Tuesday, September 5, 2023

A choice against. . .

By now you are probably tired of me complaining about the declining rate of marriage and births.  Some of you have not so privately wondered why I am so preoccupied with this -- so what?  People make choices.  Hasn't it always been this way?  Well, no, that is the point.

Take marriage, for example.  As of 2021, it has been reported that at least one quarter of all the 40-year-olds in the United States had never married. Before you chime in with your question of what does this mean, pay attention.  That 25%+ is a 20% increase from the rate reported in 2010 and go back thirty years more and it was only 6% who had never been married.  The Pew report is not simply a record but ought to be ringing alarms across America and particularly in churches.  Oh, you say.  That is understandable because most of them are probably cohabiting. Some are, a few of them are, but only a fifth of those unmarried 40 somethings were cohabiting in the same survey.  Late bloomers, you say.  Well, the chances are the never married 40-year-olds will not ever marry.  Only about one in four never married 40 somethings are married by age 60. In case you are not getting my drift, that means 78% had not married.  I guess you could say that if you’re not married by 40, the odds are against you ever marrying.

The focus of folks under 40 is more on education and career advancement than marriage and family.  In fact, some would say that few of those really do connect marriage and family to life success and accomplishment at all.  Happiness for these folks is tied to self-expression and self-improvement.  They have learned that they can be whoever they want to be (even changing gender).  They do not believe in objective truths or even a reality that is shared by more than a few and certainly nothing that has authority over them or their choices.  They define truth.  They define it less by facts than by feelings.  Their most important creation is not their family but themselves.  They define freedom as a very important want and need but not the kind of freedom we are accustomed to thinking of -- no, this freedom is choice.  They want to keep their options open and do not cotton to any choice that commits to life.  Commitments to a workplace or to a person are temporary and transitional.  Certainly a lifelong marriage to only one person would violate the whole idea of freedom.  Part of this concern is tied up with the possibility that if they make such a choice, they might miss out on something better.  Freedom is the ability to change your mind.

That also might explain some of the reticence about religion.  Even God can tie you down -- or at least only one notion of a God.  Better to have a God who changes with you and for you than to surrender yourself to some permanent notion of God.  Could it be that the spiritual but not religious is, in part, a refusal to commit to one religion every bit as much as one spouse?  It is hard to convince anyone shy of commitment to consider making such a commitment to God if they are not even willing to commit to an employer or a spouse.  Furthermore, the whole idea of marriage and family, as well as God, live on the balance scales of individualism, choice, and autonomy.  No, the antagonism toward marriage is the tip of the iceberg.  It betrays a solid fear of anything that might ask something of you except what you would do for yourself.  The same crowd are not quite joiners either -- look at the rosters of civic organizations as well as church rolls.  Nope, it is not isolated but connected and this fear of commitment may well be one of the things that will radically change the shape of the future.  Not only for Christians, either.


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