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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Marriage Under Fire

  • Dr. James Emery White
    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
  • 2012 Aug 23
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There’s an old line that goes, “It’s like saying you want to marry someone, but still date around.”

It was meant to lampoon the idea of saying you wanted to be committed to something, or join something, but then back off of the deal. Who would think of marrying someone, and then act as if it was okay to date? It was an easy point to get. 

Not anymore.

In a new book by sociologist Catherine Hakim, excerpted in London’s Telegraph, she writes that it is time to redraw marital rules with a radical rethink on fidelity.

A few highlights:

“…how can we still take the crushing old rules of fidelity, that turn marriage into a prison, for granted? Why should we not be able to recapture the heady thrills of youth, while protecting a secure home life?”

“The time has come, alongside the technology, to redraw the rules of marriage for the 21st century. Just as the Pill opened up premarital sex in the Sixties, the internet is opening up a whole new culture of affairs among married people.”

“It’s time to start honing our seduction skills and join the playground.”   

“Marital love and passion only rarely provide an equally rich source of the exalted feelings, transports of delight and misery associated with love and romance.”

“Affairs are about excitement, being alive, seduction, flirtation, love, affection, sexual bliss, lust, caution, eroticism, fantasy, danger, adventure, exploration and the determined refusal to grow old gracefully.”

“...sex is no more a moral issue than eating a good meal. The fact that we eat most meals at home with spouses and partners does not preclude eating out in restaurants to sample different cuisines and ambiences…”

Her argument for such startling statements?

First, she suggests that since Britain and America are among the most “puritanical” of nations, and have high divorce rates, it goes without saying that the answer is more sex outside of marriage.

Okay, let’s stop there.

I don’t think I have ever seen a more egregious misuse of correlation in all of my reading. First, neither country is puritanical in nature, and hasn’t been for decades. Second, the high divorce rate is due to any number of factors. Third, and most telling, is the fact that countless divorces are due to marital infidelity! Her conclusion is akin to someone saying, “It was raining today, and someone got shot. So rain kills people!”

No, it doesn’t.

But let’s move on.

Second, she suggests the need to be liberated from a view of sex that is merely procreation, and not pleasure. She calls this Puritanical in nature. In other words, get rid of Christianity’s anti-sex mindset. 

Really? Three words: Song of Solomon.

Third, she contends that marital sex is much inferior to the sex of affairs. If she is referring to the superficial adrenaline of hooking up, that is like comparing apples to oranges. The deep nature of love that comes from intimacy with another person is most certainly unique. If she wants to compare that to a one-night stand she is making a highly uninformed comparison.

Here’s the last 5 percent -- culturally, at least.

We shouldn’t be surprised at a sociologist saying these things. It all flows from the descent of society into a moral abyss. Once you redefine marriage – and yes, I’m thinking of gay marriage – then anything goes. 

Why? 

Because you are saying that marriage is a social construct, not something rooted in a transcendent set of values or norms. Once you do that, it becomes whatever we want it to become. It becomes plastic, malleable; bend it however you wish. Which means it will quickly descend to the realm of “if it makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s okay.”

It reminds me of an interview I read with Cameron Diaz in the UK’s Stylist Magazine, where the actress made it quite clear that she is content to be – and intent on being – a serial dater. “I think the big misconception in our society is that we’re supposed to meet the one when we’re 18, and we’re supposed to get married to them and love them for the rest of our lives. Bulls**t.”

[Tell us how you really feel.]

“Who would want to be with the same person for 80 years?” she added. “Why not break it up a bit. ... I think people get freaked out about getting married and spending 20 or 30 years sleeping with the same person.”

So what does Diaz intend to do?

“Have someone for five years and another person for another five years. Life is long and lucky and yes, love might just last forever, but you don’t always live with the person you love forever. You can have that love the rest of your life but you might love someone else along the way, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

She’s right. There’s nothing wrong with that. At least, in our world, and based on its values. But I know how I felt after reading her comments. As I wrote in an earlier post about this very interview, I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t disgusted. 

I was sad. 

She would probably be incensed at the very thought of it, but it’s true. I felt deeply, deeply sorry for her.

Not simply because she doesn’t hold out much hope for a relationship that would stand the test of time; not simply because she seemingly reduces such a relationship, if it were to have any kind of shelf life, to decent sex; but because she has no sense that a life lived in monogamy, over a lifetime, has any real value, much less beauty.

But it is beautiful, and fortunately others in Hollywood see it.

Consider the touching and tender aging sequence portrayed in the opening scenes of the film Up, or the moving images of the elderly couple in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It would seem that there are still those in Hollywood who know that there is value and beauty in a love that commits; a love that grows old together; a love that is far, far deeper than mere physical intimacy.

It reminds me of something I wrote in the afterword of my book Christ Among the Dragons. I tell of a visit with Billy and Ruth Graham at their home in the Blue Ridge mountains of Montreat, North Carolina. I was touched, as so many before me, by his humility and genuine grace. But even more by his passionate love for Ruth, who sadly passed away just a few short months after our visit. 

Following an hour or so of conversation, he walked us back to the bedroom where Ruth was confined to bed. She had gamely prepared to receive us, and had been moved to a nearby chair, next to a low-lying bookshelf where notebooks containing books of the Bible had been prepared for her with oversized type so that she could read them despite her failing eyesight. 

They talked of their nightly devotions with one another, how they prayed for their children, and how those who said there was no romance at their age were wrong. “We have romance through our eyes,” Billy explained. 

He was right. They did.

My wife and I have only been married for 30 years, long by many standards – short by ours. The richness of our relationship grows with time. There is no one else who shares my life, my memories, my heart, more than she does. There is no one I can talk to the way I talk to her. She is my best friend. 

So who wants to live with someone for 80 years?

I do.

James Emery White

 

Sources    

“The recipe for happiness? An enduring marriage and an affair with lots of sex,” Catherine Hakim, The Telegraph, August 20, 2012; read online.

Catherine Hakim, The New Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairs and Erotic Power.

Cameron Diaz Doesn’t Want to Be With One Guy Forever by PopEater Staff, July 22, 2010; read the interview.

James Emery White, Christ Among the Dragons (InterVarsity Press).

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.