Part of the reason my posts have been even less frequent than usual is that I've been travelling quite a lot of late, entirely for leisure purposes. (Well, in theory anyway; in practice even my holidays tend to be a bit manic.) Last week I took a couple of days off and skipped across the Pond to London, then on to south Wales for a dear friend's wedding. What I saw at that wedding gave me cause for both great joy and some introspective apprehension.
I have written before of my good friend and his fiance (now wife). The more I see of her, in particular, the more impressed I am with my friend's choice in his partner for life. His wife is sweet, amiable, kind-hearted, and very feminine; she might not win any beauty contests (which is not to say that she's ugly- far from it, in fact), but she is quietly confident of herself and her qualities, and her presence is both relaxing and energising in the way that only truly feminine women can manage. When I saw her at her wedding she had perhaps thirty seconds to speak to me before having to greet yet another relative or good friend, but she took the time to make me feel welcome even though I was just one of many guests, and one that she didn't know very well. I had come from 3,000 miles away and had driven up from London to be there for my friends, and she was most gracious in acknowledging this fact. If I am any judge of character, I am certain that my friend and his new wife will be very happy together; they have known each other for over 5 years and were engaged for over 3 before they finally got married, so they've had plenty of time to iron out the kinks in their relationship.
The wedding ceremony itself, though, was very odd indeed. It was in fact a civil ceremony- i.e. a non-denominational, agnostic wedding that acknowledged no faith of any kind whatsoever. There was absolutely no mention of God, holy matrimony, or the sanctity of marriage, yet nonetheless preserved most of the trappings of a Christian, religious wedding (the white dress, the outfits, the witnesses, etc. etc.). The entire language of the ceremony was couched in strictly legal terms- "it gives me great pleasure to declare you legally husband and wife", that sort of thing. One would have to be blind, deaf, and dead to think that my friend and his wife were not crazy about each other and were deeply happy that day; yet the actual ceremony itself left me cold, precisely because of its lack of spirituality.
Now, I am not at all religious personally. I openly, candidly, and humbly acknowledge the existence of the Lord. I accept His dominion over all life; I believe in His power and His wisdom; and I think that the Christians were and remain closer to getting it right when it comes to what exactly God's Will happens to be than anyone else. I don't have much time for Bible-thumpers, though; I find them rather tiresome in the same way that I find High Church atheists to be tiresome (the latter tend to be half-educated nitwits in love with the sounds of their own voices, with some notable exceptions). Yet, as far as I am concerned, marriage is not an institution of government. The State has no power whatsoever to enforce marriage; the State should never be given the right to decide who can and cannot be married; and the State most assuredly has no right whatsoever, whether natural or otherwise, to pretend that it can defend the sanctity of marriage.
Marriage is much more than a simple exchange of legally binding vows. Marriage is an absolute commitment, held sacrosanct because it is made before the eyes of Almighty God, and the reason why the covenant of marriage was historically considered to be basically unbreakable was because the promises that created that covenant were made with God as an eternal witness to the power of those vows. Once you remove God from the equation, you are left with basically nothing much more than mere words and a piece of paper. There is no sense of perpetuity and no concept of eternal devotion once you remove the idea of an immeasurably powerful and knowledgeable witness to your promise.
Let me put this in the simplest terms possible. Forget about religion and God for a moment; let's just consider an oath made before your father, your King, your blood brother, or any other figure of great and (in your mind anyway) eternal authority. If you enjoy the same relationship with your father that I do with mine, then you know exactly what I mean when I write that to break an oath made with my father as witness is completely unthinkable. To break such an oath is to destroy one's honour beyond repair, to besmirch one's reputation past any hope of redemption. One cannot easily look at oneself in the mirror if one should break one's word when given before a figure that commands such respect from oneself, and that, indeed, is precisely the point. Such is the nature of a vow made before the eyes of the Lord; only the gravest of mistakes could ever possibly justify reneging on those vows, and even then one has to think long and hard before admitting that one made a huge mistake. Such vows can never be broken for light or transient causes.
Now let's say that you swear an oath before some faceless functionary of your local council or town. Never mind going so high as the State or Federal level; let's just say that you remove the Bible from your oath, remove any religious trappings or ideals, and simply promise someone that you will do something in someone else's presence. Suddenly the words that you utter have far less conviction to them, far less weight and consequently far less import and meaning. Should you go back on your word, who is to say that you were wrong to do so? The government? Some faceless and useless functionary? Some piece of paper that claims that you are legally entitled to certain rights because someone else says so?
This is the second marriage that I have been to where there was no mention of the Almighty, of Divine Law and Judgement, and of the consequences of breaking the Word given before the eyes of the Lord. And I do believe that both marriages, though very happy and very enjoyable events, really lost something because of it. There was no sense of permanence to the vows exchanged, even though I know the people involved and- in the most recent case anyway- firmly believe that those vows will be taken with the utmost seriousness.
We as a society have long since abandoned the primacy of God's Law, at least in the West. And I strongly believe that we are very much the poorer for it. The immorality, degeneracy, and decay that we see all around us is a natural consequence of our refusal to understand that certain Truths are indeed eternal, and that God, as the very embodiment of Truth itself, set forth His Laws in order to preserve and protect us. We have ignored those laws for going on three generations now, and it is no coincidence that our decline as a society has accelerated at almost exactly the same time as we have turned away from faith as a source of enlightenment, redemption, and strength. There is something in the human psyche that craves spiritual nourishment- as Whittaker Chambers once put it, "Man without mysticism is a monster", and indeed more truthful words have rarely been written. To deny that spirituality through dry, tedious legal language is to deny our own humanity, our own existence as spirits and not mere animals.
I want the best for my friend and his wife. I care deeply for them both. I pray to the Lord for their safety, their health, and their happiness; and I believe that my prayers will be answered, for I do believe that the Lord, though remote and largely passive, is also both fair and just. But I find myself strongly wishing that they had taken the courageous step of being willing to acknowledge the Truth of God, and submit themselves to His wisdom and grace even as they accept the traditions of marriage and love that, ultimately, bind all of society together.