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# Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Today I went with Mrs. dotNetTemplar, along with our three ambulatory munchkins, to see the latest addition to Clan Little on the big screen.  Well, it was like a 25" screen, anyways.  At the last ultrasound, the technician said she thought it was a 90% certainty that the new one is a boy, but today it was confirmed pretty much beyond doubt.  That makes 3 boys!  Yikes! :)

It's always nice to see the little boogers kicking around, even in low fidelity, and the other kiddies enjoyed it too.  It's very clear that there's a person there, and he already bears the name Thomas Martin Bonaventure, after St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Bonaventure.

So it was with that in mind when I bumped into the news that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi totally misrepresented the Catholic position on abortion in an interview on Meet the Press.  Thankfully numerous Catholic bishops have spoken up to provide the accurate Catholic position, but it's unfortunate that it happened because no doubt there will be plenty who take what she said at face value and never hear the correction.

I must say I was very surprised.  I mean, most politicians who identify themselves as Catholic at least have some integrity to dodge the issue by saying that their personal opinion should not be their public policy, which of course is deeply questionable in itself, but to outright contradict one of the most well-established Catholic doctrines--established in one of the earliest Christian documents we have and held since--and say it is an okay position for a purported "ardent, practicing Catholic" to hold is just plain wrong.

It may be challenging to argue against abortion without reference to Divine revelation, but it's just plain easy to do with it.  I mean, come on.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 9:42:05 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Phwew!  I just moved yesterday (actually all weekend and yesterday and still more unpacking to go now!).  Man, all that moving is starting to wear, but we're very happy in the new place.  A lot more space to make room for number four! :)

On to the point.  Josh Smith has extended his Podder skinning competition.  For those who don't know, Podder is this nifty WPF-based podcasting client/player.  He designed it so that you can completely change the look and feel using skins.  I suggested a better term would be skeletoning, since you can change the structure in addition to the styling, but so far that hasn't caught on.  Be sure to tell him you think that's a better term!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008 9:39:04 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, December 30, 2007

"How many kids do they have??" asked the bemused co-worker upon hearing that someone is having a fifth child.  I am similarly bemused why so many people seem to feel negatively towards those with large families.  I guess that people may not really think about it or, if they do, maybe they really don't know why anyone living in the 21st century would want to have more than the popularly accepted family size of two, maybe three.  The best I can do is offer why my wife and I are choosing to have a large family.

You see, I did not grow up in a large family.  I have one brother and for most of my childhood, my mom was single.  Nor did any of my immediate family or even my friends have large families; I think the largest family had three kids.  I recall it as being a mostly happy childhood--I'm not complaining.  I only mention it to say I did not inherit or learn by example how or why to have a large family; it didn't come naturally. 

For my wife, Christiane, and I, it wasn't a decision to say "we want N number of kids" at some point or other.  Early on in our engagement, we did toss around the idea of four.  Christiane grew up in a family of six (that's four kids for those counting), my mom has three siblings, and so it seemed like a good number somewhere between two and some unthinkable number beyond four. :)

But as we progressed in our philosophical and spiritual journey, we became convinced that setting some artificial limit up front just didn't make sense.  Yes, we became Catholic in this time period, and yes, Catholicism has a rather radical teaching on this matter.  The essence of the Catholic perspective on children is that they are a blessing, a gift from God, and that we should remain truly open to these wonderful gifts.

Despite some Catholic caricatures, this does not equate to being irresponsible and just having as many children as you possibly can.  For example, the most recent authoritative Catholic teaching on the subject, Humanae Vitae, specifically speaks to the issue of responsible parenthood, saying that couples can decide to avoid conceiving "for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts."1  And in doing so, we're supposed to use the most effective, safe, mutually respectful, character-building, and morally commendable means when doing so--abstinence during fertility.2

There's obviously no one-size-fits-all family size. Some couples are infertile.  Some couples find the wherewithal to have a dozen or more children, even while relying on remarkably limited income.  In considering the question of how many children to have, there are a number of common concerns that need to be addressed.  Since this is a short piece, I can only touch on some of them, particularly those that seem to be the most common, and offer some positive reasons to have children.

What Do We Value?
For us, the question is not so much how many kids we should have.  I think the question is rather what do we really value in life?  Some time ago, Saturday Night Live had this series of crazy fake commercial where this couple were blatant cheapskates when it came to their children but would lavish luxury on themselves, advertising a fictitious online store for such parents--cheapkids.net.  It was ludicrous, but it is poignant.  I think this caricature speaks to those who, by their choice, remain infertile and yet enjoy a lavish or even just a very comfortable life as a married couple.  This satire portrayed a couple who at least had kids, even if they were cheap with them, but it seems to me that those who refuse children or limit them artificially and frivolously might want to ask themselves if they are denying life to potential human beings in order to live in relative luxury.  Are those things more valuable than human life?

