Next week Malta faces one of the hottest Referenda ever to be put forward in our society.
Should we introduce divorce for those people who are struggling with unfulfilling relationships and help them find space to start a new life?
Or will divorce open a pandora’s box that will change the fabric of our society?
I have given this some really hard thought because normally I pride myself with the idea that I am no one’s stoogie and I won’t be influenced simply by billboards or someone’s opinion. So I decided to really dig into this and research the subject a bit to come up with an informed conclusion that makes me feel convinced about the decision I have to take.
So let me put forward the For and Against Divorce cases and then I tell you what my final decision is after my deep reflection.
The case for divorce
There is no doubt that people are suffering in difficult relationships that create a living hell everyday for themselves and for those around them. It is clear that the effect of daily conflicts between married couples on their children is devastating and highly destructive psychologically. Marriage is a challenging commitment and over time, yes, people do change… and what seemed everlasting love and happiness can turn into bitterness and even loathing. We are humans and our chemistry, our thinking, needs, desires. attractions and yes, even values can change over time.
Because of this it seems unfair that people are made to live in such a hell because of the whims of those who are lucky enough to have a good relationship. My value of freedom and liberty shouts out against those who want to impose any kind of decisions on others. In a democratic society where each individual’s right to freedom is acknowledged, laws that enchain people to each other seem to be a shocking incongruence. After all why should two people who have lost any sense of connection with each other be prevented from starting afresh a new life that promises new love and new stimulation?
As a person who values freedom I find myself uneasy at the thought of being in cahoots with laws that infringe the individual rights. And probably most people will agree that if we put the children’s needs at the fore of this debate, children certainly suffer in families that are torn by daily strife. And what about women who are beaten up, and men who are abused by words or action? What about those who genuinely feel that they need to move on in life and enter new pastures because whatever meaning their marriage gave them has flickered away into a natural death?
Are these people to continue suffering?
The Case against Divorce
So what is the case against divorce as I perceive it personally?
I believe that deep deep down people yearn for lasting connection with a person they love and feel loved by. If you ask around most people will probably tell you, if they are sincere, that given a choice they would prefer to have a stable relationship that provides deep fulfillment. And if you ask the children they will also probably tell you that they prefer to have a stable and loving family. But you might say….. yeh sure, most people would at some stage in their life want to meet with their soul mate. fall madly in love and settle down to live happily ever after, but the reality is that this could just be a pipe dream. By introducing divorce you can at least provide people with another chance.
But what worries me most is the subtle shift in the psychological fabric of society that would occur if divorce were to be instituted. I feel that the stability of some families would be corroded and people going for the vows of wedding would now know, deep down in the deep recesses of their subconscious, that the sense of security and firmness of the words ’till death do us part’ are now a sham. Even if subtle and unconscious, this reality, I believe will influence some people into self-fulfilling prophesies as they may move into marriage with a nagging feeling that this might soon be over. You may say…. Reggie, get real! Look around you! Can’t you listen to the popping sounds of relationships as they burst into oblivion around you. True again…. but then, should we encourage it even more? Should we accept that the concept of creating lasting relationships is over because we have consciously chosen to introduce a structure of exit?
I am not a person who shines out as an example of spiritual enlightment or piety – believe me. I am a frail human with a clear attraction to worldly desires and I have my share amount of difficulties and struggles with these issues. I love excitement and trying out new things and freedom is important for me. Still, part of me does not feel comfortable with the idea of being responsible to devolve the importance of a life time marriage in society. One might say that divorce gives the opportunity for another marriage, but I believe it is never the same as the first one. Over the past weeks, I have talked to some friends of mine who have gone through the throes of separation and divorce in the past, and they tell me how painful it is, especially for the children who, if of a sensitive nature, never really come out of the disappointment, disillusionment or hope of a reunion. What is more, this behaviour of children has been described to me by one of my friends as a feeling that the parent’s marriage is somehow ‘holy’ in nature. In one case the son of my friend saw the partner of his wife in the house. The partner without even thinking put his cigarettes on the desk where his father used to work at home. The boy was so angry that the ‘holy’ place where his father used to sit had been infringed by this man that he went and threw away the cigarettes of the partner in the dustbin. One might argue that these things are happening everyday in Catholic Malta and separations are rampant and increasing everyday. True again, but again, should we continue to create even more official pathways of family erosion?
