Archives: February 2013

A Woman on Blendr: ‘Overwhelmed and Creeped Out’

02.28.2013 11:00 PM

At the New Yorker blog, Ann Friedman writes about the so-far fruitless quest by men, gay and straight, to develop a location-based dating app that straight women would actually want to use:

The eligible men are laid out like items on a menu that I can scroll through by  flicking my thumb. I haven’t even tapped on a single photo yet  when—brrring—a new message appears: “Wassup?” I ignore it and return my  attention to the sea of forty-five-year-old men with usernames like “Drunky.” Anyone worth messaging in here? I don’t have much time to think about  it—brrring brrrring—because two new messages arrive in the chat window. “Whaat are you up to?” and “hey there.” Ignore; ignore. I’m seeing so many men  with questionable facial hair that I double-check my profile to make sure that I  haven’t accidentally indicated a preference for goatees. Brrring brrrring  brrrrrring. I scream and toss the phone to the other end of the couch, as if  this action will repel the men within it. Even though I know these men can’t see  my exact location, I feel cornered, overwhelmed.


Photographer Documents An Incident Of Intimate Violence

02.28.2013 4:48 PM

Photographer Sara Naomi Lewkowicz didn’t intend to be taking photos of Shane violently assaulting his girlfriend Maggie, but that’s how things turned out. This Time photo-essay is disturbing and well worth your time. For me, the photos showing Maggie’s two-year-old daughter Memphis attempting to protect her mother are particularly heartbreaking.

I had met Shane and Maggie two-and-a-half months before. Southeastern Ohio was still warm that time of year and brimming with small regional festivals. I had gone to the Millersport Sweet Corn Festival to shoot my first assignment for an editorial photography class. Almost immediately, I spotted a man covered in tattoos, including an enormous piece on his neck that read, “Maggie Mae.” He was holding a beautiful little girl with blonde curls. His gentle manner with her belied his intimidating ink, and I approached them to ask if I could take their portrait. [...] Before they drove home, I asked if I could continue to document them, and they agreed. [...]

After I confirmed one of the housemates had called the police, I then continued to document the abuse — my instincts as a photojournalist began kicking in. If Maggie couldn’t leave, neither could I.

After the photo essay, you should definitely read Amanda Marcotte’s analysis, “Photo Essay Shows How Abusers Manipulate Victims,” which is spot-on. Here’s a selection, but please read the whole thing:
Read More


Comments

02.28.2013 12:45 PM

I found some perfectly fine comments in spam and removed them from spam. Our spam guard went extra-vigilant this morning but I think it was also confused by some of the language. Please folks, I know we discuss topics of sex at this blog, but for reasons of civility as well as not confusing the spam filters, avoid using language about genitalia, etc.


The Feminist Librarian’s Bookshelf: Five Adolescent Love Stories

02.28.2013 10:20 AM

As I promised in Tuesday’s introductory post, this month’s Bookshelf contains five novels about young adult love that shaped my understanding of romantic possibilities as a teenager. I’m sharing them here in the order in which I encountered them.

[warning: basic plot points will be discussed herein, for those who care about spoilers.]

Magorian, Michelle. Not a Swan (1991). Author Michelle Magorian is perhaps best known for Goodnight, Mr. Tom, a story about a boy abused by his mother who finds safety and love as a wartime evacuee placed with a widowed curmudgeon in rural England. I discovered Magorian’s other work thanks to my childhood public library, and my far-and-away favorite was Not a Swan (also known by its English title A Little Love Song). Swan tells the story of Rose, a WWII evacuee on the cusp of adulthood who dreams of becoming an author, and the mysterious woman who once lived in the house Rose and her sisters are sent to for safety on the English coast.

The novel packs in out-of-wedlock sex, class tensions, the prejudice against — and even incarceration of — unwed mothers, pregnancy, and childbirth. It also tackles the issues of sexual coercion and sexual awakening: our heroine is first pressured into sex by a young man about to go off to war — and then later enthusiastically chooses to become sexually active with another young veteran who supports her literary aspirations and social rebellion.

