Friday, July 27, 2012

Did Jesus believe marriage is abolished in heaven?

Intro:

For my presentation at an upcoming Skepticamp I'm talking about moral skepticism specifically on the common claim that the character Jesus in the Christian gospels is a "good moral teacher."  One of those issues happens to be Jesus' views on sexuality and relationships.  Here I'll be arguing that Jesus clearly thinks that marriage is abolished in his afterlife view.  From there I will argue this is a dick move.

________________________________________

Jesus says in Mark 12:25  (see also Matthew 22:23-33 and Luke 20:27-40):
When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Jesus is responding to doubting Sadducees who don't share Jesus' resurrection views on the afterlife.  They are trying to trip him up by asking him a "gotcha" question.  The Sadducees' question played off of Mosaic law that required one of the brothers of a deceased brother to take on the widow as their own wife.  In their scenario, every single brother dies off after having married the propertyer baton...er same woman.  Even that last brother dies and then she dies and all 8 of them are resurrected and the Sadducees want to know who is married at that point (or rather they want to establish a reductio ad absurdum point against belief in the resurrection), which isn't a bad question.

Bizarrely enough Jesus reprimands the Sadducees for not knowing the scriptures concerning the topic even though you can't find his perspective anywhere else in the Bible.  Either this argues for some other lost scripture the early Christians were using or more likely this is mystic speak for, "Why don't you read the tea leaves like I do?!"  

The implication of Jesus's view is that all marriages whether good or bad will be ended in the afterlife.

One Christian foolishly argues to the contrary with:
...Jesus had confirmed marriage.  Therefore, marriage is good and normal.
Though Jesus never said marriage was "wrong" only that it was not intended for the afterlife.  It's just like how Christians think that sex isn't wrong, but that it is intended for the "aftermarriage."  That Christian then argues:
Obviously, Jesus does not agree to the concept of divorce.
It would seem that when it says that "god hates divorce" and "what god has joined, let no one separate" that really means that humans have no business ending things and that it's up to the Christian god when you are and are not married (You're not supposed to murder people either, but it's just fine for the Christian god to wipe out the entire planet on occasion, so that god supposedly has those kinds of "executive privileges.").  Clearly some Christians are tripping on the idea that every morally good thing must also be in their afterlife, but that ignores the fact their god has the option to make it any of a variety of equally good afterlives.  The problem is many Christians know artificially breaking up marriages is evil even though Jesus teaches it anyway.  So much for our brand of happily ever after.

Jesus could have said that seven-time-widow'd be with whomever she was last with since that would have been the most active agreement, or whomever she loved most, or he could have even advocated polyamory.  Instead Jesus declares across the board there will be no such thing as marriage.  He even adds positively that people will "be like the angels" despite what some Christian sites fail to realize when they say:
Man was not made to dwell in solitude; he was to be a social being. Without companionship the beautiful scenes and delightful employments of Eden would have failed to yield perfect happiness. Even communion with angels could not have satisfied his desire for sympathy and companionship. There was none of the same nature to love and to be loved. [emphasis mine]
You can't argue that humanity has to be restored to the opposite of what Jesus says it is going to change into.  Jesus appeals to the marital baseline of Adam and Eve when it suits him.  He specifically appeals to angels here instead.  Marriage has to be taken as meaning more than just sex since at the very least property rights and the mental states conducive to pair bonding are involved.  If human nature isn't changed in addition to the bodily changes, we would still desire marital level bonding.  So we would have to be like the angels in more than one way, which makes plenty of coherent sense of Jesus' overall views (that mostly revolve around telling people to run away from marriage).  He doesn't see marriage as the premium state.  Otherwise, he'd have gotten married and recommended it to everyone.  He did the opposite.

Naturally this is an incredibly thoughtless and insensitive view that would entail the rewriting of married people's brains without their consent.  It's not like you'll get the option to upgrade to your new glorified bodies or not.  If you are rebellious on this point, one would assume you must not be a true Christian anyway and you know where you'd be going.  "Hey everyone, you can keep your marriage in hell!"  Granted that might make perfect sense to some people (since marriage already equals hell), but you could be a good Christian couple who spent the last 30 years of your lives together, get in a car accident, and then you'd wake up in the Christian afterlife divinely divorced.  Surprise!

