Panel addresses Catholic marriage
Catherine Owers | Monday, March 17, 2014
On Monday evening, the Tocqueville Program, the Institute for Church Life, the Gender Relations Center and the Center for Ethics and Culture sponsored a panel discussion entitled “Marriage, the Church, and the Common Good: Philosophical, Pastoral, and Social Reflections.”
The panel featured Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, Ron Belgau and Jennifer Roback Morse, who discussed evolving views on sexuality and challenges people face in modern marriages.
Belgau, founder of the website Spiritual Friendship and a graduate student in philosophy at Saint Louis University said marriage should be defined as a communion of persons.
“It’s not just a meeting of bodies,” Belgau said. “It is a comprehensive bodily and spiritual union, and it’s a profound insight into human nature, and the nature of conjugal union to describe it as a way for a husband and wife to ‘know’ each other. Human beings are rational animals. We are embodied spirits, and so what we do has to address both our rationality and our embodiment, and this is particularly realized in the marital union.”
Belgau said he wants to encourage a deeper engagement to the Catholic Church’s teachings on chastity.
“Obviously, if you look at the culture, we tend to have a debate that’s very shallow,” he said. “There’s a lot of slogans yelled back and forth, but a real challenge on getting deeper engagement.”
The virtue of chastity orders sexual desires in accordance with right reason and God’s plan, Belgau said.
“God’s plan, which can be discerned by natural reason, is also revealed to us in Scripture and the teaching of the Church,” he said.
Girgis, a JD candidate at Yale and a PhD candidate in philosophy at Princeton, said that the Church’s theology of marriage is not only a theological principle, but also a vision.
“It’s something about the human good, and not just a sacrament,” Girgis said. “Beyond an ethic, it’s also a kind of political philosophy. It’s a vision for the human good, but also for the common good.”
Anderson, a William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation and PhD candidate in political science at Notre Dame, said the marriage debate can also be viewed from a public policy perspective.
“Taken from this perspective, marriage serves as a policy institution to unite a man and a woman as husband and wife, to then be mother and father to any children that union might create,” he said. “It’s based in the anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary, it’s based in the biological fact that the union of a man and a woman can produce a child, and it’s based in the social reality that a child deserves a mother and a father.”
Marriage serves to maximize the likelihood that a father will play a role in raising his children, Anderson said.
“The state is not in the marriage business because it cares about my love life or your love life,” he said. “The reason the government is in the marriage is because that sexual union between a man and a woman can create a child. And that man and woman need to commit to each other and raise that child, or someone else will, frequently at great social cost.”
Morse, who is a founder and president of the Ruth Institute and has a PhD in economics from the University of Rochester, said the ideas presented by sexual revolution are flawed.
“First, the sexual revolutionaries told that society ought to separate sex and procreation from each other, and ought to separate both from marriage,” Morse said. “Second, the sexual revolutionaries teach that men and women are interchangeable for all socially significant purposes. Any observable differences between men and women are socially constructed, and evidence of unwarranted discrimination.”
Morse said the “equality” encouraged by the sexual revolution has led to dissatisfaction.
“The idea that men and women are identical has led us to pursue a vision of equality that is making us miserable,” she said. “To take just one example of many I could name, we expect everyone to operate in higher education and labor markets designed for people who never give birth to babies—that would be men. This form of labor market equality, which disregards obvious and immutable differences between men and women, creates a trap for educated women.”
Morse said the modern world views the person as without intrinsic value and sexual acts as meaningless.
“The Catholic view of all these matters is quite different,” she said. “We believe that God loved the universe into existence, and that God wishes for us to participate in this love. We believe that marriage between one man and one woman is a symbol of God’s covenant with his people. We believe that every sexual act is deeply meaningful, whether we recognize that meaning or not. And we believe the human body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, not a toy, not a shell, not an empty vessel.”