I read this novel for the first time at age twelve, and was electrified by the (relatively) explicit sex scenes, and Rose’s struggle to determine what kind of sexual intimacy she wanted, on her own terms, regardless of social approbation. My own takeaway from this novel was that sexual experiences are deeply shaped by the quality of relationship in which they happen, and that positive, joyful sexual intimacy is best forged by people who recognize one anothers’ full humanity and independent aspirations.

cover art for Garden: Annie on My Mind (1982)Garden, Nancy. Annie on My Mind (1982). In the early 1990s, when I was entering teenagerdom, this was the only novel in my public library’s Young Adult section featuring a lesbian love story. To this day I’m grateful to the librarian who purchased the tattered paperback copy for their collection, because — while dated in many ways – Annie was an incredibly positive introduction to queer fiction. It was, famously, one of the first gay YA novels to feature a hopeful, romantic ending. Liza and Annie, the star-crossed lovers, meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and develop a passionate friendship that deepens into a sexually-intimate romance when Liza agrees to house-sit for a beloved teacher. Read More


Questions for the Co-Author of the Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies

02.27.2013 5:51 PM

Next Tuesday, I have the pleasure of interviewing Professor John Culhane, co-author with Carrie Stone, of Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies.  As a pastor, I found the read incredibly helpful.  This interview will be available on our FamilyScholars Conversations Podcast channel and we’d love to address any questions you might have.  Submit your questions in the comment section, and we’ll see what we can do to incorporate them into the discussion!


HuffPo: ‘A choice between feeding your children and getting married?’

02.27.2013 2:37 PM

The latest installment in our “New Marriage Conversation” partnership with Huffington Post is a new piece by David Blankenhorn, Amber Lapp and me reacting to President Obama’s call in his State of the Union that we ought to eliminate marriage penalities for low-income Americans.

We write, in part:

Too often in America, debates about marriage have divided us. Here is an example of a marriage reform that could unite us.

Liberals should like this proposal because it increases assets for the poor. Conservatives should like it because it encourages young parents to get married instead of shacking up, and it could reduce welfare dependency over the long term. President Obama often says that our nation’s seniors should not be forced to choose between putting food on the table and getting their prescriptions. Similarly, young mothers like Stephanie should not have to choose between getting married or continuing to feed their children.

Here’s the whole piece.


What Do Cultural Traditionalists Offer LGBT People And Abused Women?

02.27.2013 5:27 AM

There’s a teapot tempest going on over this Washington Post column.

I basically agree with Conor Friedersdorf when he says “There Probably Isn’t Any Neutral Way to Report on Homosexuality.” A person who complains that the Washington Post’s “Date Lab” – a fluffy blind-date series that almost never includes lesbian or gay couples – is biased towards gays, is a person who objects to same-sex couples ever being presented in a neutral light. (How is the Post supposed to “balance” a “Date Lab” article, anyway – should the reporter alternate describing the date with quotes from John Piper on how gay marriage means America has lost its soul?)

But I thought “Nathan” in the comments of Rod Dreher’s blog, made a good point (I’ve added paragraph breaks and corrected typos): Read More


New Story from Anonymous Us

02.26.2013 8:18 PM

Below is the most recent story from The Anonymous Us Project- from a donor-conceived woman.

I was conceived because of convenience.

Unlike a lot of women who use sperm donors, my mom didn’t struggle with fertility and she didn’t hear her “biological clock” ticking. She was only 25 when she decided to conceive me by sperm donation. She had given birth to my older sister when she was a teenager and after years of dealing with my sister’s deadbeat dad, custody battles, and child support problems, she decided that she wanted to use sperm donation simply because she didn’t want to deal with the problems that came with her child having a father in the picture. After getting a settlement from a lawsuit, she decided to go ahead with sperm donation.
I wasn’t the only kid in my neighborhood raised by a single parent but I was still different from the kids whose parents were divorced or one of their parents had passed on. I didn’t have any stories about my father. I didn’t even have a name. Around the fourth or fifth grade, I started making up stories about my father, whom I called Henri (after the character from the PBS show Liberty’s Kids). In high school, my story was more detailed. Henri was from Paris, France and the reason he wasn’t in my life was because of citizenship issues and the cost of the travel. I went so far as to write myself fake letters and take French to keep my story up.
This lie kept me going for a while. After I turned 18, I began searching for my father but I had no luck. The most they would do was send a letter to his last known address, which hadn’t been updated in over a decade. Depressed at my lack of success, I sought relationships, some sexual and some nonsexual, with older men in an attempt to create a father figure in my life. I eventually sought therapy, which helped a lot, but there’s not any support group that I’ve ever seen for children born of egg/sperm donation. Mostly, I was told how “thankful” I should be that my mother “chose to give me life” and that “G-d had a plan for me.”
I feel the void of my father more so than ever as an adult. I had no father to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. My son had no grandfather present at his birth or his brit shalom (and he most likely won’t have one at his bar mitzvah). Father’s Day hits me hard. I’ve lost more than one job in my life simply because I couldn’t drag myself out of bed on that day. I don’t celebrate my birthday at all. I resent my mother a lot and we don’t speak to each other. My mom did a great job of raising me — I ate homemade dinners every night, I went to Disneyland every summer, and most importantly, I knew I was loved — but I can’t help but resent her. I feel her actions were selfish. Emotionally, it’s very hard for me to accept that I was conceived out of convenience and not love. That the only reason I’m on this earth is because some random guy jacked off into a cup while looking at a Playboy.


