Originally pagan and universal, anyone could get married anywhere, as long as there were witnesses. But from the middle ages onwards, Christian institutions came to control marriage in the West lasted for several hundred years, with strict practices on Church membership, heterosexuality and no re-marriage, meaning that many people were forced to endure dysfunctional relationships.
Sex before marriage is wrong in Deut. 22:13-19, Acts 15:20, 1 Corinth. 5:1, 6:13, 6:18, 7:1-2 and 10:8, 2 Corinth. 12:21, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5-6, 1 Thess. 4:3, Jude 7 and indirectly in 1 Corinthians 7:2,9 and Revelation 14:4.
Christian marriage has been truly horrible for women1,2,3,4. Women must submit to their husbands, as men have authority over them (Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:4-5, 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 1 Corinth. 14:34). 1 Corinthians 11:3-9 states outright that women are inferior to men. Women's role in marriage is childbirth (1 Timothy 2:15) and to fulfil duties in the home (Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:1 and Ephesians 5:22-25). In Christianity's defence, other religions also have a very poor track record on treating women fairly5,6,7, and, in the 21st century, liberal branches of Christianity have come to accept women generally more equal in some areas, although often this is due to the influence of human rights.
Christian marriages are more troubled in the long-run than non-religious ones, and end in divorce more frequently. Stricter and more outward forms of Christianity are even more problematic, with worse rates of wifebeating and other issues. Christian theologians have themselves worried over these numbers8. The overall secular approach of a love-and-relationship-first yields more stable results.
The era of Christian marriage is drawing to a close; alongside those of other religions; in all developed countries the percentage of marriages being performed by civil and Humanist (non-religious) bodies continues to increase; for example, in England and Wales the early 1990s were the last years where over half of marriages were Christian.
Although there was a time in history in Christian countries when Christianity had strict control of marriage, this state of affairs has a shorter history than many would assume. Christianity inherited its ideas about marriage through a combination of Jewish law and Roman paganism, and for a long time, those sources of ritual were more than enough - with the pagan sources of ritual being much more influential. For example, many early Christian churches allowed same-sex marriage, and it was only over time that Bible-based prejudice swept such things away as pagan practices were replaced.
“[The early Christian church] very quickly produced its own liturgy of Eucharist, Baptism and Confirmation but nothing was done about marriage. It was not important for a couple to have their nuptials blessed by a priest. People could marry by mutual agreement in the presence of witnesses [...] and there was no need to wait for the Church's blessing [and this] endured well into the 18th century. [...] Augustine and Aquinas may have said that marriage was a sacrament, but no ceremonial was devised to celebrate this sacrament. At first the old Roman pagan rite was used by Christians. Clearly it had to be modified, but the modifications were purely superficial: the Holy Spirit and Christ were substituted for the names of pagan gods. [...] For all the insistence of the Scholastics that Christian marriage was something essentially different from marriage between pagans, [...] there was [still] no special Christian marriage service for centuries. The first detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates from the 9th century and it was identical to the old nuptial service of Ancient Rome.”
"The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West"
Karen Armstrong (1986)9
The Bible, like other moral codes of its era, is absolutely clear that adultery (cheating) is wrong (Exodus 20:14, Leviticus 18, Deut. 5:18, Hebrews 13:4). It's mostly clear that sex before marriage is wrong - a woman is criticized for it in Deut. 22:13-19, and it was an absolute moral requirement of both the Hebrews and all of their gentile (non-Jewish) neighbours around them. No-sex-outside-of-marriage and adultery are probably both implied in the many verses that warn against "fornication" - Acts 15:20, 1 Corinth. 5:1, 1 Corinth. 6:13,18, 1 Corinth. 10:8, 2 Corinth. 12:21, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5-6, 1 Thess. 4:3, Jude 7. This is all tied up by 1 Corinth. 7:1-2 which says you can avoid the sin of fornication by getting married.
Sexual relations are described positively only inside of marriage; the "be fruitful and multiply" instruction of Genesis 1:26-28 is only actioned after a formal union of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:24-25, Genesis 4:1,25). The sex poetry of the Song of Songs is the same. The same is found in 1 Corinthians 7:2,9. Revelation 14:4 assumes that unmarried Christians can't be having sex.
But there are also times where the Bible is perfectly happy with remarriage and non-marital sex. For example, Adam and Eve's children must have married each other (breaking rules against incest), or, married their own parents (breaking rules against adultery or remarriage). Exactly the same situation must have befallen the Noah's family after The Flood. Hosea 1:2 and 3:1 had God specifically tell Hosea to marry a fornicator and adulteress (either that, or Hosea told that story in order to justify his choice of wife). And in Numbers 31:1 God instructs directly that victorious soldiers are to take the women for themselves, after they killed all the males, with no mention of marriage.
Throughout its history, institutional Christian rules on sex, sexuality and gender roles have been weirdly obsessive10. Doctrine has been clearly written from a male-only point of view, with males playing divinely-ordained dominant roles11 and a suite of specific demands for female clothing11 and prohibitions against anything other than overtly heterosexual male behaviour. From the second century onwards, a range of Christian movements emerged which hated sex and all things sexual12. A stream of writings from the Church Fathers and other senior Christians denounced sex in every way possible; it was evil and Satanic, and must only be indulged in when resistance was impossible, and only with your wife for the purpose of procreation. Alongside those of St Paul, these writings appear from the very beginning of Christianity, and can still be found in many modern Christian churches, highlighted by the doctrine of the celibacy of Catholic clergy. Some key verses from the Bible include Galatians 5:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and Revelation 14:4. This Christian abhorrence of sexual human nature became very influential throughout the West13 from before the lead-up to the dark ages until the modern era in which Christian power has waned.
