Thursday, June 30, 2011

What is marriage?

The Holy Family
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
 – Ephesians 5:25-27
One good thing that has come from the push for homosexual "marriage" is that it has forced us to think about the true meaning and significance of marriage.

It has forced us to face our own hypocrisy, which is always an extremely difficult thing to do. True hypocrisy is invisible to us. We look in the mirror and see ourselves as we want to be seen by others, not as we actually appear to them.

But as we see our own thoughts and ideas stretched to their logical conclusions, we are forced to reconsider the premises upon which those ideas are based.

Out of all the articles that I have read in the past few days discussing the current marriage debate, two stand out because they dig beneath the pile of rubble and uncover some hidden truths.

One is an interview with Robert P. George with the title of "Sex and the Empire State: Losing marriage to sexual liberalism". The other is titled "Redefining Marriage, Part 2: The Root of the Problem" by Steven D. Greydanus.

I'll start with the Robert P. George interview because he gets right at the central issue of "the ideology of sexual liberalism". Although, I would argue that this is just one plank of the secular humanist ideology. This is important because as George acknowledges, most so-called conservatives have bought into the essential points of "sexual liberalism". So whether they realize it or not, most conservatives have also bought into one of the main tenets of secular humanism.
Once one buys into the ideology of sexual liberalism, the reality that has traditionally been denominated as “marriage” loses all intelligibility. That is true whether one regards oneself politically as a liberal or a conservative. For people who have absorbed the central premises of sexual liberation (whether formally and explicitly, as liberals tend to do, or merely implicitly as those conservatives who have gone in for it tend to do), marriage simply cannot function as the central principle or standard of rectitude in sexual conduct, as it has in Western philosophy, theology, and law for centuries. The idea that sexual intercourse (the behavioral component of reproduction) consummates and actualizes marriage as a one-flesh union of sexually complementary spouses naturally ordered to the good of procreation loses its force and even its sense. The moral belief that sex belongs in (and only in) marriage, where it is of unitive as well as procreative significance, and where the unitive and procreative dimensions are intrinsically connected (though not in a mere relationship of means to end), begins to seem baseless — the sort of thing that can be believed, if at all, only on the authority of revealed religion. As a result, to the extent that one is in the grip of sexual-liberationist ideology, one will find no reason of moral principle why people oughtn’t to engage in sexual relations prior to marriage, cohabit in non-marital sexual partnerships, form same-sex sexual partnerships, or confine their sexual partnerships to two persons, rather than three or more in polyamorous sexual ensembles.
I could get into the whole history of sexual liberalism, but that would fill a book. Suffice it to say that there was a "free love" movement in 19th century Europe of which the English romantic poet Percy Shelley was an advocate. And there was a well documented "free sex" group in England named the Bloomsbury Group in the early 1900's of which early feminist Virginia Woolf was a member.

There was another group of "progressives" in England which began around 1883 called the "Fellowship of the New Life" which also advocated "free sex". (This group later spawned the left wing Fabian Society.) Margaret Sanger was introduced into this group of "freethinkers" when she visited England in 1914. This led to her affair with sexologist and eugenicist Havelock Ellis (a precursor to American sexologist Alfred Kinsey).  Sanger became the chief spokesperson and advocate for the cause of "free sex" in the United States.

We must never forget that sexual liberalism has a tangled relationship with eugenics and population control. So it is no coincidence that both abortion advocate Margaret Sanger and sexologist Alfred Kinsey received funding from elite foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation which advocates population control. This history and these relationships are not lost on Robert P. George.
Early advocates of this cause, such as Margaret Sanger, Alfred Kinsey, and Hugh Hefner, proposed to “liberate” people from “repressive” moral standards that pointlessly deprived individuals of what they insisted were harmless pleasures, and impeded the free development of their personalities. They attacked and ridiculed traditional norms of sexual conduct as mere “hangups” that it was long past time for sophisticated people to get over. By the early 1970s, their basic outlook had become the mainstream view among cultural elites in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West.... Devotion to “sexual freedom” had been no part of the liberalism of FDR, George Meaney, Cesar Chavez, Hubert Humphrey, or the leaders and rank-and-file members of the civil-rights movement. Today, however, allegiance to the cause of sexual freedom is the nonnegotiable price of admission to the liberal (or “progressive”) club. It is worth noting that more than a few conservatives have bought into a (more limited) version of it as well.
George makes the point that political liberalism has become so wedded to sexual liberalism as to appear inseparable. And yet historically this was not the case until very recently –  at least not in the United States.

