September 23, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 9)

PART IX: Chapter 8 - "'Jesus Is All You Need'" (All You Need Is Love)

At the beginning of Chapter 8 in Getting Serious about Getting Married, Debbie Maken discusses how others treated her when she was single. Consider her reaction to the people who questioned her about her love life:
"'Seeing anyone special?' As a single woman, it seemed like parents, married friends, single friends, coworkers, and the rest of the world were bent on ferreting out every detail of any potential man in my life. Didn't people have anything else to ask me about--my job, my Bible study, the weather?" (p. 105)
What I find so interesting about this opening statement is that Debbie Maken admits to being uncomfortable with the treatment she received. I say this, because now that Mrs. Maken is married, she seem more than eager to encourage the same kind of meddling in the affairs of single people that she chafed at in her younger years. Her proverbial ox isn't getting gored; it's someone else's reputation that can now be carved up. I indeed wonder if Mrs. Maken ever considered that the question, "Seeing anyone special?" is not as half as brash and prying as asking a man "what kind of eunuch" he is.

At any rate, Mrs. Maken goes on to discuss others who, when questioned about their singleness, seem to be much more positive and accepting of their condition than Mrs. Maken was when she had no husband. Mrs. Maken dismisses the claims of these people with skepticism. That many people can find peace and contentment in their singleness is apparently unfathomable to her.

Don't They Know It's the End of the World?

Perhaps many of my readers are too young to remember a Skeeter Davis tune called "The End of the World." It's an early sixties pop song, a paean to adolescent angst and unrequited love. Over pensive strings, the female vocalist laments, "Don't they know it's the end of the world/'Cause you don't love me any more?" It seems the same maudlin tone undergirds Mrs. Maken's narrative in Chapter 8. From pages 107 to 108, Mrs. Maken details the sad and lonely lives of single women. We are lead to believe that their unhappiness underscores the futility many face in trying to find contentment in singleness. As sad and lonely as these women are, is their pain any more noteworthy than the pain others suffer in this life?

If Mrs. Maken thinks her tales of woe are a compelling case for her radical views on marriage, she is wasting her ink. True, single women are unhappy, but single men are unhappy, too. Married people are unhappy. Divorced people are unhappy. Widows and widowers are unhappy. Poor people are unhappy. Rich people are unhappy. The list goes on. If a man or woman wants to use Mrs. Maken's book as an excuse to be miserable, there is little I can do about that. However, I don't have to jump over the cliff with the others and fool myself into thinking a wedding is the magic bullet for any bleak outlook on life a person might have. At the end of the day, one's happiness is largely based on one's attitude more than it is on externalities.

I concede that women have a right to admit their loneliness and longing for a spouse, just as men do. They have a right to pursue marriage if they desire it, just as men do. What women don't have right to do is to assume that God expects most of humanity to be married or that men have an obligation to wed them.

Mrs. Maken says, "Women are waking up to find that feminist ideology has not satisfied their inner woman" (p. 108). Why didn't these women wake up when men and children were suffering as a result of feminism? How odd that it is only now that many women are changing their tune, muffling any brash talk about "independence" and analogies regarding fish and bicycles. Women have done a stellar job in demonizing and ostracizing men for over three decades. During this time, men's concerns have largely been deemed to be unimportant. It remains to be seen whether a significant number of women are now going to start paying attention to the concerns many men have, even as these same women are embracing a form of neo-traditionalism. In short, the talk of how happy or unhappy single women are represents just one piece of the larger puzzle that confronts us as a society. Their feelings are worth consideration, but not to exclusion of what men are experiencing.

All You Need Is Love

There is a prevailing sentiment in our society that everyone needs the physical and emotional intimacy that only a "significant other" can provide. Even among unbelievers, this notion is widely embraced. When is the last time you heard a man sing on the radio about how he doesn't need a woman?

