Sunday, May 04, 2014

The future of marriage?

Well, this was predictable. A group of three American women have "married" each other and are now expecting a baby.

I don't know on what basis liberal moderns can object to this. If marriage is understood to be a public commitment ceremony only, then any conceivable configuration of marriage can take place (why not three men?).

The alternative (traditional) understanding sees marriage as a uniting of distinct and complementary masculine and feminine persons, as an embodiment of faithful love, and for the lifelong purposes of conceiving and raising children and maintaining an intergenerational link of family.

It is from this particular understanding of marriage that marriage becomes something that involves two persons only; that it becomes exclusive; and that it has a lifelong character.

You can't take away the traditional understanding and then expect marriage to retain the same characteristics that it once had.


  1. I think you're right that this was predictable, and that it is difficult to see how liberal moderns can object to it. But how do traditionalist Christians object to it either?

    These women are asking the question, How can I become intimate and close with other women? How can I be a part of the next generation? How can I see something of myself live on after death? etc.

    Liberals give them a sort-of answer: marry and fake-make babies. And traditionalists rightly point out that a.) marriage is the wrong institution for what you want to do, and b.) uh, you can't make babies this way.

    But do traditionalists tell these ladies the much better way they can realize their desires? No, they don't. They act grossed out by what these women want and tell them there is no way for them to realize what they're after.

    Hypocrites! You traditionalists complain that liberals do not care for your desires, do not care that sexual egalitarianism is eroding what you find attractive and sexually fulfilling about the opposite sex, and you are right to expect that liberals should care about the desires of you yourselves, their brothers. But what about you traditionalists? Do you care about the desires of the liberals, of these ladies? No.

    You expect them to give you precisely the consideration you steadfastly refuse to give them.

    Why should I or anyone else care about your fulfillment and happiness when you do not care about the fulfillment and happiness of the least of these?

    1. Bartholomew,

      If I thought this was just about people fulfilling their desires, then I would be on much weaker ground. I suppose I could still argue that the ability of the majority to fulfil their desires was being harmed by the attempts of the minority to do so. But people who think in terms of fulfilling desires mostly assume that the majority usually get their way and the minority should therefore be the protected - it is assumed that the majority are naturally "privileged" in this way and should therefore give way. So, as I said, it is shaky ground.

      The question is not just "what do I desire?" but "how do I realise the higher part of my created nature?". What is the proper telos in the life of a man and a woman? In other words, I have to guide my own development along an understanding of what my higher nature and purposes are.

      None of us do this perfectly as individuals. Humans are subject to all kinds of pressures and life events which knock us off course. We do need to be a bit humble in what we can expect.

      Even so, an institution as basic as marriage ought to be modelled on what that ordered form of human development is.

      You might ask, reasonably enough, where that leaves people who have been left distant from marriage, such as those who are same sex attracted. I don't think there's an easy answer for a traditionalist like myself for this. We have to steer a course between, on the one hand, upholding the expression of gender and sexuality that we hold to be the intended form of development that we are to guide ourselves along and, on the other hand, have a human sympathy for those who, for whatever reason, haven't developed in that way.

      At one time in the West, the solution was for an acceptance of discreet homosexual behaviour, but not to recognise it as equal. Obviously, that fell to demands for equal acceptance. But I have to tell you, Bartholomew, I don't think it is equal, any more than I recognise that all forms of heterosexuality you find out there are equal to each other.

      If I'm really pressed to give an answer it would go something like this:

      a) I believe, for their sake as much as anything, that it is to be regretted if a woman is no longer able to find a sexual attraction to a man.

      b) If she is really going to live via homosexual attraction, it is better for society if it is done privately and discretely.

      c) If society really is going to make it public and open, then it should not be considered the basis for marriage, as this institutional acceptance then destroys the understanding of what traditional marriage is

      d) I cannot accept the deliberate creation of either fatherless or motherless families. Therefore, I do not believe that same sex attracted women should become mothers, no matter how strong the instinct to become a mother might be.

      As I wrote in the post, if we really come to accept as a society that what matters is that people can fulfil their desires, and that there is no form of marriage that represents an objective good and that we should discipline ourselves to, then we are going to have to face up to a very different future than the one we expect. It is certainly not possible to run traditional marriage on this basis - as anyone who has been married knows, this form of marriage at its best is very rewarding but it does require forms of self-discipline and self-sacrifice for a good, that the new understanding of marriage no longer recognises.

  2. This sort of thing is why Muslims in the West support leftists. Once you've accepted gay polygamy you can't object to Muslim polygamy. The leftist useful idiots who supported it can be eliminated later.

  3. I agree with you that marriage should not be made to be about the fulfillment of whatever desires a person may have. The end of that is marrying a houseplant if a person loves it enough. Or three women, in this case.

