Many kinds of questions, he said, could gauge the quality of a relationship between two people – rather than just the reported happiness of the individuals involved.
He suggested asking: “Do you trust the other person? Are you more 'one' with the other person? Do you pool your resources? Do you share labor? Do you share goals? Do you talk about the things you hold in common, and try to make them better?”
“Those are the things I would expect marriage to be better for, than cohabitation – not things like, 'Taken altogether, are you happy?'”
But Yenor observed that the authors of “Reexamining the Case for Marriage” were responding, in large part, to pro-marriage studies that may have made the same kinds of troubling omissions.
In his opinion, these defenders of marriage may have given too much ground to their opponents' assumptions, by focusing on marriage as a source of individual fulfillment for adults.
“What a lot of conservative scholars have done with the family – and this is what the journal article's going against – is to say: 'Even given the pitifully thin goal of modern self-esteem, marriage is better than cohabitation.'”
“Usually you want to judge marriage on other grounds: 'Is it good for the kids? Is love present? Are people living more virtuous lives?' But since society's rejected those kinds of standards, conservative defenders of marriage are willing to use the standard: 'Does it provide happiness and self-esteem?'”
“What I try to argue in my book, is that defenders of marriage and family life need to defend it on 'thicker' grounds,” said Yenor.
“Once we give up, and say marriage is about promoting individual happiness and self-esteem, we've already lost most of the battle. The marriage that exists to promote those goals is already going to be a weak marriage.”
“We need to defend marriage as a serious community that requires commitment, time, and investment – getting away from the goals that modern autonomy has set, and back to what the family's true goals are.”
Pro-family sociologists, Yenor warned, will find the institution of family “increasingly difficult to defend” on the basis of their opponents' own assumptions about mere individual happiness.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Although Yenor is himself Lutheran rather than Catholic, his book “Family Politics” concludes with a discussion of Pope John Paul II's ideas about love, marriage, the family, and society.
He told CNA that sociologists, like other scholars, can learn much from the late philosopher-pope.
“What he does is defend necessary connections,” Yenor recounted. “There are things that are connected, in the created order – and there are many attempts in the modern world, to sever those things that are connected.
“Love and marriage are connected – and when you try to disconnect them, you end up with less love, and bad relationships. Likewise, contraception severs the connection between sex and procreation. When you sever that connection, you end up with people using each other, and neglected children.”
“In a way, he's a great sociologist,” Yenor said of Pope John Paul II. “The original French sociologists of the 1800s were trying to establish, through social science, the connections that exist as sources of order in the world.”
“What John Paul does, is show that those sources of order and fulfillment” – particularly the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman – “are rooted in human nature, which can't be changed and manipulated.”