People, especially the orthodox, always tend to focus on the rituals - no sex before marriage, no contraception, no divorce, etc. Few focus on the spiritual side of it as to why these ritualistic rules came into place in the first place not to mention the social and economic state of society when ancient religions were born.
This post has been triggered after reading an article on the Root and the subsequent comments about successful unmarried black women. There were some posts, particularly one from a conservative Catholic unmarried one, that really got me thinking.
Most religions see any sex outside of marriage as a sin or at least something inappropriate. Marriage itself, at least in those days, was probably originally devised as a means to create a family, procreate, provide protection and care during old age and act as a foundation for civil society. Polygamy and even polyandry, in some cases, was accepted in many cultures. In some ethnic societies, premarital sex was not frowned upon. In fact, in matriarchal systems, it was not uncommon for women to lead a family and even have children out of wedlock. The idea of family is much broader than what modern society would have us believe.
A child out of wedlock is considered a sin and a shame and, added to that, even when there is no social stigma associated with it, single working women find it hard to cope with an unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, especially in the United States, we have this endless debate about abortion, abstinence and so on.
In modern times, we expect to have romance and passion, economic and emotional sustenance all provided through marriage. Added to that is the additional stress of modern life itself and the possibility of falling in love with other people through increased social interaction between the sexes. Yes, emotional affairs of the heart have a higher probability of occurrence in our age as compared to that of our forefathers simply because women and men were never really permitted to mingle freely or even date for that matter in ancient societies. There was no email, IM, phone or any other means of electronic communication that could be used frequently and sneakily either. Since most women did not work or were too busy raising large families, divorce was probably economically impossible.
The modern individualistic society, despite its flaws, gives each person the potential to fully question his/her motives, aspirations and social conditioning deeply, which brings me to the concept of higher values.
Love for another human being, sharing and caring is the higher value upon which the ritualistic values of marriage and family are based upon. Thus, a family created by people who are not linked by either DNA or a certificate from the priest or the courts, but based upon mutual trust, affection and support, is not any less useful to society than a traditional one.
A couple choosing to go their separate ways because they do not want to lie to each other anymore about the lack of physical attraction, that special spark that brings people together and intimacy or any form of emotional or intellectual incompatibility is not any more at fault than one that chooses to stay together despite a big void in their lives. It is a question of honesty and compassion, the higher values that bind people in relationships.
Concentrating upon the higher values and the plight of our fellow human beings without acting like a martyr, sacrificing personal happiness solely for keeping others in an unruffled emotional state, will probably be the only way to truly find that elusive peace and happiness we all long for.