The ideology of sexual liberalism is so ingrained in the current thinking of Americans that we do not even question the basic assumptions anymore. And so something as basic as monogamy in marriage can be ideologically tossed aside as if it were an add-on.
As a recent San Francisco State University study (as reported by the New York Times) shows, the “open secret” (as the Times puts it) about same-sex “marriages” is that a huge proportion of them are sexually open. Sexual activity with parties outside the relationship (sometimes with disclosure to the other partner, sometimes without) is accepted and practiced. Monogamy and sexual exclusivity are simply not regarded as integral to “marriage.” (This shows just how far the redefinition of marriage takes us from what has historically been understood as marriage in our law and culture.) For anyone who has examined the sexual-liberationist ideology whose hegemony in the elite sector of the culture makes the idea of same-sex “marriage” even possible, this is as unsurprising as the sun rising in the East. On sexual-liberationist premises, there is no reason (apart from the subjective tastes of this or that particular set of partners) for “marriages” to be monogamous and demand sexual fidelity.
"Fidelity" is reduced to a quaint, meaningless word; no longer a sacred vow or even a promise.

George mentions the New York Times article titled "Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret". It is certainly not politically correct to say so, but the definition of homosexual "marriage" does not include the term "fidelity". Or as the PC NYT says, "a rare glimpse inside gay relationships reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many." What then is the "central feature" of marriage? If it is not "one woman, one man" and it is not "monogamy", then what is marriage?

This brings me to the second article which I would like to discuss which is the one by Steven D. Greydanus. He argues that "the root of the problem, more than anything else, is contraception". This reminds me of the encyclical Humanae Vitae written by Pope Paul VI in 1968. In it he specifically condemned the use of the birth control pill. This caused an immediate antagonistic reaction from those who had adopted the ideology of sexual liberalism within the Catholic Church.

What really struck me was when Greydanus wrote:
"Contraception pollutes a marriage in a manner comparable to adultery."
Now that is a bold statement. But it struck me as true. It is a form of "cheating" within marriage. It is like a husband sneaking out to visit a mistress, only the mistress is his wife. How can that be? In the eyes of Man, contraceptive sex may seem perfectly admissible; but in the eyes of God it is as sinful as committing adultery.
UPDATE: July 1, 2011

Pope Pius XI confirmed this view of contraceptive sex within marriage being sinful in his 1930 encyclical "Chastity in Marriage" (Casti Connubii). This came in response to a statement from the Anglican Church (Church of England) in 1930 saying that the use of contraception was not against Christian teaching within marriage as long as its use was limited. This was the first time a major Christian denomination spoke in favor of contraception and eventually led to the wide spread acceptance of contraception within Christian society. Here is an excerpt from "Chastity in Marriage" which states the Church's view of contraception, even within marriage:
53. And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances.

54. But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.

55. Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, “Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented.”
Contraceptive sex is lustful sex, it is not loving sex.

How can I say that?

Growing up I dreamed of marriage and a loving sexual relationship with my wife. It never occurred to me that part of that sexual relationship with my lawful wife would include contraception. I associated contraception with visiting a whorehouse. The need in that case was obvious to me; mostly to protect myself from disease.

Perhaps you will say that my views of marital sex were immature and sexist. You are probably right. But I still think there was an innocent truth to my view of sex within marriage.

Greydanus goes on to write:
"A contraceptive culture is a divorce culture, a cohabitation culture, a pornography culture. Same-sex marriage is inevitable in a contraceptive culture, because a contraceptive culture can have no coherent understanding of what marriage is, or even what sex is."
What is marriage? Greydanus says that contraception destroys the meaning of marriage.

What is sex? This is a question that our sex-obsessed society never even asks. We never ask because we think we already know the answer. We have reduced sex to a mechanical act, but the Apostle Paul tells us that sex is a mystical union.

Marriage ends so often in divorce because the reality can not match the expectation. The freedom to engage in contraceptive sex only leaves husband or wife longing for more. The marriage bed becomes a place haunted by sexual fantasies with multiple partners. Love disappears like a dream; a fairy tale.

But the truth is that love is pushed out of the marital relationship by an obsession with sex fueled by contraception. If marriage survives at all it is only as a legal contract of convenience. But this was the goal of the ideology of sexual liberalism all along.

What was missing from my childhood dream of a loving marriage was the blessing of the Church. My dream had been corrupted by the sexual liberal ideas that a marital bond could be formed without even the recognition of the state. But in one sense I was correct. The state cannot sanctify the union of a man and woman. This power belongs only to the Church through the holy sacrament of marriage.

I leave you with the beautiful words of Pope Paul VI on "married love" contained in the encyclical Humanae Vitae (Human Life).
[Married love] is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.

Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare."

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE: I added a section that contains a quote from the 1930 encyclical "Chastity in Marriage" by Pope Pius XI that condemns contraception within marriage.