A husband comes home from work on a chilly January day. He parks his car, walks up the sidewalk to his front door and unlocks the deadbolt. He removes his heavy coat and scarf, hanging them on the vanity but clutches to his briefcase, neglecting to put it down. As he enters the hallway he hears the muffled sounds of laughs and giggles coming from his bedroom. He starts to walk up the stairs somewhat slowly in an apparent effort not to overly announce his arrival. The sounds get louder as he approaches the end of the hall. He slowly presses the door open, and what we all expect next is happening. His wife and another man are wrapped in each other’s embrace… in his bed… right in front of him.
What happens next?
Well, if this a country song (especially one from the 1960s) then the man draws his 44, which he has on him at all times, and without hesitation unloads every last round on the two people in front of him. Once the neighbors call the police the man is locked up and spends the last few hours before his hanging regretting that he killed his wife and her lover… or he doesn’t regret it, It really depends on the song.
If this is a modern biographical drama then it’s at this moment that the man, without uttering so much as a “what’s going on here?” drops his briefcase and rushes down the stairs, out the door and into his car. He drives straight to his place of employment and tells his boss that he quits the monotonous job that he’s come to hate. He then goes straight to the airport and begins to travel the world to find his true self on the African plains, the Asian steppes and the Paris streets. He finds multiple lovers along the way and finds his true self.
If this is a romantic comedy then the man gets upset. Very upset. But we never really see this part, as it’s just alluded to years later to indicate why he’s so depressed. Another woman (you know, the one he should have been with all along from his hometown) swoops in the save the day and he finds his happily ever after with her.
If this is an academic scholarly journal, TED Talk, an article by the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed or even CNN, then the man tells his wife and her co-adulterer, “Hi!” He then places his briefcase neatly under the windowsill and goes proceeds downstairs to make them both coffee and then start on dinner for three of them… and the kids when they get home from school.
If this is the Old Testament around the time of Moses, Aaron and Joshua, then the man, at the sight of the sin in front of him, wears a agonizing grimace at the realization that his wife has committed not only a crime against him, but against God. He walks slowly out of his tent and proceeds to tell the elders what happened. At this point the two intrepid lovers are frantically dressing and trying to escape what they know is coming – but it’s too late. As they exit the tent they are surrounded by a group of about 15 men, all with large beards and serious eyes. Behind the men are hundreds of other observers. The 15 men ask for three witnesses. The husband steps up with his head down. “I am a witness.” Two Hebrews from the proximate tent step forward, an old couple with sadness on their faces. “We are witnesses,” they both say in low voices. As the disheveled adulterers look around for any hope of salvation, they realize there is no way out. They have been caught in the act. The oldest looking man of the 15 elders sighs deeply. “Outside the camp” he mutters reluctantly. The woman starts to scream, begging mercy – her husband’s eyes start to fill with tears. The other man turns toward the wilderness and starts to walk with his chest puffed and his gaze fixed. The screaming woman is dragged by cloak after him. After about a half mile walk the crowd encircles the two adulterers. The woman stops screaming and begins to quietly weep. The old man reminds the two why they are about to be stoned, reciting the Law. The crowd picks up rocks and begins to throw. One by one the flesh is pummeled, bruising and bleeding. Both of them are knocked to their knees within seconds. The man retains his posture, resolute on meeting his end with some shred of dignity. The woman begins to scream again, but all of a sudden her screams are cut short by a large stone that slams into her temple. Her body hits the ground and blood pours over the dry sand. It’s at this moment that the man, now bleeding profusely, realizes what is about to happen – he is receiving earthly justice, but cosmic justice is waiting for him on the other side of death. His heart jumps into his throat as another stone strikes the back of his head, taking away his vision. As his world quickly fades to black he begs and pleads God with every fiber left in his being to forgive him of his sin – but before his thoughts are completed brain is destroyed by a large stone that hits his forehead… thrown by the woman’s husband.
Let’s just take a moment for a deep breath.
OK, we can now proceed.
