Sunday, August 14, 2011

Marriage and Society

Lots is being said about the riots and looting in Britain. As I said in the previous post, from far away Down Under the interest is not just in a story with shock, horror elements, but in a story which could be our story as we work our way through this Great Recession. Two thoughtful articles in post-event reflections pouring off the printing presses noted by me this morning make points which sit at the heart of Christian theology.

Peter Oborne opines on the moral decay of British society occurring in all sectors of it, making special reference to the greed of its venal politicians who are rushing to judgement on what is wrong with the rioters and looters. The theological point is simply that all are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God: noone does not need salvation, none of us have nothing to repent of. If Britain is to change its ways then the example needs to come from the top.

Philip Blond notes in an interview that two particular problems lie at the root of the recent riots (italics mine):

"I believe the cause of the riots is essentially liberalism in the form of libertarianism, both left libertarianism and right libertarianism. The left libertarianism came first and essentially denounced human relationships. It broke up the extended family, repudiated the nuclear family and separated children from parents such that the state became the main guardian of people rather than people. As a result, it created a whole class that was based on one-way entitlement rights rather than mutual rights and responsibilities. As such, a whole class developed of subsidized output and this subsidized output pursued its own agenda regardless of anyone else’s and it led to its own privatized world where whatever it wished for is what it thought it should have.

That led to a form of libertarianism on the right that produced a form of neo-liberalism that only helped those at the top of society and, increasingly, ordinary wage earners and ordinary working people were squeezed out of prosperity, wealth and advance. We’ve created a whole new generation of serfs who are waited on enough to maintain living standards and people have to go to the state for middle class welfare. Once we cut off the paths to ownership and opportunity, what we’ve actually done is we’ve created a world where the free market produces monopoly and oligopoly. As a result, we’ve produced a cartel capitalism and a state that denies people ownership and opportunity."
There is much to think about here, but I want to note one thing: the connection made between the breakdown of family stability and structure and the disturbances. Other material I am reading makes a similar point: where male role models, particularly fathers are absent from young people's lives, the disciplines of life which contribute to the stability and structure of society are missing. The theological point here is that the bonds of marriage are foundational to the biblical vision of human society. To the extent that the church, here and there, at times, has lost sight of this foundationalism, and even now in the Anglican Communion may be (is?) playing with possibilities for changing its theology of marriage, it (i.e. you and me) shares (later: may share?) in responsibility for communities losing the basis for order that is not based on the 'violence' otherwise required through police and even military upholding decency and civility. [ADDENDUM: I note comments below which suggest my last sentence is a 'blame it on gay marriage' kind of thing. Perhaps - reader-response may rule here! But that is not what I wrote. As an attempt at restating what I am trying to say, let me try this: if marriage between a man and a woman is at the heart of stable family life and stable family life is at the heart of ordered society not relying on massive policing, even military discipline, then the church would do well to maintain rather than vary its theology of marriage. In a variety of ways the church has varied or is contemplating varying its theology of marriage. Implicit in what I am raising here is this question: if marriage is an elastic concept, is commitment to the core of family being the presence of a mum and a dad loosened? I think churches, including Anglican churches in the West have elasticised the concept of marriage and have failed to commit clearly and specifically to the core of family being the presence of a mum and a dad. Thus we have, or more diplomatically, we may have contributed to the social contexts in which social disruption occurs in which young people are out of control. If you do not think this is so, then I would be interested in whether you think church teaching or lack of teaching has any bearing at all on the state of societies in Christian and post-Christian countries.]

Everytime we contemplate if not articulate, as I know some of us do, a weakening of the standard that sexual intercourse belongs within marriage, not outside of it, we contribute to a narrative or script for society which says marriage does not matter in any absolute sense, and that risks may be taken that children will be born into homes without male role models. Other things play a role, as Peter Oborne notes, such as greed and venality afflicting every class and corner of society, but social disruption flows as much as anything from disruption to marriage.


Anonymous said...

Excellent, nuanced analysis of a calamity, Peter, you are clearly not using the heartbreak of others to bolster your own purposes and outlook.

Clearly argued, you show a causative correlation between sexual intercourse happening outside of marriage and the British riots. The need to recognise the differentiation of gender roles correlates with your biblically-consistent approach to gender leadership in church and family. Statistically you demonstrate, because of the significance of male role models, how two gay guys bring up a highly law-abiding family while a lesbian couple have hardly a chance at doing so. You give careful references to where the Bible is consistently teaching that the nuclear family is foundational to the biblical vision of human society. From cover to cover the Bible always presents monogamous, lifelong, heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable model. You have stood by your convictions by always making sure that at every opportunity, including from Diocesan to General Synod, that your own church does not move towards allowing divorce and that it strongly and clearly declares to your population that sex outside of marriage is totally against God’s plan and leads to the images we see in Britain.


carl jacobs said...

