Monday, April 1, 2013

Undercover Agnostic (Update 7): Why the Obssesion with Getting Married and Having Children?

A conversation was going on in front of me during the time between Sunday School and the morning service. Two people from the Sunday School class I am in were talking, one was a 21 year old woman I'll call "Miranda", and "Kelly", the sister of our Sunday School teacher "Jason". (I'm changing names to protect their identity and mine. Both Jason and Kelly are what most people would consider middle aged people (Kelly is 52, her brother Jason is mid/late 40's).

Miranda was saying that her mother has been pressuring her to get married and have children (she really stressed the children, her mom can't wait to be a grandmother), and I was surprised by Kelly's reaction. She said to Miranda that she shouldn't feel pressured into making such a major life decision by anyone, even family. That is something I most definitely didn't expect to hear.

Had Miranda been saying this to any other woman about Kelly's age in the church, I'm quite the reaction would be something along the lines of "Well, your mom just wants what she thinks is best for you, don't worry about it, the right man will come along, and you will want to marry him". Very likely there would be a not so subtle hint inserted in there about what that woman felt was a suitable young man that was single in the church, and she would try to set them up on a date.

I spoke a few minutes later to Kelly's brother Jason about this conversation, and I said I was surprised by his sister's reaction, that wasn't the norm, and that in every Christian circle I have been a part of, there's always been a lot of pressure on people of the younger generations, people like me and Miranda to get married.

There's this perception in evangelical/fundamentalist churches that you should get married by the time you are 25, and have children, and that if you are in your 30's or later and aren't married, that you aren't living a fully fulfilled adult life, or that, quite frankly, you are completely an adult, that you have missed a critical stage in your adult life and maturity.
Jason said he had noticed this too, and like me, doesn't know why there is so much pressure to get married, he said that he is actually happy that he isn't married. He didn't elaborate on why he said that, and before I had the chance to ask him about the service started. (I may ask him later).

We are not the only people to notice this pattern, and there's even some people in the Christian blogging world talking about it. The website The Wartburg Watch has noticed this too (I had the honor recently of having a guest post  published there, thanks Dee and Deb).

In a recent series of posts on the topic that you can find here, here and here, they've made observations along similar lines that evangelical churches just don't seem to appreciate their single members, pressure them to get married, view them as odd when they aren't married in what is seen as an appropriate time frame , and also often exclude them from leadership positions.

Many of these churches do not want a single man to be a pastor or deacon, and I like how The Wartburg Watch makes the observation that churches have this mentality that a single person is somehow not qualified to be a leader in the congregation as opposed to a married person, despite the fact that the man who wrote much of the New Testament (Paul) was not only celibate, but said that being both celibate and in a position of spiritual leadership was actually ideal. (Perhaps that is why Catholicism wants it's clergymen to be celibate).

I just don't understand where this mentality comes from that every adult should be married (unless you're gay/bisexual and want to marry someone of the same gender, but that's another topic for another day). What is the driving force behind this mentality?

Also, I have noticed that evangelicals/fundamentalists see marriage in a completely different light than the rest of the population. I have noticed that one of the major rebuttals from them in opposition to gay marriage is that homosexual couples can't naturally have children together, and therefore shouldn't be allowed to get married, since the point of marriage is creating stable families.

First of all, feeling that marriage is only for procreation is insulting to people who are infertile due to old age, health issues, or long term forms of birth control like IUD's and vasectomies.  Second, it's rather telling that they look at marriage in this light, and see procreation as the primary (or sole) reason for marriage. It drains all of the romance and passion from marriage. I remember as a teen, having it drilled into me in the Southern Baptist church were I am right now that they had a different view of love.

They kept stressing that love is not a feeling, an emotion, that it is a choice and a commitment. You find someone that you are compatible with, you date them (but don't have sex with them, that's verboten), marry them, make a conscious decision to love them and remain with them for life, and the more romantic, passionate side of marriage will follow.

First of all, that doesn't always happen, I've read many accounts on the blogs of former fundamentalists that the way that these churches try to demonize sexuality outside of marriage, and don't teach young people about sex itself can lead to a lot of guilt, confusion, and rather awkward sexual relationships within marriage.

Second, it makes marriage seem like a perfunctory action, it drains it of passion, and I think that this is a very skewed perception of love. Love in a romantic sense is both. It's both commitment and passion, both are needed, and this view drains love of a very important aspect of it's existence. It makes love seem like a dry commitment, an obligation with no feelings involved, and in the end, it doesn't really feel like a choice at all.

What is really behind the push for marriage and children? Why are single people not seen as normal human beings within these churches? What drives the bizarre (in my opinion) views that they have on marriage?