My Hero and Light in life.
As I said I am no guru and I cannot say I am a man of great faith or example, but there is a person who is a hero and a light in my life…. that is whenever I stop rushing after worldly successes and stimulations and give Him space to work on me.
Jesus, unlike me, never doubted or mixed issues. He was clear in his thinking and never minced words.
So the question I ask myself today is a simple one.
Do I choose to be a true Christian or shall I continue paying lip service to someone I do not truly believe in?
This is a difficult question for me. It is a big challenge to be a true Christian because I am weak in a lot of things and find that my intrinsic values can occasionally clash with Christ’s clear message.
But one thing I know for sure.
Deep down inside my soul ‘knows’ the Truth that He speaks of…. and because of this I have to try and put Him as my beacon of light in difficult matters such as these….. and I am sharing this with all of you so as to bear witness for Him openly (for once!)
So what does Jesus say on divorce? Does he mince words? Let’s have a look:
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”3 “What did Moses command you?”he replied.4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered,“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery’ (Lk 16:18).
Now I know what’s coming next. Someone will come up with the Gospel of Matthew and the famous ‘exceptive clause’ to argue that Jesus did acknowledge that divorce could be given in certain circumstances. When I heard this I was intrigued and decided to do some research. Let’s have a brief look at what I found.
‘But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity/fornication [porneia], causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery’ (Mt 5:32).
‘Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife,except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Mt 9, 1:13)
So is Jesus giving permission for divorce in cases of sexual immorality? We can never be 100% sure exactly what Jesus meant but we can always look at what the Bible scholars are saying.
Jack Mahoney (http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20090825_1.htm) states that modern biblical scholarship has thrown valuable light on the apparent contradiction between the strong words in Mark and the exception clause in Matthew. The different gospels each provide a window onto the particular Christian community from which they emerged. It is agreed that St Matthew’s gospel is addressed at the early Jewish converts worried about the Judaism and Jewish practices they had left behind in becoming Christians. To understand the context of Matthew’s exception clause it is important to look into the word porneia.
Jack Mahoney states that the Greek word porneia (which is the basis of the English ‘pornography’, or writing about prostitutes) is found in two other passages in the New Testament, where it appears to have a much more specific meaning than ‘adultery’ or ‘fornication.’ One passage is in Paul’s first letter to his Corinthian converts (1 Cor 5:1), where he applies it to a case of ‘unheard of’ immorality (porneia) in the Christian community, in which a man has married his stepmother. Thus the term seems to refer not just to a sexual sin but to some special type of sexual relationship which contravened the Jewish law on marriage e.g. marrying a family member – in effect a situation where a marriage was never lawful in the first place. Matthew’s exception clause could be stating that in such situations where pagan converts to Christianity happened to be already in such unlawful marriages due to their previous pagan living they could be divorced through the exception clause.
Julian Freeman http://julianfreeman.ca/articles/divorce-exception-clauses-matthews-gospel also puts in the argument that Porneia could refer to illicit sexual activity during the time when Jewish couples were betrothed and ‘married’ but their marriage was not as yet physically consummated (as in the case of St.Joseph who spent a year ‘married’ to Mary but living separately and considered ‘divorcing’ her when news reached him she was pregnant with Jesus). Thus, the exception law could also be referring not to marriage as we know it but to the betrothed period when Jews were technically married but had not actually become ‘one body’ . In other words Jesus might have been referring not to marriages as we understand them today but to the unique situations brought about by Porneia.
If this is so the conclusion is, then, that Jesus was entirely consistent in his absolute rejection of divorce, without exception, invoking God’s ordinance at creation that ‘what God hath joined, let no man put asunder’.
