The Church of Small Things

My liberal friends implore me to give up my idea of marriage as being out of step with everything else I think. Or else not to talk about it. But I have always thought—for historical and cultural reasons—that the church holds the imprimatur on the definition of marriage. Marriage only makes sense to me in a religious and cultural context, like penis gourds and hula skirts. But the Church does not hold a patent on human relationships, sexuality, and happiness.Add your thoughts here… (optional)

The New Oxonian

I have to admit that Pope Francis was not my situla of holy water when he came on the scene back in March.  To the extent I care about popes, I like ones who dress up, know how to sing, think like theologians and make the Church an easy target for critics like me.  I miss you, Benedict. Papa Francesco can’t do any of those things, and now he has also made the church a more difficult target. He thinks the Church should stop talking about abortion and gays and bedroom issues and step out into the sunshine.

Maybe it’s because he comes from a sunny country and has a fairly sunny disposition. Anyway, it’s hard to argue that the church should get out of the bedroom when some of its own priests seem to prefer public toilets and darkened sacristies. Anyone who has paid attention to the history of…

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5 thoughts on “The Church of Small Things

  1. My liberal friends implore me to give up my idea…
    We have here the dreaded dictatorship of labels. Human values occupy a complex, multidimensional space and reducing them to a simple two dimensional space is a crude distortion of reality. Simple non-thought proceeds like this, find the nearest label in this two dimensional space, attach firmly with super-glue, search the associated dogma for nearest answer and announce new insight with fervour or condemnation, never with nuanced understanding or any hint of tentativeness(super-glue attachments are not easily removed).

    As to your main point, I will assert the obvious, marriage is all about preserving a nurturing environment until the young reach maturity, thus increasing survival and making them more fit for a productive role in society. The Church understood this while modern ‘liberals’ see it merely as a sexual companionship platform. Recognising its importance, the Church created an institution of high social value, designed for durability, with strong disincentives for the dissolution of marriage.

    It is ironic that gay/lesbian people aspire to marriage since they are thereby recognising the high social value that the Church invested in the institution.

    As you said, the Church does not hold a patent on human relationships. Gay/lesbian people should create their own institutions that reflect their needs and not borrow the ill-fitting Church model. They could call it glarriage (Gay/Lesbian marriage) and ask Dawkins to officiate. They could say their vows on the ‘The Good Book’ by Grayling. Why, we might even devise some glarriage hymns praising the secular majesty of the universe. Alternatively, let’s call it sarriage (secular marriage) and dispense with vows altogether (such an old fashioned religious concept) since we have no intention of being faithful or loyal (more old fashioned religious concepts).

  2. Peter, do you believe that homosexual relationships compromise the high social value that the Church invested in the institution of marriage or compromise social values generally? I agree that when the tradition evolved, the culture did not consider the homosexual relationships as legitimate and did not consider such relationships to be within the definition of marriage which itself had no need to distinguish itself as the liaison between ‘one man and one woman’ or define itself in any way, despite the probability the biblical authors assumed this union to be between male and female (not always a monogamous union). Historically there are reasons this was so, among which was the inability of couples of the same sex to produce fruit and multiply, perhaps a little more necessary in communities with higher mortality and diversity in sexual orientation was not understood and probably more closeted, outnumbered as it was by the ‘norm’. However now, recognising the diversity of Christianity and interpretations, some prefer to stay with ancient tradition and others evolve with new ideas and less biblical dependence or metaphorical interpretation and historical context considered in efforts to keep religious ideas in comfortable companionship with the evidences and theories of science.

    The marriage equality law recently passed down here. Prior to that, some church leaders chose to perform marriage ceremonies between loving couples regardless of gender, and these relationships were recognised by state law as ‘civil unions’. Now those churches are able to perform the same service and have these unions recognised by state law as ‘marriage’. Gay Christians do not want Grayling or Dawkins to have anything to do with anything. Gay Christians are free to join whichever denomination they think represents religion for them. The Catholic church will never recognise their lover relationships but I know several gay Catholics who hold out hope unrealistically, that Frank will bring Catholicism into line with the evolved ‘secular’ modern human values. He won’t. He can’t sing either. Frankly fraudulent for a pope. If he altered orthodox tradition on marriage there would be no catholic left in Catholic at all, let alone any pope in pope. I do think it rather cruel to mock gay couples and suggest they opt for Dawkins, someone they despise for his atheistic religious ignorance, as much as I do… and the ‘Good Book’ is plain insulting, suitable only for ex fundamentalists and other religiously ignorant, those needing a new book to fit their new convictions. The good book is quite frankly, rubbish.

  3. I agree that the church holds the imprimatur on the definition of ‘marriage’ and also that marriage makes sense only in a religious and cultural context (exactly like penis gourds and hula skirts). But I believe individual churches or denominations should have the freedom to redefine it. Of course, some churches have reinterpreted it – and the religiously inclined are free (mostly) to choose their flavour of religion and place of worship. Neither the church nor the state holds the patent, thank God, on human relationships, sexuality, and happiness – although they too often try.

    • Yes I know all the arguments, but it is like redefining firetruck or newspaper: I am not interested in what an institution can do with a things but in what a thing is meant to be or do–its telos, its end, and in the case of marriage it is laden with a specific “entelechy.” You can sell a firetruck to a group of gypsies, paint it yellow with spring flowers and cover it over with graffiti and use it for a caravan for all I care, but it ceases to be what it was intended to be. As I said, I am irredeemable on this point.

      • I respect that and agree but at the same time I wouldn’t say that people claiming to be Christians who don’t believe in things which contradict the evidence of science, aren’t Christian. Like those modern churches reinterpreting metaphorically, ‘God’ and ‘resurrection’ … and things. Personally, if I was gay, I can’t imagine that I would want a church to marry me to my supposed same sex partner, as the church historically represented an institution which condemned my love. I don’t know – I’m probably not qualified to comment not having ever belonged to a religious tradition or been affiliated with any particular church. I think I’d rather have my relationship recognised in a civil union. It all seems a bit clinical and unromantic. Think of the dramas over weddings. The best way to marry is to elope and avoid family disputes and ridiculously expensive parties.

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