Taking a wider Frame of view is wise, and perhaps necessary.
Our Concept of Appropriateness is not so much Ethical, as it is Mythical
Yesterday’s post, The Feminist Life Script (2020 December 17), brought up some sensitive issues about what age a female is ready for marriage.
On the issue of determining the proper age for marriage, one has to be careful about the cultural assumptions, going both ways.
In our culture, it is surely true that teenagers, including female teenagers, are not socially and culturally raised to be ready to be married in their later teen years (15-18), which is probably why so many of the marriages that occur in this age range in our culture do not succeed. The families of origin, and the entire culture, do not foster a readiness for this emotionally and psychologically at these ages, currently, and so trying to force young marriage into that context is a bit, well, forced. In fact, there are some quite powerful social norms that work against this possibility.
At the same time, however, one must be very careful to avoid using absolute terms like “perversion” and the like when referring to the natural attraction, in a purely physical sense, that a heterosexual male feels for a post-pubescent female, regardless of her age. One can say that this is “culturally inappropriate”, and that is true — and it is certainly true that we actively enforce this standard in our culture.
From a wider viewpoint, the standards held by western culture are not universal globally, and this is not merely a matter of “advanced societies”, either, as we can see from looking at Japan’s cultural assumptions in this specific area, which are notably and markedly different from our own.
So it is a very different matter to claim that this is “perverse”, given that perversion is something that is inherently unnatural, inherently deformed. From a Biblical viewpoint, Feminism itself is a true perversion, as it inverts the male-female hierarchy, and such is the present norm, yet we do not view it as such.
Thus, the naturally occurring male physical attraction to post-pubescent females is not perverse, it is merely culturally inappropriate and forbidden, properly, in a culture where humans of that age are socialized as children and are not prepared, by their families or their culture, for relationships of that type with older people.
Surely, St. Joseph himself was not a “pervert” for presumably being attracted enough to the almost certainly mid-teenaged Mary to become betrothed to her, despite being much older than she was. It was a naturally occurring attraction which, in that context, was not culturally inappropriate. It had nothing to do with perversion, one way or another.
The distinction is important, because it is absolutely defamatory to claim that men who are in any way attracted to post-pubescent females who are under the current “legal age” in our culture are therefore “perverse” or “pedophiles”. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are natural and normal male attractions that we put a box around precisely because of the cultural climate we live in, and the fact that this climate, and the families living in it, are not preparing their offspring of this age to be married at this age, full stop. Not perversion, just culture.
Western Culture is the Present Setting of our Life Stories
Which brings us to a more fundamental point.
At some level we are all compromised. There are compromises we choose to live with, based on the culture we live in, and where we personally draw the line in terms of compromises with it that we can live with while being faithful and still active members of this culture.
Marriage is one such area, because it markedly differs with past practice from hundreds of years ago, which suggests that it is not related to the faith, as such. The acceptable marital age has moved up, but rather due to cultural exigencies. Christians adapted to these changes in their habits of the whens and hows as they managed the business of marrying off their daughters (and sons).
While it’s a mistake, in my view, to suppose that the faith mandates marriage at the earliest possible physical age (there’s no reason to think that this is the case), it seems the exact opposite mistake is to suppose that it mandates withholding marriage from our sons and daughters until a certain age, again, as a matter of faith.
It comes down to how much we are of the world, how compromised we are with it, how different we are willing to be from it. Each of us makes our own decisions in these areas. I say that not to point fingers — I am personally no sort of “ultra” in these regards, not at all. But I do think we need to realize that we are all compromised by the culture, and we should resist the temptation to baptize or otherwise bless/sanctify our own reasoned compromises with the culture in which we live, rather than seeing them as just that — personal compromises that we personally judge as being appropriate, based on the culture in which we live and its broader standards. How that fits into our own personal approach to living in the world, but not of it, is necessarily ensconced within the particular time and place of our culture, including all of the norms of said culture.
It is, it seems to me, a matter of drawing lines for pragmatic reasons, and although these lines will be intensely personal and practical, we should see them as such and not baptize them as something more than they are.
- Radix Fidem: How Much Shalom? (2020 December 18)