Debbie Maken's book falls into the same mode of thinking. She says, "God did not design the vast majority of us to be content without a marriage partner. God designed the spouse-shaped void to be filled by a spouse" (p. 111). How does Mrs. Maken propose to fill the "spouse-shaped void" of those who don't win the popularity contest with the opposite sex? What about women with physical defects or men who don't have the mental capacity to provide for a family? What do we do with those who have been unscripturally divorced and cannot reconcile with their ex-spouses? They cannot remarry (Matthew 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:10-11), so what options do they have? Are all of the aforementioned people barred from cultivating the spiritual fruits of joy and peace in their lives because of their martial status (Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:6-7)? Are they incapable of having the great gain that comes from godliness with contentment (1 Tim. 6:6)?

The Bible informs us that the commandments of God are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). Yet, I am left to infer from Mrs. Maken that single people cannot but find their existence to be a burden. Are we to assume that the dissatisfaction and sexual impurity of unmarried people underscores the uselessness of calling them to chastity and learning to rest in the Lord? In short, has God failed single people? I think not. In actuality, the "spouse-shaped void" of which Mrs. Maken speaks can be filled to a great extent without the benefit of a marriage. It can be filled when people realize that marriage is not necessarily a gateway to happiness or success. It can be filled when we reject the lies our popular culture tells us about needing physical intimacy. It can be filled when people start taking responsibility for their own contentment and peace, instead of foisting their responsibility on the opposite sex. When we start living proactively in this regard, the "spouse-shaped void" can look rather small after a while.

Name It and Claim It vs. Claim Her and Name Her

Mrs. Maken goes on to say something about optimism and religion:
"Somehow we've come up with the idea that the spiritually mature person will experience joy all the time and in every circumstance. By implication, bitterness, sorrow, and unhappiness have become indicators of spiritual immaturity, signs that faith is severely lacking.

"This undeclared war on negative emotions is merely another manifestation of the health and wealth gospel that has run amuck. Are you sick? You must not have enough faith that Jesus can heal you. Are you poor? Examine your life for disobedience and get back in line. Are you sad about being single? You must not be trusting God to meet your need for a spouse. No wonder we're surrounded by people who find themselves exclaiming, 'No valleys for me, buddy!'"
(p. 112)
I am glad that Mrs. Maken takes aim at prosperity theology; however, I could easily imagine a religionist saying: "Are you sad that women don't pay attention to you? You must not be trusting God enough and are not fulfilling your Biblical mandate to seek a wife!" Instead of categorizing this position as the "name it and claim it" approach of prosperity theology, we could use the phrase "claim her and name her" (as in a woman taking a man's last name). Mrs. Maken fails to realize that the marriage mandate theology to which she subscribes is actually a sibling of the "health and wealth gospel." The former has the same naive optimism, overemphasis on earthly blessings, and false standards of piety as the latter.

To Mrs. Maken's credit, her criticism of what I would call "emotional correctness" in religion is warranted. The idea that Christians must "grin and bear it" and deny any feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, fear, etc. is unscriptural and downright absurd. Anyone who believes that Christians must be joyful in all circumstances needs to read Eccles. 3:4 (as Maken notes), the Psalms, or even the account of our Savior's emotional anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just the same, single men have been attacked by the agents of "emotional correctness" like women. When men voice their concerns about how they are treated by women and society, they are dismissed as bitter "whiners" who can't get anyone to date them.

Furthermore, why does Mrs. Maken advocate the "claim her and name her" approach for men but allow women to take what I would call the "blame him and shame him" approach? She says at the bottom of p. 114, "Feeding our frustration towards men in protracted adolescence can result in the misguided belief that we're better off without them or that we as single women are somehow better than single men." What effect does she think her book will have in this regard? Is Mrs. Maken not the same woman who, in Chapter 4, targeted single men and their supposed "lack of male leadership" as the "true cause of protracted singleness"? I find her book to be little more than an invitation for women to sink into despair and animosity towards men.

Seeking One's Desire and Seeking God

When considering the matter of contentment, it is best to look at life as a game (see 1 Cor. 9:24-25). We should play by the rules of the Creator, do our best, and live with the outcome like a good contestant. In this fashion, we can avoid the extremes of complacency on one hand and bitterness on the other hand.

