The nature of marriage

Philosopher Stephen J. Heaney discusses the nature of marriage in the context of the same-sex marriage debate:

Marriage is often characterized today as follows: 1) two people 2) who love each other 3) want to perform sexual acts together, so 4) they consent to combine their lives sexually, materially, economically 5) with the endorsement of the community. Since same-sex couples can meet the first four criteria, how can society refuse the fifth?It is easy to see why this would be a cause of aggravation, not only for same-sex couples who wish community endorsement of their relationships, but for millions of others. If the criteria stated above actually define marriage—and in contemporary Western society, many have come to view marriage as no more than this—then refusal to acknowledge and endorse same-sex relationships is a rank injustice, nothing but an exercise in bigotry or stupidity.

Typically, marriage does in fact have these characteristics. But why does marriage have these characteristics? Remembering why will help us to remember how they show themselves in a relationship that has the essence of marriage—and how that is often different in other relationships.

First, human beings have a powerful hankering to engage in sexual intercourse.

Second, sexual intercourse between a man and a woman naturally and frequently leads to children. Male and female alone each have part of a complete reproductive system. Without both parts, reproduction cannot happen. Without the result of children, it would be a real puzzler why we have these organ systems at all, and why we have such a deep urge to engage in sexual acts.

Third, the rearing of children is a lifetime responsibility. As deeply social beings, we remain connected to each other across generations. Even adults with children of their own need the wisdom and guidance of their fathers and mothers. It is easier for those who enter this project that they have affection for each other, and that they form a self-giving friendship. To perform these actions lovingly is the properly human way.

Fourth, because it leads to children, sexual intercourse has extraordinary public consequences. It is not, as we might like to think, a purely private act. It matters a lot to the community who is doing it, and under what circumstances. So the community endorses certain sexual arrangements; others, which fail to abide by the fullness of truth of human sexuality, the community rejects as unfitting for human beings. To support those that are fitting, it offers the institution of marriage. In marriage, the couple promises before the community to fulfill this project through vows of fidelity and permanence, joining their bodies and their lives to make the project work. The community promises to give the couple the privacy to perform their sexual acts, and care for each other; it further supports the family by means of appropriate protections and benefits. It may be that others could receive similar benefits for different reasons, but this is why benefits accrue to marriage: to help the marriage project flourish.

If sexuality did not naturally bring us offspring, it is hard to explain why it exists, whether you believe in a purely material evolution or a loving designer of the universe, for it would serve no purpose. If sexual acts did not naturally lead to offspring, it is just as hard to explain how marriage would have appeared in human history, for it would serve no purpose.

Religions may bless marriage, but they did not invent it. Because it involves such profoundly important human realities, it is no surprise that sex and marriage have religious significance. But sex and marriage have existed as long as there have been human communities.

If we accept the misdefinition of marriage using non-essential characteristics as the complete story, it would be impossible to reject same-sex marriage. Given the whole truth, however, it is impossible to accept it. No matter how superficially similar they are to real marriages, same-sex relationships cannot function as marriages.

This is a good example of the “natural law” approach to moral reasoning. Does it make sense?  Is there anything exclusively Roman Catholic about it?

HT:  Larry Hughes

Christianity fever

Peter Berger is one of the major sociologists of our day.  A Lutheran Christian of the ELCA variety, he discusses the explosion of Christianity in still-Communist China, a phenomenon described in that country as “Christianity fever”:

The most reliable source for religious demography is the World Christian Database, headed by Todd Johnson, which has been counting Christian noses worldwide for many years now. Johnson and his associates claim that there were about one million Christians in China in 1970 (a sharp decline from earlier in the twentieth century because of Communist repression), and that there about 120 million today, with some 70 million in unregistered churches. Representing over 9% of the total population of 1.3 billion, this estimate, if correct, would constitute one of the most spectacular explosions in religious history. The WCD people further estimate that, if present trends continue (always an iffy assumption, of course) the Christian population in China will reach 220 million by 2050. This would be a considerably higher proportion of the total population, because of the demographic consequences of the one-child policy.  . . .

