Andrew J. Cherlin is a sociologist and the author of ‘The Marriage-Go Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today.’ He’s apparently studied marriage for three decades, which is sad because he doesn’t seem to have learned very much over the years.
Amazon.com’s plug for the new book reads:
Andrew J. Cherlin’s three decades of study have shown him that marriage in America is a social and political battlefield in a way that it isn’t in other developed countries. Americans marry and divorce more often and have more live-in partners than Europeans, and gay Americans have more interest in legalizing same-sex marriage. The difference comes from Americans’ embrace of two contradictory cultural ideals: marriage, a formal commitment to share one’s life with another; and individualism, which emphasizes personal choice and self-development. Religion and law in America reinforce both of these behavioral poles, fueling turmoil in our family life and heated debate in our public life.
Wrong. Marriage and individualism are only “contradictory cultural ideals” in the world of clueless sociologist clowns writing pseudo-intellectual psycho-babble in the Opinion section of the New York Times.
Here’s an excerpt from Cherlin’s NYT’s piece, which oddly enough never mentions the words ‘God’ or ‘love’ once:
IT’S surprising how many people still marry. As everyone knows, it’s a risky proposition; the divorce rate, though down from its peak of one in two marriages in the early 1980s, remains substantial. Besides, you can have a perfectly respectable life these days without marrying. …
Marriage has become a status symbol — a highly regarded marker of a successful personal life. This transformed meaning is evident in the Obama administration’s briefs in the two same-sex marriage cases now in front of the Supreme Court. Those documents reflect, in part, the assumption that marriage represents not only a bundle of rights but also a privileged position. …
In the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Justice Department wrote that marriage “confers a special validation of the relationship between two individuals and conveys a message to society that domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot match.” …
Today, marriage is more discretionary than ever, and also more distinctive. It is something young adults do after they and their live-in partners have good jobs and a nice apartment. It has become the capstone experience of personal life — the last brick put in place after everything else is set. People marry to show their family and friends how well their lives are going, even if deep down they are unsure whether their partnership will last a lifetime.
How is it possible to write an entire op-ed on marriage and not mention the words ‘love’ or ‘God’ once? As of 2010, roughly 75 million Catholics live in the United States, and yet no mention of God, Mr. Cherlin? Gallup found that as of 2012, 77% of Americans identify with a Christian religion, and yet no mention of God, Mr. Cherlin? I suppose it’s much easier to redefine marriage when one takes any mention of God out of the equation and replaces religious elements with words like “status symbol” and “capstone,” but one would think that academics with an agenda would hide their tracks a little easier. The smart kid who cheats on his spelling test always gets a few wrong on purpose because a 100% by a kid who has never shown he was capable of delivering such a score is mighty fishy. In short, Mr. Cherlin is probably not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.
But I digress. Back to the issue at hand, which is that marriage and individualism are not contradictory in the least. The astute reader will realize that there is another word missing from Cherlin’s opinion piece: ‘compromise.’
It is entirely possible for two people to embrace individualism while also being 100% dedicated to another person. The two are not mutually exclusive, and anyone who understands the nature of compromise knows the two can coexist.
Since Mr. Cherlin is afraid to touch the Bible, I will. Mark 10:6 – 10:9 reads:
“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. And the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together let no man separate.”
Again, perhaps I’m just a rube, but if tens of millions of Americans draw some sort of basic understanding about the nature of marriage from the Bible, it might be worth maybe-sorta-kinda looking into it. Just a thought.
Regardless, my point stands: On the most important level, I do not view myself as a separate entity from my wife because we are spiritually tied together. We are spiritually one. And so, it would make no sense for me to not try and aid her in reaching her full potential, just as I’m sure she feels the same way about me and my long-term goals.
If I were to lash out and hurt my wife, I would be hurting myself. If I was to cause her unnecessary emotional distress, it would ultimately be my own spirit that was damaged. There is no reason for me to work at odds with my wife because it would be similar to me picking up something with my left hand and then slapping it out with my right. It would make no sense.
Mr. Cherlin’s refusal to try and understand what individualism is to a man and a woman who see themselves as spiritually one unit hurts him. It’s a very complex subject, which is another reason why I suspect he avoided it all together.
With that said, I might still buy ‘The Marriage-Go Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today,’ if for no other reason than to make me laugh.
And since this blog is supposed to mix politics with pop culture, here’s another analogy for marriage: the “mind meld” from Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. For sociologists who are too scared to study the Bible, it’s a dumbed-down version of two essentially becoming one.
I’m Christian as well. It’s amazing how little these so-called “experts” actually know what they’re talking about. Good post, by the way.
And yeah, Pacific Rim looks pretty good.
I’ll see Pacific Rim because Guillermo del Toro is directing it. Even when he swings and misses, it’s obvious that this is a guy who loves his craft. It shines through, and it always makes the experience better.
Glad you liked the post, Carl! As always, thanks for the read.
No problem. I’ll be back posting again tomorrow. I’ve been having computer troubles all week and i think i finally solved the problem.
