Imperfect contrition and marriage, or, why positivists don’t have to go to Hell
May 21, 2013 § 11 Comments
Thus, in effect with the advent of no-fault divorce, marriage has effectively ceased to exist, one’s marital contract is simply an illusionary contract, not a real contract at all. Thus when marital obligations gets subverted by “feelings” or “wants”, etc, it ceases to be an obligation, and thereby ceases to be a marriage in the first place. A promise to do something with the clause that, “provided I feel like it”, is not a promise at all, it is an illusionary promise.
This can only make sense if we take marriage – or consensual commitments more generally, for that matter – to be things which come into existence based on State enforcement. This can only make sense if we are incapable of distinguishing between the actuality of a commitment and the enforcement of that commitment by some external authority. This can only make sense if we have no concept of actual morality at all: if moral obligation is not deontologically objective reality, but rather is merely a matter of the selfish avoidance of personal negative consequences: in short, if the only reason to do good and avoid evil is to escape punishment by the State.
A promise which is broken doesn’t cease to exist as a moral object. Nor do the eternal consequences of breaking it. Whether that promise is or is not enforced by some earthly authority or other is just a side show: a given authority’s failure to enforce may represent the self-destruction of that authority; but it cannot, in any way, affect the existential reality of the promise.
In Catholic moral theology we have the concept of imperfect contrition: that is, being sorry for sin out of a fear of punishment. Fortunately, when combined with a valid Sacramental Confession, imperfect contrition is sufficient for forgiveness. Christ is truly just that merciful, that generous in the Sacramental graces offered to anyone and everyone who approaches the successors of the Apostles to have their sins sacramentally forgiven, the only condition being imperfect contrition and a firm purpose of amendment. (Those who need to receive Christ’s forgiveness outside of the Sacrament of Confession, such as our Protestant brothers and sisters, require perfect contrition — a digression for another day).
But government edicts, actions, and inactions are not Sacraments. King Henry cannot – literally cannot – unmake his marriage, assuming its validity at the time it was contracted, in an act of sovereign Will.
Those prophets of postmodernity, Soul Asylum, once lamented:
Trying to do the right thing, play it straight. The right thing changes from state to state.
People with the understanding that obligation literally doesn’t exist without State enforcement are bound to think that way. But back here in reality, any marriage which can be unmade by the will of the State is not true marriage. It was never true marriage in the first place.