Wednesday, July 1, 2015
The Seldom Sought Ideal of Loving Monogamy and Fidelity
Very widespread in the news of the last year were many pro-monogamous efforts and protests for marriage.
Diametrically against such monogamous marriage, at the same time, are all the new movements continuing the emphasis since the 1960's of sexual freedom, multiple sexual partners, even recreational sex, and specifically rejecting monogamy and fidelity.
First, the efforts of same sexual people to receive marriage licenses in all states of the United States, and in countries overseas has been highlighted almost every day. The most dramatic event of the past few months as far as same-sexual monogamy goes was in Ireland, a traditionally religiously conservative country and nation which voted 3 to 1 for same-sexual marriage on May 22nd.
But only a month later, 5 days ago, the Supreme Court of the U.S., by a vote of 5 to 4, made same-sexual marriage the law of the land in America as well.
In contrast to all of this support of the ideal of monogamous marriage, it has been something of an ironic contradiction that many conservative Christian leaders (as well as Islamic scholars) have stringently opposed the movement toward the covenant of marriage among gays. Doesn’t it seem odd that these religious leaders would prefer same-sexual people to live in promiscuity or cohabitation rather than in a covenantal relationship?
However, these Christian leaders aren’t primarily thinking about the value of monogamy in this particular case, or of the ideals or emotional needs of same-sexual people, but rather only of the 4 or 5 verses in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament which condemn same-sexual activity as evil, where same sexuality is called an “abomination.” Strong words indeed.
These Christian leaders also have an illusory and fallacious understanding of traditional monogamous marriage as it has existed in past history. Seldom if ever has legal marriage in the past been at all like marriage as idealized by Christian leaders now.
First, most of the leaders portrayed in the Hebrew Bible--covering the historical period beginning in about 2000 BCA--weren’t monogamous by any stretch of biblical interpretation. On the contrary, Jewish leaders were almost all polygamous. Who adhered to an ideal of marriage as promulgated later by Jesus?
Not Abraham or Jacob…or Moses…Certainly NOT David! or Solomon or Gideon or Samson, etc.
King Solomon and a few of his 700 wives and 300 concubines.
There are a few exceptions. An ideal case for life-long monogamous marriage could be made for Ruth and Boaz, and for Isaiah and his wife the prophetess.
"When the Christian Church came into being, polygamy was still practiced by the Jews. …Josephus in two places speaks of polygamy as a recognized institution: and Justin Martyr makes it a matter of reproach to Trypho that the Jewish teachers permitted a man to have several wives. Indeed when in 212 A.D. the lex Antoniana de civitate gave the rights of Roman Citizenship to great numbers of Jews, it was found necessary to tolerate polygamy among them, even though it was against Roman law for a citizen to have more than one wife.” Christian Marriage: An Historical and Doctrinal Study by George Joyce
The New Testament is more ambiguous. Passages do state that leaders need to be the husband of one wife, but scholars disagree as to whether that meant that the lay members of Christians churches could be polygamous or not.
Generally, marriage tended to be looked upon as a sometime negative necessity to deal with sexual desire. According to the Apostle Paul, the ideal (and most useful way of life since the end of the world was soon) was celibacy. Paul even stated, that “it is better not to touch a woman” but because of immorality, leaders should allow marriage.
And he further clarified, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” 1 Corinthians 7: 8-9
In Christian history from Paul to the present, Christianity varied in its attitude toward marriage.
Martin Luther permitted the German leader Phillip I of Hesse to be married to two women (bigamy), but tried to keep the polygamous marriage a secret.
Elsewhere Luther said, "I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter." (De Wette II, 459.)
Some other Christian leaders at the time also permitted polygamy such as Phillip Melanchthon or they even promoted and participated including the Lutheran leader Carlstadt and the Anabaptist leader Bhernhard Rothmann.
The most infamous case was King Henry the VIII who practiced serial polgamy, 6 wives in a row, 2 of whom he beheaded. Oddly, even a Puritan leader supported polygamy, the poet John Milton. And, of course, there are the infamous examples from history such as the Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
Generally though, monogamy and celibacy were the two accepted views of Christian history, though scholars disagree about whether monogamy itself comes mostly from the Bible or from Roman law and custom since Catholic matrimonial law came from Roman law as well. The Romans were officially monogamous, though in actual practice men could have concubines and affairs.
The actual facts of history don’t support the sacred ritual of Christian marriage as modern American Christians claim. There never was in wide practice such an institution that Christians now say gays are destroying. Many, probably most, marriages in history weren’t at all like the conception of ‘traditional marriage’ as conceived by conservative Christians in modern America.
First, most marriages in the past were arranged--even forced--marriages not freely-chosen loving, life-long relationships. Read a few articles by women leaders of the 19th century to get a more accurate perspective. For example, wives in the 19th century couldn’t vote, couldn’t own property, often were ordered to obey their husbands, etc. Marriage was all very patriarchal.
Furthermore, many marriages among the upper levels of society were mainly for political, cultural, and social purposes, and had very little to do with marriage as understood in modern America or in Genesis as explained by Jesus.
But all of this has an even stranger twist in that many of the millions of Christians who stridently oppose same- sexual marriage actually practice or allow divorce!
Divorce is more often condemned in Scripture and Christian history than homosexual relations. It destroys relationships, harms children, and is so tragic. (This, of course, is in no way a condemnation of those who, despite their best efforts, experienced a tragic divorce. My only point here is that Christians who accept divorce yet condemn same-sexual individuals who want to marry as evil are being hypocritical.)
This seems to show an amazing amount of irony and seeming hypocrisy. For instance, the Barna Research Group reports two of the groups with the highest divorce rate are conservative Christians and Baptists! At least 29 to 34% of such Christians have chosen divorce, some more than once.
The story is considerably different in the case of Islam which has always permitted—even condoned--multiple wives. Muhammad himself after the death of his first wife married his adopted son's newly divorced wife, married a 6-year-old girl (according to historians, Muhammmad consummated the marriage when she was 9), married others for political alliances, was given a concubine by an Ethiopian Christian leader, etc.
And in Shia Islam, there is temporary marriage, temporary wives. It is called the Nkiah al-mutah, a brief legal marriage of at least 3 days, 3 months, or one year (basically short-term legal prostitution).
Into this mix, comes something even more bizarre—the recent promotion of polymory among people, where sexual relations occur with multiple persons among a group of friends or acquaintances. This outlook differs from polygamy in that no marriage license is involved and generally the relationships aren’t necessarily long term and sexual partners are with each other in a group.
But polymory differs from individual multiple affairs or instinctive promiscuous activity as in the past.
Okay, enough of that.
The huge question is why on the one hand—very positive--are many same-sexual individuals seeking the sacred outlook of monogamous marriage?
while in contrast
many others are disparaging monogamy and fidelity,
and choosing, instead, multiple sexual relationships
of various forms?
Even sensitive and reflective leaders such as the thoughtful humanist and atheist Neil Carter support “recreational sex.” The famous psychologist, Dr. Eric Berne, originator of Transactional Analysis, also wrote positively of recreational sex. As did the Alan Watts, the British born philosopher and Zen Buddhism
scholar: “I do not believe that I should be passionately in love with my partner…and still less, married.
For there is a special and humanizing delight in erotic friendships with no strings attached…
My life would be much, much poorer were it not for certain particular women with whom I have
most happily and congenially committed adultery…”
This, of course, is about as far as one can get from the ideal of life-long fidelity in a loving monogamous marriage.
Once again: With the exception of some same-sexual individuals who have campaigned for years for the right to marry,
why is the sacred view of monogamous marriage fragmenting away with millions of others?
Let's close with a positive example of loving monogamy
When thinking of loving monogamy, consider Roman and Grace, a Spokane Indian couple.
He is standing close to her with his basketball between them, as if the ball represents the expectant infant
they will soon create…
“Michael Jordan is coming back again,” he said.
“You can’t fool me,” said Grace. “I heard it. That was just a replay.”
“Yeah, but I wish he was coming back again. He should always come back.”
“Don’t let it give you any crazy ideas.”
Roman pulled the basketball away and leaned even closer to Grace. He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day.
Choice: that was the thing. Other people claimed that you can't choose who you love—it just happens!—but Grace and Roman knew that was a bunch of happy horseshit.
Of course you chose who you loved. If you didn't choose, you ended up with what was left—the drunks and abusers, the debtors and vacuums, the ones who ate their food too fast or had never read a novel. Damn, marriage was hard work, was manual labor, and unpaid manual labor at that.
Yet, year after year, Grace and Roman had pressed their shoulders against the stone and rolled it up the hill together.
In their marriage bed, Roman chose Grace once more and brushed his lips against her ear."
From “Saint Junior”
by Sherman Alexie
To be continued--
In the Light,