When I say that we “naturally want to avoid having children” at certain times, I would imagine that the image that comes immediately to mind is of birth control, abortion or infanticide, and most traditional societies have seen these in some form or other. However, I’d like to turn our attention to something so basic and so prevalent that we don’t think about it much.
From an anthropological point of view, the entire structure of our romantic and family relationships serves as a way to control childbearing, limiting it to situations in which offspring can be supported. Consider: Requiring that young women remain virgins until marriage ensured that children will not be born without a provider. Nor was the decision to marry, when it came, a strictly individual affair. Marriage was negotiated and approved by the wider families, because the families were in effect committing to help support the new family unit being created. Many cultures also required the husband’s family to pay a “bride price”, not simply as compensation for the lost contribution of the daughter to her own family, but as proof that the husband was of sufficient means to start a family.
Once in place, this set of cultural mores and laws provided an easy way to adjust to want or plenty:
Last night you gave an address using the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an opportunity to pontificate about many subjects. I am afraid that far from convincing me you are leading the federal government well in this disaster, you have removed beyond a doubt your indifference to the state of Louisiana. Since you rarely visited the state before the disaster (even when the un-repaired damage done by Hurricane Katrina should have called your attention), perhaps I, as a resident of this great state, can explain what you obviously don’t understand.
In a few days the FIFA World Cup, which is one of -if not the- premier sporting events in the world, begins so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the good of sports for those who don’t play them.
In modern sports, sometimes it’s hard to see this good. In sports today, we have college football conferences raiding each other in pursuit of the all-mighty dollar, destroying the wonderful regional nature of the game. We have Kobe Bryant, one of the all-time divas, two games away from yet another title. As Henry Karlson pointed out in a post a while ago, sports stars often find themselves in a position of privilege-both in terms of financial wealth and in terms of our excusal of their poor behavior (though I would attribute this in large part not solely to sports but also to the cult of celebrity we have today, which is another post for another day). We even had a stampede in anticipation of the World Cup.
For those who spend quantities of time philosophizing about lifestyles, suburbia is almost universally reviled. Large tracts of similarly designed homes, each set on its patch of lawn, seem for many people to epitomize the problems of isolation, conformity, mass production, consumerism, or whatever the bugbear of choice may be. And yet, suburban life remains persistently popular.
Having spent the last month building a large raised vegetable bed and putting in this year’s expanded garden, such that I can now look out on the garden with my morning coffee in hand and not with satisfaction the growth of the tomato plants and the strangely obscene orange flowers of the zucchini and butter-stick squash, or go out in the warm evening when I return from work to gauge the progress of the pair of grape vines and the climbing rose bush, the explanation for this does not seem strange to me. There is, it seems to me, a desire that a great many of us have, despite our city-based jobs and cultural tastes, for a home and small plot of land we can call our own.
Deal Hudson at Inside Catholic wrote recently about the divisions in the pro-life movement over the Personhood Initiative, a nation-wide effort to legally define “personhood” as beginning at the moment of conception. The testing ground for the initiative was Colorado, where the movement’s founder, an admirable 19 year-old by the name of Kristi Burton, hails from. The lowdown, according to Deal, is that,
Colorado voters turned down the amendment by a stunning 73 percent to 27 percent, in spite of support from Focus on the Family, American Life League, and legal advice from the Thomas More Law Center. But the effort had failed to gain the support of either National Right to Life (NRTL) or the Colorado Catholic Conference.
Whether or not that extra support would have resulted in a less unbalanced result, I cannot say. For those wondering why the Catholic Conference, and many American bishops are hesitant to embrace the PI, the concern was apparently that if it were taken to, and shot down by, the Supreme Court, it would have the effect of “actively reaffirm[ing] the mistaken jurisprudence of Roe.” According to Deal, however, some Catholic bishops are reconsidering their position on the PI.
Not long ago, in the context of the debate over the efforts of Bart Stupak and the pro-life Dems, I wrote about pro-life pragmatism. I argued that the much-derided “incrementalism” is actually the most viable way of winning the long-term war against the abortion industry in light of the facts about where the American electorate stands on abortion. With respect to the PI, and with all due respect to the founders and supporters of this movement, I must reaffirm that position.
