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Religious leaders must join forces to defend marriage

Cardinal O’Brien has set up a commission to support marriage; the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, meanwhile, says it lifts humanity ‘from biology to poetry’

By on Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Religious leaders including Lord Sacks address crowds in London (Photo: PA)

Religious leaders including Lord Sacks address crowds in London (Photo: PA)

I have just been reading Jonathan Sacks’ The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning. He asks a key question: “When we lose God what else do we lose?” and provides one answer, among many, in his chapter on “Relationships”. Lord Sacks, the outgoing Chief Rabbi, talks here about the breakdown of marriage. He writes: “What made marriage unique was the way it brought together in a single institution a whole series of essential human activities: sex, reproduction, companionship, love, responsibility for the welfare and nurture of those we have brought into being, and responsibility for their education.”

He warns that “when marriage breaks down, as it has done throughout the west from the 1960s onwards, human bonds splinter and fragment into a myriad of component parts, so that we can have sex without reproduction (birth control) and reproduction without sex (techniques from artificial insemination to cloning). We can have both without love, love without companionship, and children without responsibility for their nurture. Each of these can be further fragmented, so that even basic biological facts of parenthood become a complex set of options: genetic mother, host mother, commissioning mother, genetic father, mother’s partner, same-sex partners and so on.”

He concludes this passage with the conviction: “What is lost when faith is lost is marriage as the supreme moral commitment that lifts humanity from biology to poetry.” Catholics would not disagree with anything in the above analysis (with the exception of sex as an essential human activity; Jews do not have a tradition of virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven). Christians call Sacks’s “supreme moral commitment” the sacrament of marriage, which elevated the ancient natural relationship, ie “biology”, into a special kind of “poetry”.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Edinburgh defined this “poetry” thus in his pastoral letter last Sunday, (designated “Marriage Sunday”), which was read out in all of Scotland’s 500 parishes. He wrote: “In circumstances where the true nature of marriage is being obscured, we wish to affirm and celebrate the truth and beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony and family life as Jesus revealed it…”

Since he first spoke out in defence of marriage, Cardinal O’Brien has been attacked on all sides (including a few Catholic ones, unfortunately) for his supposedly “homophobic” attitudes. I don’t read him that way. To my mind he has only shown strong Catholic and Christian leadership just when it is badly needed. His “Message for Marriage Sunday” is a case in point. He begins by quoting “Jesus Christ… our model and teacher” on “why a man must leave his father and mother and cling to his wife…” For Christians therefore, there is nothing equivocal about the nature of marriage. The cardinal continues by emphasising the role of the family “founded on marriage”. Alluding to his “deep disappointment” that the Scottish government has decided to redefine marriage, he reminds Scottish Catholics that both “the common wisdom of humanity” and “the revealed faith of the Church” uphold the conviction that marriage is “a lifelong union of a man and a woman”.

The phrase “common wisdom of humanity” does not deny that there have been historical aberrations, such as the practice of polygamy or decadent fashions in ancient Rome; it simply means that the common sense of generations of people gave a privileged place to the male/female bond because it was so obviously central to the future of the whole community.

As Cardinal O’Brien states, the revealed faith of the Church made this natural bond into a sacrament. Because in the past it was never under attack as it is today, marriage has been taken for granted; it has not been given the pastoral support that struggling couples have needed. This is implicitly suggested when the cardinal writes that the bishops wish “to do something new to support marriage and family life in the Catholic community and in the country”. This is the establishment of a new Commission for Marriage and the Family, led by a bishop but composed mainly of lay people, with the purpose of “engaging with those young men and women who will be future husbands and wives”.

This initiative comes not a moment too soon. Last Sunday at Mass our own parish priest preached on marriage, a subject which he admits he rarely raises. He told us that in his eight years as our parish priest he had only officiated at eight marriages: one a year. Marriage, he told us, is in decline. Cardinal O’Brien realises the Church has to reach out to the next generation and persuade them that marriage should be their natural and supernatural goal: the challenge and adventure of a faithful union for life that also welcomes new life.

