He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Fair Questions: Why Mixed-Attraction Marriage?

To put it mildly, the relationships depicted in the video segment below will generate considerable moral outrage in some social circles, puzzlement in many others, and applause in a few circles.

It will generate moral outrage in some circles because it depicts men who are physically attracted to other men (at least most of the time) setting aside their attraction to do what they believe is objectively morally right: marrying within their religious tradition and raising children.

Why the outrage?  Because those folks believe that the basic moral duty of a person is to fulfill their strong attractions, particularly their sexual attractions, by acting on them throughout life.  Their view is that personal fulfillment happens as a result of consistently realizing our sexual desires (as long as it is between consenting parties).

Also, they believe that a person acting against their strong sexual attractions consistently throughout life is doomed to either fail in remaining chaste or doomed to a host of mental health issues due to sexual repression if they do in fact succeed in remaining chaste.

They genuinely believe that it is fundamentally harmful to people to practice a radical self-denial with regard to our sexual attractions.  Their outrage is at least understandable, whether one agrees with their worldview or not.

Others who are more tolerant live-and-let-live types will simply be puzzled by the mixed-attraction marriages depicted in the video.  They themselves don't see any sense in getting married to a woman unless you're exclusively attracted to women, but they figure...if it makes the couples happy and works for them, why not?

These folks have different feelings and conclusions about mixed-attraction marriages, but one thing they generally agree on is that the purpose of sex is to have fun and to act on our attractions.  It's a hedonistic view of the human person and our moral imperatives.  (I'm using the term hedonistic here not as a pejorative, but rather as a clinical description.)

Those who applaud mixed-attraction marriages, on the other hand, may or may not be hedonistic in their own approach toward marriage.  Some who applaud mixed-attraction marriages are doing so either solely or primarily because the Bible prohibits homosexual acts and promotes opposite-sex marriage as God's plan for human beings.

Out of this group, some are pretty hedonistic themselves.  They too believe that the purpose of sex is to have fun and act on our attractions, although if you have children too, that's Biblical as well.  For this segment of the Bible-believing folks, marriage is the prerequisite for sexual license.  After marriage, you can do pretty much what you like with your spouse as far as sex acts are concerned.

Others, however, do not have a hedonistic view of marriage at all.  Mostly these folks are either Mormons, members of the Catholic Church or part of the Evangelical movement in post-Reformation Christian groups.  They believe in things like NFP (Natural Family Planning) to help regulate the number of children a family has. 

This method requires periodic abstinence and strong self-control, unlike the condoms and pills used by most of their co-religionists.  They propose something antithetical to hedonism: human beings ought to control their transient urges by regular self-denial, and especially with those that are the strongest urges like those related to sex and food.

For them, our lives are a constant sacrifice, an ongoing self-emptying which denies our transient desires for the sake of achieving objective moral goods.  For them, all of us are called to turn everything we desire over to God and follow the divine commands, no matter how hard those cut against our strongest instincts.

It is in this view that mixed-attraction marriages make the most sense.  On this view, those who experience strong same-sex attractions are called to take up the cross of their desires just like everyone else, subordinating those desires to the way of life which God commands for us.

And they have to exercise a radical control over those desires just as everyone else does, in order to turn their lives completely over to God.

What many people will ask at this point is: How healthy is it to deny such powerful desires for so long?  Should we really be recommending this approach of mixed-attraction marriages for everyone?

I don't recommend this approach, myself.  The divorce rates are higher than average for mixed-attraction marriages (which is especially harmful for any children from the marriage), and that seems an important point when deciding whether or not to take the risk of entering into such a marriage.

That said, I'm not sure how much of the higher divorce rate is caused by the mixed-attraction challenge and how much is caused by our culture teaching people that marriage is for their pleasure (which inevitably leads to disappointment and often resentment).  It seems likely that mixed-attraction marriages have been going on for several hundred years in the United States, and it would be useful to know whether the divorce rates for those marriages shot up right after the Sexual Revolution.

If the rates did go up a lot at that time in our history, it would suggest that a more hedonistic view of marriage had a lot to do with causing high divorce rates among mixed-attraction marriages too.  Perhaps more study on this issue would be enlightening.

As far as the question of whether it's healthy or not to deny such powerful desires for so long, my observation is that celibate priests, most of whom keep to their vows and are not sexually active, are generally no more unhealthy from a physical or psychological standpoint than most other folks after taking into account that they have an extremely stressful job.

The existence of a small percentage of priests who find it unbearable to remain in the state of sexual inactivity doesn't provide much evidence for the claim that it's intrinsically unhealthy or impossible to live that way for long. 

Claiming that it does is rather like proposing that the small percentage of the Jain monastic population that commits violent crimes means that radical non-violence is unhealthy or impossible to live out for very long.  And who would propose that?

In the end, the reasons provided by the folks in the video segment for entering into mixed-attraction marriages aren't going to make sense except in the context of a vow that requires us to radically transform our lives in order to reach a transcendent purpose.

Anything less will not be sufficient to provide us with the kind of extraordinary motivation we need to live with profound suffering as we take up our crosses and follow Him.

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