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What is Marriage Part 2: The Nature of Things

October 14, 2012

First published June 11, 2009

marriageBefore I begin to untangle myself out of this noodle soup I’ve cooked, can I draw your attention to a comment that came from Jason Gennaro — Jason makes an excellent comment that every definition about Marriage has to include God in it. So true. In my defense (and Jason has indeed humbled me), I must say that my hope is always to bring the Good News to those outside of the Church, those for whom the word God means nothing and so when explaining some of these things, I try to do so from a secular point of view – sometimes using religious language alienates people more – plus, it is my belief that if something is truly from God, then it should make sense from a natural perspective as well. Nevertheless, Jason definitely gets the “best-comment-of-the-week” award.

Another comment came that made me realize that, in my attempt to be interesting, I’ve been more successful at confusion than anything else. It was a personal message I received from a friend who wished to remain anonymous. He writes:

I’m trying to figure out what you are saying about marriage in your post on the S+L blog. I’m seriously lost… on one hand you seem to be implying that gay people having sex implies… disease, heartache etc. On the other hand you seem to imply that straight marriage is a guarantee against all those things, and that marriage is identified primarily as sex. Am I missing something? I hope you’re not saying either those things. I would appreciate some help understanding.

Here’s my response:

First of all, can I thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt and not dismissing my muddled ideas as some crazy quack?
Second, I think it’s important to remember that I am talking about ideas here and ideas are always clear – even if I am not clear with them – it’s when we try to apply them to the real world that things get muddy and, while I do think the practical application is important, I want to stay in the realm of ideas for now.
I am not talking about homosexual or heterosexual relationships. Let’s leave all of that aside. I am trying to define marriage, or rather, trying to determine what the true nature of marriage is.

We may find that the true nature of marriage does not have a practical application – but again, I am talking about ideas here. So – I would like to argue that the nature of marriage, God’s design for marriage, if you will, is a relationship within which sex is guaranteed to not cause any complications.

That doesn’t mean that heterosexual marriage is a guarantee against problems – no… it means that in a “true” marriage, sexual intercourse is guaranteed not to lead to any problems because as soon as you encounter problems, it’s because the sex has been used against its true nature.”

There was also a comment after my last entry challenging this whole exercise of trying to define Marriage. Let me just say in response that we are not trying to re-define Marriage. I am merely trying to be able to explain why the Church teaches that a Marriage is between a man and a woman. Why can’t it be between two people of the same sex? If it’s about love, why not? That’s what this exercise is about. But I want you to think about it, not just blindly learn what the Church teaches. So here we go: What is the true nature of marriage? Let’s find out using Natural Law.

All Catholic Moral Teaching is based on Natural Law. The whole universe is guided and ruled by laws: the laws of physics (like gravity) and mathematical laws (2+2 always will equal 4), for example. This is the universe God created.

Natural Law is the law that says that all things work best or yield the best results when used according to their nature. So that means that if I want to grow tomatoes I have to plant them outside, in the sun, water them every day, etc. That is their nature. If I put them in the closet and forget about them I won’t get any tomatoes because that is against their nature. The same applies to everything, not just things of nature. If I want my car to run, I have to put gas in the tank. If I put peanut butter in the tank, the car is not going to run – in fact, I will probably have to get a new car. So, my car will work best or yield the best results when used according to its nature, which includes putting gas in the tank. Incidentally, my car with its over 326,000KM is no longer working very well – chances are that is because it’s not its nature to last so long.

The reverse is also true: in order to find out the true nature of something, we need to see how it works best and/or yields the best results. If I want to know what the nature of the human body is, I have to see what makes the body work best. For example, drinking 8 glasses of water a day, eating well-balanced meals, exercising, sleeping 8-9 hours every night (I wish!), having a balance between work, rest, prayer and play – those things have proven to help the body work best – so it tells us something about the nature of the human body.

In order to find out the true nature of sex, for example, by using the Natural Law, we have to see what makes (or in what circumstances does) sex work best or yield the best results. Are you with me?

Therefore, what makes sex not lead to any problems, heartaches, disease, issues, or pain? (Remember we are talking about ideas here – the practical application may be slightly different.) If there is a perfect design by God, of sex, then it is a sex that doesn’t lead to any complications, heartaches, disease, issues or pain of any kind. I would say that we can agree that is the true nature of sex.

Can we imagine for a minute a relationship within which sex is used according to its true nature, its true design? A relationship where there is no abuse, no infidelity, no conditions, no manipulation, nothing held back, complete freedom, consent and understanding, and total self-giving? I would like to think that is a relationship within which sex does not lead to any complications of any kind.

Does that relationship exist? Sure. We call it Marriage.

I firmly believe that if you go down the list: infidelity, teen-age or immature marriages, forced marriages, marital rape, spousal abuse, anal or oral intercourse, masturbation, contraceptive mentality, friends-with-benefits, pre-marital sex, having too much sex (the list can go on); and you apply the rule of Natural Law, you will find that none of these situations offer the guarantee of no complications. Therefore, they do not belong within the relationship that we call Marriage.

Let me say it in a slightly different way: I am not defining Marriage in terms of sex – I am simply saying that the true nature of sex (where it is guaranteed not to lead to any complications) can only exist within Marriage, as defined by the Church, based on Natural Law (and supported by Sacred Scripture and Tradition).

Now let me just be clear: I am not trying to qualify any marriages or judge marriages. We all struggle in marriage and mine is no better than most (remember we are talking about ideas here). I am merely trying to understand WHY the Church teaches what she teaches about Marriage. There are countless married couples that have struggled through lies, cheating, infidelity, STDs, abortion, sexual disorders, abuse, manipulation and who knows what else, and that are still fairly healthy marriages, because in the end love, forgiveness and repentance have triumphed. But I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that including these practices in your marriage will not guarantee you a healthy marriage or a healthy sexual relationship within that marriage.

The key word here is “guarantee.” If you stick to the true nature of sex (as defined above through Natural Law), which is God’s design for sex, you will be guaranteed to not have any problems, heartaches, disease, issues or pain.

So, back to our original question: What is a true Marriage? According to JPII’s Theology of the Body, it is a love-relationship that is free, faithful, fruitful and total between two consenting adults of the opposite sex who are open to life. But let me add this: Marriage is also the institution created by God to safeguard the true nature of sex. Why? Because in a “true” marriage, sexual intercourse is guaranteed not to lead to any problems, because as soon as you encounter problems, it’s because the sex has been used against its true nature.

Am I defining Marriage in terms of sex? Perhaps – that seems to be the only factor that separates marriage from any other love-relationship (sure you can have sex outside of marriage, but like I said, that won’t offer a “no complications guarantee”). If we define Marriage purely in terms of love, that doesn’t explain why it needs to be between two adults, or between two people of the opposite sex, or why two siblings shouldn’t be married, or why 3 people can’t be married to each other.

All human relationships must include love. All friendly relationships must be faithful, free and must yield good fruit (otherwise they are not loving, and therefore will not work best or yield the best results). Once a relationship becomes a sexual one, the only guarantee that there will be no complications is if it is within a love-relationship that is free, faithful, fruitful and total, between two consenting, mature adults of the opposite sex, who are open to life. That relationship is what the Church calls Marriage. So, yes, while Marriage is not defined based on sex alone, the true nature of Marriage is directly related to the true nature of sex.

Next time someone challenges your belief that Marriage can only be between a man and a woman, explain them this. I’m sure it’ll help.

Happy to write more on this. Even happier to read your comments.

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