Thursday, May 28, 2009

The End of Marriage?

In a debate between Robert George and Doug Kmiec, Kemic has called for the state to "withdraw from 'the marriage business' and do licensing 'under a different name' to satisfy government interests for purposes of taxation and property. Then "marriage" would be left to the churches and other religious groups to handle as they see fit. This idea has been floated before as a way of preventing religious bodies from being forced to marry same-sex couples.

Robert George calls it a "terrible idea." He says of marriage:

“It’s a pre-political institution,” he said. “It exists even apart from religion, even apart from polities. It’s the coming together of a husband and wife, creating the institution of family in which children are nurtured.”

“The family is the original and best Department of Health, Education and Welfare,” he continued, saying that governments, economies and legal systems all rely on the family to produce “basically honest, decent law abiding people of goodwill – citizens – who can take their rightful place in society.”

“Family is built on marriage, and government--the state--has a profound interest in the integrity and well-being of marriage, and to write it off as if it were a purely a religiously significant action and not an institution and action that has a profound public significance, would be a terrible mistake,” George told CNSNews.com."

George is right. Marriage was not invented by Christianity; nor was it created by the State.

It was certainly improved and promoted by Christianity. Under Christian influence marriage was strengthened and given preferential status over rival ways of organizing human sexual relationships. And that is precisely what is being undone in the current process of institutionalizing the promiscuity ethic of the sexual revolution. Same-sex "marriage" is just the culmination of a four decade long process of increasing social acceptance of the separation of sex from procreation and family. Pre-marital sex, cohabitation, no-fault divorce and remarriage, and same-sex "marriage" are just points on a continuum and the direction is away from monogamy, parents raising their children together, and the family as the primary agent of socialization. The next logical point on the line is to do away with marriage altogether. After that, there will be the inevitable increase in State intervention to fill the gap created by the destruction of the family.

If you think that pro same-sex "marriage" activists (most of whom are not homosexuals) will be content to allow married heterosexual couples to have one privilege or one label that same-sex couples don't have, you do not understand the psychology of inferiority, which is driving this debate. For 20 centuries, our culture has tried to shame and blame people who refuse to be faithful to their marriage vows and raise their own children by sacrificial service. This has been done in order to preserve, defend and build up the institution of marriage in the belief that everyone benefits from this way of life. It has been done out of a shared social consensus that marriage is the best way to organize the raising of children.

In the last 40 years, there has been a rebellion against this social order and individuals have developed ideological justifications for the pursuit of their own personal pleasure and self-fulfillment instead of entering into permanent marriage covenants and submerging their own self-interest in the service of the next generation and society as a whole. This rebellion creates tremendous guilt feelings on the part of those who choose it and they are therefore determined to eradicate any trace of social preference for the older ethic. The family itself is a rebuke to individualism, hedonism and sex without reproduction.

What this is about is the reorganization of society in such a way as to ensure that selfish adults can pursue their "lifestyle options" without guilt. It is not a coincidence that the separation of sex from procreation and family is occurring at precisely the same moment as the refusal of an increasing number of people to reproduce themselves. About 20% of the baby boomer generation did not have children. Even allowing for those couples struggling with infertility, surely no further proof of the pathological condition of our society is required. When a society is too selfish to have children, it is on the brink of collapse.

17 comments:

Nathan said...

While I agree that marriage is good, what you have not demonstrated is why it needs to be a legal institution. After all, it is "pre-political." So why does it need to be enshrined in law?

David said...

While marriage can certainly be called pre-modern, pre-christian, and pre-historic, I doubt very much that it can be called "pre-political" in any meaningful sense. In so far as it involves some form of contract-obligation between human beings (not just those married, but also their families and collective society), it is very much political.
In my view though, the governments of the western world - I live in the UK - are increasingly losing any moral validity in their capacity to declare a couple married. Any government that can change at whim both the nature and meaning of marriage is not fit to pronounce on the subject. Also, I think that it is interesting how those who previously have been opposed to marriage are now suddenly pro same-sex arrangements - funny that!

Craig Carter said...

Nathan,
The point of saying that it is pre-political is that the State has a duty to recognize it, protect it and uphold it. It is not something the State (or the democratic majority) can just up and decide to alter in whatever way seems good at the time.