Of course, I do not speak here of those who live in poverty or who truly would endanger the lives of their family by having more children.  I speak here of those who, like me, live in relative luxury compared to most of the humans in this world.  People who are not hardened have their guts wrenched by the poverty of many in this world (and rightly so), but there is another kind of poverty that goes unnoticed--the poverty of life, the poverty of being denied even the opportunity to exist solely so that another can live in ease and comfort.4 

From this consideration, it seems that the original perspective (of bemusement or even distaste or disgust at having many children) should be turned on its head.  The question becomes, instead, how can so many otherwise nice, well-meaning people deny so many more the chance to exist?  Perhaps folks should not respond with puzzlement or condescension to those who remain open to life but rather respond with admiration and respect.  We all know that kids, though they are indeed the most amazing and wonderful blessings we can naturally receive, are a handful to say the least, and so I think people should be a tad more reticent when criticizing those who have many.

Why Limit Family Size?
Are there good reasons for regulating birth?  Obviously.  Even beyond the grave economic reasons, I think there are others.  Perhaps there is real psychological concern for the mother or father.  Perhaps there is a physical or mental condition that a parent or child has that would make further growth of the family unwise.  Perhaps there is a real threat to the mother's health.  I'm not writing to address every conceivable circumstance; I'm writing to address popular notions concerning children that my wife and I have had to think about (and are often confronted with) in our own working out of how we live out what it means to be responsible parents wanting to live in the best way possible, trying to have the most perfect family we can.

Before moving on considering the common reasons given to limit family size, it is worth noting that the decision to have children should flow from a lifelong commitment.5  Just like there are not so good reasons to limit family size, there are not so good reasons to have children.  Having babies seems to be a pastime for celebrities these days.  It should be obvious that getting more attention/publicity, trying to save a marriage, keeping up with the Joneses, extending the family tree, etc. are not so great reasons.  Children are human beings, having the full dignity of human beings, to be treated and loved as such; they are not accessories, trophies, or any other means to an end--they are end in themselves, and we should be just as careful about our motivations for having them as we are in our motivations for not having them.

Education
The most common concerns we hear are monetary, the top being about the rising cost of sending kids to college.  I, for one, did not get a dime from my mom to send me to college--she didn't have it to give.  I made good enough grades in school and fared well on the ACT, getting a decent scholarship to a private school, and then worked for and borrowed the rest.  I have known many others, many of them my friends, who have similar stories.

We all want the best for our children, but is the "best" sending them to a good college?  I think that a good, liberal arts education is deeply valuable in itself.  I have a degree in history and humanities, but I worked my way into software.  I am glad of my education even though its credentials don't mean a lot in my occupation; I value it more highly than had I spent the same effort on a technical degree. 

But a degree, even from a good university, only goes so far in life.  Ultimately, it comes down to an individual applying himself or herself with the talents and desires he or she has.  You can teach a child a good work ethic for free at home that will do more for them in the long run than any degree would.  And I'd suggest you can teach such an ethic more easily in large families where mutual help from all members is a necessity. 

You can teach a child to be a lifelong student, to enjoy learning and to think critically, for free at home, and that, too, goes further than any degree.  You can teach a child values of honesty, integrity, commitment, kindness, charity, compassion, and other virtues for free at home that simply are not taught at university, and these as well far exceed the long-term value of any degree.  And I'm not talking about home schooling; I'm simply talking about setting an example, teaching, and encouraging your children in addition to any regular, formal schooling.

I'm certainly not opposed to college or formal education in general, but its value has been way overemphasized in our culture.  The purveyors of formal education have much to gain from this, as do lenders and investment companies who help you invest to save for your child's education.  I think we need to be careful not to be blinded to the economic realities involved in all of the marketing about education and simply recognize formal education for the value it does have.  It shouldn't be the ultimate deciding factor and choice in parenting.6

There are affordable alternatives for higher education, and if it is important to the child, he or she can make an effort to realize such goals.  Furthermore, I have no doubt that a large majority of parents who at some point use this reasoning actually end up not saving or investing properly or find themselves in a situation later where the investment was truly needed for other reasons.  In short, I tend to think that a vague concern about "sending my kid to a good school" is not a viable reason to limit family size. 

Expense
Apart from higher education, there seems to be a general consensus that children "are expensive."  I'd like to suggest an alternative to this maxim.  Children can be expensive.  Just as with higher education, you can choose to spend more money than you need to on each child, but it is a choice, not a given.  And it is on this point, more than any other, that we see the rubber meet the road in terms of a challenge of values.

If we are given over to our contemporary culture, children are indeed expensive.  If each child needs his or her own expansive room, if each child needs new, brand-name clothes on a monthly basis, if each child needs more toys than he or she could possibly enjoy, if each child needs his or her own car, then yeah, they can be very expensive.  But lets not stop with the kids.  If mom and dad need a brand-new car every few years; if they have to have new clothes every month, new jewelry, new perfume, new golf clubs, new computer, Playstation, or Xbox games, if they need to go to plays or other high-culture events regularly, and if the family has to eat out every day, then definitely, a large family is "too expensive."

