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?
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