Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is the concept of marriage univocal? C. S. Lewis says no

This is a key C. S. Lewis passage that can easily be applied to the same-sex marriage issue. 
See the discussion here

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
VR: This, I think, is an effective criticism of the view that there can be one and only one conception of marriage, and the government should enforce that concept. 


Hal said...

There are Christian ministers who believe gays can and should be married in a Christian Church.

Lewis himself did not share the Roman Catholic conception of marriage. He was ok with marrying a divorcee.

So it would appear that even the Christian conception is not univocal.

Kathen said...

Well, the Christian conception of marriage is certainly not univocal. There are any number of different Christian positions on the subject.

But Lewis, although never a Roman Catholic, did share the Roman Catholic view of marriage. He justified his marriage to Joy Davidman by saying that she was never validly married to Gresham since Gresham was himself divorced at the time and his first wife was still alive.

This presumably would have been enough to get an annulment if they had been Catholics. Since they were Anglicans it was all a bit more difficult.

Victor Reppert said...

No, even the Christian conception really isn't univocal. Joy's husband was unfaithful, which is a basis for divorce based on Matthew 5:32, whereas in Mark 10:11-12, adultery is not mentioned. And then Paul allows divorce if the partner is an unbeliever and wants out.

oozzielionel said...

I would suggest that there is only one Christian position on same sex marriage. If one calls one's view Christian, it does not make it so. The question is, "Which is the position consistent with Christian beliefs and values?"

When using the word "Christian" without qualification can do one of two things. On the one hand, it can reduce the meaning of the word to the least common denominator that all Christians agree on. In this sense, "Christian" is not helpful when describing beliefs about marriage. In another sense, it supposes that there is an authentic Christian understanding.

CS Lewis suggest that there is a difference between the civil definition of marriage and the Christian concept. In his day, the issue was divorce. It is also true today but the issue is same sex marriage. Again, for many Christians, there is a difference between the civil definition and the faith definition.

The issue behind the issue that divides the "Christians" is to what extent can one who identifies himself as a Christian, also identify with the culture? This comes into play both with the issue that Lewis raises (how far Christians...ought to try to force their views...) and to what extent should Christians change their views in the context of their culture?

Those who are Christians first and citizens of their country second would identify their marriage in Lewis' scheme as Christian first and civil second. These being two different conceptions of marriage. This enables Christians to retain their view of what a Christian marriage looks like in the face of culture who defines it differently.

The issue of "forcing" marriage on others is trickier in a democracy where all are invited to participate. This participation includes the formulation of laws which are imposed on others. In the realm of politics, the reality is that someone is imposing their views on everyone else.

Hal said...

I would suggest that there is only one Christian position on same sex marriage. If one calls one's view Christian, it does not make it so. The question is, "Which is the position consistent with Christian beliefs and values?"

It was through my contact with some Episcopalians back in the 70's that started me on the path to accepting gay marriage as legitimate. They believed it was perfectly consistent with their Christian beliefs and values. They certainly did not believe they were trying to identify with the secular culture around them.

oozzielionel said...

It is accurate to describe that as Episcopalian Marriage, not Christian Marriage.

Crude said...

I suppose we can argue, then, that there are all manner of secular, even atheist arguments against gay marriage. After all, there's all manner of arguments against gay marriage given by people who 'certainly don't see their arguments as religious, or even theistic'. And that, apparently, is all we need.

M.E. Lastrilla said...

Dr. Reppert, what do you think of the arguments here ?