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Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity


In a crass world that debases everything beautiful and holy from the innocence of children to the sacredness of life to the beauty of nuptial love, Dr. Esolen's book restores the nobility of love to the realm of marriage and the family. 

esolenmarriageDefending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity, by Anthony Esolen (Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2014), 175 pp. $14.95. Available at or 1-800-437-5876.

With conviction, passion, and incisiveness, he confronts all the platitudes and rationalizations that undermine the morality, social value, and civilizing influence of traditional marriage.

Arguing, first, that "We must not give the Sexual Revolution the force of irrevocable law" — the revolution that has made a mockery of purity, chastity, fidelity, self-respect, and reverence — he explains that the widespread modern attack on marriage has assumed a force that amounts to a combination of "cultural" influences that rob romance of its wonder and mystery celebrated in the great poets who honor the sublimity and miracle of love.  The passages from Spenser's Epithalamion and Shakespeare's The Tempest he cites provide a glimpse of the magnificence of human love that has disappeared from contemporary culture.

The aberration known as the sexual revolution, for all its propaganda and popularization, cannot prevail against the eternal truths and natural laws that govern true romance and holy matrimony: "We cannot have a culture of marriage and family and a pseudoculture of divorce and abortion . . . a culture of marriage and family and a pseudoculture of indifference with regard to male and female . . . a culture in which purity is held up as an ideal and a pseudoculture of pornography."

For all its popular glamorization the sexual revolution cannot pass the test of common sense: "Lust is a liar," and when couples pretend to love and give outside of marriage or marry without the full gift of self, then it follows that "I am putting on an act."  Each of the 12 arguments in the book exposes some fallacy about love or marriage that lacks intellectual honesty.

Arguing, second, that "We must not enshrine the principle that sexual gratification is a personal matter only, with which society has nothing to do," Esolen recalls the great tradition that envisions marriage as a cosmic event — not as the mere consent of two individuals but as a cooperation with Nature's laws of fruitfulness and as an institution that contributes to the common good of extended families and all of society.

Common sense knows that marriage affects more than one family.  It touches a whole network of relationships and unites the generations.  Only marriages produce natural families, and any redefinition of marriage as an "evolving" institution or as artificial "construct" only contradicts the self-evident: Stable marriages promote the health of a society and afford children the greatest chance of happiness and success.

Observing the destructive effects of new theories of marriage, Esolen asks about all these experimental relationships, "In what sphere does this brave new family govern? What great things has it built, economically or socially?"

Arguing, third, that "We should not drive a deeper wedge between men and women," Esolen again appeals to the plain truth: physically, emotionally, and psychologically man and woman complement one another: "Yet nature is what nature is."  Men and women are intended and designed for one another: "Each then becomes a gift for the other, and the gift is inseparable from the difference in sexual being."  The sexual revolution, however, has degraded men and women's views of each other so that they view one another as predators or objects of pleasure and never contemplate the glory and dignity of the opposite sex.

The revolution even denounces the idea of gender as intrinsic to human nature as "young people are now encouraged to craft their own 'genders'. . . ."  Nature and God did not intend single-parent families, women in combat, or men without wives and families to dissipate the "dull hours in frivolity and destruction."  Instead of liberation the sexual revolution has produced only division and alienation.

Arguing, fourth, that "We must recover the virtues of modesty and purity," Esolen laments the contraceptive mentality, the cohabitating relationship, and the promiscuity encouraged by the sexual revolution as shams — gestures of lovemaking without any acts of love: "To embrace in mock-marriage is like sowing seeds in the snow or tearing unripe fruit from the tree."

When these virtues lose respect or become marginalized as "old-fashioned" or puritanical, they lack the educational power to shape culture and custom.  What remains is "a perverse anti-culture" haunted by loneliness and isolation.

Citing Shakespeare's portrayal of the miracle of love in The Tempest, he contrasts the secular image of sexuality with the purity of the relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda who remain chaste until marriage ("It is not casual"), who anticipate the oneness of marital love in self-giving ("It is not anti-climactic"), who love one another without the motive of lust ("It is not the act of a heedless animal"), and who accept the fertility of marriage (never "thrusting the possibility of a child out of the imagination as a horror").

