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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Marriage, Personhood, and Al

"I'll answer for Al: marriage is whatever the state says it is."

Bingo! It's also more than that but that is for those who freely attach themselves to the various dispensations. Marriage is a cultural creation that is highly malleable.

Al, I hope you realize that your frank admission here slams the door on any possibility of dialogue with you and your tribe. Before saying adios, let's try just one more experiment in a final effort to discover some common ground.

Statement: "A person is whatever the state says it is."

Question: Agree or disagree? If you agree, the party's over. If you disagree, please tell me what a person is, how you know this, and why marriage is a creature of the state while personhood is not.

I suspect that our commenter Thomas Aquinas has you nicely pegged:

"So, we are now back to liberal superstition. The belief that history is moving in an inexorably moral direction except when it's not moving in an inexorably moral direction ... I get it. You want what you want when you want it, and principles are nice fictions to dupe the suckers."

Comments (69)

I seem to have missed a discussion someplace. However, Robert George has done a really fantastic number on Al's argument. See here. There are also several follow-ups, responses to various critics, here, here, here, and here.

George's article is not, I don't think, a complete refutation of Al's position. It is, however, an excellent discussion and a quite sound observation that the people who take Al's position have essentially no basis for making arguments about marriage one way or the other.

Thanks, Titus. I would say that they have no basis for making arguments about anything else, either. Their only argument is power.

God bless you Jeff C.!

I'm so glad you pulled that comment from our friend, "the dumb ox", but I also wanted to highlight this delightful summary of al's beliefs:

"Liberalism is homeless emotivism in a rationalist's tuxedo."

The saint himself couldn't have said it better.


This is quite a vindictive blog post. It seems the primary purpose is to ridicule a commenter by name.

Oh, Mark, Al can take it. He's a strong and tough fellow. You really needn't worry about him.

I don't quite understand, if marriage is whatever the state says it is, on what basis one criticizes the present or some past marriage law. On what basis then were anti-miscegenation laws _wrong_, for example?

Oh, Mark, Al can take it. He's a strong and tough fellow. You really needn't worry about him.

Well fine, but the the post has no links or a short summary or anything for context so people could know whether what Jeff is attributing to Al is a paraphrase of his view that he'd accept, which is the "single most important skill for any sort of intellectually honest argumentation" as Steve has helpfully pointed out. The way the post goes from "I'll answer for Al: . . ." to "Al, I hope you realize that your frank admission here . . ." is puzzling.

Um, Mark, the block quotation is Al himself. Here

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/01/what_will_you_say_rationally_t.html#comment-157981

Look, it's perfectly legitimate to assume that readers follow, and we've just been having this huge, on-going discussion in which Al happily and loudly agreed that marriage is whatever the state says it is. If someone wanted to say, "I'm new to this blog and wasn't following the earlier discussion. Could you provide a link so that I could read it?" I'm sure Jeff would have been happy to comply. But he isn't doing anything unfair or mean. Really. Lighten up. It's a _good_ thing on blogs to take discussions with readers and use them to start new threads. It keeps the conversation fresh and makes it easier for people not to have to scroll through a very long, long thread on a previous post.

I get that Lydia, thanks for the link. Sorry I didn't use the magic words.

Mark, I was a bit rushed when I posted this. I should have linked to the discussion and provided more context. Mea culpa. Jeff S., thanks for the kind words and for reposting TA's spot-on aphorism. Lydia, thanks for putting out the fire in my absence. Again. ;-)

If the state dictates what everything is—and the state is merely a collection of people (thus the powerful get to decide for everyone)—it seems like Al would have a tough time accounting for moral reformers. By default, the minority position is always wrong. Right?

I haven't "researched" Al's views on marriage or anything else for that matter. But I'm tempted to repeat that the social democratic (or liberal) state has appointed itself as a moral guide in questions of "what ought to be done" or what sentiments we ought to entertain with respect to marriage and much more, that were, within living memory, left to the independent judgment of individuals.

How the state became a liberal despotism which has assumed, or tried to assume, ultimate responsibility for shaping human institutions and solving the moral problems of its citizens, is an interesting question. The answer goes beyond blaming the mere "treason of intellectuals" and indicts democracy itself, I think.

Al's statement that marriage is what the state says it is is self-defeating foolishness. The traditional family of dad, mom, and the kids is the basic building block of the community. If the state tries to distort or destroy the traditional meaning of family, it ends up destroying itself. The promotion of so-called gay pride or the protection of sodomy by criminalizing criticism by so-called 'hate crime' laws is a sign of this self-destrction.

Mark whined, This is quite a vindictive blog post. It seems the primary purpose is to ridicule a commenter by name.

I'd prefer the public stockade, where we could throw fruits and vegetables at him and mock him.

Just who or what is this thing called the State? What particular base of wisdom combined with morality validates their control over what marriage is and if having done so, how long does the new standard last before the same State changes it's "mind".
Apparently this State is not a group of politicians grubbing for votes, not a bunch of sorry ass lawyers, nor a group of malcontents whose only happiness is derived from insulting, ignoring, and attacking or destroying the practices and beliefs of others, however honored today or in whole centuries past.
Well, apparent to some people. But then fantasy rules. Certainly not modesty & I doubt decency.

Is there really a difference between calling out a bizarre statement in a follow-up comment and isolating it in it's own post?

Is there really a difference between calling out a bizarre statement in a follow-up comment and isolating it in it's own post?

Certainly. 1. The new post has a much wider audience; 2. The significance of the topic (at least to the blog poster) is highlighted; 3. The conversation is easier to access.

