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The K-T Boundary ([personal profile] katycat) wrote2012-02-05 03:48 pm
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Rosemary Joyce tackles marriage:

"The main difficulty in refuting people who make the claim that "marriage" has "existed since the beginning of human history" for "men and women [to] come together...for the purposes of having children" is actually that there is too much historical fact that refutes it to easily summarize.

As an anthropologist, the temptation is to cite other cultures ...

But I think those responses, while valid, miss the point.

Santorum and others like him don't mean to include the practices of men and women in Native American, South East Asian, or African traditional societies when they say marriage has existed unchanged since "human history" began, and they don't care if primate studies suggest our species might not actually be quite so naturally straight as they imagine. They mean the history that they claim as their own: the one sanctioned by God as continuing "civilization".

But they are still wrong about those historical facts."

And I'll also quote the last sentence, which is I think the real take-away from the article:

It is inhumane as well as ahistorical, and it ignores the one real universal about our species: we are human, and humans evolve to fit their times and circumstances.

Original blog post here

Interesting meta about writing such a post is here

[personal profile] frey 2012-02-05 09:49 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't really mean to take issue with any other part of that article, but this is certainly wrong: Far from Santorum's view of Christianity as timelessly emphasizing procreation through marriage, research by scholars like Duke University's Elizabeth Clark has shown that Christians of the first to fifth centuries, to the contrary, believed that the renunciation of family, home, marriage, reproduction, and property was the highest ideal. With ingenious arguments and astute Scriptural interpretation, they fervently argued the "anti-marriage" line. So much for the Christian tradition having enshrined procreative marriage timelessly "as God made it to be". Devaluing marriage and family life in favor of celibacy as a spiritual ideal has not much to do with the practice of marriage as it did exist among Christians of the time. Late Antique Christians still believed God had created and ordained natural procreative family arrangements, even if they thought the natural could be surpassed by the supernatural. She does make the more relevant point below -- that Church control over marriage developed over many centuries. Rick Santorum is ignorant, and his claim ("the beginning of time!") is too general, but actually, there is little to contradict his statement if limited to the history of marriage in Christianty (which the author claims to do). Santorum didn't say anything about marriage as a sacrament or even as a legal institution, although I'd guess the latter is implied. There was concubinage, practiced by the Romans and the Franks (and possibly others), but even that (though condemned as a sin) is not seen as a rival to legal marriage. Of course, history shows that marriage has changed in many ways throughout the centuries of Christian society. But "one man, one woman, for procreation" basically did not change. For many people it was seen as the bottom of the ladder in terms of your state of life. But that doesn't mean it was all that malleable.

[personal profile] frey 2012-02-09 08:56 am (UTC)(link)
Not at all, I think we should have politician BOOT CAMPS for historical fact checking! I think they should all hire historians as aides! (No this would be terrible.) I think when they all go to college they should take their two required history courses from professors who are truly qualified! I think they should have to take THREE required history courses! No, FOUR!! Yes I am ambitious!

[identity profile] mushfromnewsies.livejournal.com 2012-02-06 12:40 am (UTC)(link)
uh, so I was gonna comment saying that I can't speak for the history or practice of marriage and sexuality in non-Western cultures, but that the re-telling of Christian-marriage was just plain misleading -- but then Kristen said exactly what I was going to say! So ditto to her comment.