And yeah, I’ve really enjoyed Del Toro’s stuff in the past as well. The Hellboy movies, Pan’s Labyrinth, etc. He really enjoys what he does. I would’ve loved to have seen his take on Halo, had it escaped developmental hell.
I don’t agree with Mr. Cherlin theory, but I think you missed a crucial piece, and it’s that the contract of marriage in this country does not require organized religion or an Abrahamic god to sanctify it. It requires, at its core, two people who want to make a lifelong commitment to experience the trials and tribulations of life together as a bonded pair. Religious belief is not required whatsoever.
This is evident in the fact that our government does not require a religious figure to perform the ritual nor does it require the participants to believe in any particular sect of Christianity or any religion for that matter. The contract of marriage is secular in the USA.
If Catholicism adds a spiritual layer or is the core of you marriage, and that is desirable to you, wonderful. Understand it may not be for everyone. Regardless of the evolution of marriage over the ages–from arranged marriages which treated women like chatel to the blossoming of romantic love in recent centuries–it can’t be said that religion has been required. The formalizing of pair bonding as “marriage” began long before Christianity, Mithraism, Judaism, the Roman gods, and gods of other areas of the world untouched in antiquity by Christianity.
I think what Doug is saying is that by not mentioning a religious aspect, Mr. Cherlin can’t give a credible op-ed on the state of marriage in all of America when so many Americans do employ the Christian or Christian-Catholic spiritual layer in their marriage. While your historical account of “marriage” is correct, and you are correct that this layer/core isn’t for everyone; viewing it as a non-religious legal contract isn’t for everyone either. Regardless of atheism, religion, or the degree of orthodoxy to a religion; I would think an overwhelming majority of Americans would agree love is a central tenet within their bond of marriage. In writing about American marriges, Mr. Cherlin seems to be missing some crucial pieces.
BINGO. I did not “miss” a crucial piece at all. I fully understood what Mr. Cherlin was doing. That’s where this sentence comes in:
Thanks for contributing, DenverPat!
Excellent points, DenverPat. I wholeheartedly agree that love is a central tenet of marriage, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.
I also agree Cherlin is missing some major rationale for marriage in his quest to further the concept that modern marriage is viewed as a status symbol. While anecdotal, I’ve know quite a few married partners and I’ve never once heard “status symbol” or “capstone” as a reason. That’s why one buys a pair Laboutins or a house in the Hamptons, not commit to a lifelong bond with another. Then again, I don’t know everyone.
See DenverPat’s response for a succinct and probably more articulate version of what I’d say.
The only thing that I would add is that Cherlin also ignores any link between poverty and the rise in single parent homes. He just flippantly states that 47% of births happen out of wedlock and then moves on with (and I’m paraphrasing), “Eh, but it doesn’t matter because these people get married eventually anyway. Who cares if there’s a seven-year span where the kid doesn’t have his father around, and then gets some other dude.”
Side notes: 1. Where is ‘J’ the linguist? I’m really glad DenverPat entered this one. Maybe ‘J’ will show up and stick to his assertion that I’m really insane and just posing as two different people.
2. Arranged marriages are very much alive and well in the Muslim world. Oddly enough, our American (liberal) feminist friends don’t say a whole lot about that.
Haha! Maybe I should change my screen name to “2ndDoug”. To be fair, the Professor did say there is only a 98% chance that I am you; I’ll work on my syntax/speech pattern/whatever he was going on about- in order not to confuse people in the future! 🙂
At the time he said he was going to use the thread to put together a presentation for class. I’m still hoping some of his students come here to see just how wrong he was. Glad he gave himself that 2% margin for error!
I think you have to recognize the spiritual aspects of American culture that have become secularized over time. It’s great to know how traditions have formed, but you also have to recognize structures as they are in the present day. Most people aren’t aware that when a father walks his daughter down the aisle it is symbolic of the family patriarch literally giving his daughter away to a new family ( typically in exchange for a dowry). It is not at all like this in the present day, but it’s tradition and it is seen among many fathers to be an honor to walk their daughters down the aisle. I would argue that for many, the same has happened with religion and marriage. After all, people do not need to have any religious belief in order to get married; it is simply a symbol of commitment (which I would say is starting to lose its value with the divorce rates, but that’s another topic). It’s great to discuss religion, but sociology does not care about religious belief which is why I think it was a great idea to leave out religion from that fellow’s book (don’t remember his name). However, sociology does care about the influence that the religious belief has had on a society. There are only structures in sociology, not gods.
Read the following:
After reading your extended comment, it appears the same can be said about you. Marriage is “simply a symbol of commitment”? Actually, no. It’s about much, much more. You missed the point of the post completely. Like Mr. Cherlin, you are either consciously trying to change the subject or blinded by your ego. I’m happy you’re well read and know about dowry, but it has really nothing to do with the thrust of this post.
Doug Doug Doug! It’s happening man! I’m telling you that it’s happening! The Slippery Slope for marriage is INDEED a slipper slope! Look at it now!
That’s the problem with having marriage boiled down to, essentially, “people who love one another.”
I know right! We’ve been telling them that for years and they always called us racist homophobes and NOW when we’ve FINALLY been vindicated, they show their true colors!