Jay Michaelson delivers some inconvenient news to those who claim that marriage has always meant one man committed to one woman:
Time to break out your Bible, Mr. Perkins! Abraham had two wives, Sarah and her handmaiden Hagar. King Solomon had 700 wives, plus 300 concubines and slaves. Jacob, the patriarch who gives Israel its name, had two wives and two concubines. In a humanist vein, Exodus 21:10 warns that when men take additional wives, they must still provide for their previous one. (Exodus 21:16 adds that if a man seduces a virgin and has sex with her, he has to marry her, too.)
But that’s not all. In biblical society, when you conquered another city, tribe, or nation, the victorious men would “win” their defeated foes’ wives as part of the spoils. It also commanded levirate marriage, the system wherein, if a man died, his younger brother would have to marry his widow and produce heirs with her who would be considered the older brother’s descendants. Now that’s traditional marriage!
I would add that even in modern times, “marriage” means serial monogamy–being committed for life to one special person, until you get tired of that person and then move on to being committed to a different person forever.
At Salon, Margaret Eby discusses marriage with Tara Parker-Pope, who has written a new book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.” In one paragraph, Parker-Pope puts the myth of the 50% divorce rate to bed:
The 50 percent divorce rate is really a myth. The 20-year divorce rate for couples who got married in the 1980s is actually around 19 percent. Everyone thinks marriage is such a struggle and it’s shocking to hear that marriage is actually going strong today. It has to do with how you look at the statistic. If the variables were constant, then a simple equation might work to come up with the divorce rate. But a lot of things are changing. And it is true that there are groups of people who have a 50 percent divorce rate: college dropouts who marry under the age of 25, for example. Couples married in the 1970s have a 30-year divorce rate of about 47 percent. A person who got married in the 1970s had a completely different upbringing and experience in life from someone who got married in the 1990s. It’s been very clear that divorce rates peaked in the 1970s and has been going down ever since.
To the extent that society can be understood as a big family, psychologist John Gottman has important suggestions for improving our communications. Based on his track record, Gottman is someone to whom all of us should carefully listen. His techniques have allowed him to predict with 90% accuracy which newly marriage couples will still be married six years later.
Gottman describes many of his techniques in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, a 1999 book that has enriched the lives of countless married couples trying to get back on track. In this book, he demonstrates that there is no better way to destroy a working relationship than to employ the following four techniques, which he labels “the Four Horsemen”:
A) Attacking another person’s character or personality;
B) Showing contempt through such things as sneering, sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, mockery and hostile humor.
C) Defensiveness that proclaims that “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” And
D) Stonewalling: tuning out completely.
When I read this list, it struck me that these four techniques precisely describe the state of political dialogue in this country. These are also the techniques by many of the people who conduct interviews in the media. Think, for example, of a typical Bill O’Reilly interview, though O’Reilly is merely one of the more egregious examples. Many news programs expect and encourage conflict in an attempt to keep the audience mesmerized so that the network can sell more advertisements. The resulting conflict commonly manifests itself through these four above-mentioned techniques. It is critically important to note that none of these techniques is necessary, no matter who the other person is and no matter what he or she is saying. Smart and disciplined people don’t stoop to these techniques. Period.
Here’s another important cause of communication failure: In functional relationships, the parties communicate at least five times as many positive ideas as negative ideas to one another. Consider that the ratio of positive to negative in public forums is probably the reverse of the minimum optimum. In most contemporary forums where political ideas are discussed, it is a rare bird who dares to admit that one’s opponent has any decent ideas at all. Instead, we hear the parties villainizing each other and attempting to totally destroy each other ideas. Success is all too often seen as publically demonstrating that the other person, almost always termed one’s “opponent,” is an idiot.
In short, the way we publicly attempt to communicate with each other regarding the important issues of the day has been scientifically demonstrated to be a guaranteed formula for failure.
What is the solution? For starters, it would require that we stop using the above techniques when we attempt to communicate. In fact, until we call a cease-fire regarding these four techniques, further attempts to communicate will only exacerbate conflict and paranoia. Until we change the way we attempt to talk with each other on many news programs, it would be better if we stopped talking at all. That’s how bad things have gotten.
We often hear religious conservatives arguing that we need to preserve “traditional marriage.” What do they mean by “traditional marriage”?
At Daylight Atheism, Ebonmuse delves into the details of one conservative version of “marriage,” and it’s not about “1950s, smiling-wife-and-picket-fence families.” It is not a partnership of equals. In fact, it appears to be a relationship based on power, where abuse of that power has no ill-consequences for the abuser.
