Articles from the October 1997 Unification News


uViews Oct 97

How Now, Marriage Vow?

In the current issue of First Things, David Blankenhorn has written an illuminating essay on the significance of the marriage vow, entitled "I Do?" We proclaimed our marriage blessing project as, in Farley Jones’s expression, "The ‘I Do" heard ‘round the world." And we have had great success in the movement for marriage rededication based upon four vows of true love. Thus I am very much heartened by Mr. Blankenhorn’s presentation, and want to pass some of it along.

"To understand why the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world, go to some weddings and listen to what the brides and grooms say. In particular, listen to the vows: the words of mutual promise exchanged by couples during the marriage ceremony. To a remarkable degree, marriage in America today is exactly what these newly-weds increasingly say that it is: a loving relationship of undetermined duration created of the couple, by the couple, and for the couple."

This, Blankenhorn says, is very wrong, because it means that the two individuals create the marriage. Hence, the two individuals (or either of the two) can dissolve the marriage. The preferable view is that marriage is a state of being with conditions of its own which change the individuals who enter upon it.

In this view, as Blankenhorn writes, "the vow is prior to the couple. The vow exists on its own, exerting social and sacred authority that is independent of the couple. In this sense, the vow helps to create the couple. For in making the same promise that others before them have made, and that others after them will make, the couple vows on their wedding day to become accountable to an ideal of marriage that is outside of them and bigger than they are.

"In the new view, the couple is prior to the promise. The vow is not an external reality, like gravity or the weather, but instead a subjective projection, deriving its meaning solely from the couple. From this perspective, the couple approaches the vow like a painter approaches a canvas. Rather than the vow creating the couple, the couple creates the vow. As a result, each marriage becomes unique, like a painting or a snowflake.

"With this one procedural change in the making and exchanging of vows, a ceremony of continuity and idealized forms is displaced by a ceremony of creativity an personal expression. Subject and object trade places. Theologically, the transcendent becomes mundane as couples, in effect, become the gods of their own marriages. A reality in which the marriage is larger than the couple is replaced by a reality in which the couple is larger than the marriage.

"But the essence of this change reflects a dramatic shrinking of our idea of marriage. With the new vows, the robust expectation of marital permanence shrinks to a frail, often unstated hope. Marriage as a vital communal institution shrinks to marriage as a purely private relationship. Marriage as something that defines me shrinks to something that I define.

"Finally, as the idea of marriage gets weaker, so does the reality. In this sense, the new vows are important philosophical authorizations for our divorce culture. They are both minor causes and revealing results of a society in which marriages as an institution is decomposing before our eyes.

Blankenhorn places a good deal of the blame for this on the clergy, and he offers them four proposals to help matters. One, they should mandate the taking of vows, with proper educational support. Two, pastors should marry couples only if at least one of them is a member of his church. Three, pastors should require couples to participate in a church-sponsored premarital education program. Four, churches should fully utilize marriage-saving, divorce reduction programs.

"Together," Blankenhorn concludes, "these policies would convey a clear message to engaged couples. Couples who get married here learn what marriage is. Couples who get married here understand and accept as their own the marriage promise that this community of faith requires, including the vow of marital permanence. Couples who get married here become part of a community that affirms and supports marriage. As a result, couples who get married here are more likely to be able to keep their promises, in part because they make promises worth keeping."

America’s End

What does it mean to be an American? It probably means, first of all, that you are from the United States. I don’t believe that people from Canada call themselves Americans; nor people from Belize, Brazil or Barbados. Do Vietnamese or Tibetans refer to themselves in everyday usage as "Asians"? Do the Dutch have a song with the punchline: "I’m Proud To Be a European?" We US citizens are the only people who identify themselves as denizens of a continent (actually, with two continents, North and South; the entire western hemisphere).

This is one of many expressions of the expansive, boundary-free mindset that characterizes the best of this United States. It is a big and embracing country; it wants to include the whole world and the whole universe. Its institutions encircle the globe: credit cards, fast food and drink, hotels, automobiles, fuel, clothing styles, entertainment, cultural icons.

America has provided more weighty items on the world agenda as well, known as liberal democracy, revivalist Christianity and the United Nations.

Where will is end?

The term "America’s end" has two meanings, both of which are worthy of reflection. The first is the more obvious: the end is the finish, the demise, depletion, decline, disintegration, death.

The second is more obscure. Classically, something’s end means its purpose. For instance, in Jonathan Edwards’ theological treatise, the title The End for Which God Created the World refers to the purpose for which God created the world. In this sense, "end" is the result one wishes to see from a project. The "end" for which you build a house is to live comfortably. The end for which you plant seeds is to harvest the fruit.