I have written a bit over the last year about my problems with technological progress and consumerist ideology. One of the most serious consequences of these trends that I have yet to touch upon is delayed adulthood.
Commentators and social theorists are observing that my generation is not growing up. Young adults now take five years on average to get a bachelor’s degree. Marriage, children, home ownership, and a career that can support them all are each coming much later. In the meantime, my generation is living at home with mom and dad, if not all the time, at least some of the time – I myself have had to move in and out of my parent’s home a few times since I graduated.
Only in modern day Western societies, where the struggle for daily existence has been abolished for the majority of the population, could the phenomenon of delayed adulthood arise. It isn’t just that there are too many college degrees and not enough jobs, though that plays an important role. Prolonged education is a part of delayed adulthood. Millions of young people have absolutely no idea what they want to do, what sort of goals they should set for themselves, or what it is that makes life worth living. Meaningful religion has been scrubbed from most of their lives, replaced with some version of Cafeteria Christianity, New Age occultism, or far more frequently, agnosticism, cynicism, relativism and nihilism.
Buckle Up! Because here are today’s Top Picks in the Catholic world:
1. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York commended President Obama and the Democratic Party efforts in reforming Health Care. He said this during the Knights of Columbus Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. But his Grace gave this caveat that if reform…
“…leads to the destruction of life, then we say it’s no longer health care at all – it’s unhealthy care and we can’t be part of that.”
To accentuate this sentiment and as a warning to well meaning Catholics, Cardinal Levada explained that those that want to reform health care at any cost:
“[W]e do not build heaven on earth, we simply prepare the site to welcome the new Jerusalem which comes from God.”
2. Catholic convert Joe Eszterhas of Hollywood screenwriting fame, will be writing the screenplay for a movie aboutthe Virgin of Guadalupe. Though no director nor a green light has been given on the go ahead of this movie project, the fact that Joe Eszterhas is writing the screenplay is newsworthy in itself because of the author himself is enough to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
The author is a 47 year old woman, a successful performance artist married to a musician, who after twenty years of marriage and two children find herself in the aftermath of an extramarital affair deciding that she really doesn’t feel like doing the work to rebuilt a relationship with her husband.
Which is not to say I’m against work. Indeed, what also came out that afternoon were the many tasks I—like so many other working/co-parenting/married mothers—have been doing for so many years and tearfully declared I would continue doing. I can pick up our girls from school every day; I can feed them dinner and kiss their noses and tell them stories; I can take them to their doctor and dentist appointments; I can earn my half—sometimes more—of the money; I can pay the bills; I can refinance the house at the best possible interest rate; I can drive my husband to the airport; in his absence, I can sort his mail; I can be home to let the plumber in on Thursday between nine and three, and I can wait for the cable guy; I can make dinner conversation with any family member; I can ask friendly questions about anybody’s day; I can administer hugs as needed to children, adults, dogs, cats; I can empty the litter box; I can stir wet food into dry.
It is oft observed that we have a consumption problem. Various people come at this from various angles. Health experts warn that we have an obesity epidemic. Religious leaders warn that consumerism can be a threat to one’s real moral priorities. Environmentalists warn that we are consuming the earth’s resources at an unsustainable pace.
All of these are true to one extent or another. The fact of the matter is, the human animal is not well set up to deal with situations of long term abundance. In nature, lack almost invariably follows abundance in the natural cycle, and so our evolutionary heritage tends to tell us, in the presence of obvious plenty, “Eat up now, there may be nothing later.” For animals this is likely to be the case. The plants which are in season now will not be later, and the predator who has made a kill one day may well not another.
Aristotle taught that the purpose of tragedy is to inspire pity and fear in the audience, thence causing catharsis, a purging of emotion. I’ve always found his explanation of tragedy compelling, but as I get older (queue laughter at the thirty-year-old getting “older”) I find that I want to achieve catharsis much less than I used to. Not that my life is layered in tragedy or anything, indeed, far from it. But somehow, one just doesn’t feel as much like seeking out pity and fear at thirty as at twenty.