There are much lower estimates. The CIA World Factbook estimates 3-4% Christians. (Are CIA estimates on religion more reliable than those on weapons of mass destruction?) The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates 4-5%. The Chinese government comes up with a risible 20 million (but then, presumably, they only count officially registered Christians, or maybe those ex-Marxists engage in wishful thinking). But there is an estimate ever higher than the one by WCD. David Aikman is the author of a book, Jesus in Beijing (2003), in which he predicts a breathtaking future for Chinese Christianity. In a recent lecture which I attended, Aikman mentions a Communist party official who told him of a confidential estimate of 130 million. Aikman thinks that by about 2030 Christianity will have achieved cultural and maybe political hegemony in China.

via Counting Christians in China – Peter Berger’s Blog – The American Interest.

David Aikman, by the way, is the former journalist with Time Magazine who is now my colleague as a history professor at Patrick Henry College.

HT: First Thoughts


Well, I just got back from the ordination of my son-in-law, Ned Moerbe, and his installation as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Blackwell, Oklahoma (just a few miles from our ancestral farm outside of Tonkawa). It was a great occasion. I counted 15 pastors taking part. The circuit is far flung, including Stillwater (where Oklahoma State University is), Guthrie (where my wife grew up), and Alva (where I was born). It was very moving when Ned was ordained and then started leading the service himself, including his first celebration of Holy Communion.

And then the pot-luck dinner afterwards that the church put on was one of the biggest and best I’ve experienced, with at least half a dozen different varieties of BBQ!

Now Ned’s a pastor. I am so happy for him, the rest of his family, and his congregation.

The Moerbes on ordination day

Teachers good and bad

The California teachers’ union is calling for a boycott of the L.A. Times for publishing an expose of teacher performance.  Here are some of its findings:

• Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year. There is a substantial gap at year’s end between students whose teachers were in the top 10% in effectiveness and the bottom 10%. The fortunate students ranked 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math.

• Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year — a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided. Over the period analyzed, more than 8,000 students got such a math or English teacher at least twice in a row.

• Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

• Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students’ academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

• Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers’ effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students’ performance.

Other studies of the district have found that students’ race, wealth, English proficiency or previous achievement level played little role in whether their teacher was effective.

via L.A. teacher ratings: L.A. Times analysis rates teachers’ effectiveness –

It seems that some people have a vocation for teaching.  Let’s focus on the positive.  What are traits of good teachers?  Tell about good teachers who were able to get through to you.

Would proof of God eliminate Christianity?

Joe Carter takes on an intriguing argument:

Would evidence for God mean the end of atheism and Christianity? Yes, says Matt J. Rossano, a professor and department head of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University. In a peculiar article at The Huffington Post, Rossano argues that scientific evidence for the existence of God is fatal to both the faith of the atheist and the believer.

via Would Evidence for God Mean the End of Atheism and Christianity? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Rossano reasons that indisputable proof of God would violate free will, which is necessary to Christianity.  Joe shows, on behalf of Reformation theologians everywhere, that this notion of free will is NOT essential to Christianity.  Rossano would do better to argue that scientific certainty would eliminate faith, which IS essential to Christianity.

Joe does anticipate that line of thought.  He argues that faith is NOT believing without evidence, that, in fact, there is an abundance of evidence for God’s existence.  It is true that for Christians and even non-Christians in the past, the question of God’s existence was not even an issue. Even doubt was not about whether God exists, but whether God is gracious to me and whether I can trust Him to keep His promises.

But given that faith is not just “belief in whether something exists,” does faith still require the hiddenness of God (to use a Reformation concept)?  Would knowing God as we know other scientifically verified facts involve walking by sight and not by faith?  If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, that would connote a kind of certainty, but would faith be undermined if everything were seen?

Trying to make Christianity cool

Twenty-something Brett McCracken is put off by what churches are doing to attract him:

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).

“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an “iCampus.” Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services.

But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before? . . .

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

via The Perils of Hipster Christianity and Why Young Evangelicals Reject Churches That Try To Be Cool –