Friday, February 14, 2014

The Primary Purpose of Marriage

Here we are again: Valentine's Day. Not that Marielle and I celebrate it, but you can't help noticing it in this culture. We never really got into celebrating all those "Hallmark holidays", so it's no big deal to watch this one slide on by. But all the radio shows are talking about love and romance. All the web-sites have something about it. The stores are all decked out for Christmas, minus the green and the tinsel. And here we are, wondering when to use our Groupon for some meal we paid for a couple of weeks ago.

Anyways, all that aside, this is actually something I've been meaning to write about for a while, because the question hasn't so much as come up as been as been merely raised by implication. Are we required, as Baha'is, to have children? It seems like a fairly strange question, but it is actually one that seems to out there. And while the real question is "What is the purpose of marriage", as opposed to the more-often asked "What's the point of marriage", I think I will begin with the first, and then tackle the other two in order.

I'm not sure, but I think this first question comes from the various phrases found in the Writings, such as when the Guardian, in The World Order of Baha'u'llah, refers to "the procreation of children as the sacred and primary purpose of marriage". Or perhaps in one of the prayers for marriage in which it says "Marry, O people, that from you may appear he who will remember Me amongst My servants".

Wherever it comes from, it is easy to read into the Writings that this is the case, but is it really? I wonder. After all, I remember one time when someone tried to tell me that Marielle and I had to have a child as soon as possible for that was the purpose of marriage. They said that if we didn't have children we would be failing in our duty. (Yes, they really did.) I must have had a puzzled expression on my face as I replied, "Does that mean the Guardian did not fulfill the purpose of his marriage?"

So if I presume that the Guardian did not fail in his duty, then how else am I supposed to read these statements about marriage and children?

First of all, I must remind you, dear Reader, that this is only my own personal opinion and nothing official. I may be way off base here, but hey, that's alright.

So, to start, looking back at the first quote, the one from the Guardian, he says that the procreation of children is the sacred and primary purpose of a marriage. Sacred I can understand. The spiritual stuff that is involved in the creation of a child surely warrants calling it sacred. But "primary"? That implies that there is a secondary purpose. And while it is easy to read these statements as saying that the only point to marriage is kids, it's not really what they say.

Oh, and it should be pointed out that we, not only Baha'is but I think people in general, like soundbytes. We like to take something that is a bit complex and simplify it into a simple statement, such as "the purpose of marriage is kids". This is what they have done in books like "A Fortress for Well-Being". If you look at the table of contents in that wonderful book (I do like it despite this one little quirk), it says "The Purpose of Marriage", and then goes on in that chapter to talk only about kids. procreation and education of them.

When we look at something like the compilation put together at the World Centre on "Preserving Baha'i Marriages", they are a bit more thorough. They point out that the Master "describes marriage as 'a true relationship', a spiritual and physical 'coming together', a 'union' that 'will endure' 'in all the worlds of God'." The Guardian describes marriage as a 'divine institution" that "should lead to a profound friendship of spirit, which will endure in the next world". The Universal House of Justice points out that "marriage and family life have a vitally important 'social function' - the perpetuation of the human race and the preservation of social order."

This is a bit more than just "having kids".

So, are we required to have kids? Well, I see nothing in the Writings that insists on it. They surely suggest that it's a good idea, and personally I think kids are great (especially mine), but mandatory? Nope. I don't see it.

So, what, then, is the purpose of marriage? I think there are many purposes. Kids, for sure. But also everything that was mentioned in the paragraph above (you know, the one that had all those quote marks). It's to develop that friendship that endures in the next world, as well as the preservation of social order. It is, also, I believe, to create that "fortress for well-being and salvation" (not just well-being), in which many people can find that refuge from the trials and torments of the world.

Aside - I remember one talk given by a rabbi, in which he said that his wife was more important to him than his kids. The audience began booing him, but he asked them to allow him to explain. He pointed out that if his relationship with his wife fell apart, then neither of them would be strong enough to raise their children in a healthy way. And you know what? I totally agree with him.

Marriage, it should be pointed out, is not just about two people. It is an institution unto itself. In so many letters from the World Centre we read about the three protagonists in the "Plan": the individual, the institutions and the community. As I've said many times, in a family you have the individual members, such as the father, mother, son and daughter. You have the community of the family as a whole. But you also have the institution of the husband and the wife. And when you examine the various roles of these three in the letters regarding the various plans, you can see how these functions overlay into a family, too.

To me, asking the purpose of a marriage is similar to asking the purpose of an Assembly. It is too big an answer to try and give.

Finally, what's the point? Well, if you can't see the point by now, and believe all the stuff in the media about how it is some anachronistic institution designed to keep women in subjugation, I'm not sure I can say anything to convince you otherwise. Let me just say that the friendship that has developed between my wife and I since our marriage has made me very glad that we took that step. Taking that vow before both God and our community, as well as our families and friends, changed something in our relationship, and I'm not sure I can put it into words.

I have a lot of friends out there. People who are very near and dear to my heart. But no one, and I mean no one, is as well embedded in there as my wife. I wish there was another word than "friend", for that applies to too many other people, but if there is, I don't know it. So I will have to be satisfied at knowing that this friendship with my wife is special, and far deeper than any other friendship I have.

And you know what? That's a good enough purpose for me.


  1. Another thing to consider: your spouse will be with you through all the worlds of God; whereas your job as a parent ends at age 15.

    1. Susan, my job as parent sure didn't end when they turned 15; but I get your point.

  2. hey mead, great article as always. and susan, brilliant comment, which raises a question which i hope one or both of you will try to answer...

    say 'person (a)' [nothing will be gender/age specific here] marries with 'person (b)'. they live happily for years, kids and all the rest, etc blah blah but 'person (a)' passes away, due to natural causes. 'person (c)' then meets 'person (b)' at something like a grieving spouse/widow/windower support group and they fall in love and marry. many more years come to pass and both 'person (b)' and 'person (c)' pass away due to old age...

    1. does 'person (a)' wait in some form of neither here nor there limbo for 'person (b)' to begin THEIR journey through the worlds of god?
    2. does 'person (a)' get a memo about 'person (b)' remarrying and move on, like living people try to do?
    3. does 'person (a)' have to accept a third wheel and traverse the worlds of god with 'person (b)' AND 'person (c)'?
    4. does the death nullify the afterworld realm travels?
    5. does 'person (b)' take the trip twice, like a child in a custody battle?

    or should we assume that as genderless, ageless, non-jealous souls who exists in a timeless dimension, this is all just an imagining of a flawed human throught process?

    very interested to get some feedback on this.