Imperfect contrition and marriage, or, why positivists don’t have to go to Hell

May 21, 2013 § 11 Comments

A common sentiment I’ve seen expressed shows up in the comments of Dalrock’s guest post at the Orthosphere:

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.

§ 11 Responses to Imperfect contrition and marriage, or, why positivists don’t have to go to Hell

  • sunshinemary says:

    This is a good explanation. Just because someone thinks they are divorced doesn’t mean they are. Even though I am a Protestant, I don’t believe divorce is even possible other than in the legal sense. God says we are one flesh; how can we become un-one? That would be like if I said that I didn’t want to be a parent with my husband anymore, so I’m just going to take back my share of the genes that I contributed to make our children. Not possible.

  • Chris says:

    @SSM, the issue of divorce flows from the nature of marriage. Hence Zippy’s comments. And moral theology flows from theology.

    I think that we get our basic theology — if we are raised by believers — in the church we were raised in. So, if raised Catholic, you think that way: if raised reformed, you find yourself returning to that.

    (and when you convert, you have to unlearn. As someone who deviated into pentecostalism before returning to the presbyterian church, I have to watch myself for getting into the prosperity or holiness heresies).

    On marriage, I have found the Westminster Confession comforting. And I have ordered Timothy Keller’s book on this — though I’m not married, obviously, as he is one of the (few) modern reformed theologians who takes scripture seriously.

    If you are Catholic, of course, then there is clear and detailed guidance. For the married, and for the single. But most “Catholics” (not the serious ones, who I respect, but the silly ones) see this as optional. And that is worse that Protestantism — for the Prots (and I am one, natch) consider that scripture and the Spirit of God will guide us to wisdom… while the cafeteria Caths are simply rebelling

  • Elspeth says:

    I’m Protestant and I am another hardliner on the issue of divorce. I am a firm believer that the severing of legal ties does not a true divorce make.

    I don’t believe that every marriage is indissoluble, but I believe the great majority are and that a lot of Protestants are actively engaged in adulterous relationships that they have termed second “marriages”.

  • Black_Rose says:

    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.

    A parish sister once mentioned the an underappreciated fact that it is the prerogative of the priest to withhold absolution when he deems that person confessing a particular sin is not truly contrite (in the sense the person will probably consciously engages in that activity after confession and takes no steps to improve).

  • Rollory says:

    “Whether that promise is or is not enforced by some earthly authority or other is just a side show”

    Right here is the whole problem with your argument. It is precisely that side show that is the motivating factor behind nearly everything that people actually choose to do. It is precisely this side show that motivates divorcing women to make their choices, and motivates divorced men to complain about the system, and unmarried men to think twice about marriage. Only a very slight minority will in actuality govern their actions based on consequences that they do not expect to experience in this life. You can advocate that this minority should be the majority if you wish, but I don’t see any way to credibly claim that it actually is, nor do I see any clear plan for how to convert it into such a majority. That you do not believe this side show SHOULD be the motivating factor behind people’s behavior is absolutely irrelevant to the observable fact that it IS.

  • Dystopia Max says:

    A Catholic should not be making technically correct but practically broken Calvinist absolutist arguments on the sacraments. Next you’ll be telling me that it is faith and faith alone that saves, and that all who look for signs of good works or any other change in the life of the penitent are sinful for even making the suggestion!

    You say that “obligation literally doesn’t exist without State enforcement.” How about “obligation literally doesn’t exist without county judge enforcement?” Or “obligation literally doesn’t exist without immediate and palpable social disapproval?” Or “obligation literally doesn’t exist without my chosen man constantly alphaing me in all the right ways, enabling me to worship and love him instead of bothering to understand any of those hoary historical things about God?”

    I’ll go for “a verbal, written, or sacred contract literally doesn’t exist for a woman without very clear and concrete consequences in real life, or the validation of her feelings of shame for betrayal above the feelings of greed and temporary gain.” It is men who fall in love with pure abstractions and pure promises, It is men who study books of science and law with shining eyes, seeing the future and the past more clearly, it is precisely women who live in the moment and the personal plot and must be guided by a man, lest their trained practicality be overwhelmed by their capricious feelings.

  • Vic says:

    Illusory contracts cannot be enforced and thus the assumed obligation is not real. No imploring to higher causes or the God of creation will stop the state from imprisoning a man, stealing his children and robbing him of his liberty.

    The point isn’t that we should make out commitment before God instead of the state, it’s that the ignoring the evidence of the marriage fallacy is demanding God make good on the farce. He won’t.

    Men. Be warned. Don’t marry.

    Signed, A Married Guy

  • Micha Elyi says:

    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.

    Zippy Catholic

    The lyric (as quoted and removed from its context) is misleading.

    The temporal consequences on this side of the veil of failing to do “the right thing” are what “changes from state to state.”

    “The right thing” itself, does not change no matter what The State says, anywhere.

  • […] 2. Zippy Catholic discussed consensual commitments in general and marriage in particular in a post from a few months ago, Imperfect contrition and marriage, or, why positivists don’t have to go to Hell: […]

  • […] and isn't marriage, and that includes most Christians. Zippy covered this subject before in a post here, I think most will find it worth a read, even if they aren't […]

  • […] – to be metaphysically neutral on marriage contracts – which we’ve discussed here before. Short version: it isn’t a coherent possibility, and many people only cling to it because the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Imperfect contrition and marriage, or, why positivists don’t have to go to Hell at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: