Posts tagged ‘Vows’

Ashley Madison, Morality, and Legality

Broken MarriageSex sells. Or so the old advertising cliché tells us. But even if it’s cliché, it also happens to be true. And no company knows this truth better than Ashley Madison. They have built their business on appealing to those who want to cheat on their spouses. Their slogan, “Life is short; have an affair,” sums up their business model. They promise would-be cheaters the ability to discretely find each other online, meet up, and break their wedding vows, all the while hiding their infidelity from their spouses. But last month, the security of Ashley Madison’s secretive sex services was dealt a blow. The New York Times reports:

The company behind Ashley Madison, a popular online dating service marketed to people trying to cheat on their spouses, said on Monday that the site had been breached by hackers who may have obtained personal data about the service’s millions of members.

The group of hackers behind the attack, going by the name Impact Team, said they had stolen information on the 37 million members of Ashley Madison. To prevent the data from being released, the hackers said, the company needed to shut down the site entirely.[1]

This story is fascinating on many fronts. First, it is fascinating that the Times refers to Ashley Madison as “a popular online dating service.” Truthfully, it is nothing of the sort. Dating is not the same as hooking up. Ashley Madison is not particularly interested in promoting healthy, stable, long-term relationships. They are interested in helping people scratch their lustful itches.

Second, it is fascinating how Noel Biderman, the CEO of Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, is characterizing this breach of security: “Like us or not, this is still a criminal act.”[2] Mr. Biderman characterizes what has happened to his company only in legal terms. He does not say what the hackers did was wrong. He does not talk about the ethical problems that accompany invading someone’s privacy. He does not cast anything in terms of good or bad, right or wrong.

Of course, Mr. Biderman’s moral ambivalence at this security breach is inescapably necessary. After all, his whole company is devoted to encouraging and enabling that which is deeply immoral. Thus, his only recourse to denounce anything is legal. But when the technicalities of legality displace the standards of morality, humans are left with nothing but depravity. For humans will inevitably bend the law to satisfy and justify their own desires – even when those desires are categorically evil. Legislation cannot fix – and very often has trouble even restraining – human sinfulness.

Third, Mr. Biderman’s characterization of what has happened to his company in strictly legal terms aside, what has happened to Ashley Madison does represent a supreme moral irony. Ashley Madison is a company that has built its reputation and fortune on deceit – on providing people a way to cover up their sexual dalliances. Now, a group calling themselves the Impact Team, who some security experts have suggested may be a group of insiders, has deceived the masters of deceit by managing to hack into Ashley Madison’s most sensitive information. Deceit has been laid bare by deceit. And what the hackers will do with this information next is the source of great apprehension.

Whatever comes of the hacked data, this much is sure: Ashley Madison needs to change their slogan. They may tell you “life is short” so you can “have an affair,” but when your spouse catches you, the havoc you will have wreaked in your marriage won’t feel short. It’ll feel like an eternity. And that’s why you ought to think long and hard before you log on to Ashley Madison. Because if you do, you won’t. And that would be good.

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[1] Dino Grandoni, “Ashley Madison, a Dating Website, Says Hackers May Have Data on Millions,” The New York Times (7.20.2015).

[2] Wilborn P. Nobles III, “After hackers expose cheaters, AshleyMadison hookup site offers ‘full delete’ option,” The Washington Post (7.20.2015).

August 10, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Waning of Marriage

Marriage 1Right now at the church where I serve, we are in a series on marriage called “We Do.” As I see it, this series is important not only because many marriages are in trouble and in need of help, but because many marriages are not even getting started in the first place. The precipitous decline of marriage in this country is well documented. Take, for instance, the recent alarm sounded by Robert J. Samuelson of The Washington Post:

In 1960, only 12 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 had never married; by the time they were 45 to 54, the never-married share had dropped to 5 percent. Now fast forward. In 2010, 47 percent of Americans 25 to 34 had never married.[1]

Marriage rates are in a free-fall. But Samuelson’s explanation as to why marriage rates are tumbling is especially fascinating to me:

The stranglehold that marriage had on middle-class thinking and behavior began to weaken in the 1960s with birth control pills, publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — an assault on women’s traditional housecleaning and child-rearing roles — and the gradual liberalization of divorce laws.

The resulting expansion of personal choice has been breathtaking. Those liberalized divorce laws have freed millions of women and men from unsatisfying or abusive marriages. (From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate rose nearly 150 percent; it has since reversed about half that gain.) Taboos against premarital sex and cohabitation have virtually vanished. So has the stigma of out-of-wedlock birth or, for married couples, of not having children. With more job opportunities, women flooded the labor market.

Samuelson connects the decline of marriage to the “expansion of personal choice.” In other words, the more choices a person has – from the choice of pre-marital sex to birth control to cohabitation to divorce – the lower the chance a person will choose to marry or, as the case may be, stay married.

Sadly, the “expansion of personal choice” does not insure against the unintended and often painful consequences of personal choice. Samuelson cites Isabell Sawhill, author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage:

“New choices for adults,” Sawhill writes, “have not generally been helpful to the well-being of children.” Single-parent families have exploded. In 1950, they were 7 percent of families with children under 18; by 2013, they were 31 percent. Nor was the shift isolated. The share was 27 percent for whites, 34 percent for Hispanics and 62 percent for African Americans. By harming children’s emotional and intellectual development, the expansion of adult choices may have reduced society’s collective welfare.

It is not (as Sawhill repeatedly says) that all single-parent households are bad or that all two-parent families are good. But the advantage lies with the approach that can provide children more financial support and personal attention. Two low-income paychecks, or two good listeners, are better than one. With a colleague, Sawhill simulated the effect today if the marriage rates of 1970 still prevailed. The result: The child poverty rate would drop by about 20 percent — a “huge effect” compared with most government programs.

Our emancipation from marriage comes with a price – a price born by the children of those who have emancipated themselves from marriage. A higher poverty rate is the price most easily measured, but other things, such as the lack of “two listening ears” Sawhill refers to, are also among the prices our children must pay.

I am well aware, of course, that there are certain situations where a person should not get married or cannot stay married. But these situations are far fewer and farther between than our culture makes them out to be.

At the heart of our marriage-phobia is the fact that marriage calls on us to think beyond ourselves, which is not easy when we have all the freedom in the world to make decisions for ourselves. It turns out that when we are given unrestrained freedom to make decisions, we make selfish ones.

But this is where the Church has much to offer. We do, after all, worship a Savior who not only thought beyond Himself, but lived beyond Himself and died by Himself so we could be a family in God.

Ultimately, as followers of Christ, our hope is for a marriage on the Last Day when it will be sung: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7).

If this is what we’re preparing and hoping for, we might as well get a little practice for our marriage on the Last Day by being married in this day. And that’s why marriage is good – even if it isn’t always easy.

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[1] Robert J. Samuelson, “The family deficit,” The Washington Post (10.26.2014).

November 17, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why “No” and “Yes” Won’t Cut It: Turning the Tide of Sexual Assault

College CampusIn the wake of a horrifying barrage of sexual assaults on college campuses, university administrators – and now whole state governments – are scrambling to turn the tide. The California legislature passed a law at the end of August requiring what is referred to as “affirmative consent.” The measure requires not only that a person not say “no” to a sexual encounter, but also that he or she offer “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”[1] In other words, a person must say “yes” to a sexual encounter. Interestingly, according to the legislation, this “yes” need not be verbal. It can also be communicated through actions. Or, if you prefer, it can even be communicated electronically.  Just like everything else in our high tech world, if you want to make sure you’re having consensual sex, there’s an app for that.  Of course, trying to discern what constitutes affirmative consent, even when you have an app, is no easy task. Emma Goldberg, a member Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale, admits: “It’s obviously quite difficult for administrators to adjudicate affirmative consent, and there is always room for improvement in enforcement of these policies.”[2]

Ultimately, the problem with affirmative consent laws such as the one California lawmakers have passed is not that it is too strong, but too weak. Feeble legislative attempts that require mere consent will not and cannot address the deep moral realities of human sexuality.

Robert Reilly, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, recently published a book dealing with modern sexual ethics. In the introduction, he insightfully notes that differing views on sex are rooted in different conceptions of reality:

There are two fundamental views of reality. One is that things have a Nature that is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are. In other words, things have inbuilt purposes. The other is that things do not have a Nature with ends: things are nothing in themselves, but are only what we make them to be according to our wills and desires. Therefore, we can make everything, including ourselves, anything that we wish and that we have the power to do.[3]

This is a stunning analysis of the worldview that permeates and shapes our sexual ethics. In a myriad of ways, we have worked to separate sex from its natural – what Reilly would call “real” – ends. We defy sex’s procreative reality with abortion. We fight against sex’s emotionally intimate reality with our hookup culture. We have placed sex and its moral entailments squarely in the confines our wills. If we want to have sex, sex is moral. If we don’t want to have sex, sex is immoral.