Did your family have a parlor?

02.26.2013 12:30 PM

For our “American Advice” class at Lake Forest College, this week we are reading From Catharine Beecher to Martha Stewart: A Cultural History of Domestic Advice, by Sarah A. Leavitt. Chapter One offers an extended discussion of parlors:

Domestic advisors disagreed violently with the general public on the subject of parlors. Although many suggestions given by domestic advice writers were followed, such as suggestions on room arrangements and craft ideas, the parlor was one subject that stayed in the realm of fantasy. No matter how hard they tried, and they did try, domestic advisors’ fantasy of the simplified, livable living room never replaced the appeal of the show parlor for most American families.

Apparently,

Middle class families in large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver had access to richly upholstered chairs, gilded mirrors, carpets, and wallpapers and curtains of good quality. They hung paintings on the walls and arranged knick-knacks, such as vases and clocks, on their mantels. But the Victorian parlor was not only the bastion of the rich and urban. Frontier families, homesteading in Nebraska in the late nineteenth century, followed the same rules, installing different wallpapers, less fancy center-table lamps, and cheaper fabric for the curtains, perhaps, but the meanings of the rooms were the same. When domestic advisors criticized the parlors of the Victorian era, they looked not only to the middle-class residents of eastern cities, but also to the West…

The domestic advisors argued,

The parlor did not encourage family togetherness or love, but false opulence. ‘Who does not glance back,’ wrote Lida Clarkson in 1887, ‘almost with a shudder, at the old-fashioned times of stiff, uninviting rooms with cold, dead walls [and] horse-hair furniture?’ ‘The parlor should be the rallying point in daily family life,’ wrote Susan Anna Brown in her 1881 Home Topics. She criticized the use of the parlor as a ‘best’ room and advocated a ‘room in which centers the soul and throbs the heart of family life.’

(all quotations from page 31)

Did you grow up in a home with a room that no one was allowed to use? What do we make of the “family rooms” that are the selling points of new homes today, in an era in which high rates of family fragmentation arguably define us? And, what would 19th century domestic advisors make of today’s design magazines in which no photo spread is complete without a tousle-headed toddler bounding barefoot over the furniture?


David Brooks’ ‘Dream Obama’

02.26.2013 12:00 PM

Today’s column:

…My dream Obama would nurture investment in three ways…

Third, Obama could talk obsessively about family structure and social repair. Every week we get another statistic showing how social and income inequality is dividing the nation…

Because of his upbringing, President Obama is uniquely qualified to talk about family structures. Traditional values are an investment in the young, and he could do what he can to restitch the social fabric. If we don’t address this problem, inequality will be worse 30 years from now no matter what else we do.


“I wish I had a father who was around and involved.”

02.26.2013 11:18 AM

At the Weekly Standard, Heather Mac Donald quotes President Obama, in Chicago recently, speaking on the topic of gun violence as saying:

 “There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families, which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood,” he [Pres. Obama] said. Reiterating a line from his State of the Union speech, he observed: “What makes you a man is not the ability to make a child; it’s the courage to raise one.” And though he paid the obligatory tribute to single mothers, he added with remarkable candor: “I wish I had had a father who was around and involved.” 

Yes.


Civility, Call-Outs, and Monsters

02.26.2013 9:00 AM

It turns out, other people on Internet like to talk about civility too!

Over at Camels With Hammers, philosophy professor Dan Fincke has stirred up the skeptic/atheist blogosphere by writing a rather lengthy, detailed civility pledge.  The lawyer part of me is intrigued by the depth and precision of it, even as I have reservations about its pragmatic application and even as the cynical (or hopeful? it’s good to have these conversations, right?!) part of me foresees endless pedantic meta-debates in its future (or maybe that’s the lawyer part of me too).

On an individual commenter level, managing his 13 rules (and many, many more sub-rules) in addition to contributing substantive points to a conversation, seems like a lot for any person’s mind to juggle. In the midst of considering and re-considering whether the words one wants to use are the most accurate, precise, and civil words one could be using, is it normal to be like, “Wait….. what did I want to say, again?”

Nonetheless, what I appreciate about his pledge is its suggestion that civility in contentious conversations is both a difficult and a worthwhile aim. And, I agree with much of his pledge, even if I think it would be impossible for even a saint to be 100% compliant with it.

Beyond perhaps the more obvious tenets such as not assuming bad faith, are maybe less obvious ones like holding our allies to the same standards we want to see in our opposition and not implying that people we disagree with are necessarily “stupid” or “crazy.”  I say these latter tenets seem less obvious because I don’t see them regularly practiced in the blogosphere, or in more traditional avenues of punditry actually. Conceding that people we like or people we are politically aligned with sometimes act in problematic ways seems to be too much of a concession than what many people are regularly willing to make.

While I was more active in the atheist and skeptic blogosphere in the earlier days of my blogging, I retreated from it in large part because of some of its participants’ incivility toward both religious people and feminists. I just altogether stopped reading blogs where it seemed like every day the headlines bemoaned how some “idiot,” “wingnut,” “lunatic,” or “crazy” person said this or that thing that the blogger felt was so self-evidently wrong that it required no actual rebuttal. Besides, it seems to be a form of microaggression to read bigoted statements over and over again that are never actually substantively addressed.  Do the heterosexual ally atheists continually citing homobigoted statements ever think about that potential impact on their LGBT readers?  But that’s a whole other can of worms (that anyone’s welcome to address).

Becoming more active in feminist blogging, over the years, allowed me to participate with other skeptic/agnostic-leaning communities for whom feminism was not self-evidently irrational or unworthy of being seriously discussed. And, in feminist blogging, I found that people seemed more willing to call out ableist language suggesting that one’s political opponents were intellectually inferior, mentally unstable, or disabled by sheer virtue of their political opposition. Feminist Internet is notorious, or famous, for its Call-Out Culture! Can you believe it? LOL.

To end, I think civility is important to continually strive for in debate primarily because it recognizes the human dignity of those we disagree with. Yet, like Fincke, it has a practical side as well. He writes:

“When you challenge people you make them uncomfortable. They would rather, if they can find some fault in your demeanor, blame you for being a bad person rather than have to consider that it is the truth of your ideas that is the problem. So why give them the actual evidence you’re a disrespectful person that encourages them in their preferred narrative?”

In my experience, many people approach Internet debate as though an enemy is lurking within everyone who disagrees with them. Oftentimes, the assumption is that those who disagree are acting in bad faith, being “disingenuous,” and perhaps being hellbent on destroying society [or something else most people care strongly about].  Many people have a lot invested in thinking the worst of their political opponents, and when we are uncivil, we confirm that narrative and give our political opponents an excuse to disengage and to not take our substantive arguments seriously.

It is easy, lazy, and oftentimes inaccurate to think of our political opponents as monsters with whom we have little in common. And in that shared belief, many people of all political persuasions have more in common with one another than they’d ever care to admit.


The Feminist Librarian’s Bookshelf: An Introduction

02.26.2013 8:30 AM

Greetings, Family Scholars!

When I was first invited to contribute to this blog as a guest blogger, I spent several days discussing the offer with friends and family, considering what I might bring to this space.

I have been reading and commenting at FSB for over a year now, and (I will be upfront about this) have not always felt that my voice is welcome here. I know that I am in the minority in this space when it comes to certain aspects of my being-in-the-world: I venture that self-identified feminists at FSB are outnumbered by those who view feminist activism with suspicion; while I am not the only non-heterosexual voice in here, those of us who are something-other-than-straight number far  fewer than those with other-sex attractions and/or deep reservations about homosexuality.*

But beyond simple majority-minority dynamics, what I have found in the months that I’ve spent as a commenter here is that often feminists, queer folk, and those with leftist, liberal, progressive views, are talked about rather than listened to. Talked at rather than engaged with – at times regardless of how we approach our challenger.

Time and again, I have felt frustrated by the way issues profoundly and directly shaping my life as a queer woman — such as anti-gay harassment, healthcare policy, or marriage rights — are discussed without much reference to, or input from, people like me. Instead our perspectives — when we share them in posts or comments — are derided as radical, wild idealism with no connection to how the “real world” works, as too “politically correct,” “oversensitive,” or even (to quote a recent comment, since deleted, directed at me) “revolting.”

So what is it that such a person as myself — my bodily and emotional experience, my political convictions so troubling to many of you — can bring, constructively, to this space?

Read More


New FamilyScholars Podcast on SOTU, Marriage and Low-Income Americans

02.25.2013 5:05 PM

Our next episode of FamilyScholars Conversations is available at ITunes.  Elizabeth Marquardt and I discuss President Obama’s call to support the marriages of low-income Americans as well as build up fathers.  We also talk a little bit about sewing. It’s short but sweet, and if you haven’t subscribed, what are you waiting for?


