Tom Gilson

SSM: Reason and the Religious Divide Part 4: Children

I expect that this, the final post in this series, may also be the most controversial. In these  articles I’ve been trying to do two things:

  • Demonstrate that there are non-religious reasons to reject same-sex “marriage,” and
  • Answer the question, “If rejecting SSM isn’t all about religion, then why are SSM’s opponents so overwhelmingly members of conservative religions?”

This post will focus on one further answer to that question. It has to do with children.

Religious people give birth to significantly more children than non-religious. We see this in both Europe and in America. Peter Berger extends that finding worldwide. Philip Jenkins sees the birth rate as tied directly to the religiosity of a society.

The best (not the only, but the most crucial) non-religious reasons for rejecting SSM have everything to do with children. The most compelling reasons to accept SSM have nothing to do with children. SSM advocates say, “we can raise children, too!” but this is a defense raised against an objection to SSM; I have never heard it raised as a positive reason for why this world needs SSM. Some same-sex couples, it is said, could probably do a better job with children than some man-woman couples. I’m sure that’s true, but still no one would seriously suggest SSM is being advanced as a way to help build our next generation of children.

Rather, SSM is being advanced as a solution to the economic, social, legal, and emotional needs of the couple. If SSM is a civil rights issue, as its proponents want it to be, then it is about adults’ civil rights, not newborns’. Children are not the point. They are an afterthought. Again, there are exceptions: some couples want to unite in order to be able to legally adopt children. Still the vast majority of SSM reasoning has to do with the two people who want to pair with each other legally.

I’m drifting here towards an argument against SSM. It would be easy follow the fork in the path that goes that direction, but I will resist doing that, for that’s not my purpose here. What I’m  trying to do is to explain why there’s such a sharp religious divide between proponents and opponents of SSM, even though the reasons to oppose SSM and support real marriage are not all religious.

So here’s my thesis: religious persons are much more likely to care for the next generation than non-religious persons. Therefore we are more likely to support an institution that places the next generation at its very heart, than to support one whose purpose is the personal (economic, legal, etc.) satisfaction of the institution’s members.

When I married my wife, we had a love that could not be contained within our union alone. It overflowed into the lives of our children, whose very lives were the result of our loving union. Marriage is for that kind of overflowing love, love that is not just for each other. Same-sex “marriage” is not marriage in that sense. Its focus is on the two selves. Translated, that means it’s self-focused. In real marriage the couple’s love naturally (often unexpectedly!) overflows and pours out into others.

Tim Keller, the influential pastor and writer from Manhattan, suggests religious people have more babies because of the Sacrifice Factor and the Hope Factor. Congruent with that, the highly respected sociologist Peter Berger offers this:

I will venture a hypothesis. Religion has always given its adherents a sense of living in a meaningful universe. This protects individuals from what sociologists call anomie—a condition of disorder and meaninglessness. Religion, by the same token, gives a strong sense of identity and confidence in the future. More than anything else that human beings may do, the willingness of becoming a parent requires a good measure of confidence in the future. Mind you, this is not an argument for the truth of religion….

I am not sure whether this function of religion works in the same way in the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) as in the religions to the east of the Muslim world, notably Hinduism and Buddhism. It probably does. For a believing Jew, Christian or Muslim, the future of the world, his own future, and that of his children lies in the hands of a compassionate God. Every mother, of any faith or of no faith at all, will get up in the night to comfort a crying child. She may not speak. Her presence and her holding the child may be enough comfort. If she does speak, it is likely to be some variation of saying “everything is all right” or “everything will be all right”. This may well be true at the moment. In a purely secular perspective, these formulas are finally not true. The mother, the child, and everyone and everything they care about are fated to perish. Religious faith gives a cosmic validation to the mother’s comforting words. It is no accident that the most famous lines of Julian of Norwich, that elusive medieval mystic, are reminiscent of a lullaby: “And all will be well. And all will be well. And every manner of thing will be well”.

Given our contrasting views of children and child-raising, is it any wonder that religious people have different views on marriage than non-religious people?

Series Navigation (SSM, Reason, and Religion):<<< SSM, Reason, and the Religious Divide: The Essential Meaning of “Marriage”
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13 thoughts on “SSM: Reason and the Religious Divide Part 4: Children

  1. Wait, let me get this straight: saving kids from the disorder of non-critical secular “thinking” pushing SSM as “normal,” and saving kids from the brain-death of atheism… this is “controversial” or “provocative”? Wow. Just… wow.

