of marriageable age

My last post got me thinking about other factors involved in who is ‘allowed’ to marry in different times and places in human history.  One factor is age.

I want to note here that a) what many Christians would say on this issue would reflect (perhaps as it should in this case?) the cultural attitudes around them, b) there is probably no official ‘Christian’ or biblical numeric answer for it, and c) this is an area of morality which seems to be characterised by both binary, ‘either/or’ thinking (either pre or post puberty) and gradient, ‘from-to’ thinking (from less mature to more mature).

The prohibition (‘discrimination’?) regarding people being too young to marry, is (like the prohibitions about gender, related-ness, and number of people) a protective one.  Both the people involved (including their bodies) and the institution are being protected.  In the case of age, the young people are being protected, to be blunt, from their own immaturity.   Which leads to the next point.

The conversation (ethically and biblically) is about maturity.  Clearly we all can imagine the 50 year old fool who is utterly incompatible with even the thought of monogamy.  Like a rattlesnake which has not yet learned to conserve its venom and wastes it all on each bite, he or her has not matured to a point of self-control required to sustain fidelity in marriage.  Equally clearly, especially for those of us in contexts where the legal marriageable age is high (18 in New Zealand – 16 with parental consent), we may have known individuals who were technically under the age, but seemed beyond reasonable doubt to be easily mature enough for marriage.

Traditionally, in older contexts and less ‘developed’ (depending on your standards for what constitutes ‘development’!) contexts, the age for marriage clusters around biology – puberty.  Ability to bear children was and is linked to response-ability to raise those same children.  And fair enough too.  But this mention of responsibility raises a dynamic I find both interesting and worrying…  We seem to be sponsoring immaturity.

We rightly and understandably put off and absolve young people of responsibility until they are old enough, but ‘old enough’ seems to get older and older the more ‘developed’ the context is.  In simple ‘primitive’ cultures, maturity comes earlier because the convenience of delayed responsibility is absent.  The 13 year old is a valuable asset to the family’s sustainability, and must “chop wood and carry water” if they are to survive.  Our teenagers whine about having to put the dishes in the dishwasher.  Which one is ready for marriage?

just do it – a lot

All is/ought distinctions and naturalistic fallacies aside, whilst monogamy does occur in some non-human species, apparently humans have a evolutionary and biological predisposition of sorts to polygamy.

But is this really newsworthy?  Even the most prudish of “just lay there and think of the queen” conservatives would admit off the record to the fact that being married to one person doesn’t remove all attraction to all other potential mating partners.  Yet again, science is giving us technical and detailed accounts of what we already knew.  We like sex.  We like sex a lot.  We like a lot of sex.  Which is good news for the pornography and prostitution industries, though perhaps not for monogamy.

If both the above science and near-universal human experience is correct, then monogamy necessarily always involves a kind of saying ‘no’ to a desire that is as natural and normative as it gets.  There are two interesting points of relevance here for the current global discussion of same-sex marriage.

1) Legal same-sex marriage and legal multi-marriage are logically related.  It is hardly ‘scaremongering’ to point out that polygamy is the next step in the current progression, if not one of the next steps.  There is no shortage of online pro-polygamy groups which have been arguing for its legality for years (and plenty of challenging of other ‘no-marriage-for-you’ lines un-challenged in the currently proposed legislation).  Methinks that those pushing for the law change don’t want to talk for too long on this point, so they play the ‘scaremongering’ (or religious ‘fear’) card as quickly as possible.

2) Saying no to sexual desires may not be so inhumane after all.  If indeed the natural tendency toward polygamy is there in the vast majority of humans, then the widespread monogamous habit of routinely dousing of the flames of desire for multiple sex-partners is infinitely more backwards and sexually repressive in scope and number than expecting a relatively small percentage of the population to do the same with (homosexual) desires which are arguably just as natural, though incredibly less common.

But of course I do not think that sexual self-control is repressive or backwards.  Neither do I think that sexual expression (or marriage for that matter) is some kind of thing that makes you human – and therefore is a ‘right’.  All this goes directly against messages both implicit and explicit in movies, media and advertising whose suggestion is hardly a gentle one: namely that to err is virgin, and to get it on is divine.

