By Douglas Anele
Moreover, religious stipulations on marriage reflect the culture, worldview and experiences of the society from which the religion in question originated. As a result, although there are commonalities across cultures that legitimise generalisation of few particularities of each culture, it is definitely wrong to believe that the nuances of Jewish-Greco-Roman and Arabic cultures in the Holy Bible and Holy Quran must command complete or universal assent from everyone.
In addition, given the dogmatic attitude necessarily associated with religion, believers are unwilling to abandon wrong or unrealistic ideas of marriage contained in the scriptures when it is obvious that those ideas hamper marital happiness. Christians who uncritically insist that monogamy is the only divinely sanctioned type of marriage are either completely ignorant of the complex factors that determine the type of marital relationships in various communities throughout history or have not really taken time to reflect on the matter dispassionately.
Anyway, why would God ordain monogamy rather than polygamy and polyandry, even in societies with demographic differential in favour of women and men respectively? Why should the Supreme Being meddle in a matter human beings can handle by themselves? Religious conception of marriage provides the strongest justification for the hideous subjugation of wives by husbands. Biblical and Quranic accounts of creation depict women as subordinate to men, whereas in some traditional African communities some of the most powerful deities are conceived as females.
Of course, the idea that a man is innately superior to a woman is pure nonsense invented by religions founded by men. Ashley Montagu’s The Natural Superiority of Women and Natalie Angier’s Woman: an Intimate Geography among others provide compelling evidence that women may, in fact, be superior to men. That said, when a man sees the wife as a property, he tends to treat her like an object, like a mere thing. This foolish attitude is reinforced by the economic dependence of wives on their husbands. Although the continuing global economic and intellectual emancipation of women has greatly lessened their subjugation, ignorant pastors still quote with satisfaction the silly statement credited to St. Paul in the New Testament: “Let your women keep silence in the church; for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience… And if they are to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14: 34-35). St. Paul is
unaware of the grave dangers inherent in demanding that a woman of superior intellect and understanding should take lessons from an inferior spouse.
Without a doubt, religion constitutes the fundamental cause of marital unhappiness because of the constellation of erroneous ideas about marriage that believers are enjoined to accept dogmatically. Consider, for example, the notion advocated by St. Thomas Aquinas that sex is permissible in marriage solely because of procreation, as is the case with animals. St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 7: 8-9, reportedly admonished believers: “I therefore say to the unmarried and widows; it is good if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it better to marry than to burn with lust.” St. Paul’s exhortation reflects antiquated Christian morality in matters of marriage and sex. In the text, he does not mention children, since the biological purpose of marriage does not matter to him. There is no hint from St. Paul that sex within marriage can and should give mutual enjoyment to the couple, that there may be some positive good within marriage or that affection between wife and husband may be a beautiful and
fulfilling experience. Indeed, St. Paul has no interest in the very important task of raising a family within marriage.
Prevention of the “sin” of adultery and fornication preoccupies matters so much to him, to the extent that his theory of marriage is constructed with reference to it. Bertrand Russell wisely observes that St. Paul view is “just as if one were to maintain that the sole reason for baking bread is to prevent people from stealing cake”.
Christian conception of marriage and sex, which almost always conflicts with biological and psychological facts, is a form of morbid aberration. Consequently, Christianity throughout the ages has been a force tending to psychoneurosis and unwholesome views of life. Islam has similar distressing weaknesses with respect to marriage – and even worse. The dress code for “virtuous” wives in Islam drips with contempt and degradation of women as second-class creatures to men. In core Islamic countries, the prescribed punishment for adulterous women is death by stoning.
Pathological obsession with chastity in both Christianity and Islam makes marriage burdensome and tedious for women, which is why in ultra-orthodox religious societies they tend to suffer from cognitive dissonance, low self-esteem and inferiority complex. Consequently, the popular notion that sexual fidelity is the most important factor in a successful marriage should be reassessed.
There are economic and psychological reasons why lifelong fidelity to a single partner might seem desirable. However, due to unfair culturally conditioned advantages men have on this issue, it is very plausible that in the olden days when contraceptives were virtually unknown, husbands insisted on sexual fidelity in order to be certain that they are the real biological fathers of the children from their wives. Eventually to ensure that women complied adultery became a deadly sin and its prohibition was codified in the scriptures as a commandment from God. A little reflection would reveal that the contemporary situation is not conducive for lifelong sexual fidelity. Men and women now have numerous interests, tastes, and desires; opportunities to meet prospective new lovers have increased tremendously. Again, in their “natural state” uninhibited by morality or religion, human beings are instinctively polygamous generally. Russell observes in his book, Marriage and Morals, that a man (or woman) may fall and rema
in in love for a few years deeply absorbed in one person. With the passage of time, sexual familiarity deadens the initial passion, and he begins to look elsewhere for a partner to rekindle the old thrill.
The speed and frequency with which this happens depends on the character of the person involved and on the total environment in which he lives with others. That is why romantic love cannot serve as the sole foundation for lifelong marital union, as we noted earlier. It also explains why, despite all the hypocritical condemnation of extramarital affairs by so-called men and women of God, the rate of sexual infidelity has increased in recent years.
Taking the Gospels’ narratives as they stand, Jesus of Nazareth himself was guilty of the absurdity of looking at marriage solely from the point of view of sex when he proclaimed, in Mat. 5: 32, that the only acceptable ground for divorce is adultery, and that anyone who marries a divorced woman, except for reason of adultery, is guilty of the same offense. TO BE CONTINUED.