Monday, July 11, 2011

Marital love and death

Scripturally, marriage—and hence presumably also marital and sexual love—stops at death. There is good philosophical reason for this. Sexual love receives its unique identity from the bodies of the two persons. It is plausible that when the body is destroyed at death, the love needs to be transformed. The maximal amount of continuous physical commitment that is possible lasts until the death of one of the parties. Given that romantic love calls for the deepest possible union at all levels of the person, especially including the physical level, it is plausible that romantic love calls for something like this kind of commitment, namely for a marriage “until death do us part.”

Granted, after death, there will be a resurrection of the glorified body, Christians believe. However, marriage is a natural state of human beings, while this resurrection is something supernatural. It is no surprise if marriage does not, then, outlast death.

At the same time, the form of love should always take into account the relevant particularities of the persons’ relationship. One’s love for a deceased spouse, while not a properly marital love, should have a form particular to love for a deceased spouse, a love that differs from the love for a deceased child. In this life, we might call this “widowed love”. We can see that widowed love is not the same as marital love from the fact that widowed love for a deceased spouse can legitimately continue even after the widow or widower remarries. And it is particularly in the case of remarriage that it is essential that the widow love not be a marital love—it is unfortunate to be married to someone who has a marital love for a deceased spouse. The difficulties involved in this change of form in the love help justify the grudging nature of the Church’s traditional acceptance of remarriage after a spouse’s death (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:8-9).

In heaven, the possibility of continuing interaction will presumably transform the widowed love into some other form of love qualified by the shared history of marriage, a form we can only guess at.

5 comments:

Mike A Robinson said...

This was an insightful post for me. It has often concerned me that my deep love for my wife would be severely diminished when we are both in heaven. For me, these suggestions provide some marvelous things to ponder for an optimistic understanding.

Nightvid said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alexander R Pruss said...

I deleted a comment whose tone was not conducive to intellectual discussion.

The substance of the comment was a query as to why theists fear death and are sad at the death of others, given that heaven awaits. This suggested to the commenter that they do not really believe.

In response: There are plenty of analogies available. Let's say you've seen a marksman shoot apples off a thousand people's heads, without hitting a person. Now the apple is on your head. You believe she's going to hit the apple--you've got excellent inductive evidence, after all. But obviously you're still afraid. So fear is compatible with belief.

As for sadness, when we love people, we are often sad when they go on a long trip.

Nightvid said...

A. Pruss,

First, I don't find your "apple to be shot off one's head" argument persuasive, because a probability of around 1/1000 of death is not negligible, being equivalent to the risk of being killed if you drove drunk for thousands of miles.

Also, the "loved ones on a long trip" argument is unpersuasive (or at least needs more to back it up) because of a difference of scale and type of emotion. If one of my (hypothetical, as I am a bachelor) family members went on a long trip (let's say overseas Peace Corps service for 3 years) I would miss being with them, but I wouldn't feel sorry for them (as long as the conditions were reasonably hospitable and humane) and I wouldn't take measures to prevent the trip from happening. By contrast, if they got killed in a car crash at the age of 7, I would feel sorry for their loss of life and also would have done almost anything in my power to stop it from happening had I known in advance.

Based on the reactions in others I see around death, I find it compelling evidence that they are mostly like me in these ways, even if they claim to believe in a general resurrection or afterlife, or, indeed, even believe that they believe in such. This is why I don't believe that they believe what they claim they do about life posterior to death.

By the way, this line of thought is one of the main factors leading to my rejection of religion.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. Well, the apple case is relevant, in that it is possible that someone believes that there is good life after death, but isn't absolutely sure, and this could exactly parallel the apple case. In both cases, a person could believe with a high degree of probability that nothing bad will happen, but will still be terrified of the small probability possibility. In fact, in the apple case one can know that the apple will be hit and still be terrified.

2. Besides, heaven doesn't await everyone, and quite likely many only enter heaven after a significant stint in purgatory.

3. Finally, I wouldn't overuse emotional reactions as a guide to belief. If there was an inch of very clear impact-resistant glass between me and a tiger who didn't know about the glass and was leaping at me, I'd be terrified, no matter how solid the glass.

Our emotions often go with surface seemings rather than our considered beliefs. This is much like the way visual illusions continue to be compelling even when one knows how they work.