With the garden currently shooting up, I’ve found myself again disposed to read gardening and food related books. I finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma last week, and aside from a few gripes in regards to Michael Pollan’s understanding of economics, I enjoyed it quite a bit. On the last run by the library, I picked up a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The idea of moving out onto acreage and growing much of one’s own food is something that I find interesting. I enjoy gardening, I enjoy cooking gourmet food, and I think there’s a cultural and psychological value to remaining in touch with the way that humans have gained food for themselves in past centuries.
However, Kingsolver is far more passionate (and less balanced) in her jeremiads against “industrial food” than Pollan, and more prone to denunciations of what “capitalism” has done to our food culture. Indeed, so much so as to crystallize for me a trend among those who denounce “capitalism” and its impact on Western Culture. Kingsolver had just reached the crescendo of a complaint in regards to large seed companies peddling hybrids and genetically modified strains, when she turned to the subject of heirloom vegetable varieties, and her joy at paging through lengthy seed catalogs full of heirloom seeds.
…Heirloom seeds are of little interest to capitalism if they can’t be patented or owned. They have, however, earned a cult following among people who grow or buy and eat them. Gardeners collect them like family jewels, and Whole Foods Market can’t refrain from poetry in its advertisement of heirlooms….
So you see, when large agribusiness firms sell farmers seeds for field corn which are genetically modified to repel pests,
that’s capitalism. But when catalog and internet businesses build a thriving niche selling heirloom vegetable seeds, and Whole Foods ad men wax poetical over $7/lb tomatoes, that’s… Well, it certainly can’t be capitalism, can it? Not if it’s good.
The weekend’s WSJ had an interesting article about work hours — the hours that people think they work, and the hours they actually do.
Over the past two decades of rapid technological deployment and globalization, it has become an article of faith among the professional set that we work sweatshop hours. Sociologist Juliet Schor started the rumor with her 1992 book, “The Overworked American,” which featured horror stories of people checking their watches to know what day it was.
Then God created the BlackBerry and things got worse. In late 2005, Fortune’s Jody Miller claimed that “the 60-hour weeks once thought to be the path to glory are now practically considered part-time.” In late 2006, the Harvard Business Review followed up with an article on “the dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek,” calling jobs that required such labor the new standard for professionals. The authors featured one “Sudhir,” a financial analyst who claimed to work 90-hour weeks during summertime, his “light” season. He’s got nothing on a young man I met at a party recently who told me he was working 190 hours a week to launch his new company.
It was a curious declaration; I would certainly invest in a start-up that had invented a way to augment the 168 hours that a week actually contains.
Left open ended (though he provides a few thoughts on the matter) is the question of why both Americans and Europeans like to perceive such strong differences between themselves, and what exactly that means about the two cultures.
I was struck by this Megan McArdle post, of which I will go ahead a quote a large chunk:
Guess what, honey? You’re not entitled. You can do everything right, and the universe doesn’t owe you anything. Neither do your fellow taxpayers. If there is any way to save the banking system without paying you $2 million a year, I will do it, not because I hate you and want to rob you, but because I don’t want to pay more than I have to. You may have come across this concept in business school. At Chicago, we called it “a market”.
The real problem with investment bankers goes deeper, and is the problem of the entire upper middle class: we have come to believe that complying with the rules produces excellent results as by some natural law. In school, if you do your work, teacher gives you an A. It comes to seem like a sort of a natural law: if you have a good education and work hard, the universe is supposed to reward you. After school, the upper middle class gravitates towards careers with very well defined advancement hierarchies: medicine, law, finance, consulting, where this subtle belief is constantly reinforced. Read the rest of this entry »
I have many fond memories of him, but many important and influential ones, as well. During the fall of 2006, I was in his office, expressing my anxious agitation about the upcoming congressional elections. I worried over the loss of a Republican majority, linking my political concerns to the future of the pro-life cause, the dangers of unfettered bioengineering, and so forth. He sat back in his chair, puffing on his cigar while I prattled on. Then, with a wave of his hand, he dismissed my anxieties with a simple observation:
My wife subscribes to the local Catholic homeschooler email list, and although I don’t usually dip into the innumerable messages that pour in (most of them more lifestyle and education focused, so far as I can tell) I occasionally read a thread that catches my eye.
