Two responses are needed to the point Douthat raises here:
the modern liberal mind is trained to ask for spreadsheet-ready projections and clearly defined harms, and the links that social conservatives think exist aren’t amenable to that kind of precise measurement or definition. How do you run a regression analysis on a culture’s marital iconography? How do you trace the downstream influence of a change in that iconography on future generations’ values and ideas and choices? How do you measure highly-diffuse potential harms from some cultural shift, let alone compare them to the concrete benefits being delivered by a proposed reform or alteration? How do you quantify, assess and predict the precise impact of a public philosophy of marriage — whatever that even means — on manners and morals and behavior? Especially when there are so many confounding socioeconomic variables involved —
- How do we go about training people better than this? It is simply not the case that humans can or should live by the measuring of quantifiable aggregations alone, not least because the overview of the data will never be available to most of them in any kind of reasonable decision-frame, nor can the training be made available to all humans at a quality and cost that will make it worthwhile, nor can the most important things actually be placed on that scale. Who, given one clear look at the alternative, would choose to live in the foretaste of eternal Hell that we experience in this kind of world? A world where there can be no devotion of sacred objects which removes them wholly from the economy, no quality of human flesh or fleshy connections which converts them wholly to what cannot yet be foreseen, rather than attempting to recapture them in a metric of the putatively known; a world where the specious present is legally and psychologically compelled to serve as the cash-out of that which is wholly personal, wholly devoted, and wholly eternal and nonetheless never can at all remain privatized, hoarded, or disembodied?
- And how do we demonstrate the concrete, visible, manifest consequences of our commitment to what is real, rather than what is willfully pretended? To goods we can use, make, mend, improve, and share, rather than to demands for expectations for control of our future and the future of others, tentatively measured in dollars payable, dollars owed? To marriages, rather than shams and fantasies, even among those actually capable of marriage? To the commingling of financial and legal responsibility, so that there is no more Spouse A and Spouse B, but “one flesh” incorporated fully into the life of the Body of Christ and into living in this Material World? How can we show this without constantly importing ideologies hostile to the reality we explore into this very research, at the outset–then wondering why we get results easily twisted or ignored?
And that is why it is absolutely vital that we maintain our grip on reality, stubbornly, first and foremost, while also doing our best to lay hold of whatever tools for describing, measuring, and representing that reality (and the consequences of distorting it) that we can.
Mine’s poetry, metaphysics, theology. Yours might be oceanography, or economics, or anything. The greeter at Wal-Mart can smile, help you find a cart, and speak respectfully of his wife. The cashier can speak unapologetically of her husband and their children. And we can admit it when we are dismayed that our own failures, or those of others, have bad consequences.
And then maybe we can make it better.
But there is not, and cannot be, an excuse for giving in to another lie today because you gave in to a similar one yesterday. Tell the truth, and shame the devil. And then go do what you can about yesterday’s lie, too. Douthat gets fuzzy, here:
Since most serious social conservatives concede that same-sex marriage follows from premises about wedlock that our society has already partially adopted, it’s reasonable to ask why this change alone should be resisted, and why we should expect it to have any meaningful negative effects on heterosexual life beyond what earlier changes have already ushered in. And the answer might be that we shouldn’t.
“The answer” is definitely “that we shouldn’t” resist this change alone. Obviously not!
No, we should resist elective abortion, divorce “for any reason,” euthanasia, commodification of body parts, human vivisection, contraception, fornication, illegitimate parenting, pornographic imagery, sexualization of non-marital relationships, falsification of marriages, gender ideology, prosthetic parenting by IVF, surrogacy, assisted suicide, and the list goes on! Some of these, like contraception, are hard sells to the third generation of Christians since all the rest of Christianity knew this was wrong. Some, like usury, are so deeply embedded in our culture that we cannot even readily explain what it would be like to do them right. Nonetheless, if we name Christ, and frankly even as humans even if we are non-Christian or non-religious, we are obligated to resist these evils, and at least to come to understand why others are so rock-bottom convinced that these are evils.
And to do that, we who have been handed the faith must not dump it, dim it, discard it, or dilute it, but must elevate it, proclaim it, share it, and pass it on–we must be those who are convinced that the alternative to this reality is despair, so that others will actually become aware of their obligation to come to grips with the truth.
And as we do that, we will also need to build and model close-knit and interlocking neighborhood and kinship groups (I will avoid the pointless syllables of the word “community,” than which only “a sense of community” could be more banal). We will need to pioneer alternative methods of dispute resolution that avoid the courts, alternative methods of sharing and building and growing that avoid the finance and insurance industries, and sap from beneath what we may not be able to outvote from above. We must not withdraw from the world–but we must disengage from the snares of Leviathan, and we must do so with determination, principle, love, joy, and hope, which we can only do if we begin from a position of fidelity–of good faith, of faithfulness, of the practice of the theological virtue of faith, which we can only receive from God and cannot receive without being drawn closer, by however imperceptible increments, to Christ and His Body, the Church. We can do this. But we must begin now.
As a member of Generation X, who grew up watching divorce wreck the lives of families all around me, let me just say that I was drawn home to the Catholic Church in significant part because we could stand together on solid ground against the whole raft of related evils that are going to ruin laws, songs, culture, legislature, Courts, and all. When Christians cannot get clear on the concept, though, well, yes–we can expect to feel adrift. Because, slacking our grip on the anchor-chain, we may well be adrift.
May we be saved, yet! We may be saved yet. Each of us may, yet, be saved. And then together we may be saved.