Thursday, September 13, 2012

Atheists and Marriage...

So recently (12 days ago to be exact) I was joyfully married to the love of my life, a beautiful woman with class, brains, beauty and the patience of a saint, if such a thing as a saint existed.  We were married at Cypress Gardens in Monck's Corner, South Carolina on a beautiful and hot day September 1, 2012.  Mandy and I moved in together two years ago this last August and the last two years have been the happiest of my adult life.  Mandy has proven to be everything I ever wanted in a woman.  She is intelligent, you just can't understand the deep appreciation I have for a woman that I can discuss politics, religion, world events, languages, and so many other topics with.  She is resilient and strong, a true partner which is a refreshing change of pace for me.  She is a great parent and a great spouse as well...not to mention a hot redhead! I am truly a lucky man.

But, you know, everything that we atheists do gets called into question.  One of the more popular arguments is that atheists have no morals because we have no god.  The argument also goes why would we be faithful if we have no god to tell us we must be faithful.  This whole picture becomes even more complex when the atheist is married to a believer which is something that happens quite frequently.  How can the believer "trust" the non believer to be faithful if they have no god to keep them honest.

So how do we, as atheists, approach this?  How do we answer these critics that are so smug in their little self righteous accusations or judgments?  Well I prefer to approach this with reason and logic just like anything else in life.  So consider these pertinent points...

Marriage is structure.

Now before we go into this any further it is important to have an understanding of the concept of marriage.  I will begin with saying that I do not believe in the mythical "sanctity" of marriage.  "Sanctity of Marriage" is religious right wing code or lingo for homophobia and the right to tell other people who they can love and who they can marry.  Marriage began as part of a social structure in which people committed to each other to love each other and no others.  I do not believe that a ceremony is necessary in order for a marriage to be present, marriage is in the heart and is in the choices we make every day we wake up and every night we go to sleep.  I have felt married to Mandy for at least a year now and had that commitment in my heart and in my actions long before my beautiful bride walked that aisle.  Marriage, as a ceremony, has always had a religious component to it and my opinion on that is that if you are going to bind people and control their lives, particularly their sexual lives, you are going to need two things...first, you have to have a "higher" being that those that are not faithful will have to "answer" to and second...well...the church just HAS to get involved if control is on the menu.

Human social structures developed over time, to borrow a phrase, "in the course of human events."  A social group the size of a family only made sense.  We may like to think that we can spread our "seed" or "eggs" all over town with no commitment and no roots but ultimately it does not work because there has to be structure in order for a society to exist.  This need for structure is what produced the need for the familial social group.

Now when I talk of marriage understand that I see it as there are three components to it: relationship, ceremony and legalities.  The ceremony falls under the realm of religion and the church, legalities fall under the structure of human government and covers such issues as inheritance and property laws, and the relationship with all of the emotional, intellectual, sexual and other aspects fall under the realm of human social structures.  I recently had a ceremony, as I already mentioned, and it was beautiful and romantic and it solidified and made public what I already felt in my heart.  It was very important to my wife I wanted it to be as perfect as I could help make it, not only for her, but also for our kids.  The lady that did our ceremony did a great job of respecting Mandy's faith and my lack thereof which was very kind and made it all that more special to me.

The legalities of it is where the people on the religious right miss the point, this is more than a ceremony, there are also legalities involved and for this reason they do not have the right to dictate who can get married and who cannot.  These people have the right to limit who they will marry in their own little social, religious club but they do not have the right to dictate who has the right to get legally married.  The church does not and cannot control the government and at this issue is at the heart of the gay rights argument in this country.

The relationship aspect of marriage is what interests me the most because this is where I as an atheist, driven by logic and reason, finds my reason for being faithful.  I do not need the church to tell me to be faithful and I do not need the government telling me to be faithful to my wife.  I am faithful to my wife because I am in a relationship that means too much to me.  I am faithful to Mandy because it is the right thing to do and because I am aware that what we have would be lost if I failed to be faithful.  It is a not-so-complex mixture of emotions, logic and reason.

Marriage is a commitment

This is a key factor about marriage, it is a commitment.  I made a commitment, not only to Mandy but also to our children.  Failure to keep your commitments results in a reputation where you will not be trusted.  For me this key because it is not so much that I made a commitment as much as to WHOM I made that commitment.  I did not make that commitment to a god that, according to what I believe, does not exist and could never make me accountable.  I am faithful and hold to that commitment because I made that commitment to a woman that it breaks my heart to see her cry, to a woman that means everything to me and I hold to that commitment that I made to her because I see her, not to somebody that I cannot see.

Marriage is an agreement

Now this may sound like I am still talking about a commitment but I am not, I am talking about an agreement.  Here is the thing, marriage is about love and emotions and passion, make no mistake.  But marriage is also about an agreement between two adults.  This is the part that trips up young people that are too young to realize what they are getting into.  Marriage is more than cuddles, and love and (yes guys) sex.  Marriage is an agreement between two adults and that agreement holds, even on those days that the love, cuddles (and yeah guys, there really are days like this) and sex are not there.  Mandy and I have three kids each.  We have six kids depending on us to make that agreement last.  There is too much at stake for me to just throw that agreement away on a moment of stupid and meaningless passion.  You may say that this line of logic reduces marriage to a meaningless agreement and makes some cold process but you would be wrong.  There are days Mandy and I do NOT get along very well and it is for those days that this agreement exists.

Marriage is a journey

Life is a journey and nobody knows how long that journey will last and it is a journey that I do not wish to make alone.  My partner in this journey is my wife, Mandy.  There is no way I would throw away this companion that means so much for me.  Without her it is a lonely, miserable journey with her it is a wonderful journey, it does not take a lot of reason or logic to know what is the right decision.

If you think it is all about logic and reason and no emotions then you would be wrong.  I love this woman with all my heart and need her more than my next breath.  The point is that the root of my commitment is one that understands the necessity of structure, to whom I have made my commitment, the strength of our agreement and the wonder of the journey that is ahead of us.  Furthermore, the point is that atheists that agree to this commitment have a deeper understand of the commitment and the agreement and are faithful, not because of some imaginary overlord that demands our faithfulness but rather because it is a choice they make and they understand.


Jamie B. said...

Well written description of a secular (sensible) marriage.


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