Saturday, July 12, 2014

To Court or Not to Court?

Court - The primary sense and application are not perfectly obvious. Most probably the word is from a verb which signifies to go round, to collect.  American Dictionary Of The English Language, Noah Webster, 1828

There are many English uses of the word "court" as both a noun and verb, and as a root word of such terms as "courtship" and "courtesan." I am particularly concerned in this blog post with the verb usage described by Noah Webster as:

In a general sense, to flatter; to endeavor to please by civilities and address; 2. To woo; to solicit for marriage.

This definition is adequate for my rejection of courting as a legitimate method for procuring a wife. At least when it comes to my sons and daughters. Selecting a spouse is too serious and important a matter to be reduced to flattery, solicitation and seduction. It is not enough for a young man to be able to woo and win the heart of a young woman. I'm sure there are thousands of men out there who could succeed at that task concerning my daughter. I believe it is in the nature of young women to be impressionable and to respond to such appeals from men. Even Eve, probably the purest and most intelligent woman who ever lived was wooed into a conversation with the serpent in the garden. His manner of address and civilities toward her were enough to overcome what should have been her hesitance to speak with him.

And why should a young man have to put all of his hopes for a good wife upon his success at being wily? Why should he be addressing himself at all to an impressionable young lady? If she falls for him, does that assure him she will be a good and faithful wife? If she doesn't fall for him, does that mean they shouldn't marry? We are talking about a woman who can't make a long term decision about hair style or shoes and we are putting it into her hands to decide whether she should or should not marry this man? What other good decisions has this young lady made? Is she the most qualified to make this very important decision? Do not men need to guard their hearts and be protected from heartbreak and rejection as much as women? Why should a man put it all out there with the potential to be stomped? How many men are willing to face the gauntlet of fickle female emotion? It is little wonder that many Christian young men are skipping this challenge and choosing to remain single.

If he should be successful in the wooing, he still has to face a myriad of other potential gate-closers. See my post here about that challenge.

Another usage of the word "court" contributes to my dislike of it as a method for finding a spouse. In nations that have a monarchy or aristocracy, the court refers to both the place of residence of a king or sovereign prince as well as the persons who compose the retinue or council of a king or emperor. (Thank you again, Mr. Webster) It came to include the social circle of the king/queen as well. Those who were in that circle could be said to be appearing "at court." Within this world of the court in Europe, including in Great Britain, the persons who appeared at court would engage in an immoral yet socially acceptable practice called courtship. This is where men of the aristocracy (the titled and privileged land-owning upper classes) would take both wives and mistresses from among the women at court. A woman at court, upon marriage, was expected to remain exclusive and faithful to her husband until she had born a son and heir to him. After that, she could engage in courtship activities and become the mistress of another, usually higher status, man. This practice still exists today in the English court. The current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, the oldest son of Queen Elizabeth II has had many mistresses. After his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer he had two very prominent mistresses who were married to other men in the British aristocracy. Both of these women, Camilla Parker-Bowles and an Australian woman by the nickname of Kanga, took pauses in their relationships with the Prince while they bore children to their husbands, then resumed their affairs with Prince Charles.

My personal working definition of courtship is "a romantic/sexual relationship with a person to whom one is NOT married."

This definition describes the courtship practice of the British court as well as the practice of Christian dating which is also called courtship. I can already hear the argument, "But the Christians aren't having sex during courtship!" It doesn't matter to me. Romantic attraction IS sexual attraction and to stir up that sort of attachment is to stir up something which belongs exclusively to the realm of marriage. There is no practical or righteous reason to form romantic attachments outside of marriage. Romance belongs in sexual relationships, not platonic ones. To any given man all of the women he will meet will fall into one of two categories. Those categories are 1. Wife and 2. Not-the-Wife. If a woman is his wife, he should be free to engage her sexually and romantically. If a woman falls into the second category, Not-the-Wife, he MUST NOT engage her romantically or sexually. It doesn't matter if she is his mother, an elderly woman at church, the wife of his best friend or a single woman at the grocery store. All of those women fall into the same category. Would it be ok for the Pastor to place his hand on my leg while we sat next to each other in church? No? Why not? Because I am not his wife. Is it ok for a single young man to place his arm around a single young woman at church? No! Because she is not his wife. The Bible doesn't give any other categories such as "potential wife," "girl friend," "fiance'," etc. Therefore any practice which permits and encourages men to have romantic or sexual relations with women to whom they are not married is an immoral practice and I cannot support it.

