To Marry Or To Be a Flamer, Part Two

To Marry Or To Be a Flamer, Part Two August 20, 2019

Part One

I hope it’s clear, then, that I think we all ought to take the Side A better-to-marry-than-to-burn argument seriously. Dismissing it is callous or complacent, not a mark of holy wisdom.

But I also don’t think this argument really says what my Side A friends think it does. I see two major problems with this line of thinking.

1. All of us believe that there are certain sexual impulses that people just have to say ‘No’ to, no matter what. This is not in itself an argument against Side A theology; but it does seem to me like an argument against interpreting I Corinthians 7 in this specific way. Surely what St Paul is doing is giving a common-sense solution to a commonplace sexual problem—not defining that solution as the answer to every sexual problem. Some impulses, like the polygamous impulse, are actually essentially incompatible with the very solution St Paul proposes. (1) This is a guideline, not a metaphysic, and it doesn’t cover every case.

It’s very uncomfortable to suggest that there may be moral problems with no tidy solution. It’s also a fact. That’s what the strange, disquieting books of Job and Ecclesiastes are in the Bible for. There’s nothing less tidy than a crucifixion.

2. People aren’t always celibate because their beliefs or desires prompt them to be. Put bluntly, incels are a thing. Hell, so are teenagers—the fact that a 14 year old probably only has to wait, through several years of grueling struggle with appetite, doesn’t do anything about his burning desire right now. If the solution to desire is marriage, and somebody isn’t able to find a willing person to be their spouse, or is for some other reason in no position to get married … then what? Has the Church failed them? Has God? Are they owed a spouse?

To be clear, I don’t for a moment suppose my Side A friends would say anything like this. But it does seem to me like a natural conclusion of this specific understanding of St Paul. The argument, that It is better to marry than to burn implies gay marriage, only works if marriage is the solution to persistent sexual desire. If not, then the fact that gay men and lesbians can’t normally avail ourselves of this advice is just one of the exceptions that we should kind of expect to a rule of thumb.

Or, God’s apostle is defining a solution which God himself isn’t ponying up for. And that’s at least as big a problem as the problem this interpretation was supposed to solve.

All of this dovetails rather with the talk Johanna Finnegan gave at Revoice this year, where she contrasted two ‘churches of glory’ with the ‘church of the cross.’ I’ll discuss that parallel in my next.

Part Three


(1) I’m aware there are Christians who advocate polyamorous relationships: in substance, a return to polygamy. I don’t think that either the New Testament or the subsequent tradition of the Church give the smallest support for this; but I think even a polyamorous Christian would assent that, for instance, the impulse to chase the sexual thrill of cheating (however that’s defined in their context) is simply wrong. In any case, I think most of my Side A friends do believe in monogamy.

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  • Naters

    Could you do a blog on the Bishop of Krakow’s recent remarks on the gay pride movement? He actually said during a Mass to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, and I quote, “Our land is no longer affected by the red plague, which does not mean that there is no new one that wants to control our souls, hearts and minds. Not Marxist, Bolshevik, but born of the same spirit, neo-Marxist. Not red, but rainbow”. That could actually incite more violence against gay rights supporters, and that’s already a huge problem in Poland.

  • Aequitas

    Hi Gabriel, could you please clarify what you consider marriage to be in a Catholic context? I’m not sure that gay marriage fits anywhere in the current paradigm. This is in no way me trying to be disrespectful of the secular institution, only being intellectually honest. Per the Catechism:

    2360 Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.

    2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which “is on the side of life”150 teaches that “each and every marriage act must remain open ‘per se’ to the transmission of life.”151 “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”152

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P86.HTM

  • I consider marriage to be just what the Church teaches: a covenant reflecting that between Christ and the Church, made between one man and one woman, dissoluble only by the death of one of the parties, in which each promises to give themselves body and soul wholly to the other, in monogamous fidelity, uncontracepting fertility, and good will.

    Exactly how that should impinge on the state, I’m less sure. For a while I was convinced that the state should keep its overreaching paws off the sacraments, and was accordingly in favor of gay marriage, on the principle that the state should govern contracts and not covenants, and that two men or two women are quite as capable of establishing a legal contract as a heterosexual pair. Then for a while I was persuaded that marriage, as an institution older than any state and with its own character defined independently of the state, ought to be recognized as such by the state.

    Nowadays I waver somewhat between these two opinions, but with the understanding that both beliefs are kind of idealistic. The truth is, the reality of sacramental marriage has been gone from American civic discourse since a lot further back than 2003 (when Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriage as such). Fertility, permanence, and even monogamy have been at best debated principles for considerably more than a century; to treat gay marriage as if it were some kind of omen is in my opinion foolishness. I don’t think anything short of a thorough spiritual reform of the culture would put us in a place to discuss the proper relation between the state and sacramental marriage again; and thorough spiritual reforms cannot be accomplished by any amount of legislation. Grace, prayer, and lives of charity will do that, and they will probably take quite a long time.

    And I admit frankly that in the meantime, I welcome legal recognition for gay unions. It guarantees a number of rights and protections that LGBT people don’t have secure access to otherwise (not even with civil unions) — things like hospital visitation rights, for instance — and I for one want that.