Lord Sacks, leader of the main body of Jews in this country, has a similar commitment to defending marriage within his own tradition – though as far as I know he has not yet been accused of “homophobia”. He has much influence as a wise and learned voice within the wider Establishment. Jews and Christians need to join forces in the coming months and years to defend their Judeo-Christian heritage which is their combined gift to the civilised world.

  • MCarroll

    Meanwhile our ‘glorious’ leader Archbishop Vincent Nichols maintains his embarrassing and long silence. 

    This is simply no longer good enough.

    Much, much more is expected of the Catholic leader in this country.

    He seems only to embrace what Pope John Paul II entitled the Culture of Death. When will this man start to defend the Faith and to defend Church teaching?

    He has limited credentials to become Cardinal

  • kentgeordie

    When fundamental Christian and human values are under attack from all sides, always on abortion, latterly on marriage, to what was the recent Day for Life devoted? The Olympics.

  • nytor

    “He told us that in his eight years as our parish priest he had only officiated at eight marriages: one a year.”

    Surely that has to be unusual? I’d be interested to know how common this is. At my two parish churches weddings are common, but both are large and famous churches.

  • teigitur

    Our Parish is old and lovely, except for the vandalised sanctuary. There is a wedding almost every week in summer. Though I know a newer Church nearby has far fewer.

  • Jimboyle777

    most truthful

  • Meena

    Interesting: in your own parish, Ms Phillips, there has been only one
    marriage, on average, per year over the last eight years – according to
    your parish priest.

    I truly did not know that the decline (in Catholic religious-type marriages) has been as sharp as that.

    I
    am (also truly) shocked and disgusted by the Rabbi’s apparent assertion
    that without marriage (does he mean religious marriage or marriage in
    the eyes of the state?) the relation between couples becomes only a
    piece of biology (and not “poetry”). Does this belief extend to the Catholic church?

  • Meena

    Ms Phillips is a highly educated woman – like me, she went to Cambridge – and such people often (not, of course, always) choose to live in areas where there are many similarly well-educated people.
    Perhaps this has some bearing on the matter.

  • JabbaPapa

    /facepalm/

  • Meena

    Go and put up that moose head before Sybil comes back.

  • teigitur

    One looks forward to the day when you can actually contribute something here. I do hope its not in vain.

  • JabbaPapa

    Carry on demonstrating your “awesome intellect” and “fine eduation” there, Meeny …

  • Meena


    Cardinal O’Brien realises the Church has to reach out to the next generation and persuade them that marriage should be their natural and supernatural goal”

    But does he, and you, not realise that this is an impossible task?
    The young of today, on the whole, are not interested in the church’s messages and teachings.
    Many (probably at least half) will say that they believe in a fuzzy way that God exists and wants us to be nice to other people, and that happiness is the point of life. It’s a psychological insurance policy for later life; for although in one sense they cannot conceive of death, in another real sense they realise that they will die. Most religious people (in my experience) are terrified at the thought of death without an afterlife, and use the idea of religion as a comforter. But these same people are not going to take the church’s dogma and teaching seriously and abide by its strictures. This applies to the rules of marriage and all the other rules and regulations, “musts” and “must-nots”, and the “holy gym”, as many I know call it, of the Mass: kneel, stand, sit, shake and wave your hands. They no longer worry much about the fiery pit of Hell, where their loving God will, if they don’t conform, put them for all eternity.

    If the Catholic religion, or any other, were true, then it would be, by an infinite margin, the most important thing in life for us all. But the lives of Catholics, including most of those who have taken the Sacrament of Marriage, well-shows that this is not so. 

  • Meena

    …and do you…. (typo)

  • Parasum

    “Since he first spoke out in defence of marriage, Cardinal O’Brien has
    been attacked on all sides (including a few Catholic ones,
    unfortunately) for his supposedly “homophobic” attitudes. I don’t read
    him that way.”