The problem with how politicians and many, many (probably most, if not all) social conservatives present this question, is that they speak about marriage 'as a whole' as if the institution hasn't changed at all, when really what they are trying to get at is the unique male-female relationship throughout society, which has been centered around family as a social institution, through marriage. Marriage takes many forms, but it is about the relationship between males and females -- certainly in Near Eastern, Mediterranean, Roman, and then Christian and European cultures; I can't speak to others, as I said above, although I haven't ever heard of a society where the majority of its people formed same-sex or multi-gender unions. But as far as Christianity goes -- I would like to pound into a lot of people's heads (mostly Catholics) that our current ideal of marriage is to a certain extent socially and historically constructed, and that is OKAY. Catholics, with their long view of Jewish and Christian history and their theology of grace-perfecting-nature, in theory should have no trouble with this. But anyway. I do think, however, that this article is misleading in terms of Christian history; as if Christians preferring celibacy to marriage somehow changes what they believed about the *nature* of marriage -- and if this author really has read the early Christians, he would know that the sole 'justifications' given for marriage by super-excited-pro-celibacy-types was that God made man and woman for it by nature, and that it is essential for society through reproduction. Whoops. I have read parts of the "controversial" book mentioned which argues for same-sex unions being sanctified by the early Church, and all I remember is the author presenting the icons of "paired" male and female saints embracing (Peter/Paul, Felicity/Perpetua, etc.) as evidence of the early Church's recognition of same-sex romantic/sexual unions. That is just a jaw-droppingly ridiculous claim; I can't say about his documentary evidence (he claimed he found specific same-sex liturgical blessings), but I am very skeptical. And as for the debates during the Reformation, they were about the nature of marriage vis a vis the sacraments; whether marriage existed on the supernatural order (the Catholic position) or only on the natural order. I would argue that Martin Luther's efforts to make marriage normative for all Christians, men and women, and his scornful opposition to the celibate life, have helped lead us down this path where the romantic-sexual relationship and the nuclear family is seen as the only life of true happiness/goodness and thus a right for everyone, regardless of what form it takes -- but that's a larger conversation. All of this has to do with the social placement and significance of marriage, but nothing to do with marriage as linked to male-female pairs and reproduction. I think that aspect of the nature of marriage is as clear as glass within Western culture -- but I *would* like to see more Christians making arguments for or offering historical understandings of monogamy over polygamy! That I would like to know more about.

I have an honest question, though, for people who ascribe to theories of sexuality that posit that human "nature" is fluid and totally subject to human needs and circumstance. Basically: is it possible, do you think, for humans to live together in society without a shared understanding of human "nature"? If human nature is what any individual decides to make it, but they also expect to be recognized and treated as whatever they make it, and to then instill it in children or other young people or groups of them, that are still being formed, etc. etc., how does that remain merely an individual choice which leaves everyone else free to make their individual choices? I think this goes both ways. Group A hates that Group B thinks human nature is 'x + y = z' and that they raise their children or teach others that this is so; Group A calls this "brainwashing" or "bigotry" or "perversion of the young." Group B fights for social recognition of their version of nature, while Group A insists that anyone who says nature is 'x + y = z' rather than 'y = mx +b' shouldn't be allowed to make the rules. Group C says there isn't any such thing as human nature and that groups and individuals just find whatever works for them, but because we live in a society where we affect each other at many levels, this ends up in trying to make everyone else believe or act like Group C.

[identity profile] mushfromnewsies.livejournal.com 2012-02-06 12:43 am (UTC)(link)
If we don't argue for a particular human nature, I'm not sure how we arrive at believing that humans have rights *as humans*, at all. Every argument you can make for human rights just seems to rely on a more truncated, less-than-satisfactory definition of human nature and its attendant rights. This sounds all very theoretical, but really this has become a real quandary for me. As a Catholic, I believe God intends for people and society to be and act a certain way; as a person living in the contemporary world, I believe in the importance of a religiously pluralistic society, for the free exercise of religion and the necessity of protecting sub-cultures by law, but also somehow answering the call for universal justice and human rights. But honestly I am not sure that pluralism is possible -- and definitely not for supporting cultural and individual formation and flourishing at the deep level that I think -- while delicate and dependent on social constructions -- is an essential part of humans seeing meaning in their lives. There is a lot of talk in sociology of religion circles about how pluralism or competition makes more actively-devoted members of religions/sub-cultures, and thus actually benefits religions. But personally, and from my experience, I think that is total bunk. The formation of world-views is much, much more about what we are unconscious of and what we assume without ever thinking about it, than what we talk fervently about. And as for our contemporary situation, I think, without wholeheartedly subscribing to the secularization thesis, that the act of religious belief or religious acculturation is (for the religious themselves) far more about trying to undo or re-write the basic modernist, secular understanding of the world *within ourselves*, which is impossible to remain immune from. There is a really good Catholic philosopher (Charles Taylor) who writes about this dilemma and doesn't dismiss modernity or modern consciousness the way *I* and most others am prone to do -- but ultimately that doesn't really answer my question about how we are to live together.