Four concepts of truth (cont.)

02.25.2013 3:05 PM

We’ve hit the 50 comments limit, but the conversation is hopping, so I want to re-open the comments thread for “Four Concepts of Truth.”  Thanks to all who are participating!


Four Concepts of Truth

02.24.2013 1:28 PM

What is driving today’s culture wars?   Religion?  Political manipulations?  Sincere disagreements over important issues?

Yes, all of these factors are important.  But there is another one as well, and it’s the underlying differences in our concepts of truth. 

What are truth’s qualities?  Can we know what is true?  If so, how?  In this post, hoping for your feedback, I want at least to begin to adumbrate four at least partially competing concepts of truth. 

1.         Truth is one and is known.

In this conception, all of life’s important questions can be asked, and for each question, there is one (and only one) true answer. More fundamentally, truth in this conception is a coherent unity existing on one plane.  That is, all of the particular “pieces” of truth fit together perfectly, like pieces of an intricate jig-saw puzzle, ultimately comprising one clear and well-ordered image of the good – one unified portrait of truth that pertains to all people in all situations at all times. In this conception, therefore, truth is both intrinsic and objective. What isn’t truth, is error. 

The methodological procedure most suited for this conception of truth is deductive reasoning. That is, from certain true statements, I can proceed logically to certain necessarily true implications; and given a true premise, I can logically reach certain necessarily true conclusions.  Therefore, starting from certain fundamental or revealed truths, I as the truth-seeker can proceed logically outward and downward (“truth flows downhill”), eventually building a complex and seamless system of interlocking definitions, premises, and conclusions about all of life’s main questions.

2.         Truth is one and can be known.

In this conception of truth, just as in our first, truth in principle is one, universal, and accessible to all; truth is intrinsic and objective, such that the only categories are truth and error; and each bit of truth fits smoothly into a larger coherent pattern, again like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, ultimately producing one unified and universally applicable portrait of truth.   

But in this conception, we don’t already know the truth.  Instead, we are diligently looking for it, like explorers looking for gold, or scientists in a lab. We don’t yet have the problem all worked out – there is still considerable confusion, disagreement, and clouded perception – but we know, we have faith, that if we try hard enough and long enough, we will win the prize and finally know what is true. We’ll find the gold.   

The methodological procedure most suited for this conception of truth is inductive reasoning. That is, we start from small observable facts, and proceed incrementally outward and upward, piling up fact upon fact, until the weight of evidence leads us to certain empirically valid generalizations.  Eventually in this way, the truth-seeker builds up a body of truth, similar to the way that a brick-layer constructs a wall – that is, layer by layer, with each layer resting securely on top of the layers that came before. 

 3.         Truth is romantic.

In our first two conceptions, truth comes mainly from reason. But in the conception of truth as romantic, truth is larger and more powerful than reason alone and is not constrained by it.  In this conception, we find the truth from our whole selves – our desires and intuitions, our thoughts, our dreams, our bonds with others, our needs, our history and our entire personality. We come to know that some things are simply too beautiful to be untrue.  We come to know that some things are too important or too needful or too primitively potent to be untrue.

This conception of truth breaks decisively with the claims of universality and objectivity.  It does not claim that there is one objectively true answer to each question, and it does not claim that all true answers fit together into one harmonious pattern of truth. Quite the contrary! In this way of knowing, what was once objective becomes subjective, and what was once whole and universal becomes partial and particular. 

For these reasons, truth in this conception is no longer like a jig-saw puzzle, in which all answers fit together into one, but instead more like a brilliant painting on a canvas or a beautiful poem on a page, bursting particular declarations of human passion and power.   

4.         Truth is plural.    

The fundamental premise of the conception of truth as plural is a kind of philosophical negation, or what might be called epistemological realism or modesty.  The conception of truth as plural rejects the (in its view, pretentious) idea that the philosopher, like the person completing a jig-saw puzzle, can fit every important true thing about the universe into one harmonious whole.  Instead, in this conception the truth-seeker accepts both the reality and legitimacy of values pluralism – the notion that, within certain (and debatable) ranges, there are, among persons of rational capacity and good will, inescapably diverse and at times conflicting understandings of what is good and what is true; and that, absent the resort by society to violence and coercion, these divergent views do not and likely will never fit together into a harmonious pattern in which every aspect of truth  reinforces and is reinforced by all the other aspects.  

