If You Want Peace, Work For Marriage?

If You Want Peace, Work For Marriage? April 28, 2008

Via First Things, Maggie Gallagher points to some strikingly counter-intuitive statements by the Pope on the relationship between marriage and peace. Here, for example, is a snippet from the Holy Father’s remarks at this year’s World Day of Peace:

Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace. This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace.

And here is a similar statement, made in 2007 to the Executive Committee of the Centrist Democratic Internationale:

There are those who maintain that human reason is incapable of grasping the truth, and therefore of pursuing the good that corresponds to personal dignity. There are some who believe that it is legitimate to destroy human life in its earliest or final stages. Equally troubling is the growing crisis of the family, which is the fundamental nucleus of society based on the indissoluble bond of marriage between a man and a woman. Experience has shown that when the truth about man is subverted or the foundation of the family undermined, peace itself is threatened and the rule of law is compromised, leading inevitably to forms of injustice and violence.

I’ve been puzzling over these comments for a couple of days now, trying to understand what the Pope was getting at. After all, the relationship between, say, Same Sex Marriage and the Iraq War is hardly obvious. Yet the Pope is nobody’s fool, and if he’s repeatedly made the point, it’s worth considering whether he’s on to something.

Thoughts?


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  • Morning’s Minion

    It’s part of the point he’s been making for some time now about re-unity the two parts of morality, one based on peace, social justice, and the environment and the other based on sexual morality and the importance or marriage. I think it’s not so much that issue A is direcly related to issue B but that the errononeous reasoning in both cases springs from the same flawed source– typically, the individualism that arose out of the Enlightement.

  • Robert M

    BA, I would not automatically assume it’s primarily focused on the issue of same-sex ‘marriage’. I realize he does state the ‘1 male 1 female’ formula but that’s de rigour and I don’t think it’s the point. That’s certainly not what first came to my mind — I think it more likely he is addressing the far more serious issues of divorce rates, cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births, and declining fertility. These are far more serious challenges and I would think the Pope absolutely correct to address them.

    I have often found it interesting that Christians in this country (Catholics and our Protestant brethren) get extremely exercised over abortion issues (a topic never mentioned by Christ), yet are hardly even remotely as vocal (aside from occasional hand wringing) over divorce issues (a topic specifically addressed, and forbidden, by Christ). Curious, that.
    RM

  • If you want vocations, strengthen marriage and family life.

  • Blackadder

    “I have often found it interesting that Christians in this country (Catholics and our Protestant brethren) get extremely exercised over abortion issues (a topic never mentioned by Christ), yet are hardly even remotely as vocal (aside from occasional hand wringing) over divorce issues (a topic specifically addressed, and forbidden, by Christ).”

    Perhaps this has something to do with the comparative gravity of the two acts (among other reasons).

  • I have often found it interesting that Christians in this country (Catholics and our Protestant brethren) get extremely exercised over abortion issues (a topic never mentioned by Christ), yet are hardly even remotely as vocal (aside from occasional hand wringing) over divorce issues (a topic specifically addressed, and forbidden, by Christ). Curious, that.

    Umm… That could partly be an issue of gravity of sin. Betraying/deserting one’s spouse and breaking up one’s family is without question a horrible sin, but killing one’s own offspring is arguably far worse.

    I mean, let’s not get all Sola Scriptura and assume that we can measure the importance of everything by the number of times it’s mentioned in scripture…

    But yes, divorce and out of wedlock birth are major scourges on our society which deserve to be addressed much more than they are.

    In regards to Blackadder’s original question: It seems to me that Benedict’s point is that since the human person is naturally ordered towards family life, it is necessary to our peace and happiness that family life and family order be recognized, protected and encouraged. Clearly, if human order relies on the health of the family, then the destruction of family order would destroy peace.

    I think this emphasizes, though, that what Benedict is talking about is peace in the sense of human order and harmony — not the absence of war in any of a half a dozen famous hot-spots.

  • Robert M

    It was in no way my intent to imply that Christians were somehow wrong to get so passionate about abortion — of course it’s a graver sin! But the comparative ease with which divorce is tolerated strikes me as completely inconsistant. It’s not a question of Sola Scriptura (although denominations that stand on that seem to me even more incomprehensible in their toleration of divorce). I am only an amateur observer, but it seems abundantly clear to me that divorce is a far more destructive force in our society today than abortion. How anyone cannot see that is a puzzler to me.
    I think the Pope is directly ‘on’ with these statements.
    RM

  • Many Protestant denominations take a more “lenient” approach than the Catholic Church on the matter of divorce; a similar observation could be made about contraception (I have heard it frequently asserted that “prior to 1930, contraception had been uniformly condemned by every Christian denomination in the world since the death of Christ”). We now reap the bitter fruits of a “contraceptive mentality.” — And despite the Church’s clear position, this same leniency has infected Catholics as well.