What makes people happy? On quite a few occasions, I’ve posted at DI with regard to ideas that I learned through reading various books and articles (a search for “happiness” in the DI search box will give you dozens of articles). What does that reveal about me, I wonder?
Today, I had the pleasure of reading an extraordinarily thoughtful article on this same topic: “What Makes Us Happy?” by Joshua Wolf Shenk appears in the June 2009 edition of The Atlantic. You’ll find an abridged edition of the article here.
Shenk’s article is anchored by the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest running longitudinally study of mental and physical well-being in history. It was begun in 1937 in order to study “well-adjusted Harvard sophomores (all male), and it has followed its subject for more than 70 years.” The study was originally known as “The Grant Study,” in that it was originally funded by W.T. Grant. Despite all odds, the study has survived to this day–many of the subjects are now in their upper 80′s. Along the way, the study was supplemented with a separate study launched in 1937 dedicated to studying juvenile delinquents in inner-city Boston (run by criminologists Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck).
You’ll enjoy Joshua Shenk’s work on many levels. He writes with precision, providing you with a deep understanding of the featured longitudinal studies. You will also enjoy his seemingly effortless ability to spin engaging stories (there are dozens of stories within his article) and his exceptional skill at crafting highly readable prose. I’m writing this post as a dare, then. Go forth and read Shenk’s article and I guarantee that you will be thoroughly enriched and appreciative.
The Atlantic also provided a video interview of George Vaillant, now 74, who since 1967 has dedicated his career to running and analyzing the Grant Study. As you’ll see from Shenk’s article, Vaillant is an exceptional storyteller himself. The Atlantic article, then, might remind you of one of those Russian dolls, and that is a storyteller telling the story of another storyteller who tell stories of hundreds of other storytellers. For more than 40 years, Vaillant has not only gathered reams of technical data, but he has poured his energy into interviewing the subjects and their families and melding all of that data into compellingly detailed vignettes of the subjects. Telling stories is not ultimately what the study was supposed to be about, of course, and Vaillant also tells us what those stories mean for the rest of us. Truly, what makes people happy? Vaillant offers answers that you will be tempted to immediately apply to your own situation.
Vaillant has a lot to say about “adaptations,” how people respond to the challenges they face in life. As a Shenk explains,
Nathaniel Frank has identified the elephant in the room. People don’t run off to get married to privately have access to government rights and benefits. Hell, where’s the romance in that? And when they get married, they actually get smacked upside the head by the government with the federal tax marriage penalty. The government screws with marriage by taxing it.
So what’s the draw and social function of marriage? Why do people really want to be married? Marriage involves far more than just the two people getting married. Frank explains:
[M]arriage is not just a private bond, but a public identity, whose meaning is shaped by the assumptions and practices of all those who claim and recognize its status. Being married helps us keep our commitments to our spouses and our communities by creating a shared identity with very public expectations. It doesn’t always work. But every day thousands of people choose to embrace this identity because of the support it helps afford them. This is why gays need access to the very same institution of marriage–not civil unions–that straights enjoy: so they can join not just each other, but the wider community of committed people whose marriage is recognized, understood and championed by people across the world. And this is why separate is inherently unequal.
This article from the 8/24/08 edition of the Colfax Record indicates that Christianity once had same-sex ceremonies akin to marriages:
Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” (10th and 11th century), and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century).
These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.
Fascinating stuff. The article provides quite a bit of detail. This was the first I had heard of this. It does present a challenge to the claims of contemporary Christians who abhor homosexual marriage because the concept of marriage has “always” involved one man and one woman.
“Christian” marriage is outlawed by the Bible. I’m not exaggerating. You’ll find all of the stunning details, along with citations to the Bible, at Dwindling in Unbelief. How does the Bible outlaw traditional “Christian” marriages? Here are some of the Bible rules listed:
- The Bible says that Christians should not marry.
- But if a Christian man decides to get married (which he shouldn’t), he can have more than one wife.
- And if he doesn’t like one of his wives (like if she’s unclean or ugly or something), he can divorce her.
- If a Christian man gets married and then discovers on his wedding night that his new wife is not a virgin, then he and the other Christian men must stone her to death.
- Christians shouldn’t have sex (even if they are married, which they shouldn’t be).
- Christian parents must beat their children (which they shouldn’t have, since they shouldn’t get married or have sex).
- Good Christians must hate their families.
(If they abandon them for Jesus, he’ll give them a big reward.)
This list list only includes the first seven rules. Go to Dwindling in Unbelief for the details and the pinpoint citations. Don’t just trust me on these rules. Go read the Bible. These rules are all there, clearly stated.
Conclusion: We need to march to America’s heartland and start picketing traditional Christian marriage because it is clear that traditional Christian marriage contravenes the clear teachings of the Bible.