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Chapter I. Introduction

The New Church has something to teach about marriage that cannot be found anywhere else. It may be expressed very simply in the statement that marriage is designed to last for eternity. It is not a friendly arrangement between two people which continues only until death puts an end to it. This beautiful and satisfying truth should be substituted immediately in the minds of all New Church people, if needs be, for the popular notion of false glamour masquerading as true love which pictures a man and woman trampling over every consideration for the feelings of others, every moral commandment, and all the dictates of real affection and sound ordinary common-sense, in pursuit of some outward sensual attraction in each other, which has its only excuse in the way a lock of hair curls across a girl's cheek, or in the masterly bad manners of a young man who happens to come along when life seems a little dull.

If it is the romance of true love which men and women want to find, then the teachings of the New Church can give them something which will far transcend such crudities, powerful though their appeal is when decked out with fine words and glittering scenarios.

Anyone with any perception and imagination will be able to see something of the possibilities of this tremendous and marvelous truth, which is not only a wonderful ideal, but is still grounded in the facts of daily human experience, and does not by any means exclude the contemplation of a woman's lock of hair and the right kind of decisiveness in the words and actions of a man.


The first thing to remember, then, in considering the psychology of sex and marriage, is that men and women have been created so that they can enter into marriage and thus into a relationship which may become more and more perfect, at first in this life and afterwards in the spiritual world. When two people become engaged, they should be taking the first step in an eternal partnership. Perhaps this is a sobering realisation, and so it ought to be. On the other hand, it is a delightful thought that the traditional fairy story, about two people who "live happily ever after," is founded on sound doctrine. A married couple who have true marriage love in themselves do live happily ever after, though in some cases they may not realise to the full that they are going to do so until they have left this world. Meanwhile they may have been through many vicissitudes and disappointments, like the people in the fairy story, and may even have had considerable disagreements with each other at times. This truth about marriage is one that is certain to affect our outlook on the whole subject if we take it seriously. It is not merely a dream in a love-mist, but an ideal with practical results.


Before thinking out some of the implications of this, there is something that ought to be said with considerable emphasis about the usual views of marriage to be found outside the New Church. There are, of course, many of them, and they are often very different. The extreme glamour view referred to just now has little in common with the traditional Christian view, which does regard marriage as Divinely permitted though it is a relationship only for this life, after which men and women become sexless creatures, as Christian angels are supposed to be, according to the usual view. But all these differing opinions on marriage have one thing in common; they do not really regard it as a spiritual relationship. It is a purely natural, even physical, arrangement. Not even the Church itself can avoid this implication, for what is spiritual remains after death, and the orthodox view is that marriage is only for this life.

The point that needs so much emphasis in connection with this is that we shall find it difficult not to be influenced by some of these views so long as we live among people who hold them. Often the effect on ourselves will be quite unconscious, and yet mere words, however downright, will certainly be inadequate to explain how powerful and how subtle this influence can often be in leading us away from the true ideal of marriage. The extreme physical romantic view may seem so fantastic to some people that they cannot believe that anyone can take it seriously. Yet it must follow its crazy course through the minds of many inexperienced young folk and misguided older people, otherwise it would not be exploited so profitably by those whose only object is to attract a big public who will pay money for bad films and books. For those who try to live up to some standard in this matter, the only danger in this false view lies in the fact that so many people appear to accept it, and it is natural that we should take notice of something that is very popular. The best way to meet its appeal is not to take it too seriously; its absurdities soon become ridiculous. In any case, popularity does not indicate that a thing is either good or bad. The worst of Hitler's views were very popular in his own country for many years.

From this extreme there are many gradations. Perhaps the greatest danger to the New Church view of marriage is to be found in some of the best books and films, or at least in the well-written or well- produced ones. This may sound a very extraordinary statement until we realise that the artistic excellence of a thing tells us nothing whatever about its moral value or its spiritual truth. Most artists, whether they are painters of pictures or writers of books, or film actors, do not feel called upon to pass moral judgments. They are simply concerned to express either what is in themselves and in other people, or what they see around them in the age in which they live. Of course, what they do express may reveal truth of a kind, for in many cases it will certainly tell us very much about the world in which we live. But we can appreciate this without feeling that we are called upon to surrender our moral standards, not even for the sake of the greatest picture or the finest film or book. Indeed, if we retain that standard, we may be able to appreciate the more clearly what the artist is trying to say, even when his subject does not appear to have originated in heaven. In this respect, it is a good idea to remember the teaching of the Doctrines of the New Church that the inhabitants of hell cannot have the slightest idea of what heaven is like, much less look into it, and in fact, are not aware of what other parts of hell are like, but that the highest angels are able to see all the lower heavens and at the same time look into hell and understand what is happening there. To put it into pictorial terms, anyone on the heights can still look up to greater heights beyond himself, and can also look down and see what he has left behind, but the people in the valleys are far too interested in themselves to bother about anything but their own self-regarding interests. And we should notice very carefully that the angels are not themselves involved in any way in the states of people in hell, and have nothing in common with their feelings and thoughts, although they know all about them, better indeed than such people themselves. It is a very good idea to adopt the same psychological method ourselves, shunning evil wherever we see it, and however it is expressed. It is not difficult to see that this can be a very powerful and useful psychological method of protecting in ourselves marriage love, the "jewel in the crown of human life."


