Monday, March 19, 2007

Love For A Lifetime

Some years ago I was happily browsing the Free Books Bin at a used bookstore --- searching among the rejects the store couldn't sell --- when I came across something as good as an overlooked gem: James Dobson's Love For A Lifetime. I almost yelped with delight.

If you are not familiar with James Dobson, he is one of America's most powerful evangelical leaders, a man with whom the White House conference calls every Monday, and an activist on every aspect of family life. Dobson is highly controversial for his views on the family, and while I would not spend to buy a book of his, I can certainly delight in making off with a free copy of one of his works. Who wouldn't grab a free book by such a controversial figure?

Love For A Lifetime represents itself as a serious book of sound advice for folks who are about to get married.

That's odd, because to all the world it is no more than a slick little book designed from the foundations up to live on coffee tables. It's glossy pages are lavished with pastel pink and blue borders; the writing is far too easy to browse; and the tone is flippantly inspirational. Not the sort of design that tells you you're in for some real how-to advice.

Yet, the book is striking in at least one respect: It's tone is almost wholly negative, even fearful. If you pick this book up from a coffee table and browse it for nuts and bolts suggestions on how to make a good marriage, you will be disappointed there are very few nuts and bolts in the book. On the other hand, if you want a dire sermon full of warnings about all the things, real and imagined, that can go wrong in marriages, then this book is your godsend. It even has a call to save yourself from the traps and pitfalls of marriages by turning to Jesus.

For the longest time after reading this book, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was so profoundly wrong about it. Then, it came to me one day while I was out walking that the book almost entirely lacks any notion of overcoming challenges, surmounting obstacles, or healing from mistakes. Everything the book mentions that can go wrong in a marriage it casts in the light of catastrophe. For instance: Dobson believes in sexual abstinence until marriage, and in his eyes there is no reasonably sure way to overcome the problems he believes are caused by being a non-virgin before your wedding night. Your lack of virginity, if that's the case, has undermined your marriage, and that's all there is to it. No hope, no solution, not even any advice on how to lessen the damage.

All of which makes me think about Dobson the man. Is he really that fearful? Does he really see the downside of everything in such extraordinarily sharper focus than the upside? Is he really at such a loss to solve problems?

I suppose to some extent he really is all those things. I say that not just because the book, Love For A Lifetime, cannot have been written by an optimist, but also because of other things I know about Dobson. e.g. his belief that allowing homosexuals to marry will result in the destruction of the "traditional" family. Anyone who believes that certainly does not believe in the resilience of the family. No, anyone who believes that sees nearly every challenge, no matter how slight, as a potential catastrophe.

In Love For A Lifetime, James Dobson creates an ideology and a mythology of marriage based on fear. The book is a "depravity and hellfire" sermon that fails to mention even in passing the remarkable ability of humans to solve problems, adapt to circumstances, or heal from wounds. It has a bleak, dark soul.

By the way, anyone who is interested in my poetry might want to know that the book was part of the inspiration for the poem you find here.


Brendan said...

Not surprising given the source. His message of fear and judgment is one that resonates with a lot of people, though.

Paul said...

Unfortunately, yes, his message of fear and judgment does resonate with a lot of people. While reading that book, I continually wondered what sort of person would approve of its dark message, and I don't think the book would resonate too well with anyone who had a cheerful and competent outlook on life.

Brendan said...

"what sort of person would approve of its dark message"

I suspect it resonates with a person for whom being itself is darkness.

The more they try to hide it under a blanket of lies, the unceasing pain that they try to hide behind a veneer of righteousness fights that much more to manifest itself in their words and deeds.

Paul said...

Beautifully said, Brendan!

If one believes, as Dobson does, in a Supreme Bully who professes love but damns you to eternal torture for the otherwise insignificant offense of failing to believe in Him, then I suppose "being itself is darkness" to you.

Brendan said...

A person's "God" is simply a reflection of how he feels about himself. Imagine the self-loathing and fear necessary to create a God whose only revelations about marriage concern what can go wrong with it.

jacquie4000 said...

This post reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my friends the other week. My area has alot of very strick christian followers, well at least in their on minds. They throw these big parties where the daughter accepts to wear a promise ring. Meaning she will not have sex until she is married. However I know alot of these kids and some of them just do it because their parents pressure them but the promise is not really kept. So what is the purpose to allow them to feel a terriable failure and to feel they are doomed to hell? They also talk down about gays and how they are told as a congragation not to visit places of business that are runned by gay people. How does that promote forgivness. I also have a girlfriend who had an extra marital affair with another women, they actual held what I would say is a church court meeting in her home made of all men telling her how she needed to end this and go back to her husband promptly. Of course I went over and had a few choice words. But the funny thing is I have never seen one of these meetings if a man cheats on his wife. And the counsel is not made up of all women. Peoples minds simply amaze me.