I welcome direction from the editor of this site as to the wisdom of continuing a comment box discussion in a new post. But for the moment, now that the context of the discussion is known, would y'all mind sticking with the topic?

Sorry, Jeff. I was (unclearly) responding to the charge that this post was vindictive.

I agree with your 3 points and with your decision to post this thread. I suppose I could have been better about how I went about it.

No worries, RobertK. I misunderstood you myself. Lots of that going around lately. :-)

Thanks for the concern Mark but this is water off a duck's back and somewhat of an improvement over the enthusiastic imagining of my death that has previous happened in these parts

I would urge everyone to follow the links in Titus' comment and the links to Koppleman and Yoshino in George's reply. I was already aware of the discussion and, of course, find Koppleman's arguments more persuasive.

Jeff, perhaps this comes down to the meaning of "is". I understand that marriage to you is a sacrament. Note that I have no problem with that. Different religions should be able, within broad public policy bounds, to define marriage for their members. Your Church is free not to recognize the validity of marriages under certain circumstances and, I assume, that includes the marriages of gays and lesbians.

My preference would be that the state gets out of the marriage business and leave that for the various religions. The state should do civil unions that would assume the perks and responsibilities of what is currently termed "marriage".

My position is simple. Atypical family structures are becoming typical and the law needs to respond. As far as I can imagine, any situation that would fall under the civil laws concerning marriage can be accurately described in a manner that renders the sex of the individuals indistinguishable and hence irrelevant. That seems to me to create an Equal Protection situation.

Same thing with your personhood question. I assume your theology doesn't consider you and Goldman Sachs equivalent. The Supreme Court mostly does. So yes, in a very important sense, the state determines if one is a person and if so, how much of one (say 60%).

What I don't understand is why this troubles you beyond the political destruction that corporate personhood causes. It seems that while I would give you all sorts of freedom within your religion you would impose that religion's views on everyone.

"So, we are now back to liberal superstition. The belief that history is moving in an inexorably moral direction except when it's not moving in an inexorably moral direction ..."

That would seem to exhaust the possibilities.

"I get it. You want what you want when you want it..."

Agreed, we East African plains Apes are like our simian cousins in many ways including that one.

"...and principles are nice fictions to dupe the suckers."

Unfortunately that seems to be the case with your chosen political ideology. If our new Gaultian masters can keep enough folks distracted by those shiny, shiny "values" over there and hence keep enough of us voting against our interests, they win - and they get to keep on looting. What's more important, a good job at a fair wage or the personal and private behavior of folks you don't even know?

How the state became a liberal despotism which has assumed, or tried to assume, ultimate responsibility for shaping human institutions and solving the moral problems of its citizens, is an interesting question. The answer goes beyond blaming the mere "treason of intellectuals" and indicts democracy itself, I think.

Alex, I think that's a reasonable assessment. I would add that it's not democracy per se, which has many harmless variants, but democracy as ideology or "sacred" worldview that always advances liberalism and ends in despotism. What might be termed "democratism" (there must be a better word out there) is inherently hostile to notions of truth that are irreformable and not subordinate to majorities of some kind.

On the other hand, I am coming to believe that a coherent "liberal" worldview doesn't really exist. As TA noted in the previous comment thread - liberals want what they want when they want it. They are the party of power and desire, plain and simple. Any means of fulfilling their desires is legitimate. Their partiality to democracy is a marriage of convenience only, due their superior ability to manipulate its institutions.

So yes, in a very important sense, the state determines if one is a person and if so, how much of one (say 60%).

Thank you.

Maybe I'll get to the rest of your comment later. But probably not. I have no idea what your words could possibly mean at this point.

Jeff, perhaps this comes down to the meaning of "is".

Pathetic. Why do you waste your time here?

Notice how the legal fiction (which everyone knows is a legal fiction) of LLC's and corporate "personhood" gets brought up here. Everyone knows full well that if the courts started saying that dolphins are persons and that people can therefore marry them, the social conservatives would be the first to protest. In fact, no one ever considered marrying a corporation because of the legal fiction of corporate personhood. People who bring this up must know how much of a difference it makes if the state were to start really throwing its weight around w.r.t. creating "persons" ex nihilo, and that this isn't happening, but we're all just supposed to be silenced by the allusion to LLCs.

Let me note here that if homosexuals are "married," we'll be expected not to put any scare quotes around it, and woe betide the employer who creates a hostile work environment by referring to it as a legal fiction.

Constitutionalists really aren't in a position to be criticizing legal positivists.

The 60% thing has lost me. I don't even know what it means to say that the state defines 60% of what a person is.

On the other hand, I am coming to believe that a coherent "liberal" worldview doesn't really exist.

The liberal worldview is very coherent, Jeff, if you understand what it is opposed to:

Liberalism is the dogmatic affirmation of the absolute independence of the individual and the social reason. Catholicity is the dogma of the absolute subjection of the individual and of the social order to the revealed law of God. One doctrine is the exact antithesis of the other. (Father Felix Sarda y Salvany, Liberalism is a Sin, 1899)
People who bring this up must know how much of a difference it makes if the state were to start really throwing its weight around w.r.t. creating "persons" ex nihilo, and that this isn't happening, but we're all just supposed to be silenced by the allusion to LLCs.

Right. But look here: we're staring total nihilism in the face. Persons, marriage, and virtually everything else are non-realities to people like Al. "Reality" is defined by temporal power alone. There is no possibility of dialogue or communication because such people have no realities to communicate, only desires.

