Often today we hear cited the many broken relationships between couples who, after much consideration and heartbreak, decide that the continuance of a relationship is not worth the struggle. My heart aches for those who are faced with the detrimental experience of infidelity, abuse, or worse. However, I must take pause when I hear of such cases as the foundation for an argument against monogamy. In a recent interview, Avenger’s star Scarlett Johansson, stated that she didn’t think monogamy was ‘natural’. Stating that “It’s a lot of work. And the fact that it is such work for so many people — for everyone — the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing.” Like many, I’m sure Ms. Johansson has had to deal with the difficulty of arduous individuals and I can’t state what her experience might have been. Nevertheless, an argument for whether something is natural or not most assuredly cannot stem from its difficulty. It was difficult to build Chartres Cathedral, yet we would never look upon its grand display as something unnatural, rather we find ourselves in complete awe of its redemptive value for humanity and the keepsake of beauty. The only thing that we might find unnatural about it is that it is beyond our normal experience, but that may not mean it is unnatural, instead perhaps our vision of what is natural ought now to ascend to the higher value the Cathedral offers.
The basis for a discussion of the naturalness of any given thing ought to begin with the end in mind. In other words, what is the purpose of the thing in discussion? So, as an example, when I was a child I had the magnanimous dream of growing up and becoming Superman. I would don the cape twenty-four hours a day as I lived in the fantasy of fighting bad guys. This led me one day, at the tender age of five years old, to climb to the top of my backyard swing set, which held a climbing rope. With the mind of a five-year-old I decided I would prove I could fly like Superman, however I wrapped the rope around my neck, you know, just in case. By the grace of providence, my older cousin saw what I was doing from the kitchen window and stopped what could have been a nightmarish scene. Sure, in my mind I thought it was a great idea. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the purpose of the rope, nor of my neck to fulfill my Superman fantasies. To this day my mother still remembers that as one of the scariest days in her motherhood.
So, then, when it comes to marriage and a monogamous relationship, we must peer into the purpose of both sexuality and the human person. As ancient and modern philosophers would attest, man, since the beginning, has had a desire to be happy. Not a fleeting sort of happiness, but rather an all-embracing joy that surpasses the ups and downs of daily life. We seek this sense of happiness with reckless abandon. Through a biblical lens, we all hope and wish to be back in Eden. This would lend oneself to think that perhaps if we truly want to be happy, then we must adhere all our being to that desire. This would include our psychology, our finances, our economics, and of course, our sexuality. I’m sure even Ms. Johansson would agree that true happiness comes from true love, and that’s where both the purpose of the human person and their sexuality converge on the most fundamental degree. Authentically true, erotic love cannot come from a place of use. If I were to desire a polygamous relationship with many different women, ipso facto, I would be using each of them for my own desired end. Which is against both the purpose of a human being, as we are not created to be used by others, and our innate desire to be happy, as happiness ultimately resides in the proper end of a thing being sought. Rather, true love must come from a place of self-sacrifice, which means that hard work is the very prerequisite for true love to take place. And the properly oriented sexuality and its expression must lend toward the good of the other in the relationship. So, while monogamy might indeed be difficult, that doesn’t make it unnatural. Instead, much like Chartres Cathedral, it expands the heart and mind to what is possible.
G.K. Chesterton was once asked about the rise of a generation against monogamy. He retorted that perhaps the problem here is not that monogamy is too restrictive but rather that those pushing this effort are too constrained in their understanding of sex, “I could never mix in the common murmur of the rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself…. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it.” While sex is surely a natural thing among humanity and the animals, it is only human beings who can consider the heights of our natural abilities. Human beings have the unique talent of taking something as simple as a stone and beam and building one of the greatest architectural masterpieces on Earth, or taking a lens, a piece of film, and a few costumes to build an imaginative universe of superheroes and villains. We mustn’t so hastily demean something to say it is unnatural, when it is more natural to realize the unnaturalness of humanity in general. We ought rather to gaze at the heights of what is possible within the very natural fabric of human genius. Sexuality and monogamy might certainly seem odd, but it is its very oddity that makes it so attractive.
Chesterton followed up his thoughts by saying, “A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once.” We all desire, and dare I say, deserve, to be happy. It is in this grand adventure of seeking where that true happiness lies when we must sense and find the purpose of ourselves and our bodies, or else I fear we might be like that five-year-old kid sitting on top of his swing set, thinking he’s Superman with a rope for assurance, ready to jump.