Monday, May 14, 2012

Will We Defend All of Marriage - or Part of It?

Nearly fifteen years ago, when I was Episcopalian, a leader of our local "Journey of Faith" program described to the group how she had made some sort of knitting or crochet or tapestry thing for a friend of hers when the friend had gotten married many years prior.  It was some sort of heart with the names of the couple - let's say Ted & Alice - sewn or crocheted or knitted in (I don't know how this stuff works), all framed and gift wrapped.
At some point, Ted and Alice got divorced and Alice brought the gift back to this woman who had made it for her.  "I've left Ted and I'm getting 'married' to my Lesbian lover, Carol.  Will you please pull out Ted's name and sew in Carol's?"

"And much to my surprise," our leader told us, "I found myself reluctant to do so."  She was an urban liberal who prided herself in her tolerance. 

"But," I interjected, "what if Alice had come to you and said, 'I've dumped Ted and I'm getting married to Bob.  Will you please yank out Ted's name and sew in Bob's?'  Would that have bothered you?"

She looked at me, her eyes sparkling.  "Not at all," she answered, smiling.


Last week I was doing battle with a leftist Chestertonian, who was making the case that Chesterton's liberalism - meaning his critique of capitalism and Puritanism - could be useful to the liberal cause.  Of course, Chesterton's defense of the family, his healthy disgust at perversion, and his love for clear thinking and dogma had to be ignored.

Likewise, I have written in the past of how the right wing was doing the same thing, only in reverse.  They were painting a picture of a 300-pound neo-con, a moral conservative, whose Distributism was embarrassingly wrong, and in their eyes, crypto-communist - and thus had to be ignored.

Either way, the whole of Chesterton gets jettisoned. 

When we make of him what we want him to be, we lose the fullness of who he is, and ultimately, over time, we lose any ability to comprehend his writings at all.  For example, the liberals have made both Newman and Shakespeare into mirror images of themselves, and in doing so, have utterly lost the ability to read and understand anything that either of them wrote.


This is simply heresy in action - picking out what suits us and ignoring the rest.  Of course "heresy" is not the right word to use when someone does this to an author, though "Cafeteria Chestertonians" are analogous to "Cafeteria Catholics".

But heresy in its original sense - religious heresy - is at its heart a kind of idolatry - it is taking the fullness of Who God is and what He teaches us and cutting it down, shaping it into a false god that suits us. 

False gods are always more fun.  We can offer them a kind of belief and devotion, but if things get too difficult or demanding, we can always pull back because we don't really believe in them anyway.  Since idols are artificial, they are safe.


And this brings me back to marriage. 

My last post, Pre-Occupied with the One-Half of One Percent , bothered me in that it implied that the battle to save marriage is lost. 

I did not mean to imply that.

But I do mean to say this.  You can't tell Alice that it's wrong to rip out Ted's name and sew in Carol's, if it's right to rip out Ted's name and sew in Bob's. 

We can't be heretics here.  We can't say, "We defend marriage and we insist that marriage is between one man and one woman" - for in doing so we are selling short, we are, quite literally, selling Christ short.  We must add, "between one man and one woman for life", though this is something that makes everybody uncomfortable - and stands as a witness against modern society in general. 


The question becomes is marriage of God or is it of man

When Jesus asked this question of the Pharisees concerning the baptism of John, they were caught in a conundrum, "If we say from God, he will say, 'Why, then, did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'Of man' we fear the people, for they took John for a prophet."  So they copped out and said, "We cannot tell."

If we save not marriage but a parody of it - if we save it for what it has become in the secular world, an arbitrary social construct that serves only the convenience of one or the other party that enters into it - then we will face this problem again again as time goes by.  Because if that's all that marriage is, then the "gay marriage" boosters are right.

We must either defend Marriage or forsake it.  To defend the idol called "marriage", the parody of the sacrament, we are simply doing the devil's work.


Tom Leith said...

"How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four; calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg." (attributed to Abraham Lincoln)

We need to battle to renew Christendom. We need to battle to save the United States. We don't need to battle to save marriage. No matter what they call it, sodomite friendships aren't marriages and neither are the frivolities that pass for marriage among post-Christians.

Unless or until our Separated Brethren stop witnessing and blessing putative marriages among divorcees and begin again to insist, as the very etymology of the word screams, that matrimony presumes motherhood, at best we're defending the meaning of a word and only partially at that, not the reality it denotes. This is a worthy-enough goal, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking we're defending marriage, even pagan Roman marriage.

And our Separated Brethren aren't the only Christians in need of a renewal: evidently the Catholic Church is re-examining its process for declaring an apparent marriage null.

You want to save marriage? Save it. Not by meeting one exercise of raw power with another one, not with half-measures, but through conversion.

Anonymous said...

Yes,exactly! We call it "marriage" when a man and a woman enter into an arrangement that has nothing essential to do with either procreation or permanence, and then object to gays calling their arrangements "marriage," too.++

tz said...

This is a point I try to make, often with the same futility. We are saying the state has the right to define/recognize a sterile and temporary institution.

It was not that long ago that births and baptisms were recorded in the church and family bible, not by bureaucrats.

Today, I cannot even legally enter into a marriage contract that is as restrictive as only allowing divorce (not even remarriage) for abuse, adultery, or abandonment.

It should be harder to break marriage contracts than have a student loan forgiven in bankruptcy.

The state has neither the authority nor the competence to define marriage. It can recognize contracts and convention (e.g. someone who dies without a will, what would they have chosen). And mostly leave us and our associations alone.

If two men or women can find someone who will preside over a ceremony and declare them spouses, I will not use the coercive power of the state to interfere, because if I do, that same power will force me to recognize illicit or invalid marriages.

Tom Leith said...

@tz Whilst the State does not dictate the terms of contracts, the coercive power of the state enforces them, and also declares certain kinds of contracts illegal (a contract for prostitution services, for example) and very few have a particular problem with this.

Similarly the state has good public reasons to recognize and enforce some kinds of covenants -- a traditional marriage covenant is one of them because of the possibility of children not because the spouses love each other. There are other kinds of covenants there is no public reason for the state to recognize with any kind of public legal status due merely to the exchange of promises, although the state might still enforce its terms. And there are still other types of covenants the state has declared a priori it will not enforce. I don't see why the state can't do this with gay marriage, so called or why you'd be opposed to it.

I don't know whether you're a Catholic, but you can't be a Catholic and a Libertarian and in my admittedly chauvinistic view, that means you can't be a Christian and a Libertarian.

That said, at least under current circumstances a confessional state in North America is probably a Very Bad Thing. But we don't really need one: mainly we need a state that recognizes the Natural Law followed by the whole of Western Civilization until very recently.