Each Broken Relationship: A Piece of a Fractured Heart

11 thoughts on “Each Broken Relationship: A Piece of a Fractured Heart”

  1. If human relationships are healthy and successful to the extent that they invoke and involve reliance on the allegedly infinite and constant love of God, why do Christian marriages break up at a substantially higher rate than atheist marriages?

  2. Simple answer: because we don’t invoke and rely on the allegedly infinite and constant love of God.

    Other thing being: I think the promise God makes if we really and truly seek Him is that we become more like Jesus – e.g. able to love and forgive even if the other person does terrible things to us (I mean, think about the fact that Jesus still loves us….). Except I don’t think that’s what most of us want, you know? We want to meet the perfect spouse. We want the other person to be good, because being good is no fun, most of the time. So we – or rather, I – go on fending off Jesus’ attempts to change us.

  3. I agree with “anonymous” that Christians frequently fail to rely on this love.

    I would also point out that many Christians fall into the trap of placing too much hope in marriage. This is largely due to the “cult of family and marriage” that too many Christian churches are guilty of perpetuating. They preach a gospel of family values, happy marriages, and middle class prosperity instead of a gospel of Jesus. We often forget that all of our lives, including our marriages and families, must be oriented around God. Insofar as we fail to do this, we end up worshiping idols of marriage and family, thinking that these things will bring us happiness, and they don’t. We end up looking for happiness instead of God. When marriage does not bring us this happiness, which the church too often implicitly promises us that it will, we reject it. Yet it is precisely because we Christians are looking to be filled by our marriages that they do fail. We must repent and return to God.

    However, Mr. Valenzuela, I am not sure your statistics are exactly accurate. Yes, recent research suggests that marriages of those who identify as “Christian” end in divorce more often than those who identify as “atheist or agnostic” (33% compared to 30%), though the difference is probably not outside the margin of error (and is certainly not “substantially higher”). However, marriages of those who indicated that their faith was important to them and several other beliefs traditionally associated with those who identify as “Evangelical” were less likely to end in divorce (26%). But even if you just consider just the “Christian” and the “atheist or agnostic” categories, you have overlooked another important variable: only 65% of atheists or agnostics in the study ever got married, compared to 84% of Christians. I would guess that those in the former category approach marriage more slowly and cautiously than those in the latter, partly due to the issues I mention above. I would also imagine they came to marriage later in life and were more mature, having more experience to guide them.

    Nevertheless, your point is fair: Christians fail at marriage. A piece of the puzzle is missing. We are doing something wrong, and I think it is that we are looking for fulfillment in human love, exactly like the friends about whom Eric speaks. Christians need this reminder just as much as those who do not believe.

  4. What sort of empirical data would, to either of you, *falsify* the hypothesis enumerated above, that Christianity has the best conception and execution of love in a way that reflects the true realities and priorities of our existence?

    It just seems to me as though the No True Scotsman fallacy is at work here. You say, essentially, “the Christian doctrine on love and marriage is X, and it’s the best approach.” Then, when you see a Christian couple that’s happy and fulfilled, you tell yourselves, “oh, see, this demonstrates the superiority of the Christian doctrine on love and marriage” — but when you see *failed* Christian relationships, you say “it’s not the doctrine that’s the problem, it’s the people.” This seems awfully like explaining away cognitive dissonance.

    So if you’re wrong, how would you purport to realize it?

  5. We may be talking past each other here. If I understand you, I think you believe me to be saying that there is such a thing as a Christian doctrine of love and marriage and that if we follow it, we will be happy. I believe no such thing. My point is that we should not look to marriage for happiness or fulfillment. Christians do not — will not, cannot — find their happiness in marriage any more than atheists or those of other faiths. However, if they are truly resting in a relationship with God and knowledge of his love, they will not crush marriage with the expectation that it will bring happiness, the result of which will be that their marriage is less likely to fail. But “not failing” does not equal “bringing happiness and fulfillment.” Any happiness they have comes not from a fulfilling marriage, but rather from having understood God’s love and grace. I believe this is Eric’s point.

    Of course, Christians do not always dwell with God. As “anonymous” points out, it’s a process of turning our lives over to God. It’s about a relationship with God, not a doctrine.

    In fact, the “dissonance” you point out is entirely consistent with the Christian understanding of humanity and God.

  6. Just to add to the previous comments—Mr. Valenzuela, there is no simple, straight answer I can give you in response to the question you’ve asked. The disease of divorce in America is a critical and complicated matter, and being no professional in the area, I can only offer a few possible explanations.