Put simply, if one is a purebred consumer, yeah, a large family costs too much.  Doesn't it speak volumes that our primary concern and objection about large families is economical?  Doesn't it drive to the very heart of the matter if that is the chief concern?  Ultimately, doesn't it say that we truly do value things, comfort, and luxury more than we value people?  In short, doesn't it imply that we're just plain selfish?

What's truly sad about this is that we are deceiving ourselves.  I can attest from experience that all of these things don't really last--the return on investment just isn't there.  In fact, all these things actually "increase our sorrow" because they increase our worries and consume our mental and physical energies (in working for, acquiring, securing, insuring, storing, moving, caring for, and maintaining them).  Not only do we tend to get bored with new things; they tend to have a net negative effect on our lives that we've become blind to.  No, we're not really blind--we recognize the deficit they produce, but like a dog returning to its vomit, we try to ladle on the salve of more things, which only exacerbates the problem.  We're blind to the remedy; we're not blind to the effects of the problem.

The Common Good
There is another common concern that is not economical (at least on the individual scale), and it seems to be less pronounced these days than it was for the previous generation--that of the concern about overpopulation.  For Christiane and I, this has always seemed to be more of an excuse than a reason.  It seems that an uncertain, future concern about one day overpopulating the world is not a compelling reason to overcome the more sure, immediate positive reasons to have children.  Even so, it is a common enough concern to warrant addressing. 

A good deacon friend of mine put it another way that gives this concern a bit more weight.  If everybody in the world decided to have ten children, what would that mean for the common good?  He suggested that we may just be lacking in imagination to think how we'd address such a situation, and maybe so--we humans tend to get pretty inventive when we need to.  No doubt we'd figure something out.  But I have to say I am not suggesting that everyone have ten children.  I don't think that would be responsible for many, perhaps most of us.   Being truly and actually open to children does not necessarily equate to having ten.

On the other hand, I tend to think the larger problem, as it is with most of these life issues, is our generally selfish culture.  We're so busy looking out for number one that we accumulate for ourselves far more than we need in order to have a good and happy life.  I'm not advocating socialism or any kind of enforced equal distribution of goods; I am advocating charity as a core cultural value.  If we, the human race, shared this core cultural value, I tend to think that concern about overpopulation would be a moot point.  And in any case, it remains that it seems to be a rather vague, unsubstantiated reason to limit family size.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving
It seems to me that people, especially children, are truly a gift that keeps on giving.  If we lavish our care on them, they tend to give back in equal, if not greater, measure.  That's the funny thing about authentic love.  It's like investing in a sure thing--you give and you'll get back, well-measured, shaken and packed down, and running over.  It may not even be the recipient giving back.  That's another odd thing about authentic love; it tends to be its own reward--there is joy in the act of loving itself.

We often think that children are just a big hassle.  In Stumbling on Happiness, the author suggests, based on subjective surveys, that children do not in fact make us happy, that it is, rather, a big, consensual lie that we tell each other.  It is claimed that the people interviewed said they were happier after their children grew up and out of the house than they were when they were in the house.  Despite the author's disclaimers, I think this really takes a shallow view of happiness and does not account for the deeper happiness that is satisfaction, which results from seeing effort come to fruition.  These parents experience, naturally, a certain happiness and lessening of difficulty at having reclaimed time for themselves once children are out of the house, but they also share in the abiding joy of having their children "all growed up"--their investment, as it were, has come to completeness.

The survey also does not, I think, account for the consideration that perception is a large part of reality.  Because our culture sells us a bill of superficial bull about what makes us happy (i.e., things, comfort, entertainment, and luxury), our perception is deeply skewed and we see children as detracting from our attainment of these things (taking us back the the monetary objections discussed above). 

Indeed, it makes perfect sense, and I've seen it in my own life, that when my children cause me the most "trouble" and frustration is when I am turned in on myself (being selfish in some way).  They are taking me away from what I want to do or they prevent me from getting something I want, so I perceive them as a nuisance.  Usually, though, when I am in the right frame of mind, I see their activity for what it is--exploring the world, learning to function according to all life's little rules, or maybe simply just wanting to spend time with you because they are infatuated with you.  This latter dies away as they age I suppose, but wouldn't you agree, if you're being honest with yourself, that a large bit of the friction between parents and kids comes in the first two?

The point is that it is generally those times that we are most frustrated that we are being the most selfish.  In other words, it is not that the kids are the problem--we selfish parents are the problem.  If we change our perspective (which takes practice, I can promise--I'm still working on it), and learn to not fight for our selfish impulses against our children but instead indulge in authentic love (self-giving) towards them, we will find one of the greatest joys in life--shared, familial love

Once Christiane and I recognized this, it seemed almost a no-brainer that we'd want to increase this joy as much as we can.  We saw that instead of thinking how few children can we have, we think how many children can we responsibly have?  This way of thinking is, we think, the best not only for us but especially for our family as a whole. 