Maybe you could still be good friends?  Too bad no one ever asked Jesus if we'll even have friends in heaven or if we'd just be worshiping the Christian god 24-7.

To that end this Christian website claims:
Evidently, there will be no such thing as marriage in heaven. This does not mean that a husband and wife will no longer know each other in heaven. This also does not mean that a husband and wife could not still have a close relationship in heaven. What it does seem to indicate, though, is that a husband and wife will no longer be married in heaven.
The problem with even that would be that it's back in the ballpark of current human conception.  Why wouldn't you merely consider yourselves married without the sex if left to your own devices with the same nature you have today?  I presume angels do not think of themselves as having sexless marriages and so lifelong bonds and deep rooted conceptions of identity would have to be changed to meet with this teaching of Jesus.  It would appear you could be "good friends" but you could not be asexually pair bonded with a partner.  Otherwise, you'd still for all practical purposes be married and Jesus specifically said there'd be no marriage with an explicit change of human nature.  There are asexuals who are married for the romance and comfort today (and early Christians would get married for sexless, joint spiritual reasons) !  What would it mean for their marriage to be "over" if some level of a bond isn't broken?

And please note, I've only been defending the "mind rape" premise here.  Many Christian couples actually want to keep having sex in their afterlife, god forbid...  Good luck finding evidence for that in the Bible.

That site concludes with:
Therefore, there is no purpose for marriage in heaven since there is no procreation or loneliness.
Yeah, many married couples have a deep, close connection with a specific person that goes well beyond sex, procreation, and mere loneliness management.

Another Christian site says:
The good news is that, in heaven, your relationship to your spouse will be better and more enduring than it was on this earth.
Except that they won't be your spouse.  There's no around that this is meant to be an artificial demotion even in nonsexual terms.  Otherwise, why couldn't people just stay married even with the change to their sex drives and reproduction organs?  Old people who can no longer have sex are still married.  Infertile couples can't have kids, but they are still married.  This was not any different in Jesus' day.  Even when his god closed wombs in the Old Testament, that didn't invalidate any marriages (just legacies, lulz).

I know, I know...then what clever zinger would Jesus have against his debate buddies?

Why would this teaching make sense to Jesus or early Christians?  Well because Jesus is a celibate who thinks marriage is too much trouble anyway, has zero experience with it, and thinks that it just gets in the way of the wholehearted pursuit of heaven.  Also to him, it's not just adultery that is wrong, but lust is a thought crime.  Jesus is about as distant as it gets to being a friend to all things marital while still technically accepting it.  One would assume he approved of relationships like "the disciple Jesus loved" (especially) from the gospel of John, but nothing more.  So, coming from people with these cognitive biases (note, it is a modern stereotype that asexuals believe they are better than sexual people), doing away with marriage in the afterlife is merely good riddance.  Their god shares their notions about it (after all, he's asexual, too) and marriage was just being tolerated the whole time as it is (just as Paul merely tolerates marriage).  Stupid Sadducees.

I've poked around the Google a bit to see what some Christian reactions are and it seems they just want to make a bunch of excuses for this dick move in their doctrine.

One Christian answers site pretends like Jesus wasn't talking about "real" marriage anyway as though all marriage in Jesus' time wasn't about the "women as property" model.  Find some passage in the Bible that makes that ad hoc distinction.  So in his view there's still marriage.  Good job Christian thinkers!

A Mormon answers site has this opposite day excuse to offer from their ranks:
...Mormon leaders have interpreted this passage quite differently than the historic Christian view. LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote: "What then is the Master Teacher affirming by saying, 'in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven'? He is not denying but limiting the prevailing concept that there will be marrying and giving in marriage in heaven. He is saying that as far as 'they' (the Sadducees) are concerned, that as far as 'they' ('the children of this world') are concerned, the family unit does not and will not continue in the resurrection. Because he does not choose to cast his pearls before swine, and because the point at issue is not marriage but resurrection anyway, Jesus does not here amplify his teaching to explain that there is marrying and giving of marriage in heaven only for those who live the fulness of gospel law-a requirement which excludes worldly people" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 1:605,606).
So...in other words Jesus is really telling them to go to hell.  Nice.  Implausible since none of this is cloaked in parable form, but nice.