I think Mrs. Maken is right to challenge the notion that we must be resigned to live with whatever situation life throws at us. She speaks of the self-defeating approach some take to marriage in this regard: "Many of us have been taught that we must become completely neutral or numb to the idea of marriage before God will bless us with it" (p. 116). Clearly, this line of thinking is unprofitable, yet we must also note that our desires cannot dethone our allegiance to our Creator. Again, there is a balance to be struck between complacency on one hand and bitterness on the other hand (or covetousness for that matter).

With regard to the matter of pursuing marriage, Mrs. Maken is right to make a distinction between "self-interest" and "selfishness." As she says, "Self-interest is not selfishness. Self-interest only becomes unholy when we organize our lives apart from God" (Ibid.). Far be it from me to question the desire many people have for a spouse. I only wonder why Debbie Maken and those of her persuasion do not return the same courtesy to those will not marry and/or have children. Single people and childless couples are frequently belittled as being selfish. In fact, I suspect the charge of selfishness is often raised as prima facie evidence that single people and childless couples are living in sin. Will we judge others with the same measure by which we want ourselves to be judged (Matt. 7:2)?


At the end of Chapter 8, Mrs. Maken raises the ugly specter of those who teach the "doctrine of demons" by forbidding others to marry (1 Tim. 4:15). She writes:
"I anticipate that those who defend the status quo on singleness will retort that they did not forbid marriage but only told singles to not overelevate marriage in hopes that then they would be not be overly disappointed for not being married. In other words, be neutral. We cannot escape the fact that this new doctrine actually creates an artificial tension between the Maker and something that he declared to be good. They make marriage to appear to be in competition with the One who made it. It is not." (p. 117)
Mrs. Maken is simply raising a straw man here. Teaching someone to prioritize their desires in life is a far cry from telling them to be neutral to what they would otherwise want. Teaching someone the value of contentment is not the same as embracing resignation. Mrs. Maken decries the "artificial tension" some supposedly place between God and marriage. I will simply say that our Lord himself suggested some tension in Luke 14:35: "If anyone comes after Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (NKJV). We should not take Jesus' statement as a total rejection of marriage and family, but these things cannot be seen as necessary avenues of sanctification. They must be put in their proper place.

Mrs. Maken's mistake is rejecting one extreme for another. True, the fatalism that many singles have about their situation is not necessary. Jesus does not demand that we negate every single desire we have in life for things other than him. But we must desire his will even more than our own. We must not become bitter when life does not reward us with what we want. We must not assume that we are entitled to partake of the blissful fruits of matrimony. Many people are aware of the prayer that asks God to grant the wisdom to discern between those things one can and cannot change. Let us have the same attitude towards our marital status. Our desires for many things in this life are lawful, but in the end, Jesus is most assuredly "all we need."

September 8, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 8)

PART VIII: Chapter 7 - "'Wait on the Lord'" (Act Now Before It's Too Late)

Chapter 7 of Debbie Maken's book is puzzling to me. We are asked on p. 97, "Does God really seek indefinite waiting on the part of single women to get married? Does God really seek unlimited patience in waiting for Mr. Right to appear?" Mrs. Maken consequently spends the rest of the chapter exhorting her audience to be more proactive about getting married.

Wait on the Lord ... Or Wait on the Men?

Here's the ironic part: There is a doctrine, popular among Evangelicals, which equates initiation of romantic relationships with male leadership. Men must make the first move in a love affair according to this line of thinking. In order to give this doctrine legitimacy, many religious pundits scour the Old Testament for examples of how women and men engage in courtship. Awkward situations like Ruth approaching Boaz are explained away in one fashion or another. Other passages like Proverbs 18:22 are given a secondary meaning. The saying that "whoever finds a wife finds favor with the Lord" is reinterpreted from a promise to a commandment that men must be the ones doing the finding. Like many commentators, Debbie Maken believes men must take the initiative in forming relationships with women. Hence we have a paradox. Debbie Maken doesn't want women to be passive about their situation, but her views on courtship demand just that.