  • The issue of life and peace are intertwined because they both involve communion and community. Wars start in families, move on to nations, and end up engulfing the world. When families break down, communities implode. When communites implode, violence results – a violence that spreads throughout an entire culture, resulting in eventual war. It is a simple connection that the pro-life and pro-peace movements have missed out on. Though the consistent ethic of life has been around for some time, the actual connections haven’t been pointed out. Thank God we have a Pope who can point it out for us.

    Nice point about divorce, Robert. Divorce and abortion are both symptoms of a perverted understanding and practice of sexuality. I do wonder if the lack of focus on divorce is because it is so prevalent in our Church.

  • A couple tangential thoughts…

    I’ve noticed that protestants use the rigorism of the Catholic Church on divorce as a lever to scoop up lapsed Catholics – I had a co-worker describe her mother, who “felt condemned” at having remarried after her non-annulled first marriage, and used this as an argument for becoming protestant. I think what she was leading to was the “advantage” of the doctrine of assurance (“once saved, always saved”).

  • Oh, the sanctimony. I am wondering what a woman who gets beaten the crap out of by her darling husband would be supposed to do without divorce ? Civil divorce is obviously a necessity. That it’s over-used is another story. Thankfully, women no longer are men’s property that the neighbor must not covet. Women’s liberation is another outcome of that terrible, terrible individualism, enlightenment etc. Interestingly, the Orthodox Churches don’t share the Catholic view. Not to mention that it’s no longer just men who can divorce women, and that women aren’t basically destitute without a man. Women, thankfully, don’t need men anymore.

  • I can see the reasons for the Catholic sacrament versus the Orthodox – but isn’t that independent from the civil law consequences of civil marriage ? Why should a spouse be tied financially and so forth to someone who’s turned out to be an abusive monster, after all. That is the crux with marriage – that there are so many versions that all exist under the same name.

    The state has to allow gay people to give each other the rights that stem from civil marriage. One government after another is and will, so it’s really a moot point. I don’t see how that impacts sacramental Catholic marriage anyway, ie why the pope, bishops etc. campaign against civil unions.

  • Blackadder

    “The state has to allow gay people to give each other the rights that stem from civil marriage.”

    Unless, that is, they want to marry more than one person, in which case it’s send in the tanks, right?

  • people can live in polygamy, polyamory etc. as much as they want. Texas went into the polygamy cult for other reasons.

    let me qualify – i think that this, the American, government has to allow civil unions for gay folks, judging by its own standards.

  • From the AP, btw:

    Texas child welfare officials say more than half the teen girls swept into state custody from a polygamist sect’s ranch have been pregnant.

    Child Protective Services spokesman Darrell Azar says 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 were living on the ranch in Eldorado. Of that group, 31 already have children or are pregnant.

  • Robert M

    Gerald, please. Of course it is the overuse of divorce and the ‘no fault’ approach that is the problematic part. I’m not arguing that abused women must be trapped in those kinds of relationships in this physical world (though spiritually, I think the strict interpretation would be that they generally are, unless an annulment is approved — this does not mean she is forced to cohabit, and she could still seek civil divorce). But the abused spouse divorce case if anything would perhaps function like the ‘rape/incest/life of mother’ clause often invoked in the abortion issue — an attempted allowance for an extreme and more morally ambiguous case, not an exception that validates a rule.
    RM

  • Blackadder

    “people can live in polygamy, polyamory etc. as much as they want. Texas went into the polygamy cult for other reasons.”

    Yes, they went in based on a fraudulent phone call. Your reaction, as I recall, was that the state was right to take away their children and ought to have all the women de-programed.

  • Inbreeding, forced marriages and pregnant teenagers are certainly reason to take away children. Obviously, the women would need therapy to get out from under the brainwashing that the cult leader has exposed them to since they were little. Of course, they were ‘brides’ and mothers not that much later.

  • Back to the original question…

    I think the connection that Benedict is making here is that the family is the original unit of society, and therefore the first responsibility of any larger society is to uphold, promote, and defend the family. So, yes, the questions of the War in Iraq and of Same-Sex Marriage are related, in that the answer to both situations is found in the promotion of holy and fruitful families.

    The connection of Same-Sex Marriage is pretty clear, I think. But the connection of the War in Iraq might be made more clear in this way. The U.S. motives for attacking Iraq seem to be based on assumptions about the human person, such as original individualism, the overarching importance of the economy, the zero-sum-game idea of our interests vs. other countries’, etc. All these assumptions are in direct opposition to assumptions based in the family: that we are originally members of a community, that our good is not exclusively or even primarily economic, that each individual and community can promote a common good. So, the opposition to the War in Iraq is based on the attack’s opposition to the family. This, also, is why the attempt to impose western-style governments outside of Europe and N. America seems doomed to failure: because they see the undermining of the family that results from what we call “democracy”.

