A New Conversation on Marriage – My Take

01.30.2013, 4:53 PM

Over the past few days the Institute has launched in earnest its New Conversation on Marriage.  We’ve issued the Call, which both Mark Oppenheimer at the Times and Kathleen Parker at the Washington Post have so nicely highlighted at their respective papers.  I’ll say first off, that I think a new conversation on marriage is not only good and needed, but also highlights the practical need to focus on several serious policy issues which haven’t yet been a part of the public conversation in a significant way.

I appreciate David B., Barbara D. Whitehead, and Jonathan Rauch’s view that we can have fruitful policy discussions about the decline of marriage as a positive normative cultural institution, what is causing its decline, whether or not that decline is cause for grave concern, and if so, how to reverse it.  I see the new questions they are raising (which aren’t really new…but what can you do?) as important and challenging, and hope that now is the time to begin answering them.  I am excited to see so many people I personally respect signing on to the effort.

In many ways I was saddened by the responses of Rod Dreher at the American Conservative and  David Mills over at First Things.

Mills writes:

But the result, and perhaps in some cases the intent, is to reduce or deflate opposition to the reinvention of marriage through the inclusion of same-sex couples, by the seductive call to do something more important and more effective.  It’s not just a call to defend marriage, it’s a call to give up working for marriage as traditionally understood. More fundamentally, some of us believe that the effort to strengthen marriage while redefining it is ultimately pointless—that, to put it another way, gay marriage is itself one of the problems the Call ought to engage.

I think this view is a tad cynical and assumes something that the Call doesn’t actually say – that by refocusing the conversation on marriage to address some of its biggest problems with a broad coalition, that all participants are giving up on working for marriage as traditionally understood.  I think it is possible to participate in the conversation (and the coalition having it), and attempt to answer the questions being posed, while holding firm on a traditional view of what marriage is.  I think the root of many of the problems this new conversation is attempting to address stem from the need for a clear understanding of what marriage is (as Dreher points out, a positive good), and traditional religious thinking about sex, the family, and marriage makes up an important body of thought that needs to be considered in the crafting of any public policy on marriage. This coalition will fail if it doesn’t engage with traditional views at some level.

I especially bristled at the suggestion that any effort to strengthen marriage while redefining it is ultimately pointless.  I really wrestle with how to address the reality that what catholic marriage is and what civil marriage has become are very different things.  I affirm a catholic definition of marriage as true and good (I’ve done so many times on this blog, and have been challenged and engaged by many who disagree with me), but I also recognize that the social construct our society has decided to call marriage (and for the sake of this conversation I will refer to as civil marriage), while an imperfect approximation of what I understand marriage to be, still demands my attention as a concerned citizen – because it is, frankly, falling apart.  In the ideal I would recommend that social marriage be indistinguishable from catholic marriage, and be underpinned by my conception of ‘the good’.  In reality I live is a wonderfully diverse liberal society where many of my neighbors and fellow citizens don’t agree with me on that conception, and will actively oppose my recommendations.  I accept that for what it is.  One of the fundamental flaws of a truly liberal society is that we cannot appeal to higher moral authorities to settle disagreements and are dependent on democratic compromise to create laws and order society.  When different groups within a liberal society disagree fundamentally, and democratic compromise is impossible, our ability to order society begins to fail.  As a religious person and member of a liberal society I see a couple options when we reach that point.

1. Withdraw from liberal society, as the monastics and ascetics did from their pre-liberal societies, and attempt to create a closed community which better approximates the ideals I believe in and shuns the outside world that doesn’t. (Not a particularly practical option)

2. Dominate liberal society, and establish my views as the dominant, accepted norms. (Not demographically feasible anymore, nor particularly appealing generally)

3. Accept that other views are dominant within our liberal society, and become the belligerent minority inwardly focused on my perceived victim-hood. (I fear that conservative American Christians are heading this route, and that it isolates us and destroys our credibility and ability to be effective witnesses of the Gospel).

4. Embrace a view that liberal society requires dialogue and interaction, and that when one finds one’s self in the minority, adopting the view of loyal opposition and working within society to advocate for one’s beliefs and one’s view of the good is the best option and the only way to do good.

