CULTURE: by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
A day for vitriol and Valentines?
, March 1, 2014
February 14 is the feast of St Valentine, more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.
A few years ago, for another publication, I wrote a series of short pieces entitled “Vitriol for Valentine’s”, exploring various themes associated with this day.
As time has passed, and the day has come around again, I thought it worthwhile to reconsider the topic in the light of a few more years’ life experience, and the changing social and political environment.
The history of St Valentine is uncertain. There were a few Valentines, martyred in various ways and for various reasons at various times. This uncertainty has led the Catholic Church to quietly remove St Valentine from the current calendar, along with other unproven saints such as St Christopher. The feast is still celebrated by other Christian churches and in the traditional calendar, but it’s gone from the mainstream Roman one.
It was the medieval English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, along with his other literary friends, who is thought to be responsible for the association of the feast of St Valentine with romantic love. Whoever did it, and however it came about, Valentine’s Day is now seen as the day for romance, and a must-remember date for couples.
With the prominence of Valentine’s Day has come its commercialisation. Love hearts and chocolates, soft toys and roses, sentimental gifts and special outings are par for the course — for a price, of course. Valentine’s Day is one of the great feasts of the secular calendar.
Different couples respond to the day differently. Some use it as a reason to justify more extravagant declarations of love — such as the mate who used the billboard at his work to ask his fiancée to marry him.
Others, such as another I know, reject it as base commercialisation and refuse to do anything; and for those who say that that’s just an act, if this young man had done something, the young lady in question might have reconsidered their relationship.
The pressures of romance and relationships lead to many places advertising anti-Valentine’s Days, where singles who object to the prominence given to couples may eat, drink and be merry. Then there are the ladies’ nights held by some hotels, where, let us just say, the “ladies” are encouraged to be anything but.
“Love” poses a complex problem for our side in the culture wars. In upholding what we know to be the best for human beings — the natural family and all that entails — we hit a tangled web that we cannot ignore.
Homosexuals are people too. As are persons from broken homes, and persons who’ve broken their homes. As are those who’ve done what they ought not to have done, but thought was a good idea at the time.
None of us is immune from the challenges that come from our broken human nature; none of us is immune from the possibility that we may cross boundaries. In all likelihood, we already have.
This very human frailty does not, however, mean that we shouldn’t strive for the best for humanity, for the most human and humane society; but it does mean that we need to understand the complexities and be compassionate.
This is not a radical notion. It’s a very ordinary one, often expressed as “Love the sinner, hate the sin” or “Speak the truth in love”. Its very ordinariness does not detract from how profound and extraordinary an approach it is.
Consider one political battle at the moment — same-sex marriage. It’s a strange phenomenon, one that didn’t really matter in previous eras, as marriage was understood to be about property and progeny. But since “marriage” has changed, since divorce became easier — even if only from a legal standpoint — and the link between sex and children lengthened, secular society asks the question, what is marriage, if not an expression of love and commitment? And who are we to judge the love of others?
I find the idea of same-sex marriage odd, because it implies that the state is the arbiter of our relationships and our hearts, which seems decidedly un-romantic.
Then again, it feeds into the commercialisation we see with Valentine’s Day in general — the idea that love is a commodity to be bought and sold, or rather that the instant something becomes valuable, someone will find a way to put a price on it.
And yet those who celebrate Valentine’s Day are probably genuine in their feelings. Why should it be otherwise? They’re looking for a way to express what is in their hearts. This illustrates the challenge facing our side.
This conflict is one that involves both heads and hearts, the whole of the human person, and the whole of the community. There is no simple solution, but nor is giving up an option.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).