Post-modernism really stinks. I miss the days when our enemies were honest liberals of the old school, men who actually believed in reality even if they were dead wrong about it. Conversation was possible. We understood each other. We could do business.

Allusion to the Three-Fifths Compromise perhaps? But of course that had to do with representation, not personhood per se.

Then again, to the statist is there even such a thing as personhood per se?

George R., that was true of the old liberalism. It isn't true of post-modern liberalism as represented by Al. He can't even tell us what "the individual" is without the help of the state. Post-moderns don't believe in absolute anythings.

Al writes, "What's more important, a good job at a fair wage or the personal and private behavior of folks you don't even know?"

If the personal and private behavior includes horrifying action like, say, child abuse, incest... and yes, abortion, then yes, the personal and private behavior of people I don't even know is far more important. Far far more important. And I'd still say its more important when it comes to gay marriage and even legalized sodomy.

"So yes, in a very important sense, the state determines if one is a person and if so, how much of one (say 60%)."

And you think this is a good thing? Obviously the state controls who constitutes a person in the legal sense (no one disputes this) but if the state calls someone less than a person when it is obvious that such an individual is a person then we clearly have a state that has abandoned any attempt at safeguarding goodness. Some of us would consider that a bad thing.

Al writes (in the other thread), "I again note that we have yet to see a rational basis asserted for measures like Prop. 8."

I might have missed it but I didn't see any one else say what I've been thinking. To me the most obvious reason for banning gay marriage is that it violates the law of God. Violating the law of God does not seem to me something a wise state would want to do.

I suck. Chicken says what I had been thinking pretty unambiguously.

I understand that marriage to you is a sacrament. Note that I have no problem with that.

Considering the amount of time you spend around here I'm fairly amazed at how little you care about details. The same-sex "marriage" debate is not about sacraments. Marriage is not always a sacrament and no one here is advocating that the state refuse to recognize non-sacramental marriages. Natural marriages - the marriages of the unbaptized - are valid marriages but they are not sacramental.

Marriage "to me" is an objective reality independent of the state, and yes, you do have a problem with that.

Different religions should be able, within broad public policy bounds, to define marriage for their members. Your Church is free not to recognize the validity of marriages under certain circumstances and, I assume, that includes the marriages of gays and lesbians.

The Church must be free not to recognize invalid marriages in all circumstances. As for her members, you can be sure that those "certain circumstances" in which we are free not to recognize same-sex unions will be impossibly confining.

You believe that marriage is "whatever the state says it is." If the state says that two men are married, and I say they are not married, I'm the one who has a problem. If I'm a public school teacher or administrator and I refuse to teach that homosexual couples can be "married", I can be fired. If I'm a business owner and I refuse to provide benefits to the homosexual lover of an employee because I don't believe they are married, I'm in trouble with the law. If I'm a county clerk and I refuse to modify marriage certificates to exclude the terms "husband" and "wife", my county will be sued. If I'm a parent and I don't want my young children exposed to homosexuality, I have to find another place to live. If I work at an adoption agency but refuse to work with homosexual "couples", I can be disciplined or removed. If I own a print shop and refuse to print same-sex "wedding" invitations, I can be fined. Etc., etc.. Whether my religion "defines marriage" otherwise "for me" helps not a whit. I must comply, by my words and actions, with a state-sanctioned falsehood or be punished.

Besides, Al, your idea of "religion" and of "broad public policy bounds" is hardly stable or reassuring. Religion is whatever the state says it is, no? "Public policy bounds" must be flexible enough to accommodate changing times, no? And isn't it in the interest of public policy that all state-recognized religions refrain from unjust discrimination against a persecuted homosexual minority? Of course it is! Al's generosity today is up in smoke tomorrow.

My preference would be that the state gets out of the marriage business and leave that for the various religions. The state should do civil unions that would assume the perks and responsibilities of what is currently termed "marriage".

Marriage is a public and communal institution: that's why it's necessary for the state to be involved. It's the job of the state to serve and protect marriage, and not marriage the state.

My position is simple. Atypical family structures are becoming typical and the law needs to respond.

I agree. But the proliferation of atypical family structures is a bad thing. The law should respond by discouraging atypical family structures.

Anyway - "family" is "whatever the state says it is", and if a bunch of knuckle-dragging throwbacks succeed in getting the state to define family a certain way, that should be OK with you.

As far as I can imagine, any situation that would fall under the civil laws concerning marriage can be accurately described in a manner that renders the sex of the individuals indistinguishable and hence irrelevant.

Marriage, for you, can be "accurately described" any way you like. We get that.

That seems to me to create an Equal Protection situation.

Unless it doesn't. "Equal Protection" is a creature of the state and, as such, is easy to finesse.

I understand that marriage to you is a sacrament. Note that I have no problem with that.

Gee Al, you got it in one. Got it 100% wrong, that is. No, Catholics like Jeff (and me) don't view marriage as such a sacrament. Only a valid marriage between 2 Christians can be a sacrament, and even then it is not merely on account of it's being marriage that it is a sacrament - sacramentality requires more.

The Christian view of marriage is that marriages were true and valid marriages before Christ instituted the sacrament of matrimony, and marriages between non-Christians (or between a Christian and non-Christian) are still that.

In essence, a marriage is a certain kind of union between two persons. What kind of union? It is a union that (1) springs forward from interior consent (2) is attested by outward consent, (3) consent being a commitment for life, (4) between 2 persons whose sexuality is opposed and complementary and, taken together, of such a nature as to be capable sexual reproduction (i.e. capable of generating offspring without outside agency in the natural order), and (5) whose consent is for that of a mutually shared life, including the willingness to give and receive physical sexual union of such a nature as to be capable of natural reproduction.