Possibly it may seem that all this puts the case too simply. Sometimes we can see without much difficulty what is wrong, when some crude denial of marriage love is made, when it is said or implied in a play or a film that it is all the same if a man and woman "live together" whether they are married or not. Common-sense founded on principle, at once tells us that it is obviously not "all the same," and we can make our judgments on that basis. But there are many other cases where the decision is not at all clear cut. Suggestions are made, things implied, hints dropped, persuasively, enchantingly worded, apparently with smiling sincerity, set off with music in the background, and assisted by all the appeal of dramatic colouring and presentation on the stage or within the covers of a book. We are left in doubt, and we ask ourselves what is the truth about these delicate human relationships between man and woman, which have such sympathetic and touching overtones, seeming to come near to the bounds of heaven itself, and yet which are so mixed and varied that the difference between freedom and licence, and between lasting love and temporary passion, is sometimes very hard to see.

There are a number of things to keep in mind in dealing with this psychological problem. The first is that in such a situation it is almost certain that the theme is not "conjugial love," true marriage love as defined in the Doctrines of the New Church, but the love of the sex, or natural love. The second is that in its proper order the love of the sex is not necessarily a bad thing, even in the sight of heaven; indeed it may be the gateway to genuine marriage love itself. The third is that although it is necessary to shun adulterous love in all its many forms, there is nothing in the Doctrines of the New Church which indicates that happiness between man and woman is something to be frowned on. Of course, the opposite is true. The fourth point is that in all probability the play or book is about people who themselves are in doubt, perhaps in far deeper uncertainty than New Church people are ever likely to be, and in that sense the dramatist or author has succeeded in producing a picture of real life. Once again we are able to call upon the psychological principle drawn from the Doctrines and outlined above, and can see that there is no necessity whatever for us to identify ourselves with the people in the play. Yet while we remain observers, and do not consent in our own minds to values and standards that are not of the New Church, this does not imply that we need be Pharisaically superior, or that we remain cold-bloodedly aloof from other people's difficulties. We can still be sympathetic observers.


These foregoing paragraphs deal with our possible reactions to books, plays and films, and also to newspaper articles and stories and a whole host of influences which come to us through broadcasting, television and by other means. We should not underestimate their importance. Nevertheless there is another source of ideas on this subject of marriage and relationships between the sexes which is very influential and perhaps of more direct importance and which is frequently more difficult to deal with. I refer to the attitude of people we meet every day. It is almost too obvious to say that their notions and opinions are as varied as they are themselves. Some we meet only once, though in passing they may say or do something that will affect us very much. Others we know so well that we have a very good idea of what they think on all sorts of subjects, and may fear or welcome their influence on ourselves, or may feel that they are such that we remain unaffected by anything they may do. It is very hard to say just how much we are actually affected in our everyday thoughts and feelings by other people, and, except in one respect, there is no need to bother ourselves introspectively to any great extent in order to find the answer. Of course, contact with them is something to be welcomed. It will do us good; we shall learn more about human nature both good and bad, and be able to understand other people's ways and motives with some sympathy. The rough corners of our own character will be smoothed off. We shall not continue to think of self so exclusively. Contact with other people will undoubtedly make us much more useful and greatly extend our interests. To use a New Church term, it will be good for our proprium in many ways.


But there is the reservation mentioned above to be noted. We ought not to feel inclined to give up the standards of New Church truth because others do not believe in them. If a thing is good or true, it remains so whether we and others think it is, or is not. To give it up just because others in the factory or office want us to fall in line with their opinions cannot he right. This may lead to difficulties and even to unpopularity, but that has to he faced. It is worth observing, however, that unpopularity of this kind may sometimes be caused by the way we express our opinions quite as much as by the opinions themselves. If we are aggressive, and anxious to impose our view and show up other people at every opportunity, it is not likely that we shall achieve much, except to get ourselves disliked for being self- righteous. On the other hand there is no need to be secretive about what we think. Usually if we say what we mean in a firm but friendly fashion, our views will be respected, even by some people who cannot resist the temptation to make fun of them in a more or less mild way. The importance of a firm but friendly attitude on the question of sex and marriage cannot be over-emphasised. In mixed company where the general opinion is apt to follow the lead of the lowest and most loudly expressed view, it will help others who are apt to waver, as well as oneself. Providing that we do this without being provocative, we shall be ''loving the neighbour" by preserving what is good among them, wonderfully represented in the Word by the acts of the good Samaritan in binding up the wounds of the man who fell among thieves.


