Christian culture has a ton of celebrities, from pastors to musicians to writers and more. It would be too easy and very hipster-ish to write them off just because they’re popular, but being a celebrity does indeed come with a bunch of problems, especially in Christianity. Not only do you have all the usual pitfalls of scandal and disgrace — Christianity is to secular culture as Ted Haggard is to Lindsay Lohan — but since God is involved, people relate to these celebrities in strange ways. Continue reading
Today, I have exchanged my keyboard for a hammer. Continue reading
Spreading around Christian social media is yet another shallow but well-intentioned article about a hotbutton topic. The topic du jour is marriage. I wasn’t going to respond to the article — it’s just too easy and might come across as trying to be trendy — but my wife has specifically requested that I discuss some of the very important issues it raises. In addition to the article, there is a fairly popular response to the article which takes some of the conclusions even further.
In essence, the first article suggests that marriage is about your spouse, and the second article suggests that marriage is about God. In a sort of trendy, pop-philosophy/theology sort of way, there are some half-truths to these articles, but there are some real dangers here, too.
I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade (or wedding, as it were), but marriage is an incredibly complex phenomenon that isn’t just about your spouse or about God. It is in part about you. It is in part about your kids. It is also about your community, your extended family, and even about your country and the world. The world, after all, consists of a very large network of families. Everybody’s got a mom.
We risk a lot by trying to simplify marriage, especially if we suggest that marriage is not at least partially for ourselves. This is a setup for abuse. An abuser must convince those whom he/she abuses that their identities and feelings don’t matter, so this sort of simplistic thinking about marriage only compounds these problems and makes the abuser’s job easier. If you are in an abusive marriage, remember that you matter, too. There is a dramatic difference between going through hard times and having a toxic relationship.
The articles’ deemphasis of one’s happiness belies an ignorance of Godly virtue. The point of pursuing virtue, especially Godly virtue, is ultimately your own happiness and flourishing, as well as that of those around you. In a sense, we could gain temporary happiness by chasing new, hot sex partners on the side or by manipulating our spouses into doing whatever we want them to do, but the fullest sense of happiness in marriage will come when two people pursue and engage in virtuous acts together. It’s a strange sort of self-righteousness and covert asceticism to think that seeking your own happiness is a bad thing. Seek happiness in the virtuous way.
At this point, there are a million other directions I could go with critiquing these articles, as their one-dimensional caricatures of marriage do no one any good; however, I want to highlight one broader, critical error that both articles make in providing an account of marriage. That is, they both believe in the “one thing” which makes sense of everything else. I see this time and time again: people start doing a little thinking outside the box, and suddenly they think they have discovered some arcane secret hidden away for centuries which solves all the problems.
My point here goes well beyond marriage: it’s a common trend for people to opt for the easiest explanations to understand or those which make them feel best about themselves. I’m certainly guilty of this at times, just like anyone else; however, I do make an effort to step back from myself and examine what I believe or what I’m reading/hearing/etc. This extra step is essential for having a discerning mind, or else you will find yourself caught in the sway of whoever has the fanciest rhetoric.
Here are two steps to making you a smarter person. When you hear an explanation for something, do the following:
- Raise one (and only one) eyebrow. This may take practice.
- Say, “Oh, really?”
When you go through these two simple steps for either of these articles on marriage, you start to realize, “Wait, maybe there’s more to it.” So, I’m going to suggest something radical: figure out what your marriage is going to mean. I’m not going to fill in all the blanks for you. Obviously, you’re going to want to love your spouse, you’re going to want to keep yourself healthy, you’re going to have to balance finances, work, kids, and a bunch of other fairly standard stuff, but there are a lot of things you get to make up. For my wife and I, marriage is (in part) for doing nerdy things, like writing, painting, and playing video games.
Marriage is for a lot of things, so when someone comes to you claiming to have solved the whole puzzle, remember to raise that skeptical eyebrow and question their judgment.
I recently came across an article from The Gospel Coalition showing that divorce rates are lower among the seriously religious than they are among the general population. The article’s source makes it suspect, with the author being on staff at Focus on the Family. Yet, even granting the article’s points for the sake of argument, we must consider that social and religious pressure is an important factor in keeping families together. If the lack of divorce is a result of coercion, then we have an undesirable situation.
In a certain sense, we do want a low divorce rate. Commitment and love are wonderful things to which we should aspire. However, we want a low divorce rate for the right reasons. Many women (and men) feel trapped in abusive marriages because of the outside pressures to stay married. If the reason we have a low divorce rate is because we forbid divorce under any circumstance, then we’ve missed the real reason we desire lasting marriages: healthy relationships.
Divorce is a bad thing, but it is not necessarily an evil thing. It is bad in the sense that it is not ideal: ideally, everyone can be respectful of everyone else and learn to love one another, especially their spouses. The problem is that some people refuse to change their ways, and these people’s spouses are suffering. Somewhere between leaving the cap off the toothpaste every morning and regular physical or verbal abuse is a line where divorce is an unfortunate but potentially necessary option.
Crusaders against divorce must bear this in mind: we do not want people to conform to some “no divorce” rule simply out of mindless obedience. The reason to fight against divorce is because we want healthy marriages. Toward that end, I would suggest reframing the battle in new terms, advocating love, patience, and understanding rather than railing endlessly against divorce.
We must consider that the health of our nation’s marriages has way more than one dimension. Consider for example the Christian view of women — which is often abysmally bad. Case in point, Focus on the Family’s insistence on gender roles in marriage is a damaging phenomenon (remember that the author of the original article is from Focus on the Family). It is fine for two people to agree to play different roles in a marriage relationship, even to the point of conforming with what one might construe as traditional roles; there’s nothing wrong with being a housewife. There are, however, lots of things wrong with forcing or pressuring women to be housewives. If a woman has talents and aspirations, it would be cruel to ask her to dash them completely in order to raise kids. This view treats women like cattle, while the men are free to follow whatever dreams they desire.
Without going too far afield — since this post is about divorce and not views on women — suffice it to say that we need many more metrics to measure marriage quality than just the divorce rate. Thus, even granting the statements of the linked article, we must make sure that any sort of low divorce rate is not merely a sign of rigid and unthinking conformance to religious pressure. I would gladly sacrifice a few percentage points on the divorce rate if it led to an increase in human flourishing and goodness.
Again, the point of fighting divorce is not strictly to prevent divorces but to promote healthy relationships. We must not forget this, or we will lose sight of what is truly good, exchanging it for a poor substitute.
So has anyone met this guy: the guy who is working several steps ahead in terms of reverse psychology about whether or not he is humble? In reality, he’s being a prideful jerk, but he’s either trying to play that down by admitting his pride (which is an act of humility to him) or by trying to just say he feels pretty humble in order not to act prideful by admitting his pride, which he realizes is actually just a prideful play to try to appear humble.
I feel like it’s that scene in Princess Bride where both cups are poisoned. A lot of people I have met are so caught up in trying to appear humble that they don’t realize that merely by playing that game, they have rid themselves of that character trait.