Accordingly, in this way of knowing, a good question is usually better than a final answer; and in this epistemology we find a consistent emphasis on argument (that always leads to more argument) and on engagement (that always leads to more engagement). For these reasons, truth in this conception is neither like a jig-saw puzzle that is painstakingly assembled, or like a painting or poem that potently declares itself for itself, but instead more like of those Alexander Calder mobiles, with their multiple parts that can variously turn and spin and tilt and shimmer in relationship to one another, such that in principle no two views of the mobile are exactly the same.      

 Therefore What?

Of course, these four proposed concepts are only ideal types. Real life is obviously more messy and heterodox than these stiff categorizations would imply.  Many individuals, for example, mix and mingle these conceptions in their own journeys, seeming  to partake of more than one of them.   

My current obsession with this issue stems largely from my wrestling with the issue of gay marriage.   From day one, my philosophical approach to the issue – both earlier, when I opposed gay marriage, and now, when I favor it – is what I (drawing on others) call “goods in conflict,” which fundamentally partakes of the view that truth is plural. 

That is, I saw and still see the truth that marriage, more than any other arrangement, vitalizes the bonds between children and their biological parents and reflects institutionally the dual (male-female) origin of the human child.  At the same time, I saw and still see the truth that homosexual conduct is benign and that homosexual love is equal in dignity to heterosexual love.  I believed and continue to believe that, especially in the context of our current U.S.debate, these two truths – these two legitimate and to me compelling claims of what is good and what is true – cannot be fully reconciled.  At least to some degree, they conflict. Thus the term “goods in conflict.”   

But for me, working in this epistemological vineyard got confusing and at times depressing.  When I opposed gay marriage, I could find hardly a soul on my side who agreed with my view that truth is plural.  I’d ask those who are now my former comrades:  Do you have any doubt at all on this issue?  Do you see even one good argument on the other side?  The answers were No and No.  Hell, no. Absolutely not.     

Now that I favor gay marriage, it’s the same thing.  I ask my current comrades:  Do you believe that your argument has any weaknesses?  Is there even one valid reason to oppose gay marriage? The answers come back the same:  No.  Hell, no. Absolutely not. What category, then, are my new comrades in?  Do they believe, with philosophical liberals like me, that truth is plural?  Or do they, pretty much exactly like their opponents in the marriage debate, believe that truth is one and that what’s not truth, is error?  The apparent answer to this question worries me.     

For these and other reasons, I give it over to you, kind readers.  What do you make of my descriptions of these four concepts?  Are they accurate?  Fair-minded?  What’s missing?  What needs to be added?  Corrected?  Once we get the descriptions right, we can proceed to evaluating the significance of these concepts in today’s culture wars and arguing over which one is the most … true.


Remember when marriage was an institution?

02.24.2013 10:31 AM

At The American Conservative, discussing John Huntsman’s endorsement of gay marriage, Dreher posts a coment from a young reader:

I’ll give you my perspective as a young person (24) who supports gay marriage. I think there’s a fundamental disconnect between the older generation and this one, and perhaps this might help you to understand it (although I think you already do, to some extent).

Your conception of marriage, the traditional one, is that a man and a woman get married for the purpose of procreation. Marriage isn’t really about romantic love in this conception, but rather a framework for the rearing of children. If we take for granted that this is what marriage is, then I don’t think it’s bigoted at all to not have gay marriage, so long as the coupling is respected.

The problem for people my age is this: your definition of marriage was displaced prior to our lifetime. I have no memory of when that definition was true. Virtually everyone under the age of 30 has lived their entire lives under a culture that believes marriage is an expression of romantic love between two people.

So for a young person with a conservative disposition, the battle against gay marriage isn’t the same as it is for you. You’re trying to conserve something that existed in your lifetime and has since been destroyed. For a young person, there’s nothing to conserve. If the only world they know is one where marriage is an expression of romantic love, any effort to bar a group of people from that doesn’t feel like the conservation of anything, just discrimination.

I have heard this from many younger people.  If, 50 years from now, marriage is basically down the tubes, except as a status symbol for the upscale, and curious historians look back and ask “why?” and “when was the turning point?”,  I don’t think very many people will answer, “because in the 2010s they adopted gay marriage.”  But I do think many people are likely to answer, “because starting in the 1970s they stopped believing that marriage was a social institution.”

Want an example of what “marriage as a social institution” means?   In the 1960s, if you asked Americans, “Do you think a troubled marriage should stay together for the sake of the children?”, most Americans said “yes.”  Today, most say “no.”   