I believe that if one takes the last view, then one can work in a broad coalition to strengthen civil marriage, even while recognizing that the resulting product doesn’t necessarily live up to one’s ideal.  This work is not, as Mills suggests, pointless.  It is an opportunity to work towards the ideal in an imperfect and fallen world, to craft policy that will be practically helpful to millions of families, and to do so in a way that makes it clear that conservative people of faith are actively participating in our society and invested in the well-being and happiness of our neighbors.  It is an opportunity to show that we are serious when we say we want to be loving and welcoming, even as we wrestle over the definitions of what love, happiness, and affirmation look like.  In a society where what marriage is remains an open question – this is how we positively engage and give our answer.  We won’t convince everyone of our sincerity or good will, but we might undermine the blossoming narrative that all conservative traditional Christians are arrogantly judgmental people who could care less about the experiences of others.

I also see this new conversation as an opportunity for religious conservatives to re-orient and re-evaluate how our communities think and discuss the issues surrounding marriage internally.  There is a need for a additional new conversation on marriage – in confirmation classes, Sunday school rooms, small groups, bible studies, and the pulpit – about what the Church actually teaches on marriage, sexuality, vocation, and living a fulfilled life.  Have we really wrestled with how our failures to embrace diversity within our congregations have deeply wounded others?  Do we realize that our cultural emphasis on marriage shortchanges equally important relationships like friendship?  Have we actually thought about what being loving looks like when we reach out to the single mother or partnered couple next door, or co-habitating cousin?  If we haven’t, are we in any position to propose public policy on civil marriage?  We claim to have good new, is that obvious to others in the way Paul says it should be?

There are many young voices (and some not so young) within the church trying to have that new conversation – I see them as allies and hope that their voices are making a difference and that they continue to boldly challenge the Church to better live out its teachings.  In the meanwhile I am excited and hopeful to see how the new conversation at the Institute goes – and I invite other conservatives to join in because our voices are a valuable part of any future coalition.


15 Responses to “A New Conversation on Marriage – My Take”

  1. Diane M says:

    Great blog post with much to think about.

    I’m glad you chose option 4. :-). And I think one of the great things about living in a liberal society is that we do sometimes learn things from each other.

    I think you may have a typo in second to last paragraph – “good new.”

  2. Bregalad says:

    Matt,

    First, your “New Conversation” isn’t new. Thoughtful social conservatives (and others) have been talking about your supposedly “new” topics for decades. “New Conversation” looks like a marketing slogan and that might be off-putting to some like Rod and David who have already discussed your agenda items for some time now.

    Second, your “Call” creates a false-dilemma between the “current conversation” and the “new.” It looks like you’re selling me on the idea that the current convo is a dead end, but the new convo is, well… New! Fresh! Sexy! Exciting! And clearly-superior-to-the-previous-discussion!!! Call me a traditionalist, but the current conversation isn’t any less relevant or likely to go away just because IAV says so. People still care about the SSM debate, young people still need guidance regarding marriage, and gender roles and “soul mate” issues are still going to be of GREAT interest to, you know, actual married people, soon-to-be married people, and, well, EVERYONE. I mean—seriously?!—the issue of gender roles is a dead-end discussion? Someone should definitely send that memo to all feminists and MRAs. Yo, Fannie, your time’s up. You too, Mel Feit. Yeah… good luck with that.

    Finally, I’m going to end with a quote from G.K. Chesterton because I think it might be relevant… or not. Maybe it’ll just be a conversation starter and nothing more:

    Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of Triangles”; I never read it, but I’m sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing.

    With marriage as an institution, what is the thing that we are doing? Does marriage even have thingness? If its thingness becomes muddled or confused, will it become less loved? Less honored? Or are those dead end questions?

  3. Matthew Kaal says:

    I don’t know Diane, I think if I was a little more outdoorsy, I could totally kick it with the Desert Fathers in option 1…

    Bregelad,

    No disagreement that the ‘new’ is not really new in this conversation – just a shift in emphasis away from the rancor of the culture wars surrounding the SSM debate. While thoughtful conservatives may have been discussing these issues for ages, it hasn’t been a societal wide conversation with broad based support – that is the goal.

    As far as there being a false-dilemma between current and new…it is hard to say. Certainly there is still going to be a running skirmish over what marriage is, and what a family is, what gender is – the definitional controversies don’t go away. But exploring a different facet of marriage forces everyone to have to question and verify their assumptions. Is what I believed to be true about the nature of marriage in the SSM conversation consistent with what I believe about it when addressing the nature of marriage in a conversation about raising kids or cohabitation?

