Saturday, February 7, 2009

Houses Split Asunder

I never took one of the Marriage and the Family courses in college, perhaps to my detriment. At the time these didn’t seem grandly intellectual. I think later they gave way to even less intellectual offerings in women’s departments.

Today, I am reconsidering my earlier prejudice. I’ve been reading the latest (January/February) issue of Touchstone magazine (A Journal of Mere Christianity) and the issue’s theme is “Meaningful Intercourse,” and yes, the editors do mean sexual.

The main point of one article, “Phony Matrimony,” is encapsulated in this quote: “Mainstream American society, even as it is statistically somewhat more opposed to same-sex marriage than in favor of it, envisions ‘marriage’ in a way that cannot bear any rational scrutiny of its exclusion of same-sex couples.” The reason is most marriages today are considered revocable; “for better or worse… until death do us part” has become a rhetorical flourish only, and more tellingly, bearing children has become optional.

Modern marriage’s revolving door makes the institution more attractive to the irresponsible “love” bitten and to the commitment phobic, and splitting the roles of “spouse” and “parent” has undermined the necessity of marriage and shaped it as an optional living arrangement, while opening the door of acceptability to any kind of alternative.

If you are like me, there’s pause here because I share the guilt. Along with, I’d guess, a majority of people, I fall short of the traditional Roman Catholic ideal of marriage. I may have some excuse in being raised Protestant, but I am more significantly a part, as are most of us inescapably, of what Oleson terms “our cultural deterioration.” We have been raised so and confirmed so by all the social forces around us. The Catholic church’s position on contraception seemed archaic and alien to me in my child-bearing years, just as the Church’s position on abortion seems archaic, alien, and oppressive to many sexually liberated women today.

However, it’s not individuals that Oleson seeks to condemn, it’s the cultural debasement he wishes to counter. And he recognizes that the task will be long, quoting Alaisdair Macintyre’s After Virtue… “through the new dark ages that are already upon us.”

Don’t expect the government to help. Stephen Baskerville takes on the culture and business of divorce in “Divorced From Reality,” in the same Touchstone issue. This one you can read online: Baskerville asserts: “Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth, and incarcerate parents without trial.”

If this language seems intemperate to you, go the website and read the entire piece. No-fault divorce is seldom a rational decision made by two adults; rather in 80% of cases (Divided Families by Furstenberg and Cherlin), one spouse objects. Such “involuntary divorce,” Baskerville’s term, brings in “an army of judicial hangers-on who reward belligerence and profit from the ensuing litigation: judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, counselors, mediators, custody evaluators, social workers, and more.” And it doesn’t end there: “involuntary divorce by its nature requires constant government supervision over family life.”

Children become “the principal weapons of the divorce machinery.” And the usual result is to remove the father from the home… innocent of any crime and without any burden of proof for justification. A father can be arrested “for seeing …children without government authorization…for not paying child support, even if the amount exceeds his means…and for not paying an attorney or a psychotherapist he has not hired.” Although all this would seem a violation of basic constitutional right, Baskerville points out the “multi-billion divorce industry also commands a huge government-funded propaganda machine that has distorted our view of what is happening.”

Baskerville goes on to outline “Divorce Gamesmanship,” “Cycle of Abuse,” “Trafficking in Children,” “The Child Support Racket,” and finally the “Responsibility of Churches. He believes families need to be protected from government “invasion” and endorses the work of Marriage Savers (

I think all of us know there is a crisis in family life in the US and seemingly throughout the Western world. No marriage is ever trouble free, and sticking with a “bad” marriage may seem like suffering through a life sentence, but there are also cycles in marriages; things often get better. And we need to acknowledge also that although “no-fault” divorce makes a mockery of marriage as a contract, there are legitimate grounds (unrepentant adultery and abuse) for divorce in civil society. It’s just tragic that the actual choice is so often made frivolously by one party without due consideration of consequence. Perhaps Marriage and the Family courses need to be reinstated.

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