    Now I understand the pinheadedness of decrying objective meaning: “provocative” and “controversial” now mean (heh) what one wants them to mean.

  2. What I expected to be controversial was this:

    Marriage is for that kind of overflowing love, love that is not just for each other. Same-sex “marriage” is not marriage in that sense. Its focus is on the two selves. Translated, that means it’s self-focused.

    Maybe I didn’t state as strongly as I believe it. What I really think is that SSM smacks strongly of selfishness, by comparison with marriage.

  3. Tom:

    I was just having some pointed, provocative (and perhaps sarcastic) fun. I understood exactly what you meant to be controversial… and I agree wholeheartedly. How many times have we seen self-focused will-to-power manifest itself in the comments of atheists across a wide range of topics discussed here?

  4. Tom,
    STR linked to a paper published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. The conclusion at the end seems to support your thesis here.

    “Marriage is the kind of union that is shaped by its comprehensiveness and fulfilled by procreation and child‐rearing. Only this can account for its essential features, which make less sense in other relationships. Because marriage uniquely meets essential needs in such a structured way, it should be regulated for the common good, which can be understood apart from specifically
    religious arguments.”

  5. @Tom

    So here’s my thesis: religious persons are much more likely to care for the next generation than non-religious persons. 

    Much more likely to care about their kids… Is that what you’re saying? I’m tempted to dismiss it out of hand, but then I thought its possible I’ve misinterpreted what you’re asserting. 

    Would you also explain why you’re not against infertile couples getting married. Unless you are, of course, since that would be the non-hypocritical view. 

    @Holopupenko

    Wait, let me get this straight: saving kids from the disorder of non-critical secular “thinking” pushing SSM as “normal,” and saving kids from the brain-death of atheism… this is “controversial” or “provocative”? Wow. Just… wow.

    Quick question: is believing in any god, or gods, more acceptable and less brain dead than being an atheist?

  6. Religious people give birth to significantly more children than non-religious.

    Non sequitor to your argument, but a fact nonetheless. It is also interesting to note that stupid people on average have more children than smart people.

    It’s an interesting correlation, don’t you think?

    The most compelling reasons to accept SSM have nothing to do with children.

    If it can be shown that

    hetero parents >= SSM parents > no parents

    and

    2 parents > 1 parent > no parents

    then there can be no objection against SSM regarding children because even if it isn’t what you might consider the optimal situation, it’s still better than the alternative.

    And yes, we have seen that same-sex couples raise children just as well as hetero couples do.

    So here’s my thesis: religious persons are much more likely to care for the next generation than non-religious persons.

    What an incredible statement! What is your evidence that this is true?

    It’s also worth noting that not all religious people are against SSM. This renders your statement somewhat tangential, but I’m still willing to review any evidence you might be able to offer.

    When I married my wife, we had a love that could not be contained within our union alone.

    Good for you. Too bad not everyone (including other heterosexual couples) can say the same thing.

    Marriage is for that kind of overflowing love, love that is not just for each other. Same-sex “marriage” is not marriage in that sense. Its focus is on the two selves. Translated, that means it’s self-focused. In real marriage the couple’s love naturally (often unexpectedly!) overflows and pours out into others.

    So it isn’t possible to have “overflowing love” if you’re a same-sex couple? It isn’t possible to love children that you don’t biologically conceive? Are hetero couples that don’t want to have children inherently selfish and self-centered?

    I’m adopted, and every day I live with the knowledge that my parents chose me – I wasn’t an “accident”. But, I suppose that is actually a self-centered and selfish form of love for them, right?

    I’ve begun to avoid your anti-homosexual remarks because I find this aspect of you to be distasteful, but this takes it to a whole new level. Dehumanizing same-sex couples? It’s one thing to say that you disagree with their politics, or that you disagree with their philosophies, or that you disagree with their religious interpretations… but this dehumanization is disgusting – They aren’t like you, so they can’t love as well as you do?

    Opaque, sir, you are not.

    @ Holo

    and saving kids from the brain-death of atheism…

    You know what’s really interesting? I was just reading an article that links brain atrophy to being born-again.

  7. Interesting correlation? Not really .

    Where’s your evidence that SS couples raise children as well as hetero couples? What does it control for? Is it true for men as well as women?

