Helen Alvare: The Great Paradox of “Two-ness”
Q: Helen, I heard you mentioned this definition of “two- ness” at the GIVEN conference and it undervalues the good of society and our understanding of God if it is ignored. Can you explain this for those of us who weren’t able to attend and why we should know about it?
“Hell is other people”
– Jean Paul Sartre
“You matter, I matter. It’s the hardest thing in Theology to believe”
-G. K. Chesterton
There is a great paradox at work in today’s family relationships—especially between women and men. It ‘s the longing for and the simultaneous rejection of “two together.”
This would strike any person as problematic respecting the potential for human happiness, stability, and successfully facing day to day challenges. It’s hard to go it alone.
But it immediately strikes the Christian as problematic at more profound levels. Because we believe that God created the human race as a “twosome,” male and female. And not just as two, unrelated monads, but a twosome capable of a union so close and so important that it could bring forth more human life, capable of eternity by God’s action. And a twosome who, together, image God in a special way if we take Genesis seriously! Which means that if we reject the notion of two, we are missing out on understanding what God is like.
It’s hard enough to get a glimpse of what God is like without giving up on one of the most specific means he gave us.
And because God is love and God is multiple persons in an unending exchange of love (the Trinity), if we give up on the man/woman pair, we give away a crucial means to understand what love is like too!
This “twoness” key allows us to understand God and love as incredibly rich. Involving wildly diverse and all-good human traits, no matter whether we think of them as classically male or female or both. Outward facing and oriented to love that is forever. Fruitful in the most profound sense. Featuring radical equality cheek-to-cheek with radical diversity. Capable of sacrifice on behalf of the other.
Wow. God is cool. So is love.
But we don’t have to look far to see a shying away from or even rejection of “twoness” today. In the trends toward much later marriage and still-high divorce rates. In the notion that marriage is a pairing of already “complete” persons, or some type of “hedonic exchange.” In the way we treat interdependence and dependence as the exception not the norm (i.e. the prevalent idea that we only need help when we’re infants or really old or sick….otherwise it’s Lean In all the way baby!). In the popularity of “non-relationship sex,” and contraception, and in the continuing obsession with abortion “rights” as the apogee of women’s rights.
In fact, we know from the burgeoning field of “happiness studies,” and from other sociological research that people are happiest, and possessed of stronger emotional and physical endurance, when they understand themselves as “gifted givers,” embedded always in a web of relations both calling forth and appreciating their gifts.
This is brilliantly captured in the writing of French philosopher and Catholic convert Fabrice Hadjaj who reminds us that the “interruptions,” the “chaos,” and the sexual and generational divides and encounters characterizing the ordinary life of the family are the norm for human life–humanly lived as God intended–not the exception or a problem.
This takes some getting used to. Developing the “habit” of thinking of others’ needs, desires and interests. Treating interruptions as the norm. For most of us, this constitutes a great reversal of things. It is. Taking its place alongside many of the great paradoxes of the Christian life invented by the God who taught us the lesson that the one who loses her life will find it.
Helen Alvare is a Professor of Law at George Mason University and founder of Women Speak for Themselves.