    Our first disagreement lies in what marriage ought to mean. You say that marriage is the sole venue in which the "uniting of distinct and complementary masculine and feminine persons, an [the?] embodiment of faithful love, and for the lifelong purposes of conceiving and raising children and maintaining an intergenerational link of family" can occur. You even imply that in marriage alone the "telos in the life of a man or woman" is realized and that love itself finds in marriage its apotheosis.

    Mr. Richardson, this is too much weight for any human relationship to bear. It's no wonder that the divorce rate is so high and, paradoxically, that everyone wants to marry. You traditionalists have, together with the world, made marriage into the earthly realization of ultimate love. Who would be content to forgo that (hence "gay marriage")? And who would ever be satisfied to stay in their marriage if it turns out to deliver anything less (hence the high divorce rate)? I have two female family members, raised with traditional Christian values, who have divorced, not because of liberal autonomy theory (beyond the generic version everyone believes) but because of the marriage-as-ultimate-love fantasy that you yourself have promoted.

    Marriage just isn't all that. It's about procreation. Full stop. It should be imbued with love like any relationship, not the sole embodiment of love itself. Marriage may be the vehicle of a great love. Or, it may not be. Great loves can and do also occur outside marriage and they are no less and no way inferior to loves inside marriage precisely because all are still love. Have you traditionalists never read what David said of Jonathan when he died? And what of your own Catholic priests who never marry? Do they fail to reach the "proper telos in the life of a man"? Let's speak plainly: you're saying that they aren't real men because they aren't married men. This denies them too much: unmarried men forgo children, not manhood!

    You wrote, "As I wrote in the post, if we really come to accept as a society that what matters is that people can fulfill their desires, and that there is no form of marriage that represents an objective good..."

    I agree with you that a lot of evil can come from mindless, self-gratification, which seems to be the answer that the Left is promoting and that you have laid bare.

    I think our second disagreement lies in what to do about unusual desires. Your answer seems to be suppression. My answer is creative, righteous fulfillment. Which answer, yours or mine, fulfills better the Second Greatest Commandment? I mean, what would you want people to do for you, if God forbid, you found yourself with a love you didn't understand in your heart?

    I am just as determined as you are to protect marriage from becoming yet another conduit for people to use and abuse for their own gratification. I agree that "gay marriage" makes no sense. I disagree that the loves of those who want to use marriage in this way are intrinsically disordered. Love is never disordered. We just need to help them find a righteous way to live it out. And I haven't seen traditionalists doing too much of this. That's where my critique of your post comes from.

    1. Bartholomew (part 1)

      First, I do appreciate you taking the trouble to argue the points here. It's unusual to have real debate on these issues.

      Your first argument is that my definition of marriage represents too high an ideal and therefore sets people up for failure or disappointment.

      One thing I want to clarify is that I don't believe that marriage is the only conduit for fulfilling our telos - in fact, I have lamented the fact that it is often treated as such in modern culture.

      Our masculine personalities were made for the roles of husband and father, but also for leadership within a community. It is a weak aspect of modern Western culture that manhood has been narrowed down not only to the paternal role, but to the breadwinning aspect of this role. Our particular strengths as men are needed not only to uphold our families but also our communities.

      I disagree too that my definition of marriage makes it "the ultimate love fantasy". Marriage is one (very significant) form of faithful love - of fidelity. This is not about a constant emotional buzz, but about how we are oriented to our spouse - we are to be turned to our spouse in a way that promotes an intimate relationship with them.

      The problem with your female family members is not that they held a traditional view, but that they do not hold a sufficiently traditional view. A lot of modernist women, Christian or otherwise, have not been raised with the understanding of fidelity that I have tried to explain. They have a passively romantic view that the man is going to do it for them emotionally - they don't understand what is actively required from their side of the relationship. Modern society never talks about it; women are educated these days for other things and other concerns.

      I can't accept the definition that marriage is simply about procreation. First, this too allows any kind of permutation and combination of marital partners. Why, for instance, shouldn't I have five wives and 30 children if marriage is about procreation? Or what if my wife has less than optimal fertility? Am I then justified in divorcing her?

      Even more importantly, I just don't think the procreation definition, by itself, really captures what a marriage is. In traditional wedding ceremonies we are asked to love and to cherish our spouse. Marriage does express something significant within the human experience of love. And it's best not to ignore this - when both the husband and wife are committed to it, then a happy marriage is likely to result; a marriage where the only firm commitment is to having children could easily become a living hell.

    2. Bartholomew (part 2),

      Finally, there is the question of what to do about unusual desires. I think we have to be careful here. Heterosexuals can have unusual desires - the erotic is a powerful impulse, one that can be rewarding and uplifting, but also one that can run away with people, or that can express jaded impulses, or that can even be degrading. So we have to use our mind and heart to keep the erotic within certain paths.

      I don't think it's as easy as saying that "love is never disordered". In my friendship circle at university there were many same sex attracted people. At one level, the love they felt may well have been the kind of love you are talking about. But at the same time, there was another level at which it fell below the instinct toward a faithful, exclusive love that is the heterosexual ideal. I won't go into details, but the level of casual promiscuity and the sexual compulsiveness wasn't exactly impressive - and that was in very young people whom you might expect to still hold to youthful ideals.