That's what marriage is. That's what all men have meant by the expression, until very recently. Funny, I don't see any intrinsic role of the state in there. In fact, the only basic role of society at large is to hear, witness to, the vows spoken aloud. Society does not create marriage, any more than society creates the child that springs from such a union. Secondarily, society creates customs surrounding marriage in order to support, restrain, and validate the conveyance of the vows, but these are all peripheral to what marriage itself is. Marriage is prior to society.

Excellent comment, Tony. However, I would like to expand on this:

Funny, I don't see any intrinsic role of the state in there. In fact, the only basic role of society at large is to hear, witness to, the vows spoken aloud. Society does not create marriage, any more than society creates the child that springs from such a union. Secondarily, society creates customs surrounding marriage in order to support, restrain, and validate the conveyance of the vows, but these are all peripheral to what marriage itself is. Marriage is prior to society.

Although, as you say, marriage is definitely prior to society and to the state, I think the state's role is a bit larger than what you describe (if I understand you correctly). The state is obligated to favor, incentivize, reward, support, and uphold the institution of marriage - and to discourage and penalize anything which detracts from it (apart from consecrated virginity) - precisely because it is a fundamental and indispensible element of any civilization.

If the same-sex "marriage" movement results in the disengagement of the state from marriage altogether, due to an unmanageable proliferation of new complications, it will have succeeded.

Jeff writes:

....it's not democracy per se, which has many harmless variants, but democracy as ideology or "sacred" worldview that always advances liberalism and ends in despotism. What might be termed "democratism" (there must be a better word out there) is inherently hostile to notions of truth that are irreformable and not subordinate to majorities of some kind.

I'm coming to the view that the advance of liberalism is a necessary supplement of democracy. The essence of democracy consists in giving people what they say they want (not what they need). People, many people anyway, want liberty, equality, and fraternity - and that's what liberal democracy aims to give them.

Some people - like the critics of social democracy and sundry dissenters here at WWWW - have to be coerced into the perfectionist project of liberalism which intends to impose a non-discriminatory way of life on the entire world.

Jeff, I agree. I don't want to suggest that society has no role with respect to marriage, but rather that the important role society has is on account of the fact that both marriage and the common good are more fundamental than the social order which serves them. Consequently, the things that you point out - favor, incentivize, reward good marriage - are because society relies on marriage essentially, whereas marriage relies on society extrinsically. Not unimportantly, just extrinsically to the very essence of marriage. Both are necessary to humanity, because human nature is that of a social animal. In a sense, society is writ large what marriage is (first) in the kernel. Consequently, society cannot be neutral to marriage.

Alex, you mean liberalism's agenda is to make me do what I want whether I want to or not? :-)

iberalism which intends to impose a non-discriminatory way of life

Yes, that's right, non-discriminatory. Except, of course, to discriminate against those who wish to act differently with respect to differences in reality. THOSE people you can discriminate against.

Imposing what people want might be an adequate description of liberalism, if only "what people want" had a more determination relationship to what fulfills men, what perfects them, and what the common good consists in. Given sinful human nature, a social order that explicitly aims no higher than "everyman's wish" is guaranteed to fail to serve the common good. Taking each man's initial wish as "that which he wishes for" ignores the fact that men can (and need to) grow, including growing in what they wish for, and that some wishes are evil. Whereas, a social order that aims to promote the highest and noblest of man's desires, and to help men come to wish for the highest and best in man, does serve the common good thereby. And, in fact, a social order that aims at "everyman's wish" cannot but discriminate against the needs and desires of those whose aim is for the highest and noblest. So where is that non-discriminatory way of life, after all? It is only non-discriminatory with respect to those who harbor no desires different from the initial default state of desire of the majority of men.

There ain't no sich thing as a non-discriminatory way of life. The only options are (a) to discriminate with respect to real differences, and (b) to discriminate with respect to irrelevancies. I prefer (a). Liberalism doesn't, so it does not give me "what I want."

Tony writes:

There ain't no sich thing as a non-discriminatory way of life.

It's pretty clear that liberal democrats aren't daunted by your philosophical analysis of discrimination. Democracy is supposed to give people what they want and liberalism is supposed to know what's ultimately "good" for everyone. So liberal democracy is the ideal political belief system. Under this dispensation, we, the people, get what we want and what's good for us too.

If liberalism exists to relieve man's estate - meaning it aims to extirpate ignorance, inequality and human folly - then skeptical folks like you (and me) must be compelled to get in line for the sake of suffering humanity. That's the point of political correctness, laws against "hate speech", affirmative action, and all the rest of the coercive apparatus.

It's no use reasoning that what liberals are trying to do is futile because ignorance, inequality, and stupidity are part of the human condition etc. Liberals want to transform man: it's a perfectionist project.

(Excuse me telling you stuff you already know. I'm just thinking aloud.)


Liberals want to transform man

Communists do too. Wait, I thought the liberal view was that bad behavior simply springs from bad environment and bad education. The only transformation needed is to "educate" us all into political correctness. Must be real frustrating to be a liberal educator of little boys and see that they still won't get with the program.

European pagan marriage was strictly for the sake of procreation. For instance, the very verb 'maritare' in Latin also means to impregnate. While homosexual acts were permitted and engaged in (although not certainly by all, or even the majority), heterosexual marriage was still the norm among pre-Christian Europeans. The pagans never would have dreamed of "gay marriage," as it would have seemed an oxymoron.

