Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Polygamy comes out of the closet

Kody Brown, center, poses with his wives, from left, Janelle, Christine, Meri, and Robyn
Is Utah’s ban on polygamy unconstitutional? Last week a Federal Court judge ruled that it is, after Kody Brown and his four wives, the stars of the reality TV series Sister Wives, challenged it.

Judge Clark Waddoups, of United States District Court in Utah, struck down provisions of Utah’s bigamy law, which make “religious co-habitation” illegal. Kody Brown, who belongs to the Apostolic United Brethren Church,  an offshoot of the Mormon church, and has four wives and 17 children, welcomed the decision:

“Like thousands of other plural families, we have waited many years for this day. While we know that many people do not approve of plural families, it is our family and based on our beliefs. Just as we respect the personal and religious choices of other families, we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs.”

Judge Waddoup’s ruling will not allow a man to be legally married to several women. He specifically stated that the state still has a right to enforce a ban on multiple marriage licences. But it does allow polygamists to come out of the closet and live without fear of prosecution.
Although Brown v. Buhman is sure to be challenged and could be overturned, it is a milestone in the evolution of modern relationships from monogamous and permanent traditional marriage, to no-fault divorce and serial polygamy, widespread de facto marriage, same-sex marriage and now polygamy.

Most Americans are still deeply hostile towards polygamy so supporters of same-sex marriage constantly argue that the US is not on a slippery-slope to polygamy. Judge Waddoups’s decision, however, makes it very clear that being unpopular or disliked is not a legitimate reason to discriminate against a lifestyle. And, in fact, all the arguments deployed in favour of same-sex marriage work perfectly well for polygamy – and other even more colourful forms of plural marriage.

The judge’s 91-page decision relies on two fundamental ideas expressed in two famous decisions of the US Supreme Court.

The first is that a ban on polygamy is essentially religious discrimination and that heterosexual, monogamous marriage is merely a Christian institution. He grounds this idea on an 1878 case, Reynolds v United States. George Reynolds, the secretary of Mormon leader Brigham Young, had been charged with bigamy. His defence was that his religion obliged him to be married to several women and that his marital arrangements were protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The Supreme Court did not accept this. In a unanimous decision it said, “Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people”. In a subsequent decision in 1890, the Court described polygamy as “a return to barbarism” and “contrary to the spirit of Christianity.”

To Judge Waddoups, such words are “unthinkable” in a racially and religiously pluralistic society. There can be no rational basis for a ban on “religious co-habitation”. Society is no longer predominantly Christian and its standards cannot legitimately define relationships.

The second case is Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled in 2003 that homosexual sodomy could not be criminalised because it was protected by a constitutional right to privacy. This has buttressed arguments for same-sex marriage. If the government cannot prohibit homosexual behaviour, how can it prohibit relationships based on that behavior?

Judge Waddoups has simply extended this line of reasoning to polygamous relationships. The attorney representing Kody Brown and his wives, Jonathan Turley, summed this up in the New York Times: “We should fight for privacy as an inclusive concept, benefiting everyone in the same way. Regardless of whether it is a gay or plural relationship, the struggle and the issue remains the same: the right to live your life according to your own values and faith.”

The common thread in Waddoups’s reasoning is that marriage is simply a legal framework which gives public recognition to the affections of adults. Children are just a footnote, an optional extra, in their relationships.

The reality of authentic marriage is quite different: it is centred on children. Marriage deserves to be recognised and protected by the government because the loving care of a father and a mother is the best environment in which to raise children.

A polygamous marriage is superior to a same-sex marriage because both a father and a mother are involved in raising a child. But even if there is no physical, sexual or emotional abuse of the wives or children, it fails to treat them with the dignity that they deserve. Men and women deserve unique and exclusive love as a fundamental aspect of their human dignity. Polygamy introduces division and competition into relationships.

Contrary to what Judge Waddoups contends, the repudiation of polygamy is not a uniquely Christian idea. It is based on historical experience and even on the finding of social science. Although polygamy a fact of life in many societies, the ideal relationship has always been between one man and one woman. Christianity merely ratifies this and places it within its own theological framework.

Is this bracket creep from same-sex marriage? No, it’s bracket creep from the idea that every kind of sexual expression deserves government protection so long as no one is physically harmed. As Justice Kennedy wrote in another famous case about sexuality: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

But as support for same-sex marriage grows, the twin notions that Christian morality has no rational basis and that any non-abusive sexual relationship is legitimate will take deeper root. Polygamy is obviously the first cab off the rank, because there are thousands of polygamous families belonging to offshoots of the Mormon Church. As the number of Muslims grows, some are certain to demand the right to polygamous marriage.

One person who must feel more than a little satisfaction at Brown v. Buhman is US Supreme Court Justice Scalia. In his dissent to Lawrence v. Texas, he declared that the majority opinion “effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation” because if “the promotion of majoritarian sexual morality is not even a legitimate state interest, none of the above- mentioned laws [against fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity] can survive rational basis review”.

Justice Scalia has often been ridiculed for his forthright comment. But Judge Waddoups has proved him right.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

This article is published and was originally posted here by Michael Cook and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact them for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Belgian Senate approves child euthanasia

Belgian Senate approves child euthanasia

The outcome was expected, but overseas observers were astonished at the margin of victory. By a vote of 50 to 17, the Belgian Senate has approved euthanasia for children. When the bill finally passes – which now seems quite certain – there will be no age limit for choosing to die at the hands of Belgian doctor. The next step is a vote in the lower house, which will probably take place in May.

The conditions for euthanasia are vague. Children who are under 18 but who are of sound mind can request death if their situation is “medically hopeless” and if they are experiencing “unbearable physical suffering that within the foreseeable future will result in death."

Supporters of the bill have argued that there will only be about 10 or 15 cases each year. They contend that terminally-ill children are already being euthanased and it is better for the practice to be regulated. How will the doctor know if the child is of sound mind? He or she must be examined by a psychiatrist or psychologist. The parents or the legal guardian must also consent.
The debate raises the issue of something that is often taken for granted: is there really an ethical difference between a child and an adult?

