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March 13, 2009

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To help us understand the idea of a "natural institution" and its status, what other kinds of natural institutions are there?

What is it about "naturalness" that gives the institution this special status? Does marriage have its special status because it is natural, because it is "good for society", or for some other reason Melinda doesn't mention? Can there be natural institutions that are bad for society? If so, how should these be regarded? Alternatively, does the naturalness of something necessarily add to its goodness? Should we just equate what is good with what is natural?

The "naturalness" of the institution is not what's important.

What's important is that "societies have rightly judged that there is an advantage in stable families raising the next generation."

I have a question for Melinda, just to play devil's advocate (and to address a private question to which I do not have an iron-clad answer): It appears that Scripture identifies polygamous marriages as "marriage" in the Old Testament. If monogamous "marriage" is a natural institution (and I'm inclined to think it is), is Scripture inconsistent with the laws of nature by identifying multiple marriages between one man and many women as "marriage"?

To build on Naturallawyer's question: polygamy has been around for as long as monogamy has (if we are not making this 'religious' and using the Judeo-Christian account in Genesis as the first 'marriage'), so why isn't it included in the "natural institution"? I would imagine that if we would look at the history of the world, even up to this moment, polygamous societies have been incredibly common (I don't know what online source is accurate, though there are plenty that come up).

Naturallawyer, interesting question. In polygamy, are the women married to each other so that there's one big marriage, or is it just one man with multiple marriages (i.e., one marriage per man/woman)? As far as my understanding goes, I think it's the second. Marriage is still the same, the polygamist just has more of them than he should. That's the first time that occurred to me, and I think that could possibly answer your question.

But I think the "big picture" answer comes from Mark 10 where Jesus is talking about divorce:

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female."

It seems that God is not an idealist when it comes to regulating the realities that occur in this world because of sin. God regulated divorce, even though it was never meant to be that way, because He had to deal with the realities of their failures. In the same way, God recognized multiple marriages, even though that wasn't the ideal.

occ,

>>To help us understand the idea of a "natural institution" and its status, what other kinds of natural institutions are there?

Other Natural Kinds:
Educational
Medicinal
Defensive

>>What is it about "naturalness" that gives the institution this special status?

His Plumbing + Her Plumbing = More People

>>Does marriage have its special status because it is natural, because it is "good for society", or for some other reason Melinda doesn't mention?

It is "special" (I prefer unique) because it is simultaneously natural AND good for society.
(more on natural vs. good below, you do not get an "ought" from an "is" with everything natural. It might be natural to want to smack someone for grabbing your parking spot, but I don't think it would be good.)
(Also, one could argue - narrowly - that tradional marriage is "harmful" in some cases, e.g. divorce rate...but that's only when marriage falls apart and ceases to exist, a spouse is abused, marriage is entered into without sincerity and genuine covenant...et al. These stem from a breakdown, though, of the institution of marriage, and actually fall short of what marriage is supposed to be. That's why we use adjectives to describe marriage. But the word marriage itself should entail the genuine goodness of its design - sacred, holy, et al.
The state's involvement and "sanction" of marriage is a whole other machination (maybe we can discuss in another venue.)


Can there be natural institutions that are bad for society?

>> No. Not until people start overthinking them, selfishness overrides our capacity for reason and compassion, and we pervert them. Otherwise, in and of themselves, natural institutions serve us well. (This reminded me of the "Do you believe man is rational at his core?" blog.)


>>If so, how should these be regarded?

Even though I said, "No" to this, I will point out that natural institutions, by design, are "good" things. It is when mankind begins to change (for the purpose of meeting a self-interest objective), reconstruct, redefine, pervert, or alter them for his own devices, impulses, and whims that we see their intended usefulness and goodness subverted and maligned. (I think most environmentalists would even agree with me on that point... Problem is, the harm done by man's egoism extends far beyond the naturalists' and physicalists' realm.)

>>Alternatively, does the naturalness of something necessarily add to its goodness?

It used to, then they disobeyed and ate the wrong apple.


>>Should we just equate what is good with what is natural?

Not anymore.


Good questions, BTW.

">>Should we just equate what is good with what is natural?

Not anymore."

Not sure I agree with this (hence my handle). This is off the top of my head, but here is my initial reaction... What "comes naturally" (e.g., desire for revenge) is not actually natural. Jesus was a natural human; the desire for revenge is not an inherent part of human nature. It's a consequence of fallenness (the perversion or extinction of that which is natural).

I think the word "natural" can be used in lots of ways, but when referring to a natural institution of marriage, or natural law, or even natural man, we are referring to essential ideals. When we someone with a deformed arm, we can rightly say "that's not natural." Even though we are fallen, we can recognize when ideals are not met. Thus, even after the fall, I would equate what's natural with what's good, in the sense that what exists in nature (either as part of God's character, or part of His creation) is good, though it can be perverted and lose part of its nature (i.e. become unnatural).

