I’m probably the most traditional leftist-atheist you’ll ever meet.
But I also think it’s a myth that atheists are amoral. We all have to live in this world, so I’d prefer it not be a brutal, backstabbing place. Even very young children cry when Bambi’s mother dies.
Not because they fear punishment or want rewards in the afterlife, but because they aren’t sociopaths. They have empathy, like undamaged people do.
And likewise, I believe some traditionally-Christian morals are great ideas, because they prevent social chaos. You have to wonder how many biblical demands are holy, or, like Leviticus’ ban on pork in the days before refrigeration in the desert, are just common sense guidelines derived from many years of trial and error.
So lately, I’ve found myself in the strange position of constantly defending the institution of marriage when it’s been brought up in discussions about whether or not it’s a useless, outdated concept.
Frequently, it’s stated in terms of “I can’t see any real benefit to getting married” or simply, “what’s the point?”
Usually, marriage defenders vaguely counter with romantic motives that eventually crystallize into religious decree, which makes it seem as though religion is the only real point to getting married…
Except I’m an atheist who firmly believes in marriage. Let me explain why:
I think various cultures with a vast range of belief systems have been experimenting with how to create stable societies for thousands of years. Nearly all of them, across the world, reached the conclusion that marriage is a good idea, and that’s no accident.
You see, for any society to continue existing, we have to make more people. Babies take an enormous investment of time, energy, attention and resources. If they turn out badly, the next generation will have a lot of problems to deal with.
So, in a small-scale society where everyone shares responsibility and resources, maybe marriage isn’t necessary, depending on cultural attitudes toward infidelity and the like. But in a complex society that recognizes personal property, marriage provides a stable family unit and clearly-defined roles and responsibilities.
Because if a bunch of people start running around having a bunch of kids, who is going to take care of them? Who pays for them? Say a woman (or a man) either stays home with the kids or takes a job with flexible hours (i.e. lower pay) to devote their time to the offspring, then what happens when their spouse abandons everyone?
If one parent shoulders the burden alone, then they’re under great strain. The kid grows up poorer, getting less attention from either parent, and society is left dealing with however the kid turns out. Kids growing up in poverty with a stressed parent are more likely to have behavioral problems, limited opportunities, and turn to a life of crime. And a parent who doesn’t take responsibility for their offspring is more likely to have a bunch of offspring because they aren’t facing any repercussions for doing it.
Even a single parent who is nobly managing the situation well is getting a raw deal. Even if she’s receiving child support, she still has to balance a career with all of the time and energy a child demands. If the father of her child runs around making children with various other women, then he has fewer and fewer resources to devote to the child he made with her.
Say we’re operating under the idea that “no one should be forced to stay wth someone by contract”… well, a woman could devote twenty years of her life with a less prestigious career raising offspring for a man who promptly abandons her once she’s lost her novel glow, without penalty, whereas she’s left at a huge disadvantage in the workforce. She’s risking an enormous amount of personal security on his youthful romantic promise that he’ll be just as devoted to her, decades from now.
And yet in the US, at least, this is all happening in a society that guarantees NO paid maternal leave, pregnancy work protections from dangerous tasks, or reasonable employment benefits to cover family needs. Many will go on public assistance, through no fault of their own other than needing to care of their family, then be ridiculed and generally treated like garbage.
Youthful idealism aside, kids actually do need time and resources which don’t vaporize along with your disenchantment. It’s a significant social issue that we have few constructive ways of fairly handling.
Of course, marriage won’t prevent people from cheating or abandoning their spouses, but social recognition of the institution as well as legal penalties will at least pressure people to work out their problems if it’s at all possible.
And of course, people are better off leaving horrible marriages than staying miserable, but having a legally binding contract will still lessen the rate of people abandoning relationships and their resulting children on a whim.
We could theoretically come up with replacement structures that would render marriage obsolete, but it’s hard to imagine them being anything but collective funds we all contribute to. We could all collectively pay into children’s daycare, education, food, clothing, and housing. Or we could mandate that both parents have to spend equal time and money raising their kids. Or… what?
What’s a better way of handling the issue?
So, I don’t know whether or not marriage will benefit *you* personally, but I think allowing people to leave and enter relationships, have whatever kids they want with however many people, and then abandon the project with even fewer legal responsibilities would led to big problems. Especially without any other organized structure to handle it.