challenges of life as burdens. I can’t even say that “swinging” is infantile, since even infants do not want to swing from adult to adult, but want to stay close to their parents. “Swinging,” therefore, is regressive, slipping backwards down the evolutionary slope to a primitive time and species where things like fidelity, marriage, family and civilization were not important.
It is not daring to be a “swinger.” What is daring is to have faith in a unknown future and have the confidence that love and personal commitment will bring about a better life. “Swinging” is keeping your eyes “wide shut.” It remains on the level of instinct. The reason there is sexual morality is to channel the sex instinct so that it is fulfilled and finds its purpose in the institution of marriage. Sexual morality is the journey from instinct to institution. “Swingers” are forever sampling, but never selecting. They remain on the outskirts of life.
The foundation of freedom is still the solidarity of the family. And you can’t be solid if you can’t stop swinging.
Donald DeMarco teaches at the Holy Apostles College and Seminary.