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Marriage, Family and Sexuality

Marriage, Family and Sexuality


This lesson will discuss ideas on marriage and sexuality from various religious traditions.

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Marriage, Family, and Sexuality

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Welcome to this tutorial on marriage, the family, and sexuality. In this tutorial, we're going to be taking a look at how various different religions conceive of the family and the proper role for sexuality. In most traditions around the world, both marriage and the family are considered sacred. And most religions have some way of addressing marriage and talking about the family and ensuring that both of these institutions go along the proper path to lead to a more harmonious society.

There's also a lot of symbolism wrapped up in marriage. Just to take a quick look at the Judeo-Christian traditions. There's a lot of imagery in the Bible about the significance of marriage as a kind of mystical union, initially between Israel, the chosen people and Yahweh, God. You can see this throughout the prophetic writings as well as in the Psalms.

Later on this becomes significant for the Christian church as the church is conceived as the bride of Christ. And also in marriage rituals, where the bride and the groom mystically stand for the union of God with God's chosen people.

So it's not surprising then that the Jewish and Christian traditions would, have well, also any Abrahamic tradition, would have a lot of rules and regulations surrounding marriage. Because this imagery is just very central to these traditions. In the Roman Catholic teaching, for example, God is considered the author marriage.

That is, marriage is not something that only humans do. It's something that God does. So the Catholic Church traditionally viewed divorce as an impossibility. And the church does not recognize divorce. So you can get an annulment from the Church, but you can't get a divorce.

In Judeo-Christian ethics today, we can see many different roles for marriage. Is marriage about mutual support and love? Is it about companionship? Or is it about procreation and rearing children? We can see these different roles. And oftentimes, these roles are in competition with each other.

So each religion has to work out its ethics of sexuality and its ethics of marriage. We can see today that ideas about marriage and sexuality are major sources of tension within religions around the world. How should these traditions respond to divorce? How should they respond to adultery? How should they respond to homosexuality and same sex marriage?

This topic is gathering-- is at the top of the headlines today, right, as the Supreme Court debates this issue. What about premarital sex and cohabitation? Or what about gender roles? Should the man be the breadwinner and the woman be home to take care of the children? Or can we tolerate more equality and more flexibility in gender roles.

All of these are very much debated topics about which religions give guidance. Getting away from the Judeo-Christian traditions, one of the more famous parts about Confucianism are those Five Constant Relationships. It's important to note that these don't really stemmed from the writings of Confucius himself.

He might mention these here and there. He never mentions them in exactly this codified form. So these probably stem more from the later Confucian traditions. But the idea is that if these Five Constant Relationships are preserved, then society will be peaceful and harmonious.

So rulers should be just and kind, and subjects should obey the rulers. In friendships, the junior friend should obey and honor and respect the elder friend. The wife should obey the husband. We find the same idea in St. Paul. The child should obey the parent. And the junior sibling should obey the elder sibling.

These Five Constant Relationships have given Confucianism a reputation for being inflexible and conservative and patriarchal. But according to Confucian tradition, these make for a stable and peaceful society.

And just to speak on behalf of Confucianism, all of these take place in the context of universal love. And that the person who's in the position of power should never do anything to abuse that power and should always look out for the well-being of the person who is in their care.

Turning our attention to some other traditions. In Judaism, marriage is viewed at least in part as being for the purpose procreation. So Judaism says that sure there are other purposes for marriage for mutual support and so forth and is even willing to say, yeah, sex is pleasurable.

There's also this command in the Bible, the Jewish scriptures, that people should be fruitful and multiply. So Judaism affirms that this is at least one of the purposes marriage. Turning our attention to Hinduism. In Hinduism, there are two different tracks, two different paths that one can go down in life.

One of them is the grihasta, the path of the householder. And if one is a householder, having children, having a career, having a home, worshiping the gods, all of these kind of go together. And householders are expected to have children if they are able to.

And the other path is the path of the sannyasin, or the renunciates. Renunciates are not expected to marry or have children. But this isn't sort of the easy path because sannyasins are expected to perform religious austerities like fasting and reciting of scriptures and meditation.

And the sannyasin path is full of very difficult hardships. Also in the later stages of life, householders, when they get to be about 55, can begin to turn their minds towards religious things in a more full-time kind of way.

But prior to that, they should be concerned with fulfilling their duties. The duties of raising children, the duties of a career and having a home. SO they are to fulfill their religious duties but not in a full-time kind of way like sannyasins are.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on marriage, family, and sexuality. We said that religions around the world view sex, the family, and marriage as something sacred and have various different rules and regulations governing sexuality. We said that in the Catholic Church as well as in all the Abrahamic religions, marriage is viewed as something instituted by God, and therefore is not something that can be broken.

So most traditions around the world have stigmatized divorce in one way or another. Also, the same goes for procreation. Just as the Creator made human beings, the person who engages in the sexual act with the intent of procreation joins in that act of creation.

And this goes some way to explaining why these traditions have stigmatized adultery and homosexuality and sought to regulate them or banned them. We also talked about Confucius and the Five Constant Relationships which are supposed to maintain the peace in society.

We talked about within Judaism marriage being viewed as a contractual bond between partners and that marriage is important because it leads to the fulfillment of the command to be fruitful and multiply.

And we also talked about Hinduism and the two paths that one can go down in life, the household path and the renunciate path and that childbirth is generally considered not just obligatory but a major blessing in life for those who followed the householder path.

Terms to Know
Confucian Relationships

The five relationships specified in Confucianism, including marriage, that tend to stabilize society.


In Hinduism, a sacred duty.

Holy Matrimony

Marriage when sanctified specifically by religious authority; specific to Roman Catholicism and other form of Christianity.