When we are considering when to have our next child, we do try to be responsible.  We think about how this new person will fit in our home both logistically and socially, and we consider the psychological impact on the other members of the family.  In the end, we try our best to err on the side of openness and only choose to delay for what seem to be good, unselfish reasons.  We're not perfect by any means, but this seems to us to be a big step on the the path toward a more perfect family life.7 

--
Given on the Feast of the Holy Family in the Year of Our Lord 2007

Notes
1. At this point, my darling 1-year-old, Brendan Patrick Irenaeus, toddled over to me with one of my house shoes.  Thanks, Brendan!  My feet are freezing... now where's the other one?
2. Without digressing too much, let me briefly touch on this subject which is so awesomely opposed to our popular culture these days.  My wife and I practice what is called Natural Family Planning (NFP).  You can read about all the details elsewhere; let me just add my own personal testimony.3  For a brief time early in our marriage, we did use artificial birth control, but for the vast majority of our 8.5 years together, we've practiced NFP.  I can honestly say that you don't die by not doing it; you can be just as happy and fulfilled.  (And trust me, this is coming from a very red-blooded, American male, if you get my drift.)  

Based on our experience, I do feel that mutual abstinence does indeed build character, build mutual self respect for each other, increase understanding of the way God's made us, increase affection for each other, and help you appreciate even more the times when you don't abstain.  Plus, not using artificial birth control (or rather, being truly and actually, not just hypothetically, open to the creation of life) does enhance our relationship and our intimate time together.  In short, we find the practice of natural family planning to be a significant positive influence on our marriage.  And it does work!
3. Now John, my three-year-old son, is yanking at my arm and climbing on me (took a while to type this); ah, tickling is a good deterrent.. now the other two are attacking.. :)  Bridget, my six-year-old daughter, is dancing around and tweetling (best onomatopoeia I could come up with for it).
4. This touches, of course, on the sensitive topic of abortion (and indeed the desire to have few to no children is directly related to abortion), but that's not the focus here.  Here I'm speaking in a more generous sense of even those who would otherwise never consider abortion, and yet make the regular, conscious choice to refuse the potential life of another human being for less than serious reasons.
5.  This comes from the understanding of the true good and beauty of marriage discussed in "On the Good and 'Right' of Marriage."  See particularly the section entitled "The True Good."
6. Besides, we've all seen and heard stories of parents' painstaking planning being tossed to the wind by children who have other plans for their lives.  There's no guarantee that even those who save and have money for their children's education will see that money go to good use. 
7. And thus we see that the teaching of the Catholic Church (as is actually true of all Catholic doctrine when you truly understand it in all its beauty and truth) is a positive prescription on how to live the good life to its fullest, that is, how to have abundant life.  And I have to admit, we've inherited this from our Jewish siblings.  Scripture, especially the Psalms, regularly laud the blessing that children are, and it is not talking about them being a help on the farm, i.e., large families are not only good in agricultural societies!

Sunday, December 30, 2007 12:00:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, December 31, 2006

I just read that my governor has signed into law a bill granting many of the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples who create a "civil union" together.  I suppose I should be happy that at least they're not calling it marriage.  At the same time, one has to wonder how such unions promise society the good that traditional marriage promises, but I tend to think the root of the problem is a misunderstanding of the full meaning of marriage.

As I see it, the chief good that marriage promises society is the promise of a desirable future, which is brought about by the bearing and rearing of children to become mature adults who contribute meaningfully to their society.  It goes without saying that homosexual couples cannot bear children, excepting those women who may choose to become artificially inseminated, but certainly male couples cannot bear children in any sense of the word. 

As for rearing, yes, through adoption, homosexual couples could indeed rear children, so there is something to be said for that.  But even so, it is at best an unestablished good.  It seems likely that the child raised by a homosexual couple will have at least some issues similar to other children who are raised without a mother or without a father (in addition to those generally experienced by adopted children).  Maybe in some individuals' conception ideal society, it wouldn't matter if a child were raised by homosexuals, but it remains the case today that it presents numerous challenges, emotionally and socially.  That said, the challenges such children may face might not be as bad as growing up in numerous foster homes or in orphanages, so I personally can't rule it out as a good for society. 

And in cases where artificial means are used to produce children (ignoring other ethical questions on that subject), there should surely be some concern for the child's desire to have and know his or her other "real" (biological) parent.  Despite our technologically arrogant objections to the contrary, it appears there really is something to biological parenthood, and so I think we need to be careful when obscuring it--we need to be mindful of the potential damage it will have on such children.  Personally, I don't see the good for the child or for society in such a situation.

In any case, it seems to me that such a situation, either the bearing of children through artificial means or adoption, are going the be the exception for homosexual couples, not the rule.  They are certainly not the almost inevitable outcome of such unions, as would be the case in heterosexual marriages.  Indeed, one would think that the likelihood of childbearing and rearing would be inversely proportionate between homo- and heterosexual couples, i.e., only a small percentage of homosexual couples would bear or rear children while only a small percentage of heterosexual couples would not bear or rear children.  And history has proven this to be true.