    The thingness of marriage definitely matters. What it does, and what happens if our understanding of its thingness is confused more open to debate. This is another way the new conversation might be helpful, because many of the problems facing modern marriage can be addressed without there being full agreement on what marriage is, but rather agreement on what it does. The majority of us see marriage as a great good (that we define differently), but that it is beneficial to both individuals and society in what it accomplishes (what it does) – that is an area of commonality that the new conversation helps us to capitalize on: If I disagree with my neighbor on what marriage is, but we both affirm that divorce is generally bad, can we work towards a solution for reducing unnecessary divorces that serves both our definitions of marriage – recognizing that our mutual solution may not be the ideal, but rather an improvement over the status quo? I think there are many areas of the marriage conversation that lend themselves to this type of compromise without forcing anyone to back away from their beliefs about what marriage ultimately is. Does that make sense?

    I really like the Chesterton quote – although I don’t know that it will be helpful here, as “what is natural” is not easily defined, so we don’t necessarily agree on the limits of frame or the height of giraffes.

  4. mythago says:

    “Marriage as it is traditionally understood”? This is a dishonest phrasing unless they’re actually intending to bring back coverture.

  5. Mont D. Law says:

    [we work towards a solution for reducing unnecessary divorces]

    So, other than this, what’s on the agenda for discussion? My guess is proposals that call for of using the power of the state to force people to stay married and to assign blame in relation to asset division are going to founder pretty quickly. This system wasn’t replaced because people are self-centered, libidinous, hedonists but because it didn’t work for anybody.

    So other than divorce reform, what do you see as the single most fruitful discussion that this group can have?

  6. La Lubu says:

    My guess is proposals that call for of using the power of the state to force people to stay married and to assign blame in relation to asset division are going to founder pretty quickly.

    Depends on what you mean by “founder”. I think there’s a good chance more restrictive laws will be passed, and an even better chance that in the aftermath of more restrictive divorce laws greater numbers of people will avoid marriage entirely. “Do I want to take a chance on getting trapped in a bad marriage….or should I cohabit instead? Think I’ll hedge my bets and cohabit.” I think it’s pretty telling that no one is calling for more restrictions on the front end—getting married. You’ll spend significantly less time getting married than you will say, at the DMV (and the DMV requires a person to go back and test every four years). Just sayin’.

    What I do think has the possibility of being fruitful: discussions on how economic and public policy has negatively impacted marriage and communities. Because it isn’t just the individual incomes of couples that were affected; when a critical mass of people in a community are economically suffering/struggling, the effect is exponential on the community itself.

    So I come here, and I hear cheery phrases on what marriage brings, like “community support”. What community support? What’s a community, other than a geographic or ethnographic term—something descriptive to sort out people into rough bunches on statistical data? I hear about marriage bringing people longer lives—but then look around me and see that people in my SES are dying a decade, decade-and-a-half earlier than more affluent people. The benefits of marriage aren’t inherent in marriage itself, as an institution—they are part-and-parcel of healthy communities, which have been destroyed by the economic and public policies of the past few decades. So far, I haven’t seen any of these conversations mentioning the fact that divorce is the only real, substantive lever a married person has to enforce the terms and conditions of his or her marriage.

    Whatever else they may be, divorce and refraining from marriage are not irrational decisions. They are rational ones, grounded in the experiences people have had personally, experienced in their families of origin, or been direct witness to (as extended family members or friends). The minds won’t change unless the conditions do.

  7. Mont D. Law says:

    [I think there’s a good chance more restrictive laws will be passed]

    I disagree, but I could be wrong. Of all the culture war arguments the elimination of no fault divorce has achieved the least traction. Even though it is in the purview of the states there has been no amendments, no referendum, no laws passed. Only a couple of states offer Covenant marriage and almost no one is using them.

    [in the aftermath of more restrictive divorce laws greater numbers of people will avoid marriage entirely.]

    If I am wrong I agree this will be the most likely result. I also think two other problems will arise very quickly. People will separate, but not divorce, making asset division and child support/custody issues a nightmare. And because it’s a state issue, no fault states like New York, Nevada, California et. al. will relax residency requirements and make divorce a luxury good, further exacerbating the marriage gap it’s trying fix.

