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Thursday, May 14, 2009

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A.I.

While what you write may be true, it seems a rather narrow, sterile and utilitarian view of marriage. How about love, passion and romance--do they count for nothing?

Perhaps the biggest downside to the definition-of-marriage discussion is we're analyzing the institution to death. That might be understandable for those of us 25-plus years into marriage (I"m quite sure that includes you KB), but what's the deal with near-newlywed JS?

KB

A.I.:

If what I write is true but "narrow, sterile, and utilitarian," does that mean that the broad, fruitful, and elevated view requires self-deception? I hope not.

There is a room in my house called a kitchen, and it is there because of two closely related reasons: human beings need, and way our food is treated has a great deal to do with how much fun it is to eat it. A range of great culinary cultures have grown up around the storing, preparing, and consumption of food. I cook Indian, Chinese, Mexican, French and Italian on occasion, and of course my native cuisine, Southern grill and barbecue. There is an almost infinite subtlety in food culture: recipes and romance go hand in hand. Does it do anything to diminish the art of cooking to point out that it would not exist at all if not for the two aforementioned, biologically rooted facts? I think not.

Nor does it diminish the romance of marriage to point out that it would not exist if human beings did not mate like other mammals, and if human males and females did not face different problems when trying to make sure that their respective investments in reproduction are not wasted. The capacity of men and women to love one another, like the capacity of a mothers and fathers to love their children, is an adaptive trait. But that doesn't mean it is any less genuine because it has an evolutionary function. Men do not love their genes, they love their lovers. Mothers do not love their chromosomes, they love their babies.

I'm all for love. I highly recommend it. We get much more out of it than successful reproduction. But it is helpful to know why it exists.

Homosexual love is obviously something of a mystery from a Darwinian point of view. But it is so common across cultures and history that surely does have biological roots. Among many animals, some individuals sacrifice their own reproductive opportunities for those of other (usually closely related) individuals. One theory is that male homosexual love is an adaptive trait to encourage warriors to stand next to their lovers and defend the clan. Another theory is that is a byproduct of other evolved dispositions. There is no way at present to test such theories. But whatever it's etiology, I see no obvious reason it can't be productive of beauty and even nobility.

I have been married for more than 25 years, but I still remember exactly what it feels like to be young and in love. Seeing marriage and romance for what they are hasn't hurt that a bit.

Miranda

I agree with Dr. Blanchard that something can be both useful and beautiful.
Shoes, for instance, are made to protect our feet, but they come in all sorts of styles and some are remarkably beautiful. Over time, though, shoes lose their beauty as they are covered in dirt and worn down.

Marriage's beauty suffers similarly. Stress and disagreement have a way of wearing spouses down. And if the only things couples want in marriage are beauty and passion, it's no wonder that marriages have begun to fail so often. It's like
buying a pair of shoes, then discarding them once they aren't pretty any more.

That pair of shoes probably becomes more valuable if you're standing barefoot in a sea of barnacles. At that point, it's easy to see their usefulness. I think
it works the same way with marriage. It's a lot easier to hold onto - even if it isn't as beautiful or fun any more - if you can see that it helps protect your
children.

Of course, I haven't been married for anywhere near the number of years either of you has, so this is the guess of a newbie.

KB

Thanks for the beautiful comment, Miranda.

Yes, a marriage can be worn down by the weight of time and trouble. Obviously, some marriages a worn through. But the beauty of marriage (when it is beautiful) is more analogous to that of the human body or the body of Christ (i.e., the Church). The latter are useful precisely in so far as they restore themselves. I suddenly remember a snatch of T.S. Elliot.

THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood is weak and frail,
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Church can never fail
For it is based upon a rock.

The hippo’s feeble steps may err
In compassing material ends,
While the True Church need never stir
To gather in its dividends.

The ’potamus can never reach
The mango on the mango-tree;
But fruits of pomegranate and peach
Refresh the Church from over sea.

This is only part of the poem, and I have never really understood it. But it continues to fascinate me.

Anyway, every lasting marriage is one thing from start to finish, even if husband and wife barely recognize themselves. There is beauty in that.

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