And the church doesn’t help much either.  Marriage is on such a pedestal that single people feel like unfortunate, illegitimate, inconvenient accessories accompanying we normal married folk.  We need to affirm those who are both single and celibate as being just as human as any other.

on the word ‘marriage’

All over the world, the word ‘marriage’ is being redefined.  Here in NZ it’s a peaking issue.  A friend of mine just shared a status that threatened de-friending if they didn’t act according to their views.  And when people threaten to de-friend, you know it’s huge…  So I wanted to take a post to clarify what I think and believe about not just the word ‘marriage’, but what it describes – or has up until recently.   But first, a mamby-pamby, wishy-washy, soft liberal (MPWWSL) comment about my take on politics.

((Begin MPWWSL comment: The kingdom of God, as taught (and inaugurated) by Jesus, is not merely a personal/private ‘kingdom in my heart’.  It is also political in scope.  Having said this, Jesus didn’t lead marches against Rome to get them to change their laws. ((Though, for example, Jews of the day would have been happy to edit the Pax Romana if they’d been given the chance))  Being ‘conservative’ (as I am on many issues) doesn’t mean that you automatically want to force your religion upon others via legislation.  Having said that, the slogan “You can’t legislate morality!” rings hollow, for everything is moral.  Show me an area of law that is amoral.  The point is that, whatever you are aiming for, social transformation a) takes time and patience, and b) happens at a level deeper than law.  So whilst you will find (below) a blog post on my (relatively conservative) views of marriage, you’ll not find me marching down a street against same-sex marriage.  And you will also find me opposing any marginalisation or persecution of gay individuals, who are paradoxically some of the most popular and at the same time most ostracised people in modern western society.  End MPWWSL comment))

So here are my thoughts on the word ‘marriage’:

Firstly, however defined, it should be obvious that whilst it is obviously one of the most basic and important human institutions, being married is not what makes a person human.  Non-married people are just as human as married people.  This, to me, makes it hard to frame ‘gay marriage’ as a human rights issue.  Whilst I can appreciate the strong desire (and hurt feelings) of those who want to legally call their relationship a ‘marriage’, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about the definition and use of a word here, not a withholding of fundamental rights that denies anyone their humanity.

Secondly, the word ‘discrimination’ is used a lot, and all I’ll say is that let’s remember that in all kinds of decisions we make in life, ‘discrimination’ is both a good and bad thing.  Strictly related to marriage, we rightly ‘discriminate against’ people wanting to marry who are too closely related or not of what we deem (rightly or wrongly) to be a sufficient age, or want to marry multiple people, etc.  It is not scare-mongering to ask the question: “Why not polygamy?”  If the only requirement for getting married is consent, then it seems a perfectly valid question.

Thirdly, all agree marriage is a ‘union’.  Vague enough for mass agreement.  Tick.  All (except zoophiliacs) agree between two people. Tick. But now the debate is over whether it must be only between a ‘man and a woman’.  The key shift here, which is almost never stated, is that the ‘marriage union’ referred to a conjugal (‘with-joined’) and ‘consummated’ (‘with-completed’) relational state.  Indeed, whilst this is not an argument in itself, in some places, marriages that are not completed via ‘consummation’, that is, sexual intercourse, or coitus, can be annulled on this basis.  This signals the bond (pun intended) between marriage and intercourse.  To state the obvious, whatever ‘sexual’ activity they engage in, same sex couples  are  not naturally equipped for the specific, singular, consummating, conjugal, and thus ‘marrying’ act of sexual intercourse.  This observation is hardly ‘discrimination’ in the pejorative sense.  It’s merely an observation that two humans of the same sex cannot – biologically – have a conjugal, consummated union.  This is why you will sometimes see quote-marks around the word marriage when it follows same-sex (i.e. same-sex ‘marriage’).  It is a (perhaps unhelpfully?) short-hand way of summarising the view that same-sex conjugal unions are not physically possible. Interestingly, this sense of the word ‘union’ would also have relevance for ‘civil unions’ as well.  Nonetheless, the issues here are inescapably semantic, so patience is called for.  However much I (or others who make these points) might empathise with those whose semantic desire is to use the word ‘marriage’ of their same-sex relationships, I cannot pretend that I’m not aware of the above. ((This is a helpful and detailed and conservative treatment: http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/GeorgeFinal.pdf))