In some cases, the two meanings of "end" coincide. For instance, the end of a hamburger is in its consumption, which indeed is its end in both senses of the word.

The purpose of the pioneers

Most people who came to America did so to improve their lives. They came to find, actually to create, something superior to what they enjoyed in "the old country." They were intentionally leaving behind, cutting off from, their ancestry, their social structure, their economic life and, in many cases, their inherited religion.

America was a nation, in Lincoln’s phrase, "conceived in liberty." Think of the word, "conceived": to be born, created. America was a country which appeared out of nowhere, and people left what was existing behind them in order to join this nation-creating project.

A wonderful illustration of this is the story of the creation of Chicago. Speculators arrived and decided it to be an ideal place for the metropolis of the west. They bought the land, laid out plans for streets, sidewalks and sewers, and advertised their great city in eastern newspapers. People arrived and there was no city there, but it did not faze them. They bought land cheap, built their businesses and a city appeared. (Of course, for every success story there were a dozen failures.)

The greatness and glory here was the ethos of "we don’t care where you came from; we don’t care about your station of birth or who your parents are; we evaluate you by your character, your honesty and willingness to work hard." Why? because you, like us, are an American, not a Norwegian, Italian, German or Scot; you’re an American. A writer of the times coined the term "American Adam," a new man born into the world fresh, somehow free of the taint of ancestral sin.

It was a wonderful dream. It had enough energy to last quite a while. It sustained itself despite major credibility gaps in its claim to inclusivity. The credibility gap was the presence of those here before these "American Adams," the Iroquois, Algonquin, Cherokee, Navajo, Sioux, and dozens of other tribes. There was the gap of those brought in slavery from Africa. There were the Catholics, Mormons, Jews and other religious minorities. But the dream, that we are all Americans, was sustained, until it collapsed a few years ago.

The End

There are no more Americans, from the viewpoint of the original ideal. We have become a nation of sub-groups based upon where our ancestors came from. Such sub-grouping stands in exact contradiction to the genius of this nation.

You are an African American. You are an Italian American. You are an Asian American. You are a Native American (wait a minute; aren’t they really Asian Americans or Polynesian Americans?). And I recently discovered that I too am not an American; I am a European American.

It is as if this continent has become teflon; no one actually has their roots here. We all are temporary residents, slip-sliding along the surface whose actual inhabitants are prairie dogs, grizzly bears, spotted owls and peyote plants. Our identity is defined by some other location on the planet; anywhere but here. That some other place, most of us were trying to escape, but we could not escape. Far from Thomas Wolfe’s "you can’t go home again," the case seems to be "you can’t leave home even if you want to." Two centuries later, I’m tapped on the shoulder by some media giant, telling me, "hey, man, you’re a European."

The New Beginning

The American Dream collapsed because it attempted to escape from history. The Jeffersonian republican farmer was an American Adam, perhaps, but was it a unfallen or fallen Adam? It is true that at the turn of the nineteenth century, Christian thinkers were fast disposing of the idea of original sin. And for those who could not quite imagine it away, Christian activists created the efficient revival, guaranteed to eliminate the effects of the fall, if there was one.

The seriousness of sin did not catch up to Americans until the social gospelers pointed out its existence in the corrupt institutions of the day, and the neo-orthodox arose to point out its existence within our hearts. Those with no ears to hear turned the individualism inherent in the Adamic mindset into a cultural norm. I’m speaking of the beatniks of the fifties and their hippie offspring. [For an excellent account of the impact of those such as Ginsberg, Borroughs and Kerouac, see the latest issues of The New Criterion: the series entitled "Reflections on a cultural revolution," by Roger Kimball.]

And yet, as the immigration into the USA has never been greater, we see that there is something about this Dream which captures the human heart. This despite the trend that within one generation, all the newfound wealth aside, their families are riven with divorce, drug abuse, illegitimate babies and homosexuality.

What went wrong? The Americans returned to the position of a fallen Adam. Therefore, the escape from history–the history produced from fallen Adam–was in vain. You can take fallen Adam out of history, but you can’t take history out of fallen Adam. Fallen Adam will just create a new fallen history, and we see it in contemporary America.

How do we correct this? We cannot discover some island or moment of comparative peace or purity in the fallen history and say, "That is where we will build our city!" We must continue the journey back, farther than the republican farmer was able to go. We must move back before the fall.

Having arrived there, we must deal with both aspects of God’s image placed in the garden: male and female. Then the new Adam and new Eve must make the journey forward in time together, this time with a pure relationship of marriage blessed by God.

That’s it. From there, the power, principle and perfection of God will act through human love in the family. Once God is settled in the family, the nation and world will come into being within God’s design.

This is exactly the task given by God to Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, and may God bless them greatly on their difficult path.

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