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Friday, January 30, 2015

Marriage, the Church, the State, and the Family

Here are some general responses from me to some of the arguments offered among the 65 responses to the post:
1) Don’t jump to conclusions. I have here advocated for legal, government-recognized civil unions with “marriage” being given back by the state to churches, synagogues and other religious and non-profit organizations to define for themselves. People who wish to call their civil unions (which would, in my plan, extend to any two consenting adults the same legal rights marriage currently entails) “marriage” certainly could. Nobody could stop them. However, churches (for example) and individuals would decide for themselves what they recognize as true marriage without any ability to hinder the full rights of civil unions. Gay people (for example) who want more than that could easily find churches, synagogues, etc., to marry them, but that would add nothing to their civil union in the eyes of the government. At the same time, churches, synagogues, etc. would have full rights to marry people without civil unions if they wish. Whether they did or not (in my plan) would be up to them. This is basically an extension of separation of church and state. [...]
3) Many of the allegedly purely rational reasons given here for maintaining legal hindrances to plural marriage and incest (as I defined and qualified them) did not live up to my standards of “purely rational reasons.” They appealed to such things as “yuk factors” and social convention and legal complications. Only the last path of reasoning has some credibility for distinguishing between rational reasons for legalizing gay marriage and legalizing polygamy and incest (as I described and qualified them). However, what people who offered that line of reasoning failed to notice is that many laws have evolved to accommodate personal freedoms and liberties and that will continue. The same reasoning was used by opponents of relaxed divorce laws–that the resulting avalanche of divorces would over burden family course, require massive changes in existing laws, create problems for families, etc., etc. None of those arguments stopped states from adjusting their marriage and divorce laws to permit relatively easy and relatively cheap, quick divorces. The result has been a huge problem for children and for government entities saddles with attempts to get parents to support their children after divorce. But “personal freedom” trumped all those challenges. Advocates of legal plural marriage could make the same argument based on that precedent–that personal freedom trumps the challenges granting them would offer to lawmakers and enforcers. [...]
4) I am personally opposed to plural marriage and incest–for non-natural, non-secular reasons. However, in fact, I don’t believe any reasoning supporting social policy and law is ever totally tradition-free or neutral. I agree with moderate postmodern philosophers who argue that all reasoning is tradition-based. Currently, we are in a conflict in America between two (and more) traditions–the broad Judeo-Christian tradition shared by most churches and synagogues and the purely secular, naturalistic tradition supported by many people who have cut themselves totally free from the Judeo-Christian tradition and opted for maximal personal liberty as the highest value. In between those two traditions is one that might be called “communitarian,” but I think it is unstable and will eventually have to appeal to supra-rational beliefs [...].
5) I am also opposed to gay marriage; I believe marriage is meant by God to be between a man and a woman and permanent (with some exceptions). [...] However, I also believe many other things based on the New Testament and do not believe all of them should be enforced by law. On the other hand, I fear where family life is headed in Europe and America. Our emphasis on personal, individual freedom and liberty without tradition’s balancing emphasis on community and responsibility to others may lead eventually to the abolition of family altogether. (My daughter’s middle school “Family Studies” teacher defined “family” as “Any group of people who care for each other.” Indeed. [...] Eventually “family” becomes compatible with anything and everything and becomes meaningless [...]).
I can understand where he's coming from, and I respect that he makes a clear distinction between secular and religious spheres vis-a-vis human relationships. I actually agree with his vision for the future of legal marriage - I'm a big proponent of separation of Church and State. That said, I clearly think his personal feelings at the end are hyperbolic. If he accedes to the modern, citizen logic that children of sexually and physically abusive families have a right to emancipate themselves, and that those who genuinely care for them have more right to be their guardians, then he already accepts that family should be based on virtue, not on blood.

Do you know who put family above law? The early ancient Greeks, where the head of a household could do anything he pleased with his women and children, where murders inside the family were handled internally, and where crimes upon another family were resolved through vengeance and not through law. Athena's compromise with the Furies at the end of The Oresteia is about the ascendance of law over vengeance. The Greek state was created to subdue that social chaos.

And what about all of Jesus' calls to reject one's family for the brotherhood of Christians? The transition toward modernity has always been about universalizing, about transcending flesh for the sake of virtue. It only makes sense that family should be based on familial behavior, and not only on blood. One cannot read the new testament and see any other kind of message. Jesus was not trying to build a cul-de-sac of single family homes with white picket fences and 2.5 kids, he was trying to build a radically new, egalitarian society. Do you know the original version of "blood is thicker than water?" It was actually "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of birth"; blood brothers are closer than real brothers.

Families have been defined in many different ways by many different cultures. His daughter's class's definition of family makes sense when one is trying to be general enough to include step-family, adoption, foster care, group marriages, and all these other things that many cultures even in ancient times would have considered family households. The 1950s idea of family is simplistic, and reflects only a tiny moment in history. I think he should give communitarianism a bit more credit.

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