It was, in fact, the early Christians who changed the conception of marriage. Early Christian Lives (ed. Carolinne White) is replete with instances of early Christian ascetic couples, husbands and wives, forsaking procreation because they viewed it as unholy and wanted to save themselves to be together in heaven. It was this very unworldlyness that untethered marriage, at least for a while, from its more basic reproductive function.

Luckily, the European Christians finally adopted many aspects of pagan marriage laws, so the pagan concept of marriage was not lost altogether.

MAR, yes, but I believe that even the ascetic marriages retained the option of using sexuality for procreation within the marriage, at least when the ascetic practice was approved by the Church, that is. That is to say, the contractual arrangement they entered into as marriage was an agreement that left open the option to reproduce if they should have mutually agreed to it at some later point. There was never (so far as I was aware) anything that was called marriage that was, at the same time (a) officially approved, and (b) part of the vowed agreement from the beginning was that they would never use conjugal relations. Such an initial vow I think would have precluded the arrangement from being called marriage. So the asceticism was, effectively, an optional practice within marriage rather than part of the structure of the marriage contract. At least that's my understanding.

MAR - you have this way of injecting inconvenient historical facts into an otherwise historically uninformed discussion.

That's very, very naughty of you.

Tony has a way of answering such supposedly "inconvenient" facts with calmness and with more facts. I want to be more like Tony as I grow up.

Not to mention the fact that the far-distant history of Christian asceticism didn't exactly _seem_ to be the topic of the post, nor even terribly relevant. Is there something "historically uninformed" about discussing the problems with post-modernism in modern social liberalism (along the lines of "the state makes it what it is by fiat") without, somehow, saying that Christianity is bad and paganism is better? Never mind, don't answer that.

Not to sidetrack the discussion even more but MAR is onto something.

In the section in Lost in the Cosmos titled "The Demoniac Self," Percy made a rather strange statement. He said: "Soren Kierkegaard ... said that Christianity first brought the erotic spirit into the world ... Kierkegaard wrote: 'Sensualism, viewed from the standpoint of Spirit, was first posited by Christianity.'" Percy then explained that what Kierkegaard meant was that while sensualism had indeed existed in paganism, it did not exist "as a spiritual category," but as "an expression of harmony and unison." To clarify his remark, Kierkegaard added: "In the Greek consciousness, the sensuous was under the control of the beautiful personality or, more rightly stated, it was not controlled, for it was not an enemy to be subjugated, not a dangerous rebel who should be held in check." In contrast to the Greeks, Kierkegaard argued that in the Christian era the sensuous-erotic becomes "a qualified spirituality, that is to say, so qualified that the Spirit excludes it; if I imagine this principle concentrated in a single individual, then I have a concept of the sensuous-erotic genius. This is an idea which the Greeks did not have, which Christianity first brought into the world, even if only in an indirect sense" (175)
. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-147747961/resurrecting-body-walker-percy.html

Back to the main topic, I will counter Tony's definition with one of my own. Marriage is 1) a committed and intimate relationship (which at minimum implies an exclusive partnership), 2) between consenting adult persons, 3) that connects their fates and fortunes together for the foreseeable future, 4) that is publicly acknowledged, 5) and may indicate a mutual signal for nesting behavior and raising children born to or adopted by the couple.

Tony,

There is an ascetical type of marriage recognuzed by the Church which precludes the possibility of sex, ab initio, for the entire marriage. It is called a Josephite marriage (after St. Joseph, whom the Church maintains had no relation with Mary). It is rare and takes the permission of the bishop, but I believe that Jacque Maritain and his wife had such a marriage.

The Chicken

As a counter to the hypothesis that Christianity introduced the erotic element, I offer the Song of Songs in the Old Testement.

The Chicken

Lydia, true, my comment may not be entirely relevant, but perhaps one of the problems with the "marriage crisis" today is that marriage has been so abstracted that is allows for a broader definition that must be brokered by the state -- a process that perhaps could be traced back to the redefining of marriage as a union of two souls.

Take divorce. Should divorce be allowed in a barren marriage? Pagans would have said yes. Christians were a mixed bag, for if the purpose of marriage is the union of two souls, then failure to produce offspring shouldn't justify divorce.

As cold as it may seem to moderns, there was a stable simplicity to the pagan understanding of marriage: the purpose of marriage was procreation. Sexuality at times might have been a bit loose, but marriage was reserved strictly for reproduction. N.B. the pagan understanding of marriage for producing legitimate children dovetails a Darwinian conception of marriage: creating a stable environment to replicate one's genetic information.

All that said, most conservative Christians, neopagans, and Darwinian conservatives today would agree that the "traditional family of dad, mom, and the kids is the basic building block of the community." As Aristotle notes at the beginning of his Politics, families and extended kin networks are the basis of society.

The real question is: what is the fons et origo of the modern liberal state's broadening of the definition of marriage? When did marriage become untethered from its age-old biological function?

FYI - by 'Darwinian' I mean Neo-Darwinian.

"It was, in fact, the early Christians who changed the conception of marriage. Early Christian Lives (ed. Carolinne White) is replete with instances of early Christian ascetic couples, husbands and wives, forsaking procreation because they viewed it as unholy and wanted to save themselves to be together in heaven. It was this very unworldlyness that untethered marriage, at least for a while, from its more basic reproductive function."