Adultery is an incredibly emotionally charged issue. Books, plays, movies, television shows and an innumerable number of songs have been dedicated to the subject. Indeed, most can think of some example of how adultery has affected them, even in some small way. This may be from the mere discomfort of watching a television show or movie where the character you were you were rooting for commits adultery, or by the profound betrayal of having a spouse or parent do so. Growing up in a pastor’s home, I was well aware of infidelity from a young age, often hearing about situations within and without the church that my father was involved as a counselor/go-between. It was always something that made me incredibly uncomfortable – even insecure, regardless of the fact that my parents’ marriage was solid.
From where did this discomfort come? Is the stigma around adultery merely a social construct that should be either ignored or suppressed? After all, monogamy is not the norm, nor has it been throughout the history of the world. If you want a brief overview of the secular view on monogamy, go to youtube.com and search “TED-Talk: monogamy.” You will be presented with a series of talks from psychologists, sexologists and sociologists speaking to the fact that monogamy isn’t “natural” [i] that divorce rates in the US are actually dropping. But does this reflect an increase in faithful marriages or simply a fallen rate of marriage in general? throughout the world today or throughout history, and there may even be benefits to “straying” from one’s partner (again, I would have endnoted this article, but a mere 10 second online search will demonstrate a cornucopia of examples). The message from academia is clear: monogamy is an outdated and backwards idea – we were not meant to live monogamously and the practice is not mirrored in the animal world, and since we are by definition animals, it is not applicable to us either (note: this idea must assume evolutionary psychological principles). The trend within academia is that the culture at large follows academic “research” and theory by about five years – at least by my somewhat subjective estimation from 10 years attending and working in institutions of higher learning. This means that the majority of the generation following millennials will probably assume the maxim that monogamy is an outdated and unrealistic idea – after all, if they’re parents couldn’t stick it out (generation X, Y), why should they assume that they will be able to? It has been noted
There are blatant and gross problems with the attacks on monogamy coming from the halls of institutions of higher learning and newsrooms. First is the problem of consistency. While hypocrisy does not negate the truth, there should be an added degree of skepticism for anyone or any movement that refuses to abide by the standards they advocate for everyone else. The fact of the matter is the majority of those advocating for a lapse in the moral standard of one partner for life generally have one partner for life (recommended reading: Charles A. Murray: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010). We have a situation where those who claim monogamy is a foolish standard and idea are typically monogamous – in other words, they scoff at the standard but prefer to live by it and enjoy its benefits. This typicality extends into many other social issues (abortion, same-sex relationships, transgenderism, drug use, etc.).
The other major problem with the attacks on monogamy stems from a misunderstanding of virtue and goodness. Those within a Judeo-Christian framework will typically understand the fallacy of assuming that something isn’t ideal because it isn’t normal. Indeed, lying and stealing are the norm in every part of the world, yet one would be hard pressed to find a country where there does not exist some type of justice system to sort out the problems caused by such vices. Genocide has been common throughout history, yet few in academic circles would advocate the perpetuation of such upon any people group. Normal does not equal good, in fact, it often (perhaps even usually) equals bad. Time and space restrict further extrapolation, but I could go into the statistical benefits of monogamy as the building block of society and how a two-parent (man and a woman) essentially contribute to the nurture and development of the human family. However, I would like to take a slightly different course.
While a solid case for monogamy could be made by detailing the dangers and outlining the imperfections of anything that’s not monogamy, I think a better course of action is to paint a positive picture of what true monogamy looks like, how beautiful it is and so argue to the point of why it should be maintained as the only standards for love. For those who have a good marriage (they’re spouse is their best friend, true confidant, number one support), trying to express the goodness of their state is almost like trying to explain being in a good relationship with God – only living the same experience can fully prove it. However, from the outside there are still obvious areas of note. For one, monogamy (in the abstract sense) is the only state that truly fulfills the need for companionship by fulfilling every emotional and physical need. It doesn’t always work this way, but the purpose of monogamy is to act as such. Those who have good marriages will attest to this fact – I can attest to it. There is no person on this earth that I love to the degree that I love my wife. I try my best to demonstrate this to her in words and poetry, but the full expression of this feeling requires more than words, as it is a spiritual/metaphysical truth. I would take a bullet for my wife in a heartbeat – I would never have to think about it. This willingness to lay down one’s life for a spouse must be the epitome of human love, indeed as it extends beyond death; monogamous love requires that I also lay down my life on a daily basis, putting her needs, wants and even desires before my own, as the fulfillment of hers becomes the fulfillment of mine (we Christians see this as a direct picture of Christ and the Church, and I would argue this is best understood within a Christian context). However, this companionship also extends beyond sacrificial love: my wife is my best friend. Again, one would have to experience this to really appreciate it fully, but when I got married my time devoted to friends other than my wife changed – it didn’t mean that those relationships mean any less, indeed, they only grow more intimate and special with time, but my wife now has my primary attention and I’m happy to give it – I love to be with her.
