It is really easy to play gotcha with the past. To pull an incident or a quotation out of its context and make it look alarming. As a historian, I try to follow the advice of a British novelist—and I love this—he said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” And to me, that means that when we visit the past, we don’t want to be an ugly tourist.
There are some valid points, but there are also some pitfalls as pointed out here.
But I’d like to examine the other side of this, how we Mormons use it to assume what we are doing today was always like this. The item I’d like to discuss is eternal marriage and the sealing.
It has only been in the last 200 years that marriages have been for love. Couples wed to make political alliances, to raise capital, to expand the workforce and for a whole array of practical purposes. From an article entitled Love And Marriage: A History That Challenges The Notion Of ‘Traditional Marriage’
But any link between love and matrimony is relatively recent, said Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
And a radical one at that.
“Through most of human history, love was not at all the point of marriage,” Coontz said. “Marriage was about getting families together, which was why there were so many controls.”
The notion that a couple would marry for love was considered almost anti-social, even subversive; parents could disown their kids for doing it.
“The Greeks thought lovesickness was a type of insanity, a view that was adopted by medieval commentators in Europe. In the Middle Ages, the French defined love as a ‘derangement of the mind’ that could be cured by sexual intercourse, either with the loved one or with a different partner,” Coontz writes in her 2005 book, “Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.”
The article goes on to explain that the ideal of love as a primary reason for marriage began to spread in the late 18th century and early 19th century, partly due to the French and American revolutions.
Eventually, the development of a wage labor economy moved coupling away from economics. Women didn’t have to depend on their parents’ ability to put up a dowry, and men didn’t have to wait for their inheritance. Families moved away from farms into urban settings, so they didn’t need so many children. More options opened up.
That created a sea change for marriage in the mid-19th century, including the possibility of unions founded on love, Coontz said. “We convinced ourselves that was the traditional ideal.”
Another article here asks what role love played in marriage through history. The answer is that for most of human history, almost none at all. Marriage was considered too serious a matter to be based on such a fragile emotion.
So that brings us to the presentism that we have when we go to the temple and conduct a sealing for a couple married 200 years ago. The idea that they had a loving marriage, that they want to be together for eternity is based on a modern notion of marriage. We are forcing our modern idea of love and romance on a couple that most likely married out of necessity or obligation.
When Joseph Smith introduced the sealing ordnance, one could argue it was mostly focused on polygamy and sealing the entire human family to one another. Not the monogamous romantic bonding/sealing we have today.
What are your thoughts? Is our current practice of sealing everybody to their spouse an eternal principle, or our modern world projecting itself back through history? Is the thought that “they won’t have to accept the sealing if they don’t want to” enough to justify the time and energy we spend sealing people that never loved each other?