Of course one might argue that history, societies of the past, have not given homosexual unions a chance in this respect, but as homosexual advocates are all too eager to point out, homosexuality is not an invention of the modern age and even in society's where it is/was not frowned upon, it is/was quite rare for a homosexual couple to rear children.  And why should it be common after all?  The joining of male to male or female to female does not naturally result in children, and so it would indeed take an exceptional couple to reach beyond the natural fruit of such unions to desire and follow through with the upbringing of children.

The Misconceived Good

I said before, though, that I think there is a deeper problem in this question, one that reaches to a foundational lack of understanding of marriage between a man and a woman.  I am thinking here of the focus on love between two individuals as being the defining trait of marriage.  One need not look far to see manifestations of this belief--pick up any book or movie that involves a marriage, and you'll almost invariably see a love story that results in a culmination of marriage.

You won't find me naysaying love, certainly not love in marriage, but the issue here is the popular representation of the good of marriage, namely, that it is the culmination of a love story.  I dare say it is this conception of marriage that is the chief cause of many ills in our society.  I dare it because marriage is the foundation of family and family is the foundation of society.  If marriage is misunderstood then the glue that holds a family together becomes brittle and breaks, and when families break apart, society becomes undone at its very roots.  And so we have been and are proving here in the West.

So just what is the good of marriage if it isn't what our popular culture portrays it to be?  I have spoken already of the good that marriage promises society--chiefly the bearing and rearing of children, but to be sure, there is more good in marriage.  Indeed, love between the husband and wife is a great good as well, but it is more than the giddy love that drives love stories to their climax.  I would even go so far to say that the giddy love, that feeling of complete elation and enthrallment to passion that we humans sometimes feel towards one another, is not inherent to the essence of marriage.

Now I speak both from my own experience and that of others.  There was a time when I was "in love"--when my thoughts were filled with little else than those of my beloved, when my heart sang, my pulse raced, and the mere thought of her painted a goofy grin across my face.  Truly it is an awesome and wonderful experience to be so infatuated, better than any drug or food or even sex itself because it lasts longer and has no crashing at the end.  I would not deny anyone the joy of it, but I would and do deny that such feelings are essential to marriage.  I do because marriage is so much more than this and matters so much more than any passing infatuation.

The infatuation inevitably fades.  Surely, there are moments, glimpses, perhaps even real resurgences at times, those times when you again feel truly in love with your beloved, but they are rare, and I would say that their rarity makes them more treasured and enjoyable than if they were constant.  Like the beauty of the sun's rays piercing feathery clouds on a cool winter morning, they are wonderful and joyful, to be relished and remembered chiefly because they are fleeting, contrasted with the normal beauty of a clear blue day or a sparkling night.

The True Good

But there is something in that--the beauty, the good of marriage is also constant, also "normal" so that we often do not recognize it for what it is.  It is that regular pattern of day and night, the constancy of the sun rising and the moon waxing and waning.  It is the comfort of air to breathe and ground to walk upon; it is that calm pulsing of blood through vein that assures us we are alive, that our heart is still beating.  It is awakening to find your love snoring beside you, and opening the door in the evening with the knowledge that the home is not empty.  It is the joy of a shared meal, a walk through the trees, and the watching of a movie.  And it is in having an argument, feeling extreme anger, and knowing that it will pass and that the sun will rise again.

I think that this constancy that is known from a true and honest pledge--an oath taken in solemnity to love and to hold, in sickness and health, in passionate anger and in flights of infatuation till death parts us; it is this unquestionable knowledge of commitment to one another that is the chief and defining good of marriage.  It is this good--not infatuation, not sex, not even children--that is essential to marriage and is also its primary joy.  But it must be understood that this is an unbreakable, unquestionable lifetime commitment that no one, not even those who enter into it, can break. 

For if it could be broken, the good would be lost entirely and in fact would never exist.  What comfort could we have if the sun could choose not to rise, if the earth could choose to cease its rotation?  What true or lasting joy if the ground beneath us could whimsically disappear or the moon could alter its path and tumble to the earth?  It would be a life lived in constant anxiety, and any joy or happiness found would be a mask, a salve over an open wound of fear and uncertainty.  Such is a marriage where a pledge of lifelong commitment is conditional upon the whims and flights of passion to which we humans are subject.  If vows are taken lightly and divorce is always an option then marriage loses its supreme, primary, and defining good; in short, it becomes meaningless and has no real beauty, no real joy.

The Shared Benefit of the Good

It is upon such lifelong commitment that society must be built.  It is for this reason why meaningful marriage should be a prerequisite for bearing (or having sex for that matter) and raising children.  The foundation of family is unbreakable commitment, a commitment that starts and ends with the unbreakable union between two persons whence all other commitment and marital goods, such as that to bear and raise children, flow from.  This is why governments should grant special status to marriage and show preference for unions that naturally result in the bearing and raising of children. 

