Sunday, August 01, 2004

Religious aspects of marriage

In virtually all religions, marriage is a long-term union between two people and is established with ceremonies and rituals. The two people are most commonly a man and a woman, though many societies have permitted polygamous marriages, and same-sex marriage is now acknowledged in some places.

Many religions have extensive teachings regarding marriage. Most Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage; the wedding ceremony typically includes some sort of pledge by the community to support the couple's relationship. In the Catholic Church, marriage is one of the seven sacraments. In the Eastern Orthodox church, it is one of the Mysteries, and is seen as an ordination and a martyrdom. In marriage, Christians see a picture of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. In Judaism, marriage is so important that remaining unmarried is deemed unnatural. Islam also recommends marriage highly; among other things, it helps in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. By contrast, Buddhism does not encourage or discourage marriage, although it does teach how one might live a happily married life and emphasizes that married vows are not to be taken slightly

It is also worth noting that different religions have different beliefs as regards the breakup of marriage. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes it is morally wrong to divorce, and divorcées cannot remarry in a church marriage, though they can do in the eyes of the law. In the area of nullity, religions and the state often apply different rules, meaning that a couple, for example, could have their marriage annulled by the Catholic Church but still be married in the eyes of the law because the state disagrees with the church over whether an annulment could be granted in a particular case. This produces the phenomenon of Catholics getting church annulments simultaneously with state divorces, allowing the ex-partners to marry other people in the eyes of both the church and the state.

In the Christian faith, marriage is viewed as a lifelong union of a man and a woman before God. One commonly used text is from the Gospel of Matthew (which is itself a quote from the book of Genesis).

"...For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Matthew 19: 5-6 (quoting from Genesis 2:24)

Virtually all Christian denominations frown on divorce, although some more harshly than others.

Christian marriage is seen by Saint Paul (especially Ephasians chapter 5) as paralleling the relationship between Christ and the Church, a theological view which is a development of the Old Testament view that saw a parallel between marriage and the relationship between God and Israel.

All major Christian groups take marriage to be a good thing. In 1 Timothy, Chapter 4, St. Paul talks of heretics who, among other things, "forbid marriage" and he describes their views as "doctrines of demons". At the same time, even though marriage is believed to be a good thing, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally see an even greater value in celibacy when that celibacy is undertaken for the sake of a more singleminded devotion to God, but do not believe that everyone is called by God to this.