In November 16 paediatricians urged lawmakers to approve the legislation in an open letter in the press. "Why deprive minors of this last possibility? Experience shows us that in cases of serious illness and imminent death, minors develop very quickly a great maturity, to the point where they are often better able to reflect and express themselves on life than healthy people."
This seems to be a consistent theme in the Belgian debate. One senator, Louis Ide, a Catholic and a conservative, explained why he voted for the bill in his blog,Gezondheidszorg. He argues that assessing mental competence by calendar age is an archaic standard. “Children” can drive, or can give testimony in divorce cases. The only relevant standard is a capacity to make sound decisions.

However, British barrister and medical ethicist Charles Foster has been especially critical about the issue of informed consent.

“Death, so far as we know, is terribly final. And if you’re opting for death, you need to be sure that you’ve got it right. This demands an understanding of many complex facts (such as prognosis – how your disease or condition is going to pan out – and your therapeutic and palliative options), and an evaluation of their significance. It’s hard for anyone; it’s likely to be impossible for children.

“There’s lots of evidence to show that when we find ourselves in the situations we have most feared (for instance severe disability), we find that those situations are nothing like as unbearable as we anticipated. When we are stripped of much, we value all the more what is left. Try explaining that to a child.”
This article was published originally by Michael Cook and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact them for permission and fees. Some articles on the site are published under different terms.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sing Sing Sing - 1938 Carnegie Hall

I just heard a local high school jazz band close their performance at  the Festival of Lights in Ave Maria with their rendition of Sing Sing Sing.  They did a good job, but I had to come home and find the great Benny Goodman version, from the extraordinary 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.  Truly one of the greatest jazz performances ever.  If I were doing a time capsule about American culture of the past 100 years, I would have to include this as one of its great moments.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

More on the Economics of Pope Francis: Two Videos

Two videos on Evangelii Gaudium, with very different perspectives.  Fr. Barron emphasizes the urgency and the central point of the pope's Apostolic Exhortation, not to be too caught up with internecine quarrels when we should be on fire with the joy of the Gospel, as the early Christians were.  Fr. Barron says nothing at all about the most controversial parts of the letter, those about economics.

Samuel Gregg, research director of the Acton Institute, on the other hand, focuses his attention on precisely what Fr. Barron ignores in his commentary, namely Francis's comments about the market.  It is here that the pope seems most naive and uncomprehending.  Not that a pope needs to be an economist, but if he chooses to comment on the nature of markets, the sources of wealth, and how poverty can be overcome, it is good that he know what he is talking about.

If the point is to set aside bickering and join in the urgent task of communicating the joy and the good news of the Gospel, why permit yourself to be diverted into attacks on the one institution that has done vastly more than any other to lift billions of people out of poverty?

Friday, November 29, 2013

On the Economics of Pope Francis's Evangelii Gaudium

Fr. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, responds thoughtfully to the views on economics and poverty expressed in Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation.  Where do unfettered, unregulated markets even exist and who even advocates them?  On the difference between crony (or state) capitalism, which prevails in Latin America and elsewhere, and real capitalism, see the excellent paper of Jesse Norman, MP, "Conservative Free Markets, and the Case for Real Capitalism." Norman makes the case for real capitalism - "the greatest tool of wealth creation, social advance and economic development ever known" - but says we are living through an age of crony capitalism.

Here's an interesting article from The Atlantic, by someone who's a speed reader or had an advance copy under embargo.

At this Thanksgiving holiday time, we would do well to remember the Pilgrims' experience.  John Stossel points out that Pilgrims, who held property in common, were saved from starvation for two years by Indians. Then Governor Bradford figured out that private property, capitalism, individual ownership of fields, was the solution to having enough food to eat.

Here's a much quoted passage by Blessed John Paul the Great, who has a more nuanced approach, where he endorses capitalism rightly understood.  As Adam Smith argued, free markets are not only key to the wealth of nations.  They also depend on a moral basis that is indispensable - the free market requires and builds certain virtues (honesty, diligence, creativity, responsibility, initiative, responsible risk-taking, prudence, courage, justice and the avoidance of certain vices - cronyism, corruption, bureaucratic interference, etc.  As all the popes from Leo XIII on say, socialism is bad, evil in all its forms; capitalism needs a proper juridical framework and regulation.  So they all opposed "unfettered capitalism" or strong libertarianism and the kind of individualism that leads people into selfishness and ignoring social problems and the plight of the poor and exploited.  They say, socialism NO, capitalism, yes but (the but standing for tendencies to materialism and greed, seeing economic freedom as the only freedom, etc.).

It seems the difference between JP II and Francis lies in the latter's seeing the market as somehow causing poverty instead of being key to eliminating or reducing it, as Governor Bradford came to see.

Here's the much quoted start of para #42 in John Paul II's social encyclical, Centesimus Annus:

42. Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
Of course, it doesn't help that there seems to be a serious error in the English translation, giving a key passage a slant that is not there in the original.  Fr. Z explains here.

See also this Poverty Cure video on what really helps the poor and what harms them:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rethinking Marriage and Divorce in Scandinavia

Norway rethinks its acceptance of divorce

The News Story - Norway's mission reposition: state says date nights key to good marriage

At least one of the Nordic countries — that paradise of social progressivism — seems to be rethinking its earlier disregard for the institution of marriage.  Solveig Horne, the new Minister for Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion in Norway’s Populist government, recently suggested that to curb a 40% divorce rate, Norwegian married couples should institute “date nights.”

Reports the Guardian, Horne “said the government needed to cut divorce rates – and that encouraging couples to try date nights was a good place to start.”  “It is important to find small pockets of time where parents can be lovers," said Horne, who believes that she may have saved her own marriage through date nights and other similar efforts.

From a nation that has embraced cohabitation as a social norm, such enthusiasm for restoring marriages is surprising — and welcome.  Research indicates that nearby Nordic nations would do well to imitate.