The misguided anti-carnality message has been responsible for more sexual dysfunction in adult males than any other force of history. Statistically, Christians divorce more frequently than atheists and non-religious folk. Christian clergy and institutions have been under scrutiny after two decades of horrible scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking and numerous, with no end in sight to their uncovering14. The effect of organized Christianity battle against birth control has had a deleterious impact on the control of sexually transmitted diseases and has been instrumental on speeding us all towards an increasingly overpopulated planet15. Intolerance against homosexuality has harmed the wider community, but also forced many Christians into needlessly secretive and guilt-ridden lives. Thankfully, the majority of modern Christians live in a secular manner and don't observe traditional teachings.
For more, see:
St. Paul, whose voluminous writings on the subject of marriage and women are entrenched in the New Testament, wrote that marriage is a last resort for the desperate man who could not restrain himself from sex. "Better to marry, than to burn in hell" he wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:9. The ideal was to remain single, but marrying a woman was best done if you really couldn't help yourself. This dysfunctional theology of sex was one of the worst things to happen to marriage; it is only since the Enlightenment and Reformation that more a reasonable, positive, basis of marriage has been brought to the fore.
In the New Testament Jesus says in the perfect state, in Heaven, as amongst sinless angels, there is no marriage nor exclusive unions between people (Matt. 22:23-30). Christianity's obsessions over which particular forms of marriage are acceptable is rendered irrelevant by their own eschatology, in which the most perfect states are achieved with no marriage at all.
For nearly all of its history, Christianity communities and institutions have demanded male-dominance, and treated women as inferior beings, subject to a wide range of rules and prohibitions that men have not had to bear. Based on canon law, legal prejudice became part of the fabric of Christianized countries, affecting areas such as inheritance and voting rights, and a legacy of cultural acceptance of female subjugation to men.
In particular, the injunctions found in the epistles of St Paul have had negative impact on the legal status of women4. Here are the worst injunctions, although there are many more: Colossians 3:18 states that wives must submit to husbands "as it is fit in the Lord" as does Titus 2:4-5. 1 Corinthians 11:3-9 states outright that women are inferior to men. 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 1 Corinth. 14:34 has women be quiet and in full submission to men, and should never have authority over men, because Adam was formed before Eve. This is why women had long been barred from positions of power in Christian churches. What should women do instead? 1 Timothy 2:15 states that woman's role is childbirth, and Titus 2:5 adds that women should be obedient and "busy at home" (repeated in 1 Peter 3:1 and Ephesians 5:22-25).
Religious apologists such as Karen Armstrong5 and Moojan Momen6, who normally speak positively of religion in general, both sound warnings when it comes to the effect of religion on womankind. Armstrong says "Christianity does not emerge well from this story of Western women"1 and "in traditional Western Christianity women have been kept out of the male world of action and thought"16. The cause of these issues is that from inception the Bible, and Christian doctrine in general, following on from Judaism, has represented a purely male point of view of family, relations and power disparencies, resulting in an enduring doctrinal subjugation of women.2,3.
In the 21st century, some liberal branches of Christianity are now normalizing their stances, although many conservative wings oppose these moves. The greatest steps forwards have been when secular, democratic governments have removed the influence of Christianity from law, and asserted the validity of gender-neutral human rights, although powerful and well-funded Christian lobbies oppose this wherever they can.
For more, see:
Divorce statistics are not what many Christians would assume them to be: The average divorce rate for born-again type Christians (27%) and others (24%) are both higher than that for atheism, which is 21%17. Empirically, atheists are more devoted to each other and commit to more stable relationship patterns than theists, yet the theists are the ones who say they stand for family values. Christian theologians have themselves expressed concern over their own rates of divorce and other marital problems such as wifebeating, which are mostly the same as the rates of non-Christians, although stricter Christians have worse rates8. There is a saying that those who shout loudest are the least capable. The Christian Churches shout loudly about love but... atheists are more capable. A seriously observation is that perhaps atheists are more likely to marry only if they're sure, while Christians feel pressurized so sometimes marry prematurely in relationships that aren't permanent. Christian culture can exert unnatural pressure on relationships.
|Denomination||% who have been divorced|
|Atheism / Agnosticism||< Less|
“Barna's results verified findings of earlier polls: that conservative Protestant Christians, on average, have the highest divorce rate, while mainline Christians have a much lower rate. They found some new information as well: that atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all. George Barna commented that the results raise "questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families." The data challenge "the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage."
Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said: "In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. ...Just being born again is not a rabbit's foot." Hughes claim that 90% of divorces among born-again couples occur after they have been "saved."”
“Divorce, n. (1) A resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries. (2) A bugle blast that separates the combatants and makes them fight at long range.”
This leads me to consider the words of Jesus in Christian Scripture:
Jesus said: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."
Jesus said: "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."
It is small wonder that atheists divorce less often!
The statistics show % of the total population of England and Wales (excluding the Isle of Man and Channel Islands) and "Anglican" mean "Church of England or Church of Wales"19
“Between 1993 and 2003, the number of Jewish weddings in England and Wales slipped by 17%, while Anglican weddings fell by 37% and Catholic unions tumbled by 44%”
The Economist (2006)20