    The Cardinal is accused of homophobia (a hideously ungrammatical word for an ugly thing), because he sometimes manages to sound homophobic (do.).  At least he has not plumbed the depths attained by some Catholic ecclesiastics. When religious personnel prostitute the religions which they represent by victimising and demeaning & endangering others, to crititicise these personnel is a moral necessity. Those who aren’t in a criticised group, don’t see why members of the group don’t like being criticised.  

    As he wants to “defend marriages”, let him be consistent, and give:
    adulterers
    serial wedders
    divorcers
    advertisers of pornography
    characters like Murdoch & Desmond

    and people of that kind, a piece of his mind. He’s confusing marriage with the CC’s understanding of it anyway. Gay-bashing just makes him look like someone going for a soft target. He is at a disadvantage: the Church he speaks for has a foul reputation, and what he says can all too easily be understood as more daftness from a Catholic bishop. He has to present reasons why anyone should bother with what he says; a lot of people have gay friends, and the irresponsible scare-mongering to which he is lending himself does not fit the realities of people’s friendships with gay people. He is like a man who insists, against people’s experience, that those who are known to them have two heads.

    If he is using defence of marriage as a cover or bashing gay people, that is beneath contempt. If he does not take those others on as well, it will be obvious that he is in bad faith. No one is compelling him to criticise gay people in particular. If Catholic ideas on marriage don’t have to apply to Muslims & Jews – why must they be applied to gay people who do not want to bother with Catholicism or don’t care twopence about going to a church to get married ? A lot of gay people are not Christians anyway – why should they have some Catholic drivel shoved down their throats ? Would we like it, if the Muslims insisted that we had to adapt our beliefs about marriage to tally with theirs ? Hardly – so why must people who want to be let alone by the CC care behave by its standards ?

    As for what “Christ said”:

    1) Why should non-Christians care what he said ? Not all Scots are Christians. Why should they care about Catholic sacramental theology as applied to marriage ? The CC itself does not claim that all marriages are sacramental. Are Muslim marriages sacramental ? Islam allows polygamy – is the Cardinal going to criticise *that* ? Or Jewish divorce ? Silly question: of course he isn’t. Just like all the other oh-so-valiant defenders of marriage in the episcopates of this island.

    2) The Church has often ignored what Christ said. One example: He forbade oaths (as did St. James); it permits and defends them. Jesus was critical of Jewish divorce – the bishops are so eager to defend marriage that they never criticise Jewish divorce. Go by what Jesus said ? Not them ! They bravely ignore what He did say, and condemn vigorously where He did not. This ganging-up of Jews, Catholics & Muslims only shows that even bitter enemies will sink their differences, regardless of their importance, until they have dealt with a party perceived as a common enemy. The ability of  these people to betray their own convictions in a good cause is utterly obscene.

  • JabbaPapa

    If Catholic ideas on marriage don’t have to apply to Muslims & Jews – why must they be applied to gay people who do not want to bother with Catholicism or don’t care twopence about going to a church to get married ? A lot of gay people are not Christians anyway – why should they have some Catholic drivel shoved down their throats ? Would we like it, if the Muslims insisted that we had to adapt our beliefs about marriage to tally with theirs ?

    This is 180° backwards — why should Christians have homosexualist drivel shoved down their throats ?

    The ONLY difference between the current civil unions in the UK and marriage is the *religious* one. There is NO OTHER DIFFERENCE.

    There is only ONE single purpose of this homosexualist agitation, and that is to force this homosexualist political agenda upon religious faithful who want no part of it whatsoever.

    It is a gross imposition of athestic and secularist utopian values upon the religious freedom to reject those atheistic values in toto.

    It is *ludicrous* to describe fidelity to one’s religious beliefs as constituting “homophobia”.

  • JabbaPapa

    Another fine demonstration of Meena not having the foggiest clue what she’s waffling on about.

