As America enters the “What Could it Hurt?” Phase of History Yet Again

As America enters the “What Could it Hurt?” Phase of History Yet Again November 19, 2012

If you hear a thing being accused of being too tall and too short, too red and too green, too bad in one way and too bad also in the opposite way, then you may be sure that it is very good. – GK. Chesterton, on ordinary heterosexual monogamous marriage and the family, among many other things.

The issue is not civil rights.  The issue is “What is marriage”?  If any pairing of anybody is “marriage” then marriage means anything, which means marriage means nothing.  As reader Ian Bibby points out:
In addition to the inconsistency between the feminists and the gay rightists, the gay rightists are inconsistent with themselves.

On the one hand, they claim that marriage has no intrinsic definition or nature. They say that we, as a culture, can define marriage to be whatever we want it to be.

Then, on the other hand, they claim that all people everywhere have an intrinsic right to this thing that they’ve claimed has no intrinsic definition. It’s incoherent.
The focus of marriage (till heterosexuals murdered it with no fault divorce) was man and woman in committed self-donating love ordered toward mutual upbuilding and the nurture of children.  The focus of marriage now is “Everyone must affirm me and my partner(s) in whatever it is we choose to do with our pelvises”.  The move from self-donating love to narcissistic demand for recognition is not a healthy one.  No-fault divorce began it.  The legal fiction of gay “marriage” is just kicking the corpse.  A civilization that does not privilege the family but instead privileges narcissism is going to die–by its own hand.  Though enemies will helpfully finish any botched suicide attempt.
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  • Ted Seeber

    You say self-donating. I’d go so far as to say self-denying.

    And that in part is why I cannot believe that homosexual attraction, which is primarily lust and NOT love, can result in marriage. Because the very act of pulling another person of the same gender away from traditional gender roles in traditional heterosexual monogamous parenthood, is willing evil for the other person. Consent isn’t enough if by your very actions you deny love.

    Just as the most loving, and painful, thing a heterosexual teenage human male in lust can do is kiss his date goodnight and walk away when everything in both the boy and the girl is screaming for him to stay and spend the night; so too the most living and painful thing a same sex attracted person can do is to NOT give in to their lust, and to preserve friendship in chastity instead.

    We’ve raise three generations since Woodstock with a faith in lust instead of love. It is time to stop.

  • RFlaum

    This just fundamentally misunderstands the argument for gay marriage in two ways.

    First: The claim of most SSM proponents (including myself) is not that marriage’s existence is a meaningless creation but that its form is determined by society. Think of it like justice: the concept of justice is older than civilization and not subject to negation by any government; however, the form that justice takes in our society — the legal system — is clearly determined by government and by society. Similarly, the idea of marriage is ancient; it certainly predates civilization, and some paleoanthropologists believe it predates the species homo sapiens. But it can be and has been given wildly different forms by different cultures. Some of these forms are better than others, and in general the superior forms have replaced the inferior. Those of us who support same-sex marriage believe that the same thing is happening again.

    Second, and more generally: even if one did believe that marriage was wholly dependent on human culture, that wouldn’t reduce its worth or dignity. Shakespeare’s plays are the creation of a human mind, but they have worth and glory. The mere fact that a concept was invented by humans does not make it any less real or admirable than it would be if it had an existence of its own.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Think of it like justice: the concept of justice is older than civilization and not subject to negation by any government

      How much older? By whom was the concept of justice (or marriage) created. Does said creator get any say in the way justice and marriage is defined?

      • RFlaum

        Personally, I think that justice, like monogamy, arises from genetic imperatives; humans are pack animals, and so we have evolved a set of moral urges that promote the well-being of the pack. Other pack animals also have many of these moral instincts (in the particular case of justice, chimpanzees are the most notable case), though of course they have much cruder versions than we do, since they lack the intelligence to refine their urges into abstract ideas. (Also, if a chimpanzee somehow did develop a more advanced concept of justice, he wouldn’t have any way to communicate it to others). In the same way, human beings have an inherent tendency to form long-term, exclusive romantic relationships, just as many other animals do.