This week there’s been much discussion of an Envoy magazine article about how a mother took her twelve-year-old in for a check up and was shocked and angered when the doctor asked if he could speak to the girl privately for a few minutes, and during the course of that asked the girl if she was sexually active and if she needed a prescription for birth control. The moms on the list exchanged similar stories, and were indignant not only that birth control was offered but that their teenagers were routinely asked if they did drugs, had sex, etc. Why, everyone wanted to know, would any reasonable doctor ask to speak to a teenager alone about these topics? Surely a mother should always know everything there is to know about these topics.
Needless to say, I’m not crazy about the idea of my three daughters being offered birth control and quizzed about their experiences when they become teenagers.
This has already been makingthe rounds, but the weekend is almost here, and I thought it would be an opportunity to focus more on the culture part of AC. Per Brett McCracken, here is a partial list of the common traits of Christian hipsters:
Things they don’t like:
Christian hipsters don’t like megachurches, altar calls, and door-to-door evangelism. They don’t really like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart or youth pastors who talk too much about Braveheart. In general, they tend not to like Mel Gibson and have come to really dislike The Passion for being overly bloody and maybe a little sadistic. They don’t like people like Pat Robertson, who on The 700 Club famously said that America should “take Hugo Chavez out”; and they don’t particularly like The 700 Club either, except to make fun of it. They don’t like evangelical leaders who get too involved in politics, such as James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, who once said of terrorists that America should “blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” They don’t like TBN, PAX, or Joel Osteen. They do have a wry fondness for Benny Hinn, however.
It’s a commonplace of sorts in Catholic and conservative circles that democracy without virtue will quickly become tyranny. At the same time, this is one of those phrases which seems to drive secular commentators to distraction. How could liberal democracy lead to tyranny when it’s clearly those authoritarian religious people who want to be tyrants?
So you’re a single Catholic sitting at home with nothing to do on St. Valentine’s Day, what are your options? Well there are many things that you can do, especially if you want to resolve your current status as a non-married person. If you’re not called to religious life, you are most certainly called to married life with very few exceptions, yet you’re sitting on your couch still being single. In this column I’ll offer a basic and fundamental template for a single Catholic in pursuing your future spouse(1).
Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years, forsaking the old fusionist synthesis in favor of a new and altogether unattractive species of populism. The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government. Just look at the causes that have been generating the real energy in the conservative movement of late: building walls to keep out immigrants, amending the Constitution to keep gays from marrying, and imposing sectarian beliefs on medical researchers and families struggling with end-of-life decisions.
Though he admits there’s not been much real movement on the part of Democrats to please libertarians, he cites a few things: Read the rest of this entry »
There have been some refreshingly candid (if not entirely harmonious) conversations over at Mirror of Justice recently about the blog’s mission as it approaches its fifth anniversary. Mirror of Justice is a great resource for Catholic legal scholarship, and it has a diverse set of contributors with different perspectives on Catholic legal theory.
I have thoughts about many of the issues that have come up, but one topic that I found especially interesting was the discussion of generational differences.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be playing for a spot in the Super Bowl today. Being a life-long Eagles fan I have to admit that I am biased, but I believe this could finally be theiryear to win it all. With all due respect to the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles should destroy them and have the game wrapped up by the 4th quarter.
The song is “Gonna Fly Now”, the theme from (the) Rocky movie franchise. Composed by Bill Conti with lyrics by Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins. Appropriately set in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.
If the Eagles don’t win, it was a very thrilling and exciting ride this season!
Now that the mythical national championship has been won by the University of Florida Gators as per the bowl oligarchy, I’d like to ask The American Catholic readers whom they would pick as their N.C.A.A. F.B.S. national champion. My pick goes to the University of Southern California Trojans. They’ve destroyed all non-conference competition by wide margins and play in the toughest football conference in the nation where the Pac-10 went five-and-0 (5-0) in bowl games this year.
UPDATED (1-13-2009 A.D.): ESPN crowns the Utah Utes the National Champions of college football.