I know that Mrs. Maken feels that women can be more proactive by doing such things as demanding "accountability" from men. However, many women already complain enough as it is about single men failing to commit. I don't see how more of the same is going to help the situation. A single woman may come up with some stratagems for getting men to become more serious about marriage, but that doesn't mean men will become more serious about her. Debbie Maken simply fails to give women any meaningful tools for encouraging men to approach them. At the end of the day, a single man may be more devoted to the cause of marriage and yet excuse his personal situation by simply noting that he "hasn't found the right one." I daresay that Mrs. Maken and others could say nothing to him. Pious platitudes are one thing; individual application is another.

The High Cost of Waiting and the High Cost of Everything Else

In Chapter 7, Mrs. Maken notes the costs that come with delaying marriage. These include decreased opportunities for childbearing; more years of sexual frustration and temptation; lost opportunities for shared experiences with a spouse; increased difficulty in changing behavioral patterns that develop while one is single, etc. We have to grant that these concerns are legitimate. However, these are also the high costs of a culture that encourages young women to embrace careerism over relationships. These are the high costs of women who, in their youth, spurn the advances of good men because of mating preferences that are too demanding. These are the costs of women believing what popular culture says about cheating time and "having it all."

Marriage in one's youth has its own costs, too. With youth comes immaturity, and with immaturity comes rash decisions that one may later regret. With younger marriages, the opportunities for certain experiences and self-discovery that come with a single lifestyle are lost forever. Many decisions in life of monumental importance have their own price tag. Mrs. Maken and those like her paint a misleading picture when they conveniently omit these costs from their tally sheet. If there were no costs to marrying young, the women of yesteryear would have never expressed feelings about being trapped, isolated, and oppressed in traditional marriages. People, but especially women in our culture, are going to have to learn that the proverbial grass is not greener on the other side. There is no perfect situation or lasting moments of transcendence this side of eternity. So much of life depends on one's attitude, not upon ideal circumstances.

The High Cost in Dollar Signs - Do We Really Want to Go There?

The other costs of singleness to which Debbie Maken draws attention are the economic and social costs of a dwindling population. Some would have us to be concerned about labor shortages, shortage of consumers, fewer taxpayers, smaller militaries, an increased strain on the Social Security system, etc. Yet as a fiscal conservative, I wonder why I should be worried about there being fewer taxpayers and consequently fewer dollars for a bloated government to funnel into the coffers of bureaucrats. I personally think the military-industrial complex and the welfare machine of the Nanny State could stand to be weaned. Furthermore, why should I be concerned about the market suddenly favoring laborers and buyers; let the captains of our "global economy," the monopolists, and the plutocrats trouble themselves about such matters. Why is there so much urgency to create more babies to promote the interests of the wealthy and powerful? Whose agenda is Mrs. Maken and those like her trying to protect?

I am very concerned when certain commentators who claim to uphold marriage and family betray a very utilitarian viewpoint toward other human beings, and I hope Mrs. Maken has no intention of leaning in that direction. Religious commentators may bemoan the prospect of marriage being seen as a private matter. Granted, in one sense marriage is not private. The married are accountable to God and cannot live without concern for others. Yet in another sense, marriage is private in that it is ordained for the good of the people who enter into it, not for any utility it might have for society. The marriage of a man and woman has worth endowed upon it by the Almighty. If we decry the commodification of sex through pornography, etc., then we must have the same protective attitude toward marriage. We must reject any mindset that would reduce marriage to a mere cog in the larger machinery of culture.

As it is, we've gotten the matter turned around in a typical collectivist, authoritarian approach. People do not exist for the benefit of family and society. Family and society exists for the benefit of people. This is not to say that people should be selfish and live for themselves; it is to say that people have more value in the eyes of God than institutions. Jesus died for individuals, not for a local church, a state, a business, or even a family. Institutions can be reformed, but they cannot redeemed because they will the go way of all the earth.

