The Superstitution of Divorce

Though scholar/author/journalist G.K. Chesterton wrote “The Superstition of Divorce” in 1918 as a series of articles, his words are still relevant today (it’s true!). Being Americans, we are privy to the audio version of his articles, available on this site.

His articles focus on the social/historic/practical purposes of marriage and ultimately propose that “The obvious effect of frivolous divorce will be frivolous marriage. If people can be separated for no reason they will feel it all the easier to be united for no reason.” For those interested in studying divorce, these podcasts are a great way to procrastinate. Or – it’s a stretch – good bed time stories.

As Dale Ahlquist of the Chesterton Society puts it,

Divorce, by any account, is a failure. But the modern world has begun to portray divorce as a freedom. This comes as no surprise to Chesterton. The modern world, he says, specializes in two forms of freedom: suicide and divorce. “In a dreary time we listen to two counsels of despair: the freedom from life and the freedom from love.” In our society, he says, where every real freedom has been curtailed, the two doors of death and divorce stand open. But just as we should not accept a system that drives men to drown and shoot themselves, we should not accept a system that produces so many divorces. He insists that we admit that divorce is a failure and that it would be much better for us to find the cause and cure rather than allow divorce to complete its destructive effect.

But freedom means the freedom to make a vow, not break a vow. A vow, says Chesterton, “is a tryst with oneself.” Divorce, he argues, is a superstition. In fact, it is more of a superstition than sacramental marriage itself. The advocates of divorce believe that a vow can be undone by a mere ceremony, disposed of by a mysterious and magical rite. The superstition also applies to the idea of re-marriage, that the mere ceremony will undo a vow so that the vow can be made vow again. Chesterton says they want to have their wedding cake and eat it, too. And we have now created a system where this is possible. We now reward a man for deserting his wife by letting him have another wife. We never encourage him to go back to the woman he first chose from all the women in the world.

But besides the horrible problem of disloyalty, there are other enemies, both philosophical and practical, attacking marriage and the family. This revolt against the family is utterly unnatural, a revolt against nature itself and the natural attraction between father and mother. This natural attraction, says Chesterton, is called a child. It is a simple truth that the modern world insists on ignoring.

A family is of course the best way to create, to protect and to raise children. Besides this obvious truth, Chesterton also argues that the family must be kept intact because the home is the greatest refuge of freedom in the world.

Divorce is not an act of freedom. On the contrary, it is an act of slavery. A society where vows can be easily broken is not a free society. A free society cannot function without volunteers keeping their commitments to each other. When the most basic unit of society, the family, breaks apart, some other institution will try to replace it and restore order, and will then become more important than the family.

Sometimes divorce is the only answer, but a 50 percent divorce rate is hardly a function of chance, as evidenced by the new State of Our Unions report.

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