Is the push for people to get married a way of creating the next generation of like minded fundamentalists? I've noticed that they always like to quote Proverbs 22:6:
Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
 They often use that verse as a way of saying that if you raise a child up with "godly principles" (fundamentalist beliefs) that they may at some point in their life stray from it during a "time of rebellion" as young adults, but they will come back to it eventually, and become dedicated believers again. I find that kind of thinking to be rather amusing. How do they explain people like me, Jonny Scaramanga, Libby Anne, or Hausdorf who were once fundamentalists, but are now atheists/agnostics?  How do they explain people like Lana, who went from fundamentalist to being a very liberal Christian?  Would they then pull out the old "You were never a true Christian" card?

The fundamentalist views on marriage and remaining single are really baffling.

(Sheldon's note: If you are a new reader and unfamiliar with my Undercover Agnostic series, check out my page dedicated to this series, which has all previous posts, and my guest post series on MY Secret Atheist blog, talking about my past)


  1. "There's this perception in evangelical/fundamentalist churches that you should get married by the time you are 25, and have children, and that if you are in your 30's or later and aren't married, that you aren't living a fully fulfilled adult life, or that, quite frankly, you are completely an adult..."

    I experienced this attitude a lot while spending time in rural Pennsylvania. I don't know if it was a rural attitude, an evangelical attitude, or both, but it left me very annoyed.

    I think evangelical Christians emphasize marriage and childbearing for two reasons. One, it increases future church membership (or they think it will), meaning more future tithers. Second, a subculture that places great emphasis on rigid gender and family roles will look askance at people whose lives aren't defined by either.

    1. So you think it's both to advance the faith, and to carry own the traditional patriarchial culture that they have?

    2. Headless Unicorn GuySeptember 13, 2013 at 7:05 PM

      "I think evangelical Christians emphasize marriage and childbearing for two reasons. One, it increases future church membership (or they think it will), meaning more future tithers."

      The formal name for this is "Bedroom Evangelism". The dark side of this is the Quiverfull Movement in Dominionism to literally "Outbreed the Heathen".

  2. Sheldon,

    You made the same mistake with Proverbs 22:6 that the Christians do. They seem to conflate it with the "parable"* of the prodigal son. The verse does not say they will wander away and come back. It implies they will NEVER depart.

    Otherwise, good post!


    *The paragraph starts: "And he said, A certain man had two sons". There is no indication this is a parable. Just a minor fundie detail I bring up when debating about what the bible presents as literal and what it presents as figurative.

    1. Yes, I think I was relying more on modern interpretation. Yes, many fundies do equate it with the prodigal son parable, and think that though there may be a time of rebellion, the son/daughter will come back eventually.

  3. thank you for speaking up about this. Yes, its so true. I'm going against God's will for not getting married yet. lol

    1. Lol. I'm only 24, and like I said, the woman in this story, "Miranda" is only 21, and yet we are both hearing this from our families. It's ridiculous. I wonder if part of it is due to the fact that many people of the baby boomer generations were treated as adults at young ages (no "helicopter" parenting then), and got married, had children, etc much younger.

      My mom was 18, and my dad was 21 when they were married, I guess they are stuck in many ways of thinking that the world now isn't much different.

  4. I wonder if the thing about not having any unmarried pastors has as one of its reasons a reactionary attitude about the Catholic church and their celibate priests?

    1. I wonder, some Protestants try to blame the Catholic church's sexual abuse scandals on the celibacy that is forced on priests, but the rampant abuse in some Protestant denominations really disproves that....

    2. Headless Unicorn GuySeptember 13, 2013 at 7:03 PM

      Julia, I understand that was exactly how it started. Since the Catholic Church (the only game in town until then) required its clergy to be celibate, having married clergy announced Which Side You Were On.

      The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648, and to this day you find those who still haven't gotten the news. (Or got it and don't care, they're still fighting.)

      As for Catholic celibacy, it originated partly because Christ and several of the apostles (including Paul) were single and Paul recommended singleness as the better state. (There was also a lot of hostility towards this new sect popping up, and staying single meant you wouldn't leave a widow and kids if you got nailed. Or have them get nailed alongside you.)

      Plus there was a practical consideration: In that time, political and spiritual power was inherited like any other personal property. Requiring celibacy meant a clergyman would have NO legitimate heirs to inherit his position. (Contrast with Islam, whose Shia-vs-Sunni blood feud is a 1300-year-old inheritance fight over who are the true heirs of Mohammed; and the Arab/Israeli wars are an older inheritance blood feud over who is the true heir of God's promises to Abraham -- Isaac (the Jews) or Ishmael (the Arabs and by extension Muslims).)


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