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Does the covenant of marriage really matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Two days ago on February 18th, prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, who seems to be the answer to all conservative NT scholarship in the eyes of internet atheists everywhere, wrote a post about how he is coming out polyamorous.
So what does it mean to be polyamorous?
A visit to the Polyamory society defines it this way:
Polyamory is the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultanously. Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time. Polyamory is an umbrella term which integrates traditional mutipartner relationship terms with more evolved egalitarian terms. Polyamory embraces sexual equality and all sexual orientations towards an expanded circle of spousal intimacy and love. Polyamory is from the root words Poly meaning many and Amour meaning love hence “many loves” or Polyamory. Of course, love itself is a rather ambiguous term, but most polys seem to define it as a serious, intimate, romantic, or less stable, affectionate bond which a person has with another person or group of persons. This bond usually, though not necessarily always, involves sex. Sexualove or eromance are other words which have been coined to describe this kind of love. Other terms often used as synonyms for polyamory are responsible, ethical or intentional non-monogamy.
Now if you want to say as I seem to take it that this entails a desire to have sex with many people other than one’s own spouse, then I will tell you that there are many many people who I think are really polyamorous.
Namely, every male on the planet, including myself.
But you know, rather than admit that you’re a person who has to learn to practice self-control and rather than admit that maybe sex is meant to be between two people who make a covenant together, it’s often easier to just come up with a name for it and in fact define it as a sexual orientation. In fact, Carrier himself says this. “The ability to be more transparent, public, and open about my sexual orientation is a major part of what I’ve needed in my life.”
And note that. “What I’ve needed.”
Of course,we can’t overlook the fact that there truly is someone for whom to have great sympathy in this situation, and that’s his wife who he has said he is divorcing after twenty years. One can only imagine what is going on in Jen’s world right now and we as Christians should indeed pray for her. After all, she has invested twenty years of her life in a man only to have him leave her.
It’s especially tragic if one really thinks there is a need for multiple partners. It’s going to a woman and saying “You’re not enough for me. I need more than you.” That hits at the core of a woman’s identity very often. This is especially the case of a woman who wants to be a one and only and not simply one among many. Whether Jen falls into this category or not, I cannot say, but I can say I’m quite sure she’s not a happy camper right now and I mean this with all honesty. I have the greatest of sympathy right now for her in this and plan to keep her in my prayers.
We can also be sure Jen is another victim of the “It won’t hurt your marriage” line.
Remember this. When marriage gets hurt, it is not just marriage that hurts. It is real people that get hurt.
So how did all this start? Carrier has the answer:
Several years ago, after about seventeen years of marriage, I had a few brief affairs, because I found myself unequipped to handle certain unusual circumstances in our marriage, which I won’t discuss here because they intrude on my wife’s privacy. In the process of that I also came to realize I can’t do monogamy and be happy. Since this was going to come to light eventually, about two years ago I confessed all of this to Jen and told her I still love her but I would certainly understand if she wanted a divorce. Despite all the ways we work together and were happy together, this one piece didn’t fit anymore.
You see, most of us find ourselves unequipped to handle some events in our marriage, and when we do, we go and get the help we need. Why? We are absolutely devoted to the person we love and want to be the best that we can for them. It is for that reason that on Facebook, my wife and I both have set up marriage groups. Mine is for Christian men only and hers is for Christian women only. These are men and women who are married, engaged, dating, or planning to marry. In both groups, it is about learning to love our spouse the way we’re supposed to.
This is monogamous marriage? Is it hard work. You absolutely bet it is. It’s one of the greatest lessons in self-sacrifice you learn. It is indeed about dying to yourself and learning to live a life where you actually have to realize what it’s like to not only put one person’s good above your own, but you have to learn what it is to do so with one who is so radically different from you, and even if you marry someone very similar to you, their being of the opposite sex makes them really much more different than you realize.
Yes. It is hard work, but it is also worth it.
Now you can go out and form many relationships with many people on a sexual level and just never really get to know them but have a time of pleasure with them, but as for me, I have decided already I have no desire to go wading in the shallow waters of multiple women. I have decided to dive deep into the ocean of my one. The key to real sex, I am convinced, is not going to be some technique or your physique or anything like that. Now these are all fine in and of themselves. If married people want to try a new technique in the bedroom that they both agree to, that’s fine. If they want to get in better shape to please their spouse and be able to do more, that’s fine. But you know what will make it best? It will be the raw unbridled passion that each person has for the other as a passion. It is knowing that the other person wants you for you and not just for sex. Sex is the icing on the cake of having one another.