There is no "right" to marriage; there is only the granting of privileges to couples who have made an unbreakable commitment to each other and, preferably, to produce children who will one day do the same.  The purpose of government is to secure the common good, not the individual good, and insofar as a union between persons promotes the common good, as it generally and naturally does in the case of heterosexual marriage, the government should work to promote and secure it. 

Granted, a similar vow between persons of the same sex does in some ways promote the common good by increasing social stability and, e.g., reducing the financial burden for the treating of diseases spread through promiscuity (and even some will choose to raise and succeed in raising responsible citizens), so I am not opposed to some governmental preference for homosexual unions, but it must be in proportion to the good that those unions promise.  They have not historically proven to promote the common good nor do they naturally result in the perpetuation of good society, so how can they claim equality with heterosexual marriage in the eyes of the government?  The misguided sense of fairness that suggests that they should be equal needs to be weighed against what is truly right and just, i.e., granting privileges based upon historical and natural good with a view to protecting and promoting the common good.

This is not a matter of us versus them, and it is not even essentially a religious matter--it does not depend upon any revealed truth but is discernable from reason, experience, and history.  While I must object, both on a philosophical and a religious basis, to homosexual actions, I can see the value for society in providing privileges to homosexual unions that are in proportion to the good that they propose to society.  They just need to be in proportion to the good that typically come of such unions, not a blind extension of the privileges of one kind of union to another.

But I think the larger issue here--the reason that there is confusion about and advocacy of homosexual unions to have the same privileges as those of heterosexual--is due to our core misunderstanding of marriage itself.  A society and government that allows divorce on demand and does not provide concrete incentives for marriages to stay together--one that does not help couples to uphold their vows--cannot understand why such fickle unions based on whim should be granted any special status.  Indeed, if all marriage is is a transitory union based on passing infatuations, it should not be granted any special status.

A Better Approach

What we need to do to fix things is not further contribute to the demise of society through further dimunition and obscuring of the chief good of marriage by extending it to other forms of interpersonal union.  We need, rather, to work to reverse the damages done to marriage already.  We need to make divorce more difficult; we need to make it more undesirable.  We need to promote lifelong marriage and fidelity, and provide real incentives for it. 

We need to make marriage more difficult to get into, not because we want to be mean or ornery but because in making it overly accessible we have cheapened, demeaned, and diminished what it really is (or at least should be) and because we have simultaneously endangered our social stability and the future of our civilization.  It is sadly laughable that we have mandatory waiting periods to purchase firearms, but marriage can procured with no waiting period at all.  Failed marriages are at least as harmful to society as the misuse of firearms. 

Something like a waiting period for marriage would have both an instructional and a practical effect.  It would communicate the gravity of the commitment being entered into, and it would help ensure that both parties have sufficient time to discern if they feel they can make a lifelong commitment to each other.  When we were a wiser society, we even took it further to include external validation by publishing the "banns" of marriage to help ensure that there are not known reasons that a couple should not be married.

Debunking a Malicious Myth

We need a renaissance of understanding the beauty and value of commitment.  Too often our popular culture portrays it as something stagnant, dull, boring, and constrictive, in short, something to be avoided at all costs.  Yet it is strange that despite this popular mythos, we humans still gravitate toward it.  The stories of our day are often a clash of the supposedly free individuals (those who are avoiding marital commitment) with those who are entering into it.

The popular feeling and advice is to "enjoy your freedom while you have it" and, on a more vulgar note, to engage in debauchery and promiscuity while you can.  Yet oddly enough there seems to still be a latent and innate, although rationally inconsistent, recognition of the value of marriage.  These love stories that culminate in marriage still show that marriage is something to be desired over and above the alternative supposed complete freedom of the individual.

But this greater good of marriage--the good that drives the lovers in these love stories to marry despite the much-vaunted loss of freedom--remains unarticulated and, for that reason, looms smaller in the popular imagination.  Why should a love story culminate in marriage?  Surely it is not strictly literary convention.

No, I think that what I said before about the real good of marriage is intuitively recognized, even by those who cannot or refuse to articulate it.  In this sense, not much need be said to convince others of its value.  We intuitively understand the value of a lifelong commitment and the family that is built upon it, despite popular culture's ravings that it is not to be desired.  What we need, rather, is to be reminded of it, to have it be articulated more often, as I have tried to do in this essay.

And the interesting thing is that there truly is no conflict between freedom, rightly understood, and lifelong commitment.  Indeed, there is a greater freedom that comes from such commitment than is known without it.  If one is inclined to marry, one is in constant servitude to the drive to marry--to seek out a mate--until the mate is found and marriage is consummated.  It dominates the mind and heart.  This, too, is known intuitively and experientially and is also manifest in our popular culture's obsession with dating and love stories that culminate in marriage.  The mere fact that we can be infatuated speaks to it, and there is a word in our language--enthralled--that directly speaks to the servitude that we experience in seeking and finding a mate.

