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The philosophy of marriage… what makes marriage marriage?


PREFACE: Why write yet another book on marriage?

There are many good books on how to prepare for marriage, how to have a good marriage, or how to fix a bad marriage. Groups like Focus on the Family and Family Life have books, seminars, and many great resources in this area. Bookstores are filled with books, video, and Bible studies on the subject of marriage, family, children, finances, divorce, and even homosexuality.

But. . . this is not a book with pointers on how to improve your marriage or how to deal with family problems. It’s not, at least not directly, a book about what it takes to have a good marriage.

There are also many good books, magazines, videos, etc., on how to put together a Fabulous! wedding for any budget.

But. . . this is not a book on weddings or wedding traditions. This book does not have any recommendations on such things as the type or color of wedding gown a bride should wear or whether to have a multi-tiered cake at the reception.

This is simply a book about marriage itselfWhere did it come from? What does it mean? Does it really matter whether marriage is between one man and one woman, one man and many women, one man and one other man, or any other possible combination? Does it really have any value for society? Does marriage tell us anything about God or His purpose for creation?

Philosophy of Marriage

This is basically a book on the philosophy of marriage. More specifically a Christian philosophy of marriage.

Everyone knows what marriage is, but what is philosophy? To some people the word “philosophy” brings to mind the idea of old men, dressed in bed sheets, sitting around an ancient walkway in Athens, sipping half-caf low foam lattes and talking about stuff that nobody really understands or even really cares about.

Some people may think that philosophy has absolutely no real world value. Maybe it’s the ability to think real deep and profound thoughts. . . while searching the classifieds for a job to pay the rent. Engineers do complicated engineering things, business people make piles of cash, bakers make piles of dough, ditch diggers dig ditches, politicians convince people that – despite all the historical evidence to the contrary – they really, really will keep their promises if they are elected or re-elected, and philosophers. . . well, they do stuff.

So, it may come as a surprise that almost everyone does philosophy at some point in their lives. We engage in philosophy when we ask ourselves the hard questions; questions like,

  • Why am I here?
  • Who am I?1Assuming, of course, that you haven’t recently experienced a real nasty bump on the head.
  • What’s it all about when you get right down to it?
  • Why does anything exist instead of nothing?
  • What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?
  • Or in the case of purely theoretical philosophy: What would happen if the politician really did keep his/her promise this time?2For starters, pigs would be flying all over the place. . .

The earliest philosophers were not merely concerned with just thinking about stuff. They wanted to find deeper meaning and understanding to life, the universe and everything. Thus, philosophy could be defined as:

  • “thinking about the things that we already accept without thinking”
  • “taking a new and detailed look at old stuff we’ve been doing without looking.”
  • “thinking critically about questions that matter”3Garrett J. DeWeese and J.P. Moreland, Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: A Beginner’s Guide To Life’s Big Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 10.
  • “thinking about thinking.”4Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1st ed., s.v. “Philosophy,” by Anthony Quinton, 666.

Far from a useless subject, philosophy laid the groundwork for modern science by asking very vague, but very hard, questions. In the early days, science and philosophy were considered the same thing. But as scientists started to ask more and more specific questions, science became a specialized discipline.

For example, philosophy might ask, “What is reality?” and then, after wrestling with the general question for hundreds of years, it eventually asked the specific question “How did the universe begin?” At which point the scientist scratches his head, goes into the laboratory and, after a thousand years, comes back out and says, “The universe has always existed. We’re absolutely sure.” Then after a few hundred years, “No, wait. . . The Big Bang definitely started the universe. We’re really, really sure this time.”

The philosopher may nod and then ask the next logical question, “Why does the universe bother to exist instead of nothing?” and then proceed to wrestle with that question for another couple hundred years.

The scientist, in contrast, will simply shrug and go back into the lab to create a new and improved fabric softener. The question of “why” the universe exists is beyond the scope of science.

In regards to marriage, a philosopher may ask, “What is marriage?”

The scientist will answer, “It usually has a man and a woman, dressed in a white gown 5with the exception of Dennis Rodman, it is usually only the woman dressed in a white gown then family will gather around them, then the man and woman will say vows in front of a religious person or judge, then the man and woman will exchange rings, everyone cheers, throws rice or bird seed, and then everyone goes to eat cake. Flowers are frequently involved.”

Science might give a description of marriage, but philosophy wants to find a prescription for marriage. A description tells us what marriage is and a prescription attempts to tell us why marriage is the way it is. But philosophy doesn’t stop there. It is also concerned with the meaning of marriage, the significance of marriage, and whether marriage has any real value.

So, in reality, philosophy is a higher discipline than science. Science is concerned with facts, descriptions, formulas, and predictions. Philosophy is concerned with all of that stuff, but has the nasty habit of poking a finger into the belly of science and asking, “Now, what is science?” Philosophy, when bored because there is nothing good on television, might even poke a finger into its own belly and ask, “Humm, what is philosophy?”

For the purpose of this book, philosophy will poke a finger into the concept of marriage and ask “What is marriage?” Is there a prescription for marriage somewhere out there? Where did it come from? Does it have any real value? Does it have any ultimate meaning? In addition, since this book is concerned with the Christian philosophy of marriage, the question will also be asked, “What’s God got to do with marriage?”

And, like the “hokey-pokey,” that’s what this book is all about.



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