“Actually I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”I started this blog eleven years ago, and if you'd told me then that by 2016 same sex marriage would be legal in all fifty states or that the presidential administration would be threatening the funding of schools who didn't let boys who claimed they felt they were girls use the girls locker room and suing nuns who didn't provide their employees with free access to the morning after pill, I would have thought you were some kind of hysterical alarmist. The rate of cultural change has been staggering.
I think of this particularly in reference to when I started the blog, because going by to my first post I explained the name of the blog as follows:
Which brings me back to this blog's name: DarwinCatholic.Here I am, eleven years later, with six kids rather than two, and many of our friends who share our understanding of Christianity and human nature also have families well above the average. And when I meet someone with a large number of kids, it's almost invariably a sign that they're actively religious in some way: Catholic, Mormon or Evangelical. The reverse, of course, is not true. Not all people who are religious or even who follow the Catholic Church's understanding of marriage and sexuality are blessed with large families. But in what the pope calls a "throwaway culture", a culture in which a speaker at the DNC just received cheers for talking about how sometimes you just have to abort that child so that you can finish grad school more efficiently, it is being rooted in a set of beliefs that teaches that we have a purpose beyond our own personal fulfillment, beyond 'following our bliss' to achievements in this world, a set of beliefs that sees our reproductive powers as creatures as being a way in which we cooperate with God's creative power in creating the next generation of souls, that allows someone to place sufficient value in having children to have a large family if it is possible, despite living in a world in which having a child is always "a choice" rather than simply a natural consequence of being sexually active.
One of the things that really struck me was the cultural/demographic differences between my wife and me (and our friends from college) and most of the other people our age that we met through work.
My wife and I married a month and a half after graduating from Franciscan University of Steubenville. (We had been going out for three and a half years.) Many of our friends also married within a year of graduation. Most of us also had our first child within a year of getting married, and our second within two years after the first. We got office jobs and middle class incomes. Some of our friends had degrees in majors, such as Computer Science, designed to win jobs. Others, like me (I majored in Classics), learned on the job and caught up fast. We bought houses before we were thirty. Several of us started businesses, with varying degrees of success. We became, in the buzzwords of David Brooks, exurban natalists.
Meanwhile, my co-workers (mostly several years older than I) dated, partied, and assumed that I must be over thirty. The idea of "settling down" in your early twenties was totally inconceivable to them, and when I mentioned that my wife and I hoped to have 5-7 children, everyone thought I was joking.
After several years, we moved to Texas, where we had a number of friends. Texas, even in the liberal Austin area, is certainly more family friendly than Southern California. However even here, hearing that someone has more than three children is almost a dead give away that they are religious and at least moderately conservative in their practice thereof.
Certain (admittedly tiny) subgroups present event more extreme examples. In the homeschooling circles that I knew during high school, families of 8-12 were not unusual.
Looking at all this, I can't help wondering: at what point does all this start to become statistically significant? My wife and I both know a lot of other alumni of the Catholic, large family, homeschooling environment, and most of them, like us, as still strong Catholics and look forward to having at least moderate size families. If this holds true for a couple generations, how will the Catholic and indeed the general American demographic landscape shift over the next 60-80 years? If liberals average 1.6 children (and based on European demographics that's pretty likely) and conservatives average 2.6 children, how long will it take the country as a whole to lurch to the right? Or will it?
But if it's true that the willingness of serious Christians to reproduce will eventually result in a resurgence in traditional religion, it certainly isn't evident in my own generation or the one following. I feel, as with so many things, less certain now that such an effect will show up twenty or forty years hence either. Perhaps other mass movements, other self destructive tendencies will reshape our society in unpredictable ways long before the influence of different reproductive rates would work its slow change. It seems possible to me now that our next half century will be like Europe's late 19th and early 20th centuries, with mass movement reshaping society far faster than other slower forces can do. Perhaps our modern technology and the Gnostic tendencies that come with it are like a colonizing cancer and will take over new hosts faster than they can be produced, spreading through the culture until only a few dedicated believers remain.
Or perhaps I remain overly focused on the ways in which our modern society denies human nature. After all, earlier cultures in which the nature of our relation to sexuality and reproduction were not so broadly denied were not cultures without selfishness, exploitation and cruelty. That is the sense in which Tolkien's point about the long defeat comes into play more generally. Another aspect of human nature which will no more change that our relation to reproduction is our fallen-ness. We will always tend to do wrong to each other, and so there will be no earthly paradise. Wipe away our most trendy vices of the moment and they will be replaced with another set tailored to another time and place.
Yet this knowledge that we will not eradicate all wrong from society cannot lead to a quiescence in which we give up the struggle against the evils that dominate our day, simply because there will never be a day without evils. I don't expect an earthly paradise, but I continue to hope that in the day of my children or my children's children this Gnostic throw-away culture will wane and a better understanding of the human person will replace it.