Natural,

Good thoughts. "Natural" has a plethora of connotations.

Nature = good ("And He saw that it was good...")

Man = natural = good
Fallen man = unnatural = bad

Free will = natural = good


I was certainly infering OC's "natural" as instinctual and post-fall and was not confident in saying that free will and its use for "bad" is not natural... which means I could not equate natural with absolute goodness.

But if natural is exlusively limited to the state of things pre-fall, then yes, natural = good. ("And He saw that it was good...")

I would also say, then, (should one bring it up later)that Eve's inclination to eat that which she had been instructed not to eat was an exercise of free will, but NOT at all natural, since there was coercion and deception from Lucifer...making her action unnatural. Point of fact, it was THE first unnatural act that shifted it all.

Hence, unnatural = sin.

Your thoughts?

(Thanks for your observation. Good stuff.)

David Hawkins,

His Plumbing + Multiple Her Plumbings = Even More People

Your account presents no reason to reject plural marriage as it would allow for the birth of even more people through the connect of 'plumbings'.

Hi Kevin,

I wasn't arguing against polygamy, per se, but only the gender difference as unique and required.

But since that door is open...
King Solomon had hunderds, if memory serves. These "symbolic marriages" were an expression to signify unity across lands, for the sake of politics.

However, todays polygamists are quite different. It's a cult thing and a lust thing. ...Its also a pedophile thing.

Based on its U.S. history over the past several decades, and the number of young girls that have been victimized...I think the case against polygamy has made itself. Polygamists have done nothing but hurt the social acceptance of such relationships.

Kevin,

I suspect that "Him + Multiple Hers" or "Multiple Hims + Her" does not equal a healthy relational environment for children. In other words, in general, I don't think that children raised in that environment would grow up relating to people of either gender (but primarily the other gender) in a healthy way."

I think this is what is meant when people say that "marriage is primarily for having children" as well as it being "the foundation of society", as the production of children sustains a society another generation and the way children relate to each other as they grow up impacts not only themselves but how they shape the society they live in.

David,

The largest percentage of pedophiles are married white men, not polygamists. In fact, I would wonder where you get your non-statistics from rather than popular public opinion and bias. Your claims may be true, but the manner in which you give them doesn't give me any confidence in the claims themselves.

In relation to Solomon, I highly doubt all polygamous marriages in the Old Testament, many of them by prophets of God, were purely political. Furthermore, I wonder how you know that apparently (you didn't qualify) all polygamous marriages in the US (past and present) are solely based on "a cult thing and a lust thing...a pedophile thing". Those are very strong claims given with absolutely no evidence but your own (and the general public's) uniformed biases. Furthermore, would you claim that a polygamous marriage not based on the above three factors would be ok?

Chris Walker,

I don't understand how a child having multiple mothers (or fathers) is inherently deleterious. The only thing I can see it as inherently doing is challenging the common (at least in the US) belief that a marriage is between one man and one woman. Furthermore, any possible data you may present also has the rather unfortunate fact that polygamous faimilies usually have to survive on the outskirts of society and are shunned, which is bound to influence their success in a negative way.

I still haven't see any good reason why polygamy is not as much a "natural institution" as monogamous marriage. If anything, all that has been demonstrated is that a polygamous marriage can fail and include perversions just like a monogamous marriage.

Kevin said:
"The largest percentage of pedophiles are married white men, not polygamists. In fact, I would wonder where you get your non-statistics from rather than popular public opinion and bias. Your claims may be true, but the manner in which you give them doesn't give me any confidence in the claims themselves."

Kevin--not saying your statements aren't true (I really don't have any way of knowing), but can you provide a source for your assertions? I'd never heard that most pedophiles are married white men...

"I still haven't see any good reason why polygamy is not as much a 'natural institution' as monogamous marriage."

One might argue that even if polygamous marriage fits within an idea of "marriage" (defined broadly to permit polygamy), there is still an ideal marriage concept that is naturally knowable to us through reason and conscience. It seems to me that an ideal marriage includes exclusive fidelity. An "open marriage" is not an ideal marriage, and neither is polygamy for the same reason: one spouse gets to find satisfaction outside of the marital union, to the neglect of the other spouse. The ideal marriage is a union of unconditional mutual acceptance, not competition. I believe the "ideal marriage" is the idea behind the term "natural institution."

If one wishes to protect marriage why not simply ban divorce? That way you have a significant impact 50% of adult heterosexuals instead of whatever fraction of homosexuals choose to marry.

