Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Two Monopolies, or Revenge of the Hedonistic Secularists

It occurred to me a while ago that the church has a monopoly on certain important life ceremonies, notably weddings and funerals.  (Of course this does not apply to people who aren't even nominally Christian—Jews, Muslims, Hindus—but they tend to have their own religious ceremonies.  On the other hand, even lapsed Christians are still generally within the church's clutches, at least for these turning points in life.)

And in defense of the church, it has gotten very good at these ceremonies.  The hymns, the sitting and standing, the solemn prayers.  The architecture, the stained glass.  Even an atheist might wish for a proper religious funeral.  It has a certain amount of dignity regardless of your metaphysical beliefs.  In any case, I'm sure plenty of atheists have resignedly put their parents' funerals in the hands of the religious authorities.

But it seems to me that the atheists/secularists are getting their revenge.  The church may hold the keys to marriage and to the afterlife, but the materialists have monopolized love itself.  By which I mean, people generally fall in love after forming a sexual relationship, so that you will generally be lonely (at least in a romantic sense) unless you are willing to participate in the market for casual sex, with all of its customs and infrastructure.  The church has little to offer, other than to discreetly look the other way when people who have cohabited for years finally get married.

Of course you can fall in love with someone in the traditional chaste way, in theory, just as you can theoretically arrange a secular funeral service for your loved ones.  But not only is this difficult to do, it is ill-advised.  The marketplace for traditional courtship is thin and subject to adverse selection.  (Again, there are exceptions for people who live in cultures that have maintained some of the old ways of living.  I imagine the Amish can still fall in love in the traditional way.  But the whole infrastructure for that system of family formation has been destroyed in mainstream American life.)

And anyway, there are definite advantages to the modern way of doing things.  No one actually wants a return to traditional gender roles, and the traditional way of pairing off was subject to severe pathologies.  Even if you were able to purge traditional sexual attitudes of their homophobia, misogyny, and sex-negativism, you would still have to deal with imprudent marriages (including vastly premature marriages), sexual mismatch, and all the drama inherent in treating sexual relationships much more seriously than they generally warrant.

I think this does bear some thought—the structure of the marketplace is not a neutral matter, and in a lot of ways our culture's sexual libertarianism has probably exacerbated inequality just as political libertarianism has in the economic sphere.  But in any case, the materialists should take a victory lap.  Weddings and funerals are still in the church's hands, but the things that really matter in life have been placed squarely in the hands of the hedonists.


Post a Comment

<< Home