While this strand certainly did exist in early Christianity, there was a parallel strand which celebrated marriage and procreation, as evidenced by the attention paid to the story (and later iconography) of the conception and birth of the Virgin Mary by Sts. Joachim and Anna. To argue that marriage was exclusively or even fundamentally "otherworldly" and non-procreative among the early Christians is to mistake one strand for the whole cloth.

I understand that marriage to you is a sacrament. Note that I have no problem with that. Different religions should be able, within broad public policy bounds, to define marriage for their members. Your Church is free not to recognize the validity of marriages under certain circumstances and, I assume, that includes the marriages of gays and lesbians.

Al: This whole statement paragraph, from beginning to end, is disingenuous. The continuing issue is that different religions aren't "free to define marriage for their members" because marriage has an intrinsic nature; the difference in externals between historical examples (monogamy vs. polygamy, concubinage, etc.) is extrinsic to the unitive and reproductive core.

But behind the pretense of generosity in allowing religions to "define" what's already anthropologically encoded is the reality, as Jeff pointed out, that our recognition of reality won't be allowed beyond the church walls. "It seems that while I would give you all sorts of freedom within your religion you would impose that religion's views on everyone." Outside the hypocrisy of imposing your (ir?)religion on us, your very words indicate that the final intent is to set artificial limits on where that religion can operate: "You'll be in a jail cell, but it'll be a big one, and you'll be free to move around in it."

The only way to be "outside" a religious system is to not be a follower; religious systems influence and shape their followers in more areas of life than the devotional and spiritual. It's no great "freedom of religion" if I'm not allowed to take the values my religion has given me when I leave church on Sunday, let alone take them with me to the voting booth. The establishment clause was never intended to wall off the citizen from his moral values, regardless of where those values were rooted; not even Jefferson would have agreed to such a construction.

As well, as a practical and empirical matter, atheists share many values with theists, while Christians of the same church can differ on policy questions. If a Buddhist and a Jew agree to a particular law, whose religion is being imposed? How do you accuse the atheist who agrees with them of imposing a religion? How do you determine whose votes are based on "religious" values, save by which side you agree with and which you don't? The whole "imposition of religion" argument is a farcical deception, an attempt to squelch opposition in the name of "freedom of religion".

Well said, Tony Layne.

The real question is: what is the fons et origo of the modern liberal state's broadening of the definition of marriage? When did marriage become untethered from its age-old biological function?

At least one of the key moments was the introduction and dispersion of birth control and eventually embrace of it by a wide range of Christian churches. Before widespread and publicly-encouraged technologies permitted sex to remain barren indefinitely, it was obvious that all heterosexual sex tended to issue in offspring. Contraception was of course only permitted by the churches within the marriage (it would be decades before fornication was publicly emancipated from public opprobrium), so here we find a time when the tether was slipping decisively.

Chesterton's outrage at birth control was in retrospect a stroke of extraordinary insight.

Let's face it, the historical references to ascetical or Josephite marriages are about as irrelevant to the postmodernism Jeff is talking about as it's possible to get. When was the last time you heard a Catholic arguing that civil marriage should not be nullifiable (as it presently is) on grounds of non-consummation, because this "discriminates" against ascetic marriage? Okay, you can stop laughing now. Please. There is no even remote connection.

And, no, I don't think that marriages should be able to be broken up because they are barren. I think people should make promises to each other containing the concept of "in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death us do part." Now, I suppose our neo-pagan, anti-Christian crew is going to tell me that we "opened the way to homosexual 'marriage'" by introducing the notion of lifelong marriage initially set in place by a promise with an intention of lifelong fidelity.

This is historical nonsense. It's like feminist attempts to find either patriarchy _or_ proto-feminism under every stone and to tease one or the other of those out of long-past events. It's "Hey, let's rewrite history so that Christianity is to blame because it's too otherworldly for all kinds of contemporary problems." It's history with an agenda worn on its sleeve in neon letters a mile high.

Lydia,
I think you may be misunderstanding the point, which is that the Christian ideals of holiness are intrinsically tied to the stories of Jesus and Mary. Those iconic examples of chastity necessarily separate sex and procreation from the realm of purity and sanctity. St Paul was even more explicit in preferring celibacy over marriage, his words are the supposed standard for a celibate priesthood so as not to be torn between the worldly needs of a family and the spiritual communion of the Church. So Christians do have some reasons for a belief that every sex act is morally weak, and that an exclusive fidelity to God has greater value than any mere union of the flesh.

Step2, your proposed definition of marriage is, simply, a novelty. Nobody before 100 years ago would have recognized in your proposal what they, and everyone, meant by the expression. 50 years ago essentially the same thing would have been true: although there would have been some dissension on the fringes, it would not have been in doubt by over 99 % of the people. Therefore, your proposal is not "what we mean by 'marriage'" but rather "what you want it to mean."

Chicken, there is, at least from my 20 minute foray on the internet, some considerable doubt as to the meaning of a "Josephite marriage". I have heard of marriages where a couple, with the consent of bishop or priest, decided to live celibate lives for the sake of the kingdom. It was my understanding that normally this was not given approval for a young couple in the midst of their child-bearing years, because "marriage is for the sake of children" is a fundamental teaching of the Church.

Further, there seems to be some suggestion that a marriage can have a Josephite character, but cannot in principle exclude the right to sexual relations: if one spouse decides that they cannot continue that way, they can request a cessation of the celibacy. Certainly nothing in the Bible states that Joseph, when he married, vowed to live celibately - that decision came later. There is, for example, this comment I came across from the forum master at Catholic Answers:

BUT, when the parties enter into marriage it is with the right to exchange the marital embrace. This right is absolute. Therefore, if one or the other spouse decides to end the Josephite marriage, the other spouse must comply and begin living the conjugal life.

