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Cohabiting Faith

Expectations matter. Most marriage ceremonies lie. They don’t set accurate expectations about the cross-pressured nature of marriage. Certainty is not accurate. Nor is it reality. Just look at the parents’ faces at the wedding.

Divorce ranks high as one of the most painful experiences a spouse or child will ever face. It is a prolonged pain and is one that keeps on giving long after the papers have been signed. I know, because I’ve been through it. It led me to the brink of suicide. It was bad.

Where in the wedding ceremony is this cautionary tale told? Forty-eight percent of all marriages will end in divorce, even more for second marriages. There are not many other occasions when we celebrate with such naivete this emotional Russian roulette, six chambers, three bullets. Spin and pull the trigger. Pour me another drink!

New Copernicans are more realistic about relationships and beliefs. They recognize the cross-pressured nature of both. Belief is fused with doubt, and love embraces the possibility of betrayal. Certainty is not in the experiential cards. Contingency hovers over all.

We need to add a cautionary paragraph in the words that fall trippingly off the tongue in the marriage vows: “for better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.” No one thinks about the coming stresses of poverty, bi-polar diagnosis, cancer surgery, or alcoholism. Look again at the faces of the parents at the wedding. Reality has etched itself into their faces in a manner that Botox cannot erase.

One is tempted to say, “Screw marriage.” The existential difference between marriage and cohabitation over time are minimal. In hindsight this view has a kind of logic that is undeniable.

But we don’t treat the carton of eggs we bring home from the grocery store in the same casual manner. Packaged separately from the other groceries, we ask when loading the car, “Where are the eggs?” The reason is because they are fragile and we take that into account in all the ways we handle them.

So too is love. It doesn’t take many lies to destroy trust. Wise marriage counselors have noted that is not who one lies with that matters as much as who one lies to. The betrayal happens long before the affairs begin.

Love needs protection and support. This is why the marriage ceremony is a public event that is solemnized with legal force. It’s an acknowledgement that private commitments between two persons are too weak for the challenge that relationships inevitably encounter. Love is like a carton of eggs, deserving and needing maximum protection from the very beginning.

New Copernicans know that beliefs are also cross-pressured. They accept that relationships are contingent. Cohabitation is to marriage what “spiritual but not religious” is to church or synagogue membership. Many today are hesitant to make a public commitment that cuts against one’s autonomy and freedom. However, one wonders if something important is not being lost. What is more comfortable and easier does not always provide the protection that love and beliefs demands. Since God wants to marry us, it makes me ponder if a cohabiting faith does not have an unrecognized downside. Belief and love need a strong public commitment because the challenges to it are inevitable. Russian roulette with either is not an exchange without consequence.

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