Nearly fifteen years ago, when I was Episcopalian, a leader of our local "Journey of Faith" program described to the group how she had made some sort of knitting or crochet or tapestry thing for a friend of hers when the friend had gotten married many years prior. It was some sort of heart with the names of the couple - let's say Ted & Alice - sewn or crocheted or knitted in (I don't know how this stuff works), all framed and gift wrapped.
At some point, Ted and Alice got divorced and Alice brought the gift back to this woman who had made it for her. "I've left Ted and I'm getting 'married' to my Lesbian lover, Carol. Will you please pull out Ted's name and sew in Carol's?"
"And much to my surprise," our leader told us, "I found myself reluctant to do so." She was an urban liberal who prided herself in her tolerance.
"But," I interjected, "what if Alice had come to you and said, 'I've dumped Ted and I'm getting married to Bob. Will you please yank out Ted's name and sew in Bob's?' Would that have bothered you?"
She looked at me, her eyes sparkling. "Not at all," she answered, smiling.
Last week I was doing battle with a leftist Chestertonian, who was making the case that Chesterton's liberalism - meaning his critique of capitalism and Puritanism - could be useful to the liberal cause. Of course, Chesterton's defense of the family, his healthy disgust at perversion, and his love for clear thinking and dogma had to be ignored.
Likewise, I have written in the past of how the right wing was doing the same thing, only in reverse. They were painting a picture of a 300-pound neo-con, a moral conservative, whose Distributism was embarrassingly wrong, and in their eyes, crypto-communist - and thus had to be ignored.
Either way, the whole of Chesterton gets jettisoned.
When we make of him what we want him to be, we lose the fullness of who he is, and ultimately, over time, we lose any ability to comprehend his writings at all. For example, the liberals have made both Newman and Shakespeare into mirror images of themselves, and in doing so, have utterly lost the ability to read and understand anything that either of them wrote.
This is simply heresy in action - picking out what suits us and ignoring the rest. Of course "heresy" is not the right word to use when someone does this to an author, though "Cafeteria Chestertonians" are analogous to "Cafeteria Catholics".
But heresy in its original sense - religious heresy - is at its heart a kind of idolatry - it is taking the fullness of Who God is and what He teaches us and cutting it down, shaping it into a false god that suits us.
False gods are always more fun. We can offer them a kind of belief and devotion, but if things get too difficult or demanding, we can always pull back because we don't really believe in them anyway. Since idols are artificial, they are safe.
But I do mean to say this. You can't tell Alice that it's wrong to rip out Ted's name and sew in Carol's, if it's right to rip out Ted's name and sew in Bob's.
We can't be heretics here. We can't say, "We defend marriage and we insist that marriage is between one man and one woman" - for in doing so we are selling short, we are, quite literally, selling Christ short. We must add, "between one man and one woman for life", though this is something that makes everybody uncomfortable - and stands as a witness against modern society in general.
The question becomes is marriage of God or is it of man?
When Jesus asked this question of the Pharisees concerning the baptism of John, they were caught in a conundrum, "If we say from God, he will say, 'Why, then, did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'Of man' we fear the people, for they took John for a prophet." So they copped out and said, "We cannot tell."
If we save not marriage but a parody of it - if we save it for what it has become in the secular world, an arbitrary social construct that serves only the convenience of one or the other party that enters into it - then we will face this problem again again as time goes by. Because if that's all that marriage is, then the "gay marriage" boosters are right.
We must either defend Marriage or forsake it. To defend the idol called "marriage", the parody of the sacrament, we are simply doing the devil's work.