Perhaps this example might help. A lot of people object to teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in school. The schools say that they have to teach it because it appears to be scientifically true and we can't just ignore reality or we aren't doing science anymore. Well, just so, we can't pretend that marriage is something it isn't without consequences. We are dealing with reality and reality is stubbornly resistant to our will. We are male and female and children are vulnerable and in need of their own parents raising them. This is reality (and not just biological, but also psychological, social and ethical, reality).

To say that we will just make marriage whatever we want it to be is to try to impose "the will to power" on nature in exactly the same way as out-of-control Capitalism is doing in the destruction of the clean air and clean water on which life depends. The human will is not sovereign; we must recognize and live within the limits of nature - or we risk destroying ourselves.

One last point; to be clear I am arguing that marriage needs to be given special status, privileges and social approval in every way possible. I'm saying neutrality is grossly insufficient. Up to about 40 years ago this point was practically uncontroversial; we need to appreciate how novel this stuff actually is.

Craig Carter said...

David,
Your comment reflects a modern prejudice that no one would have thought of as common sense prior to the 17th century. It was only with the rise of the Absolute Monarchies after the Wars of Religion, and then the revolutions that turned them into democracies during the modern period, that the State has grown so powerful and sovereign in the popular mind as to be the absolute creator of reality. This is the ursapation of the Divine function.

The State recognizes the pre-existing family structures, but it never created them, nor does it have the authority to alter them.

The Ur-text for this understanding in the Western tradition is "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but unto God what is God's." Throughout the history of the West tyranny has been limited in theory by the thought that not everything belongs to Caesar. The King, Emperor or Democratic State is not ultimate, but in fact limited by virtue of being lower than God. It is only in the modern period that we witness the rise of a Totalitarianism that is reminiscent of pre-Christian empires.

The State is limited. This is one of the most significant and liberating thoughts ever believed by human beings.

The contractual obligations you mention can be enforced by the State and they should be. And you are quite right to suggest that a State that pretends to be capable of re-defining marriage thereby loses credibility. It would be like the US passing a law outlawing Darwinism. It isn't just that it should not be done (as if it were a matter for solemn debate); it is that it can't actually be done. One can only pretend to be doing it and in so doing one makes oneself a laughingstock.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan and David,
Just to clarify one point: I do not regard the biological theory of evolution as being incompatible with Divine creation or purpose or natural law. The fact that some atheists do is testimony to the fact that they are simply incapable of distinguishing between a biological mechanism and the doctrine of creation.

In like mannner,I do not believe that the fact that I get a burst of hormonal activity in my body when confronted with a sudden threat means that I am not capable of reacting in either a cowardly or courageous manner to that threat. Biological reductionism simply does not account for human action.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan and David,
One further thought. I hope it is clear that my argument for the naturalness of the family is not an example of the biological reductionism I just criticized. While the nature of the family is certainly rooted in biology, it cannot be reduced to biology. This is why biology (or physics) is not the only science.

Michael said...

"And you are quite right to suggest that a State that pretends to be capable of re-defining marriage thereby loses credibility."

Could this not actually provide a rationale for removing marriage from state control? Rather than necessarily cooperating with the logic of privatization and the fantasy of the body politic as a collection of autonomous individuals, perhaps we simply need to laugh at the incredible, corrupt, incompetent state, and refuse to grant it sufficient legitimacy to regulate such a basic good in the contemporary context. (A real state would of course be legitimate enough to regulate marriage; but that's not necessarily what we're dealing with here)

Diaspora Judaism has managed to maintain their particular institution of marriage for centuries in neutral, if not completely hostile, contexts. They have 'religious' courts of marriage and divorce. Could that be an alternative?

Craig Carter said...

Michael,
You ask: "Could this not actually provide a rationale for removing marriage from state control?"

But I have not yet conceded that marriage is under state control. It isn't under state control. Some people just fantasize that it is. By re-defining marriage, Canada has tried to do the impossible and it makes us look, well, stupid.

Look, if the state declared the law of gravity invalid, I wouldn't be content to form a sectarian, underground pro-gravity group; I would demand that the State get with reality! Too many consequences follow from denying gravity - many of which are fatal.