  8. Matthew Kaal says:

    Mont D. & La Lubu,

    I actually think the best solutions for stabilizing and reversing the trend of unnecessary divorces is likely on the front end of things, as La Lubu suggests. I could see state regulations that require some sort of “marriage education” class that covers things like how to merge and manage finances, establish a healthy life-balance, set family goals (do we want kids? to continue our educations? to buy a home?), and work towards healthy communication and conflict resolutions, all before a marriage license is issued. On the back end, I would be open to exploring how repealing no-fault divorce, imposing waiting periods, requiring parenting-education curriculum for divorcing parents, and offering reconciliation mediation for couples who are open to it could be helpful, but a better investment on the state’s part is to work towards ensuring all new marriages are healthy from the start.

    I also think that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to state-based solutions. Other civic institutions like the Church and spiritual communities often play roles in solemnizing marriages and are ‘culture creating’ institutions that can establish norms for behavior and affirm social goods like marriage (but shouldn’t do this so narrowly that marriage becomes the only acceptable option, because it isn’t right in every situation). If every pastor, imam, priest, rabbi, and spiritual leader in America insisted on doing a marriage counseling course for every couple who’s marriage they officiated prior to the wedding service, that could have a real effect. For folks who are married in secular settings, I am not sure if judges and other officials can insist on marriage counseling prior to officiating, but maybe conscience laws could be passed allowing judges to recuse themselves from having to officiate any marriage where the couple hadn’t gone through counseling prior.

    Apart from divorce issues – I think a new conversation on marriage should also focus on strengthening the public goods of marriage – family structure, end of life care, etc.

    There is already a growing debate over the ethics of family creation – that is an important discussion that needs to continue. I think it might be helpful to attempt to frame out what the rights of children actually consist of and how the state defends and affirms those rights. This is especially important in situations where reproductive technologies are used – as there may be conflicts between parents and children over access to information and knowledge about origins.

    Marriage doesn’t happen in a bubble – so this conversation will likely address issues of education inequality, job training for poor and working class heads of household, access to healthcare, and better education about the benefits of end-of-life planning. I think that we could do a better job of making “sex-ed” courses into “life-ed” courses that help high school students learn how to function as healthy independent adults after school ends. They should not only know how to have sex safely, but also learn about how sex works on an emotional level and how it can change relationship dynamics so that they can make better choices about sexual partners. They should learn the signs of unhealthy relationships and abuse. They should learn the foundations of personal finance (like the benefits of opening a bank account or credit union account, the value of thrift and saving, the basics of budgeting). They should have an idea about what it costs to raise a kid, and what the responsibilities of parenthood entail…just a few thoughts…

    As far as La Lubu’s observation that ‘community’ has become a remote concept for many folks…I think there is a fruitful discussion to be had about how to work towards fostering healthier communities, because I am not sure where to begin.

    I guess, from a public policy standpoint the things that I identify with healthy communities are:
    1. Strong economic opportunities for job seekers
    2. Good, family-engaging schools
    3. A sense of security and stability
    4. A beautiful and maintained built environment
    5. Diverse and thriving civic life

    I think any policy that focuses on achieving one of these five goals has potential to foster community and bring neighbors together. But they are all very broad. Would love to know your thoughts.

  9. Greg Popcak says:

    I appreciate your comments and the sincerity with which you are approaching the question. I know it is genuinely heart-felt and well-intended. Here is the challenge for your side in your attempt to garner the support of traditional Christians.

    David talks a lot about epistemology. He has also expressed some degree of epistemological agnosticism which is common to both post-modernism and post-modern forms of Christianity (which, no offense, has more in common with gnosticism than with traditional Christianity.)

    Despite the popular view, traditional Christians aren’t just devoted to revelation. We are devoted to truth. St. Thomas Aquinas identified two “books” of truth; the book of God’s word, and the “book” of Nature (i.e., science). For the traditional Christian, if something is true, iit cannot be compromised. We care about truth so much because truth reveals the world as it meant to be (i.e. “the kingdom”) and Christians must be willing to stand up for this vision of what the world is meant to be no matter what. Holding up a vision of what people and the world are meant to be (as revealed by truth as determined by faith and reason) is part of our prophetic mission that we must be willing to be faithful to—to the point of martyrdom, if necessary.

