The Idealization of Marriage: A Response to Joanna Moorhead


Lest the Church should become too enraptured by the way things ought to be, Joanna Moorhead calls for its leaders to remember that real life sucks.

In a recent edition of TheTablet* Ms. Moorhead criticized the, “sepia-tinted movie version,” of marriage depicted by a series of videos produced by the Vatican.  She berates the films for portraying a naive and idealistic picture of marriage.  “The truth about real-life marriage,” she insists,

is that very often marriage is far from happy.  Most unions start, like the wedding scenes within the films, on a positive, upbeat note: the participants feel connected; together, ‘two become one‘ as one of the couples getting married [in the videos] puts it.  All is well and happy and right in their world.  But then–after a few weeks in some cases, a few months or years in others–come the trials, the difficulties, the disappointments, the surprises.  No marriage is without these ructions: there are no perfect marriages outside of Hollywood, or perhaps outside of the Vatican, where marriage only exists as a concept anyway.

Ms. Moorhead’s diatribe suggests that the Vatican is out of touch with reality, and insensitive to the real life struggles of regular people.  Discussing and promulgating information about the essence of marriage–depicting how things ought to be–only reenforces how detached the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is.  In short, she thinks the Vatican is frolicking in the idealistic world of make-believe and has forgotten that we common folk struggle and toil with the realities of real life (which is messy and disappointing).

But what type of videos would Ms. Moorhead have the Vatican produce?  Should they have hired Quentin Tarantino to direct a gritty short film about an abusive husband beating his wife (complete with blood splats on the camera lens)?  Or perhaps the producers of Fifty Shades of Grey to make a sensuous film about a woman caught in adultery?  The writers of Coronation Street could have created a soap opera about a young couple, savagely arguing over a utility bill, who divorce after a drawn out and painfully mundane court battle.  Or, in true Hollywood style, they might have produced a special effects driven remake of the 90’s thriller Sleeping With the Enemy . . . 

You see, Ms. Moorhead is right.  Real life is tragic; it’s full of struggle and toil and pain and suffering and sadness and heartbreak.  We’re all painfully aware that the actual world is not the ideal world that we long for.  But where, in this mixed up, dysfunctional, relativistic, utilitarian muddle of Western culture can we look to see how things ought to be?

Of all places, we should be able to look to the Church!

In spite of Ms. Moorhead’s pessimism, the Vatican understands the unfortunate condition of real life all too well.  Which is precisely why they have produced the films she so cynically mocks.  In a society in which it is extremely difficult to find happy, healthy, long-lasting, monogamous relationships–in a world struggling to understand what marriage is–it is absolutely necessary to depict the ideal.  It is precisely because the world is detached from the Truth and wallowing in a nightmare of its own making that the Church must portray marriage as it ought to be.

In real life people lie, cheat, murder, and steal.  Yet, when rearing our children, we don’t (one would hope) fail to teach them the way things ought to be.  We don’t, on account of the facts of real life, fail to teach them it is wrong to lie, cheat, murder, and steal or fail to encourage them to live a life of virtue.  We instill in our children moral values–ideals–so that they might live successful and healthy lives. We know that living out these ideals can be quite difficult; but we instill them nonetheless.

Likewise, the Church lovingly teaches its children what marriage is and shows them how it ought to look; it idealizes marriage knowing full well that it is not, “straightforward, or easy, or cozy, or even harmonious, in its living-out.”  But, if we pay attention to the teaching of the Church on marriage and sexuality, in spite of the difficulties we face, we may find our marriages looking closer to the idealization that Ms. Moorhead holds with such contempt.

*The article in question was published in the November edition of the monthly magazine.


Must one support contraceptives in order to be pro-life?

Recently, I’ve come across a new argument that the pro-choice camp is throwing out there that…well…like many of their other arguments, just doesn’t cut it. The argument goes like this:

If you support the eradication of abortions, you’ll support the use of contraceptives

If you don’t support the use of contraceptives, then you don’t really care about ending abortions.

The support for such an idea is that because contraceptives prevent unwanted pregnancies, contraceptives cut down on abortion. The effect of contraceptives is that the rate of abortions are lowered because the rate of unwanted pregnancies are likewise lowered. If women aren’t getting pregnant then they can’t get abortions.

The problem for those who are against abortion and contraceptives, however, is that they can’t support one to end the other. For such people (mostly Catholics), to support birth control is to support something unnatural in the act of intercourse, something that prevents life from coming about. Thus, even if supporting contraceptives would lower the rate of abortion they cannot support contraceptives, for as the saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Does the above mean that Catholics aren’t ultimately pro-life though? By banning the use of contraceptives among their members, are they implicitly supporting the act of abortion? As someone who is pro-contraceptive (so long as the contraceptive is non-abortive), I would argue in favor of Catholics and say that they’re still pro-life because the argument presents a false dichotomy.

The choice isn’t, “Support contraceptives/raise abortion rates.” For one, Catholics support abstinence programs, which may actually work contrary to popular myth, so it’s not as though Catholics are doing nothing to lower abortion rates. But more importantly, there are other alternatives to ending abortion rather than lowering the conception rate via contraception. Catholics can (and do) support abstinence, which is the most effective way at avoiding pregnancy. They also support a woman bringing the child to term and if she is unwilling or unable to care for the child after that they support adopting the child out to someone who can. Likewise, there are Catholic charities that help women with the medical expenses during birth and even after birth.

Thus, Catholics are not against helping women or even helping to prevent abortion through social means (that is, by increasing the style of living of the poor). The problem for Catholics is they have one immoral action (the taking of an innocent human individual) and another immoral action (actively preventing conception). For them, you cannot commit one immoral action to prevent another, at least not on a regular basis.

Likewise, the situation isn’t so “either/or” as it seems. If we look at the case of lying to Nazis in order to protect Jews, this is an “either/or” case. In this case, lying becomes moral because it protects a human life. Were you to tell the truth, it would mean the immanent death of the Jews you’re hiding. In the case of contraceptives and abortion, however, if a woman doesn’t use contraceptives and ends up pregnant, it does not necessarily follow that an abortion will occur. She could carry the child to term and if abortion were outlawed, this would be her only legal option at this point.

It’s illogical to think that if one doesn’t support contraceptives that one supports a higher abortion rate. Rather, one can still hope for a lowered abortion rate by helping women carry their children to term.

Finally, the argument is extremely superfluous and really doesn’t add much to the discussion on whether or not abortion is moral. If abortion is the taking of an innocent human life and humans have innate dignity and a right to life, then that settles the issue. It could very well be that all pro-life advocates come out tomorrow and admit that they just want to prevent women from having sex and don’t care about abortion, such an action still wouldn’t negate the scientific and philosophical arguments the pro-life side has used.

It could be that Catholics are misguided in their prohibition of contraceptives in ending abortion, but this misguided knowledge doesn’t somehow justify abortion. It would only show Catholics to be ignorant, but it would say nothing about the morality of abortion.

With the above in mind, it should be seen that the newest pro-choice argument (or newest version of an old argument) is a laughable attempt to discredit the opposition without actually dealing with the substance of what the opposition has to say. It skirts the issue of the morality of abortion and simply creates a false construct so it can engage in ad hominem tu quoque. Such an argument should be dealt with quickly or responded with, “Even if what you say is true, how does that make abortion moral?” At the end of the day, advocates of such an argument generally lack the knowledge to argue on the morality of abortion, at least beyond, “It’s a woman’s right!” They offer little to not scientific of philosophical backing in their argument and instead argue from emotion. Unfortunately, we must deal with such people in the hopes of swaying others.