In the many heated and ongoing debates over same sex unions and the very nature of marriage since the SCOTUS decision, especially those comments coming from conservative representatives of political and religious traditions taking a stand against same sex unions, is a presumption that needs examining, that is within their respective religious teachings is a ‘traditional straight’ marriage and union which originates with God.
If by origins those religious are referring to the union so poorly described in Genesis from which man fell from grace, than there is painfully little which allows one to comprehend the basis or nature of that union or the religious claim. But while there is considerable reference within the scriptural record to a spiritual union of one man and one woman, and one can hardly doubt that God, if there is a God, would have a particular interest in getting that right, there is an acute shortage of important detail. While the very nature of a spiritual union is rather taken for granted.
One of the unspoken missing links within institutional Christian tradition is the absence of any insight into that union, which once brought a man and woman into direct covenant with the living God, without the necessity of any institutional forms or middleman-priesthood we know today. Even after two thousand years of scholastic theological exegesis, tradition is unable to describe with clarity or precision, not only the nature of the union from Genesis from which a man and woman Fell, but exactly what the single transgression was that left man in his fallen state. A state or fall that many would agree remains the fact of human nature today; even corrupting our understanding of both Love and God.
Among the curiosities of religious teaching on marriage and one wearing so thin as to be categorised along with the Emperors new cloths is the concept of ‘natural law’; the idea that human sexual union within ‘straight’ marriage represents a spiritual component or even a ‘gift’ of God. But the question is how can an unruly instinct of biology, a leftover from our evolutionary past, one outside human volition and for the most part irrational in response and itself a material reality be either moral or spiritual? The idea that a potential of biology, called euphemistically ‘procreation’, accrues some moral or spiritual advantage from God to the relationship is a dubious concept indeed as the basis for any moral standard. Especially since biological carnality and it’s union existed long before any of the monotheisms ever appeared on earth. And the basics of concupiscence and biology haven’t and isn’t changed by some contrivance of language, ceremony, blessing or the most sincere aspirations of a man and woman.
It is also presumed that human nature and natural law as understood today is the same as within the union referenced in Genesis. Yet for an omnipotent, omniscient God that may not be the case, as the carnal bond has not shown itself to be a particularly solid foundation for either a spiritual or moral union between a man and woman, even less between gay men, if the writing on public toilet walls or the proliferation of ‘hookup’ apps has anything to say about fidelity. The idea that human sexual response has any fidelity is one of the great male lies. And it is within human sexuality that a dangerous and dark side of human nature is exposed all too clearly not to take pause and reflect.
The religious preoccupation with human sexuality, while never concerned with either Love or the nature or quality of human spiritual union, was more interested in contractual obligations, control and perpetuating their respective traditions; historically at the expense of woman. But there are valid reasons for concern! It is self evident that our species own control of this unruly force of nature within us is something much less than it should be to be honestly described as moral! A force of nature too often able to overrule any authority of conscience or common sense. And the price for this limitation has been high.
If there was a plausible candidate the effects of the FAll or for the ‘Stain of Original Sin’ , human existence chained to the corruptions of ‘natural law’ would be it! One needs only consider pornography, prostitution, divorce, the broken homes and marriages that infidelity causes, unwanted children, questions of overpopulation, all sexual abuse, violence and trafficking, pedophile priests, rape, an Aids pandemic, Syphilis, Gonorrhea and at least another dozen sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Than there is contraception, abortion and suggestive links to testicular and prostate cancers, degenerating DNA in sperm, implications for the immune system and even female vaginal conditions. With such huge risks and costs to human well being, both individually and culturally, one might think such overwhelming evidences would give reason a start to seriously begin questioning this often predatory act which looks more at home on the farm than approved of by Heaven. This act, bought and sold the world over, from this perspective looks more a tyranny and a curse than any ‘gift’ of God, making us slaves to concupiscence and Madison avenue. And while there may be some satisfaction of the senses from carnal gratification, does it satisfy or feed the soul, the heart or bring us closer to God? Probably not!
