12 January 2011

The Disappearance of Marriage

Haley makes a disheartening observation:
Everywhere in the manosphere, men obsess over virgins like they’re some sort of magical unicorns that have healing powers and can tell the future.  Everywhere, the refrain of “MARRY A VIRGIN” rings out like a catechism.
But realistically, most men, and I include Christian men in this, don’t care if they marry a woman who is a virgin on their wedding night.  They only care that she is a virgin at the time they begin dating.  I think the majority of Christian men, if they were honest with themselves, are happy to marry non-virgins, so long as the non-virgin is their non-virgin. 

I’m sure that male Christians living in this generation are quite able to see that getting married, at least in America, is a very bad idea, which is why their relationships with women have become more casual, even if they end up marrying the girl they first have sex with.  Given the incentives they face within the current legal climate, their actions are quite rational.  And yet, their actions are still wrong.  Is there any way to work around this social failing?

The god That Failed

From an historical perspective, there wasn’t much of a difference between the legal norms of marriage and the religious norms of marriage, at least in America up until the last couple of decades.  Christians had no issue with submitting to the governing authority in the realm of marriage, for the government preserved Judeo-Christian marital norms in the legal code.  All was well.

But then the balance of power began to shift.  In the press for greater equality,1 however, the balance of power in marriage began to favor women.  No-fault divorce was introduced.  Child support was introduced. The default setting for who was awarded custody of children was switched from father to mother.  Alimony was introduced.  In short, men were put at a distinct disadvantage.2

The result of these shifts is easily understood.  Women were no longer dependent on men, which meant that divorcing their husbands was a far easier process:  they could still keep the children, the money, and the house.  And if all they got were the kids, the government was there to step in and make up the difference.

The wisdom of past generations was ignored.  As a result, more and more marriages began to fail, and fewer men wanted part of the corrupt system.  As some men have noted, marriage has become nothing more than a tax on any man foolish enough to fall in love.  And so they have dropped out.

Sadly, it was never intended to be this way.

Illegal Substitution

The biggest failing of the church, at least in modern times, is the failure to recognize why the institution of marriage has collapsed.  This has occurred, I believe, because the church has failed to differentiate between legal marriage and biblical marriage.  The opposition to “gay marriage” serves as evidence for this claim.  Ultimately, the fallacy that most religious leaders make when opposing “gay marriage” is that they think God is bound to honor human law.  To hear it is to laugh.

The simple fact of the matter is that God has never been bound to recognize government proclamations.  He is the one, after all, who laughs at those who plot vain things.3  One need merely look at Genesis 2 to see that marriage was instituted by God, and existed long before the state.  Therefore, marriage exists, first and foremost, in the mind of God.

Furthermore, the validity of one’s marriage exists even if the state doesn’t recognize it.  In addition, if one’s marriage is not recognized by God, there is nothing the state can do or say to change that fact.

It is sad that most religious leaders have failed to grasp this simple concept.  Even sadder is that they are unable to provide a viable alternative to young Christian men who have no desire to be a part of the insane legal system that is American marriage law.

The Original Ball and Chain

I would suppose that the aforementioned failing stems, in part, from not truly understanding God’s purpose for marriage and the role of sex within that framework.

In the first place, it is clear that God intended for marriage to be a special type of companionship.4  Some have argued that reproduction is the main point of marriage, but this seems mistaken for two reasons.  First, Genesis 2:22-25 appears to be the first wedding ceremony (“He brought her to the man…”), and the stated expectation is that the two “become one flesh,” which indicates a special sort of closeness.  Second, reproduction is not exclusive to marriage, at least in the physical sense; however, the sort of closeness that God expected can only be attained through marriage, de facto or otherwise.

In the second place, sex is both the consummation and cause of that closeness.  Neurological research indicates that a special sort of bonding occurs at the neurochemical level in the brain, and that this bonding mechanism is strongest with one’s first sexual partner.5  Behavioral research indicates that, in healthy relationships, willingness to have sex is predicated on a sense of trust.6  Thus, sex is clearly seen as both a way to build trust and a way to indicate trust.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Old Law is God’s laws on sexual purity.  There are two standards present in the Old Testament:  one for adultery and one for fornication.7  In the case of adultery, the man and the woman who committed adultery were to be put to death.  However, in the event of fornication8 the man and the woman were required to marry, and were prevented from divorcing.
While there is no solid conclusion that can be drawn from this, it seems that God views the act of sex as an implicit marital covenant.  That he requires a formal declaration of marriage seems to further indicate that there is to be a formal record of the marital covenant.

At this point, it should be clear that God has his own definition and purpose for marriage.  It is also clear that the state’s design for marriage bears little resemblance to God’s design for marriage.  It also seems likely that those who commit fornication before marriage are, in the mind of God, already married.  From a practical standpoint, this seems true as well.9

Thus, it should be obvious that young Christian couples, in an attempt to circumvent the twisted legal version of marriage, have also circumvented God’s vision for marriage.

Righting the Ship

As noted earlier, religious leaders have failed to provide young Christian couples with a viable alternative to the current legal mess, and this failure is precipitated on a misunderstanding of biblical principles.  So what is it, practically speaking, that religious leaders can do to make marriage an attractive proposition to young Christians?

