We read a lot in the culture wars about marriage, like it is a concept that has been around forever and everyone knows what it is. That isn't quite true. Marriage as we know it today, is a fairly recent invention. As recently as 500 years ago, few people in Europe bothered to get married. Only the landed classes tended to formalize marriage. There are many cultures that have or had no concept of marriage. Others practiced very different forms of marriage (think Muslim and Original Mormons). Some cultures do not even have the concept or words for husband or wife. The kind of marriage practiced today is even different from that practiced by our great grandparents. One need only compare the divorce rates now and in 1912.

The ironic thing is that religionists, who complain most about the defending marriage, are leading the way in divorce and groups like Baptist ministers equal the general population in divorce. All this simply illustrates that marriage is neither stable or universal. The goal posts are always moving. We will see them move again, I am sure. With the marriage rates declining in most of the Western world, churches will need to admit unmarried people willy nilly, or they will have no members, just as they have had to do with divorced people.

See chapter 11 of Sex and God for specifics on several cultures. I am speaking at Lake Hypatia, AL on June 30. Then on to Reno, NV July 6-7 to speak twice at the National Mensa Convention the to the Bay Area Humanists July 8. Speaking calendar at IPCPress.com

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Tags: Culture Wars, Marriage, divorce

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Comment by James M. Martin on June 25, 2012 at 5:36pm

Most evangelical fundamentalists know nothing of history and not too much about the very book that they fall back on as moral justification for their bigotry, and in some cases, hypocrisy, when it comes to the social issues in general and sexual orientation and gender rights in particular.  Just one example of many, vis-a-vis Sodom (from whence they take the term "sodomite"): they know nothing of geological science and findings that the area now thought to be Sodom stood on a big pocket of mephitic gasses such that an earthquake, even if small, would ignite and explode, thereby destroying that City of the Plain.  It is also generally accepted in historical circles that the sin of the Sodomites was not homosexuality but inhospitality: they were xenophobic, not homophotic.  (As you know, the desert warlord tribes tended to be nomadic, and it was considered an affront to God that a person would not greet such a traveler with an offer of bed, board, and your wife.  The Sodomites were procrustean is all.) The illogicality of the fundamentalists' homophobic, misogynistic beliefs is unknown to them, too, as they somehow manage to ignore the fact that after Lot left Sodom and saw his wife turn into a pillar of salt, he impregnated his own daughters.  I like to ask Christians, "Looks like God hates homos and loves father-daughter incest."  They have no explanation for the contradictions.

Comment by jay H on June 24, 2012 at 7:11pm
The modern 'romantic' marriage has indeed been around for only a short time. Historically marriage has had more to do with connecting families and controlling wealth and inheritance and very little to do with 'love'.

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