Last year, Our Sunday Visitor asked me to write a special section for their newsweekly on marriage. The centerpiece was a 4,000-word article titled "The 10 Best Arguments for “Same-Sex Marriage”...and Why They’re Flawed". I also wrote a short article on the need for logic and charity when discussing controversial topics like marriage.
One big highlight of preparing the section was getting to interview one of my intellectual heroes, Professor Robert George. George is professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He's an expert on marital law and a strong advocate of traditional marriage.
Along with two students, Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson, George recently co-authored a book titled, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books, 2012). The book is simply the most insightful, eloquent, and strongest defense of marriage I've ever read. It expands on arguments made in their renowned academic paper by the same name, published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. The paper remains the most-downloaded academic paper in the history of the Internet.
Enjoy the interview!
Brandon Vogt: In the book, you say the entire marriage debate hinges on one question: What is marriage? Why is that question so important?
Robert George: Advocates of redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships appeal to the principle of equality. We cannot, however, understand what equality does and does not require without first determining what marriage is.
Marriage laws will always draw distinctions between the types of relationship that count as marital and the types that do not. Appeals against the distinctions they draw based on claims about equality will in every case depend for their validity on whether the distinctions are arbitrary. Whether the distinctions are, in truth, arbitrary or non-arbitrary will turn on a judgment of what marriage is.
So, the key question is: What is marriage? Yet this is the question that those seeking to redefine marriage seek desperately to avoid. They hold to the unquestioned assumption that marriage, properly understood, is simply an especially intense emotional bond, and that the marital relationship is merely a form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership. This assumption underwrites their claim that distinguishing “same-sex” from “opposite-sex” partnerships in defining marriage is arbitrary and therefore a form of invidious discrimination.
The assumption, however, turns out to lack credibility. It cannot be squared with the history of our law and practice of marriage, or with aspects of marriage that remain, to a considerable extent, uncontroversial.
For example, it cannot make sense of why marriage is necessarily a sexual partnership, as opposed to a partnership that could just as well be integrated around other (nonsexual) shared interests, activities or objectives (a love of tennis or literature, a shared commitment to a political or religious cause, or whatever).
Nor, quite crucially, can it make sense of why marriage is a union of two persons, and not three or more (triads, quadrads, etc.) in polyamorous sexual partnerships.
What can account for, explain and justify these features of marriage is the traditional understanding of marriage as a conjugal union. This type of union is a multilevel (bodily as well as emotional) sharing of life that is made possible by the sexual-reproductive complementarity of man and woman. It is oriented to, and would naturally be fulfilled by, the spouses’ conceiving and rearing children together.
Brandon: Some people wonder why the government even concerns itself with marriage. Why does it regulate this type of relationship?
Professor George: Marriage is critical to the success of any society because it is the way that mothers and fathers are united to each other in a relationship uniquely apt for the project of child rearing. Now, obviously, law and the state have a profound interest in successful child rearing. Every other social good depends on that.
So, although the state did not invent marriage—marriage, properly understood, is a pre-political institution—the state rightly and necessarily recognizes marriages, distinguishes marital from nonmarital forms of relationships, and supports, regulates and promotes marriage in the hope of sustaining a vibrant marriage culture.
This explains why, historically and across cultures, governments have formally recognized and regulated marriages, even though they have not done that for ordinary friendships, relationships among siblings or purely religious sacraments and ceremonies, such as baptisms and bar mitzvahs.
Brandon: How would legally recognizing same-sex marriage weaken the marriage relationship?
Professor George: Marriage properly understood is not exclusively about procreation and child rearing, though that is what grounds the state’s profound interest in marriage.But it is always linked, if indirectly, to those human goods and purposes. Marriage, as a conjugal union, is the kind of relationship that is oriented to, and would naturally be fulfilled by, the spouses’ having and rearing children together. Where a marriage is not blessed with children, it remains a marriage because being in a relationship of this nature is intrinsically good and fulfilling; it is not merely instrumentally valuable as a means to successful child rearing.
So, the law has always recognized consummated marriages as valid and perfected marriages, even where the spouses know that their sexual congress will not give them children. And the law has always treated all marriages, including the marriages of infertile spouses, as bound by the norms that shape and structure marriage as a conjugal union: sexual exclusivity and fidelity, and the pledge of permanence.
When the law abolishes the conjugal conception of marriage and replaces it with a counterfeit, the rational basis of these norms will be lost, and people’s belief in them and willingness to abide by them will erode as the norms make less and less sense to each generation. They will seem more and more like mere relics of a bygone age when marriage was understood differently.