There is the further concern that a marriage is considered not consummated without the conjugal act. Therefore, a marriage that from the beginning eschews sex is a non-consummated marriage, and there are theoretical issues with that.

Finally, a Josephite marriage is also called a "spiritual marriage", which suggests that the use of the term marriage for it may in fact be an equivocal or analogous usage, rather than a univocal use of "marriage".

Nevertheless, in and around all of this, it is ABSOLUTELY clear that marriage is between two people who have the complementary sexual character to naturally reproduce acting together. Even in a Josephite marriage, the choice to forego the use of the conjugal act is, determinately, the right between two people who would, absent the choice for celibacy, be capable of having naturally reproductive sexual relations. The choice to live celibate lives within marriage is, as Lydia points out, so diametrically opposed to the very concept of what gays bring to the table that it nonsense to think celibate marriage supports their thought.

I think you may be misunderstanding the point, which is that the Christian ideals of holiness are intrinsically tied to the stories of Jesus and Mary. Those iconic examples of chastity necessarily separate sex and procreation from the realm of purity and sanctity.

Step2, with respect I reject this characterization of Christianity, as did every Father of the Church who opposed Manicheanism. Their firm teaching is that sanctity and purity are desirable and achievable within the married state, including the use of conjugal relations. The true and proper use of sexuality that is subject to perfect love of God is not sinful, and need not even be a defect or weakness.

So Christians do have some reasons for a belief that every sex act is morally weak, and that an exclusive fidelity to God has greater value than any mere union of the flesh.

No, Christians reject this also. Not every sex act is morally weak, not if it springs forth with properly inculcated virtues of chastity and modesty, and placed in its proper place in the spiritual order. The story of Tobias shows perfectly well that this is true:

6:18. But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her.
6:19. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away.
6:20. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs.
6:21. And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you.

This "Christianity-is-anti-sex" stuff is _so_ played. It reminds me of various Protestant attempts I've seen to pin this idea on Catholicism. The important 20th century author Francis Schaeffer tried to blame, of all people, St. Thomas Aquinas for the separation between the sacred and secular (Schaeffer called it the "two-story universe"). It was as though Schaeffer couldn't tell the difference between Aquinas and the very Averroists against whom Aquinas wrote and debated!

Secular (and now pagan) anti-Christian historical myth-making too often, I'm sorry to say, picks up on previous Protestant historical myth-making. Before there was a putative "war of science with religion" we already had, for a few hundred years, a putative "war of science with Catholicism."

Every Protestant Western Civ. course earnestly assures students that Protestantism freed the visual arts in the 1600's from the headlock of otherworldliness so that ordinary people and scenes were "allowed."

And so forth.

It would be nice if we could get beyond simplistic approaches to history. Too often reductionism and agenda-touting are the result of trying to scrounge back to find the "origin" of some present-day idea in some unexpected place long, long ago. Perhaps we should be willing to eschew such searches. It doesn't always work that way.

"I think you may be misunderstanding the point, which is that the Christian ideals of holiness are intrinsically tied to the stories of Jesus and Mary. Those iconic examples of chastity necessarily separate sex and procreation from the realm of purity and sanctity."

Again, look at the way the Church treats the story of Joachim and Anna, the Virgin's Mary's parents. In iconography they're shown embracing, which is iconographic shorthand for the marital act. Note what the icon is called.

http://www.greek-icons.org/icons_saints/11-saints-joachim-and-anna.html

It's also known as "The Conception of the Virgin Mary."


Al, you point out that in real life a-typical family structures are becoming common.

This shows that when you start screwing up the natural order, further unnatural "fixes" are not necessarily going to help. Since marriage is, inherently, a commitment for life, no-fault divorce provisions in law are a way of pitting the law against marriage itself. While I don't think that the divorce rate in the US before no-fault divorce was exemplary for any society, no-fault divorce has increased the problems rather than reducing them. Every child who has been split in half by an equal-custody arrangement after such a divorce has had an injustice done to him or her (Solomon's sword solution come to the real world).

In any case the high rates of divorce is the leading cause of these unnatural so-called family structures. (The high rate of having children outside of marriage, without any intent to marry, is a secondary effect of the high rate of divorce, by the way.) I don't know of anyone (outside of the association of divorce lawyers) who doesn't think that divorce is anything other than a result of failed marriage, and therefore both parties would have been better off if the marriage had not failed. And this would reduce the incidence of these unnatural family structures. Our goal, then, as a society, should be to re-arrange the law so that it no longer pits law against marriage, but rather uses law to SUPPORT good marriage so that people's marriages don't fail so often. That's what people really want anyway, marriages that are successful, not serial failed marriages. (The rate of failed second marriages is even higher than the rate of failed first marriages.) There is, then, no reason for society to take a high divorce rate as an essential given that is unavoidable and unchangeable, and so there is no reason to throw in the towel and create all sorts of new, unnatural legal arrangements that effectively give the green light to still more failed marriage results.

"your very words indicate that the final intent is to set artificial limits on where that religion can operate:"

Well, of course! That's how you have to function in a pluralistic polity. That's why, when other European nations had religious tests, our Constitution was written to exclude such tests for federal office.

"As well, as a practical and empirical matter, atheists share many values with theists, while Christians of the same church can differ on policy questions. If a Buddhist and a Jew agree to a particular law, whose religion is being imposed?

