The Christian Marriage Problem
You may recall last year that I mentioned Craig Sowder's (formerly of the "Through the Eyes of Faith" blog, now renamed as "Autonomy is Madness") observation that Christian women are crazy. I have a lot of sympathy for Craig's perspective, and in a lot of ways I see his path in life as one that I could easily have taken, were it not for some hard questions I asked myself. Craig is, in all practical senses, a great guy, working hard at the insurance industry, trying to make a life for himself in the big city of Chicago, away from his friends and family in Southern Kentucky. That kind of life can be lonely- my brother-in-law lived in Chicago for a year before moving back to be closer to his family. And it's especially hard when you're a single guy, trying to follow your religious convictions. Almost as hard, I would guess, as being a single atheist.
Which is why reading this article posted to Blog and Mablog really rubbed Craig the wrong way. It's a reference to a book that criticizes Christian singles, especially men, for not getting married by the age of 28. Getting close to that age himself, and without a matrimonial prospect, Craig spouted off at length about his criticism of such an idea.
Now, Craig makes it clear that he's shooting from the hip here, which I appreciate. Common sense is usually aligned with the correct moral interpretation, and it's only in overthinking things that we run the risk of allowing ourselves to be rationalized into a conclusion that doesn't work.
The criticism aimed at single Christians is thus: marriage is part of God's plan, so if you're not getting married, you're trying to thwart God. Craig's rebuttal is: Hey! Relationships are hard, especially in this day and age, and even more especially with Christian women, so get off my back!
I can really sympathize with Craig- relationships are hard (and by the way, they don't get any easier once you're married), and it's especially hard to make a meaningful relationship with a Christian woman. In fact, just this past weekend I had a visit from an old friend, and we sat around drinking beer and reminiscing about the people we grew up with. The town I went to high school in was pleasantly rural, and circumstances had caused it to be populated by an inordinately high percentage of Christians. There was, literally, only one atheist in the school that I knew of, but the domination by Christians and Christian mindsets was just so overwhelming that it was barely noticed. Suffice it to say, all the girls that were in my class were Christian, and dating was quite a chore. As we ran through the list in our recollection, my friend and I had a lot of trouble picking out a single girl from our class who didn't end up having severe psychological problems, become pathologically promiscuous, or suddenly married a much older man (or all three). We were inclined to think that perhaps there was just something odd in the water in our hometown, but reading Craig's characterization strongly suggests that there might be a theological reason for this instead.
Marriage is a special relationship between two people who find in each other the fulfillment of their core values. But for Christians, marriage IS the value- and fulfilling it is the end of the story. It doesn't really matter so much who the person is- just that it's a good Christian who wants kids. As Craig quotes from Doug Wilson, "Find out who she is, and marry her." It's precisely this casual attitude levied toward men who have reached their late twenties without getting hitched that is the problem. Is it really such a big suprise that divorce is most prevalent among Christian couples, if the only concern is finding "someone" instead of the "right one?" Craig rightly points out that finding a wife is not like picking out a jar of jelly in the grocery store. In the best case scenario, you might be able to pick out a woman who values marriage so much that she's willing to put up with an unfulfilling relationship if it means following God's will for her life.
But then you end up with another problem- in the Christian marriage paradigm, both people are supposed to value their relationship with God more than their relationship with the other person. This serves an obvious memetic purpose- if both spouses are committed Christians, they will tend to pass on their religious understanding to any children they may have. But this is also a dangerous loophole- since her husband is outranked by God, then any Christian woman could conceivably justify any imaginable action on her part, up to and including infidelity and divorce, simply by rationalizing it as "God's will for her life." The progressive liberalization of Western culture has, in fact, served to erode the tight grip that husbands once held over their wives- men are supposed to be the "spiritual leaders" of the marriage, after all- and Christian women are feeling more and more empowered to think for themselves, and more importantly, to come to their own decisions about what "God wants" in their lives.
Now, don't get me wrong- what I think is bad for Christian marriage is good for secular marriage. I mean, according to the Bible, Christian marriage isn't worth all that much anyway. What I find so unfortunate is that so many women are treating men badly, good men like Craig Sowder who, Christian or not, are also looking for someone to love and be loved by in return. The only solution, as I see it, is to promote a secular approach to marriage, as I mentioned before- leave God out of it.
(And, as it happens, I am ordained as a minister and am able to officiate any secular ceremony if needed, free of charge.)