August 29, 2006


'Til levels of unsuitable dysfunction do us part (Robert Fulford, National Post, August 29th, 2006)

The word (dysfunction–ed) first appeared in 1916 as a way to describe medical failure. An article in the British Medical Journal said: "endocrine dysfunction incriminates variously the thyroid, parathyroid, ovarian and pituitary glands." Today we apply the word to any cluster of humans who have trouble getting through life. It sounds as if it means a lot but it explains nothing.

This kind of language oversimplifies a complex reality. It packs human experience into categories that exist only as terminology. It also implies a smug belief that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways for human beings to align themselves. But in truth, every family is unique. Each intimate liaison is different.

How different? Consider John Bayley's book, Elegy for Iris, about his marriage to a difficult, probably unknowable woman, Iris Murdoch. For 40 years Bayley cherished their "apartness" and "the joys of solitude." He loved to be cherished "yet to be alone." Compare that with Robertson Davies: "Marriage is a framework to preserve friendship."

High divorce rates have transformed the meaning of marriage. It has lost its status as a more or less automatic passage in life and become something to brood about. Once we discovered it could be abandoned, more or less at will, we began to look at it critically. All this has failed to catch the attention of those who hate gay marriage because it undermines "real" marriage. "Real" marriage, in truth, has changed so much as to be barely recognizable.

We have fallen into the habit of treating marriage as an object, as if it exists on its own, independent of the people involved. In Deja Vu, a 1997 movie by Henry Jaglom, a man asks his wife, "What do you think of our marriage?" He then says that, from his standpoint, "the marriage is fine." It's just that he's in love with someone else and wants to leave.

A favourite niece was married a few weeks ago. It was joyful and lovely, but I was somewhat thrown to see a “service” held in a gorgeous little chapel with a minister in full Anglican robes from which all prayers and religious references were completely excluded, apparently by design. I mentioned to my wife that it felt a bit like attending a lecture by Dawkins in the Sistine Chapel, which earned me one of those terrifying “Don’t you dare start!” looks. They didn’t make any vows about fidelity or sickness or whatever, but they did promise to be each other’s best friends, to talk about everything and to support each other’s life goals. They were obviously blissful and I fervently wish them a long, happy life filled with endless hours spent talking about everything under the sun. Except, perhaps, the state of their marriage.

Posted by Peter Burnet at August 29, 2006 11:32 AM

Peter B:

I attended the marriage of a friend at a Methodist church about a year ago, which was the first time in my life I've ever attended a non-Catholic religious service of any kind. Whoops, make that "religious" service, because I was struck by the same thing: Lots of references to happy living, the usual quote on love from 1 Corinthians 13, but not much mention of God or holiness or anything you couldn't hear from a justice of the peace presiding over a marriage in Vegas.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 29, 2006 2:40 PM

Some Pharisees came and tested Jesus by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

"What did Moses command you?" he replied.

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' " [quoting Gen 1:27,2:24.]

"So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

[Mark 10:2-9]

Posted by: Gideon at August 29, 2006 2:56 PM

Most of these people should just elope. Not only would they save all concerned a lot of time, effort and money, but it'll make the divorce a whole lot easier, too.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 29, 2006 3:45 PM

As an overgrown juvenile, I stumbled into a marriage with a serial monogamist because we liked playing together. A celtophile, she chose a Presbyterian minister, requesting "Scottish vows". She gave him some new agey celtic schmeltic thing to read, but at the service, he stuck straight to the service from the Church of Scotland prayer book. I guess he actually believed "that stuff", which I'm sure she never suspected. (She looked a little lost during the vows, but I was clueless). A few years later, after our first child arrived, I suddenly realized I actually believed "that stuff". She finally decided she didn't. Now, I'm the hated "fundamentalist" ex-husband, because I take our boy to worship service while he's in my possession. It was the best thing to ever happen to me & my son.

Posted by: chasid at August 30, 2006 4:32 PM