06 September 2005

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"Berry on Fidelity (or What It is Not)"

To me, this is completely revelatory. It fills in a gap with so much where-as I only knew my understanding was lacking and had no idea where to start.

"Fidelity

... The idea of fidelity is perverted beyond redemption by understanding it as a grim, literal duty enforced only by willpower. This is the 'religious' insanity of making a victim of the body as a victory of the soul. Self-restraint that is so purely negative is self-hatred. And one cannot be good, anyhow, just by not being bad. To be faithful merely out of duty is to be blinded to the possibility of a better faithfulness for better reasons.

It is reasonable to suppose, if fidelity is a virtue, that it is a virtue with a purpose. A purposeless virtue is a contradiction in terms. Virtue, like harmony, cannot exist alone; a virtue must lead to harmony between one creature and another. To be good for nothing is just that. If a virtue has been thought a virtue long enough, it must be assumed to have practical justification - though the very longevity that proves its practicality may obscure it. That seems to be what happened with the idea of fidelity. We heard the words 'forsaking all others' repeated over and over again for so long that we lost the sense of their practical justification. They assumed the force of superstition: people came to be faithful in marriage not out of any understanding of the meaning of faith or of marriage, but out of the same fear of obscure retribution that made one careful not to break a mirror or spill the salt. Like other superstitions, this one was weakened by the scientific, positivist intellectuality of modern times and by the popular 'sophistication' that came with it. Our age could be characterized as a manifold experiment in faithlessness, and if it as yet produced no effective understanding of the practicalities of faith, it has certainly produced massive evidence of the damage and disorder of absence. ..."

- from the essay The Body and the Earth collected in THE UNSETTLING OF AMERICA and THE ART OF THE COMMONPLACE (p115-116)

And, of course, there is much more of value after that.

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