In sum, I am very skeptical of and very impatient with the idea that we can all live our separate lives and natures or 'individual choices' together. A majority "default" *always* emerges, and in a democracy, barring whatever protections minorities can win for themselves, the majority actually gets to claim superiority and form the culture. So, for marriage, claims for mythical historical 'always-beens' are facile, but claims for human nature are what it's all about, and it's not unfair to make them. We can't escape nature-based arguments -- saying that we are essentially fluid is just another statement about our nature. We can try to make reasonable arguments and come to reasonable conclusions (based on assumptions we still share), for sure. But when you are dealing with a world-view as complex as Christianity (with its multiple layers of 'nature', and the variable of human sin) or as slippery as, say, any neo-Marxist interpretation (the majority of cultures are patriarchal/hetero-normative because of oppression, 'nature' has never emerged until the past few decades, if that), it's not something that can be "proved" or disproved by merely examining history. So we end up with a culture war, am I right? I don't see any way of avoiding that. What are your thoughts?

[personal profile] frey 2012-02-09 08:51 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, you are both so long-winded! ;) Let me boil this down. Because as a wannabe historian I encounter the same, let's say, cross-hairs (not conflict) between understanding a different cultural context and evaluating its ethical reality (where ethical is understood as meaning "how it matches up or does not match up with a sustainable idea of human nature). Because I think it is self-defeating to think that all human nature is socially constructed, at least in a way that excludes ethical judgment. I just don't think that sociological theories exclude individual or social wrong-doing. By trying to exchange judgment for understanding (instead of accepting both) it seems one is making an implicit statement of human nature, which is: Societies function in ways that are equally healthy for them (collectively or individually). It doesn't seem to me that that's a given.

But I really meant to just put forth this question, which I once tried to ask my anthropologist professor, and she sort of awkwardly side-stepped it. But I wasn't trying to grill her, I was just honestly curious. If you essentially "see through" all social structures as inherently malleable and even arbitrary (because I don't think malleable = arbitrary), how do you live in them? It's a sort of detached position. I don't question that when you encounter something horrible you know and feel that it's horrible. But I always remember this one passage in Hume where he's talking about how all the religions and traditions and myths of man are just invented and can't even reliably point to something true, but he's still in favor of them because they're nice and they comfort people and they "work." So my immediate question was: do they "work" for Hume? Once he's seen through to the man behind the curtain, can this do for him what it does for the naive? But let's make this more complicated: What happens when Hume is your neighbor, your teacher, or a writer for TV, or what happens when some 30% of the population is Hume -- what happens to a collective lived experience? What happens to the "social imagination," as it were? Because your suggestion:

we can have a society where I can marry a woman if I want, and my neighbor is equally free to think I'm unnatural for doing it - as long as she doesn't kill me.

does not seem to be what the culture wars are about. Since, like you say, we already have laws protecting people from being murdered, this isn't what's at stake. It's a culture war about who gets to control our "social imagination." (I am stealing this phrase from Charles Taylor btw.) This is why Focus on the Family wants no gay couples on TV and why gay rights movements want to chip away at heternormativity. This is ACTUALLY want the gay marriage movement seems to be about, exactly because of that word, marriage, which everyone wants to define. Nobody actually wants to live side by side with someone who disagrees with them on something important. It used to be that people thought religion was something important, but a lot of that energy has now centered around the family and the individual because of many other factors.

But the central point is: If your idea of human nature is that humans want to believe they have a nature, what does it do to you (or the general you) as a human being to believe that they don't have one? And even if you're willing to accept that as a way of life, is this kind of understanding sustainable if extended to societies as a whole?

[identity profile] mushfromnewsies.livejournal.com 2012-02-06 12:50 am (UTC)(link)
uhh, whoops! the author of the article is a 'she'. hahah. I did read it, I promise!