Want another?  In the 1940s, while in a German prison awaiting his excecution by the Nazis, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to an engaged couple on their wedding day: “From this day on, it won’t be your love that keeps your marriage alive, it will be your marriage that keeps your love alive.”  In a society in which marriage is a social institution, young couples hear those words and say, “I think I understand.”  In society in which marriage is not social institution, young couples hear those words and say,”I have no idea what he’s talking about.”


The M.Guy Tweet

02.24.2013 8:01 AM

Marriage Media
Week of February 17, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. Dear Valentine, I Hate It When You …, The New York Times

“I promise to write about our next three fights as though I were a neutral observer.” . . . New research suggests that this may be the most valuable present you’ll ever give.

For more, see

2. ‘The Normal Bar,’ by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz and James Witte, The Washington Post

[Based on surveys of more than 70,000 people about their marital satisfaction.] The team found that both sexes said communication was the thing they valued most — and people in unhappy relationships said it was the No. 1 thing they were lacking.

3. How to Make a Good Marriage Better, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Instead of doing traditional marriage counseling, we wanted to teach people how to be independent and. . . skills.”. . . It’s not counseling or group therapy. Rather, they host retreats to teach a specific ways of actively listening and sharing intimate thoughts and feelings.

4. Renewing Marriage in America, National Review Online

[Proposed Option 2:] Using a marriage-penalty calculator (like this one from the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution) and simply issuing low-income couples a check equal to the penalty they incur from marrying.

5. Love and Marriage, Pew Research

In a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, love wins out over “making a lifelong commitment,” as well as “companionship,” “having children,” and “financial stability” as a very important reason to wed.

6. Survive the First Ten Years and Marriage Stays Strong, The Telegraph

“The biggest message is that marriage is incredibly consistent and predictable once you get to 10 years. . . The first 10 years is when all the potential for change exists, if we could help people to decide how to form stable relationships divorce rates could plummet.” [Note: UK study]

7. When Divorce Is a Family Affair, The New York Times: Room for Debate

Under the Parental Divorce Reduction Act. . . parents with children who are still minors must attend marriage education classes (separately or together), learn about the damaging consequences of divorce, and take an eight-month time-out to reflect on their life-altering decision (and hopefully pursue reconciliation) before they file for divorce. This approach, which targets low-conflict unions, will save marriages.

For more, see

For more, see here.


Surrogate Suffering

02.23.2013 1:21 PM

From Canada:

…The National Post reports surrogate mothers in Ontario are being billed for hospital services after giving birth even though they have provincial medicare coverage.

The reason: The babies were being taken out of the country.

The issue raises a real question about who should be on the hook for costs for delivery of a baby in an international surrogacy arrangement, the Canadian taxpayer or the parties involved?

From Washington State and Tennessee:

…when Byers was contacted to help a couple in China start a family following several miscarriages, she agreed.
“It was just pitched that they wanted a genetic child of their own. They tried and they had miscarriages,” Byers explained. She learned that many Chinese couples turn to American surrogates to carry a baby on their behalf.
It is expensive for the Chinese parents. The babies born here that return to China are called “million dollar babies” because the surrogate process, through delivery, really does cost the equivalent of one million U.S. dollars.Byers was flown to Chicago and the U.S. headquarters of Yulane, the international surrogacy agency managing the match. In Chicago she met the intended parents.

It was during a subsequent visit to Chicago when Byers was inseminated with the embryo that she got worried.
She was supposed to be taken to cash an expense check, but said the man who picked her up was clearly drunk and had been out partying with a friend. The bank then wouldn’t cash her check from Yulane because the signature was invalid. She said the situation wasn’t resolved until a day later when the company sent her a money order. “So right then I’m like ‘well, now I’m pregnant so what can I do now? I’m like stuck in this situation,’” Byers said. “I knew right then this was going to be a crazy nine months.”

Five months into the pregnancy a test showed the baby boy had a 90 percent curvature of the spine and his organs were growing outside his body. As instructed by the intended parents, Byers decided to not carry the baby to full term. “There were a lot of tears, a lot of tears,” she said. “You don’t get into it wanting to go through the death of a baby. You want to create a family.”

It was around that time that Byers discovered something disturbing in an email forwarded to her by the surrogacy agency. Tucked into the messages was a reference to someone named Shannon and Chinese characters. Using Google Translate, Byers learned Yulane was reassuring the intended mother in China.
“Shannon has an appointment for genetic testing during pregnancy and to know the problem as soon as possible, identify problems,” the email said. “I was like, who’s Shannon?” Byers remembered. Further detective work revealed that Shannon had been simultaneously contracted as a surrogate for the intended parents in China. Shannon was pregnant with twins in Tennessee.

