Thursday, February 13, 2014

Traditional Marriage Is an Icon of Humanity (Part 2)

This post is Part 2 of guest blogger Carlos X's defense of traditional marriage in honor of National Marriage Week. Part 1 of Carlos' post explored the common mythological roots of the male-female union as expression of the divine in Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. Part 2 details the scientific acceptance of male-female union as the essential archetype of humanity. Read on to enjoy Carlos' post, and for more National Marriage Week resources, be sure to check out Catholic Match Institute!

The Pioneer plaque, created by NASA

Love between a man and a woman has a mystical dimension in the sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. But the ultimate manifestation of “the mysticism of sexual love” is when “the love experience becomes cosmic.”  (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces). So it's appropriate that when the world's scientists wanted to introduce humanity to possible alien races, they showed a picture of us as male and female.

In 1970 and 1973, NASA launched two far ranging spacecraft called Pioneer 10 and 11, on long-range interplanetary exploration missions. A small group of NASA administrators and outside scientific consultants, including the cosmologist Carl Sagan, decided to include gold-plated plaques aboard the spacecraft, depicting the nude figures of a human male and female. “It seemed to us appropriate,” the design team explained, “that this spacecraft, the first man-made object to leave the solar system, should carry some indication of the locale, epoch, and nature of its builders.” The team intended the naked couple to be “representative of all mankind,” as they explained in the March 1972 issue of Science magazine.

The Pioneer plaque was not designed solely according to scientific criteria, but relied on references from Greek statuary for its depictions, according to Carl Sagan's later book. The design team also conceded that the plaque could contain “anthropological” as well as scientific information about human beings. Most tellingly, Sagan originally intended for the human pair to be holding hands; he decided against it because feared that the two figures could be mistaken for a single creature if they overlapped. That bit of information reveals that the Pioneer pair was not intended to be “representative of all mankind” in the abstract (as if the male and female figures could have been plucked out of different continents and epochs), but in relationship to one another.  The plain correspondence of the nude man and woman in the Pioneer plaque to numerous depictions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is easy to perceive — they are essentially the same images.


The Genesis and Pioneer images, one religious and the other scientific, one intended to be mystical and primordial and the other intended to be modern and objective, show us that: 

(1) A man and a woman best reflect the entirety or fullness of what it means to be human.  The male and female are only whole in relation to one another: “Our state cannot be severed, we are one, One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.”  (Milton, Paradise Lost). 

(2) Man and woman, together, reflect the image of God.  (Compare that to John Lennon’s song “God,” which replaces God with a married couple: “I just believe in Me: Yoko and me—that’s reality.”  Moreover, the heterosexual couple is treated as a singular being—“Me”—to boot!)

(3) Only a man-woman pair can be representative of the entire race.  Like a pair of lovebirds in a cage, a man and a woman represent not just two individual members of the species; and not just specimens of the two sexes; they represent the total creative potentiality of the species.  They are a communio personarum, a communion of persons, in the words of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

(4) Because a man and a woman can create offspring, they are accorded a privileged standing amidst all relationships.  For example, if the world was ending and there was a single rocket ship leaving the planet with only room for two, is there any doubt that a male-female couple, and not a same-sex pair, should be aboard? There was a one-to-one male-female ratio aboard Noah’s Ark for a reason.

(5) A man-woman pair is the most inclusive and most “diverse” reduction of our species.  Such pairing was, in the words of Pope Francis, “forged according to nature and anthropology,” reflecting our biological integrity, gender diversity, and social history. We require “diversity” and “inclusion” in federal contracts, in hiring and education; why, then, should we overlook it with respect to the most important contract—marriage?

The expression of mankind as male and female, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, unpacks “everything that human science could ever say about the body as an organism, about its vitality, about its particular gender physiology.”  In short, said the late Pontiff, the formulation of man and woman as flesh of each other’s flesh “reveals Mankind.”  (General Audience of Nov. 14, 1979.)  For this reason, traditional marriage, which reflects the male-female dichotomy, is a living “icon” of our shared humanity.


  1. I'm generally a bit - reserved - about efforts to extract 'spiritual' significance from NASA, movies, pop music, or whatever.

    In this case, however, I think you're right. The representation of humanity on the Pioneer plaque as the all of humanity - both parts - does reflect a certain understanding of what sort of creatures we are.

    1. Nice to hear a vote of confidence from a frequent blogger on the nexus between science and religion. Thanks, Brian!