    The problem with IAV’s most recent call is that it attempts to impose a post-modern epistemology (motto, “comity is more important than truth”) on the traditional Christian mindset and mission (motto, “truth is the only path to both authentic freedom and true unity [as opposed to mere comity/tolerance])”. This new effort of yours can’t work, because the traditional Christian mind is not willing, indeed, is unable, to compromise what is known to be true. Specifically, IT IS TRUE that marriage between man and woman is the only institution that protects the right of children to be united with their mothers and fathers. Period. You know it. We know it. No amount of friendly chatting or rebranding will change that. The only difference is that your side can afford to be epistemologically agnostic. You’re willing to fudge this truth for the sake of civility (i.e., the desire to get along with others). We can’t–for the sake of charity (i.e., the responsibility to work for the good of others). For the traditional Christian it is almost always possible to compromise on methodology but it is never possible to compromise reality, itself.

    Now, regarding your assessment of various outcomes. Traditional Christians have no problem living in a pluralistic society. For example, with some notable exceptions when colonialism and evangelism were pathologically mixed, an honest view of history shows that Catholicism practically invented multiculturalism (you can’t reach 1/6 of the world’s population without being multicultural).

    By contrast, the dictatorship of relativism–which IAV’s Call is the friendly face of–can only win by trampling traditional Christians under your boots. If you persist, it will come to that, because you will get increasingly more put-out at how stubbornly the traditional Christians you want to be your allies resist the call to surrender what is known to be true for the sake of “making nice.” We won’t do it. Ever. We’re happy to tolerate opposing views. We’re happy to respectfully slug it out in the marketplace of ideas–after all, there aren’t many opposing arguments we haven’t encountered in 2000 years of building Western Civilization. But we won’t bend. Ever. And it will frustrate you to no end. Eventually, you won’t be able to resist shoving your values down our throats by any means necessary in shear frustration at our stubbornness and single-mindedness. History shows this time and again. Of course, history also shows us that we always have the victory in the end too.

    So, I am genuinely concerned that the ultimate fruit of this “new” call of yours is either frustration and failure on your end or persecution on ours. We’ve been down this road before. You aren’t giving traditional Christians any reason to think this time will be any different.

    As well-intentioned as this call is, it severely misunderstands the people whose support you need for it to become anything more than the friendly face of the persecution to come.

  10. Kevin says:

    I think Christians, in their many forms, are free to have specific beliefs about how things oughtta be, but there’s no particular reason to let them impose their beliefs on others. Not in a country that specifically was set up to distinguish between secular governming, and evangelizing religious belief.

    Greg Popcak, could you give some examples of Christian success stories, since you believe Christianity always triumphs in the end? In what ways is the story of Christianity one of wins and losses?

  11. Matthew Kaal says:

    Greg,

    Thanks for your comment. Let me say firstly that David Blankenhorn and I disagree very strongly on Epistemology and Theological views generally. In joining a new conversation I reject the notion that I have to compromise my view on what marriage is in order to work with those who disagree with me when there are areas where we might reach some agreement on the form of solutions. As I said in my post, I don’t see these solutions as achieving the ideal, but rather as working towards a better status quo within the realities of what is possible in our society.

    Getting to your substantive points:

    For me personally, my theological understanding of ‘knowing the truth’ (revelation) is that it occurs through the joint work of the Holy Spirit and one’s properly functioning right reason. For this reason I see much need for intellectual humility when speaking about revealed truths.

    1. The movement of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, bringing one to a place of having faith in the promises of scripture about Christs redemptive sacrifice, is a tremendous grace. We can have no pride that we somehow earned or deserved this grace, it was lovingly given by a good God. It is also important to note that there is an inherent agnosticism in Christianity, in that we, as created beings, do not have complete access to all the mysteries of God, and are dependent on his revelation to know him. His revelation, codified in scripture (and depending on your tradition, affirmed through the authority of the Church), and suggested in the ordering of nature, is not a full picture; rather it is enough for us to have an understanding of who he is and to have secure faith in his goodness and promises without having full knowledge of his Providences. We can’t claim absolute certainty, because to do so would negate the necessity of faith.

    2. My understanding of man as a fallen being encompasses my understanding of our ability to reason correctly. No human can claim that his right reason is perfectly ordered, it simply isn’t possible in the reality of the fallen world. Man, receiving faith by the Holy Spirit, may believe the revelation of the scriptures and affirm his faith by the use of his right reason and observations about the natural world – but there is always the risk that one’s understanding of revelation and nature will be flawed and one will mistake a key point, or simply fail to live faithfully out of fear or laziness or some other reason. I think of St. Peter’s frequent relapses into observing the Jewish purity laws even after he received a special prophetic revelation releasing him from observance and instructing him to be in community with the gentiles so that they may receive the gospel.

