The short answer is that we can safely say that marriage originally had nothing to do with religion. Other contributors have pointed out that marriage, in various forms, pre-existed the Abrahamic religions. Wikipedia is particularly useful in this respect.
I have been to many weddings: in churches, in registry offices, and with the ceremonies conducted by a humanist celebrant. I have found all of them moving and satisfying â€“ including those in church – especially where one doesn’t get the unwelcome dose of 'propaganda’, (as you put it).
Religious involvement with marriage dates back to the middle ages, or even earlier. Since then, as dark-age superstition was replaced with reason, and marriage became a matter of love rather than inheritance, it has become more of a civil matter.
As people begin to realise that there are alternatives to religious weddings, they are likely – in Europe, at least â€“ to turn to civil ceremonies, recognizing that the religiosi have no monopoly of dignity and grace. Indeed, I spoke to one participant after a recent church wedding and she expressed similar irritation with the 'propaganda’ aspects. She fell short of saying she wished the ceremony had been civil instead, but I believe she regretted not having looked beyond her local church for alternatives.
Religion still maintains a grip on marriage, just as it continues to assume itself the only truly moral arbiter, pontificate about education, and trying to influence the legal system. It is all very well that people believe silly things; it’s another matter entirely when they try to influence the rest of us.
However, if one goes into a church – except for purely secular events, such as concerts – one must be prepared for the 'propaganda’. Long term, civil wedding ceremonies are likely to predominate. Before this happens, please remember that one goes to the ceremony to help friends and/or relatives celebrate their union. This is far more important than the irritation caused by 'propaganda’, especially if it falls on deaf ears.
Posted: July 24th 2009
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