      What if I were to feel this kind of sexual attraction? I really don't know how to answer this. I can say, intellectually, what I would hope, namely that the rational part of my mind would insist that nature intended for men and women to couple and that I would therefore suppress the inclination. But how can I say for sure how I would act in that situation? Perhaps if I really couldn't find an attraction to women, I would pursue other important ways to express the better part of my nature and make my contribution to my community.

    3. "but the level of casual promiscuity and the sexual compulsiveness wasn't exactly impressive"

      Promiscuity and sexual compulsiveness express love for what, exactly? A person or one's own appetites? I guess I should have been more precise that when I said "love is never disordered", I meant that love for the good in another person is never disordered. The only question then is how to express that love in a way that is oriented toward the other person's and one's own good. Promiscuity and mindless satisfaction of one's own appetites is obviously not oriented toward any one's good.

  4. If I might make one more point, I think that traditionalists have done an excellent job of pointing out why the individual's desire cannot become the sole basis for social organization, policy and, well, right and wrong.

    I think the reason traditionalists aren't ruling right now (because their point is so powerfully self-evident) is that they have not yet found a way to deal satisfactorily with the individual's desire. Yes, it doesn't mean everything. But no one is going to accept that it means nothing. Who wants to live with a dead heart inside? How do traditionalists help the marginalized, the fringe, etc. to live happy, productive, fulfilled lives without simply turning our whole society over to them? If traditionalists spent a little more time answering these questions which our ruling liberals actually care about, well, maybe they might be more willing to listen to traditionalists' warnings against false answers such as gay marriage, mass immigration, sexual egalitarianism, etc. They cling to these false answers because there aren't any others. Why not start offering some real alternatives?

    1. Bartholomew,

      I don't think it's true that traditionalists think that an individual's desire means nothing. What I do think is true is that traditionalism does tend to be reactive to liberalism. Liberalism has been the one to set change in motion; the logic of liberal first principles then threatens institutions that traditionalists find important; and so traditionalists end up spending a lot of time arguing reactively against the liberal attacks on these institutions. Sometimes in the process we fail to take the time to present the positive values that we ourselves are moved by.

  5. We can start by not gratuitously referencing these radical female liberationists as "women" or "ladies." What they desire is to "love" whomever they please and thus there does not exist in these radicals' mind either the right things to love nor things that one must love. Loyalty is optional and so these phony "throuples" are doomed to failure.

  6. Marriage has been destroyed by divorce, serial monogamy and other ills. No wonder the illegitimacy rate is 40-50% in many Western countries already, and rising.

  7. Libertarian-Marxist Brendan O'Neill criticises the sacralisation of homosexuality & now gay marriage -

    1. That's a really interesting link, not least because it is so difficult to categorise the writer politically.

    2. I agree. There isn't even really an "I disagree with what traditionalists say, but I defend their right to say it" vibe. I find the Spiked! Marxists really hard to pin down. They are anti-Environmentalist, they favour classical Marxist ideas of progress through industry. And they are anti immigration restriction. But they also seem to favour organic communities over Liberal-Capitalist atomisation.

    3. Simon,

      Yes, and once you favour organic communities over Liberal-Capitalist atomisation then other things follow (i.e. you start to think about what it takes to uphold such communities).

  8. Reading my comments above, someone might get the idea that I'm supporting this "marriage." Nothing could be further from the truth. These three women are making a laughing stock out of marriage.

    If these women were three nuns raising kids in an orphanage they'd opened up, I would commend them. Since they are parodying a family and effectively telling their child, Families can have a mom and a dad, or two moms, or two dads, or three moms! they are lying to that child. The whole thing just looks wrong.

  9. Is it any wonder there is a shortage of sperm donors? Between not having veto power over who gets to use your sperm (could be a single mother!) and having absolutely no power over whether to be identified to the child when they turn 18, it's not surprising that there's a shortage of sperm donors.
    Don't worry though, the shortage for ALL donations (be they for traditional couples, lesbian couples or single women even) is being eased by gay men.
    Whether your belief is nature or nurture as far as homosexuality, either way the leftists have a way to increase their numbers, either through biology (gay males' sperm) or through up-bringing (lesbian mothers).

  10. Part of the reason for a shortage of sperm donors, at least in the US, is the horrible legal climate. Women have pushed for, and received, the right to retroactive child support. They've also pushed for the right of children to void the privacy of parents who give their children up for adoption, which no doubt will eventually be applied to sperm donors. Since paternity has strict liability (if you are identified it doesn't matter how your sperm was obtained), this creates vast financial liability for donors. Some recent nasty cases where some lesbian parents (I have no idea why gay men think lesbians are their allies) voided their agreement (which the damn fool donors thought was legally binding) not to pursue child support have only worsened things.