Friday, December 4, 2009

Divorce and Remarriage: Questions about Cultures

This is the second half of the responses to the questions Matthew posted in response to the post about divorce and remarriage. The first half focused more on questions about the Scriptures, morality/authority, and culture in general.

What in the life and words of Jesus my resound with modern understandings of the marriage/partnership model we live with and in today? What was the concept of divorce/marriage/remarriage Jesus was speaking about at the time? What's the same? What's different?

Life/words of Jesus: Not too much, that I can see, except the basic idea that marriage is something two people enter into for some reason or another that, ideally at least, lasts a lifetime.

How does our culture define marriage? I'm going to bastardize an analogy from a family member.

Once a family member tried to get me to think about movies that I watched by asking me if I would eat a brownie that was promised to be ultra-sweet, with the caveat that the brownie contained (presumably cooked) a small portion of dog's-crap. Our culture's definition of marriage is a dog's-crap brownie. We put in all this crap about finding our fulfillment in another human being in a contractual fashion, according to the Holy Gospel of the Heart, without much solid reference to the more Christian notion of marriage in which two persons give themselves (or are at any rate, given) fully to one another, spirit, mind and body for the purposes of unity and procreation (or at the least, let us say in deference to certain conservative Protestant views, unity and assistance in continuation of the species.) This in turn allows us to break off marriages when we no longer find 'fulfillment' in them. The culture packages all of this in the outward chocolatey goodness of personal happiness and emotional joy, when on the inside the view is, primarily, fully dog's crap.

I honestly don't think that the definitions of marriage we've been offered are fully compatible with the biblical and historically Christian ideas about what marriage should be. Forget whether it's a contract for economic purposes. There's plenty of room for the notion of marriage being an indissoluble bond even when the two partners are entering willingly into it. There's plenty of room for talking about the obligation of marriages to contribute somehow to the continuation of the species, directly or indirectly (as by adoption.) Culture's redefinition of something doesn't change what that thing, at its core, ought to be. And if as Christians we are convinced (and I am, though I'm not going to make a snap judgment that you must be) that culture is off the mark of Christian morality, it is not that we must redefine how our ethic applies to the culture. It is that we must work to correct the misinterpretation of the concept in our culture. And I think this is precisely what must be done in marriage. We must not make concessions to our culture's dog's-crap-brownie conception of marriage.

However, the questions of spousal abuse and addiction are certainly more substantial ones that weren't so much discussed in Jesus' time, and since those things are clearly not compatible with Christian moral codes I think it's worth considering whether they ought to have entered into the discussions about divorce and remarriage. But it seems like the only explicit exceptions given have really been for when one is divorced by a pagan, or when one divorces an adulterer. It doesn't seem like anything else really invalidates the marriage. Of course numerous churches have talked about what can be grounds for separation, and I think this is definitely a good step to take (I know for instance that in the Catholic Church, in cases where one spouse abuses the other, or abuses the children, that even if divorce proper is not treated as a solution, separation is, and I believe I read in the Catechism somewhere that even civil divorce is permissible if there's no other way to accomplish this separation in such circumstances. But I'm not sure I'm quite there on a case for divorce and remarriage in cases of abuse, harsh as it may seem. Many people throughout church history, including not a few Church Fathers, have been much more muddled on divorce, remarriage and the abuse issue than I'm presenting myself as here, which is part of the reason that I should assure you I'm still a good deal confused on the issue. If only God had so graced Christendom as to provide universal interpretations of Scripture in the church historical!

Just a lot of questions. Not a lot of questions. I think our methodologies may just be a bit different.

I think they are too, but maybe not as different as we thought initially.

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