        • Mark Shea

          So justice is the same sort of thing as eye and hair color? If so, why bother with it if you can get away with murder? We change our hair color and eye color. If you can get away with murder, what’s to say it’s wrong if “wrong” is simply what your genes program you to think? And if monogamy arises from genetic imperatives, how come it was not very imperative till Christianity made it so, and is fading as Christianity does? Indeed, one of the principal arguments *against* monogamy by advocates of marriage abolition and sundry perversions is that monogamy is unnatural, particularly for (fallen) males.

          • NoahLuck

            > what’s to say it’s wrong if “wrong” is simply what your genes program you to think?

            You answered your own question in the same words as you asked it. The question was misguided. To say that our consciences are as genetic as our bodies no more makes them relativist notions than our bones and blood are relativist notions. The moral law is, to an extent that is surprisingly amenable to scientific investigation, deeper within us than our bones and blood. It is written, albeit imperfectly, in the very form and pattern of human life. It was put there through the evolutionary history of our kind and the animals that preceded us, and, unsurprisingly, it is also present in a recognizable way in living animals who had a similar tribal pattern of life in their own evolutionary histories.

            • Mark Shea

              Written by whom? Mystical poetry about bones and blood is nice, but genetic science is learning how to rewrite the code for bones and blood and reducing the entire human organism to a gaming playground for programmers to diddle with at their Olympian whim. So, how do you subject that Is to an Ought? A theist has a reply. I can’t see that a materialist does (except, of course, by looting theism for a transcendent Thou Shalt Not and then pretending he is not doing so). Eventually, that game ends and the Conditioner says, “Screw it. I’ll do what I like to the Conditioned” (or should I say “manufactured”?). Read The Abolition of Man.

          • RFlaum

            Okay, two things: first, you’re importing assumptions from your own moral framework into a different one. You guys are the ones who believe that the goodness and worth of something come from the source of that something. I have no problem believing that something noble came from a source that was ignoble. Let me give you a hypothetical here. Imagine a sleazy politician, completely self-serving, who pretends to be Christian in order to get votes. But now let’s say that in his pretending to be Christian it begins to seep in — he “becomes the mask”. Now, if you learned of this, would you say “No, that’s an unworthy route to Christianity”? Of course you wouldn’t. What matters isn’t whether the original motivation was noble or not, what matters is that he ended up in what you believe is the right place. The same principle applies here.

            Second: even if one believes that good comes from God, that doesn’t actually help with the “no Ought from Is” problem. “God exists” is an Is statement. To get morality from it, you also have to have the Ought of “one ought to obey/love God”. This Ought can also be dressed up as an Is (“God is good”), but even in that form it only works if we have a pre-existing idea of what “good” is, or else the statement is meaningless. Read Euthyphro.

            • Mark Shea

              Of course we have pre-existing ideas of what Good is. We come from God and are born into a world infused with his goodness in a million ways. So we experience goodness and recognize it with our mother’s milk. So, for that matter, do geese. The world is sacramental. It is also sacramental for materialists. But they don’t say “Thank you” as they loot it.

              • RFlaum

                But then, if we recognize goodness, what does it matter where it came from? Again, this is the Euthyphro dilemma, slightly reparsed. In its most common form, the Euthyphro dilemma is: “Does God command things because they are good, or are they good because God commands them?” I would rephrase it as: “Is goodness desirable because it partakes of God’s nature, or is God worthy of worship because His nature is good?”

                • Mark Shea

                  But then, if we recognize goodness, what does it matter where it came from?

                  It matters because we are made for Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Love and all those other eternals since he who is all those things made us for himself. I frankly find your question stunningly incurious. If I had a chance to not just see the Mona Lisa, but meet Leonardo, I’d jump at it. Give the chance to meet the source of Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Love and all those other eternals, I long to do it. O taste and see that the Lord is good.

                  • RFlaum

                    Okay, I phrased that question poorly. Obviously it matters on a scientific/philosophical level what the source is. And indeed, it’s an intellectually interesting question. What I meant was, what does it matter for deciding whether goodness is something worth following? Let’s say you did meet Leonardo, and he turned out to be a jerk. Would that make the Mona Lisa any less beautiful? Contrariwise, if he turned out to be astonishingly kind and admirable, would that make the Mona Lisa more beautiful? (Okay, yes, context matters for aesthetic judgments, and your personal opinions of the creator could color your reactions to the work. But you know what I mean.)

        • SteveP

          Would you give an example of an animal’s romantic relationship? I confess I’ve never seen a pair of rams reciting Blake poems all the while sipping a chilled Chardonnay in the shade of a weeping willow on a bright afternoon.

