Having been deeply hurt in a few prominent Christian institution in Singapore and Malaysia, I can’t help but wonder the reasons behind all that I’ve experienced. As I try to make sense of everything that had happened, my background in Sociology kept pulling me back to Weber’s analysis of the Protestant Ethics and how it shaped people’s view on salvation.
In the Protestant Ethics, Weber (1930) pointed out that the religious basis limit specialised work as a condition of any valuable work in the modern world. In his argument, he pointed out labour is ordained by God and the unwillingness to work in (specialised) labour is symptomatic to the lack of grace. Even though the Protestant argues that we are saved by grace and not by works, it is said that “God helps those who helps themselves” (Weber, 1930, p. 69). In other words, if we found our calling and engages in God’s given calling, we will be more assured of our salvation.
That being said, I felt that the notion of the calling and the loyalty to it is deeply entrenched in the Christian psyche. There was the constant fear of being the person who “remains in constant confusion” as opposed to the “specialised worker” (Weber, 1930, p. 107). Such a belief echoes throughout the Christian life, causing the Christian to wonder whether the church one’s attending is God’s will. Such a belief made a person question whether the person one’s dating is God’s will, whether the career one’s embarking on is God’s will, or whether the school one’s attending is God’s will. It is on this basis that I want to analyse our modern perspective of relationships and marriage.
The Christian has a constant fear of being with someone who is not suitable for him/her. Just google “how do I know if the person I’m dating is right for me” and we will find an ever-increasing amount of resources telling us the pointers to look out for. Even though there is an increasing Christian resources that tells people that there is no such thing as the right person (such argument states that as long as the potential partner is Christian, it’s fine), the constant fear ingrained within the Christian psyche still haunts the individual.
That said, the fear of commitment can be seen to strike the Christian most at the moment of uttering the wedding vows. After all, the rates of divorce is on the rise (CNA, 2020), and that you have a 13 percent chance for the engagement to be called off (Sohn, 2016). Not forgetting that if you actually get married, you will have a 30% of chance of experiencing domestic violence (Heng, 2019)… That sucks, right? Wait, there’s more. The protestant ethics tells you that there is no way out.
World renown pastor John Piper exclaimed that the way to know if the you married the “right person” (notice the term and how it corresponds to the God predestined choice in the above summary on specialisation?), is to “look at your wedding certificate” (Piper, 2020). In other words, the person you married is “God’s will” for you. And if you ever think of divorce as a way out? The Bible says that what God joins, let not man separate. You must not divorce unless on the grounds of adultery and if you ever do divorce, you must not remarry. (I doubt I need to quote the verses here. You know what I’m talking about.)
Here, it appears that if you picked the “wrong soul”, your marriage will be a one-way ticket to hell. You’re giving yourself, heart, body, and soul, to another living being, with an extremely high chance of being hurt and without a way out.
If you marry the right person, the Bible wrote that you find a good thing (Proverbs 18:22). But if you don’t, then you must put up with all of the nonsense the person throws at you along with the discrimination the Christian Church has for you.
My recent episode of dating a single mother sparked a great deal of commotion in both the Singapore Anglican community as well as the Malaysian Presbyterian churches. The issue was the girl I dated was a single mother who was never legally married (and hence, not legally divorced). She left the family due to domestic violence and has not seen her child since. That in itself sucks. But when I started dating her, the onslaught of discrimination from both the Christian communities and my family made us absolutely miserable on the matter. It appears that a harmless mistake like getting married can appear to be a death sentence for any innocent Christian if they are not careful. It appears that the person who displays so many red flags before marriage can be called a “jerk”, but once these red flags are discovered after marriage, “jerk” becomes “God’s will”. Since he/she is God’s will, you are destined to be confined to a life-long torture with absolutely no way out (unless, of course, you leave the faith or leave the Christian community). That said, if you had a happily-ever-after, then your marriage is seen as a blessing from God; a mark of reassurance of salvation for the family according to the Protestant Ethics.
Such stresses from the Christian community piles up on the individual, causing us to fear the notion of marriage and the impending commitment that we will need to make. Often, such notion comes with negative connotations that is detrimental to the propagation of humanity. Speaking of aging population, reduction in marriages, and declining birth rates.
What, therefore, can we do? To make aware the seriousness of the Protestant Ethics and the shadows that it casts on the different aspects of our lives. To advocate for awareness on the matter and help people transcend it. Sure, assurance salvation is one thing. Sure, the need to do God’s will is another. But let’s not forget the importance of freewill. We are saved by faith, not by works. We will be saved as long as we have the faith in Christ. It doesn’t matter what work we do, who we marry, or what career path we choose. Even if we are like Jonah and we go the opposite direction from where God is calling, we will still ultimately saved. Even God forgave Rahab the prostitute and Solomon’s adulterous ways and allowed them to be important figures in Biblical history. Why can’t we forgive people with failed marriages?
Sure, the institution of marriage is important and should be dealt with with utmost respect. But let us also remember that the marriage we conduct are the union of two sinful, imperfect, human beings. We are not the perfect God who can forgive all wrongs. We are two needy human beings coming together. Let us, as a Christian community, be less harsh on singles seeking suitable mates to date. Let us be less harsh to those who are facing marital issues. Let us not discriminate against people with failed marriages. Let us learn to love one another as how God would love us. Let us learn to forgive one another as how Christ forgave the worst of our sins.
Marriage isn’t a death sentence. It shouldn’t be. Let’s make a change.
CNA. (2020). Fewer marriages, more divorces in Singapore last year. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/fewer-marriages-more-divorces-2019-singapore-singstat-12968970
Heng, M. (2019). 3 in 10 here have faced domestic abuse cases: Poll. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/3-in-10-here-have-faced-domestic-abuse-cases-poll
Piper, J. (2020). How do I care for my depressed wife? Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-do-i-care-for-my-depressed-wife
Sohn, A. (2016). You’ve Canceled the Wedding, Now the Aftermath. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/fashion/weddings/canceled-weddings-what-to-do.html
Weber, M., Parsons, T., & Giddens, A. (1930). Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Routledge.Image by adamkontor from Pixabay
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