Initially, of course, habitual ways of thinking and sentimental attachments will cause some people to continue to think of the norms as valid and binding, but that won’t last.
Is this conservative “scaremongering”? Hardly. Candid activists in the same-sex marriage movement say essentially the same thing. Writer Victoria Brownworth, for example, acknowledges that redefining marriage “will almost certainly weaken the institution of marriage.”
The difference between Brownworth and me is only this: She thinks weakening marriage by redefining it would be a good thing, something that would liberate people and free them from constraints and “hang ups.”
I think it would be a catastrophe for children, for families, for communities and for the larger society, all of whom depend for their well-being on the health and vibrancy of the original and best “department of health, education and welfare,” the marriage-based family.
Originally published in the Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly.
Pick up your copy of Robert George's excellent book, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books, 2012).
This morning Rome Reports, the Vatican-based international TV news agency, released a video feature on StrangeNotions.com. They didn't contact me about it, so I was totally surprised and excited. Watch below!
(If you're reading through email or RSS and can't see the video, click here.)
"Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others." - St. Augustine
Since I've built up a large collection of extra books and resources, every week I give some away absolutely free, no strings attached.
Each giveaway lasts seven days with a new one beginning every Friday. You can enter any time during the week. Check out my past giveaways here.
Today marks the 77th anniversary of the death of G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), a giant of faith whose girth was eclipsed only by his brilliance. He was one of the greatest writers, thinkers, and apologists of the twentieth century and remains popular today. His books and essays still appear on bestseller lists and he's perhaps the most quoted Catholic of all time.
Thanks to the good folks at Ignatius Press, the primary publisher of Chesterton's works today, I'm devoting this week's giveaway to the life and legacy of G.K. Chesterton. One reader will receive FIVE books by and about the Apostle of Common Sense, including:
by G.K. Chesterton
Ignatius Press, 168 pages, paperback
Released on July 1, 1995
If G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith is, as he called it, a "slovenly autobiography," then we need more slobs in the world. This quirky, slender book describes how Chesterton came to view Catholicism as the way to satisfy his personal emotional needs, in a way that would also allow him to live happily in society.
Chesterton argues that people in western society need a life of "practical romance, the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome." Drawing on such figures as Fra Angelico, George Bernard Shaw, and St. Paul to make his points, Chesterton argues that submission to ecclesiastical authority is the way to achieve a good and balanced life. The whole book is written in a style that is as majestic and down-to-earth as C.S. Lewis at his best. The final chapter, called "Authority and the Adventurer," is especially persuasive. It's hard to imagine a reader who will not close the book believing, at least for the moment, that the Church will make you free.
by G.K. Chesterton
Ignatius Press, 275 pages, paperback
Released on April 1, 1993
What, if anything, is it that makes the human uniquely human? This, in part, is the question that G.K. Chesterton starts with in this classic exploration of human history. Responding to the evolutionary materialism of his contemporary (and antagonist) H.G. Wells, Chesterton in this work affirms human uniqueness and the unique message of the Christian faith. Writing in a time when social Darwinism was rampant, Chesterton instead argued that the idea that society has been steadily progressing from a state of primitivism and barbarity towards civilization is simply and flatly inaccurate. "Barbarism and civilization were not successive stages in the progress of the world," he affirms, with arguments drawn from the histories of both Egypt and Babylon.
As always with Chesterton, there is in this analysis something (as he said of Blake) "very plain and emphatic." He sees in Christianity a rare blending of philosophy and mythology, or reason and story, which satisfies both the mind and the heart. On both levels it rings true. As he puts it, "in answer to the historical query of why it was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life." Here, as so often in Chesterton, we sense a lived, awakened faith. All that he writes derives from a keen intellect guided by the heart's own knowledge.
by G.K. Chesterton
Ignatius Press, 192 pages, paperback
Released on March 1, 2011
This classic novel by the brilliant G. K. Chesterton tells the rollicking tale of Innocent Smith, a man who may be crazy—or possibly the most sane man of all. Arriving at a dreary London boarding house accompanied by a windstorm, Smith is an exuberant, eccentric and sweet-natured man. Smith has a positive effect on the house-- he creates his own court, brings a few couples together, and falls in love with a paid companion next door. All seems to be well with the world.
