Updated: Aug 7
It may seem ironic to include a marriage blog in my series on autonomy, but this week's Mustard Seed includes an autonomous definition of marriage. One that conforms marriage to the will of those who wish to call themselves married rather than any objective nature. Confusion and disagreements arises in discussions about marriage because, although they use the same word, people are discussing very different concepts.
A common secular view of marriage is as social recognition and legal protection for people committed to living together in a loving, long-term, and mutually consensual romantic (read sexual) relationship. It is something more than roommates, but the participants are free to determine their own rules. Heterosexual or homosexual; monogamous or open; couple or throuple (is there a limit?). The wedding is a public announcement of intentions that is recognized by the state.
A utilitarian view of marriage is as a cultural custom that evolved to regulate procreation, socialize the young, and provide for the dependent. Its purpose is to make humans more effective in the competition for survival amongst rival species. Scientific advances and social reforms change its nature. Contraception, abortion, artificial insemination, divorce, childcare, public education, apprenticeships, welfare, old-age homes, euthanasia, and other social programs may soon evolve this form into extinction. The wedding is a ceremony which exacts social pressures for the union to endure.
A Catholic view of marriage is as a covenant ordained by God. After creating Adam, God saw it is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). God created Eve from Adam's rib as a suitable partner. In marriage, husband and wife become one in a bond that can't be severed. One man and one woman give themselves freely and exclusively to the other, in good times and in bad times, in sickness and in health, until death.
Marriage is the cradle for the creation and nurture of new life. Since marriage is created by God, its form can't be altered by man. The wedding is a covenant vow that invites God's grace to strengthen the union. Though all three are called marriage, they are clearly not the same thing. In theocentric marriage, we discern and obey God's will. In Sociocentric marriage, rules change to optimize competitiveness in Darwin's survival of the fittest. In egocentric marriage, participants set their own rules – marriage is what they say it is.
Most people recognize marriage as good and desirable. It is good and desirable largely because it places limits. When one relaxes the restrictions to suit their desires rather than restricting their desires to suit the limits, goodness wanes. The more the legal definition of marriage changes to accommodate the desires of the people, the less willing people will be to curtail their desires to accommodate marriage. The true goodness of marriage lies not in getting what we want, but in complete gift of self to spouse and family.
Next week: Chastity God bless
“Charles’ dad says give and take doesn’t work; it only works when it’s give and give,” Jason said, remembering. “Pops said husband and wife both get more than they give, but they’re not allowed to take it. He said the only time you should take anything is when you forget to give; then you’d better take cover because bad things are coming at you!” — excerpt from The Last Bachelor of Ales