This 'Right Libertarian' argument is code for "Technology has made cheap labor in other countries competitive." Of course, this has dramatically improved the living standard of people in those other countries. And then you hear from the affected countries the screams of "Capitalist Exploitation" and "They should adopt our labor standards!" These arguments are not made on behalf of the "poor oppressed victims" of Capitalism, however. They are made in the interest of western labor. The intent is to inflate the cost of labor abroad so that local labor becomes cost-competitive once again. But where is it written that prosperity once achieved becomes a divine right of the population? Why shouldn't the Chinese get those jobs? Would they be better off without them - scratching out rice from the rice paddies with wooden implements? Just be honest and say "We don't want our standard of living driven down so that China's standard of living can go up."

The Left-Libertarian argument has real traction however. A virtuous population is a necessary condition of limited government. The population must voluntarily restrain the use of its Liberty for liberty to be maintained. Otherwise, the population will use its liberty as an opportunity for vice, and social chaos will result. Eventually, the government will intercede to restore Law and Order. It will do so by removing liberty from the population. Only one institution in the history of man has been found capable of successfully shaping the character of the next generation, and that is the nuclear family. Unfortunately for our libertine selves, this institution comes with a whole bunch of obligations that many people would just as soon avoid. So they have used their liberty to elect governments that indulge their desire for vice, and we see the result all around us.

We are raising a generation that:

1. Feels entitled to prosperity.

2. Feels entitled to indulge its desires.

3. Is too ignorant and lazy to compete in the coming world.

4. Has absolutely no spiritual tools to deal with any of this.

They want, but cannot get because they are too ignorant to do anything, but they feel entitled to it so they demand it, anyways. And when they don't get it, they will take it by violence. The result will be a general fear, and the population will call for a strong gov't to save them. Then the Government will restore order by quashing liberty. And limited gov't will be gone by popular demand.

This is the fate facing the West, as it concludes its failed experiment in limited government for the purpose of indulging vice. The Christian faith was an essential component of the West. As it declines, what we know as the West must decline with it.

But what will follow?


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Alison for drawing out relevant aspects of the matter and multifarious shortcomings on my part.

From your perspective, what analysis of society and the church's role in it would you like to see emphasised by church leaders?

I am unclear what the positive side of your criticism of me entails.

Bryden Black said...

There is one key element missing in these analyses (those quoted and Peter’s own), which dove-tails importantly with what has been said all the same. It is best argued by William Cavanaugh’s three works: Theopolitical Imagination (2002), The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (2009), and Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church (2011).

In all these works he argues with great care how the State has supplanted the role of the Church. This is far more devastating a conclusion than the customary secularization thesis with its separation into two spheres, the public vs. private. Instead, it explains why and how various bits of these other analyses actually come together into a far more formidable ‘foe’ - from the point of view of the Christian Faith and adherents of Jesus’ Gospel in the West. It also explains why these rioters are indeed devoid of any spiritual and/or personal connections, yet paradoxically look to ‘government’ as their saviour - in this case, their non-saviour!

If this is indeed the context for ‘the family’, then the Church and local churches will need to rebuild a far more intentional social setting for parents-and-children, as well as for singles, and the entire extended family network - one that not only fills the void between individual private citizens and ‘government’, but one that also begins to tell another Story altogether. This Story will be none other than the Nuptial Mystery, with God the suitor and lover of humanity, seeking a Bride for His Son, with the Church bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God in the grace and power of the Spirit (e.g. Jn 15, Rom 7:1-6, Eph 5:14-6:9, Rev 21-22).

Peter Carrell said...

Am unfamiliar with Cavanaugh, Bryden. Is he exploring similar territory to John Milbank?

Teri said...

Hi Peter,

I always appreciate your thoughtful analysis of current events, and the gracious way in which you offer it.

I agree with some of the questions you raise about the weakening of family(as it involves a mum and a dad) and the church's theology on marriage and sex outside of marriage.

I wonder if there is a parallel issue which is the breakdown of the family across generations. The nuclear family is probably a fairly new invention in history and for much of history (including much biblical history) what we see are models of multigenerational living.

This is obviously a challenge in our 'broken family' and highly mobile Western society but one of the benefits of this model is that 'mum and dad and kids' are supported and strengthened by previous generations. As well
it offers young people not just one male (or female) role model, but several.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Teri,
What seems to be important in the development of young people as responsible rather than irresponsible citizens is male role models (to complement female role models ... but generally a mum seems to be around, and generally the surge of interest in organisations in our society seeking to provide mentors for young people is focused on filling the gap created by men going missing).

Extended family commitments to young people (grandads, uncles) are certainly important; and in some family situations, the only way in which male role models are provided. I realise what I have written looks like an idolisation of the "Nuclear family". But here is the thing: if I could have a dad in my life or a grandad/uncles, wouldn't I want a dad first? (Great to have both, of course!) Should the church push first and foremost for mums and dads to say together?

Bryden Black said...

Your question, Peter - briefly.

Yes and no! Mostly, in my view, no; he is striking out in a more historical, less philosophical manner. Tho both do owe naturally a fair bit to St Aug's Two Cities.

Suggest you read Theopolitical Imagination; it's also nice and short!! Or, the very first chapter of Migrations of the Holy. Enjoy!