That Mormon site also offers this interpretation:
...David H. Yarn, Jr., a BYU professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, said, "The Lord did not say there would be no people in the married state in the resurrection but that there would be no marriages made in the resurrection" (A Sure Foundation, p. 115).
Yeah...what's with the "being like the angels" part then?  And this ignores Luke's version:
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage...
Obviously this speaks of two different ages and isn't focused on just the resurrection event itself.

Remember, when you put together the puzzle, you're not supposed to have pieces left over!

That Mormon site offers yet another view:
Some Mormon leaders have read their own interpretations into this passage, explaining that this wife had been eternally sealed to the first husband. For instance, LDS Apostle James E. Talmage wrote: "The Lord's meaning was clear, that in the resurrected state there can be no question among the seven brothers as to whose wife for eternity the woman shall be, since all except the first had married her for the duration of mortal life only, and primarily for the purpose of perpetuating in mortality the name and family of the brother who first died." (Jesus the Christ, p.548).
Um...yeah.  Let's just make stuff up.  Lots of people get married more than once and have just as close relationships with each of them.  There's no reason to think that out of 7 brothers, at least one of them apart from the original might measure up.  I mean, especially in Biblical times, the first marriage was probably forced, too!

So that Mormon author of that site ulimately concludes:
While these explanations may sound good to a Mormon audience that cherishes the institution of marriage-but so have Christians for 2,000 years!-the ability to read between the lines of Jesus' teaching does not make a doctrine true.
In other words, all those happily married Christians just don't want that righteously celibate Jesus to be teaching his anti-marriage views.

Another Christian answers site tells its Christian readers to deal with it (Even gender ((and racial)) differences will be eliminated in heaven, since there is neither male nor female in Christ and a lot of female anatomy especially is devoted to unnecessary reproductive tasks).  Apparently this is okay because all real Christians know how much better their relationship with Jesus is anyway as though involuntarily being forced to drop your secondary is no big deal.  Remember, in this case, your polyamorous secondary is the very best human relationship you have in this world.  This is also the kind of value system that makes people feel guilty for loving their spouses "too much" even though there is nothing dysfunctional about the relationship in and of itself.

One Christian site confesses:
One of the few clear memories I have of being lectured to by our current Archbishop while in seminary was when he spoke on this passage. He began by saying that early on in his marriage, whenever his wife Christine read this passage, stating quite clearly that there was no marriage in heaven, she would start to get a little teary. 
It says she got over that somehow and later in the article ends with:
Death itself is going to be abolished, and marriage and family are going out along with it! Like it or lump it, nothing is going to be like what it used to be, and if we are going to follow Jesus then we had better start adjusting our lives accordingly.
Oh, change is hard!  Suck it up, Christian soldier!  The article continues:
Personally, I think that if we could get this right, that we would probably get everything else right, and I think that it’s when we lose track of this that we lose track of everything.
Lulz, and if I could just leap over a tall building I'd be Superman, now wouldn't I?  Great logic.  Not everyone is so able and willing to part with their spouse in this way and for good reason.  Why should we expect them to?

The article continues:
That’s why, in some ways, it’s much easier to become a Christian if you’re a drug-addict or a sex-worker. Because you realise from the start that coming to Jesus means that everything has got to change. When you’re white and middle-class, on the other hand, coming to Jesus only means that certain things are going to require minor adjustment, or so it would seem.
The problem is there's nothing immoral about having that extra special relationship with someone in this life that marriage can bring.  Getting rid of personal vices and making your mind a perfectly functional moral mental space is one thing...stripping you of a positive moral identity is quite another.  The article concludes by appealing to the fact that Jesus also told rich people to sell all their stuff which is pretty drastic.  Of course there are even more morally extreme things Jesus recommends in the gospels (like chopping off limbs, plucking out eyes, hating your family, skipping the funerals of loved ones, not getting married in the first place, etc.).  One evil doesn't justify other evils.