If a Christian, Buddhist and Jew can agree on a given measure it is likely that there are reasons that resonate with all of them. Does our Jew likely resonate to Christian theology and our Buddhist to appeals to theism?

It's easy to throw out a statement. We need more information so let's get concrete; how about some examples?

Tony, when have we East African Plains Apes ever dwelt outside the context of a society?

Al, we know a heck of a lot more about human history than we do about pre-history of the quasi-mythical East African Plains Apes. I am fine with sticking with what we know.

Ok, when in human history have humans lived outside of a societal context? Please share.

"Al: This whole statement paragraph, from beginning to end, is disingenuous. The continuing issue is that different religions aren't "free to define marriage for their members" because marriage has an intrinsic nature."

Which means that you are defining it to exclude definitions with which you disagree,

"Which means that you are defining it to exclude definitions with which you disagree,"

You are full of confusing statements. Even assuming you are correct that marriage is just a social convention liable to be redefined at will, any definition will necessarily be exclusive to some degree. I take it you don't support defining marriage as including multiple people, or family members, underage members, or even nonconsenting members. All of these are forms that marriage has taken in the past, so for you to exclude any of them means you are doing nothing more than excluding definitions with which you disagree. Appealing to the law is meaningless, since advocates of incestual or man-boy relationships would argue plausibly that if the law is in the way then the law is discriminatory and needs to be changed, just as homosexuals do now.

Ok, when in human history have humans lived outside of a societal context? Please share.

Other than Adam and Eve, they never did, so far as I know. Fortunately for the argument for the traditional understanding of marriage, this is irrelevant. I don't why you keep harping on "outside the societal context", it has nothing to do with the argument.

you are defining it to exclude definitions

But that's just it, Al. We are not "defining it" in the sense of "creating" or "laying down" a meaning that we intend to impose. What is happening is that we are describing something that already exists separately from any act of ours to describe it. What we are describing is there, ready to be observed, comprehended, and spoken of. All men speak of marriage as a kind of union between a male and a female, and all cultures practiced such unions and have a distinct word for them. Our definition takes note of that but surely does not create or impose a meaning.

What you are doing is pretending that the "defining", or rather, RE-defining (since the word already means something), can go on by a fiat of society whenever society decides to do so. It ain't so, first, because society is not the root source of marriage. Secondly, (even if the first didn't apply) because that's not how society should go about trying to change a custom.

Even for things that really are constructs wholly designed by society, such fiat re-defining is not necessarily possible. The game of baseball was invented by men, and men can change it. But society cannot decide to "define" baseball, by fiat, as whatever it wants, and expect that to actually work, because custom constitutes a social reality that is independent of our capacity to order things as we wish (not absolutely independent, though). Society cannot by law define "baseball" as a cart driven by tulip farmers between rows of different colors of plants. Such a definition might eventually be a replacement of the meaning of the spoken word, but it would not change the concept in people's minds that currently is met by the term "baseball," and we would just come up with a replacement spoken word. In any case, law would be a particularly poor way of trying to remove an ancient custom when the custom itself is not pernicious.

I'm intrigued that Al appears to be rejecting the "social contract" theory of human anthropology, according to which said contract, arising out of the spontaneous consent of men in their aboriginal state of natural freedom, now forms the glue of political society. The obvious alternative is the Aristotelian formulation of society (and thus politics) being coextensive with man, or perhaps the Adam Smith middle ground which posits a pre-political sociality but rejects the "state of nature."

In any case, it is clear that the social contract theory forms the ground upon which most modern theory was built. Liberalism would be incomprehensible without it. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau all rely on it explicitly. If Al rejects it (and presumably also rejects the older Aristotelian settlement against which the moderns toiled), I am left to wonder on what he grounds his theory of political right.

The 60% thing has lost me. I don't even know what it means to say that the state defines 60% of what a person is.

I think he meant that the state defines the extent to which something is a person (eg, corporations have certain rights of persons - not to be dissolved without due process, but not all the rights enjoyed by other persons - to vote, for example).

Ok, when in human history have humans lived outside of a societal context? Please share.

Possibly never. Marriage is a society.

What is happening is that we are describing something that already exists separately from any act of ours to describe it. What we are describing is there, ready to be observed, comprehended, and spoken of.

I'm also describing marriage as it exists today, not what it was 100 or 50 years ago. As a modern liberal, there is no reason in the world I feel compelled to say that sex or marriage must be about procreation, it simply isn't a requirement anymore.

That's what people really want anyway, marriages that are successful, not serial failed marriages.

No, that is only what people say they really want. If you look at how a majority of them act, it paints a very different picture.

This "Christianity-is-anti-sex" stuff is _so_ played.

Once again, I'll link to one of the best flowcharts in history, which shows the labyrinth that medieval Christian couples had to follow to avoid sexual sin.
http://kittywampus.blogspot.com/2008/04/sex-and-penitentials_18.html

Step2, that's a hilarious flowchart. Thank God it has nothing to do with reality, though.

I'm also describing marriage as it exists today

What you are attempting to define is a definition that is not encapsulated under law in 49 out of 50 states as the meaning of marriage, and not in any until MA changed a couple years ago. That's as far as law goes. Apart from law, custom reigns even more complete: the customary meaning of the expression is restricted to people of the opposite sex even in MA, since it takes more than a couple of years to undo the status of custom. What you are describing, to speak properly, is the idea of romantic union, of which marriage is one variety. Nobody has ever tried to suggest that the full panoply of romantic unions all ought to be considered marriages.

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