Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Why Secular Reasons for Marriage Fail
Why get married? What are the reasons for marriage?
These questions are important in light of the recent debate surrounding homosexual marriage. Of course, the issue for many revolves around individual rights, but what are those rights based upon? In the U.S., of course, those rights are the U.S. Constitution, especially the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So where does marriage fall? What is the purpose of marriage?
Secular reasoning in this area falls far short.
First, there is, what I call, the biological, evolutionary, social construct model. Marriage evolved as an institution to provide a safer environment for the care of children. For the survival of our species, especially since our young take much longer to develop to the point where they can take care of ourselves, a stable environment was needed to ensure this could happen. Since it took a male and a female to produce offspring, emotional attachments evolved between the two so they would be better able to care for their children long term.
In our day and age, this raises some problematic issues: what happens if a couple cannot or chooses not to have children? What happens when children are raised and are on their own? Is the purpose of marriage then relegated to the trash bin? In our time and place, this model falls short.
Second, there is, what I call, the emotional satisfaction/fulfillment model. I define this as individuals entering into a social agreement for mutual companionship which fulfills emotional needs. As people we need both our individualism AND relationship. Marriage gives us an avenue to fulfill those relational needs with another person who we enjoy being with and receive a sense of wholeness with.
The problematic issues arise in a couple of areas: 1. What happens when individuals no longer sense fulfillment with the person they are currently married to? The answer for couples who believe marriage falls within this category is divorce. We know divorce has devastating effects on people. More than a few times I have heard people comment, "Divorce is like death, but worse." The emotional toll is terrible often leading to resentment of another person, resentment of the opposite sex, and emotional barriers which prevent deep friendships/relationships. And this is if children are not involved. If there are children, a whole 'nother can of worms is opened.
Of course, there are amenable divorces, and people are often free, and they do pursue more relationships and marriages. In fact, a statistic often cited--50% of all marriages end in divorce--is somewhat misleading because quite a few of those divorces are committed by people who have married, divorced, remarried, and divorced again. Why? The basis of their marriages is self-fulfillment, and once the sense of this is gone with one individual, it's time to move on to another.
2. What are the limits on such self-fulfillment and emotional satisfaction? If marriage is simply about self-fulfillment and the need for emotional companionship, why limit such fulfillment to two individuals? Is there then an argument against polygamy? Further, is there an argument against an incestuous marriage? If a two individuals are not going to have children, and a they get a great sense of self-fulfillment in their relationship even though they are closely related, what does it matter? Prohibitions against polygamy and incest vanish.
Third, there is the economic benefit model to marriage. When people get married, they enjoy certain legal benefits. This is all well and good, but again, what are the limits on who and how many persons an individual marries? If economics drives the reasons to get married, we run into the same issues as number 2 above. There is no reasonable basis to deny polygamous or incestuous relationships.
Now, if a person is comfortable with polygamy, incest, and higher divorce rates, then the personal/self-fulfillment model and the economic models could be considered decent secular reasons for marriage. However, if such things are abhorrent--in the case of polygamy and incest or something to be lessened because of the emotional toll it exacts on people and children, then there are no good secular reasons for marriage.
In fact, for people of faith, the reason for marriage runs much deeper, and I have discussed this before here. Yet, such commentary is often left out of the public debate over marriage. It is unfortunate, in my estimation, because relegating this debate to only secular arguments leaves quite a bit to be desired.