Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Love and Marriage

As I mentioned in my last post, I went on a week long trip for a friend's wedding. I decided to drive (to California, which is not close to where I live) because the groom's brother (also the best man) doesn't like flying, so I thought we could make a road trip thing out of it. There's two things I want to point out about the experience. One, that I had no idea California had such nice weather in the summer. Seriously, you people are spoiled. And two, that marriage is weird.

What do I mean! I'm referring, of course, to the ceremony itself. And I'm also referring mostly to secular marriages. As I've noted a number of times elsewhere, I find the secular world as a whole pretty strange sometimes, but when it comes to something as ceremonial as marriage, it is just the oddest thing in the world to me. I really could not, for the life of me, understand why the wedding was what it was. Why the officiant (who wasn't really a minister or priest but who was "ordained")? Why the white dress? Why the pomp? The only reason I could think of, of course, was that it was tradition. It's just what people always do. But it wasn't tradition in a meaningful way, as I think "traditional" is supposed to be. That is, the people there weren't thinking, "Oh, we are participating in an ancient history; we are part of something that came before us; we are connecting with who or what we are." It was more just that it was done solely because it was expected to be done.

This is a fascinating thing to me. So much of life is like this. And it isn't necessarily a bad thing. But when it's something as odd as a marriage ceremony, it just sticks out. And a marriage ceremony, at least what this one mimicked, was clearly related to religious tradition. But the people, none of them, were religious. The concept of religion was completely absent from everyone's mind. This seemed especially the case as my friend was marrying a Taiwanese girl, and her family had nothing, at all, to do with traditional Christian ceremonies. I can't even imagine what was going through their heads.

But don't get me wrong; I'm happy for my friend; I'm happy that he got married. He was thrilled, and the girl seems lovely. (They're both super successful PhD types who get along together well.) And I don't mean to imply that only religious people should get married or even have ceremonies. It's just, the ceremony itself was so unintentionally postmodern (which I guess is always the case), it was almost surreal. For a good portion of it, sitting in my stupid not-dry-cleaned (because I ran out of time and couldn't find a place to clean it) suit, I kept wanting to ask, "What are we doing here??"

I also don't mean to imply that marriages can only be Christian. Obviously societies, whether Christian or otherwise, have something like marriage. I've written a lot myself about how marriage is a very natural thing. What I'm referring to instead is the supernatural characteristics of marriage and the idea of a modern world, which believes in so little, incorporating the supernatural characteristics of a religion no one there even believes in to create meaning. It felt like a show. Which is depressing for all the reasons every decent novel written after 1950 has pointed out. This whole thing, though, of ripping out a ceremony from its context, forming it to present needs, and then expecting everyone to go along with it is just so bizarre. It must be an anomaly in the history of the world, but how could I ever know something like that.

This issue, I think, is bigger than marriage ceremonies. When I go to modern churches (even Catholic ones), it feels all so phony, so absurd. Any ceremony, any tradition, it all feels like a fake. But I guess people don't give it up because then they would have to really actually and truly face the reality that they don't have anything transcendent. This is the obsession with romantic love, I guess. It feels sorta transcendent. It's all we got. And if we mix love-stuff with traditional ceremonies of love from other dead cultures, then maybe we'll have something worth getting up in the morning for.

Then again, maybe I'm just a grouch. I'm often accused of it. But I don't think so. When I see genuine things or participate in genuine things, the feeling isn't the same. Even if it's not Catholic, or whatever. A traditional pagan ceremony where everyone there really believes something is happening in front of them is a hell of a lot more interesting to me than a rented minister and a hotel ballroom. But I hope for nothing but good things for my friend, anyway. Marriage isn't just the ceremony after all. May God bless him, his children, and his children's children on forever.


  1. I agree with you on this one, and in fact my own position goes a bit further. I'm now wondering lately if one of the mistakes 'traditional' or 'orthodox' Christians (among others) have made in the recent past is the insistence that people get married. Even if the people who were getting married clearly and expressly had no intention of ever having children.

    There was a tendency to bank on this view changing over time, I think. And maybe with many couples an evasiveness of their own - 'well, we don't want kids *right now*, but someday...' It may have even worked out that way. But I wonder if that wasn't a key step in the warping of the modern view of marriage - this decision to encourage people who at that moment had no business getting married, at least in a Catholic Church or the like, to actually go ahead and get married anyway. If only because of the public perception of everything.

    That said, you know better than I do - but I'm not sure everyone is completely de-traditionalized or post-modernized when it comes to these things. I think the reality tends to be a bit more complicated, no matter what they may individually insist.

  2. A traditional pagan ceremony where everyone there really believes something is happening in front of them is a hell of a lot more interesting to me than a rented minister and a hotel ballroom.

    Sounds like a classic quote from one of those post-1950s novels you mentioned. Very well written.

    I agree that there's a certain absurdity to conformism. I think JPII makes the distinction in The Acting Person that conformism (i.e. the phoniness of doing something simply to conform) is totally different from solidarity, since it is a kind of "noninvolvement" akin to individualism. In a society where ghosts of tradition stick around completely out of context, and in which people conform to them simply for the sake of conforming, you end up with ridiculous, post-modern scenes like the ones you describe. It's kind of depressing.