Then the unexpected happens: Smith shoots at one of the tenants, and two doctors arrive to arrest him, claiming that he's a bigamist, an attempted murderer, and a thief. But cynical writer Moon insists that the case be tried there-- and they explore Smith's past history, revealing startling truths about what he does. Is he the wickedest man in Britain, or is he "blameless as a buttercup?"
Beautifully written, mixing the ridiculous with the profound, full of hilarious dialogue, and lushly detailed writing, Chesterton's main character Innocent Smith somehow manages to restore joy to all the dull and cynical lives around him. In this delightfully strange mystery, Chesterton demonstrates why life is worth living, and that sometimes we need a little madness just to know we are alive.
edited by Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, and Aidan Mackey
Ignatius Press, 405 pages, paperback
Released on October 18, 2011
G.K. Chesterton was a master essayist. But reading his essays is not just an exercise in studying a literary form at its finest, it is an encounter with timeless truths that jump off the page as fresh and powerful as the day they were written.
The only problem with Chesterton's essays is that there are too many of them—over five thousand! For most readers it is not even possible to know where to start or how to begin to approach them.
So three of the world's leading authorities on Chesterton—Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, Aidan Mackey—have joined together to select the "best" Chesterton essays, a collection that will be appreciated by both the newcomer and the seasoned student of this great 20th century man of letters.
The variety of topics are astounding: barbarians, architects, mystics, ghosts, fireworks, rain, juries, gargoyles and much more. Plus a look at Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, George MacDonald, T.S. Eliot, and the Bible. All in that inimitable, formidable but always quotable style of G.K. Chesterton. Even more astounding than the variety is the continuity of Chesterton's thought that ties everything together. A veritable feast for the mind and heart.
While some of the essays in this volume may be familiar, many of them are collected here for the first time, making their first appearance in over a century.
by Dale Ahlquist
Ignatius Press, 200 pages, paperback
Released on February 1, 2003
G. K. Chesterton was one of the most well-known and beloved writers of his time. Yet he has been strangely neglected today. This book is the perfect introduction to Chesterton. Ahlquist is an able guide who takes the reader through twelve of Chesterton’s most important books as well as the famous Father Brown stories.
One of the problems with approaching Chesterton is that he was so prolific that the reader is simply overwhelmed. But Ahlquist makes the literary giant accessible, highlighting Chesterton’s amazing reach, keen insight, and marvelous wit. Each chapter is liberally spiced with Chesterton’s striking quotations.
There is something special that runs throughout Chesterton’s books that sets him apart from the confusing philosophies of the modern world. That common thread in Chesterton’s writings is common sense. It is instantly recognizable and utterly refreshing.
I'm using Rafflecopter to help with the giveaway, which is cool because it allows you multiple entries for commenting, posting on Facebook, sharing on Twitter, etc. Click below to enter:
(If you're reading this through email or RSS and don't see the giveaway widget, click here.)
The winner will be randomly selected next Friday and the books will be sent out, free of charge, shortly thereafter.
(Since I'm covering the shipping costs, only residents within the continental United States are eligible to win.)
A few weeks I gave a talk in Washington D.C., and afterward a young boy walked up and introduced himself. His name was Giovanni, and he explained that he was nine-years-old and that, like me, he was a blogger. I was intrigued someone that young could set-up and run a blog, so I asked him to tell me about it.
And when he did he blew me away. Giovanni said that he makes hand-crafted wallets, usually out of duct-tape and supplies around the house, and usually with a pro-life message splashed across the front and back. He began selling the wallets to family and friends and people really loved them. So his mother helped set up a blog through Blogger (it's at iamgodshands.blogspot.com). And now, he sells the wallets to people all over the country. Anyone can stop by and for just a couple bucks request a custom designed wallet—your choice of message, colors, and logo. Giovanni then whips it up and ships it out within a few days.
The most impressive part is that Giovanni donates 100% of the money he receives to different charities. You'll learn in our interview how much he's collected so far (it's pretty remarkable.)
So watch our interview, get to know this young saint-in-the-making, and order your own customized wallet by posting a comment on Giovanni's blog, or by e-mailing him at email@example.com.
UPDATE: In the comment box, Kate just posted this: "Oh my goodness... I just placed an order via e-mail for 4 wallets and an air plane and within like 10 minutes I got a phone call from Giovanni confirming my order and wanting to know which colors I wanted... This is just too precious! What a sweet sweet blessing!
Watch or download our interview below:
Be sure to check out Giovanni's blog at iamgodshands.blogspot.com, and if you're interested in buying one of his wallets, just email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.