DO YOU EVEN KNOW IF YOU ARE MARRIED?
Are you married? How do you know? When did it happen?
Are you married because the government says you are? Or is there more to it?
Were you married when you first committed to another in love? Or was it when a minister or judge proclaimed it? Or was it when you signed a certificate and paid a fee?
Who gets to decide those things? You? The government? God? Your employer? Your Church? Something else?
These questions may seem fairly innocuous and perhaps mostly irrelevant, but I actually think they are profoundly important. Not because the precise definition of marriage is so critical but because we should all consider the role we want government or other institutions to play in determining how to live a moral life.
Say, for example, your religious teaching leads you to conclude that a sexual relationship should be reserved for marriage. Suddenly, the questions above take on a new importance. Not only because their answers determine when and perhaps with whom you may have sex but because their answers determine who has the moral authority in your life. Is it you? Is it your idea of God and the associated religious teachings? Or is it the government?
Growing up, I learned the expression “living in sin” which was a way to describe someone living with and having a sexual relationship with another person without being legally married. The only criteria for changing the same act from moral to immoral was a certificate from the government. What an odd way to determine whether something is pleasing to God or otherwise moral.
I find it curious that the same people who are so often critical of social and economic welfare programs nevertheless press so hard for a sort of moral and religious welfare with no apparent awareness of the internal conflict. It strikes me that many religious people, and conservative Christians in particular have invited the government to play a central role in determining what is moral living. I would suggest that this is something to reconsider. It is harming our government and Christians and non-Christians alike.
The pursuit of making the United States a “Christian Nation” has, for many Christians, led to a sort of moral outsourcing, where the goal is to make laws that line up with a particular religious code so that the burden of teaching morality is no longer the burden of faith.
So, instead of doing the hard work of learning and teaching how to be in a healthy, committed romantic relationship, we simply ask the government to define who is married and judge someone’s moral choices based on their compliance with the law.
Perhaps we would be better off if we stopped asking the government to determine for us what is moral and sought those answers for ourselves ceding authority to the origin of our moral principles. And, as a side note, if the origin of your moral principles is the government, I think it is time for you to give serious consideration to your core values and your willingness to engage in critical thinking.
I would suggest that we, as a society, have spent too much time looking for institutions that will impose our moral thinking on someone else and not enough time examining our own morality. As a result, we are more concerned with punishing prostitutes than dismantling a culture which objectifies women and commercializes sexuality. We are more concerned with punishing those who are involved with terminating a pregnancy than serving those faced with traumatizing life choices. We are more concerned with punishing addiction than helping to heal the pain that can drive unhealthy behavior. We are more concerned about where the government says we can pray than understanding spiritual connection. We are more concerned with when the government will “re-open” Churches than we are about serving those in need. We are more concerned with who the government says can be married to each other than we are about sharing collective wisdom on how to have a healthy loving connection with another person.
In general, we are more concerned about laws which force others to live to our standards than we are about loving people to the fullest extent of our abilities regardless of what the law requires.
It is time to reconsider the government as our moral authority. We can do better. It is time to be less concerned with rules that allow us to judge, punish and control and more concerned with words and actions that allow us to elevate, protect, encourage and love.
Therefore, if your values are important to you and it is important to you that others share those values, consider persuading through the example of your own life rather than looking for politicians who will compel others to live as you see fit. Or, consider why it is important to you that others live as you want them to in the first place.