Of course, there is the other aspect of this matter. Sometimes we have to say what we think, but at other times we are not called upon to say anything. Nevertheless, the example of other people is always before us, and their real opinions are constantly conveyed to us by words and actions. When they are false and shallow and evil in intent these things enter our minds, sometimes remaining there, and are often hard to put out. There are five points to remember in thinking of this difficult psychological situation. The first is that such a state of temptation is of Divine Providence, in order that we may be led away from our own evils to a state of spiritual regeneration. Secondly, it therefore follows that we are not necessarily guilty of the thoughts that come into our minds, which arise from the presence of evil spirits prompted from without, but only of the consent which we deliberately give to them. In the third place, we would not react to evil and false suggestion unless there was in us, from heredity, that which responds, and yet, fourthly, we have given to us the power to resist and overcome these hereditary tendencies. Finally, we must remember that ours is not a special case, as we are so apt to think, in spite of appearances to the contrary, for other people have these troubles also, though we may find that hard to believe.

We are not entitled to say that we cannot be blamed for giving way to sexual passion, because the temptation is so strong, and that other people would have had to do the same in our position, nor, on the other hand, are we entitled to make the opposite mistake of saying that because there is so much more wickedness in us than in all the good people we know and respect, the only thing we can do is to give way to despair. Both views should be rejected because they originate in the proprium, and are forms of self-pity.


Before leaving this subject, an example may be helpful. A man or woman who lives a promiscuous life, entering into relations with anyone of the opposite sex when opportunity occurs, will inevitably find many plausible reasons for living such -a life. If the subject comes up for discussion in conversation, such people will make it sound exciting and mysterious and gay, will enlarge upon their adventures, and perhaps end up by scathing references to marriage, asserting that there is nothing in it of any value, frequently in much cruder words than these. If such a person is a good talker, it is sometimes hard to find, on the spur of the moment, the right truths to meet a violent attack of this nature, even in considering it in one's private thoughts. The falsities he uses are like the plague of locusts, pictured in the Book of Revelation, "with breastplates of iron" protecting them, and for the time being carrying everything before them. We shall do well to recognise this, and then reflect that we have no need to believe what he says, because there is beneath his plausible words about chaste marriage a fallacy that renders them faulty. It is simply that he has never tried it himself, and therefore can never know what it is, even if he were to observe all the outward conventions of married life for a while. Hell cannot look into heaven.

These references to the different ways in which we may be influenced by other people's views on sex and marriage have been somewhat lengthy, and it may also be said that they are mostly negative. They do not tell us anything very definite about the teaching of the New Church on the subject, but rather what we ought not to do. No apology is needed for this, however, as the outstanding commandment on the whole subject is negative. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." We should quote it to ourselves whenever we need to he strengthened, for truth is in the fulness of its power in the sense of the letter of the Word, and reflect that it is involved in the teaching that we should shun evils as sins.

It is worth noticing the word "shun." It conveys the meaning that we are to turn away decisively and deliberately. Before we can shun evils, we must, of course, first discover what they are, and see them clearly, but we are not told that the best way to deal with them is to daily with them, think about them continually, and have the lurking fear even when they are not present, that they will soon return to worry us once more. We are not told that morbid introspection is right. On the contrary the plain and forceful teaching of the Word and the Doctrines is that we are to shun evils as sins, which clearly implies that we are to turn our thoughts away from them and reject them. This is the best possible psychology for the situation and can be extremely effective in practice.

To complete this introduction, it will be useful to return to the New Church truth that marriage is for eternity, and to the thought that this belief is certain to affect our outlook on the whole subject if we take it seriously. For example, to a young couple just about to get married it implies that their delight in each other is a kind of wonderful prophecy of a heavenly state in which they will "continually advance to the spring-time of life." To someone who is much older, and who sees youthfulness fading from the body of his or her married partner and the signs of age taking its place, it implies that such things are only a passing phase, and that youth will later on he renewed in the spiritual world, but this time having with it a life-time's wisdom and depth of affection which it certainly did not have in the days of early marriage.

Previous: Preface Up: The Psychology of Sex and Marriage Next: Chapter II. Before Marriage


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