The Atlantic recently posted an article by Rachel R. White entitled, “The Role Non-Monogamy Will Play in the Future of Marriage” (Oct. 3, 2011), in which she interviews Pamela Haag, the author of the book Marriage Confidential. Haag claims that “marriage has changed over time in both perception and practice,” stating that “even the Bible was once suspicious of marriage — it was seen as more holy to be celibate, and, in many cultures throughout time, polygamy is the preferred relationship model.”
Looking at more modern times, Haag claims that the 1950s were more tolerant of affairs than the 1980s. This belief is based upon the discredited research of Alfred Kinsey (see “The Kinsey Syndrome” for more info; this is the same guy who claimed that 10 percent of the population has same-sex attraction, basing the vast majority of his research on interviews with convicted felons). Haag asserts that by the 1980s, conservatives were pushing a “stricter social ethic” that required married couples to actually be monogamous.
Haag’s philosophy seems to be that because more than a few spouses cheat, we should simply accept this reality and be more tolerant of infidelity and various forms of non-monogamy. Certainly, in the face of so much brokenness, it’s tempting to toss up our hands and surrender to demands to redefine things like marriage to suit the perceived “needs” or “reality” of our day.
Now, Haag is absolutely right that what we think of as the “traditional” model of marriage isn’t the only one seen in Scripture. Case in point: King Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines But the question has to be asked: Do examples like this one mean the Bible (or God) is validating sexual relationships outside the lifelong union of one man and one woman in marriage?
The Catholic Church follows Christ’s lead and asks us to take a step back and look at what God’s plan for marriage was “in the beginning” (cf. Matt 19:4). These three words are crucial because they help us to understand that although we have seen breakdowns in the marital covenant throughout history, there was another way to see things before the fig leaves clouded our vision.
From the beginning of creation, the union of man and woman — marriage — was designed and instituted by God. This is a crucial point, for undergirding all the arguments for deconstructing “traditional” marriage is the idea that the state should be permitted to determine the definition of marriage because there is no pre-existing definition that holds water. Yet God’s plan was established first, and although we’ve done plenty to try to distort it, it has not dissolved.
The story of creation is the story of a marriage. Woman wasn’t created just so man wouldn’t have to be alone. No, mankind was created male and female because this was the way God chose to reveal to the entire world his love. The union between man and woman was the first “sacrament” — a physical expression of an invisible reality. He created them to make visible His invisible reality here on earth. What’s more is that this union was never meant to be temporary. Death was never supposed to be the hand Adam and Eve were dealt, and neither was divorce. Just as the Three Persons of the Trinity are eternally united to one another, so too was the union of man and woman to be permanent.
We see echoes of this yearning for forever love even in our divorce-ridden society. Think about it: Why else would couples still seek out marriage when they know they only have a 50/50 chance of making it? Think about the last wedding you attended. Were the newlyweds grim, thinking about how divorce was practically upon them? No! There is something beautiful — hopeful — about newlyweds. At that moment, their confidence in the other person’s love is unshakeable. After all, who truly desires a love that ends? Think about Journey’s song “Faithful”: How would “I’m forever yours faithfully” play on the radio if the lyrics instead were “For two weeks I’m yours…then I’ll leave”?
Sadly, precisely because of the breakdown in marital relationships, many have indeed given up on this ideal and have resigned themselves to “reality.” We also hear this in songs today. The utter hopelessness is almost tangible. Young people growing up today are surrounded by the lie that not only are they incapable of “forever love,” they are unworthy of it as well. All this because we’ve rejected marriage as a profound way to image God’s love and have settled for an immature idea of love that lets our desire for pleasant feelings be the arbiter of our every move. If things are going great, we stick it out. If things turn ugly, we cut our losses and move on. Sadly, those who quit on marriage miss out on the glory of learning what it means to truly love when one’s vows are tested.
Haag is convinced most of us in America don’t marry a “lover,” but instead a “partner.” She believes there is a need both for someone who helps us pay for the mortgage and for someone who’s “good in bed.” Undergirding this thought is that sex and marriage are not designed for one another and that it’s somehow a violation of freedom to not be able to pursue each independently of the other.
Yet this fantasy reduces people to what others can get out of them. It places a premium on surface attraction, sprinkled with lust and mixed with mere emotion — a recipe for disaster. Psychologically, infatuation can only last up to four years maximum before there must be something more for the relationship to last. If real love hasn’t been nurtured, we’re going to lose interest and move on to the next person who catches our attention. How exhausting! This love-less pursuit will ultimately hollow out our hearts, leaving us empty. This is precisely why so many people are unhappy with their relationships, and some end up rejecting relationships altogether.
To quote John Paul the Great, “The person who does not decide to love forever will find it very difficult to really love for even one day” (The Love Within Families, p. 799). Real love means saying “I’m laying down all of myself for you — no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice. I love you, not because you give me ‘good sex’ (whatever that means) or even help with the bills, but for who you are. I desire what’s best for you and I’m not going to leave, even if don’t feel happy at this moment. Why? Because I made a promise which I’m obliged to keep. I know things are difficult, but we’re going to work through this. We will see the sun rise once again.”
Marriage needs monogamy because the human person deserves love, and nothing less. If generations before us have gotten this wrong, it’s not because there wasn’t a design in the first place. It’s because man is selfish.
What do we want our legacy to be? As goes marriage, so goes family, for children cannot thrive in situations where they are constantly anxious if dad and mom are going to leave. And as goes the family, so goes society, for “family is the fundamental cell of society” (Familiaris Consortio 86).
Haag’s ideology that “Forever is a long time. It pays to be flexible” is essentially to promote societal suicide. If we throw trust and fidelity out the window — values that are supposed to be taught in the family through committed marriages — we’re signaling the death knell of civilization, for all that will be left are mistrust, suspicion and the belief that we are unworthy of lasting love.
We must make the decision today to faithfully love our spouses and children well, for the fate of humanity is hanging in the balance.