The New Research - Sweden No Paradise for Young Adults
The progressive government of Sweden promises health and well-being, as well as economic security, to all. Yet a study by social scientists in Spain and Sweden finds not all is well in the socialist paradise. Documenting a “deterioration of psychological well-being” among young adults there—a decline related to increased rates of parental divorce—the study establishes that the link between parental divorce in childhood and psychological distress in adulthood remains as robust as it was forty years ago.

Using longitudinal data from two waves (1968 and 2000) of the Swedish Level of Living Survey, Michael Gähler and Anna Garriga compare the impact of parental divorce on the psychological adjustment of 19- to 34-year-olds from two generations of Swedes (the first born between 1934 and 1949; the second between 1966 and 1981). Their findings put to rest the notion—widely advanced among progressive scholars—that as alternative family forms have become more prevalent and accepted, as they are in this European haven, the negative impact of parental divorce on children has faded.

Reviewing their descriptive findings, the researchers found that the occurrence of experiencing parental divorce or separation was four times more likely among the younger cohort of Swedes (21 percent) than the older cohort (5 percent). Likewise, while only one-fourth of the older cohort reported psychological distress as measured with six variables in 1968, nearly one-half (45 percent) of the younger cohort reported such distress in 2000. Stating the obvious, Gähler and Garriga note: “Psychological problems have increased substantially among young Swedes during recent decades.”

Using multivariate analysis, the researchers are able to place the blame for this increased angst squarely where it belongs. Controlling for gender, age, country of origin, and parental education, they established that among respondents of each generation, those who grew up in a broken home were more likely to suffer from emotional problems in adulthood than were peers from an intact family. In the older generation, the risk of emotional pathology ran twice as high among the adult children from broken homes as it did among peers from intact families. In the younger cohort, the relative risk of such pathology fell almost by half among the adult children of broken homes. However, despite this sharp fall in the relative risk, the correlation between family structure and emotional pathology remained statistically significant (p < 0.01) for both age cohorts.

Moreover, a pooled-data analysis revealed no statistically significant reduction in the magnitude of the negative parental-divorce impact on young adults between the generation of 2000 and that of 1968. As the two sociologists write: “Individuals whose parents divorced during the period 1966–1997 do not report a higher psychological well-being as 19- to 34-year-olds, compared to individuals from an intact family background, than do corresponding individuals whose parents divorced during the period 1934–1965.”

Though it may disappoint those who think government programs can level the playing field, the researchers found that the economic disparities between both family types did not lessen between 1968 and 2000, a period when the Swedish welfare system stepped up its income-redistribution efforts. To be sure, respondents from both family types reported less economic hardship in 2000, but the decline among respondents from intact families who reported economic hardship in childhood (from 13 percent to 8 percent) was relatively greater than the decline among respondents from non-intact families (from 31 percent to 21 percent).

Given these outcomes, Gähler and Garriga have every reason to lament the “deterioration of psychological well-being” among young adults in Sweden. Now if only scholars and policymakers in America would do the same, and look to the strengthening of the family—not the welfare state—as the answer.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America, Fall 2012, Vol. 26 Number 3. Study: Michael Gähler and Anna Garriga, “Has the Association Between Parental Divorce and Young Adults’ Psychological Problems Changed Over Time? Evidence from Sweden, 1968–2000,” Journal of Family Issues34.6 [June 2013]: 784-808.)
This article has been republished with permission from The Family in America, a publication of The Howard Center. The Howard Center is a MercatorNet partner site.
This article is published by and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
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Fr. Robert Barron comments on David Bentley Hart's The Experience of God

Fr. Barron comments on who God is and who God is not.  He discusses key points in David Bentley Hart's great new book.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Father's Importance - by Sheila Liaugminas

 5 Nov 2013 

He’s supposed to be the rock, the head of the family, the protector, in the right order of things.

But classic family identity roles are under tremendous cultural pressure and social commentators won’t dare talk in those terms anymore. That doesn’t change the truth.

My father passed away last week and the impact of that loss is huge and clarifying. He was elderly and broken and diminished by late stage Parkinson’s, but still dignified and honorable. Even in his most broken and vulnerable years, when those qualities were less obvious, he was always who he was, and that was dignified and honorable, deep within. He embodied values up for cultural debate these days, so his life is instructive.

Some brief background…

Children aren’t born with biases, they are learned. I didn’t learn them and so when my first trip out of the Midwest as a child was to the deep south with my father, I was mortified to see the reality of segregation. My father always told the story of when we were in a drugstore and I saw a sign at a water fountain designating (in cruder terms) that it was for whites only. He said I shouted ‘Dad!’ (as if he was the only one who could hear me since he was the one I was imploring). ‘Dad, they can’t treat people that way! Do something!’ I was a little human rights activist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of my heroes and even as a youngster I followed his marches and speeches. When my high school introduced the first African American studies class, I was the first one to sign up. We read the ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X’ and discussed it, and I listened and learned more than I spoke.

We aren’t listening anymore (maybe some people never did). We’re certainly blurting quickly and often, in a knee-jerk reaction. Some people never have an unuttered thought, facilitated by the Internet and all the means of social networking. Dialogue and exchange is good, attacks are not. Attacks are happening often. Indefensible assaults are happening often. We’re lashing out at ‘the other’, as Pope Francis refers to the classes of people who make us ‘uncomfortable.’  People are so ready to impugn reputations, question motives, doubt intellect or integrity when someone expresses a thought or shares information that is even perceived as running counter to what they believe. At what cost? Pride? Ego? A perceived ‘gotcha’ moment?

Pope Francis has been getting at this from the beginning of his papacy, every time he talks about being ‘self-referential’, needing to get outside ourselves.

Author and blogger Elizabeth Scalia was my guest for a very engaging hour of reflection on all this because her book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life became a more powerful indictment than even she imagined it would when it was published and Pope Francis was soon after elected to the papacy and began talking about idolatry and making idols of ourselves and our beliefs. Both of us being bloggers, both being women in media who try to bring the core truths of right and wrong, human dignity and right order in the world into our work, always seeking to understand it and do it better, we had a lot to talk about. And realized, together, that the gut-check for false idols has become a daily necessity.