So where does that leave me?
It leaves me with a stark choice on the 28 th May when I go to vote at the Referendum.
Should I vote according to my personal values of freedom, liberty, adventure and respect for the individual rights? Values I cherish and feel passionate about – values that make me feel whole and energized as a person? Should I help to provide people with a second chance to find new love and excitement, things which are a humane need and a powerful attraction for us all? Should I help to provide a new lease of stability and breath of fresh air for people who’s suffering I can feel and truly empathize with?
Or should I abide to my higher principles even if part of me feels uncomfortable …. even if part of me must die for the ideals of the Son of God who I admire?
The answer is now clear and unequivocal
I choose to adhere and be a witness to Jesus even if I fail him everyday in my daily transgressions. Even if my heart truly goes out for those who are suffering because I can understand their pain.
I will put Jesus’s teachings above my whims and on the 28th I will go and vote ‘NO’ for divorce.
I will vote NO because I believe that Jesus is the Way and the Light in a world that has a tendency to become lost in a race of momentary pleasure and without any sense of real direction. I have lived a life that looked only for personal pleasure, self-fulfillment, excitement and achievement. Nothing wrong with most of them but I also know that when I was closer to Christ I felt better inside. And if He says that divorce is not the way, then I will abide by His words, even if part of me hurts at reneging on my values. In this way my witness for Christ is even more powerful because I follow His advice not because it is convenient for me, but because I have chosen to put Him first.
So my decision is final. Period.
I am sorry if I disappointed people who think I am liberal in my thinking. I am still very liberal, fun loving and freedom seeking, but I was quite surprised to find that when the going got tough, I realized quite happily that Jesus comes before my personal values and although it pains me to think that some people will suffer in nasty relationships I believe that introducing divorce is not in the interest of the common good of humanity.
History and experiences of other countries shows this very clearly. I think the problem is not marriage but the lack of support there is to promote strong relationships. I know that I will receive a lot of flak from people who believe that divorce is a human right but my principles need to be honored and as I respect other people’s opinions so I expect others to respect mine and I will not be drawn into long discussions over the subject. What I had to say I have said.
One final important comment.
While I totally respect the opinion of both parties moving forward their arguments for or against the issue of divorce, I am quite disappointed by the way both of them have carried out this campaign. Why are we all madly rushing around the country plastering pictures of sad children and bloated faces of battered women to try and score a point? This seems manipulative and disrespectful for the intelligence of people. I am not here referring to people like Bishop Mario Grech who has led a courageous, relentless and passionate campaign against all odds. I am referring mostly to the glossy posters we see in the streets.
Again I would like to ask our society this question:
Are we focusing on problems or solutions?
Are we seeking a quick-fix solution or a long term solution?
What I would like to see is more EFFECTIVE and practical help in the preparation before I get married.
I want to have more support whenever my marriage is in crisis and at a stage before my marriage is beyond repair.
I want to see a combined effort by the Government and the Church to provide Marriage Experts and Coaches who GENUINELY want to help me if my marriage is in distress. (BTW Prosit to the President of Malta, Dr. G. Abela for the research he is doing on families as I think it can lead to some ideas on the way forward. I believe he is one of the few persons who are really doing something tangible and sensible in this whole scenario)
Let’s stop this war of attrition where both sides seem to be caught in a frenzy of competitive spirit. Let’s stick up Billboards that show us how we can find real help at an early stage to try and salvage marriages that are in the red.
Let’s focus on what we want and not on what we do not want!
Let’s all cry out for a system that focuses on positive psychology – not reaction to problems.
We are all Children of God and let us not judge one another. My testimonial is simply my belief and I am not trying to influence anyone. However I felt it was my duty to share my thoughts with all of you.
Next week the discussion will be over and whatever the result, life will go on for all of us with all the challenges each and every one of us must face….and we must learn to live together in harmony.
May God bless our beautiful Nation, heal the rifts between us, help all those who suffer and make us focus on what we are grateful for and what is positive and good in all of us.