Pope Francis raised eyebrows last week when he said that most modern marriages are “invalid”. In a series of off-the-cuff remarks, the pope explained that young people these days “live in a culture of the provisional” and don’t truly understand what it means to get married. He blamed them for taking a cavalier approach to marriage and disregarding how serious of a commitment it is. The pope also expressed disdain for modern societal views which permit divorce as soon as a marriage becomes “inconvenient”. While his statement didn’t constitute an official declaration, it still caused a stir. Could Pope Francis be right?
Divorce On the Rise?
Many of us have seen the statistic: a staggering 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t a new phenomenon. Divorce rates have remained that high since way back in the 1980s. So while certainly discouraging, it’s not as if the situation has recently taken a turn for the worse. So are there other aspects to consider?
Many couples decide to get married after careful thought and because they truly love each other. However, there are also plenty who get married for the wrong reasons. Some are overeager and choose to tie the knot prematurely. Others are swayed into marriage by economic incentives, such as tax breaks or military benefits. Sometimes couples decide to get married after being pressured into it by their friends or family members. In that sense, Pope Francis may have a point: some people simply don’t understand the consequences of saying “I do”. Is it possible that the institution of marriage has lost its sanctity?
An Evolving Institution
Cynics are quick to point out that for the vast majority of its history, marriage was anything but sacred. It was a patriarchal concept which brought order to society. Arranged marriages were common, and people married out of practicality, not love. Wives were subordinate to their husbands, and extramarital affairs were common. Divorce, however, was not. The result was that married couples were frequently stuck in miserable relationships. This might lead some to argue that marriage never had much sanctity in the first place.
However, all of this points to the larger trend of marriage as an evolving institution. It has changed significantly over time, and will likely continue to do so – for better or for worse.
One of our Facebook friends brought up an intriguing idea: could this same concept be applied to religion? That is to say, do some people approach faith with the same imprudence they do marriage? There may be some truth to this opinion.
Studies have shown that when asked, the vast majority of Americans claim they are religious. In reality though, only a small percentage regularly attend religious services or are active in their place of worship. It would seem that people are more concerned with keeping up the appearance of faith, than they are in actually practicing it. This tendency suggests a strange and unhealthy attitude towards religion.
Since being elected in 2013, Pope Francis has gained a reputation for being a progressive and outspoken leader on social issues. His response to a recent question regarding the church’s treatment of gay people has only cemented this opinion. In what has been hailed as a “groundbreaking moment”, he declared that Christians should apologize to gay people and others who have suffered at the hands of the church throughout history. The significance of this cannot be glossed over – this was the first time a pope has apologized to the LGBT community. He also condemned all forms of discrimination, and said the church must “ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons”.
What are we to make of all this? The pope has left little doubt as to where he stands on the issues. He made history by apologizing to gay people on behalf of the church and calling for other Christians to do so as well. His wider criticism of modern marriage may have some legitimacy, but it’s also true that institution of marriage is constantly changing and evolving. What do you think? Does our society have a careless attitude toward marriage? And is Pope Francis right that Christians owe gay people an apology?