It’s humbling to go searching for where the truth may lie, even if it’s beyond what we may have thought or believed. But refreshingly challenging and freeing. My father was very instrumental in that quest, that burning desire to search for truth and engage.

Long before I ever heard the terms ‘Catholic social teaching’ or ‘social justice’, I learned them from my father who fed the poor and hungry, brought comfort to the afflicted, gave work and purpose and dignity to the impaired. I was his ‘little sidekick’ on these missions, and it bred an adult who seeks constantly to be a peacemaker, a unifier, a bridgebuilder, a caretaker. Without compromising the truth of human dignity at the core of the mission.

Just hours after learning of my father’s passing, I had an important speaking engagement as the keynote speaker and panel moderator at a medical professionals event. I kept it in honor of my father, and the dignity our family and his healthcare providers showed him throughout his final years of life. Everyone has that dignity, and everyone deserves for it to be recognized and honored.

At his poignant funeral Mass, the Beatitudes spoke eloquently of his life. While we’re all fussing and sniping over the politics of healthcare law and political scandals and state elections and partisanship and hot-button social issues, my father’s funeral Mass helped me re-set the importance of life lived in service to others, with faith as the moral compass.

I chose the prayer for the program that seemed to suit his life purpose the best, the one commonly attributed to St. Francis.

Peace Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen. Thank you, Dad, for your witness to human dignity and the care of the feeble, impaired, disabled, elderly, suffering, lonely, despairing and forgotten. They will always have a champion in you, and your legacy.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marriage as a Social Justice Issue - Paul Adams

This is the paper I am to give at the 2013 Convention of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW) in Atlanta, GA, Saturday, October 19.  I plan to revise it for a wider audience and in light of feedback, so comments are more than welcome.

Depending on how you understand the concept of social justice, you can see marriage from several angles as a social justice issue, indeed as central to the possibility of a just society.  Historically (and universally) our most child-centered institution, marriage and the marriage-based family reduce the risk of poverty, crime, mental and physical illness, poor educational outcomes, domestic or intimate partner violence, and so on.  The marriage gap between the more educated and affluent on one hand and the poor and middle class, both Black and white, on the other is widening and that is increasing inequality (DeParle, 2012; Hymowitz, 2006; Murray, 2012).  Amato (2005) shows the profound impact on children of changes in family structure since 1970 when the sexual revolution took off. It included the explosion of divorce, increase in non-marital births, cohabitation, and fatherless and blended families.  The revolution’s defining feature was the destigmatization and increased incidence of almost all kinds of sex inside and especially outside of marriage.  If U.S. family structure were as strong today as it was in 1970, he calculates:

643,000 fewer children each year would fail a grade at school

1,040,000 fewer children each year would be suspended from school

531,000fewer children each year would need psychotherapy

453,000 fewer children each year would be involved in violence

515,000 fewer children each year would be cigarette smokers

179,000 fewer children would consider suicide

71,000 fewer children each year would attempt suicide.

[Amato, P.R. (2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next generation. The Future of Children, 15(2), 75-96.]

Children's experience of repeated family structure change has a robust association with compromised development across the early life course.  In a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (Volume 75, Issue 5, pp. 1266–1287), Fomby and Bosick (2013) investigate the relation between family structure instability during childhood and adolescence and children’s transition to adulthood, up to age 24. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health N=8,841), the researchers find evidence of associations between early and later family instability and low rates of college completion, early union formation and childbearing, and an early entry into the labor force. The researchers find that these associations are explained by family structure, delinquency, and academic performance in adolescence.

The considerable benefits of marriage, attested to now by decades of social science research and recognized by scientists across the political spectrum, cannot be reduced to a selection effect.  That is, it is not simply that healthier or more affluent people are more likely to get married in the first place regardless of any independent effect of marriage itself.  Of course marriage does involve this kind of selection.  That’s part of its purpose and function - as personified in the young woman’s father who questions the young man about his prospects. But we know from longitudinal studies that follow subjects as they enter, leave and re-enter marriages, that marriage has benefits from the start compared with other kinds of relationship status.  These begin even before the wedding, with the increase in earnings and decline in risk-taking behavior of young men when they get engaged (Akerlof, 1998; Killewald, 2012/2013; Townsend, 2012).  The benefits for women and men and their children - in income, health, mental health, and so on - are lost with divorce  and regained with remarriage (the more so the shorter the gap between marriages) (Waite & Gallagher, 2000).

So, given that marriage is a key protective factor, and as such of key importance for the lives of young people, including students of social work and related fields, what do we teach them?  The Institute for American Values published a report under the direction of the late sociologist of the family Norval Glenn (1997), Closed Hearts, Closed Minds: The Textbook Story of Marriage.  Glenn analyzed 20 textbooks used in some 8,000 courses across the country to teach hundreds of thousands of young people.  “The college instructors who are training the next generation of counselors, nurses, therapists, social workers, and teachers often rely on precisely these books for their own understanding of the scientific consensus on family matters.”  But the books are riddled with errors, show little interest in the effects of marital disruption or single parenting on children, devoting an average of only 3.5 pages to this topic.  Three times as much space is devoted to adult relations, without regard to how they affect children.  Current textbooks convey a pessimistic view of view of marriage. These books repeatedly suggest that marriage is more a problem than a solution. The potential costs of marriage to adults receive exaggerated treatment, while the benefits of marriage, both to individuals and society, are downplayed.

Mary Eberstadt (2012) described the “will to disbelieve” the empirical evidence on the negative impact of the sexual revolution and benefits of marriage and monogamy for children and adults, including those in disadvantaged families.  The blindness to evidence she describes has perpetuated in classrooms and textbooks across the country a view of marriage that had long been disproved by research.  A big gap opened up between research and researchers on one hand and textbooks, teachers, and the ideology in which social workers and other “helping professionals” were trained for decades on the other.

For social workers, who deal with populations where marriage has largely fallen apart, the tendency rightly has been to focus on helping those who suffer most from the collapse: abandoned mothers and their children, “blended” families, single parents, children in chaotic homes living without emotional or economic security, and so on.  But as with welfare policy, there is a dilemma.  Do the policy interventions supported by social workers help promote marriage and prevent its breakdown, do they support policies that incentivize marriage and encourage the virtues and norms on which its success depends?  Or do they promote and reinforce the sexual revolution and its effects in the name of celebrating family diversity or destigmatizing or being non-judgmental or providing income to those in need?