Finally, there is the question of adoption, and I agree it is very much a part of the discussion.  A very clued-up gay friend of mine recently related to me over coffee his summation of research on best parenting combinations for children, that biological parents provide the most stable child-rearing environment, of course including that committed gay couples were better than (it would seem obvious to me?) a single parent with little community support.  But again, it seems uncontroversial to me that biological parents are best. ((someone can critique the sources cited in the bibliography here: http://www.acpeds.org/Homosexual-Parenting-Is-It-Time-For-Change.html))  Now, I don’t know what this spectrum from best to worst means for legislation.  Honestly.  I have no problem saying that a committed, socially stable gay couple would do a better job parenting than an uncommitted, criminal couple, whether gay or straight.  It does seem helpful, however, to delineate these qualifiers, though.  Committed is better than uncommitted.  Socially stable is preferable to criminal.  And biological parents are to be desired over a gay couple.  I think my gay friend would agree to these last few sentences.  The question remains, which qualifiers should be enough to lawfully un-qualify a couple for adoption rights?  A criminal record? Obviously.  Being gay?  Hardly obvious.  A useful solution might be for the birth mother (if possible – or the closest kin) to decide – which I think might be the current law in NZ.

So that’s quite enough words from me on the word ‘marriage’.  I’m a relatively conservative Christian, but with a liberal heart for real people with real emotions and feelings and desires, and most of all I want to see people discuss it patiently and honestly.  And frankly, I see more heat and aggression coming from the pro-gay-marriage side than the other side.  Certainly that was the case this morning on Breakfast when Labour MP Louisa Wall got more than a little incensed at Family First’s Bob McCoskrie.  Social justice does warrant bringing heat.  But again, over the definition and use of a word?  I’m not convinced the heat is necessary here?

None of the above, has touched (directly) the related issue of the morality of homosexual behaviour. My intent is that the above is stated in a way such that a homosexual – or homosexuality affirming – person could agree, and that therefore any discussion below will focus on the issue of the definition of marriage, and not on the ethics of homosexuality.

adversarial self-righteousness

((What I’m about to describe happens not all the time, but enough to notice it…))

Christians are not only against things, we are also for things.  (Indeed, for everything you are for, you are therefore against anything that hinders what you are for!)  Nonetheless, because of the Christian conviction that the Creator is for wise, loving, creative order in the cration, for two-millenia, Christians have been against all manner of things they see in the world, which they see as falling short of the order that God designs and desires to be brought to bear upon the creation: violence, slavery, abortion, unjust pay for workers, various kinds of sexual behaviour (sex with those who are: too related [incest], too young [paedophilia], too similar in bodily sex [homosexuality], not willing [rape], etc.), cruelty to animals, pollution, anarchy (and it’s equal opposite evil, oppressive dictatorships), greed, sloth, etc., etc.

In the old back-and-forth between the Church and State (‘the World’), there have been two main areas of BOTH disagreement AND agreement:

a) ethics: what is right and wrong (i.e. what we should be for, and therefore also against)

b) politics: how to wisely govern and order society (including how to promote/legislate in ways that promote this)

Sometimes the Church & State agree happily, and ‘religion in public’ is not a problem to most.  Other times, the clash drives people to try to force religion into private life.  And it’s different in different times.  William Wilberforce fought the slave trade against much opposition.  Now both Church and State oppose it happily.  Church opposition to drunkenness is often met with groans against self-righteousness, etc.  Recently (certainly in NZ as seen in various mainstream media), however, ‘problem’ or ‘binge’ drinking has a level of opposition that is very high.  Sometimes it goes the other way.  The list of times, places and issues could go on.

My main observation here is that it is not only the Christians who (at times) look down their nose at ‘the World’ in self-righteous moral superiority.  The ‘world’ often repays them in kind.  Whatever one’s views on sexuality and marriage are, it is not hard to see, at present, a posture of more-moral-than-thou, more-modern-and-progressive-than-thou directed from (much of) ‘the world’ to (most of) the Church.  Whether it is Facebook interaction or a survey of MPs, there is a ‘name and shame’ methodology that seeks to identify and villainise anyone who disagrees with popular cultural leanings on this topic.

This posture of adversarial self-righteousness, whether in Christians or otherwise,never helps when it comes to a) discussing an issue, or b) making a difference in society.  ‘Nuff said.

pre-marital what?

It has been said before that “______”s (insert whatever Christian denomination you wish to pick on) are against pre-marital sex because it might lead to dancing… :)

But on a more serious note, the topic of ‘pre-marital sex’ (a.k.a. ‘sex before marriage’) is an interesting one.  Many Christians can assume that there is a specific verse in the Bible forbidding it…

There is no such verse.

But really, there is no such thing (as we shall see) as pre-marital sex, either… Continue reading “pre-marital what?”