25 September 2011

L'esprit de l'escalier: Second Thoughts on Redefining Marriage

Christian views of marriage
It has to be said that Christians differ somewhat among themselves in their understandings of marriage, with some, such as Catholics, holding the institution in higher regard than others. Broadly speaking, though, all Christians agree that marriage is not a mere social construct but is, in fact, something made by God. In arguing this, they'll point to biology, anthropology, history, and philosophy, arguing on wholly natural and rational grounds for the existence of a natural law. They will, of course, also refer to the Bible and Christian tradition, and will point to a few key Biblical passages, notably Mark 10:6-9:
'But from the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female." "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'
There are plenty of other passages too, of course, talking about marital relations and about how Christian marriage exists as living image of the relationship between Christ and his Church, but at the heart of all those passages is this one, which identifies a marriage as being a God-made covenant between a woman and a man, who are united into a new being.

While Catholics see Christian marriages as sacramental in a way that other marriages are not, the Church nonetheless does not in any way dispute the validity or legitimacy of non-Christian marriages. It sees them, rather, as entirely valid and real, so long as they meet the definition of marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of marriage in general that:
'The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring...

"The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage." The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life."'
I do not believe it would be possible for the Catholic Church to recognise same-sex unions as being marriages, leaving aside how it clearly could not sanction or celebrate such same-sex unions. And when I speak of the Church in this sense, I'm not thinking just of the hierarchy or the priesthood -- those that are sometimes and disingenuously referred to as the 'the institutional Church'. I'm thinking of all believers. I do not see how any Catholic with a properly formed conscience could accept same-sex unions as being marriages.

And I'm pretty sure it's not only Catholics that would find that an impossible hurdle.

Again, remember that this isn't about love, or about whether gay people can be committed to each other as deeply as a straight couple, or about whether the State or Society accepts that a relationship is loving or committed. And it's not about whether a civil partnership is a civil partnership.*

It's about the nature of marriage.

Shouldn't religious views be kept out of politics?
I mentioned the other day that while I do believe in the separation of State and Church, I don't think it is desirable, fair, or even possible to separate politics and religion.

Most people who tend to advocate such a separation argue based on the assumptions -- whether explicit or implicit -- that a lack of religious belief is normative, that religious belief is inherently irrational, and that one's beliefs can be divorced from one's conscience and identity. All three of these assumptions are, at the very least, questionable; I would take the view that they are, in fact, deeply wrong.

What's more, there tends to be a double standard at work in these matters; those who oppose people acting politically because of their religious views tend not to object when religious people support causes they support, even if their motives are rooted in their religious beliefs. Think about it...
  • How many people maintain that the American Declaration of Independence's claims about the human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness being inalienable should be disregarded, as the Declaration explicitly identifies their inalienable character as being derived from their Divine origin?
  • How many people argue that the Quaker Anthony Benezet, the Methodist John Wesley, or the Anglicans John Newton and William Wilberforce were wrong to have argued and struggled against slavery because they saw it as being against Christian teaching?
  • How many people say that the opposition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sophie and Hans Scholl to the Nazi state was inappropriate, given its roots in their Lutheran faith?
  • How many people hold that Oscar Romero should not have invoked the Catholic faith of the Salvadorean soldiers when calling on them to disobey their brutal and repressive orders?
  • How many people believe that Jerzy Popiełuszko should have kept his Catholic views to himself and withheld his criticisms of Poland's communist government?
  • How many people claim that Christians ought to have been barred from marching against the invasion of Iraq or protesting against the executions of both Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer if their views were founded on their faith?
Faith has consequences. It's not just a matter of belief; it's a matter of belief in action, or dynamic belief, if you like. Belief should be manifested in practice. We do what we do because of who we are, and who are, in large part, depends on what we believe.

In practice, those who claim that religion should be kept out of politics are usually quite happy to accept religious people as allies, regardless of their motives; they only ever invoke the supposed principle that religion and politics should be kept apart when religious people disagree on religious grounds with their pet issues.

I'll wrap this up tomorrow.

* It is.

1 comment:

courtney said...

Oddly, I would say you hit on it in your previous post - why should the state recognise same sex marriage? Where is the interest?

I think we only discuss it today because marriage itself is not valued by society and so it more freely recognises it.