          • RFlaum

            Geese. They mate for life, and it’s not uncommon for one member of such a pairing to sacrifice its own life for the benefit of its partner. In fact, many birds do such things.

            • SteveP

              Thank you for the response. I am aware that some species mate for life; the question is, what makes the geese’s relationship “romantic”? That is, as the word “romance” has to do with feelings, how do we know the subjective state of the goose?

              • RFlaum

                Okay, fair point. “Romantic” is kind of a slippery term. Let’s say they show loyalty and affection towards one another

                • SteveP

                  Thank you again for the response. I’d suggest the difficulty lies in anthropomorphizing animals, imputing human states of being. For example, you reference loyalty; is not loyalty tested by temptation? How do we know what temptation the gander faced to choose the goose instead? It seems odd for identity advocates whom assert that identity cannot be assigned, only revealed, to project their own identity characteristics on to animals.

                  • RFlaum

                    Well, of course it’s true that there’s a certain amount of guesswork involved at trying to discern animals’ emotions, so the approach to take is the same one we take when trying to discern a human’s true emotions: we look at their actions. Many animals will risk their own lives to buy their mate time to escape. I suppose it’s possible that they’re making a cool and rational calculation of the long-term effects and just playing the odds, but that actually seems far less animalistic than raw emotion would be. In this case, the temptation is to run/fly away, abandoning one’s mate to danger.

                    Most (though not all) monogamous species will remain monogamous even if given the chance to “cheat”. (Not all, however; there is at least one species of monogamous bird in which the male will attempt to impress random females even if he’s already mated; if his partner notices this, she’ll get angry and start yelling at him).

                    The most interesting thing to me is that partners and friends of many species will help each other with emotional problems, not just physical ones. I used to know a guy who owned two dogs, one of which was terrified of lightning and thunder. Whenever there was a storm, this dog was miserable, trying to hide under the bed and whimpering. The other dog, noticing this, would always go up to the first dog and cuddle with him to comfort him. That’s not a romantic relationship — dogs don’t pair-bond — but it does I think indicate both loyalty and affection.

    • Will

      If “society” determines the “form” of marriage, what is the rationale for objecting that it does not take the “form” you would like? Why is it “hate” and “bigotry” to say that “marriage consists of a man and a woman” but not “marriage consists of any two, but only two, individuals”? Thus demanding a “form” which has never existed in ANY culture while excluding those which have.

      • RFlaum

        Whyever not? Just because the form is determined by the culture doesn’t mean that some forms aren’t superior to others. Shakespeare’s plays are the creation of a human mind, but we can nevertheless agree that his works are objectively superior to those of, say, Stephanie Meyer.

    • SecretAgentMan

      I have to agree with RFlaum here, albeit in different terms. There’s no reason why neopagans can’t expropriate the Christian ideal of marriage and force it to serve a new, anti-Christian (or “englightened,” take your pick) view of civil society. In doing so, neopagans aren’t required to pay homage to the Christian god any more than than Aquinas was required to pay homage to the Greek pantheon. Christians may complain that the expropriated ideal can’t be made to serve this purpose without making the ideal itself empty and meaningless, but that presupposes that distinctive Christian ideas about the meaning and purpose of marriage are relevant. Christians can’t privilege their position in that way and remain effective advocates at the same time. It’s no good arguing that, “Expropriating the Christian ideal of marriage in the service of the neopagan agenda is impossible because the result won’t be ideal Christian marriages.” One might as well argue that socialist revolutionries can’t rob banks because private property is sacred.

    • Bill

      Marriage is a divine institution, not a man made one that can be changed by society.

  • John Barnes

    Nice cartoon but terribly inaccurate. A truly bigoted family would be armed with guns rather than household furnishings and domestic tools. Give mom a 12-gague pump shotgun and dad an MP-5 or AR-15. Give each kid a lever-action .22 just for good measure. They’d be in better shape.

    Just sayin’.

  • SteveP

    Ditch SS survivor payments and spousal pension payments and the demand for “same-sex marriage” would disappear: the outcry for “marriage equality” is a desperate attempt to increase net worth, to inch closer to the one percent.

    • Ted Seeber

      Now that is a brilliant option, and could easily be done across the board now that the last generation of women who didn’t work is dying off.

