I recently completed a course in anthropology, and through this class, became aware of some different perspectives that other cultures hold about marriage and similar unions that make up family units.
Anthropology is a most interesting study. What anthropology asks is that we practice cultural relativism – that is: suspend judgment of other people’s practices until we understand them in our own cultural terms.
However, it is up to each individual to apply their own religious convictions, internalized controls, conscience, and ethics in determining what is right and what is wrong. Anthropology cannot do this for us.
Its purpose is to help us respect everyone’s right to act according to the dictates of their own conscious, find beauty in the creativity of mankind, and preserve the cultures and languages created by all ethnic groups.
The most glaring lesson I have taken from the whole experience is that the world cannot depend on anthropology to establish an all-inclusive moral or ethic character for the world. Because of its empirical (equalizing, puts everyone on the same level) and holistic (reserves judgment until after learning all the facts) perspective, restrictions and ethics, all anthropology can do is identify and define what is, not what is right or what is wrong.
Cultural relativism is only a temporary tool that has built into it the ability to make judgments. It does not automatically establish that every culture’s practices are morally or ethically right and correct for them, or for everyone in the world.
If anthropologists had political power to create and enforce law and were allowed to create for us the standard of morality and ethics that applies for everyone, slavery, apartheid, Nazism, and the Indian caste system might still exist as acceptable cultural institutions, because it seeks to preserve and respect all cultural forms. They would only require that everyone understand, not correct, or try to change, disrupt or eliminate a uniquely developed culture.
They would establish a prime directive if you will. Do not disrupt, interfere, or alter the development of any culture no matter how small or insignificant.
Anthropology is a science. It is a science of observation. It is not a ruling government body or giver of religious, moral or ethical standards for society to follow.
Yet many anthropologist and society attempt to use the finding of anthropologists to justify homosexual marriage, cohabitation, and extramarital affairs as moral, ethical, and socially acceptable practices.
They will claim this by using some obscure cultures in the world that practice these, while completely ignoring the fact that those cultures that entertain these practices are nature and sexuality worshiping religions.
Those that are of Christian, Jewish, or Muslim generally do not share these beliefs, and even recognize those practices as morally incorrect and counter productive to the sustaining of a healthy society.
To exhibit how we cannot depend on anthropology to define our global moral ethics, they cannot even agree on a definition for marriage.
One group of anthropologists tried to be inclusive of all marriage practices by creating their own universal definition as:
“A culturally sanctioned union between two or more people that establishes certain rights and obligations between the people, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. Such marriage rights and obligations most often include, but are not limited to, sex, labor, property, childrearing, exchange, and status. Thus defined, marriage is universal.” (Haviland, Pins, McBride, Walrath, 2014)
Even my professor attempted to justify this line of thinking through his powerpoint presentation by listing his “three arguments against same sex marriage.”
The one that particularly stood out to me as a glaring contradiction was:
“All Marriages are between Men and Women– Same-sex marriages have been documented not only in a number of societies in Africa, but in other parts of the world as well. Anthropologists define marriage as unions between “people”, not man and women, because not all marriages are male and female based.” (Todd, 2014, p.30)
I found this to be contradiction because at the same time another group of anthropologists say “It is true that virtually every society in the world has an institution that is very tempting to label as “marriage,” but these institutions simply do not share common characteristics.” (Podolefsky, Brown, Lacy, 2013)
Many cultures have customs that help legitimize birthrights and family lines, but even they do not call it marriage. We have put that label on their socioeconomic cultural practice. An example of this would be the Hindu practicing Nayar of Kerala India.
This culture’s practices are used to justify gay marriage and adultery by anthropologists. Among the Nayar, they don’t have a practice they call marriage or a word for marriage. The word they do use translates to “tying rite.”
This “tying rite” allows for multiple men, begins when a man brings the family linen. The couple have no obligation to each other, and the marriage ends when the woman says it does. (Haviland, William A; Prins, Harald E.L.; McBride, Bunny; Walrath, Dana, 2014,p.202-203)
My findings are that the Lord’s definition of marriage is not in danger of anthropology or any sciences defaming its validity or moral, ethical and spiritual foundations.
“…trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.” (Mosiah 23:14)
Though the world and science may deride, I choose to stay with the Lord’s definition:
“The Family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”(Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102)
Haviland, William A; Prins, Harald E.L.; McBride, Bunny; Walrath, Dana, (2014) Cultural Anthropology The Human Experience. (14th ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Sadasivan, S.N. (2000), A Social History of India., S.B. Nangia, A.P.H. Publishing Corporation. Retrieved November 8, 2014 from http://books.google.com/books
Todd, Jesse, 2014, Brookhaven College, 2014 Cultural Anthropology Chapter 9 Powerpoint presentation