The last twelve months have been a bumper year for weddings – they definitely seem like cicadas, on some kind of multi-year cycle with boom and bust years.
It’s been interesting to compare ceremony styles; many recent weddings I attended had a very traditional wedding style. Not all were held in an actual church, but each retained what I’d call a “liturgical” ceremony with distinctive religious overtones.
Ironically, in that class is included the one person I’d have least expected: my Wiccan friend from college. Influence of the fiance or his family? I don’t know, but it was deeply interesting to me that the one wedding I’d have expected to be most divergent from Western traditions was using a very Protestant framework, with the substance simply swapped out for a sort of neo-pagan flavor. I expected to be uncomfortable at the differences… and then it turned out to be basically a very ordinary wedding. (I do hope that the bride and groom take seriously their invocation of the Highest Power!)
Two weddings I’ve attended this summer have been a bit awkward, though. Both disposed almost entirely with any kind of ceremonial trappings except for “vows,” a short address by the officiant, and the ring exchange. The last one was… well, let’s just say that it felt more like a pair of people wanting to formalize a boyfriend/girlfriend cohabitation arrangement than a real wedding. In both cases, the bride and groom wrote their own “vows” – and it seems that nobody bothered to define “vow” to them as in each wedding they spent most of the time talking about fluffy feelings instead of making solemn promises! Although at least one of the two couples did eventually get around to those promises.
The most problematic “wedding” was the one in which they even dispensed with making any kind of promises about “death do us part” and substituting something to the effect of “as long as we love each other.” You could even hear the officiant stumbling over the alteration! I didn’t want to ruin their special day, so of course I didn’t say anything, but honestly: those two people are not married. Perhaps they’re simply being honest: it’s the groom’s second “marriage” and the bride’s parents are divorced and each remarried. I can respect that honesty, to an extent. (This “wedding” was purely secular. Not even the neo-pagan honoring of a higher power; it was devoid of any religious overtones at all.)
It breaks my heart for the children, though. Here are kids from the first marriage – and their father and their new “mother” aren’t even going to pretend that they’re promising to stay together forever. And you could tell that the children were so happy to call the bride “mom” after it was over.
Part of the officiant’s speech was even “after the glow of love-infatuation dies, then you have to make a decision about the future.”
That would be the nail in the coffin of any chance that ceremony had of being considered a real wedding. Not only did the bride and groom not promise anything other than “we’ll stay together for as long as we feel like it” (Who the heck needs to make a promise to do something for as long as they feel like it?!) – the officiant herself didn’t even consider the wedding ceremony AS a wedding ceremony! You know, the point in time when you publicly declare and promise that even after the “honeymoon period” is over and the first flush of infatuation is over, you’ve already previously decided to stay together with this person?! And promised to do so in front of basically everyone who knows either of you??
Dalrock’s intended audience is limited to Christians (and the secular wedding was just that – a secular wedding) but he sums up this modern conception of “marriage” thusly:
“In our new view, romantic love makes sex moral, and the purpose of marriage is to publicly declare that you are experiencing the highest form of romantic love. Thus people now commonly refer to a wedding as “making our love official”.
Which only works until someone decides they’ve had enough of this icky keeping-promises thing, and “until death do us part” got conveniently one-hit-killed by no-fault divorce, so it’s not like there’s even so much as a legal contract behind those “vows” – if the “bride” and “groom” even bothered with them in the first place!
You don’t have to be Christian to have a real marriage. All you have to do is promise sexual exclusivity and availability, and mutual support, until death do you part. Athol Kay is a secular marriage guru, and his business is basically giving people the practical tools they need to keep their commitments. Without having to sacrifice happiness on the altar of duty! (Which is helpful, because I’m not entirely sure the majority of nominally religious or irreligious Westerners actually understands the concept of duty any more than they understand vows. There is definitely also a disturbingly large number of “pastors” who also seem to have a great deal of difficulty understanding these concepts!)
Of course, considering that John C. Wright’s long and philosophical essay is basically explaining how he, as an atheist of the Stoic school of philosophical thought, came to the conclusion that chastity is a virtue that society should support and philandering a vice that society should deter, I guess I really should not have been surprised that the neo-pagan ceremony was a true wedding and the secular ceremony was merely a farcical mimicry. Not that I doubt that the bride and groom love one another – for now, and hopefully forever. But having The Feels someone “for now” is much different than standing before a crowd and declaring that you will love, cherish, and honor them for the rest of your life. Not just for as long as you feel like it.