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familyattackFor decades, now, Christians have worried about the progressive push to strip naked the public square by forcing religion into the shadows of a private sphere. Recent events have made clear that this is not the case. Everything is public and political to the secular left. All aspects of our lives are fair game in the attempt to impose a new structure of individual choice monitored by a soft despotism overseen by professionals in government and education.

The family has become the center of the culture wars because it is where people’s characters are formed. Even as our educational institutions from pre-K through college become increasingly brazen in their drive to indoctrinate young people into an ideology of victimization, resentment, and individual entitlement, too many resist for the taste and comfort of progressives. Homeschoolers, parochial parents, and others still manage to raise millions of children devoted to faith, family, and freedom. And so the family, in particular, has come under assault in the name of choice, social justice, and an end to oppression.

The connection between Christianity and the traditional family of man, wife, and children is quite strong. Not only Catholics, who can look to the writings of Saint John Paul II among many others, but members of Orthodox, Calvinist, and Lutheran traditions are tied to “gendered” understandings of the family. The scriptural basis of this understanding are now, of course, considered utterly off-limits in public discourse. That being the case, their bases in moral anthropology now are attacked as “sexist” and therefore oppressive and dangerous to society and individual mental health. This, I think, poses for conservatives and Christians, in particular, the real question of our age: How do we continue to exist and lead decent lives in a culture that brands decent lives oppressive and dangerous?

christian familyAt a conference I attended recently (convened to address contemporary challenges to Christian culture) one speaker addressed head-on a central problem with Christian responses to our secular culture: As a rule, we do not have enough children and we do not teach them from a young age their essential familial roles as male breadwinners and female nurturers. For any Catholic, and any Christian who has taken the time to understand the fundamentals of our beliefs and traditions, it is undeniable that the sexes are different and are by nature suited to different roles within the fundamental unit of society, namely, the natural family. The vast majority of thinking Christians know this while the vast majority of secular Westerners reject it as a matter of unthinking ideological prejudice, so there really is no sense at this late date in attempting to argue over it. This is at the root of Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” proposal for Christians to concentrate their efforts on rebuilding faithful communities in the face of the cultural aggression of our public institutions.

The question remains, then, of how we are to renew our culture in the face of hostility toward our very sense of being and purpose. The speaker at the conference rightly pointed out that the beginning of any coherent response must be procreation. As a faith rooted in love of life this should make sense to all Christians. We all have a duty to recognize the great gift of life and to live accordingly, particularly in our sex lives, tying them to family and openness to the gift of life. More than this, however, we must teach our children to welcome life, not as an addition of little “bundles of joy” alone, but as a calling, in which men and women have distinct, complementary roles.

A way of life rooted in the recognition of our most essential purpose—to bring forth new persons and rear them in the ways of the Lord—is not easy. And, as our speaker pointed out (with, alas, a good bit of anger) too many Christians who claim to recognize its good do not live it in practice. Too many of us delay marriage until quite late, practice contraception, and/or buy into the contemporary ideology that says boys and girls must be taught that they may have all possible life choices (education and career chief among them) while still leading full Christian lives.

babyClearly much of the problem has to do with the failure of persons, communities, and even churches to clearly and fully reject the ideology of individual choice in favor of a call to Christ, community, and service within our natural roles. But there is more to our current predicament than ideology. Our culture is dying not just because of frontal assaults from radical individualists, but also from the progressive effects of their ideology, and of modern economics, on our economy and our economic expectations. It also is dying because of abortion and its direct and indirect effects on family formation.

To take my second point first, not only has the abortion culture resulted in millions fewer children surviving until birth, it has denied to those of us who have been unable for various reasons to have more children of our own, a reasonable chance to adopt. Our speaker’s jeremiad was aimed at families with only two children. But my own family consists of only two parents and two (wonderful) children. Not all small families are small by choice—ours certainly is not. And we found for some time that adoption was prohibitively expensive or so tinged with statist ideology and humiliating procedures (principally through foster care) that I was unable to go through it. I know families who have been luckier in adoption (laws and institutions vary wildly by state) and some who have had the tenacity and virtue to adopt through foster care, so I was weak not to go through with it despite the costs. But I have no doubt that many other families fail to adopt for the same reasons as me (my wife, trooper that she is, would have done whatever was necessary to adopt).