I want to suggest that a virtue-based understanding of social justice may help us toward a different, more empowering orientation that helps us build and sustain a culture of marriage, one that makes it easier for individuals to develop the virtues needed for marriage, even while helping those in problematic (to themselves) non-marital situations.

Social Justice as a Virtue

Benestad (2010) says this:

The contemporary concern for social justice leads primarily to a stress on public-policy initiatives, to a reorganization of “the system,” and to social reform.  In addition, there is a tendency to to regard social justice as a principle of rights against society rather than as a virtue inclining a person to fulfill duties toward society.  There is a stress on the demand for just treatment for others rather than the duty to act justly oneself (p.151).

Here I do not want to discount the injustices cited above, a state of affairs in which marriage has largely collapsed for a large part of the population, or to deny the need for public-policy initiatives.  Instead I want to suggest how a virtue-based understanding of social justice offers a fuller, more complete understanding of the challenge we face as social workers and as a society.  Implicitly I want to suggest how an approach to social justice that looks primarily or exclusively to asserting claims on the state by or on behalf of others rests on an impoverished understanding of the human person, tends to utopian statism and authoritarianism, and contradicts the best, most empowering traditions of social work.

In the understanding of social justice proposed here, society will not be just unless individuals are virtuous.  Political and economic structures in themselves can neither achieve this nor provide the love and support that humans, as naturally social, “reciprocally indebted” “dependent rational animals” (MacIntyre, 1999) need and for which the human heart longs.  This is the claim of the whole of the central Christian tradition from Augustine and Aquinas to the present.  Its  roots lie in the Christian understanding of the human person, of human dignity as derived from our creation in the image and likeness of God.  It draws on the ancient Greek understanding of the cardinal virtue of justice.  In this classical Aristotelian-Thomist tradition, justice is rooted in natural law and what is objectively necessary for humans to flourish as they order their lives together. 

In this tradition, justice and natural rights are, as Feser (2005) says,

...safeguards of our ability to fulfill our moral obligations and realize our natural end.   It follows that anything which tends to frustrate our ability to fulfill those obligations and realize those ends violates our rights and amounts to an injustice. 

So justice is the cardinal virtue by which, as a matter of habit and will, we give others what is due them.  As Aquinas defines it, following Aristotle and Cicero, justice is “the habit whereby an individual renders to each one his due (ius) by a constant and habitual will.” If we frustrate the ability of another to fulfill her moral obligations - say to worship God (which implies the right to religious freedom, as the American Founders argued) or to preserve her life or that of her child, we act unjustly.  

How do we get from this classical concept of the virtue of justice to social justice as a virtue?  Feser (2005) continues thus:

 And if that which frustrates this ability [to fulfill our moral obligations] is not merely the actions of a particular individual or group of individuals, but something inherent in the very structure of a society – in its legal code, its cultural institutions, or the tenor of its public life – then what we have can meaningfully be described as a social injustice.  In particular, any society whose legal framework fails to protect the lives of its weakest members, whose popular culture is shot through and through with a spirit of contempt for and ridicule of the demands of the natural law, or whose economic structure makes it effectively impossible for a worker to support himself and his family with his wages, is to that extent an unjust society, a socially unjust society. 

Social justice, then, can be defined as the virtue that inclines individuals to work with others for the common good.  It is justice in directing the virtues to giving others their due and social, as Novak (2000) argues, in a double sense.  It aims at the common good rather than what is due another individual (as in the commutative justice that inclines one to equitable exchanges between individuals) and it involves joining with others to achieve a common purpose that individuals cannot achieve on their own.  In that sense, it is the virtue of association, the virtue par excellence of civil society.

Marriage Does Not Just Happen

The collapse of marriage and the erosion of a culture of marriage is perhaps the cardinal social injustice of our time.  As we saw and as research clearly documents, most social injustices that social workers confront in their daily work at any level hinge in some way on this one.  What then would it take to sustain an environment or ecosystem in which marriage and marriage-based families could thrive?

In a symposium on the future of marriage following the recent Supreme Court rulings on its redefinition, philosopher Michael Pakaluk (2013) offered what even those who disagree with his vision might consider as a thought experiment.  His brief essay offers an opportunity to open oneself, at least temporarily and with tentative sympathy, to a view very different from that of the Court or the textbook writers.  Simply in the name of fairness, it is good to grasp the power of a quite different vision -- a set of propositions which others hold to be true. Pakaluk does not discuss the decisions or dissents of the Supreme Court, but says this:

Here is marriage, considered in context. A young man and woman remain chaste, and they have the virtue of “purity” (an old-fashioned word, but it is real). As a result, they have joy, and an ideal of the complete gift of self is readily understandable to them. They fall in love but do not “date” so much as “court” with reverence, each viewing the other as an almost divine gift.

They don’t have the baggage that comes with sleeping around. They don’t cohabit. They don’t think that oral sex is a sign of love, or even that it’s sex.

The death to self and complete binding of each to the other which they gleefully accept on their wedding day makes it also easy for them to accept their complete and total binding to a child for life, who incarnates their love into a single being. That is to say, they are “open to life.” They so cherish their bond that they have no private good except what comes through their union, and they place the safeguarding of that bond so high that it is a priority, for them, equivalent to faith, honor, religion, worship, and life itself.

What Pakaluk describes here is not a utopian ideal made out of whole cloth in the imagination of a social reformer.  It is, as he says, “in Shakespeare and other classical authors and, in Christendom, it used to be something like the ordinary experience of (how can I put it?) people who were well brought up. (Think: Song of Songs.)”  It rests implicitly on an understanding of man’s nature and destiny as the creature God who is love created out of love, for love, who “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (G&S 24:3).

