Godly Marriage and Other Christian Cruelties
I do celebrate Christmas, in a secular way, with my religious parents. The Church of Christ, the sect they belong to, would never celebrate holidays religiously because that might be fun or interesting and either of those things might compromise the requisite superiority about not being a part of any other sect. That all being said, I spent Christmas morning cleaning my mother’s kitchen cabinets, because that’s what she asked for as a present. I’d honestly be more in favor of materialistic consumer goods as gifts, those being far less work, but it made her happy. She mentioned, in passing, that she knew a woman whose husband “made her clean out the cabinets once a month.” My mother continued that she always felt rather sorry for this woman, as it’s a lot of work, and not really that necessary more than once every few years assuming you generate a normal amount of mess. The part where this woman’s husband is making her do this, implying a level of domestic slavery that isn’t typically openly acknowledged as a feature of a certain type of Christian marriage, did not seem to bug my mother as much as it did me. I was polite and managed not to rant at the time, but it does underscore how much marriage sort of horrifies me at this point.
Growing up, marriage was really supposed to be the end goal of my existence. Preachers would talk about how the young people were the future elders and preachers, and elders’ wives and preachers’ wives. Sunday School teachers in the teenage classes talked about how we should already be thinking of who to marry. Meanwhile, I was forced to help in the church nursery, which largely consisted of me being expected to mind the babies while the older women complaining about their husbands and said husbands’ apparent habits of being slovenly and never doing anything around the house. In fact, in general men were presented to me as being immature slobs, to the point that the many verses about women being in submission were justified to me as “well, if women were in charge, men wouldn’t join the church.” But not only must this theorized immaturity be catered, I must aspire to submit to one of these immature slobs for the rest of my life. If my future husband was such a suboptimal person, well, it could be much worse. My great grandmother married a man who was, by all accounts, probably a psychopath, and the remarks made about how in all photos she started looking really old were things like “well, she made a bad bed to lie in.” In other words, getting married is the life goal of all women, but if the woman makes a mistake she is stuck with it forever. No pressure. By the way, marriage should happen young, ideally, so we completely expect teenagers who may or may not have been to college to make literally an irreversible and life changing choice, and we expect them to do it perfectly. The first time. If they fail, the penalty is a lifetime of misery. One more thing, young ladies, there are many Sunday School homilies and anecdotes about men converted because they wanted to date the pretty girls [sic] who are now their wives. So marriage is a tool for attracting more converts to Christ via being feminine and pretty (also, there are almost always more women than men in the church; most marriages must occur with outsiders). Failure to convert one’s husband is a matter for the congregation to pray for you. You should probably have been more pretty. Dressing immodestly and/or inspiring lust is, of course, still a sin. Unsurprisingly, I was often anxious about the way in which other people, particularly men, might be perceiving me.
Having deconverted and gained friends who don’t have horribly impossible expectations for my marital future, I am generally now aware that an egalitarian and happy marriage in which the participants respect one another and don’t follow rigid and gender-based division of labor is possible. Despite that, I still have a personal aversion to marriage just in concept. I know that’s not rational, but growing up, the pressure to find (or convert) some godly man to marry combined with people making marriage sound as dreadful as possible has left me strongly averse to the whole thing.