One can dismiss my failure to adopt as mere weakness, and I offer no excuse. That said, many, many people in our culture today face similar circumstances that cause them to fail to answer a very difficult call to virtue in forming families. We all know many families that started late because it has become difficult for Christians to find one another in secular society, colleges now being intentionally both anti-Christian and atomizing. Other families do not start because of the drive for material well-being—couples do not marry until their careers are “off the ground” and settled. This latter, all-too-common source of non-procreation also may be chalked up to weakness, ideology, or even greed. But Christians need to address it, along with a related cultural outgrowth of the modern economy: the dearth of good jobs for men. It is all too easy to condemn small families when the fathers, in particular, are concerned with the basic fact that they do not make enough money to support a large, traditional family. Ironically, this is a particular problem among academics, where men find it all but impossible to find decent jobs amid the call for “diversity” defined as anyone but (by definition oppressive) white males. Women at times are literally forced to become breadwinners—even primary breadwinners—because of cultural hostility toward their husbands. It is all well and good to tell that husband to “man up” and get a better job, but there often are no better jobs available.

wedding ringI have no satisfactory answers to these quandaries. But I do think it is important that we as communities of faith recognize the need to address them in a loving manner if we are to solidify our families in our current, difficult times. As we do so I am convinced that we need to be careful to emphasize the equal dignity of men and women in defending the traditional family. My own daughter has no discernible feminist leanings, in part because she knows that she is valued by God, her family, and her community as a full human being whose nature is different from but of equal value to her brother. Her brother rejected calls to the priesthood early on because he has wanted, from early on, to be a husband and father. Both our children are great blessings and our major concern as parents is to get them to the right college for them: one that will provide a good education in an atmosphere that nurtures their faith and introduces them to the people who will serve as their most abiding source of friends and potential spouses outside their home town.

This points to the work that remains to be done. We must reclaim at least some colleges and universities for our own. We must do everything we can to foster a culture of life at least within our own communities, recognizing that contraception, as Catholics have been taught decade after decade, undermines our openness to life and teaches people to see family as merely an extension of self, to the detriment of both. And we must find some way to foster the economic well-being of traditional families in which men have decent enough jobs to provide the financial necessities for large families with wives and mothers who can concentrate on the indispensable work of rearing children of good character.

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7 replies to this post
  1. Much to agree with. The church would do well to come back and reformed the missing link between crisis pregnant women and ivf-tempted couples. As well, promoting homeschooling as a template for economical, educational excellence.

  2. Your commentary brings to mind the age old dilemma. That is how to maintain a belief system in the context of society as a whole. I fear there is no ‘good’ answer for the believers as the very nature of existence is ever changing. Humans evolve, societies evolve, and cultural attributes are in constant transition. More over as human technology evolves; the dynamic of change in the environment, as well as our societies seems to increase its pace at every turn. It becomes more and more difficult to process all of the input to the point of crisis.

    At this point the innate human response is to avoid that which impinges or even threatens a particular individual’s world view. Rejection is one response. Isolation can be another etc…
    I guess the most familiar example would be the Mennonite community, among others, where life is lived in a world within a world. I fear this is the fate of all faith communities over time. History is replete with many examples of distinct faith communities that faded out of existence in the face of change. Language, that paramount attribute of cultural evolution undergoes loss at an unprecedented rate around the world.
    So what to do? ‘If you can’t beat them… join them” this action reflects the most common survival response for individuals and indeed represents the majority situation for most believers. Rejection…this is an affirmative response to setup a condition that is both practical and sufficiently isolated from the mainstream where a preferred way of life can survive with the hope of flourishing in the face of time and effort needed to maintain this condition.

    I suspect the author is searching for that middle ground that has the potential to offer a mix of both worlds. Parochial education as an alternative to the state sponsored kind is one step. Having more children as a duty to increase the numbers of us versus them is another approach.

    The above examples may serve to head off the inevitable however will not reverse the tide. In my view we must accept who we are. Individual human beings on a journey called life. That in fact we share more in common with our fellow human beings than we tend to admit. We expend a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to be different from each other rather than exploring the opportunities to find common ground.