  • Bob

    Whenever government gets in the business of legally recognizing individual relationships, and then attaches legal and financial consequences to the recognition, and the withholding of that recognition, we inevitably will have bloody fights over whose relationships “deserves” recognition.
    How about this: Uncle Sam can take his recognition of my relationship and stick it right where the sun don’t shine. I respect the Church’s right to honor its traditions by recognizing, or not, whichever marriages it deems worthy, in whatever manner it chooses. As I do any other religion. I also respect the right of individuals to define their own relationships for themselves, provided those definitions are limited ONLY to themselves.
    What I don’t respect is the government’s right to decide whose relationship is worthy of its admiration, whose is worthy of derision, and then goes about setting everything from tax policy to Social Security death benefits accordingly.
    I’ve never considered myself a libertarian but on this matter they have a point.

    • Oh, Bob. The government doesn’t think marriage is worthy of admiration. The government just *used* to think that since heterosexuals have this habit of producing children, and since it’s better for children if their parents are married, then government support of heterosexual marriage meant that the government could pay less to prop up single-parent families, and more to people who raised children together.

      Nowadays, of course, we enlightened people know that since the government never actually required people to PROVE they could procreate before granting them marriage licenses, and in fact married infertile and elderly people all the time, then in a grand AHA! moment we can scream that marriage has never had the slightest thing to do with children or parenting or human reproduction or the natural family, and we can also insist that if people demand to clutter up their fabulous loving relationships with tiny rugrats or obnoxious mini-me critters that’s just the sort of personal choice the government *shouldn’t* encourage, since, like smoking and driving an SUV, procreation is bad for the planet.

      Of course, the trillion dollar question nobody likes to ask is this: if we take it as a given that marriage has nothing whatsoever to do with children or with encouraging the sort of stable unions children do well in (in which the state might presumably have a legitimate interest), then what the heck interest in marriage does government have left at all? I mean, why should someone’s primary temporary sex partner get their social security benefits? Does that even make sense?

    • Will

      Unfortunately, most of the libertarians I know lined up with the statist (bastards) on this issue, supporting the use of state power to FORCE everybody to CALL SS relationships “marriage” (while allowing my polygamous friends to remain “second-class citizens”.) As Edgar Pangborn said, I hope you will understand this some day when the sea is less wet.

      Another thing conspicuously missing is an explanation of why only _sexual_ relationships “deserve” this “recognition”.

  • Thinkling

    At another site, someone exposed the vacuousness of the “hospital visitation” et al canard:

    Quick, name one time where two men (or two women) obtained a marriage license, or even just a civil union, so to be able to have visitation rights, etc., AND neither of the couple actually has SSA.

    OK never say never, but pretty much never happens. Because frankly it doesn’t need to, to get these other real benefits.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Part of the point of a public institution of marriage is that the couple’s family members and friends support the continuation of the relationship, even when one or both members of the married pair say they would like for the other to go hang. Because, let’s face it, there are times when marriage is no picnic. But wise Moms and Dads, even Moms-in-law and Dads-in-law, brothers, sisters, friends, will say to a despondent or frustrated young spouse, “hey, let’s take a ride in the car and talk it over.” or “Let’s grab a cup of coffee and have a chat.” Then the supportive family / friend agrees with the aggrieved spouse that the situation is downright impossible, but reminds him or her that they made their vows before God in the Church, and with God all things are possible. And they remind them that if they decided to divorce, there would be much to suffer in court rigamarole, dealing with lawyers, and embarrassment, and indignity, not to mention the financial hit. Much better to work things outand stay together..

    And so, we often do, although sometimes we don’t. But where there are little children involved, it is much, much, much better for them if Mom and Dad can at least stay together and remain civil and pleasant toward one another. And let’s face it, once the little ones come along, it is their happiness and success in life that matters more than the adults’, who have already had their chance and have made their choices. But the little ones are utterly dependent on the adults: if the adults insist on ruining their own lives, let them not ruin the childrens’, as well. And, no, children are not resilient when their homes and hearts are ripped to shreds by their parents’ divorcing. Their parents and their homes are all their world, their sunshine, their stars and moon. To lose that is devastating. They are able to survive, but the wounds and the scars are horrific. They will never be the same. Never.

