Ethos Education

Up in the Air: Is marriage better than being single?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand Christian beliefs about the roles, commitments and responsibilities of husbands and wives.
  • Awareness of the importance of family and the changing nature of family life.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on a variety of either/or scenarios.
  • Reflect on the pros and cons of marriage as an institution.
  • Evaluate the attitude towards singleness and marriage portrayed in a film clip.
  • Analyse Bible passages to discover Christian teaching on the subjects of marriage and singleness.
  • Analyse a Bible passage to discover the principles underpinning Christian marriage.
  • Reflect on the experiences of fictitious characters and how they show the importance of family.
  • Synthesise learning by rewriting a scene from the film Up in the Air.


Play a game of Which would be worse? You can either play the game by asking the students to indicate their preference with a show of hands, or by moving to one end of the room or the other.

Students have to say which would be the worse thing to happen to them out of two possible answers:

Which would be worse:

  • To have an arm amputated or to have a leg amputated?
  • To be ugly or to be stupid?
  • To have to eat kangaroos’ testicles or to have to eat kittens’ eyeballs?
  • To be bankrupt or to be the victim of a fake tabloid hate-story?
  • To be poor or to never marry?

Pass an appropriate comment about whether people thought that never getting married was a good or bad thing. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be looking at Christian perceptions of marriage and singleness.


Introduce the clip from the film Up in the Air (Paramount, 2009, certificate 15). Click here to buy the film online. Explain that Ryan (George Clooney) is a traveling businessman who also gives motivational speeches. In this clip we see him speaking at a seminar, and then discussing marriage and relationships with his business colleague Natalie (Anna Kendrick). In an earlier scene, we have seen Ryan giving his speech, challenging his audience to imagine putting all their possessions – including house, car, furniture – into a backpack, then setting it all on fire.

Ask the students to consider the different arguments put forward about marriage and singleness, and to reflect on which argument was the more convincing.

  • Start time:       0.43.41 (in chapter 8 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.46.24
  • Clip length:     2 minutes and 43 seconds

The clip starts with Ryan giving his seminar speech. The first line is ‘Now this is going to be a little difficult, so stay with me.’ The clip ends with Ryan and Natalie continuing their discussion as they walk into a hotel. Stop the film after Ryan says, ‘I’m just saying, there are options,’ to avoid an instance of swearing that follows very quickly.

Ask the students to summarise the arguments made by Ryan and Natalie. Ask how they think each of the two characters might answer the question, ‘What is the point of family?’ Ask the students to quickly brainstorm a list of the relative merits of marriage and singleness, writing their suggestions on the board as they are made.

Introduce a second clip from Up in the Air. In this clip, Ryan is called upon to talk to his younger sister’s fiancé, Jim (Danny McBride), who has got cold feet on the day of the wedding. Ask the students to compare Ryan’s comments with his previous remarks about marriage.

  • Start time:       1.17.56 (in chapter 13 of the DVD)
  • End time:        1.21.25
  • Clip length:     3 minutes and 29 seconds

The clip starts with Ryan looking through the door at Jim. The first line is Jim saying, ‘Hey, what’s up, Ryan?’ The clip ends with Ryan saying, ‘Go get her’. Please note that there are several instances of swearing in this clip. If you think they make the clip inappropriate for your students, you should omit this section of the lesson.

Ask the students how Ryan’s answers compare with his previous statements on the subject of families and relationships. What do they think convinced Jim? Do the students think they would have been convinced if they were in Jim’s position? Do they think that Ryan really believed what he was saying?

Divide the class into pairs or small groups and ask them to read 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 and 32-35. More able students could tackle the whole of the chapter, but may find they get unnecessarily bogged down with virgins and unbelieving husbands. Ask the students to produce a list of the case for marriage and the case for singleness according to these passages.

Some possible answers:


  • Helps to avoid immorality (v2)
  • You can have sex (v3)


  • Good not to marry (v1)
  • Can focus on serving God, rather than being distracted with worldly problems (vv32-34)

Take feedback from the students, and compare their answers with the list you generated in the earlier section. Do the students feel that this passage makes enough of a case to justify the early statement, ‘It is good for a man not to marry’? If they take sex out of the equation, do the students think that marriage or singleness looks like a better option? How do they think that the picture of marriage and singleness described here (and written approximately 2000 years ago) compares with modern attitudes towards marriage and singleness?

Ask the students to read Genesis 2:19-25. Working in pairs or small groups, ask them to make a list of Christian principles about marriage that are underpinned by these verses.

Some possible answers:

  • Marriage provides a depth of companionship that is hard to find elsewhere (verse 20)
  • The marriage bond is a deeply intimate one (verses 23, 24, 25)
  • Marriage is an exclusive bond that surpasses other existing family relationships (verse 24)

Take feedback from the students and allow some time for discussion. You could ask the students whether they like the picture of marriage that can be drawn from this passage. Do these principles of marriage (from a part of the Bible even older than the previous one) seem more or less contemporary than the ones described in the previous passage?

Show a final clip from Up in the Air. This clip comes from the very end of the film. Ryan and Natalie earn their living as consultants brought in by companies to tell employees that they are being made redundant. Throughout the film the audience has seen montages of people reacting to the bad news, and reflecting afterwards on the experience. This final montage comes from the very end of the film, and provides a commentary on the issues of family and independence that the film has been exploring. Remind the students of the question ‘What is the point of family?’ and ask them to bear it in mind as they watch this final clip.

  • Start time:       1.37.56 (in chapter 17 of the DVD)
  • End time:        1.39.02
  • Clip length:     1 minute and 6 seconds

The clip starts with a woman saying, ‘Well, I don’t have a lot of hope…’ It ends with a man saying, ‘My kids are my purpose, my family.’

Ask the students how they think the people in the clip would answer the question, ‘What’s the point of family?’


As a final activity, ask the students to write a continuation of the seminar scene in the earlier section of this lesson. Ryan should be making his speech about the value of remaining free of dependence on family and other relationships, when someone in the audience stands up and starts discussing his views with him, arguing from a Christian perspective.


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