The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
Traditional marriage is a term we’ve heard from Christians a lot recently. And it’s a whole bunch of bullshit. The contractual joining of couples popped up a few thousands years before Young Earth Creationists even think the world existed, and the modern wedding is a Frankenstein of historical traditions. Yet I, an atheist, still want to get married.
I want to preface this all by saying that I’m not trying to bash marriage here whatsoever; my social upbringing has instilled in me the desire to someday be a bride. I know it’s not necessarily a greater emotional commitment – getting a wedding license doesn’t automatically guarantee a lifelong love stamp, and we see superficial celebrity weddings all the time while unmarried couples might be together for half a century. Still, envisioning myself with a purple bouquet surrounded by friends and marrying the person I love really tugs at my heartstrings.
What I am going to do is look briefly at where marriage came from, what it has to do with religion(s), and give you my perspective on why it’s so important, even to a cynical atheist psychologist like me.
Marriage is not a Christian institution, despite what some Americans may say to the contrary. Hell, the Church didn’t even get involved with it until after the fall of the Roman Empire. We have marriage contracts from over two thousands years before wee baby Jesus even made an appearance. In fact, it’s a big ol’ hodgepodge of cultural ideas that have been condensed into what we see today.
With this ring, I thee wed…
The engagement or wedding ring itself is found in ancient Egypt, the Roman empire, and pre-Christian Hebrew weddings, often as a sign of ownership. Additionally, its placement upon the left ring finger is quite possibly due to the old belief that this finger contained a vein leading directly back to the heart.
And what about that diamond? This is a fairly recent addition to the custom of engagement rings; one that was completely made up by De Beers jewelers to create a market for recently discovered gemstones in Africa. Oh well, I still want one.
Somehow today this is now interpreted as demonstrating “submission to God’s authority over their marriage… represents resources…” and is apparently symbolic of God’s rainbow-ring covenant with Noah. What?
You may now kiss the bride…
Wedding veils are weird. Are they to hide the fact that I’m crying uncontrollably with happiness? Maybe just to ensure that my new husband isn’t a clumsy buffoon who can’t figure out how to lift some lace before he gets to kiss me? Nope, this comes from our neighbors in Europe. Historically, many women wore small facial veils all the time in places like Greek and Rome. On the wedding day, a special yellow veil was used, to ward off evil spirits. But, like all things, it magically got a Christian facelift and now has something to do with purity and virginity and the fact that all the most sacred wonder-lovely things are veiled. And also, we share the power of creation with God, so we should wear our veil with pride, because the only other people that can wear hats in church are at the top of the food chain. Again, I say… what? Even the meaning behind common wedding flowers comes from the Greeks…
But how did we ever even get this idea to join two people together in some lifelong commitment thing? It’s from thousands of years ago, when our ancestors were living as nomadic hunter-gatherer groups. These groups were small and would quickly become a single related family if not for the trading of reproductive-aged youth. In regions where groups would frequently come into contact these exchanges became very strategic political alliances and had absolutely nothing to do with love. Romance didn’t really enter the picture until the 17th or 18th century, and wives were still extraordinarily submissive into the 20th.
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of my perspective on this…
“Traditional marriage” is a crock of shit. There is no such thing.
The authority many religious folks tend to claim over marriage is also complete nonsense, seeing as weddings were taking place in societies with religions that are all but extinct today.
Love is a beautiful thing, unique to each individual. So long as I’m not infringing on anyone else’s rights, I can celebrate and express my love however I damn well please. Religion can butt out, seeing as it only slithered its way in a few centuries ago.
I am an atheist who still wants to get married someday. Why? It’s part of my society, the norms that shaped who I am. Marriage is an inward and outward expression of devotion and loyalty. The traditions and symbols are completely ambiguous and objectively meaningless, but that’s all that culture is anyway.