1. Religion & Spirituality

Discuss in my forum

Austin Cline

Forum Discussion: Fidelity, Morality, and Theism

By January 9, 2013

Follow me on:

Marital fidelity is often cited by religious theists as a sign of good morality -- or to be more specific, a lack of marital fidelity is often cited as a sign of declining morality in America. These claims are commonly based on the assumption that the only reasons for a person to be faithful to their spouse is either religion (thus leading to the conclusion that the country needs more Christianity) or law (thus leading to the conclusion that stricter marriage laws are needed). Are these assumptions valid, though?

A forum member writes:

Is there a reasonable defense of fidelity to your spouse that has a foundation that is neither legalistic or theistic? Is that defense superior to an alternate defense of infidelity? Can such a finding be placed on a base other than individualistic relativism?

My thought: if we accept that adultery is a kind of lying and that truthfulness is the core of morality, then adultery must on prima face grounds be immoral. There is also the distinction between doing something that you think is wrong (say adultery) and confessing that act to someone who may be harmed by that confession (say, your spouse and children).

And then the question becomes: what if your spouse acknowledges your adultery perhaps in the context of an "open marriage"? Is it then immoral? The main principle of Kantian ethics is that consequences needs to be divorced from the essence of the act itself -- that the essential rightness or wrongess of the actions must be weighed without regard to utilitarian, pragmatic, or perceived societal considerations. Thus, I think Kant would say that moral duty alone determines whether or not adultery is moral or not. OK, but is fidelity a moral duty, and if so, why?

What do you think -- are there reasons to say that adultery is immoral which don't depend on theistic or legalistic premises? Is it possible to defend marital fidelity from Kantian grounds, or is it even necessary to do so? Add your thoughts to the comments here or join the ongoing discussion in the forum.

April 17, 2007 at 2:24 pm
(1) ROBU says:

Easy! I am in a commited relationship with my wife. I do not cheat on her. Because the bible says I can’t? No way. It is because my relationship is based on equality and logic. One reason I do not cheat on her is for the same reason I do not go around murdering people. Consequences!
The second and most important reason is that, we are in an equal relationship, and I do not want her cheating on me, which she would would have every right to do if I cheated on her. It is not a battle between jesus and devil for my eternal soul. It is simply a decision I make based on the potential outcome of any given situation. There is no religious or legal foudation for it.

May 11, 2007 at 4:18 pm
(2) John Hanks says:

I was married twice. I didn’t cheat on either spouse. I wanted to, but life is complicated enough. People with smarts recognize this, and people with smarts are often atheists.

May 13, 2007 at 12:14 am
(3) Lyle G says:

Make a contract and stick to it; open relationship or exclusive. For some the idea of an exclusive relationdship makes them ‘itchy.’ Simply knowing that there not locked in and have to pass up any later possibilities may ‘relax’ them and actually make monogamy easier to take.

May 14, 2007 at 11:20 am
(4) Jay LouKy says:

Monogamy means one. It does not mean one with a little on the side. If a teenaged girl has the will-power to starve herself, a grown man should have the will-power to keep his pants zipped.

April 23, 2008 at 5:28 am
(5) GD says:

1. I believe that the essence of monogamy is a choice. You either make the choice or you don’t. You cant make the choice and not make it at the same time. 2. That said, I also believe that monogamy is something of an ideal. Nobody can tell you that they have never ever had a thought about another man or woman. We all do, and what would my partner think of the thoughts that I have about the other man or woman? You might say that I haven’t acted on it, but in my mind monogamy is to the full extent exclusive and even the idea of somebody else, in practice creates a paradox in the theory of monogamy itself. 3. Furthermore, monogamy has been used in a cultural context for centuries to enslave women in particular. Any relationship must set you free, free to be yourself and express yourself. 4. Is monogamy not something that is born from insecurity in relationships. I believe that it is driven by guilt and fear.
5. I believe in relationships, but I do not believe in monogamy. I believe in respect for each other, not in monogamy. I believe in love, not in monogamy. I believe in consequences, not in monogamy. I believe in life, not in monogamy.

April 29, 2008 at 1:56 pm
(6) John Hanks says:

Monogamy is a contract. Life is too complicated to call it a choice. Monogamy exists from laziness and cowardice as well as honor.

April 29, 2008 at 8:01 pm
(7) Tom Edgar says:

I was monogamously married for forty six years. For both of us it was a first and only. Married early? No I was 25 and she 28. I an ex seaman for seven years and she an ex US Navy employee. I’ll not argue circumstances may change a persons attitudes but the fear of disease and the possibility of infecting your partner should be as good a deterrent as any. Unless you are both committed to an open ended relationship, which means you are not really committed to each other,
then any breech is an act of dishonesty. Profligacy means religion doesn’t enter the equation, unless you are a Mormon or Muslim, or the average American, amongst most other nationalities.


May 23, 2008 at 2:09 pm
(8) someguy says:

It is very strange how much of a negative connotation monogamy has become. It is simply a decision brought about by logical process and respect for one another. Monogamy is the practice of marrying once in a lifetime. It is not defined as to stiffle love by restricting someones feelings, to undermine consequences, or to take someones life. It is simply a decision that is hard to maintain for most. That is why there is a sanctity with marriage, those who are married are set apart from the rest of relationships as something special and something to be honored. The everyday life of temptations is definately there, but to struggle with your convictions is simply what philos is. Socrates described philos, philosophy, as intelectual conflict. As I see it those that can’t stick to their convictions don’t understand consequences and therefor have no logical moral standings upon which to build an honest relationship. This is why marriage is set apart from other relationships. Those who want the open relationships can bask in their shallow lives of infatuation unwilling to choose freedom. Dostoyevsky described true freedom as irrational actions. In the case of marriage it is unconditional love, which in no way shape or form can be obtained in an open relationship.

January 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm
(9) Cousin Ricky says:

Someguy wrote: “Those who want the open relationships can bask in their shallow lives of infatuation unwilling to choose freedom.”

This sounds just like the Newspeak I used to hear from Roman Catholic pulpits. True Freedom™ means doing exactly what the authority tells you to do.

“In the case of marriage it is unconditional love, which in no way shape or form can be obtained in an open relationship.”

You need to support this assertion. I do not see the logical connection.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.