Unfortunately finding an answer to this conundrum if an answer exists, requires questioning human nature itself. And such critical self scrutiny is no easy task when there are no obvious remedies on the table and rights and responsibilities are too confused. And so here human pride kicks in and any claim to honesty or rationality more often than not goes out the window. But is confusing a biological imperative for a spiritual expression little more than an intellectual prostitution and the sleep of reason? I suspect that is the case. So before anyone condemns others sexual conduct, those who think of themselves as straights, should take a hard look at the character of their own sexual conduct and union, founded upon the same impulse of nature. And however straight we may wish to believe our union may be, I have to doubt that there is any gay or strait before God, just the corruption of an ideal of Love lost at the Fall and yet to be understood by religion or recovered by any product of natural reason.
So then is this confusion just more wishful thinking, the futile attempt by the religious to hold fast to an idea that ‘we’ are ‘created’ in the ‘image and likeness’ of God without being able to convincingly define that likeness, moral or spiritual? The whole of existing religious identity rests on that assumption. An assumption, however appealing, the growing environmental crisis is quickly tearing to pieces. Our tragic stewardship of the planet could not possibly reflect the wisdom of God or a spiritual dominance within human nature, especially while we remain so self evidently an unsustainable and destructive species.
So with regard to marriage, another anomaly of the Judeo/Christian’ tradition is this: If our Fall from grace came from within a spiritual union of a man and woman created and joined by God, by a single disobedience, one might imagine, even expect that our return to the grace and favour of God would be by the obverse path, by a yet unknown, single command to a single Law and obedience which re-establishes the divine union, which was once the foundation of a Covenant, Command, Law and direct knowledge of God.
Of course the existence, ‘as in the beginning’ of such a single Law and command would be heretical to the established religious orders, for in practical terms, it would make them all instantly redundant, changing the very nature of religion itself from the top heavy, institutional temple/church traditions we observe in the world today, to an individual spiritual-virtue ethic conception, founded within the marriage of one man and one woman and without the need of a self ordained, theological priesthood or any other mumbo jumbo at all! Just integrity and fidelity to new moral purpose. Sounds like revolutionary stuff. Maybe that’s what sent Jesus to be crucified on the Cross?
Marriage between a man and woman, as an ideal of relationship that it should be . . . isn’t! The high aspirations and expectations that two bring to this relationship are easily worn down by the weight of contradictory realities that too often prevent human flourishing for both men and women. And the failure/divorce rate for this union speaks loud and clear. There is a problem? And existing religion doesn’t have an answer!
This ancient and flawed institution desperately needs new foundations, now more than ever before, which religion has failed to provide. Assuming there is a God, should He wish to make a spiritual union between a man and woman pre-eminent over all others, He’ll need to try something just a little different. A relationship founded upon a divine wisdom clear of the many corruptions natural law is heir too would be a start; one that ‘lifts’ the spirit to new insight and confirmation of the very nature of Love, even a ‘Resurrection’ that corrects the dualism within the human condition.
Religion, as we understand that idea from history and tradition, intellectually bound to a failed moral paradigm and conception of natural law, self evidently offers no means to correct the crooked timber that is human nature. Yet Shakespeare, the ever wise bard, appears to have an insight and a better idea than any religious of what it might take to straighten out the human heart. Quoting from his poem Venus and Adonis and from Dante’s Divine Comedy:
Call it not love for Love to heaven is fled
Since sweating lust on earth usurped his name.
Under whose simple semblance man has fed,
upon fresh beauty blotting it with blame,
which the hot tyrant stains and soon bereaves
as caterpillars do the tender leaves.
Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
while lusts effect is tempest after sun.
Love’s gentle spring doth always fresh remain,
lust’s winter comes ere summer half be done.
Love surfeits not, lust like a glutton dies,
Love is all truth, lust full of forged lies.
For as I turned there greeted mine likewise
what all behold who contemplate aright,
that’s Heavens revolution through the skies.