    Your description resembles religion not in the slightest, and you are confusing the sort of vague and malformed conceptions of ill-educated vaguely New Age religiosity with the true spirituality of Faith.

    strictures … rules and regulations, “musts” and “must-nots”

    Your indoctrinated “understandings” of the nature of religion are just risible.

    These are purely adolescent fantasies that you’re entertaining.

  • teigitur

    There is so much error and just rubbish in this, one struggles to know where to start in reply. In fact its not worth the bother.
    ” well shows”!!…… seems Cambridge standards are lower than I thought.

  • JabbaPapa

    Maybe she did Chemistry ?

    My skin crawls at the thought of her having done any of the Humanities …

  • andreagregorio

    Cardinal O’Brien or Cardinal Canute?  100 people recently demonstrated against equal marriage outside Holyrood.  Of 200,000 anti-gay marriage postcards sent by O’Brien to Scottish Catholics, only 30,000 were sent to the Scottish Government.  62.057 Scots responded to the Consultation Exercise in Scotland (see bottom of this post for further data).  The population of Scotland is 5 Million. 

    The statistics speak for themselves and support what one correspondent has said about O’Brien’s mindset – he just doesn’t ‘get it’ that the vast majority of people have gay friends and do not recognise his depiction of gay people.  Hysterical narratives such as ‘intrinsic moral eveil and a grave offence against the natural order’ just don’t resonate with people, in fact, people find them highly offensive in the main.  Naturally, homophobes love such diatribes and also the words homosexualist and homosexualisation – such words are, after all, part of the lexicon of anti-gay prejudice.  As for ‘homophobia’ – it is a word that, like schizophrenia and indeed ‘gay’, is employed contrary to its correct meaning, but in order to describe the irrational fear or hatred of homosexual people.  It functions well in this context and will continue to. 

    To the parts of the world that already allow equal marriage, we can add France in 2013 and I see that this morning the New Zealand parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Equal Marriage Bill on its first reading.  Germany will be next as part of what will prove to be an incrementally successful campaign for equality and against misunderstanding or fear or hatred.  I look forward to early 2015 when the Mother of all Parliaments enacts the equal marriage legislation for England and Wales, alongside Scotland. 

    As for the Archbishop of Westminster he is an altogether more thoughtful, temperate and astute than the careerist O’Brien.  The former fully appreciates that the Church has the role to teach and not to oppose, unlike the latter who appears more and more a caricature of himself and will soon pay the price for interfering in politics which is not his role or competence.  He has been sidelined and ignored and has shown his petty nature by cutting off direct communication with the Scottish Government.  Does the Scottish Government care – I think not.  In fact, they probably welcome the sudden absence of such a screaching Siren.

    RESULTS
    In relation to the main question on same sex marriage (Q10), 62,057 or 81 per cent of responses were submitted by people living in Scotland. The responses from Scotland were: 
     
    Standard responses, postcards and petitions: 36 per cent of respondents were in favour of same sex marriage and 64 per cent were against.

    Standard responses only: 65 per cent of Scottish respondents were in favour of same sex marriage and 35 per cent were against

  • Meena

    I fully endorse your comments in respect of Cardinal O’Brien and the truly disgraceful remarks made by him and various other Christian holy-men, and particularly by Catholic holy-men. 

    Your above last paragraph caught my attention. I have read different versions of the New Testament and have often been moved by the teachings of Jesus. The sheer loveliness and goodness of the various parts of The Sermon on The Mount, and maybe the Beatitudes most of all, is striking.
    I can see no connection between these things and people such as O’Brien. 

  • doug thomwood

    “He told us that in his eight years as our parish priest he had only
    officiated at eight marriages: one a year. Marriage, he told us, is in
    decline. ”
    I think marriage is finished as an institution. Many younger men have little interest in it.But can you really blame them, especially when women write books emphasizing that a husband is secondary in the marriage
    http://antifeministsite.blogspot.com/2012/04/should-men-get-married-anymore.html
    Why would young men commit when this type of nonsense is broadcast on the news?

  • JabbaPapa

    he just doesn’t ‘get it’ that the vast majority of people have gay friends and do not recognise his depiction of gay people

    What depiction would that be ?