Another Christian site makes similar points and humorously says:
A husband and wife who had been married on earth will certainly know each other in heaven, and may even have a close relationship. [emphasis mine]
Hear that?  MAYBE you'll get to have a close relationship with your spouse of 40 years.  Well that's confidence one can count on!  It's really funny how little confidence Jesus inspired in his followers on this point.

Look how insensitive that article was in its intro:
...what happens to our earthly marriage when we are finally there? Do we remain married? What if we had been married before and our first husband or wife had been taken from us by death? Who exactly would we be married to? The answers to these questions are not as difficult as you might believe. [emphasis mine]
Yeah, because Jesus didn't care that much about marriage so he felt free to completely disown it on behalf of everyone (or approve of a god who did).  And now modern Christians get to "rejoice" about having such a plainly stated answer.

And let's not forget:
Heaven will be the ultimate fellowship. We will not miss marriage nor pine for its passing. This is because heaven will bind us to God and to each other in a way never before possible, even in marriage.
Yes, I drowned your puppy just because I could, Timmy, but I bought you three new ones that are better!

For Star Trek fans, one might point out the cardinal sin of the infamous Borg is that they never asked permission from the sentient bipedal species of the galaxy if they wanted to be assimilated into the cybernetic collective consciousness.  It may well have even been a better deal to be a part of a greater consciousness bent on perfection (and perhaps well on its way) and it also may have been more efficient to simply assimilate first and then assimilate some more.  However merely balancing the virtues of respect and efficiency would turn one huge enemy into a serious friend of the entire galaxy.  But why listen to my irrelevant moral perspective, right?  Pfft...at least Captain Janeway got the best of them eventually.

So Christians, as usual are divided on clear teachings of their sacred scriptures they are ideologically bound to be loyal to.  They either have to be in stark denial of  it or amorally embrace ridiculous teachings like the sociopaths and abused spouses Jesus intended us to be in pursuit of the rewards of heaven.  One might think that if more Christians were told exactly what they are signing up for (their very identity being arbitrarily rewritten) they might not be so quick to profess, "Thy will be done," in their mythology.

___________________________________

Outro:

Aside from some serious interpretative gymnastics that result in the exact opposite of what Jesus says, it's pretty clear that the character Jesus in the Christian gospels believes marriage will be abolished in the Christian afterlife and those extra special relationships will be demoted to at least "good loving friends."  Deeply married people (i.e. those who have been successfully married for decades as opposed to a 55 hour Britney Spears-like wedding arc) are not just "good loving friends" they are an inseparable unit who virtually completely define themselves in light of each other.  Jesus' flippant anti-marriage views are a serious moral violation of personal identity no one is going to tolerate in our own transhumanistic future when we'll have the technology to do similar things to people.  If you change people's gender identity, their sexual identity, and their coupling identity, even though they do not primarily actually want any of these things (remember Christians just want whatever their god wants), all at the same time the end result will be extremely different than the original.  It may be something functional and better, but it won't be you.  You will have been replaced by someone else.  The parallel universe you that was castrated, had a full gender reassignment surgery, lived fluently as a completely different gender, and didn't get married for 30 years is a completely different you in realistic terms.  Jesus condones the immoral view and hence, just as I conclude in my forthcoming presentation, he's a dick.

Clearly this one religious meme outgrew its biology (though not completely since a lot of Christianing has happened because married Christians throughout the ages ignored Jesus' asexual paradigm).  Humans also use condoms and have sex for fun.  Take that DNA!  Judaism embraced marriage and gave its just-so story explaining its pseudo-origins because we're a sexually reproducing species that pair bonds most often.  Christianity eventually rejected it as the greatest idea evur probably because the psychology of purity cults happens to work (where a god is one of the most appealing fictional ideas in human existence and this deity is perceived to be jealous of competing with important human relationships).   Oops.  Ta da!  Better explanation.

1 comment:

The Nerd said...

At the risk of my own reductio ad absurdum, isn't "Why don't you read the tea leaves like I do?!" the basis of every theological debate ever?