What do people think of G. Corey's question here? It strikes me as apt.

I earlier asked for an explanation of the special significance Melissa finds in what is natural. She wrote: "Marriage is a natural institution, not a religious one." It appears, however, that in order to justify the special status of the natural (or to distinguish the good kind of "natural" from the normatively insignificant kind of "natural"), folks have to appeal to distinctively religious ideas (e.g., the created order as designed by God prior to the fall).

But again, back to G. Corey's question: If one wishes to protect marriage why not simply ban divorce?

Okay ... to G. Corey's question, "Why not ban divorce?"

Answer: For the same reason God did not ... it is better to end a marriage than to force persons to live in enmity. Not that one is "good" or "gooder" but because one is "worst". It is a choice between two "evils" ... take the lesser of the two.

As to the general question, I would propose that church's take back marriage and do what the civil law already allows. That is, if you get married in THIS church ... then any attempt to divorce is subjected to the mediation of THAT church. In this way, there is a built-in counseling service, built upon the foundations that initiated the marriage, and which if biased at all is biased towards preserving the marriage by teaching/coaching the couple in marriage skills.

Apart from this ... let the JP weddings include whomever (even homosexual) and then let the civil courts dissolve them. Who cares? Homosexuals live together already (as spouses) ... what do I care if they have a piece of paper that allows one to get insurance from the second?

If the "institution" (natural or societal - and I would argue it is a societal institution) is a "church" matter ... then let's see the churches take it back and make the ones they "create" require more commitment.

In this way, we can make an easy distinction that USED to mean something ... "Church Wedding".

NL,

I've been trying to find the exact statistics, but haven't been able to find a detailed analysis of the various categories that pedophiles fall under. But here's a few things that point to the truth of my claim:

Somewhere between 80%-96% of all reported pedophiles are male. There are four times as many females abused as males reported. About 60% of the male survivors sampled report at least one of their perpetrators to be female. Nearly 70% of those serving time for violent crimes against children were white.

One rather fascinating discussion of the supposed relation between homosexuality and pedophilia/molestation (http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_molestation.html) makes the useful distinction between those who are attracted to people of the same or opposite gender and those who are attracted to children (of any gender) as opposed to adults. This, the author contends, is one of the primary distinctions not made by those who like to claim that being homosexual increases the likelihood of pedophilia.

So I can't exactly substantiate my claim, but there are indications that it is true.

As for your bringing up fidelity, why should we assume that the fidelity can essentially only be with one woman? I realize that it takes some very particular people to be able to sustain this polyamorous 'lifestyle', but I don't see why or how it is ruled out from the get go if both members of the relationship are genuinely open to including more partners in their relation of love. Or is genuine (eros, or married, or whatever term you think would be best) love so limited that it can only include one other person?

I think an important point that can be easily overlooked in this debate is the (primary question) of "by who's authority"...

As a matter of FACT: the law of this country always saw marriage as a pre-political, pre-religious institution. The government did not create marriage it simply recognizes the reality of it. That is: until the Goodrich (Mass) decision were the court almost immediately says “quite simply the government creates marriage”

This is the direct and immediate departure from the laws consistent understanding. The problem with the government giving us our rights is that the government can then take them away. (or) as in this case re-define them away.

As Justice Cordy wrote in dissent, the majority of the court had -

“transmuted the "right" to marry into a right to change the institution of marriage itself.”1

"only by assuming that 'marriage' includes the union of two persons of the same sex does the court conclude that restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples infringes on the 'right' of same-sex couples to 'marry'.” 2

"[i]n context, all of these decisions and their discussions are about the 'fundamental' nature of the institution of marriage as it has existed and been understood in this country, not as the court has redefined it today.” 3

Maintaining that marriage's - “'fundamental' nature is derivative of the nature of the interests that underlie or are associated with it” -and that a an - “examination of those interests reveals that they are either not shared by same-sex couples or not implicated by the marriage statutes.” 4


1,2,3,4, - Goodridge v. Dept. of Pub. Health,798 N.E.2d 941, 955 (Mass 2003)
(Justice Cordy dissenting)

A significant distinction...maybe?

One thing that strikes me about homosexual marriage vs. polygamy...

By and large, polygamists (thus far) arent' interested in getting their lifestyle "outed" and approved by the social masses. They are generally a very private group, and want to keep it that way.

Those advocating homosexual marriage, on the other hand, want everyone to know about it, be just fine with it, and put their rubber stamp on it.

Polygamists don't seem to care what anybody else thinks. Even though polygamy is illegal, they "engage in it" in the privacy of their own sects (no pun intended.) Homosexual activists seem to want to put their relationships "in your face."

Although I am not an advocate for either, I think there is no way one could justify sanctioning one over the other.

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