Beyond Nostalgia

The Need for Strong Marriages

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If strong marriages are the foundation of a healthy society, we’ve got a lot of repair work to do. I’m Eric Metaxas, please stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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Eric MetaxasIn 2010, the US crossed a significant threshold: for the first time in our history, married couples no longer form the majority of American households.

This decline in marriage was an important subject of discussion at our recent “Breaking the Spiral of Silence” conference, and a close look at the numbers tells us why.

In 1950, married couples made up 78 percent of all households. In 2010, they made up only 48 percent of American households. That’s a nearly forty percent decline!

The decline is even starker when it comes to married couples with kids: these comprise only 20 percent of households in America, less than half of their share in 1950.

Even more disturbing is the way that marriage is becoming a kind of class marker. As Charles Murray pointed in his new book, Coming Apart, better-educated and more affluent Americans are significantly more likely to get married and significantly less likely to have children out-of-wedlock than their working-class counterparts.

One Brookings Institution scholar summed up the changes by saying, “the days of Ozzie and Harriet have faded into the past.” But the impact goes far beyond 1950s sitcoms. The flight from marriage has real-world consequences.

Not surprisingly, the impacts are felt most keenly by children. Less marriage means more insecurity for children. As W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia told the New York Times, “kids are much more likely to be exposed to instability, complex family relations and poverty.”

The difference that marriage, or more precisely, the lack of it, can make in a child’s life is startling: boys reared without their fathers are two-thirds more likely to end up in prison; 35 percent of adolescent girls whose fathers left before the age of six become pregnant out of-wedlock, compared to just 5 percent of girls whose fathers did not leave before that age.

When you add the undeniable link between childhood poverty and family structure, you have to wonder how Americans can be so casual about the future of marriage

Actually, you don’t have to wonder: it’s a function of how they understand marriage. The vast majority of Americans, including most Christians, see marriage as an expression of an already-existing “relationship.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that people are increasingly finding other ways of expressing their relationship. It also shouldn’t surprise us that people have trouble understanding why marriage should be limited to one man and one woman.

That’s why making the case for marriage begins with asking the question “what is marriage for?” As Christians, we know that it is for the permanent joining of man and woman for the purpose of mutual love and support and the raising of children; that it exists within the context of the family of faith, the Church, and that it is a symbol of the union of Christ and his Church. In other words, marriage is much more than just a “relationship.”

And it’s time we Christians admit we haven’t always lived in ways that reflect the purpose and meaning of marriage. Because, while television has changed a great deal since the 1950s, the need for strong marriages has not.

For Chuck Colson and BreakPoint, I am Eric Metaxas.


Further Reading and Information

Married Couples Are No Longer a Majority, Census Finds

Sabrina Tavernise | New York Times | May 26, 2011

Coming Apart
Charles Murray | Crown Fourm | 2012

Getting Marriage Right
Chuck Colson | ColsonCenter.org | April 11, 2012

Whatever Happened to Fishtown?
Chuck Colson | ColsonCenter.org | February 22, 2012

Belmont & Fishtown
Charles Murray | New Criterion | January 2012

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Telling what Christians see marriage as is not likely to impress an unbeliever. Marriage is for justice and for civilization.

As far as the question of justice the matter is easily explained. Women are optimized for reproduction but having so much of their life devoted to it is of the greatest inconvenience. By contrast if men are allowed to give all the play to their sexual instinct that they are physically capable of it the inconvenience is disproportionate to what is caused to women.

Marriage is also for civilization. Men's sexual instinct is naturally volatile. If given full play stronger men will be able to exploit women-by gorging their sexual needs at women's expense, and weaker men-by depriving their sexual needs for their own satisfaction. By contrast marriage holds men's sexuality hostage to their behavior and breeds a selection process where social responsibility rather then brute strength is favored.

Marriage cannot be looked at out of context to a person's relationship with society, becareuse society is an alliance of families for tasks that no family can do of itself. The mastodon-slaying cave man is a colorful myth but it is a useful one. If there is no marriage their is no tribe and everyone eats grubs instead of mastodons. More to the point, there is no time to develop finer aspects of society(no cave paintings for instance). The modern sexually frivolous behavior does not negate that for it is only made possible by accumulated security and prosperity of previous generations.

Marriage is not just a vow of a couple to each other as sexual revolutionaries claim to justify the denial of convention. Nor is it just a vow to God. It is a vow to the community. The man and the woman are in a feudal relationship to their society and obligated to give some respect to it's claims. They are not King and Queen but Duke and Duchess of their family. And society has certain rightful demands of them, that they refrain from antisocial behavior and cooperate in mutual needs. In a capitalist society these demands are felt little because they are simply specialized by the use of voluntary contracts. However capitalist societies were created not by individuals nor even by nuclear families but by extended families.

Which brings to a related point, that nuclear families are not enough. To get the full efficiency of a family relationship an extended network of kinships, fictive or blood is required.
Downward Spiral
Our culture is on the decline, and the downward spiral is becoming exponentially more rapid. The decrease in marriage is both a contributing factor and a symptom. Metaxas gave some startling statistics on today's BreakPoint--especially those about the impact on children. Well-argued, Eric.
A dangerous harbinger
This is just another sad and concerning symptom of our national obsessions with hedonism,consumerism and blind ambition. Perserverance in parenting and marriage requires sacrifice, commitment and courage, especially with limited income or resources. Add to that the lack of extended family or effective church support in many cases and the disintegration becomes even more exacerbated. Finally, with the absence of any sense of obligation or calling beyond and outside ourselves, we are seeing a recipe for individual and national decline coming together, the likes of which very few of us can truly imagine.
Feelings, nothing more...
BETTER should always be preferred to WORSE. Yet modern Egalitarianism ruled by "feelings" denies our ability to pursue the better and avoid the worse. All designs are NOT equal. No one would want to drive across a bridge built of Popsicle sticks, no matter how "sincere" its designer. Why would a culture force an entire generation of children to march across a Popsicle-stick bridge every day while declaring it to be the equivalent to any modern bridge built of concrete and steel? Feelings, nothing more than feelings...