The point here is not to look back with nostalgia on an imagined golden age when there was no fornication, adultery, or other sexual vice.  It is to remind us how completely the possibilities and understandings of marriage depicted by Shakespeare in As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing or in the novels of Jane Austen, have ceased to be socially available.  What Pakaluk describes “is lived today, is even attainable, by only a handful of persons.” Yet, he continues, “anyone who understands historic Christianity, and is well read, must hold (I think) that it would be desirable for culture once again to make such a way of life generally attainable.”

What Pakaluk diagnoses is a grave social injustice in the sense defined by Feser, “something inherent in the very structure of society - in its legal code, its cultural institutions, or the tenor of its public life - that tends to frustrate our ability to fulfill our moral obligations and realize our natural end.”  The kind of life-affirming marriage and marriage-based family culture Pakaluk describes has been swept away, above all for the lower socio-economic strata, by the cultural and legal changes of the past half-century.  

So how is such a marriage, one consonant with our nature and destiny and corresponding to our deepest longings, possible today?

But a culture cannot be created or sustained by a single person; it can barely be kept alive by a family; and it certainly cannot be created or transmitted without sound education. So, the immediate path forward for marriage, regardless of the Supreme Court, is the creation and fostering of institutions where modesty and purity are practiced with full confidence and self-knowledge.

Is Marriage Possible?

There are two main responses to this state of affairs.  One is to normalize and even celebrate the collapse of marriage in the name of diversity of family forms.  We talk not of the family, but of families.  The aim is to offset the negative effects of this social breakdown on children and women both by destigmatizing non-marital births, divorce, sex of most kinds delinked from marriage and children, and also by using government programs to meet the needs of low-income women and children. 

Another response is to seek, by policy incentives or personal influence, to change the behavior of “target populations.”  The 1996 welfare reform, with its marriage promotion measures and time limits, did this.

The first approach offers direct relief, but at the risk of legitimating behavior and situations that harm children, society, and the institution of marriage.  It maintains the poor in their poverty and reinforces the very cultural forces in the structure of society that undermine marriage and the marriage-based family.  These are the forces that celebrate the unencumbered autonomous self and the rights (i.e., claims) of adults at the expense of their obligations to children.

The second approach runs the risk of dividing society into sinners and saints, those whose behavior needs to change and those who want to bring about the others.  One approach calls evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20); the other inclines to a priggish moral superiority.

Is a both-and approach possible, one that recognizes the need for immediate help for those plunged into or maintained in poverty by the collapse of marriage and at the same time strengthens and rebuilds a culture of marriage rather than assuming and even incentivizing its breakdown? In one way, this is the perennial problem of social policy and social work, and indeed helping in general - the problem that the English Poor Law reformers of the 1830s wrestled with.  A social justice perspective, with its emphasis on the personal virtues and on the associations or mediating structures of civil society, offers a different way of looking at the problem.

Social justice cannot be reduced either to redistribution or to reform of government policies or institutions, though it does not exclude either.  It requires virtue on the part of each individual in society and finding ways for all to contribute to the common good, remedying those social injustices in law, culture, and the tenor of public life that put a healthy marriage beyond reach for many. 

A social justice perspective, so understood, takes sin seriously, seeing, as Solzhenitsyn put it, the dividing line between good and evil not as running between social groups or political parties, but as going through the human heart.  It begins, not with priggish finger-wagging, but with the recognition that we are all sinners and all affected by sin, not least that associated with the breakdown of marriage and its effects on children. 

In a provocative and startling essay, Esolen (2013) draws our attention to the moral harm caused by the shift away from a child-centered view of marriage and the marriage-based family as providing the optimum setting for children to be born into and be reared in.  In its place we have an adult-centered view of marriage as about adult relationships, as an intense form of friendship.  He shows us how our failure to give children their due penetrates deep - far more deeply and pervasively than the most obvious and appalling cases where the claims of children are subordinated to the desires of adults.  It permeates  the cultural institutions, laws, and public life that form and constitute our social practices.  

Esolen does this by asking how pedophilia differs in our minds from other kinds of sexual expression.  Its moral structure, he says, “is simply this: the welfare of children is subordinate to the sexual gratification of adults.”  He points out that lack of consent cannot in itself be morally decisive when we compel children to do all kinds of things to which they do not consent.

If we altered the question, and asked not how many people have done sexually abusive things with children, but how many people have done sexual things that redounded to the suffering of children, then we might confess that the only thing that separates millions of people from Jerry Sandusky is inclination. Everything that was once considered a sexual evil and that is now winked at or cheered, everything without exception, has served to hurt children, and badly.

Divorce is a case in point.

Unless it is necessary to remove oneself and one’s children from physical danger and moral corruption, the old wisdom regarding divorce should hold, if children themselves have anything to say about it. Parents will say, “My children can never be happy unless I am happy,” but they should not lay that narcissistic unction to their souls. Children need parents who love them, not parents who are happy; they are too young to be asked to lay down their lives for someone else. It is not the job of the child to suffer for the parent, but the job of the parent to endure, to make the best of a poor situation, to swallow his pride, to bend her knees, for the sake of the child.

The same applies to births out of wedlock.  

 The child has a right to enter more than a little nursery decorated with presents from a baby shower. He should enter a human world, a story, a people. He should be born of a mother and a father among uncles and aunts and cousins and grandparents, stretching into the distant past, with all their interrelated histories, with his very being reflected in all those mirrors of relation, not to mention his eyes and his hair, the talents in his fingers and the cleverness in his mind. This belonging to a big and dependable world can be secured only in the context of the permanent love of his mother and father, declared by a vow before the community and before the One in whom there is no shadow of alteration.

This neglect of the needs and interests of children is endemic in our culture.  It is in the way we talk, not only about marriage, but also about things like artificial reproductive technology or surrogacy. (For a social-scientific account of the phenomenon, see The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children's Needs.)

What is to be done?

What is to be done?  Feser argues that the “duty of remedying such injustices rests, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, primarily with individuals, families, and private associations.”  That principle also recognizes, as part of natural law, the state’s duty to deal with those injustices which cannot effectively be remedied in this way.  But when the state confirms in law “what was already the practice, trend, and effect of an alternative culture that had its immediate origin in the 1950s and ‘60s” (Pakaluk, 2013),  then the task falls all the more heavily on the associations of civil society.