This is something I have to keep in mind. I have to look at Allie and make sure constantly that I am treating her right. Am I using Allie as a means to get sex, or is sex the means that I use to get Allie? There is a world of difference between the two. If all you want is sex, go out on the streets with enough money and you can get that pretty easily. If what you want is another person, well that requires a lot more.
For many of us, that requires a covenant.
And that is really the great tragedy here. A covenant has been broken. The reason given includes the following:
But one of those things is the mutual understanding that we aren’t compatible with each other.
Most of us find this out before twenty years of marriage, but it does conveniently come out after affairs.
In reality, are any of us really “compatible” with one another? We all will change in the relationship, but if you really love the person, you change with the other person in mind and seek to grow in love towards that other person. If your main focus is on yourself, you won’t think about the other person. Granted, all of us have some areas of self-interest in a relationship and none of us do perfect in it, but we should all seek to strive for that.
Carrier says about this that:
It actually doesn’t make a lot of sense to expect a monogamous relationship to last, given that it assumes the contra-factual that people never change. If we never changed, we would never be learning, never growing or improving as a person. Which is not a commendable goal. And as both members of a couple change, as unavoidably they will, and even if each changes for the better, statistically, just on a basic bell curve reasoning (and thus simply as a matter of mathematical necessity), half are still going to change divergently rather than convergently, so we could predict on that basis alone that half of all monogamies will become non-viable. Which oddly matches observation.
We might want to learn something from that.
This is news for people who did monogamy for centuries and found that for some strange reason, it seems to work pretty well. Could it be that the problem is not that monogamy is hard but that divorce is easy? It doesn’t take much to say “I give up” when things get difficult. In reality, as you change, you learn to love through the change. Divorce in that way becomes a way of saying “I can’t love you the way you are.” It really says nothing about the way the other person is. It says plenty about the person who makes the claim.
Is the other person hard to live with? So are you. Is the other person someone who can annoy you at times? You do the same to them. Is the other person someone who makes no sense to you at times? You don’t make sense to them at times. This is all part of the reality of the covenant. You made a promise to this person when you married them to love them forever and they trusted you in that promise. What does it mean to be the kind of person who breaks that promise?
Now does this mean divorce is never an option? No. There are sad cases where it is. Two such cases I can think of are abuse and adultery. And still in these cases, while divorce can be a necessity, particularly in the case of abuse, it is still a tragedy. None of us should really celebrate when a divorce takes place. We should all have great sorrow. Even if in the case of a woman better off than with an abusive husband, it is still sorrowful that a covenant was broken and a woman has to live with that. As I’ve said before, pray for Jen.
As for those of us who are Christians, let’s make this a favorite case to show Carrier wrong in by loving our spouses the way we’re supposed to and striving for that every day. If you’re in the field of apologetics and you’re able to refute Carrier, but you do not do the job of loving your spouse the way that Christ commands you to, I could call you a fine apologist, but I can’t say I’d call you a fine Christian.
To that end, we do need to establish better places in churches where men and women can come together. Men need to be able to connect with just men and talk about what is on our minds. Women need to have the same. In both cases, sexual issues should not be off the table. It seems often we talk about every aspect of marriage enrichment in church except the sexual one. That should definitely be discussed. Carrier’s embracing of polyamory should be a reminder to Christians that this stuff is becoming more and more acceptable. It’s not going to go away. We need to be prepared to handle it and not just with an apologetic defense of marriage, but a lived out defense of marriage.
Then of course, couples need to come together and be able to discuss the issues that they have, because all marriages have areas that can be improved on. The more we do this, the better able we are going to be to fulfill our duties as Christians. When I was dating Allie, I was studying philosophy. Now it’s New Testament, and I would change that part of what I said to her parents at the time that described my goal in life which is still the same. One goal is obvious, to get a Ph.D. in New Testament. The other goal? To get a Ph.D. in Allie. I want to be a student of learning who she is constantly and growing in my relationship with her more and more. Do I screw up at times? Obviously, but a mature man learns from his mistakes and strives to not repeat them. I just pray I be a mature man.
Keep in mind people that this is something that we should read about as a tragedy. I still do. The problem is not the institution of marriage. The problem is the people entering into it. Let’s try to change ourselves to be better at marriage. Too often we’re trying to change marriage to fit it to ourselves. If you are married, renew that drive today to be the best spouse that you can be.