    With our cherished freedom of conscience we surely have the choice to pursue our particular way of life, however the cost may simply be too high.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this article, and I appreciate Mr. Frohnen’s openness about his own family’s struggles. There is a certain machismo among faithful Catholics (especially guys) about the number of children you have. Two or twelve, we’re all in this cultural struggle together. I am (at least for now) graced to provide for my wife so she can stay home with our babies, and my earnest prayer is that that is God’s continued will for us. I also pray for courage daily because I find the prospect of continuing this struggle for 30+ years (we are just starting our family) to be personally daunting. I guess that’s why we’re only really promised “today”.

  4. I think today’s Gospel reading about turning the other cheek instead of fighting back or running away might provide some food for thought on this subject.

  5. All married couples, through the very nature of marriage, are called to be fruitful. One aspect of this fruitfulness is that each act of marital intimacy is open to new life. After that, we await God’s good pleasure. If a couple is so blessed to subsequently have a child, then there is much deeper and broader fruitfulness a parent is called to. Raising up a child in virtue, goodness, beauty and most especially in love is a more challenging and longer lasting endeavor. It is in this that the parent participates most fully in the creative power of God, that is in assisting a child to become fully human and to participate in life in a fully human manner.

    There are other ways for an individual and a couple to be fruitful. Being an educator, attorney, thinker and commentator can all fit that bill, Professor Frohnen.

    Strength is not the measure of our worth. Neither is the number of children one has. Rather, love is the measure. And by your report, your children are witness to love that you and your wife have. It is a powerful witness.

  6. The whole (of political power) may not be won. Spending a single dollar or a single moment trying to win it is a tragic waste. Those who believe in pro-family policies must self-segregate and build systems (including sovereign ones) for themselves. If traditional conservatism truly has competitive advantages, then they will prosper and their relative power, vis-a-vis the progressive mainstream, will increase. In the end, they win power, but only by never directly seeking it. Think of it as an exploitable bug in liberalism. One on which the Amish (and possibly Orthodox Jewry) have grown rich and strong over the past century or more.

  7. Perhaps the best thing Christians can do is just let modern secular progressive ideology take its course. Humans, if anything, are at least logical, and pragmatic, and in the end will always return to reasonable ways. As for family, I believe that right now, non-traditional relationships hold the greatest appeal that they will ever. I believe that gay marriage will eventually turn out to be nothing, more or less, than a fad. Right now, for individuals looking for an identity of their own, being gay is exciting. It’s more about being part of a movement, and sense of belonging than anything else. I believe sexuality IS fluid to an extent, and we can alter ours to suit the environment, or times. Reality however, eventually sets in. As hard as traditional marriage is, gay marriage, when mainstream, and experience, will be seen as being even much more difficult. Traditional marriage is at least naturally compatible. Males and females have more natural tolerances towards each other, than they would with the same sex. In other words, my wife could say things to me that I barely take notice, that had a man said, would be taken as “them’s fighting words”. In time, it will be realised, that there is just no logical reason to marry someone of the same sex. There will always be a small number of die hards, but the vast majority will tire of constantly realizing the limitations of their lives. Christians have nothing to fear of gay marriage, as the more popular it becomes, the sooner it will fade away.

    As for work, same thing reality sets in. If a mans career is suffering, and his wife works, so be it. Stay closer to home, and have more to do with your children. Learn to fix things around the house, and maybe start a small business. Let your wife be the bread winner. This is what has basically been happening in our household, and I have been working on a change of career while doing so from home. Again, in time, if society starts to place more value on men running the household, women will become envious, and their labouring 8-9 hours, every day, will no longer seem “fulfilling”. This may sound childish, but I believe it is what motivated feminist. in the first place. Men worked so women wouldn’t have to. The family household was everything. Men identified themselves by their work, and to make the hard labour easier, and to fill their ego’s, they “glorified” labour by rebranding it as “career”. Women became envious, and it’s where we are today.

    In both of these issues the same thing applies, reality eventually sets in, and when it does, it will drive pragmatic people back to a traditional Christian lifestyle. For Gays, and feminist the same old saying applies, “be careful what you wish for”.

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