Friday, December 31, 2010

The Future of Marriage

By David Blankenhorn, Encounter, 325 pages.

"What children need most are mothers and fathers. Not caregivers. Not parent-like adults. Not even 'parents.' What a child wants and needs more than anything else are the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child, and who love each other," writes Blankenhorn in a typically forceful passage from The Future of Marriage.

Taking a traditional and scientific approach to marriage, Blankenhorn doesn't believe that sentimental love is the highest ideal of marriage. Children are the heart of marriage the world-over. Even the reality of infertile couples, elderly marriages, and the like, does not void this, because procreation and the needs of children are so overwhelmingly important.

Marriage forms the heart of the family, which forms the heart of society and civilization. Marriage is not simply a private contract between 2 individuals.

With much social science research backing him up, Blankenhorn shows clearly that marriage is a social institution whose purpose is to guide the relationship of husband and wife. The couple themselves do not have the right to define for themselves what marriage is.

Marriage precedes the couple. The social meaning of this relationship, which above all else includes the duty to rear children and build families, is more important than the sentimental, emotional winds of husband or wife. Marriage molds the couple; the pair cannot alter the idea of marriage to suit their whims.

Blankenhorn argues forcefully from the historical evidence, pointing out that a monogamous notion of marriage with responsible fatherhood replaced temple prostitution and a sexually-free fatherless society in ancient Mesopotamia. The rulers of the land gradually set up the conditions for public, institutional marriage, which included the father's duty to take care of the offspring. This new concept of marriage, "social fatherhood," and stable families built the civilization of Mesopotamia.

Unlike many marriage theorists today, who are guided more by ideology and hatred of the old order than by common sense or scientific studies, Blankenhorn often emphasizes the desperate need of children for mother and father:

"As children, we are smiled into smiling and loved into loving... Helping an infant grow over the years into a flourishing human being is the most difficult, time-consuming, and important work of our species." This requires the balanced complementarity of father and mother, Blenkenhorn notes repeatedly.

He warns that only through marriage can humans cease the almost-never-ending battle of the sexes. The main sexual divide for humans, he writes, is not straight-gay, but male-female. Marriage heals that deep divide through love, sexuality, and family-building.

Because of the deep emotional, financial, cultural, and social needs that marriage answers, the social institution of marriage predates any one religion. It existed before Christianity. The Church put its stamp on marriage, as with St. Augustine's discussion of its sacramental nature, but marriage as a social institution developed along with civilization itself.

Blankenhorn's social, economic, theological, and psychological message about marriage is coherent and easy to understand. While he discusses many current hot-button issues, his wider argument is based on more timeless principles.

1 comment:

  1. he may base it on timeless principles, but it is better to base it on the timeless creator who declared marriage to be what it is at the beginning of time.

    If marriage is based on tradition and man's best ideas it is doomed to failure, but when it is based on God's design and with God as the foundation marriage is much more than an effective way to raise children.

    Marriage is a man's commitment to a woman first. Our children leave the house, but our spouse never should.