Ireland is allowing atheist weddings for the first time. Until this year, those who did not want a religious ceremony could have only a legal function officiated by a magistrate, not a wedding celebration. But as secularism continues to escalate in a country once dominated by the Catholic Church, secular weddings are on the rise as well. The percentage of Irish weddings performed by the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland has fallen from 90 percent in 1996 to 69 percent in 2010.
In response, humanist "solemnizers" are now able to perform weddings there. They have seen demand for their services skyrocket. Many are booked into next year. Scotland legalized humanist weddings in 2005 and saw them jump from 100 that year to 2,846 in 2011. Secular weddings are allowed in Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and some U.S. states.
One person who performs such weddings says, "I prefer to view an 'atheist ceremony' as a 'celebration of love.' The experience of love transcends all the boundaries and differences, beliefs and conditions, and touches all who join the couple in their celebrations."
Does it really?
Aldous Huxley observed, "Of all the worn-out, dog-eared words in the English language, surely love is the worst." He's right, of course. We "love" mustard on our hot dogs, some of us "love" the latest "Wolverine" movie enough to stand in line today for tickets (not me), and we "love" our spouses and family. Surely, not all in the same way.
C.S. Lewis notes that the word "gentleman" originally meant "one who had a coat of arms and some landed property." As a result, "when you called someone a 'gentleman' you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact." Then "gentleman" came to mean someone whose behavior you happen to like. Today it's a name on a restroom door.
Has the same thing happened to the kind of "love" that God intends for marriage? The Bible uses three words for "love": eros, sexual love (we get "erotic" from this word); phileos, friendship love ("Philadelphia" means "city of brotherly love"); and agape, unconditional love. Marriages today are often based on the first two, but the third is the strongest, most enduring foundation for any home.
An atheist wedding can celebrate eros or phileos, but agape comes only from God as a "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22). You and I can't do much about the rise of humanist weddings. But we can make sure that our marriages and homes don't become more secular over time.
Is God the source of your love for your family today?
Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a subject matter expert on cultural and contemporary issues. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a nonsectarian "think tank" designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth in 2009 and is the author of seven books, including Radical Islam: What You Need to Know. For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum.
Publication date: July 26, 2013