    First of all, there is a great murkiness in the definition of “Christian.” Perhaps the evidence you’re basing your question off of is taken from the Barna Research Group’s recent survey of divorce rates. The study shows that “non-evangelical born-again” Christians have the same divorce rate as all adults (33%) and that atheists or agnostics have a divorce rate of 30%. But the statistics also point out that “evangelical” Christians have a lower rate than atheists and agnostics—26%.

    Furthermore, Barna’s criteria for defining a “born-again” Christian and “evangelical” Christian are much too lax. Taken from http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released :
    ——————————————————————————————
    “Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
    “Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”
    ————————————————————————————–
    Being a true Christian means much, much more than simply saying that oneself knows such elementary truths of the Bible; it means even more than believing in those truths. It means living out those truths in all aspects of life. Considering the simple requirements of being classified as a “born-again/evangelical Christian” in the survey, we cannot conclude that they were all truly Christian.

    It makes sense to question why titular “Christians”—who have been told that divorce is wrong—would still have higher rates of divorce than atheists and agnostics—who don’t had an absolute moral rule against divorce. One large reason for this is many “Christians” do not buy the weekly sermons but instead have already adopted the view that divorce (in a case without adultery) is acceptable, a view that is absolutely unbiblical and wrong. Yet, statistics show a disheartening reality:

    A majority of both Protestants (58%) and Catholics (69%) disagreed that divorce without adultery involved in the commission of sin.
    –http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/194-born-again-christians-just-as-likely-to-divorce-as-are-non-christians

    Even 48% of “born-again Christians” (who were the ones being compared with atheists and agnostics in divorce rates) said that divorce without an occurrence of adultery is okay. Half of all “born-again Christians” ignore Biblical views on divorce. Hence, we can see that it is not that faith plays no part in the matter of divorce but that so-called “Christians” do not allow faith to play the full part in their marriages.

    The epidemic of divorce is certainly an urgent problem for the church-going community. Christians—to be true disciples of Jesus—must take a stand against this issue, as Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed in the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2 (NIV).

  7. But that doesn’t answer the question. Perhaps I need to be a bit clearer.

    Christians purport to have a direct relationship with God, as well as knowledge of His will insofar as *human* relationships go. If this is true, this would give an edge to Christians that should statistically predispose them to (for example) more frequently succeed in relationships with their spouses.

    Yet we do not see this, and Christians seem to use inconsistent logic in explaining this away. When a Christian relationship succeeds, God gets the credit. But when a Christian relationship fails, God doesn’t get the blame. Under normal conditions, this is called “having your cake and eating it too.”

    The problem with this analysis — and here is the heart of my inquiry — is that it begs the question; it assumes its own correctness ex ante. Normally, the way one *accurately* attempts to verify a hypothesis is by testing it; a result consistent with the hypothesis will tend to confirm its validity, while an inconsistent result will point to the need to modify or abandon the hypothesis (assuming appropriate testing methodology). The latter part is the most important, since you can’t test an hypothesis properly without predicting what would happen if your hypothesis is wrong.

    If Christian marriages had a much lower divorce rate than secular marriages, I would have little doubt that Christians would point to this as a fact tending to support their contention that Christianity has a positive impact on family values. Yet when Christian marriages break up at the same or higher rate than secular marriages, Christians are unwilling to accept the reverse implication: that Christianity is no better a guide for ethical and successful living than atheism. (The same is true in terms of crime: looking at prison populations Christians are statistically much more likely than atheists to commit all manner of crimes, yet Christians maintain the moral superiority of their ethical system.)

    The OP suggests that a reliance on the Christian God is the most efficacious solution to the problem of broken relationships. I am sure that the author, if pressed for evidence, would point to acquaintances for whom this approach has worked. But I am equally sure that I could procure just as many individuals for whom such an approach has still resulted in a cycle of broken relationships, and I am also sure that the author would vigorously reject this as a disproof of his hypothesis.

    So I ask: By what means could the hypothesis be falsified? What more would we expect to see if the author is incorrect? If there is no way to falsify the hypothesis, then it is the product of flawed reasoning (since there’s no way to tell if it’s correct or incorrect), and should be rejected.

  8. Roberto, I notice that you are relying a lot on traditional logical reasoning to make an argument or ask questions about falsifiable hypotheses as relates to the existence – or at least the efficacy – of this “approach” to life or relationships that Christians identify as God. Am I understanding you correctly? (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    I reread Eric’s post and it seems to me that the questions Eric poses and the things he is discussing have more to do with the psychology of addiction posed within the (cultural) Christian dating context, and I’m not sure that this post truly raises or can address the questions you are asking.