    I say all this while also affirming that, even without absolute empirical certainty, a believing Christian has willingly staked more on this belief than on anything else in their existence, and that much of the great western tradition and our understanding of science affirms our belief in the existence of God and natural order – so the truth claims being made by Christians need to be taken seriously and evaluated on their merits (alongside all other truth claims). To dismiss religion lightly is philosophically lazy.

    I join you in rejecting the notion that comity trumps truth – for what value is comity if it relies on the omission of truth, or untruths to survive? However, I want to challenge your notion of what is charitable when engaging with people who deny your truth claims. The best solution is not to beat the unbelieving over the head with assertions of the truth (even if they are correct) – but to model the truth in our lives, actions, and words in such a way that there is no question that the transforming power of grace has changed us. What is the famous St. Francis of Assisi quote? Something along the lines of “always be sharing the gospel, and if you must, use words.”

    In the realm of the marriage debate how we engage matters. Do our marriages bear witness to the truth claims we make about it? Does our community model of culture that embraces not only marriage, but other sanctified relationships? Is our community one where those curious about the gospel are invited in as they are, and made to feel loved and cared for as they are? On almost every count I, as a Christian, say no – we are failing.

    By joining the conversation I see an opportunity to create policies no just at the state level, but also in other civil society institutions that may strengthen marriages and families. I think the Church is one institution where there is much room for improvement and dialogue. In areas where the conservative Christian definitions of marriage no longer hold sway, where possible, I would also like to dialogue towards generally healthier marriages, families, and communities. I think that is possible.

    I would not join a conversation where I was forced to be nice (I find I struggle to be so when coerced into it) or compromise my basic beliefs. However, I don’t think we are necessarily at the point where persecution is a foregone conclusion, and my response to badly crafted policies like the HHS mandate, which fails to take into consideration the consciences of religious communities, and seeks to bureaucratically define what forms their ministries take while remaining religious, is more engagement and interaction, not withdrawing from the conversation and ceding the field to radicals who will only further undermine important social institutions.

    This is a lot, so I’ll stop here. Thanks again for your comment.

  12. Teresa says:

    Greg Popcak:
    Of course, history also shows us that we always have the victory in the end too.

    Greg, although I agree with much of what you said (as a fellow Catholic, I’m hoping) your statement above is wrong. Wrong at the time of the Black Death. Wrong at the time of the Reformation. No victory in either of these historical events. Because the Church survived does not equate to victory.

    Also, Greg, seeing yourself as being persecuted smacks of playing the victim; and, victim status only engenders negative consequences. I’m with Matthew quoting St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words.”

    The state of marriage, the collapse of our society is on your head, Greg, as it is on mine, as is it for all of us. There are simply no perfect guys, at the moment. Yes, there are those of us that adhere to traditional positions; but, that doesn’t make us, somehow, less culpable for what’s going on. A position of we’re saints, and the rest sinners … really takes us far afield of what I see Our Lord asking of me.

    Christianity has succumbed, as much as any other institution or person. The Catholic Church, in particular, has fallen far short in standing as a bastion against modernism, and all its post- variants.

    She inverted the ends of marriage, which formerly were a.) procreation and education of children; b.) mutual support of the spouses c.) allaying of concupiscence. So, now, She gets what She’s sown. Now, we have rampant annulments: a disguise for divorce. Why? Psychological immaturity. Who, pray tell, cannot at sometime claim psychological immaturity in their marriage.

    She’s given up the field on artificial contraception, by virtually being silent, when in-fact, 95%+ of fertile, married Catholic practice some variant of artificial birth control. The churches would be empty if that issue were pressed too hard. At the moment, the Catholic Church is hoisted on Her own petard of Vatican II modernism.

    Nothing of what I just stated, Greg, on the Catholic Church makes me less mindful of what Catholic principles state, and what I try to adhere to. The points I mentioned are simply facts that many people are unaware of, or simply try to ignore. Vatican II, philosophically, was a triumphant of Phenomenology/Personalism/Modernism over Scholasticism.

    Matthew, your comment of 01.31.2013 at 1:05 PM was very thought-provoking. I’m reflecting on it.