Surrogacy is illegal in China, but babies born here are considered U.S. citizens, which helps the kids eventually get into American colleges later in life.

From California:

…A former Modesto woman who ran a surrogate parenting agency pleaded guilty Tuesday to four felony counts of wire fraud in a $2-million scheme carried out through her agency and another business she owned, federal authorities said.

Tonya Collins, 37, carried out a scheme to defraud prospective parents, surrogates and financial institutions while she owned Surrogenesis and the Michael Charles Financial Holding Group, according to the US. attorney’s office in Fresno.


Doubt sweet doubt (cont.)

02.23.2013 11:04 AM

In The American Conservative, my friend Jeremy Beer writes about the Catholic philosopher David Schindler.   Schindler is an interesting man (I’ve met him a few times) — a wide-ranging and serious thinker.  He’s also difficult to read, and so part of what Beer does in this essay is try to “translate” Schindler for those of us (and I include myself) who experience trying to read him straight-on as pretty heavy sledding.  So here is Beer on Schindler on epistemology:

Specifically, liberalism fails to apprehend that “love is the basic act and order of things.” Love brings all there is into existence, it is through love that all there is continues in existence, and it is for love that all things exist. Reality is in this sense triadic: all things are in, through, and for love. Being might therefore be said to be an order or “logic” of love.

… In Schindler’s account of reason—one shared by Popes Benedict and John Paul II—faith does not narrow reason, nor does faith exist alongside reason as something “added” to it from without. Rather, faith enlarges reason from within, helping it to function better precisely as reason.

… Perhaps no theme emerges more consistently in Schindler’s metaphysical reflections as a target of criticism than that of “extrinsicism.” The neo-Thomists, in the Communio view, held to an “extrinsic” model of the nature-grace relationship. In such a model, nature is self-subsistent and in principle knowable in its totality without the aid of the supernatural—without, that is, grace. Grace adds to nature but is fundamentally “outside” of it; Christian revelation therefore adds nothing to our knowledge of nature as nature. To Communio thinkers like Schindler, this model is an unnecessary and indeed catastrophic capitulation to Enlightenment ideas about nature that are not just secular, but secularist.

… As a metaphysical alternative to extrinsicism, Schindler argues analogically from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Here the idea of “distinction-in-unity” becomes a key concept. The secular and the sacred, faith and reason, nature and grace, are indeed distinguishable, but they simultaneously and at their core relate to one another in the terms of an inseparable unity—“circumincession” is Schindler’s term for this relationship. We see such a relationship, again analogically, in the bond between husband and wife, who are distinct persons yet “one flesh,” or in the relationship between the Father and the Son, distinct persons yet one God. Distinction-in-unity is enabled by and is the form of love …

Now, Schindler is a serious man whose thought deserves attentiveness.  And Schindler has much to say about how a “philosophy of love” pertains to close-to-the-ground contemporary issues, such as the current U.S. culture wars.  All of this merits attention.  But here I only want to make two quick observations about Schindler’s epistemology, in part because they touch upon my current interest (obsession?) with the issues of doubt and the concept of goods in conflict. 

The first observation is that Schindler’s view appears to be strictly monistic.  There is one truth, one idea, one reality, one Word, from which all else in the universe is derived and around which all other aspects of human meaning and experience are (can be, should be) harmoniously ordered.   There are no “goods in conflict” here (e.g., gay equality is good; customary marriage is good; the two are not entirely compatible or the same); instead, everthing is of one piece.  Or so his thought appears to me.   

The second is that Schindler’s world view appears to depend decisively on the belief that one thing can be two or more things at once.  Faith is faith, and reason is reason, but faith and reason are also one inseparable unity (i.e., one thing).  The natural is the natural and the supernatural is the supernatural, but neither, properly understood, is “extrinsic” to the other.  The married couple is two but also and to the same degree one; the godhead is three but also and to the same degree one.  And so on.  G. K. Chesterton wrote hundreds of essays (many of them quite lovely), and in nearly every one of them, as I can recall, we find this idea (or at least this rhetorical strategy) stressing that one thing is also one or more other things.  Now, when Isaiah Berlin insisted over and over again in his lectures and writings that “the thing is only the thing,” this contrary assertion about reality – the idea that one thing is also two or more things at once — is exactly what he meant to be disagreeing with. 

I can’t and won’t even try to solve these controversies here (though patient readers know that, as it were, “Ich bin ein Berliner”).  I only want to adumbrate two of the conceptual issues that jumped out at me as I read Beer’s interesting essay.