  • Robert M

    Could someone please explain to me how the potential for gov’t permission of same-sex ‘civil unions’ constitutes a greater challenge to society than a divorce rate near 50% and the near-complete societal capitulation to divorce as an unpleasant, but perfectly acceptable, option for married couples?
    Why is it not possible that the Pope sees this as a bigger threat than the bugbear of same sex ‘marriage’, which is highly unlikely to go anywhere except in some form of civil or common law,, and anyway will never be as prevalent as divorce?
    This is not off topic, by the way — it seems clear to me that the second quote in particular is focused on the ‘indissoluability’ of the marital bond, and the first quote is all about outsiders not interfering with marital ties. Why are you assuming that he’s addressing the ‘challenge’ of ss unions?
    Bottom line — he’s simply saying that stable families = peaceful society. And I’m simply positing that high rates of divorce = less stable families. This seems to me so clear as to need little further elucidation. And of course he is using ‘peace’ in a much broader sense than ‘opposite of war’. So the connection of these quotes to some kind of comment on the Iraq War is also, I think, a bit of a stretch.
    Honestly, I think you might be reading way too much in to this — sometimes it is just saying exactly what it is saying.
    RM

  • “Could someone please explain to me how the potential for gov’t permission of same-sex ‘civil unions’ constitutes a greater challenge to society than a divorce rate near 50% and the near-complete societal capitulation to divorce as an unpleasant, but perfectly acceptable, option for married couples?”

    IMO, it doesn’t constitute a greater challenge but a capitulation to the very challenge at the root of divorce and problems of family life by enshrining destructive ideals.

    If relationships are transient with serial monogamy being a sort of neo-polygamy and “sexual gratification” by means of usurping dominion over fertility to make sterile sex the ideal… Well not only is divorce and remarriage completely acceptable if those are the yardsticks by which to measure marriage and its purpose… well we are left with no good reason to say two men who wish to set up house as domestic partners and engage in sterile sexual endeavors with each other aren’t exactly equal.

    Evangelicals who widely have accepted the first group are still reliant on vestigal distaste and discomfort over the mannerisms and mechanics of homosexuality… But as greater social acceptance (more “Will & Grace”!) becomes the norm, they too will realize (and this is happening with the “emergent church movement”) that all things being equal, “Rod & Tod” in the gentrified gayborhood downtown doesn’t at all really affect them in the suburbs with their view of marriage and marital permanence based on foregoing children to not undergo the hardship of not having stainless steel appliances, two SUVs and a granite counter-top with an exit strategy. (As one particularly sardonic priest of my aquaintance put it “No Evangelical couple on ‘the pill’ with a pre-nup can remain opposed to gay marriage for long!”)

    As Catholics it isn’t about just being “mean” or “uncomfortable” or “grossed out” by the idea of two men sharing a house and a bed. As Catholics, the elevated (if widely rejected) standards and ideals of marriage being pro-genitive and permanent is held up at least as a standard to aspire, even if some rather fail in that regard. To take the step of defining anew what marriage is on new parameters altogether in relationships that can never even shadow the ideal, is to socially abandon the ideal altogether.

    Apropos the Catholic ideal of marriage, family, and the peace of a nation… Perhaps if sensibilities about fidelity, permanence, and commitment were part of the culture that we are reared in, and families valued life and children over things and pleasure, we would not be as prone to go to war over material concerns and a sense of vengence. By the standards we have now, it is just as easy to recruit young men (and women) into the service of our ideals of consumption. If mom and dad wouldn’t be open to another child of their own because it came down the “kid or the car payment” what on earth makes us think they are going to care about some other guy’s kid going 6,000 miles accross the globe to fight in a desert to assure we will have will have fuel for that SUV that we chose over a child?

  • digbydolben

    …since the human person is naturally ordered towards family life, it is necessary to our peace and happiness that family life and family order be recognized, protected and encouraged.

    WHY is the “promotion” of orderly “family life” considered to be one of the chief objectives of Catholic Christianity? It seems to me that the Early Church didn’t think so, in its promotion of celibate, monastic life.

    Isn’t this a bit too much of idolatry of a HUMAN institution, at the expense of what man is MORE “ordered toward”–which is a relationship with his Creator? If this is not so, why did Christ say that He came to put a “sword” between a father and a son, and a “sword” between two brothers?

    It seems to me that American Catholicism has become positively phobic about the natural ideal of Christianity–which is monastic living in a “family” which is best understood as a “community” of fellows united in the common project of sanctifying each others’ existences, rather than in busily fashioning compromises with bourgeois standards of “success.”

    It seems to me that the history of the Reformation–as a campaign to fabricate COMPROMISES with the Gospel–is no longer adequately taught in Catholic schools or theology classes–and that this is especially true in American Catholicism, which, like the country as a whole, is a community that is more concerned with sexuality and gender identity than with personal holiness.

    The Pope probably feels freer to pander to this tendency when he come to America than in Europe, because he realizes that American Catholicism is intrinsically PROTESTANT and not at all “counter-cultural” in its temper, and therefore unable to heed the true radicalism of the Gospels, which is just as much AGAINST the essentializing of “family life” as it is against the idolatry of the Nation. (When was the last time we in America heard a pope–or any prelate–say what is regularly said in ancient Catholic countries: that the contemplative life in a monastery is the ideal Christian life?)