15 July 2013

The New Marriage, Society and the Law

America is no longer a Christian state.

1.1 Despite its constitutional pretensions, for most of its history America has morally behaved like a Christian state, since everyone’s conception of the natural law (or “what is obviously right”) was more or less a Christian conception.

1.2 As the grip of Christian culture and moral formation has loosened and been replaced by [an amorphous epicurean beast], common sense no longer directs our moral reasoning along Christian lines, and progressively more groups of individuals find reason to challenge the weak moral consensus and open up space for new choices and pleasures.

1.3 The culmination of this process has been (or will soon be) a re-opening of the American mind to an awareness of the epistemological basis (or lack thereof) of traditional (Christian) moral norms. There is no longer a monolithic voice in our culture on ethical matters. The preacher cannot count on having Satan as his sole competitor.

1.4 In light of all this, it seems unreasonable for us to expect narrowly Christian ideas about marriage to be politically enforced. “Marriage” has taken on a life of its own, one oriented toward the aforementioned “new pleasures and choices” in a way that it has rarely been historically, as far as I can tell. Marriage apologetics basically miss this point, and this is probably the biggest logical reason why the pro-marriage side has lost the struggle for narrative supremacy.

2 The New Marriage belongs to a different genus of activity than (broadly construed) Christian marriage.

2.01 These names lend themselves to confusion on both sides.  There is nothing new about the New Marriage.  It has been practiced and preached in the United States for at least a century, in various forms.  There is likewise nothing specifically Christian about Christian Marriage as the term is used here: we are speaking of a social practice and not a sacrament.

2.1 The New Marriage has a narrative terminus, just like any other regular human activity (eating, drinking, sex, computer programming, baseball, reading, etc.). The terminus in this case is the sexually “fulfilled” life of two people together in a state of blissful emotional entanglement. Because of this, the New Marriage no longer has any intrinsic reason for being contractual. It is based on physical and emotional bonds, and is as dissoluble as those bonds. Any contractual character is merely a way of publicly declaring that the two individuals are emotionally entangled and sexually fulfilled and intend to stay that way.

2.2 Christian Marriage, by contrast, functions primarily through the interest of a pair in protecting and rearing their children, and has a kind of natural long-term contractual character to it (inasmuch as children take a long time to rear, and in the context of such a bond more children tend to appear).

2.3 Because it is easily and generally recognized that parents ought to care for their children, and that this duty implies an extended bond, which is ordinarily perpetuated by the begetting of more children, by bonds of friendship, and by material expediency, Christian Marriage has normally been not merely a spontaneous, individual activity, but one prescribed by and condoned by communities. It is not merely in the interest of the parents to marry, but also in the interest of the parents’ parents, and the general concern that this sort of behavior take place spreads out naturally among the members of a community, for the protection of the young and the edification of those who have children.

2.31 The New Marriage is to Christian Marriage as Evangelical Baptism is to Catholic Baptism: A sign, which effects nothing, binds nothing, but means to express something.

2.32 The New Marriage, by being “marriage”, being “official”, having a rite, a law, and, in short, a public aspect, gains an extra degree of dignity. It receives a social, quasi-communal mandate, analogous to that proper to Christian Marriage by virtue of its association with natural duty, but instead tied to the common will for neighbors in society to do well, to pursue friendship, and to find physical and emotional fulfillment in another.

2.4 We might ask, then, how the New Marriage came to be called “Marriage”, when it fundamentally a different thing. If Christian Marriage, in terms of the integrity of its social basis, can be compared to food, then the New Marriage might justly be compared to perfume. Many of the sweetest delights of food are present in perfume, but only in a society where the practice of eating had been largely obviated could a confusion arise between the two.

3 The New Marriage is practically dependent on certain features of a highly technological and wealthy society.

3.1 It’s not that New Marriage is impossible without birth control, a high degree of wealth, geographical mobility, and the possibilities for communication that come with advanced technology. However, it seems unlikely that anyone would bother to enshrine the New Marriage in a situation where these features of our society were absent.

3.2 A historical genealogy of the roots (in practice) of the New Marriage seems to confirm this. If the chief oddity of the New Marriage is its being named “marriage” in the first place, given the history of that term in our culture, then any decent explanation must show how the increased social emphasis on secondary aspects of Christian marriage enabled the primary aspects (which lie at the root, socially, of its institutionalization) to be displaced altogether.

3.21 We might ask how Thanksgiving came to be about eating turkey, when historically that word refers to something of a different genus altogether. The ceremonial aspects, which are the practice’s most salient feature, became its focus, and its former ratio was lost to history.

3.211 Many arguments against the New Marriage amount to "Thanksgiving is about eating turkey; how dare you mess it up by eating duck or stuffed squash."  Rather than understand the roots of marriage and its emergence as a contingent feature of Christian society, they stop at the latest possible conception of the New Marriage that suits their prejudices, and enshrine its features as essential.

3.22 All the common narratives about marriage for the past century have supported this transformation.

3.3 Given that Christian marriage has been displaced by something which shares only its secondary features, are the original social functions which led to the emergence of that genus of marriage being seen to? Are the rights of children being fulfilled?

3.31 By definition, it seems clear that the answer is “no”, unless the “New Marriage” in question functions additionally as a “Christian Marriage”. Thus in order to be just, mere New Marriages (which tend, on the whole, to be transient just like the emotional entanglements they are based on) must be sterile.

3.4 The rise of the New Marriage, because it has not been simply organic (the petrification of a decayed social function into an intricate ornament on the face of a more advanced culture) but has taken place through polemic and political struggle, has displaced not merely the practice of Christian marriage, but also the consideration of its primary object: since Christian marriage has been cast aside, the concern for one’s debts to one’s offspring has likewise been cast aside.

3.41 These debts, however, persist, and their neglect is to the detriment (materially, emotionally) of children, as well as (for lack of friendship, stability, and opportunities to develop virtue) their parents.

3.5 Only in a society awash with wealth, in which widely available emotional analgesia and material comfort are available, could such an arrangement be enshrined as superior to the alternative.

3.51 Doubts arise: old metaphors and gender issues in Christian marriage as traditionally practiced made it a potentially oppressive way of securing justice for Children. 

4 These need to be discussed, by someone not myself.