The Nicene Nerdcast: Against Traditional Marriage

This post is the second epsiode of my new podcast, The Nicene Nerdcast. Again, there’s not much for me to introduce, and if the title has you prepared for outrage, I give you my kind-hearted laughter. This episode is the result of some recent reflections on the nature and purpose of marriage, along with its problems today.

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5 Thoughts to “The Nicene Nerdcast: Against Traditional Marriage

  1. Hey, Caleb. That was an interesting post. I’m curious to know what you would say about heterosexual couples who prefer to marry and remain childless. If childbearing is a foundational part of marriage, then do you think Christians who marry have no children err in any way?

    1. Yes, married couples who either intentionally seek a childless marriage or nonchalantly disregard even the possiblity of children do err greatly. There are probably exceptions to this, but I’m doubtful that they are more than few and far between.

      The fact that this is a controversial answer, or even that it’s a question at all, I think says a lot about how deeply Western Christianity has drunk of the rather novel and artificial views of marriage abstracted from nature which have emerged in the past century or two. Try to go back far at all, and for the most part, no one of any religion would have comprehended the concept of an intentionally barren marriage (with the exception of certain church fathers who proposed the absurd notion of sexless marriage).

      1. It sounds a little bit like Aquinas’ view on marriage and sex. I would gather from his “natural law” view of morality that he thought that marriage was a good thing simply because it was best way to keep up the natural process of making new people. But I wonder whether that reasoning implies that husbands and wives having familiarities just for fun are wrong since it does not produce children.

        1. Aquinas’ view was a bit more involved than that, as he recognized that marriage serves many secondary and/or accidental ends which are important to its existence and practice. This wasn’t a mere reluctant concession, either. He took the other ends of marriage seriously enough to use them as arguments against various perversions (e.g. a problem with incestuous marriages would be that an important accidental end of marriage is the union of once-separated families). Yet reproduction was maintained as the distinguishing and essential end of marriage in contrast to all other relationships.

          In this, Aquinas was far from alone and represents simply one of the more sophisticated versions of a basic view which has applied more or less to most cultures across time and space.

          Within that broad agreement on the nature of marriage, there has been debate over the precise relation of individual marital acts and procreation. I’ve not looked into Aquinas’ answer specifically, but the Catholic Church has held that all acts must be immediately open to procreation, thus forbidding all birth control. Methinks this turns a legitimate principle into a legalistic absurdity and in spirit contradicts their official acceptance of natural family planning.

          My position is that sex can be regularly used within marriage as long as it supports the health of the marriage broadly and the marriage is not meant to be sterile. Thus, birth control is acceptable as a means of prudentially regulating the timing and frequency of procreation but not as a shield to prevent its ever happening.

          This relates to a key distinction: the purposes for which sex and the marriage institution exists can be distinguished from the specific reasons for which people participate in them in particular instances. The essential distinguishing ends of sex and marriage may necessarily include procreation, but as long as this end is not denied, the various secondary or accidental ends can legitimately serve as personal motivations.

          1. And since Aquinas lived before modern birth control, maybe he had less to say on that subject than the modern Catholic Church… But you summarize him very well, I think.

So what do you think?