When these virtues lose respect or become marginalized as "old-fashioned" or puritanical, they lack the educational power to shape culture and custom.  What remains is "a perverse anti-culture" haunted by loneliness and isolation.

Explaining, in the seventh argument, that "We must not seal ourselves in a regime of divorce," the author acknowledges the timeless value of the sacredness of the home commemorated in the ancient world by the honoring of the household gods: "There are no gods of the city if there are no household gods first."

While all cultures sense the sacredness of marriage as a dramatic event that touches the transcendent ("the intersection, in marriage, between time and eternity"), a society of no-fault divorce has no vision of love's infiniteness or indissolubility, no grasp of the human need for the stability and permanence of a home.  The regime of divorce produces pathological symptoms: a 40 percent rate of children born out of wedlock, impoverished fatherless families, and prisons filled with sons who grew up without both parents.

In a culture of divorce no one trusts the integrity of vows, and "the sexual gratification of adult must be met" at the sacrifice of the happiness of children.  The upshot of a society of no-fault divorce is "chaos and alienation" with no cultural traditions or moral norms to counteract the temptation of seeking divorce for unjustifiable reasons and living solely for self-interest.

Clearing The Mind

In the final chapter, "The Beauty of the Country of Marriage," Esolen captures the enchantment, mirth, and goodness of marriage that elude the apologists of the sexual revolution.  With great poetic eloquence he glimpses the heavenly image reflected in all marriages that honor their vows, cherish children, and discover the riches of indissoluble family bonds.

In this country young brides and bridegrooms embrace the great adventure of marriage even though they have no wealth.  They do not wait 20 years to meet the perfect person because, in all humility, "they know that anyone they marry is going to be a sinner and fool, too, and that instructs them in generosity and forbearance."  Life in this country breathes the air of reality.

In the final chapter, "The Beauty of the Country of Marriage," Esolen captures the enchantment, mirth, and goodness of marriage that elude the apologists of the sexual revolution. 

Men and women thank God for one another, admiring and appreciating each other's special gifts and talents.  They honor vows with no regrets about their commitments.  They welcome children and do not live anxious lives fretting about saving money for their children's college educations or limiting their families because of careers or personal ambitions.  They practice the art of living: "The quickest path to happiness is to forget yourself and give yourself away for the happiness of somebody else."

In this country everyone knows that marriage offers life's greatest sources of contentment and inspires the subject matter of great stories — all worthy of retelling with wonder and remembering with gratitude because they participate in the higher laws of Mother Nature and the divine mysteries of God the Father: "They are a chapter in a story they have received and not made, and whose end they will not see in this world."

Defending Marriage, then, "clears the mind of cant" — a virtue the eminent Dr. Johnson made famous by exposing sheer nonsense, hollow sentimentality, abstract theories divorced from reality, and clever sophistry.  Dr. Esolen also does not tolerate foolishness, ignorance, or immorality gladly.  With courageous honesty and Quixotic daring he sallies forth to do heroic battle with all the giants, demons, and sorcerers that poison the goodness of life and pervert God's plan for marriage and the family.

A masterpiece of apologetics, all 12 arguments justify God's all-wise, all-loving plan for marriage as a divine work of art. 



kalpakgianMitchell Kalpakgian, "Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity." The Wanderer (March 9, 2015).

Reprinted with permission of The Wanderer and the author, Mitchell Kalpagkian. 

The Author

kalpagianMitchell A. Kalpakgian was Professor of English at Simpson College (Iowa) for 31 years. During his academic career, Dr. Kalpakgian received many academic honors, among them the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Fellowship (Brown University, 1981); the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship (University of Kansas, 1985); and an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Institute on Children's Literature. He is the author of The Marvelous in Fielding's Novels and The Mysteries of Life in Children's Literature. His favorite activities include writing, long distance running, and coaching soccer.

Copyright © 2015 The Wanderer
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