Even in the Garden of Eden, God did not say, "It not good that there is no one available for marriage, so I'll create people for the institution." No it was the other way around: marriage, like the Sabbath, was created for man. Once family or society ceases to be of benefit to the individuals who constitute these institutions, we must ask if these institutions are acting legitimately or if they are corrupt. As a case in point, if modern marriage has nothing meaningful to offer to men today, we must ask if men should feel any more allegiance to the institution than the Reformers felt to the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Married men are required to honor their vows, but single men are not required to embrace a modern-day travesty of what God intended.

Granted, marriage is valuable for the experience of giving and receiving love when it functions properly. In fact, this is why I take umbrage with those commentators who rail against married people who have no children. Despite the zeal of many of these commentators, their position is unscriptural. Men and women are more than studs and brood-mares. We do not sire younglings for sake of those who rule over us. The Bible speaks of the one flesh relationship as a cause for marriage independent of childbearing (Genesis 2:18-25; 1 Corinthians 7:2-6). Even when Jesus spoke of this relationship in Matthew 19, he mentioned nothing about the need to "be fruitful and multiply." If marriage has no worth apart from procreation and the rearing of children, then the marriages of infertile couples and the elderly are illegitimate and worthy of annulment. Who will defend such a proposition?

Marriage has worth whether it serves the economy or not, whether it serves the church or not, etc. In contrast, a utilitarian subordination of marriage to the interests of society leads us not only to debase, cheapen, and profane marriage, it also lead us down a path where we ironically devalue the very people we claim to cherish: poor people, old people, and children. Let us stop viewing human beings as pawns for the petty ambitions of those in power.

The Mysterious Calling

Debbie Maken, like many religious people, makes liberal use of the term "calling." On p. 101, she remarks, "Marriage is what we're to pursue unless God specifically calls us to be single." Similar talk about being "called to marriage" or "called to singleness" abounds among many other believers. I, however, have yet to find one passage in the Bible that uses either of these catch phrases. In 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, it merely speaks of abiding in the state "in which" a person "is called" (v. 24). How does one get "called" to singleness or marriage as it is? Is there some mysterious revelation about matrimony given to the contemporary believer apart from what is already revealed in the Bible? Where are the scriptures that talk about this type of revelation? Does one get "called to marriage" unless one is not attractive to the opposite sex? Does the "calling" happen about the time puberty commences, and does it wane when one skirts over the age of 35? Seriously, I think some people are confusing their own feelings and subjective experiences with a divine calling.

I suppose Mrs. Maken's book is an attempt to figure out God's "calling" for one's marital status without the need for mysterious revelations. It seems to boils down to the idea that unless your asexual, God expects you to get married. But as I have said repeatedly, her exegesis of the Scriptures doesn't support her case. Perhaps there are some who are going to come away frustrated from what I said, wondering how they will ever know if they should marry or not. I suppose Job was frustrated, too, since God never bothered to tell him why he was suffering. As it is, God never promised us a detailed road map for our lives to make the task of decision-making a cakewalk. I already warned against trying to peer through the heavens the way some peer into Magic 8-balls. Let us be content with the assurance God has given to his people about all things working together for their good (Romans 8:28), and leave the secret things to him.

Those Who Just Can't Wait

Mrs. Maken concludes Chapter 7 with the following thoughts:
"It's time for us to recognize that marriage is God's will for our lives and begin to pursue what God has in store for us. Passively waiting for what God has declared to be his will can only result in paying a price that is far too high ...

"In creating us for marriage, God had something truly divine in mind. When we see something ahead that God has told us is in store for us, let's act like kids on Christmas morning and run as fast as we can to get what he has prepared!"
(pp. 102-103)
I am a bit amused by this display of effervescent optimism. If we are to believe Mrs. Maken, marriage is everything great and a bag of chips on the side, too. I'll just note that as I write this, Mrs. Maken has not been married for a long time. I wonder what her attitude about marriage will be like seven years from now.