Just think, the first thing the post-gravity State would do is remove the fencing at Niagra Falls to make room for the new display explaining why the water rushes in a downward direction (it is being drawn my mystic Lake Ontario powers only recently discovered by the Royal College of Science under intense lobbying from the Anti-Gravity Activists. Do you want your kids falling into Niagra Falls just because some loony politician denies gravity?

Besides, who is the State? Me and you. That is democracy, my friend. Throw the bums out; get new bums.

Michael said...

"By re-defining marriage, Canada has tried to do the impossible and it makes us look, well, stupid."

Well, yes. I agree that de facto, marriage exists and has actual content prior to any state regulation or recognition. But de jure, Canada has chosen to regulate and recognize something it calls 'marriage' - let's call it anti-marriage, to avoid confusion.

Now, given widespread confusion of marriage for antimarriage and vice versa, we have two options. We can educate and advocate and lobby to make antimarriage more like marriage - to participate more fully in the reality of marriage that already exists.

Or we can advocate and lobby for antimarriage to be renamed and/or deregulated. Then at least the antithesis between the two would become clear, and if people were actually interested in marriage, rather than antimarriage, they would have somewhere to look.

Of course this will only have an effect if there is a consistent, somewhat disciplined group somewhere actually practicing marriage, instead of antimarriage. But I believe such a group would become obvious once some of the confusion was removed.

And although "me and you" may be the state, so are a lot of other people. That's why I sense option 2 is more likely to succeed.

David said...

I think that you are right, Craig, I had been confusing the authority of the state to confer legitimacy onto marriage with the ability of the state to define marriage according to its own agenda. In pre-modern societies this would have made no sense at all...like suggesting that the state's authority came from itself and not from God, which would have sounded equally ridiculous.
I would ask, in a world in which post-modern states do in fact attempt a redefinition of marriage, what is the relationship between marriage and the state? I liked your example of the redefinition of the laws of gravity by a state. In this situation, however, it is as though the laws of gravity have not only been declared invalid, but have also lost intellectual credibility and popular approval.

ivh said...

In the last 40 years, there has been a rebellion against this social order and individuals have developed ideological justifications for the pursuit of their own personal pleasure and self-fulfillment instead of entering into permanent marriage covenants and submerging their own self-interest in the service of the next generation and society as a whole. This rebellion creates tremendous guilt feelings on the part of those who choose it and they are therefore determined to eradicate any trace of social preference for the older ethic. The family itself is a rebuke to individualism, hedonism and sex without reproduction.I think that it is interesting to note that this very argument is why some Christians have supported same-sex marriage.

Craig Carter said...

Michael,
The key for me is in your second last paragraph. We agree that the Church must practice marriage, as well as define it correctly. Now the question is, how to do that.

On this blog, there have been a lot of commentators who seem to think that the opposite of being Constantinian is yielding all public space to a noisy atheism and conceding that the church is just a sect that "knows its place." But I don't see that as faithful witness. (That sort of thing wouldn't get anyone martyred and there were a lot of martyrs in the pre-Constantinian Church.) We don't have to be violent to be insistent on the Lordship of Christ.

Here is my somewhat paradoxical conclusion: if we want Christian faithfulness in the Church, we must make universal claims about reality outside the Church. Do you see why? Our message is: "Jesus is Lord," not just of the small group that acknowledges him, but of the whole cosmos including those who are trying to reject him. This message makes people mad. There is no helping that.

I see the strategy of saying that the state does civil marriage and the church does religious marriage as a concession that there are two kinds of marriage: one universal and for all (i.e. real marriage, which includes SSM)and the other a sectarian preference of a small group of religious types (i.e. marriage for religious bigots). For us to accept that is to fail to bear witness to the first article of the Apostles' Creed.

If we believe in creation, we believe that man is created in God's image as male and female. This is a matter of "sex" not merely "gender," i.e. it is not a social construction.

As Christians, we might lose the culture wars in NA. But we have to bear our witness to the bitter end. There can't be a compromise with that the Gnosticism that dominates NA and liberal Protestantism.