    The grossly exaggerated reports from the gay news media who falsely depicted his sarcastic attack on the sorts of travesties that many people would think likely if the traditional institution of marriage were to be destroyed ?

    Or statements like this one, that he made in 2005 about the possibility of homosexuals teaching in faith schools : “Homosexuals will not be banned from teaching in faith schools, says Cardinal Keith O’Brien head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. He said sexual orientation was not, in itself, of any relevance to the Church.”

    —–

    The *real* hysterics are the ones screaming and shouting about how any and all forms of political, philosophical, moral, religious, ethical, opposition to these proposals to destroy the traditional definition of marriage in Law must be “homophobic”, gay-haters, who want to see all gays rot in hell, or any other such exaggerated rubbish accusations of that sort.

    —–

    To be 100% clear, I do not recognise YOUR depiction of the Cardinal, and I think that it’s a sheer anti-clerical fantasy.

  • Meena

    Why should I bother to improve your literacy? But here goes:

    I did not write “well shows”. I wrote “well-shows”. This is perfectly good English.

    In your daily travels you should not worry too much if you encounter “a man eating chicken” (unless it be, of course, a Friday), but I would advise you to take every care if you encounter “a man-eating chicken”.

  • JabbaPapa

    Meanwhile our ‘glorious’ leader Archbishop Vincent Nichols maintains his embarrassing and long silence.

    Probably doesn’t want to disturb all his cosy friends over at Gay Mass in Soho.

  • teigitur

    He he, you are funny, I ll give you that!

  • JabbaPapa

    Shouldn’t that be “funnys” in perfectly good English ?

  • scary goat

    While I certainly agree that Rabbi Sacks is very eloquent in his defence of marriage, I am not entirely sure that ” religious leaders must join forces to defend marriage”.  Not all religions are on the same page on the subject of marriage, and the Catholic Church in particular has a rather unique perspective. I think that our view of marriage stands on its own merits without needing sometimes rather strange allies. I am also wary of interfering in secular politics.  I’m not suggesting we should just stay out of it, more that we should make our view known but teach rather than attempting to pressurize the government. Goodness and truth should shine by themselves.  People who do not want to listen will not listen. I think we can, in fact, weaken our argument by compromise. By allying ourselves with muslims, for example, on gay marriage, although the Islam allows both divorce and polygamy, sends the wrong message. Why can’t we stand up for our own beliefs, and let other religions stand up for their own beliefs, and in a way, various religions all making the same point might add some weight, but I don’t think we should be panicking around making alliances where actually the connection is pretty weak. Shouldn’t we have faith in the truth of our own Churches teachings? Isn’t God the best ally? If we ally ourselves to religions who accept polygamy against gay marriage, then when the demand to legalise polygamy comes up, where will we stand?  Doesn’t it make us look like “playground gangs” playing make-up, break-up? Aren’t God and truth enough?

  • JabbaPapa

    I mostly agree with you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KSDY3PMVEAUJVLDCBTEEXST5EM David T

     “Catholics would not disagree with anything in the above analysis (with the exception of sex…..”
    Funny that!

  • Nesbyth

    Ms Phillips’ local church is not that attractive as a matter of fact. It’s a modern circular building and probably wouldn’t appeal to those getting married who want a more traditional-looking church.

  • Nesbyth

     Brilliant piece here and Jonathan Sacks is refreshingly direct about the real state of 21st century marriages/partnerships and all the artificial options available in procreation, which must make for some very unfortunate children who don’t know who their parents really are. He doesn’t mince his words. I wish some of our Bishops could speak with this sort of authority.

    Indeed, I heard a programme on The World Service in which one such offspring of IVF had asked if she could find out her true parentage but she was denied the facts (if  they were known) and was simply told that she should be grateful to be alive. She was not happy with this reply and said her human rights were being ignored, but they didn’t count apparently in this situation and she got fobbed off again that she was lucky to be here.

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