Another area that aptly demonstrates the beauty of monogamous love is in sex. Unfortunately, this is probably the area of primary cultural distortion, at least in the Western World. Sex is worshiped in most of our societies as the height of human enjoyment and ecstasy regardless of who one is having sex with – it’s self-fulfillment that matters the most, the other person is merely a tool to get there. If one takes a step back and really considers this view of sex, it’s actually a bit disturbing. It essentially boils human kind down to their most basic urges and then says: “Enjoy yourself! Your sexual expression is the highest form of self-realization. ” I should say upfront that I have not experienced sex with anyone other than my wife – some (for example, the academics mentioned above) may scoff at this as being inherently ridiculous. Afterall, how can one know if one is “compatible” with another without making love (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this). I see the situation as being completely backwards. The one who commits themselves to one person for life never has to worry about the sexual compatibly of their spouse. Sure, it may be a bit awkward at first, but instead of a never-ending search for fulfillment the husband and wife build upon their sexual skill and technique with each-other and experience increasingly better intimacy in a setting that is completely secure. Indeed, there cannot be too many things as beautiful as the intimate love between a woman and a man who have committed their bodies to one another for the rest of their lives.
Finally, the area of family is exemplary of monogamous beauty. Again, statistical analysis of family trends in our society could demonstrate the importance of a father and mother figure within one home (and how this model contributes to the creation of productive, happy citizens), but instead I’d like to think on the micro stage. A look at one’s own life is all that’s necessary. While we know that circumstances don’t always equivocate to outcome, one need only consider one’s own circumstances to reflect on how they’ve contributed to the person they’ve become. For myself, having two committed parents who knew why they loved each other and followed through on their marital vows, I never had to wrestle with a host of issues that typically accompany the children of absentee fathers or mothers. This is not a boast. In a culture obsessed with “privilege,” the blessing of coming from a solid family foundation is frowned upon, but I thank God every day for the incredible benefit of having a not only a positive upbringing to reflect upon, but an exemplary model of a monogamous, loving marriage to aspire to. This is not to say that simply because I had a model nobody else can or even that I’m guaranteed success in my marriage because my parents were, but I don’t have to ask what a successful marriage is – neither does my wife. This gives us a figurative leg up in navigating the difficulties of marital life and living. Again, this is not to say in the least that someone who doesn’t come from ideal family circumstances won’t be able to model them in their own marriage (after all, many who are faithfully monogamous have as one of the chief goals is to do the opposite of what was modeled for them in their childhood).
What is it then that distorts the beauty of monogamy and makes it seem outdated and a miserable state of existence? There are a number of factors at play. For one, the overall cultural tone, influenced by academic “experts,” paints monogamy as an oppressive institution (think “Handmaid’s Tale”). Children who are indoctrinated with these ideas from kindergarten to their graduate degree will no doubt be influenced by it. However, the more powerful source of distain for monogamy comes from the example of bad marriages – i.e., those who either failed at monogamy or made it seem so miserable that their children/anyone who looks upon their union never want to experience something similar and so forsake the practice altogether. Negative examples are profoundly powerful, and the most effective measure for the propagation of monogamy is simply to provide a positive example among the negative ones.
To return to be beginning narrative of this piece, what should be the course of action for the husband who finds his wife has been unfaithful? Well, this isn’t ancient Israel and there is no civil mandate to execute an adulterer. The fact remains that the wife in the situation has nullified the marriage covenant by violating it in the one area it can never be violated without the threat of dissolution. The husband is free to divorce – but he’s also free to forgive. Either decision may be castigated by the society at large because he chose to be monogamous in the first place. But let’s be honest – the whole situation could probably have been avoided if all parties involved simply valued and held sacred the beautiful institution of monogamous marriage between a woman and a man.