The fact of the matter is this: our wills cannot provide an adequate moral framework and reality for human sexuality. The contrail of shattered families, wrecked finances, and broken hearts that our sexual wills have left strewn in our societal sky is proof positive of this. Furthermore, teleological reality has a funny way of continually smacking us squarely in the face, no matter how stridently we may try to escape it. Through sex, babies will continue to be conceived. Because of fleeting trysts, people will continue to be riddled by regret. Sex will continue to impress its reality on us, whether or not we want it to. Perhaps we ought to start living in that reality rather than seeking to escape it.

In a society where we pretend that our mere wills can determine the morality of sexuality, states and universities can do no better than to legislate a “yes” before sex, no matter how insufficient, impotent, and fraught with adjudicative hair splitting such legislation may be. But as Christians, we can affirm that God had purposes in mind when He created sex. Therefore, as the Church, we can call for sexual ethics to be in line with these purposes and not just with our desires. So for those on college campuses, I ask, for the sake of God’s will and your wellbeing, to consider waiting not just for someone to say “yes” before you have sex, but to say “I do.”

It’ll work out a lot better.

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[1] Aaron Mendelson, “California passes ‘yes-means-yes’ campus sexual assault bill,” Reuters (8.29.2014).

[2] Richard Pérez-Peña and Ian Lovett, “California Law on Sexual Consent Pleases Many but Leaves Some Doubters,” The New York Times (9.29.2014).

[3] Robert R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), xi-xii.

October 6, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Lives!

Marriage 3Apparently, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” didn’t die in our Armed Forces, it just moved to our marriages.    Recently, Redbook published a part-confessional, part-apologetic exposé titled, “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger.”  The author, who, not surprisingly, chose to remain anonymous, opens salaciously:

It’s a Wednesday night, and my boyfriend and I are drinking wine and making out in the back booth of a dimly lit bar. It feels like nothing else in the world exists…until my phone vibrates.

“It’s my husband. The kids are in bed,” I say, then put my phone in my purse and pull my boyfriend toward me.  I spend half a second staring at the diamond on my engagement ring before hiding my hand from my sight line.  It’s not a secret that I’m married, but it’s also not something I want to think about right now.

Am I a horrible person?  Without context, I know I sound horrible.  But in my marriage, having affairs worksMy husband and I don’t talk about it.  But I’m certain our don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule is what has allowed our marriage to last as long as it has.

Notice that I didn’t say we’re in an open marriage – we’re not.  An open marriage is transparent, with agreed-upon rules and an understanding of what both parties will and will not do with others.  My marriage is opaque.[1]

What a sham of a marriage – full of affairs and cover-ups.  It should be a soap opera.  Instead, it’s real life.

What I find most striking about this apologetic for adultery is how kitschy it is – even according to the author’s own admission.  In a telling line, she concedes, “The more I think about it, the less okay I am with our lifestyle, so I’ve become pretty good at shutting down that part of my brain.”  If there ever was a line that affirmed the inescapably reality of natural, moral law, this is it!  No matter what she may claim about she and her husband’s affairs, she can’t escape the feeling that something isn’t right.  As the apostle Paul explains: “The requirements of the law are written on [people’s] hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:15).

As much moral ire as this article raises in me, it raises even more sympathetic pain.  It’s hard to listen to this woman divulge her deeply held fears without having my heart broken:

Truth be told, I do worry that Dave might fall in love with someone else. That’s why when I see his secret smiles or notice him spending tons of time texting, I step it up on my end, asking him to be home on a certain night and initiating sex. I remind him how much I love him and how much our marriage means to me.

What’s the title of this article again?  “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger”?  What a lie.  So let’s try some truth:

I take you to be my wedded beloved, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy will; and I pledge to you my faithfulness.

You took the vow.  You made the promise.  So keep it.  You’ll be better for it.  Your heart will be filled with it.  And you’ll please God by it.

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[1] Anonymous, as told to Anna Davies, “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger,” Redbook (5.18.2014).

May 26, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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