Wing to Wing: Three Easy Pieces

It’s Monday Wednesday (note new day), which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. Today, because we have to very short pieces to discuss (the two essays combine for about 3 pages and I’ll throw in an additional 2-3 page introduction to the next section). These three “easy pieces” discussed in detail below the fold are:

  1. The first essay is short, entitled “I Do” from a short essay by David Blankenhorn originally published in 1997 by First Things.
  2. The second is the introduction to the “next section” (the prior essay is, as a reminder, the last of the section on “where are we now”). This new section is entitled, “Why Marry” and comprises a collection of defenses of the institution of marriage.
  3. The third then, is the first essay in that new section, a brief set of notes by Charles Darwin in which he considers diagrams pros and cons of marriage (and it is noted, shortly after putting these thoughts to paper, he married Emma Wedgewood and by all accounts had a happy marriage).

So on to our easy pieces.
Mr Blankenhorn in the above essay (linked so I’d encourage popping over to read it in its entirety it is very short), concentrates on changes in the marriage vow in recent times with the notion that those changes are either symptomatic or another cause when one considers the high divorce rate in America. There have been two recent changes in the common (evangelical and mainline protestant marriage vows). The first is:

First, as Barbara Dafoe Whitehead points out in The Divorce Culture, marriage vows today commonly downplay or avoid altogether any pledge of marital permanence. The old vow was “till death us do part” or “so long as we both shall live.” Most new vows simply leave the question of marital duration unasked and unanswered, as if the issue were either irrelevant or beyond knowing. Other new vows incorporate hopeful but qualified phrases such as “as long as love lasts.”

The second is that:

The second change is more subtle, but far more profound. Today, growing numbers of couples-perhaps most couples-compose their own vows. My wife and I did in 1986; most couples we know did. I cannot find data to verify the dimensions of this trend, but my sense is that, principally excepting Orthodox Jewish and most Catholic weddings, self-composed vows are more the rule than the exception among newlyweds today. As one wedding book flatly asserts: “The majority of brides and grooms these days are rejecting traditional wedding vows and reciting their own personalized vows instead.”

Mr Blankenhorn (in the linked essay, not in the book) suggests some changes that might be made to reverse this part of the trend. However, for the purposes of the “Where are We Now” section. that isn’t appropriate to the purpose of the discussion. There are reasons for and against both changes mentioned.

Moving on, our next section is a defense of marraige. Why marry once was a question for the few, today it becoming more a question for our culture. However, the questions of whether to marry or why we marry from an individual point of view is not a new question. And consequently, we have a wealth of thought and considerations from writers and thinkers throughout history on this question. However, as a closing our editors note

While thinking about these matters, we should be beware the danger of rationalism. Reasons and arguments in favor of marriage surely can shape a cultural outlook and influence individual predelictions, but personal decisions to marry — even for very rational men and women — are rarely simply the work of reason. Does the heart have reasons that reason cannot know? Or do the marrying heart and mind sing with one voice?

Darwin wrote a short page headed with “This is the Question” with two columns one side “Marry” the other “Not Marry”. Some interesting highlights:

  • Children … better than a dog anyhow.
  • Charms, chit-chat. Being forced to do things “for ones health.” and “a terrible loss of time”.
  • on the “not marry side” … more money for books.
  • No children … in one’s old age.
  • Freedom to go and do what one likes.

Darwin ends:

Never mind boy — Cheer up — One cannot live this solitary life, with groggy old age, friendless and cold and childless staring one in one’s face, already begining to wrinkle. Never mind, trust to chance — keep a sharp look out — There is many a happy slave —

What remarks dare I add? As an addition, Darwin’s little piece is more lighthearted and amusing than inspiring of thought. Blankenhorn, as used by our editors is a better assesment of  where than cause and cure. It’s certainly unlikely that by fiat insisting on traditional or more structured marital vows would cure the divorce problem. However, if there was a general retrenchment and return to such that would be likely an indicator of a return more stable views of marraige. Admittedly, I view that to be a very good thing and I’d encourage both a commitment in vow to definition of lasting marriage as well as using vows which come from outside. But, as I noted above, I can see reasons for the other, just that I think they are less good. ;)On the other hand, I’m now Orthodox and have attended one Orthodox wedding. And, unless I missed something, there is no exchange of marital vows in the Orthodox marriage. Both partners make their vows and statements to God, not each other.  The crowns are a nice touch too. However, this was, as is noted, just a short lighthearted sally at the question “Why Marry?” Next week … Aquinas.

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