So Protestants in their ways degraded marriage by depriving it of sacramental status as a manifestation of the divine personal logos in the world. Marriage became predominately natural but still holy and Christian. It wasn’t rechained to the paganism of aristocratic patriarchy. For most Protestants, the marriage tie remained relational and binding, and in fact it became expected of everyone—even or especially members of the clergy—as, for one thing, a remedy for the sin of lust. To be personal continued to mean, for most Protestants, to be relational. The status of the Trinity was no longer clearly connected to the requirements of personal logos. But the Trinity remained a mystery that reflected something fundamental about who God is and those made in his image are. Tocqueville emphasizes that the Puritans were family men and women, and he contrasts them in their civilized religious and communal idealism from the solitary and rather godless adventurers who founded Virginia.

But, in Tocqeuville’s largely true telling, the insistently religous dimension of being Puritanical faded in our country. And what eventually became the dominant form of Christian heresy in America we typically trace to John Locke. Locke’s intention is sometimes said to be anti-Christian, but he actually wanted to reform Christianity to tell the whole truth about the free person the early Christians discovered. The early Christians weren’t consistent enough in understanding the personal insight.

Locke wanted to separate the PERSON from LOGOS not for the sake of God (as Luther did), but for the sake of the person. LOGOS, for Locke, is the impersonal, mechanistic necessity that governs NATURE, a process that has no place for persons and is hostile to personal existence. Socrates, the thinker, ended up negating personal experience or personal significance on behalf of allowing his mind to grasp the truth about natural necessity. But Locke, the thinker, affirmed the person—and the reality created by free persons—against nature. Locke rejected the Christian view that we’re personal and relational by nature, but he accepted the Christian view—and added to the Christian view—that we are free persons. For him, our personal liberation comes from ourselves, and not God or created nature.

Locke agreed with St.Augustine that we’re all free persons. And on the Christian foundation he joined Augustine in finding no truth in natural theology and civil theology. None of us exist for nature or for our countries, and it is degrading and enslaving for free persons to think otherwise. For the Christians before Locke, the person is relational, embodied being, and so he is a part of nature and a part of his country, but more. For Locke, he is only more—he is only free.

For Locke, the person is in no sense a relational—meaning natural or instinctual—being. The person is not a biological being or a political being. The person is free to exist for himself, and to relate to others on behalf of his own interests or on his own personal terms. He constructs himself out of nothing, and his main interests are sustaining his personal being indefinitely and pursuing his own happiness.

So God, for Locke, is a person, but not a relational being. The Christian doctrine Locke rejected emphatically was the Trinity. God is not three persons relating with one another. He is a single person who exists for himself, and he is animated by his freedom and not by his personal love. So, although God created us, he has no personal relationship with us.

Locke typically presents God, for us, in the past-tense, or not as a living, giving God. God made us, but left us on our own to sustain ourselves as best we can as free persons. Each of us is as on our own as a person as God himself is. Locke’s God is certainly not one who provides for other persons. To the extent we can say God wants anything for us, we can say he wants us to make ourselves as free as he is. To think of ourselves as lovingly dependent on God degrades us and turns us into suckers.

From Locke’s view, his innovative form of Christianity aims to complete the process of personal liberation inaugurated by Jesus. He more completely liberates us from nature and the city by freeing us, as best he can, from our duties as biological and political beings. And he goes on to free us, as best he can, from the relational bonds of marriage. For Locke, not only is marriage not a sacrament or covenant, it’s a contract with none of the baggage of love for personal convenience.

Locke doesn’t describe the relationship between man and woman as one of love or completing oneself through another. Each of us is already a self-sufficient person. Marriage is a contract to have regular access to one another’s bodies. The result is children. And with children, Locke adds, comes the obligation—-to which in this case he adds love—to raise them. So the marriage contact should hold until the children are raised. At that point, unless you’re still enjoying the sexual exclusivity, there’s no point in staying together.

We can say that Locke presumes the continuation of the family in a way that preserves the species. Children are the natural limit to liberation, as is the love parents or at least mothers will have for children once they have them. But Locke also says, quite plainly, that free persons should invent their way out of natural limitations whenever they can. What we’re given by nature, his general view is, we’re better off without.

So Locke didn’t predict the era of contraception, but he has no principled argument against it. He would surely see it as a new birth of freedom for persons. They could enjoy one another’s bodies without being saddled by shared responsibilities. Certainly he would welcome a world in which people so freely choose to have children or not be stuck with them as a byproduct of sex.

Insofar as possible, Locke doesn’t want to think of ourselves as men and women, and he wants to free women, especially, of the duties nature seems to impose on them through sexual differentiation. He doesn’t want women to be compelled to be more relational than men.

So it’s on Lockean principles that even our Constitution of 1787 never refers to men or women, but only to persons. Our Constitution is as blind on gender or sex as it is on race or class or religion. And it’s on those Lockean principles that woman eventually became free to participate fully in public and economic life with men. Women were freed from the specific bodily burdens of being women to be free and equal persons.

Through most of the history of our country, we had a kind of mixture of Lockean and more relationally or orthodox Christian views of who we are. The laws of the states, which were the laws that governed marriage and almost all of ordinary life, weren’t all that particularly Lockean. And so marriage was a relational union recognized by law, divorce was between difficult and impossible, adultery discouraged and chastity promoted, and the connection between being married and being parents was strong. And the various forms of orthodox Christianity were encouraged to inculcate their personal and relational understandings of who we are as believers. Our nation—despite the Lockeanism of the Founders—basically remained a nation of families.

But over time even state law was progressively Lockeanized—-divorce became easier, adultery and chastity viewed with growing indifference, and the tie between being married and being parents became increasingly tenuous. Marriage became, increasingly, a contract in one’s own interest that could be broken at personal will. And, of course, the Supreme Court a generation ago embarked on the project to use the Fourteenth Amendment as a weapon to transform the details of state and local life with the Lockean view of personhood or autonomy in mind.

Here three big points our Court has made on who we are as free persons: In Lawrence v. Texas (the case that struck down a law prohibiting homosexual sodomy): The word liberty in the Constitution is nothing but a word used to expand personal liberty for every new generation. It is a weapon to free persons from what used to be thought of as necessary and proper natural or divine or political or just relational duties. Here’s a second point from from Lawrence : Personhood requires honoring all intimate, consensual choices—including casual sexual encounters—by any two autonomous beings, persons who aren’t essentially male or female, who aren’t defined by their biology. Finally, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey , the Court told us that the reason abortion can’t be illegal is that the state can’t command women to be reproductive machines for the state or impose any substantial impediment on women defining themselves as free persons however they please. Each woman is mysteriously freed from being bound to nature, politics, or the family for whomever she chooses to be.

It seems to me that our Court has done well in thinking through what it means to be personal but not relational under the law. It can be criticized for “deconstructing” marriage as an instiution indispensable for our flourishing as who we really are. But that criticism doesn’t have much weight if we really are as free as Locke, on the foundation of one part of Christian doctrine at the expense of others, believes.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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