One of the great dangers – and arguments against- situational ethics is rationalization. We want to think we’re in the right so badly that we sometimes convince ourselves we are acting rightly when we are doing no such thing. At the same time, this causes a few conscientious people to make themselves miserable in the name of correcting or preventing themselves from doing wrong. It’s a figure 8 cluster, so it’s harder to see it when we’re caught in a reasoning loop because there’s an extra turn. I don’t think people are inherently good or bad – but I do think a lot of people have ended up culturally programmed to work against themselves, and in the long run they end up doing a lot of wrong/hurtful things to each other as they conflict relentlessly with their inner truth in such a way that it ends in a lot of moral compromises.
I am predicating this on the idea, first of all, that morality encompasses strictly what you do to/for others. What you do to yourself is your business. ((Obviously this also bears discussion in instances of suicide, depression and self-mutilation. But it’s a separate issue, and right now I’m operating on “you have the mineral rights to your own body” approach.))
In the case of marriage and divorce, all marriage is about you and your other. There’s no way to avoid that. There’s also, no matter what the status of the relationship, another factor: no matter how traditional your marriage agreement, your marriage is FILLED with situations and situational ethics. That’s part of what life together involves. While the concept that “marriage is about compromise” fails to take into account newer methods in conflict resolution, it tacitly acknowledges this situation. Absolutists make terrible spouses.
So when you’re looking at divorce, you have to accept first and foremost, there’s just no way you can be objective. Also, even if you know with absolute certainty you are the person acting rightly ((and are not, in fact, rationalizing)) you may never see satisfaction on that – and so you have to rely on faith and karma for the emotional resolutions you deserve. It’s one of the hardest situations you may ever confront morally, because you’re walking through a moral fog: you’re miserable, so something is clearly wrong, but 1)you made promises to stay, and promises have a high – the highest – value in Wicca and 2) you can’t be 100% sure you’re not rationalizing, and in most non-violent/non-infidelity divorce scenarios right/wrong is not that clear cut. You also must face the undeniable fact that culture is psychological oxygen: just because you choose/are called to a religion that brings you to the fringes of your given society does not mean that society’s core values aren’t in you somehow. And in the US, society’s core values are boiling and tumbling right now – now that we’re remembering that the “perfection” of the 1950s was actually a myth, we’re rediscovering ourselves outside of television images and presumption of religious tendencies towards Christianity.
A truly, 100% ethical divorce may or may not be possible. For every couple that divorces for a given reason, another couple stays together despite that occurrence. If you’re looking for a “right” in divorce, there isn’t one.
This post is written for the Pagan Values Month Project
Essays are original materials, but are in part inspired by my work on the book Divorcing a Real Witch