In the long run, however, Christians will not be defeated.
Why? Well,as one blogger I know says on his masthead: "Because philosophies that frown on reproduction generally don't survive."

Craig Carter said...

IVH,
I just got Myers' book the other day and I'll be reading it soon. I sure hope it is not as dismal and lame as most of the stuff I've read by liberal Christians trying to jusfify SSM.

But I don't put much stock in liberal Christian defences of SSM because I think some of them are deceived and others are deceptive. When I read the actual homosexual activists and theorists - like Marvin Ellison or Virginia Ramey Mollenkott - the real ideology is clarified.

The struggle for SSM is a propoganda war in which the goal is to increase public social acceptance of sexual deviance by narrowing the definiton of marriage to "close relationship theory" instead of the traditional definition, which includes procreation.

The main battle here is not between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The real battle is between those who would drive a wedge between sex and procreation and those who do not. Once sex is separated from procreation, it becomes an individualistic thing that revolves around pleasure and personal fulfillment. Once that happens, cohabitation, illegitimacy, no-fault divorce and SSM are outcomes that occur on the way to a post-marriage culture in which children are largely rasied by the state and "marriage" gets devalued down to approximately what used to be called "dating."

Many of those (especially males) who are in SSM do not believe in or wish to practice monogamy. Would you make a commitment to monogamy a pre-requisite for SSM? You would get an awful fight on the basis of "freedom of lifestyle choice" if you did.

Why do people who don't believe in monogamy want SSM? It is a matter of propoganda, normalization, and desensitizing of society. And I'm not even denying that some SSM couples actually are monogamous; of course some are. But it is only a personal choice, not something built into the meaning of marriage and binding on everyone. I really see easy divorce as opening up the possibility of SSM. "If heteros are so loose, how can they criticize us?" is the argument. But two wrongs don't make a right.

Michael said...

Craig,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. This uncertain anabaptist will have to think about them. And your friend is definitely right: being anti-family is a recipe for self-liquidation in the long run.

ivh said...

When/if you read Meyers' book, it would interesting to read your thoughts on it. I haven't yet read it myself, but the information he has on his website piqued my interest.

peace be with you said...

Craig you have united social and fiscal conservatives. Often they are the same set of people, but i've never seen the causal connection between them til now.

The TEA Party is primiarily fiscally conservative. They are also for limited, constitutional, government by the consent of the governed. What is that, "governmental conservativsm"? Either way, the TEA Party has welcomed in libertarians who feel comfortable with this laizzez faire ideology. Conventional wisdom says the TEA Party should stay away from social conservatism or else libertarians will no longer feel comfortable and leave, shrinking the movement. The unstated assumption is that social and fiscal/governmental conservatism are orthogonal. You can pick and choose any or both--your preference.

But you have shone the light on the connection between them:

"The next logical point on the line is to do away with marriage altogether. After that, there will be the inevitable increase in State intervention to fill the gap created by the destruction of the family."

(continued in next post...)

peace be with you said...

(...continued from previous post)

That's it. Without strong families, providing the basic function raising of children into moral adults, you necessarily keep statism.

So to the libertarians we can say, social conservatism (strong families) are the social bedrock upon which small, less intrusive government can stand.

Why? You quote Robert George who has the answer "governments, economies and legal systems all rely on the family to produce 'basically honest, decent law abiding people of goodwill – citizens – who can take their rightful place in society.'”

Few people ever mention that a society can only exist when the vast majority of people follow the rules simply because it is right, not because there's a law against it or from fear of punishment. Robert George and you and me thankfully are trying to promulgate this idea.

For the libertarians, it would be enuf to connect strong family values with creating the kind of people that can have a society with the govt regulating their every move.

But with the progressives, this question arises, and i think it is a big one: is it even possible for the state to raise moral people, the kind of people who voluntarily follow the rules and behave? Progressives will claim yes, and they have a study or two in support of them.

One of the problems with this question is that today's western society will look to "science" to answer this question, and the majority of social scientists tasked with the answer will by ideology start playing with the definition of "moral" and "behave" such that the state-raised citizens will meet the criteria.

Is there a good argument for families being the best or only means of raising moral citizens?