As Girgis, Anderson, and George (2013) concluded the day after the Supreme Court decisions about the definition of marriage in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases:

If you believe, as we do, in the importance to children and to society of the marriage-based family, then of course you were hoping for different results in yesterday’s marriage cases. But you probably also put your trust in the institutions of civil society—in that vast arena between man and state which is the real stage for human development. And in that case, you never expected a court of law to do our work for us, to rescue a marriage culture that has been wounded for decades by cohabitation, out-of-wedlock child-bearing, and misguided policies like no-fault divorce.

Whatever one’s opinion about those decisions, or the scope for any legal measures to address the collapse of marriage, the task remains for social work what it was.  In line with its historic emphasis since the Charity Organization Societies and the Settlement House movement, its task of empowerment is still to combat social injustice by strengthening families and communities.  The challenge is to work out how to help rebuild a culture of marriage in civil society, especially in the poorer half of the population where the disintegration has been most complete and devastating in its effects.

Attempts to promote and strengthen marriage come in various forms.  At the policy level, there are attempts to remove disincentives to marriage like the marriage tax penalty on the poor and to incentivize marriage and make it easier for people to meet their moral obligations - of spouses to each other, to their children, and to society.  In 2004 a group of social scientists produced a list of policy proposals under the head, Can Government Strengthen Marriage?  They proposed a shift of emphasis from preventing teen pregnancy to preventing unwed pregnancy since the science revealed no benefits to delaying nonmarital birth into the twenties, but considerable benefits to getting married before having children.   They recommended support for marriage preparation education to reduce violence, conflict, and unnecessary divorce; lengthening the waiting period for no-fault divorce; removing perverse incentives to cohabit rather than marry; and evaluating and strengthening the pro-marriage aspects of the 1996 welfare reform; among other things.  All these measures can be understood as fostering an ecology that fosters the virtues required for and developed by marriage.

Such efforts flew in the face of the sexual revolution and its increasing adoption as law and official government policy. One driver of these developments, Alvaré (2012) argues, is the vigorous promotion by the Federal government of a new moral orthodoxy, an ideology she terms sexualityism or sexual expressionism.  Against what classical ethics and modern social science tell us about human happiness, as well as against the defense of religious freedom, “the government is promoting sexualityism—a commitment to uncommitted, unencumbered, inconsequential sex.” 

Government, not least through its imposition of an HHS mandate that requires that employers enable access to contraception, even abortifacient drugs, as well as sterilization, is promoting the destruction of marriage by normalizing and promoting the delinking of sex from marriage and both from the bearing and rearing of children by the two parents who made them.

Little wonder then, that the supporters of marriage and marriage-based families put little faith in government and its capacity or interest in promoting a culture of marriage. I will leave aside, consequently, further discussion of the kind of social policy measures that have been my bread and butter as a policy analyst.  Instead, I will look at some approaches within civil society to promote and sustain the kind of culture that makes the vision of marriage described by Pakaluk socially available to and attainable by those who want it. I will also look at what is involved in promoting the virtue of social justice in social workers themselves as well as the families and communities they work with.

Building an alternative: Reculer pour mieux sauter

In the famous ending of his After Virtue, MacIntyre (1981/2007) recalls the example of St. Benedict as he considers a way forward in our own dark ages.  “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”  In our own dire times, “the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time” (263).  “Benedict’s greatness,” MacIntyre explains, “lay in making possible a quite new kind of institution, that of the monastery of prayer, learning, and labor, in which and around which communities could not only survive, but flourish, in a period of social and cultural darkness” (34).

The similarities notwithstanding, our own times are very different from Benedict’s, and a Benedict for our times would, as MacIntyre says, doubtless be very different. Combined with MacIntyre’s call for construction of local forms of community, the monastic example suggests the need - not instead of local or parish-level initiatives to support marriage in a hostile environment but in addition to them - the importance of distinctly Christian communities centered on faith and family.   

MacIntyre’s call to construct local forms of community, combined with the need in our time to rebuild an authentic culture of marriage and Benedict’s example of a strong community of faith and learning, brings into focus the promise of a small seriously Catholic Christian university and community like Ave Maria.  To what extent can a modern day analog of sorts to the strategy of St Benedict possible in building, not only  a center of learning, culture, and faith in contrast to the received wisdom of the contemporary Zeitgeist, but specifically a culture of marriage closer to Pakaluk's vision?    Can it serve both as a beacon to attract or guide others, keep things alive that would otherwise be lost, and  prepare people to go out into the world and, in the current phrase, "evangelize the culture?"

To this combination of university and community we may add the path-breaking work of Mary Eberstadt (2012; 2013) on the profound impact of the pill as the technological base of the sexual revolution and on the relation between faith and family.  With regard to the latter, Eberstadt (2013) confirms the strong link between the religiously observant and high fertility, but she emphasizes the ways in which large families foster religious observance and not simply the other way around.  Children drive their parents to church, as she puts it.  She notes how Christianity in particular, with its Holy Family, its God the Father who loves, guides, and protects, with a Son who addresses God the Father as Abba (Daddy), and so forth, is near to unintelligible in communities where fathers who love and protect their families are rare.  Christianity and the family, she argues and shows empirically, rise and fall together.

Ave Maria is a community of large families and strong faith, each reinforcing the other. It is a source of attraction, as a faithful Christian community and locus of Catholic learning and culture, to many who live in isolation from these things.  It is home both to Pakaluk, chair of the university’s philosophy department, and to me.  The marriage he describes could be that of his own daughter and the reference to Shakespeare recall students’ involvement in the plays, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, that  a class on Shakespeare in Performance presented in each of the past two years, playing, as Michael Novak put it, “characters their own age, with the distinctively tender and fragile feelings, high excitements and crushing blows of that gloriously vulnerable time of life.”  In the exhilaration of the performances, one could sense the identification over the centuries of a shared culture of marriage, a shared understanding of the sincere gift of self it involves.  It is a gift of the couple to each other and to the children that may result from their comprehensive union, a union at once emotional, bodily, and a matter of will.  It is an understanding of marriage as the institution through which each generation sacrifices itself for the next.