In the first place, leaders must speak out against the legal system, and offer their own alternative.  I Corinthians 6 makes it clear that the church is expected to serve as a replacement for the legal system, at least in some matters.  There is no reason that this can’t extend to marriage as well.  In this way, congregational leaders would basically take the role of Justice of the Peace, and administer the marriages themselves.

Since marriage is, as noted before, in the mind of God, it is essential that the couple exchange vows in God’s name.  He is the one who actually unites them in Holy Matrimony, so it is only logical to invoke his name solemn promise.

In addition, it is wise for there to be at least two trustworthy witnesses at this ceremony.  It is certainly a biblical principle that viable testimony is established at the mouth of two or three witnesses.10  Given the inevitable problems that occur from time to time in a marriage, having people who witnessed the vows that the couple exchanged before God may prove to be useful, particularly if there are some who doubt that they are married.

The only legal requirement would be that the woman changes her name.  This can be accomplished with relative ease, and doesn’t require entering into a legal marriage.11

Thus, there is an eminently practical workaround to the legal system.  Virtually every legal shortcut that comes with marriage can be formally replicated, so there shouldn’t be any worries in that department. 

Summary and Implications

There has been a rather obvious failure in the legal climate that has encouraged men to avoid marriage proper.  The church has failed to get ahead of the curve on this matter.  However, there is an imminently practical solution grounded in biblical principles.  All that’s left now is for church leaders to take the lead on this matter.

  1. Equality used here in the Orwellian sense.
  2. This is not to say that women weren’t at a disadvantage under the old system, only that putting men at a disadvantage seems to have a more disastrous effect.
  3. Cf. Psalms
  4. Genesis 2:18:  “It is not good for man to be alone.”
  5. Cf. Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe McIlhaney Jr.  2008.
  6. The neuroscience behind the feeling of trust is largely unknown.
  7.  Cf. Deuteronomy 22:22-29.  (Aside: take a special look at verses 23 and 24.  Notice anything familiar?)
  8. “Fornication” is defined here as sexual relations between two unmarried people.  “Adultery” refers to sexual activity between at least one person who is married and one person who is not married to the person with whom he or she is having sex.
  9. If they share a life and have sexual exclusivity for one another, they are, for all practical intents and purposes, married.
  10. Cf. Deut. 17:6, 19:15; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; I Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28.
  11. Technically, they have entered into a common-law marriage, although definition of what actually constitutes this type of marriage varies from state to state.  Also, this point in time, the “rights” under common-law marriages are sporadically enforced and rarely bothered with, relatively speaking.


  1. The problem is that the state won't let you off the hook that easily. Even if you do not have a formal civil marriage, if you are cohabiting, many states attach their own set of "relationship law" to that, which can include property division, child support/ex-cohabitee support, and the like in a way that is very much akin to a divorce in practice. In other states, if you cohabit for an extended period of time and you hold yourselves out as being married, the state will consider you to be "common law married" despite the fact that you never entered into a civil marriage, and the whole of the family law of marriage then applies to you.

    The issue is this: if one of the spouses to a church marriage which was not made a civil marriage wants out, the state will find a way to treat that like a marriage in many jurisdictions for purposes of the property, kids and support issues.

  2. I Corinthians 6 makes it abundantly clear that handling this sort of issue is to be done within the church. If that doesn't happen, either the church leadership has failed, or the married couple has rejected biblical teaching. In the event of the former, it's a tragedy that God will hold the spiritual leaders accountable for. In the event of the latter, the married couple will get what they deserve.

    Ultimately, when the state fails Christians, the church is expected to serve as a substitute. The problem is that Christians have a tendency to go to the state instead of the church to handle these problems. This is a failing of both Christians in general, and religious leaders in particular.

    Maybe it's just me, but it seems that the state generally only gets involved in these matters when asked to by one of the involved parties. The solution, then, is to avoid state involvement as much as possible.

  3. I suppose the way around having the State recognize one as "common-law married", for a Christian couple married by the Church but not civilly, legally bound, would be to spend enough of a portion of the year NOT living together, but that could be highly impractical.

  4. Really, the only way that the issue of common-law marriage comes up is if the married couple want to be divorced through the state. My point was more that the church should encourage married couples to avoid the state's authority in this matter. After all, the state can't compel a couple to get divorced. Thus, the only way the state gets involved is if the couple invites it to get involved.

    Where the church has failed is that it has ceded too much of its authority to the state, usually justifying this behavior by misinterpreting Romans 13.

  5. And, obviously, the church has failed when it doesn't strongly discourage divorce for frivolous reasons amongst its members, and doesn't shun the parties responsible for initiating the divorce proceedings in such cases.

  6. I agree with Dalrock on that issue as well. Frankly, given how poorly the church has handled social issues for the last fifty years or so, it should come as no surprise that this nation is in such a mess. I just don't understand how any religious leaders thought being "tolerant" and "open-minded" would lead to good things for the church.

  7. GREAT article! No one outside the faith understands the problem of gay marriage's effect. The problem of the power shift hasn't been giving women MORE power, but giving them practically ALL the power. In Biblical times, men could and did marry women on a whim and then dumped them when they tired of them. Now, women can and do the same thing to men.

  8. @Jennifer- Thanks. Interestingly, Christ indicates in Matt. 19 that one reason why Moses' law existed the way it did was to limit divorce, not encourage it. (Mal. 2:14-16 would bear this out as well.)