It is not in dating and being free to date that we are free, nor is it in being enslaved to our passions and the pursuit of sexual pleasure.  Here again our popular myths debunk themselves.  How much time, effort, and cost do we see being expended in such pursuits in our popular culture?  Is it not well-known that having a girlfriend, mistress, or, for that matter, prostitute is more costly than having a wife? 

It turns out that our intuition is right in the case of marriage.  It is better to marry than to burn with passion that can only be satisfied at great personal cost (and even danger).  It is better to have a partner in life than to be in the constant pursuit of that partner or in the pursuit of one of many goods that such a partner can provide.  Sex is just one of the many goods of marriage, and it turns out that when there is a more or less basic assurance that you can have it, you find there are many other worthwhile pursuits to expend your efforts on.

Marriage is the stem from which the flower of life blossoms; it is the beginning of freedom.  Once one is no longer consumed with the dating game, with the seeking of a partner, with the pursuit of sex, the mind and body are freed to engage in other pursuits.  The supposed freedom to pursue vague varieties of a single pleasure, which only shows one's slavery to that one pleasure, is exchanged for the real freedom to pursue all the real, many, and varied goods that this life offers.  And what's more, if one is careful about the choice of one's lifelong partner, you get to explore and enjoy those many wonders with someone you treasure for the rest of your life.

I would suggest that having and raising children, which is the natural result of the good of sex anyways, is a supreme good in marriage.  The blossoming and shaping of other lives that are utterly dependent upon you, the joys of re-experiencing the many wonders of life through their eyes, and the shared joy and love that comes from them are not to be paralleled with any other worldly pleasure.  Unlike many pleasures, the pleasure of love (and by this I mean charity, caring, and giving as well as affection) only grows when it is shared; the more children you have and the more love you give to them, the greater the joy of love becomes.

And while children are a great good and pleasure to be shared in marriage, they are just one of the many that come from the freedom and good of a lifelong commitment to another.  When the fear, anxiety, and loneliness are removed thanks to an unbreakable commitment to each other, one has far more freedom and far more joy than can be had without it.  Sure, we do sacrifice some liberties, but we do so for many more and for the greater peace, joy, and shared pleasure that comes with it.

This is the message that I think we need to remind each other of when faced with the false dualism of freedom versus marriage.  This is the message that will help others to understand the supreme good of marriage--that which flows from a sure, certain, and unbreakable commitment, that which we intuitively know.  With this understanding, the practical suggestions of helping each other to choose wisely when entering into this commitment and to help sustain each other in times of difficulty (rather than giving up and bowing out in divorce) do not seem so hard or imposing.  We see that we are working towards not only the greater common good but also towards the couple's good, the children's good, and indeed the individual's good. 

In short, we see that by taking such measures, we are showing our love for each other.  We are showing that we actually care, that we are not just a bunch of individuals cut off from each other, that we are neighbors, not strangers.  This is what a good and civilized society is all about, and it is clearly a far better society than the one we have been building by the unrestrained promotion of individual liberties.

Towards a Better Future

Those who understand what I'm saying here and are inclined to agree with it should take it upon themselves to spread the word.  We're never hesitant to talk about the latest great movie we've watched, and we should be far less hesitant to speak well of marriage given that it is a far greater good.  Given that we're a democratic society, it's just a matter of reminding enough people about the real good of marriage to get things changed for the positive, to start the long overdue repair work on marriage in our society. 

And given the regularity that the topic of homosexual union is in the news these days, there are ample opportunities to talk about it.  We need to redirect the question to its proper root.  We need to help people to understand what marriage is really all about, and then it will become far easier for others to understand our opposition to elevating homosexual unions to the level of marriage and granting them the same governmental privileges.  We need to show that it isn't about elitism; we're not hateful, selfish, or otherwise malicious.  In fact, we're pursuing the same thing--equitable privileges under law, where equitable means that the privileges are equitable with the promised benefit to the common good.

Another common opportunity to talk about marriage is when someone is getting married.  Inevitably, there are the comments like "run, don't walk," "enjoy your final days of freedom," and the like that echo what our popular culture thinks about marriage.  Instead of perpetuating that myth, we should try to debunk the myth and share the good.  Bachelor parties should be a celebration of the impending marriage, lauding the coming joys of marriage with the groom, not a chance to get one last debauch nor a dirge for the groom's supposedly lost freedom, and if we have any influence over them, we should push them in the direction of the good.

And of course, we need to be mindful of ourselves and our own marriages.  If we need to re-examine our commitment to our spouse and perhaps renew it, it's not too late.  If we got into marriage without due consideration, we should try at all costs to salvage it.  We already made the vows, whether or not we really meant them at the time, so it is a matter of making the intent real now.  It is not unheard of for long-married couples to renew their vows, and if that would be helpful, by all means we should do it.  Whatever it takes to get ourselves right and our commitment real, we should do in order to experience the chief good of marriage for ourselves.  Divorce is not an option except in extreme circumstances. 

If we're engaged or thinking about it, we need to examine ourselves and do our best to discern if the beloved is someone we can commit to for life.  If not, we have no business considering marriage.  And those of us with influence in such situations should help the couples to understand and discern the same.