    Would you be willing, since you’ve engaged with this topic so thoroughly and cogently so far, to write up your questions into an argument or series of questions and publish your own post on the blog? I don’t want this conversation to be lost in a comment thread, and you’ll probably get more on-point engagement.

  9. Laura, I appreciate your comment. My basis for concluding that the OP advocates Christianity as a relationship paradigm is based on the following bits:

    =======
    I think what she wants is more than being free…

    It seems to me that my friend and people who are facing relationship problems are thirsting for love. […]

    What they desire is a love that will be there forever, that will never leave, that will always support, that will never ever become weary. Such love, we cannot give, especially if the person we are trying to help is not a family member or spouse. We simply do not have the resources.

    Yet, that does not mean that there is no hope because there is one who can give such a love: he is God. […]

    People with relationship problems may be trying to quench their thirst for love with things that give temporary relief, but as the respite wears off, they find themselves again thirsting for more. To truly fill them up requires the grace and unceasing love of God. […]

    Only then, will their deepest, most hidden wounds be healed.
    =======

    This certainly seems to suggest that Christianity cures relationship problems — and yet Christians have as much or more of a problem with stable relationships than people who strongly disbelieve God even exists, much less that he provides “grace and unceasing love.” Even so, Christians insist this contrary data is not evidence against the paradigm… yet there is always conspicuous silence on what *would* constitute evidence against the paradigm.

    In my experience, “God is what you need” is dangerous advice to be giving in this context, which is why I’m pointing out that the paradigm contradicts the data and is usually thereafter framed in unfalsifiable terms.

    I thank you for the offer, Laura, but I must regrettably decline. As a soon-to-graduate law student, the occasional snarky remark is about as much as I can manage with my time; writing up the type of affirmative analysis that this topic deserves is presently out of my scheduling capacity. I am, however, deeply impressed by your readiness to give voice to contrary positions!

  10. In that, actually, I have to agree with you.

    I think that “God is what you need” can be very dangerous advice to give someone in a broken relationship, if by doing so you encourage them to avoid making tough decisions, grieving the loss of their relationship, and seeking support for the psychological work they may need to do before entering into another one. I think the potential for harm would perhaps depend on whether such a sentiment was expressed as an empty platitude, an invalidation of a friend’s suffering, or an ill-advised short-cut instead of part of an affirmation of human dignity and responsibility – like, a Higher Power in AA, for example. Or just the idea that every human being has worth – or is “made in the image of God” – and that worth is far greater than subjecting oneself to relational pain pointlessly or without asking for help.

    You’re welcome! If you ever do find the time or have the inclination to post, submissions to the blog (and the magazine) are always open. Although this magazine (and this blog) has so far published pieces from Christians more-or-less evangelical in persuasion – as this is our natural audience – we exist precisely to give voice to different, thoughtful positions on Christianity and Christian culture, both as an ASUC-sponsored publication and also as a point of principle. It’s in our vision statement. =)

  11. After having reconsidered the previous comments, the point of misunderstanding seems to lie in the ambiguity of the definition of “Christian.”

    To clarify the point in a nutshell, let me just say that I sincerely believe that very, very, very, very few of the people who label themselves as “Christian” are actually evangelical disciples of Christ–not just followers, not simply re-born, not only believers; but fruit-bearing disciples who remain in Christ (John 15:1-4). Only those that bear good fruit (which translates to following the will of God in life, leading to loving thoughts and actions for all mankind) will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:15-23). God specifically says that those who continue to dwell in sin are not Christians, see Romans 6, 1 John (especially John 3:4-10).

    Hence: I do not accept the unsupported claim that Christians (at least the ones whose faith is integrated fully, inextricably into the cores of their spirits so that they do not continue to sin) have the same divorce rate or number of relationship issues as non-Christians.

    I also do fully back the argument that relationship problems might be solved through human intervention, but to truly create a stirring change in the deepest enclaves of the spirit–one manifested outwardly in relationships and other aspects of life–one MUST meet God one-on-one and be filled with His Spirit. This applies especially to those whose relationships are broken. Certainly, this does not mean that we should dismiss trying to use concrete methods of helping them, as Laura has said. As lovers, Christians must make the most effort in supplying whatever comfort and counsel as needed. But ultimately, the highest counsel is God.

    Lastly, Mr. Valenzuela, I read on livejournal your entry about your philosophical pilgrimage. I truly admire your meditations on Truth and God; I felt that way once, too (except to a much less extent). I pray that you will come to a full-on, personal collision with Christ–you will be amazed! I truly hope you will find that true happiness. May God graciously bless you!

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