  13. La Lubu says:

    I actually think the best solutions for stabilizing and reversing the trend of unnecessary divorces is likely on the front end of things, as La Lubu suggests.

    For clarity—I was just making an observation, not a recommendation. I think existing divorce law serves us well; I am thoroughly in favor of no-fault divorce. That doesn’t mean “rah rah! divorce!”, just that it is the best means for handling it. (I’m not in favor of dental caries; I am in favor of dentists, fillings, caps, etc.) We already know what works best for creating and maintaining working marriages: getting some age, independence, and life-experience prior to marriage; getting some employment/general stability prior to marriage; having a healthy, living-wage income and benefits with enough disposable income to enjoy life (the catchphrase is “money can’t buy happiness”, but actually it can—just only up to $70,000 worth. People who earn more than that aren’t any more happy, but there is a measurable increase in happiness up till that income threshold. Just sayin’.); having employment/living arrangements that allow for free time and family time; having an egalitarian relationship (rejecting patriarchy/patriarchal values); communicating effectively, regularly, and respectfully; sharing the same values; sharing the same parenting (if relevant) and financial practices; having a satisfying sex life; clearly communicating boundaries (ex.: an agreement not to make decisions that encroach upon one’s partner without checking in first; “what do you mean you just invited six of your friends over for dinner tonight?!”); and….liking each other, y’know, as friends do.

    I guess, from a public policy standpoint the things that I identify with healthy communities are:
    1. Strong economic opportunities for job seekers
    2. Good, family-engaging schools
    3. A sense of security and stability
    4. A beautiful and maintained built environment
    5. Diverse and thriving civic life

    I think healthy communities have more democracy—more shared power. It’s not enough to have a good job; one must also have a say in the working conditions and trajectory of one’s job/career. Flexibility for changing needs (the one constant in life is change). And that means power must shift downward. Otherwise, you have a veneer of a “healthy community”—a pretty image that just won’t last.

  14. Mark Diebel says:

    My reluctance to join wholeheartedly in this New Conversation comes from thinking that strengthening marriage is not the essential question. Yes, marriage is a very challenged institution, but social goods and policy goals, as important as they are, are secondary to what are essentially human goals. Human beings are more important than social policies and betterment of society – and are the actual units of both creative and destructive forces. One of the essential human tasks is illustrated by the deep drive of individuals to “self-discovery.” Consequently, marriage becomes a stage (as is the whole world) for a necessary personal process – a process so deeply rooted that it expresses an ineluctable human need. If marriage is to be strengthened, the drive needs to be acknowledged and recognized empirically. The fundamental questions concern individuals’ quests to “become themselves” (to be true, centered, right with the universe, etc) and to what extent that drive relates to other human needs.

    I’m also concerned that the role of the state is muddled. Marriage should be considered first of all a spiritual-cultural event. By this I mean that, for example, a church which has a historical understanding of what constitutes a marriage may develop new insights and understandings. This religious body is the proper center for a marriage of that type, with that understanding. Again, that understanding can be dynamic. But the state has become part of the discussion and makes meanings about marriage political and subject to voting.

    These meanings don’t belong to the state and shouldn’t be decided by the state but by a cultural process that is independent of politics. The public square is one place where that cultural question of meaning gets discussed. I think the public square is still a young cultural creation. I am not sure how that area grows and how politics gets out of the marriage discussion. Defining marriage must not be done politically (by the state); but in a free spiritual-cultural setting of some kind. Marriage will therefore have more than one meaning (as it already does.)

  15. La Lubu says:

    Human beings are more important than social policies and betterment of society – and are the actual units of both creative and destructive forces. One of the essential human tasks is illustrated by the deep drive of individuals to “self-discovery.” Consequently, marriage becomes a stage (as is the whole world) for a necessary personal process – a process so deeply rooted that it expresses an ineluctable human need. If marriage is to be strengthened, the drive needs to be acknowledged and recognized empirically. The fundamental questions concern individuals’ quests to “become themselves” (to be true, centered, right with the universe, etc) and to what extent that drive relates to other human needs.

    Mark, that was very eloquent, and very refreshing. A nice counter to the many traditional cultural messages about marriage—the ones that basically demand that individuals relinquish the task of self-actualization, abandon dreams/creativity/spontaneity, and learn to love the Daily Grind.