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22 February 2012

Redefining Marriage

The evangelical fundamentalists are at it again. As a society we have grown up quite a lot - and we still have a long way to go. One of the greatest achievements of modern civilisation is the discovery of the principle of equality, even if the implementation of that remains somewhat short of ideal.

I am very happily married to my wonderful wife, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I'm a very fortunate man to have found the woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, and we've been blessed (if that's the right word for an atheist to use) with three marvellous children. I am a big fan of marriage - when it works, it is a brilliant thing. I would wish for everyone to experience the joy and challenges that go along with it.

And that includes same-sex couples.

If same-sex couples are allowed to marry (and why shouldn't they?), they (at least the lucky ones) have the chance to experience the same joy of finding their life partner and building their family and identity around themselves as a couple, on the same footing as everyone else. It's only right.

However, as you might expect, some people are not happy. Writing in the Daily Mail a couple of days ago (where else), former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey was quite clear that allowing same-sex couples to marry would be the undoing of our civilisation. Ooooh, get her.
Look out! Britain's stability is crumbling,
according to Lord Carey.
Those dangerous lesbians!

And of course the other religious punters have weighed in also. I'm sorry, but I really can't see society collapsing if we allow people who love each other to get married. If anything, it will strengthen our society, and I very much welcome the prospect for the sake of my gay friends.

However one of the funniest arguments that the religious homophobes have in their pathetic argument is this. I laughed, sort of. You may not, if you're not familiar with the theology here, but trust me..

Marriage, they state, has always been defined as between a man and a woman. Any other definition undermines marriage, fabric of society etc etc yawn. If you change the definition, you weaken the whole concept. The imagery and the concept of marriage are inviolable, unalterable, and inapplicable to any other situation. It's not much of an argument, but, sadly for Lord Carey and his pals, it turns out that Christianity has already redefined marriage away from man/woman.

In Christian theology, the union between Christ and the Church is a marriage. Jesus is frequently referred to as "the bridegroom" and the Church as the "bride", and it's pretty obvious that since Jesus was male and many members of the church are male, it's a same-sex union. However, it's not that that's the point - the redefinition is the point. Some Christians seem quite happy to redefine marriage when it suits them.

It's worth mentioning as an aside that Jesus is never referred to as the bride, and the church the bridegroom - there seems to be a certain amount of sexism there, and that shows up the anachronism that is the pond Carey is ribbiting from. What lies behind these latest fulminations from the loony fringe is not concern for the stability of society or families, but simple homophobia. In modern marriages, we expect and insist on a partnership between equals, not dominion of one partner over another. I don't expect my wife, for example, to "obey" me, and nor does society. So, wow, look - Christians have already redefined marriage, and society has not collapsed.

It's fair to say that the nay-sayers do not represent all Christians - many Christians have fully embraced equality in the area of sexual orientation and gender identity. Indeed, it's far more likely that by including same-sex couples in the category that we (generously) allow to get married, we are strengthening marriage.

We should abandon the hypocrisy of Lord Carey and shadowy bigoted pressure groups like the "Coalition for Marriage". If Jesus can marry churches, we can allow men to marry men and women to marry women if they are so inclined. The world won't fall in. If we want to reinforce the stability of our society and the families within it, we do that by supporting people who want to be together and by setting an example to our children of loving one another and showing respect to all (even crazy religious loonies).

5 comments:

  1. Hi, Shane.

    You say:

    "In Christian theology, the union between Christ and the Church is a marriage."

    What do you mean by "is" in this context? Are you thinking of it as a description or as a function?

    You also say:

    "Jesus is frequently referred to as "the bridegroom" and the Church as the "bride", and it's pretty obvious that since Jesus was male and many members of the church are male, it's a same-sex union."

    The references I found to this were when Jesus answered a question about fasting (Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39) unless you're referring to others? There's also references to garments and wineskins which I'm sure you read in the same way? True, the "Parable of the Ten Virgins" *likens* the kingdom of heaven to their meeting with the bridegroom if that's what you're referring to? On your logic are you suggesting that the Church is literally ten virgins in size? Again, you seem to be imposing a strange reading of something functional. I'm sure you'll clarify.

    "However, it's not that that's the point - the redefinition is the point. Some Christians seem quite happy to redefine marriage when it suits them."

    This goes back to the discussion above. I'm not sure whether it's just you who has misrepresented affairs here. Maybe. Will let you explain further.

    "It's worth mentioning as an aside that Jesus is never referred to as the bride, and the church the bridegroom - there seems to be a certain amount of sexism there, and that shows up the anachronism that is the pond Carey is ribbiting from."

    As the bride, no. Again, you seem to be thinking of it as a description rather than function and I know you dislike that thinking.

    Thanks, Shane.

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  2. The point here is that Christians can quite easily elide between different notions of what marriage entails, whether functional or definitional (not description, which is the same as functional), so to suggest that by the government changing the secular meaning of marriage that it is somehow undermining society, these militant Christianists are being hypocritical and dishonest.

    Not that difficult to understand, is it?

    I didn't expand on my point, but if you go through the bible, you will find that marriage has objectively changed rather a lot - from the polygamous norm in the Pentateuch, through the very standard Near Eastern concubinage of kings and so on and so forth, through to the very Graeco-Roman notion of monogamy. But even with that, the process of equality between the sexes has really only come to the fore recently - and that has strengthened society, not undermined it.

    In a few years time, you'll all be looking back at the spittle-flecked invective of these "C4M" idiots and wondering what all the fuss was about.

    And why can't Jesus be described as the bride? Do you think there is a problem with that imagery, and if so, why?

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    Replies
    1. "And why can't Jesus be described as the bride? Do you think there is a problem with that imagery, and if so, why?"

      We could go on forever talking about "can Jesus be described as X" but I'm not sure that it's helpful. If you believe there are no deep-seated theological reasons (to Christians, particularly) for that particular configuration of Jesus/Church, fine.

      Nothing about me having a "problem" with the imagery, it's just that the imagery is one that you have created to make a particular point in your post.

      Thanks, Shane.

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    2. Well, yes, I have used it to make a rhetorical point, and that point is that the hysteria of the Christianists, as exemplified by Carey and C4M and others is bunkum. Marriage is not under threat from extending the same secular rights to same sex couples, and since Christianity has coped with improvements in marital arrangements in the past, it can (and will) continue to cope with them. It's no biggie - my beef is not with ordinary honest Christianity, but with the extremists.

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  3. This "precious, antique, historical, godly" marriage that so needs protection only goes back to Victorian England - and that society was incredibly hypocritical sexually. Personally I support biblical marriage: one man and as many wives, concubines and sex slaves (of either sex) as he can afford.

    Google (centurion pais) for more amusement and ("lyings of a woman") for even more.

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