Tuesday 26 May 2015

Marriage and family: A Consideration

Marriage is often referred to as the building block or foundation of society, which seems rather difficult to disagree with since it is by the stability of marriage that society generates stable people. As the Guardian reported, the Office of National Statistics states that figures indicate children of married parent families suffer less mental health problems than those brought up by single parents (see here); and as the study by Osborne, Mclanan and Brooks-Gunn at the University of Texas appears to indicate, “children born to married versus cohabiting parents have fewer reported behavioral problems at age three, and that differences in parental background characteristics account for 30% to 50% of the differences in child outcomes at age 3. The remaining differences in child behavior can largely be explained by differences in household income and maternal health behaviors. Marriage following a cohabiting birth is not associated with fewer child behavioral problems” (here). Taking both of these into consideration, it might well be said that children reared in marriages better understand where they come from and what their role in life is as a man or a woman.

The family is also the place in which the stability and unity of family life allows us to take risks knowing we are loved, valued and cared for unconditionally. It is the unit in which we learn mutual respect and develop a sense of justice, fairness, mutual support and respectful challenge. I’m sure you could add to this list, but I hope the point is made that we learn about ourselves, others and social interaction within the family, taking all we have learned there with us into the adult world. As the 2008 Summit report ‘Cohabitation, Marriage and Child Wellbeing’ from the National Marriage Project (see here) reminds us, children raised outside an intact marriage are much more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders, diseases, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and drug abuse. All the above considered, it is thus reasonable to conclude that marriage is indeed the bedrock or foundation of society.

Many today might claim marriage to be a social construct, others as the formal union of two persons who love each other, or yet others as the legalisation of a romantic relationship. Well, it may be a social construct in regard to its formalisation, but it is surely part of man’s nature: would not parents would stay together because both desired to protect and nurture their offspring? There may have been no formal marriage ceremony in the Stone Age, but surely parenting of their offspring was the natural response of both parents?

Traditional Catholics and others are often accused by liberals of holding to an ‘ideology’ of marriage that today’s society has outgrown; accused of failing to recognise that there are many types of ‘marriage’ and ‘family’. But Marriage and family are not an ‘ideology’ that Traditional Catholics unrelentingly hold to; Marriage is a union of life and love. Many people have no problem recognising a ‘love’ element: they will see it as feelings of affection for the other and the will to care for the other (thus they divorce if their romantic feelings are turned to another person or if they perceive themselves as being oppressed in the marriage and harmed rather than cared for.) When it comes to the sharing of ‘life’ however, they most often appear to mean ‘a lifetime’ or ‘a lifestyle’, and will end the ‘lifetime’ part if the ‘lifestyles’ begin to differ significantly and become ‘irreconcilable differences’.

But the sharing of life in marriage goes beyond the sharing of a lifestyle or a lifetime to the sharing of life itself; the sharing of one’s life-giving power for the procreation and rearing of offspring. Without the sharing of the life-potential the act of copulation is not so much a love-life as an act of lust-relieving. It is in this aspect of lust-relief that contraceptive sex and homosexual acts both run contrary to nature, since both make use of the procreative act in a way that eliminates its primary and unique purpose: that of procreation. (The Marriage of infertile couples is still true marriage because they are open to receiving new life; it is marriages entered into with a clear decision not to cooperate with the generation of new life that are a different matter). We often hear it said that the act is also used to bond the couple, and while that can of course be recognised as true, it is equally true that bonding can occur in other ways than by sex (we bond with parents, siblings and friends without engaging in sex acts with them), so sex is not to be seen as simply about bonding or used only for bonding).

Today the word ‘marriage’ is applied to the formalisation of all sorts of affectionate relationships: men and men; women and women, people with animals (here) and even people with buildings (here). The reality of marriage as a ‘sharing in life and love’ is not possible in these relationships, so they cannot be marriage, no matter who decides to label them as such -be that the Irish Government, the UK Government, the USA Government or the UN. While ‘marriage’ between a person and a building obviously excludes a sharing in the life of the other since it is ‘union’ with an inanimate, non-living object, so too is the union between persons of the same sex where all that can be shared is a lifestyle and a lifetime, not life itself (it cannot generate new life). And yes, homosexual pairings can share a lifetime and a lifestyle together, but they cannot share life with one another, anymore than a person can share life with a building or their budgerigar, for even though they share a living space and may share it for life, none of these pairings can generate new life. Adoption by a homosexual pair does not rectify the absence of new life since they rely upon the natural couple of male/female to ‘provide’ the child; it is not equivalent to adoption by an infertile couple where the natural reality of father, mother and child is replicated. 

Natural marriage and families should thus be protected and promoted as the bedrock of human society, for it is in the natural family alone that humanity recreates itself, sustains itself, nurtures itself and learns to live as a fair and caring society. Governments that allow all sorts of living arrangements to be labelled ‘marriage’ and ‘family’ have fallen prey to emotionalism rather than reason; they have become puppets to emotions rather than masters of reason. They claim to follow modern science but actually follow emotions, not biology. In praying for them I am not praying for greater intellects to lead us; I am asking God to “give us the wisdom that sits by your throne.” (Wisdom 9v4). It is not professional theologians that we need: these can lead us astray from Christ’s message when they subjugate defined Doctrine to their intellectual appraisal; what we need is the Wisdom of God, which is not synonymous with education: the old lady with rosary in hand can be far wiser than the theology professor who modernises doctrine to fit with the age. Yes, “We do talk of a wisdom, it is true, but not a philosophy of this age or of the masters of this age” (2 Cor.2v6-7). What we need is the true wisdom that comes from God; the Truth which sets us free from bondage to our pride and from acquiescing to our passions. Modern society has lost sight of wisdom and followed mere education. The former really ought not to have been excluded from the latter, but it was as soon as Rationalism invaded the Church and the Gospels subjected to methods of study that treated it merely as a piece of ancient literature and not as the word of God who “is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13v8). 

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