    Anything the state can do to encourage men and women who are bringing children into the world, to remain together, share a home, make a real family, take care of each other and of their children, is performing a real service on behalf of the nations’ young ones. And it is the young ones who matter.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    If I were the queen of the country, I would direct that the law of this land would be: “How will this benefit our country’s children?” Everything that is undertaken, legislated, decided, spent, adjudicated, investigated, appropriated, commissioned, and built would be about the children and the young people: what would best contribute to their welfare, their health, their security, and their happiness.

    Did you know that 80% of the men incarcerated in this country did not grow up with their father in the home? Eighty percent. Yet every year more and more young men and women produce children out of wedlock. What does that tell you about how far our culture has moved from being a culture that produces a healthy environment in which most children can grow up, into a culture that is toxic to children?

    A culture that is toxic to its own children: how long can it last?

  • Linebyline

    I am offended. You insult the noble pelvis, which only wants to hold us together and help us stand upright. If you’re going to accuse (and, at least in many cases, accuse rightly,) a segment of society of being obsessed with body parts, at least refer to the body parts with which they are obsessed, and not a perfectly innocent bone that happened to be in the neighborhood.

    Okay, I’m not really offended. But still.

    • Mark Shea

      Clearly you are a hipster.

  • Bob

    I could never understand as a single man I could not file my 1040 “jointly” and get that double I being being second class or what ? Or is it that I can’t love myself ?

  • Will

    And for decades the hip moderns have been telling us that marriage “is just a piece of paper”.

  • Gam Samgee

    And contraception was/is a key enabler for the breakdown of marriage as well as no-fault divorce.

  • Christina

    Kind of telling that the first denomination to allow some divorce was the first to allow contraception and then the first mainstream denomination to allow homosexual relations. Yet these things are completely unconnected events. Correlation does not prove causation and blah blah blah. What…someone predicted this would happen? Bah – he was just a backwards thinking pope, obviously stupidly biased.

  • If you hear a thing being accused of being too tall and too short, too red and too green, too bad in one way and too bad also in the opposite way, then you may be sure that it is very good. – GK. Chesterton
    There was global warming in G.K.’s day?
    I saw a bumper sticker picture being shared on facebook last week [before I deleted my profile], that read, “If WE cannot marry, then YOU cannot divorce.”
    A secular ‘prophet’ made a prediction at the end of the 20th century: “Syndicated Columnist Geneva Overholser believes that
    churches will eventually approve of homosexual unions.
    Why? ‘I think in due time this thinking will change, just
    as most churches’ opposition to divorce, for example, has
    Our protestant churches began abandoning the clear teachings of Scripture on key issues which made today’s false teachings inevitable. And one of the key ways that these teachings were undermined was by letting the world re-define our Christian basics like love.
    It will take a disciplined effort by rank and file Christians to understand where our cultural understanding has gone awry so that we can begin to help our neighbors understand.
    also in ebook

  • R. Howell

    No-fault divorce law didn’t begin it. It was a milestone, but the roots are even deeper. Before no-fault divorce became the law, it had become fact due to social changes. Divorce ceased to be shameful, and people ceased to condemn those who divorced, and people stopped caring about fault. I recall a speech by an advocate of no-fault divorce in the ’70s. The man recounted his own divorce, how he and his wife had mutually agreed to it, but due to what he regarded as antiquated laws, “someone had to be guilty of something. So I volunteered to be guilty of adultery.” I can’t prove it but I think this is representative of what was going on generally: there was no longer any stigma to being at fault in a divorce, so people just made up a fault.
    Once that social change had happened, the fault aspect of divorce law had no teeth, and was bound to be discarded as irrelevant before long.

  • Ben from Cali

    Mr. Shea,

    Ive always been educated and inspired when reading your site. Always informative, sir.

    In my humble opinion, it is time for conservatives to retool the message as one in defense of religious liberty. Why we would wish to tie the sacrosanct nature of marriage to the secular state is beyond me. Marriage is made holy by the Church, not the state house or the White House. Remember, these are also governments that deem abortion legal, so they are morally stymied already.

    The 2012 election was a sign of the times. “Signs and wonders,” as was said in “No Country for Old Men.” Make no mistake, “gay marriage” is on the way. We need to gather our strengths and protect religious liberty before, not too long from now, that is even an untenable defense.

    God bless.