Given our culture, and human nature itself, it is inevitable that discussions of love and marriage will arise, and whatever those are, if it seems appropriate, we should make an effort to raise awareness of and appreciation for the real goods, joys, and nature of marriage.  If we do what we can to shape the popular mythos around marriage, it will go far towards enabling us to create better societal structures, including laws, to improve and support marriage in our society, which will ultimately make a better society for us now, for our children, and for our children's children.

--
Given on the Feast of the Holy Family in the Year of Our Lord 2006
JMJ++

Sunday, December 31, 2006 7:12:44 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm pleased to announce that Brendan Patrick joined clan Little on this side of the womb today at 2:29.  He's a healthy boy of 10 pounds, 5 ounces, and measures in at 21.5 inches.  Christiane (mom) is doing well with no complications.

Wish us good rest! :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 8:28:27 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [9]  | 
# Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I just ran across a rather interesting article while doing some book research for my upcoming book, The Contemporary Patriarch.  Of course, I'm kidding about the book; Mrs. dotNetTemplar has, tongue in cheek, suggested I write it a few times if for no other reason than that I might get an interview on The Colbert Report.

So, I was doing some searching to see what the competition is for my book, and I came across this article, which just happens to be on a site that appears to be about Catholic culture.  The excerpt is from something written by Christopher Dawson in 1933.  Remarkably, most of it is still quite relevant.  The only thing that seemed obviously dated, sadly, is the claim that "marriage is still the only form of sexual union which is openly tolerated by society."  Other than that it is an interesting read that considers the impact of marrital structures on broader society through history.  I recommend it.

In a related note, I found this quote quite telling (from this article on Newsweek):  "All my friends are having kids," says Penny Stohn, 33, a director for the New Jersey Department of Higher Education."They tell me how glamorous my life is but I just sit there and envy them their kids."  I find the frank admittance of the value of marriage and the family by career-minded, single women quite notable given what still seems to be the popular sentiment about full-time wives and mothers, which is that it is still somewhat looked down upon.  Motherhood is, to the contrary, probably the most intrinsically valuable career a person could have, and these single women attest that this is still the unspoken truth.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 9:05:34 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mrs. dotNetTemplar and I have decided to homeschool our children, and it is always interesting to see the various reactions you get.  Some folks think it's grand and say they wish they could.  Probably the majority just kind of stare at you blankly like you were just speaking in tonuges or kind of pat you on the head knowingly.  But the stock question, the one that you get more than any other, is "what about socialization?"

I'm not sure why or how this became common wisdom about homeschooling.  As far as I know, there haven't been any studies conducted to show that homeschoolers are socially stunted or inept.  Rather, there has been signficant research that indicates quite the opposite.  All you need to do is Google it to see more realistic information about the topic; I thought this article summed it up nicely.  Excepting those who have a vested interested in public (or private) schooling, the consensus among those informed is that homeschooling can actually be better than the alternative for socialization.

Here's a nice little snippet that I ran across today in a newsletter, The Liberator Online, I occasionally read (no, I'm not a libertarian).  The source they got it from is the New Oxford Review, which was quoting the Kolbe Little Home Journal, Fall 2005. 

When my wife and I mention we are strongly considering homeschooling our children, we are without fail asked, 'But what about socialization?' Fortunately, we found a way our kids can receive the same socialization that government schools provide.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will personally corner my son in the bathroom, give him a wedgie and take his lunch money. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my wife will make sure to tease our children for not being in the 'in' crowd, taking special care to poke fun at any physical abnormalities. Fridays will be 'Fad and Peer Pressure Day.' We will all compete to see who has the coolest toys, the most expensive clothes, and the loudest, fastest, and most dangerous car.

Every day, my wife and I will adhere to a routine of cursing and swearing in the hall and mentioning our weekend exploits with alcohol and immorality.

...And we have asked (our kids) to report us to the authorities in the event we mention faith, religion, or try to bring up morals and values.

It's funny (and sad) because it is true.  The socialization one gets in public (or private for that matter) schooling is just not natural.  Where else in life are we surrounded by only peers of our own age?  In pretty much every other social environment I've been in outside of school, my peers are made up of people older and younger than me.  The grouping of kids by age, while expedient for group education, is certainly not the ideal model for socialization. 

It seems that homeschooling actually bears out to provide better-adjusted children who turn into better-adjusted adults.  When you add that to the many other benefits of homeschooling, one wonders why more people don't do it.  Well, actually, one doesn't.  It isn't the easiest path; in fact, compared to just dropping your kids off at school every day, it's significantly harder. 

Naturally, I realize that not everyone can for very good reasons (and not just, say, because it is hard).  Thankfully, my family is blessed to be in a position to homeschool, so that's what we're going to do.  I know it's not going to be a bed of roses, but at least we don't have to worry about the kids being socialized and well-adjusted; that's just a red herring that has somehow become common wisdom.

Thursday, April 27, 2006 7:55:57 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 

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