Patiently explain: In hostile territory

Serious Catholics and other Christians, social workers not least, live and work amidst a hostile liberal-secular media, academia, legal and political elite (and social work profession).  It is an aggressively secular world to which sexual expressionism, the ideology of the sexual revolution, is absolute dogma and state religion, dissent from which is not to be tolerated.  For this cultural elite the Catholic Church, insofar as it maintains its organized structure and presence in the public square, is the main obstacle to their vision of the future, which they seek unrelentingly to impose on the entire world, all talk of respecting other cultures notwithstanding.

Most families in Ave Maria chose to live in this Florida swampland far from a major city or other centers of learning because they had experience of a beige, accommodationist Catholicism in former parishes and saw the erosion of faith and family around them.  For many others who remain behind, Ave Maria is one beacon reflecting and keeping alive the light of faith amidst the powerful forces that seek to extinguish it as a public presence in their world.  It does not substitute for other strategies for building a strong culture of marriage, of faith and family.  But it helps.  It is an example of the virtue of social justice practiced by members of a community, joining together in many groups and projects to further the common good, not least creating and fostering a culture of marriage that corresponds to the nature and destiny of the human person as imago Dei.

While Ave Maria as a community attracts intense hostility from comment box writers whenever it is mentioned, most faithful Christians who remain within the orthodox Judeo-Christian tradition in matters of life, death, sex, and marriage (George, 2002) face hostility without such solid community support, as individuals or congregations, as employees, parents, or small entrepreneurs trying to make their way and retain their integrity, often condemned, in Justice Scalia’s words describing the effect of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision, as hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race. 

Navigating this hostile terrain is a different challenge that has elicited many initiatives, mostly lay-led, at parish or cross-parish level.  The Stand With Children movement in California, with its Faith and Action Circles, offers one outstanding example of a grassroots effort.  The people involved in these activities exercised the virtue of social justice by joining together for the common good, the good of marriage and marriage-based families, in face of overwhelmingly powerful forces tending toward their dissolution.  These forces include both political and cultural movements and the pressures on individual families of the sexual revolution  Among the effects are the normalizing and increased incidence of divorce, including the devastating impact of no-fault or unilateral divorce, pornography, sex before and outside marriage presented as the norm by media and ‘enlightened opinion,’ cohabitation, children raised without one or both of their parents.  As I have suggested, social work has done much harm in promoting and normalizing some of these developments.

Social workers, indeed, have had little to do with the developments I have described that serve or are intended to build a positive culture of marriage.  Despite our literature and tradition of empowerment-based practice, we have tended to think of social justice, not as a virtue at all, not as rights derived from God or moral obligations or duties, but as claims on the state in the name of equality.  Social justice becomes a series of demands on government aimed at a desired state of affairs, with no connection to character or the other virtues, which is at best a very partial understanding.  

The professional challenge

Possibilities for practicing and promoting the virtue of social justice in oneself and one’s clients vary for social workers according to employment and funding constraints.  There is no straightforward answer to the question of what is to be done, the “practice implications.”  Here I want to discuss some of the challenges social workers face in trying to orient their own practice to social justice.  What principles might guide us  in meeting our own moral obligation to the common good and helping those we work with to meet theirs?

In Aristotle and Aquinas, justice is the virtue that orders all the virtues to the common good.  Habitually giving others their due requires, in Benestad’s (2010) words, “the laborious effort to prepare one’s soul for action through the cultivation of the virtues and the acquisition of knowledge.... Some works of justice require very sophisticated knowledge and very great effort to control pride, anger, and fear as well as love of pleasure, money, honor, and power” (p.151). In the language of the virtues, we recognize the dual emphasis in social work education on acquiring knowledge and the qualities of character, like those of self-effacement, prudence, courage, self-mastery, needed for the “professional use of self” in practice.

Marriage and its breakdown present particular challenges to social work.  Marriage requires virtues on the part of the couple, their families, and the community, a culture of marriage to support the gift of self that is comprehensive, permanent, faithful, and that assures any children that result from their union the emotional, financial, legal support, and kin of the two parents who made them.  Marriage doesn’t just happen and the cultural, political, and economic structures needed to support it, or even understand it, are in disarray.  

These conditions for healthy marriage barely exist for most of the people social workers work with or, in many cases, for themselves for that matter.  I have found MSW students incredulous at research that shows that cohabitation is not equivalent to marriage, that women are safer from intimate partner violence in marriage than other kinds of relationship, that children do better when they are raised by their own married mother and father, and so on.  Part of the reason, no doubt, is the ideological miseducation that students of marriage and family routinely received as undergraduates.  Part is that many of the MSW students sitting in the classroom live with partners and/or children outside of marriage and marriage-based families and their discernment of reality is blurred by cognitive dissonance, denial, or defensiveness.

The task of social work education, after decades of promoting, normalizing, and celebrating alternatives to marriage, in helping students acquire the knowledge and the virtues, the habits of the heart, they need to be effective, is formidable.

Three Principles

I conclude with three principles to guide a way forward.

  1. We have to face the reality of marriage’s disappearance as a socially available, attainable choice among much of the population.  We need to acknowledge at a deep level the effects of that destruction in widening inequality, perpetuating poverty, and damaging mothers’ and fathers’ ability to meet their moral obligations to each other and their children.  We need a sense of the sin through which we have corrupted marriage even as an ideal, of the social injustice perpetrated in particular against the poor and children.
  2. We need a sense of the joy of marriage as understood in Christian tradition, as described by Pakaluk (and Shakespeare and the Song of Songs), as rooted in a chaste longing in the human heart.  Marriage offers an opportunity for the sincere gift of self through which alone humans find fulfillment.
  3. As Christians, we understand that God’s mercy and forgiveness are greater than our sin, including social sin.  As social workers, we have to find ways to offer hope and support for initiatives in civil society through which people exercise the virtue of social justice, joining with others to rebuild a culture of marriage.