Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Societal reengineering and the shape of life
Soon after no less than the ultimate establishment defined a right to privacy which, among other things, rendered unconstitutional nearly every provision designed to prevent abortion. Whether this was right or wrong, the impact of such a sudden decision from a such small subset of the whole of society meant that abortion wars would continue decade after decade unabated. Without the democratic process to unfold and reflect popular wisdom, even supporters of the anti-abortion movement were not prepared to fend off challenges for the next forty years and still.
As if this were not upheaval enough, the rise of cohabitation lent some sense of normalcy to what every previous time had found an aberration and oddity. With sex free from the constraints of pregnancy and disease, marriage was deemed less essential to the blossom of human relationships. Free sex gave birth to the destruction of every constraint upon consensual sexual activity. The right of privacy meant that laws against sodomy fell and no one could regulate what happened behind closed doors.
Even the onset of the scourge of AIDS and HIV infection could not restrain the movement to bring homosexuality to the forefront. Queer soon became a badge of pride and the TV networks began including gay characters and even devoting whole series to pushing the gay agenda.
Again the legal system advanced the cause of gay marriage more quickly than the legislative process and, to the surprise of many, states enacted laws favoring gay marriage as quickly as courts began to strike down prohibitions as unconstitutional. This happened not merely in the expected bastions of liberal politics but also in the heartland of Iowa. Unbeknownst to the populace, however, gay marriage was not simply about opening the door to gay couples what had been available to straight couples. Instead the very institution of marriage is being redefined by those so new to its legal access. Sex is in. Children are out. Marriage is optional. Fidelity is a choice that may or may not come with marriage.
Now we have found polygamy struck down in Utah and gay marriage allowed -- surprisingly among those who first favored polygamy and then became the most strident against homosexuality. Where will it all stop? That is the point. It will not stop. The genie is out of the bottle. But what remains so difficult is that the pace of this change has left us with a reengineered society that had little in common with its forbears and in less than two generations. It is as if we are all panting from the completion of a sprint none of us expected to run but we cannot pause too long or we will find ourselves hopelessly behind.
For most of my life I have experienced a process of societal reengineering that has left us with fewer and fewer values we held in common with our parents and grandparents and fewer and fewer values that unite us to one another. We are not a quilt with many different colors, patches, and textures sewn together; we are a torn comforter, frazzled at the edges, worn in the very places that should give us comfort and warmth, and with big holes that leave us vulnerable to every wind of cold.
You already know this. But again, the victims of this explosion of change that shows no sign of relenting are less the adults than the children. The vast majority of children in America do not know a home with a mom and a dad but a home without one, with a mixture of children to whom you have no blood relationship, and without the stability of place, the support people of extended family, and the presence of adults to teach, nurture, protect, and order their lives within a veil of security and love. Perhaps this in and of itself will cause the pace of change to slow but I am not sure any of us can apply the brakes. What it has already resulted in is gridlock politically in which common ground is rare because common values are no longer shared. What it has resulted in is stress within the home, the school, and the neighborhood as children are left more and more to themselves to determine what is good, right, and true. What it has resulted in is an educational system in which the weaknesses of society are clearly evident and what the home can no longer supply is now the burden placed upon the school (along with reading, writing, and arithmetic). In the midst of all of this, the Church finds fewer children regularly in the pews or in Sunday school, families whose participation is less regular than their parents, and stresses placed upon program and identity that have left us more uncertain as to what we believe even though we generally believe we ought to believe something.
Where will this all turn out? I have no crystal ball. What I do know is this. The children and grandchildren of my own kids will find a world fraught with greater danger and much less carefree for their childhood and an adulthood that will look less and less like my own journey from my parent's home into my first home with my wife and then my children. What this means for the Church is that we will be under greater temptation to ditch truth and doctrine for what works in the short term but this will leave our legacy for future generations less tenable than the Church our parents bequeathed to us. And those are some meandering thoughts during this week of focus on issues of life at the beginning of what will most certainly be another year of change and decay (as we sing in Abide with Me). Lord, have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.