    So here’s my thesis: religious persons are much more likely to care for the next generation than non-religious persons.

    It’s carefully hidden in all the surrounding context, so no one can find it.

    So it isn’t possible to have “overflowing love” if you’re a same-sex couple?

    Did I say that? No. I said that same-sex coupling by nature is oriented towards the participants, and therefore is highly susceptible to an inward, self-oriented, even selfish focus. Man-woman marriage is by nature the kind of thing that produces needy new family members to love, which by nature tends to break that self-focus.

    Are hetero couples that don’t want to have children inherently selfish and self-centered?

    I don’t know. How could I? I’m quite certain some of them are, very much so. I’m quite certain some of them aren’t. But this argument isn’t about this couple or that couple, it’s about the institution, and about what marriage tends to be and to do, and what SSM would tend to be and to do. Further, this particular blog post is not about why or not approve SSM. It’s about explaining why religious people tend to line up more against SSM than non-religious people do. So don’t try to make me defend something I’m not trying to say.

    That applies especially to “They aren’t like you, so they can’t love as well as you do?” I didn’t say that. I said that the institutional distortion they are trying to force upon American society is one that is more likely be supported by self-focused people than by future-generation-focused people; and that’s why religious people are less likely to support it.

    Don’t reverse that to make it say something I didn’t say. I trust you have the mental wherewithal to keep that straight in your thinking.

  8. Tom,

    A thought that struck me this morning. I wonder if a lot of the secular thinking on this issue can be traced to “maximising happiness” as a guiding moral principle. Once you enshrine happiness as a moral end, then you are morally pushed towards letting people do what they want, as they generally believe this makes them happy (at least in the short term).

    In contrast, a conservative religious position is usually not driven by “happiness” as a moral end. For example, the Christian “life goal” might be described as “to be devoted to and obey God who created and saved you”. Now, Christians may well (and should) claim that doing that is the path to true happiness, but happiness is not the end-goal, God is.

    This key distinction: happiness as a moral goal, vs a welcome by-product of the moral goal, explains a lot of the talking past each other.

    Alas, “happiness as morality” is alive and well in churches too: God wants you to be happy vs God wants you to trust and obey him.

  9. So here’s my thesis: religious persons are much more likely to care for the next generation than non-religious persons. Therefore we are more likely to support an institution that places the next generation at its very heart, than to support one whose purpose is the personal (economic, legal, etc.) satisfaction of the institution’s members.

    Caring deeply for future generations doesnt necessarily entail having lots of children. Some would say they do good for future generations by limiting their family size.

  10. Some would say they do good for future generations by limiting their family size.

    That’s why I noted the correlation between stupidity and breeding. Unchecked reproduction is irresponsible. Luckily, as Tom noted, that isn’t an issue for God. He’ll probably be back before it’s too late, anyways. (don’t tell that to the kids in Africa, but you know what I mean)

    @ Tom

    Do you love your children the same way you love your wife? Of course not. Do you have the same relationship with your children as you do with your wife? Of course not. Would you love your children any less in your wife’s absence? Of course not.

    Your relationship, love, and “focus on” your wife is orthogonal to your relationship, love, and “focus on” your children! All of your objections about “oh, well it’s only about them, not about the kids” is deceptive, misleading, and false.

    Let’s make it simple, though –

    Is a child being raised by a same-sex couple better off than being raised by one parent or no parent at all? Or, even worse, can same-sex parents do as good a job as hetero parents?

    Because if they are and they can, then you can’t use children to object to same-sex marriage. Oh, that’s right, this isn’t about your opposition to same-sex marriage, you’re speaking on behalf of “religious people”. Okay, that’s why “religious people” can’t use children to object to same-sex marriage.

  11. Those of us who support SSM are “future-generation focused” too; however, we are focused on creating a different kind of future: one in which ALL our children and grandchildren, straight AND gay, and the families they create, however they are created, are entitled to equal treatment under the law. Again, it’s a worldview issue. The future world that SSM supporters envision, and the future world that opponents of SSM envision, are very different, based as they are on very different values.

    As an aside, I must tell you that the Julian of Norwich quote you shared, “And all will be well. And all will be well. And every manner of thing will be well,” is one of my favorites and has deep meaning for me–and I am not a believer in any sense that you would recognize.

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