In other countries the woman who serve as mistresses or concubines to the royalty are called courtesans, which comes from the same root word. A courtesan might be a paid prostitute or she might be accepting admission to the the world of the court as payment. In other cases she might be another member of the nobility.

I am advocating for parents to arrange marriages between their sons and daughters. Who has a deeper interest in the well-being, happiness and eternal soul of a person than his or her own father? Who in the family is most qualified to weigh the qualifications of a potential spouse in light of the character of his own son or daughter? A father can give a daughter in marriage thus relieving her of the burden of controlling and checking her own desires during a courtship. When the father gives her in marriage, she is completely free to give herself romantically and sexually to her husband without restraint. A son whose father finds him a wife is freed from the burden of supplicating to another father, or to multiple fathers to gain access to the opportunity to woo a daughter, only to suffer the humiliation of rejection. Once he is given a bride, he can be vulnerable to love her with his whole heart without fearing the pain of having his advances stopped by the woman, her parents, her pastor, her elders, her siblings or her girlfriends.

Another advantage to women having their fathers find them husbands is that they no longer have to live with the agonizing fear of "What if no one ever comes to court me?" "What if I don't get married?" Once her parents have determined that she will marry, they will make sure it happens. They don't have to sit at home waiting and hoping that Prince Charming will come, they can be out beating the bushes and looking for him. Perhaps we can end this shame of Christian women who want to marry but are still sitting at home waiting at the age of 30.

I'm going to repeat my working definition of courtship here and let the reader determine whether it is appropriate for Christians to support such a thing.

 A romantic/sexual relationship with a person to whom one is NOT married - Courtship


Raha said...

why not concubines?we have seen many examples in bible.Jacob has 2 wives and 2 concubines(we could say they were wives because of sexual act and they were virgins)also Abraham.....Also why not plural wives?bible didn't condemn it.suppose a man has a wife and he was having romantic relationship with other woman who hasn't have sex with other men but only this man then we could say she is his wife though marriage ceremony doesn't take place.It seems no wrong in having sex with other woman who is not his ONLY wife.
In your example the men had sex with women they are not theirs as they were already married.But having plural wives and concubines who are strictly bound to the man is no wrong(though some would call them wives,some would call them concubines or some would call them girlfriends)
-Mrs Radha

subject by design said...

Thank you for your comment, Mrs. Radha. I apologize if I was not clear in my post, I had a certain audience in mind and therefore was not addressing the issue of plural marriage or concubinage as options. My disgust with the practice of "courtship" in aristocratic societies lies exclusively in the fact that it is primarily adulterous in nature. I should have been more clear about that, that the term "courting" referred to adulterous liaisons. As far as I am able to understand the Bible it does not condemn polygyny (one man having more than one wife) nor concubinage, and I believe that a concubine is a type of wife, in that the sexual relations in which she is engaging are legitimate and acceptable because it is a type of marital relationship. I do believe that you and I are in agreement on this. I believe that prostitution, including the type of activity in which a courtesan would engage, that is sex with a person to whom one is not married, is immoral. However, if the courtesan herself is unmarried, it would not constitute adultery.

The main point of my post here was not to comment on the different arrangements of legitimate marriage, but rather to address the common practice in the Church of using dating (under the name of courtship) as a method of determining whether a particular man and woman should marry.

I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. You clearly have an informed view of the subject of marriage.