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.


The Church, the Pope, and Homosexuals or, The Ignorance of the Media

Council of Nicaea. The Roman church (as well as Eastern Orthodox Church) believe that authority is derived from councils, not popular sentiment.

Council of Nicaea. The Roman church (as well as Eastern Orthodox Church) believe that authority is derived from councils, not popular sentiment.

If you have read the news lately, you’d think that Pope Francis was out changing all the theology of the Catholic church and making it more progressive. According to this article, the Pope will “send shockwaves through the church” with his latest announcement that he doesn’t judge homosexuals. Most news outlets act like what he is saying is somehow new or something the Catholic church has never encountered.

Of course, what do you do with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states,

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (CCC#2358)

Some of the more honest news agencies, or those who are better informed, are saying that while they recognize the Pope isn’t saying anything new, he is “changing the atmosphere” for the Catholic church. Well, let’s look at what the Pope said, shall we?

“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

Certainly that statement will send shockwaves. Of course, that statement, while said by the Pope, was not said by the current Pope. It was, instead, said by Pope Benedict XVI. It also wasn’t said while he was pope, but instead when he was just Cardinal Ratzinger, in 1986. It was also given the written approval of Pope John Paul II.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the media has gotten it wrong on what the Catholic church teaches. Consider how the Huffington Post stated that the Pope taught atheists could go to Heaven. Of course, by saying that atheists were capable of virtue and that by doing good works they could meet Catholics halfway, he was merely restating (though in different terms) the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states:

Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion but the imputability of the offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. (CCC#2125)

Now, I am not a Roman Catholic. I have no real interest in whether or not the Pope “goes off the reservation” within the Roman church. I think his office is given far too much authority and I disagree with quite a few other aspects in Roman theology (notably the idea of original guilt, immaculate conception, Filioque, and so on). Thus, I am no apologist for the Roman church, but if you’re going to report on something it’s probably best that you understand what you’re reporting.

Saying that the Pope’s message on homosexuality will send “shockwaves” is no different than saying his message on helping the poor will send shockwaves; the only people who will be shocked will be the ill-informed and uneducated. Instead, the news media – and America in general – is so fascinated by personal experience that we let it overpower our thinking. Many lapsed Catholics (some of whom don’t realize they’re lapsed because they don’t understand their own faith) have an image of what Roman teachings were and are, so when the Pope goes against their perception they think he’s actually going against Roman dogma. The reality is, though the Pope can speak ex cathedra, he is still limited by the councils and by dogma. Thus, he can’t just change the rules mid-game.

What many people fail to realize is that the Roman church is not Protestant and that the Protestant church is not Roman. That might be tautological to some people, but the media tends to act as though the Roman church is no different than the Protestant church. In the Southern Baptist convention, if the majority of delegates change their mind on homosexuality, on inerrancy, or any matter of doctrine, they can change the belief of the entire denomination. The authority in such Protestant denominations comes from the masses. The Roman church, however, is confessional. The authority in the Roman church comes from Tradition and Scripture. The Roman faith is both sacramental and confessional, meaning the authority and teachings were determined over a thousand years ago and not by modern feelings.

This confessional faith means that even if 99% of Catholics believed one thing or acted a certain way, that doesn’t change the teachings of the Roman church. To put it bluntly, the Roman church is not a democracy. What the majority believe is quite irrelevant to the teachings of the Roman church. Thus, when people say, “Well I used to be Catholic and this isn’t a Catholic teaching” or “The Church needs to change x,” what they’re really saying is, “I’m not that informed on what the Catholic church teaches.” It doesn’t matter what one thinks the Roman church teaches, what matters is what the Roman church actually teaches.

What the Pope said will send no shockwaves throughout the church. He was simply stating what is already taught within the Catholic teachings. Yet, the media will continue in their ignorance and laziness, rather than reporting accurately (or refusing to report a non-story), they will report sensationally, only aiding in further dumbing down an already gullible public.