Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Do "Family Values" and "Pro-Life" Clash?

Ross Douthat has been examining the odd phenomenon of a number of left leaning commentators suddenly realizing in retrospect that they thought there was value to the old "family values" approach by conservatives, only to lament that it has now been destroyed from the inside by those villainous pro-lifers.

In a Jacob Weisberg piece in Slate entitled, "Whatever Happened to Family Values?" we hear:
In fact, these two conservative social goals—ending abortion and upholding the model of the nuclear family—were always in tension. The reason is that, like it or not, the availability of legal abortion supports the kind of family structure that conservatives once felt so strongly about: two parents raising children in a stable relationship, without government assistance. By 12th grade, 60 percent of high school girls are sexually active or, as Reagan put it, "promiscuous." Teen-pregnancy rates have been trending downward in recent years, but even so, 7 percent of high-school girls become pregnant every year. And the unfortunate reality is that teenagers who carry their pregnancies to term drastically diminish their chances of living out the conservative, or the American, dream....

Give the anti-abortion extremists credit for living their principles. If they weren't deadly serious, they wouldn't sabotage their party's political prospects or sacrifice so many other values they hold dear for the sake of denying exceptions in cases of rape and incest. But Sarah Palin's pro-life extremism is as ethically flawed as it is politically damaging to the GOP. By vaunting their pro-life agenda over everything else, conservatives are abandoning one of their most valuable insights: that intact, two-parent families are best for children and for the foundation of a healthy society....

Remember Murphy Brown? I always thought the former vice president was on solid ground when he called it morally irresponsible to encourage women without the TV character's resources to embark on child-rearing on their own. In today's GOP, Quayle wouldn't condemn Murphy Brown. He'd call her up to the stage and salute her for choosing life.
Yes, you just heard the Editor In Chief of Slate Magazine say that Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown. Nor is Weisberg alone in this tactic.

Leon Wieseltier writes at The New Republic:
...The world is aflame and we have been pondering the knocked-up daughter of a pert and uncannily confident Alaskan mediocrity who was elevated to a national ticket for the purpose of changing the conversation. The Republicans wanted a new conversation, and they got one. Juno in Juneau! The anthropological harvest has been rich: what a carnival of double standards Palin provoked. I was unaware of the tender feelings of conservatives for sex outside of marriage.... Some commentators have detected moral relativism in the untroubled, even edified conservative response to the obstetric developments in the McCain campaign; but I see something even more sinister. I see the teleological suspension of the ethical. You remember the teleological suspension of the ethical. It is the recognition that, whereas there is morality in religion, religion is not the same as morality, and may justify an exemption from morality. I know of no religion in which this handy power of extenuation is not used. The telos, in the case of Bristol Palin, is life; and a fine telos it is. The casuistry goes something like this: since there are no unwanted babies, there are no unwanted pregnancies. "It can sometimes result in the arrival of new life and a new family," Gerson cheered. For "evangelical Christianity (in most modern forms) is not about the achievement of perfection." If evangelicals are so exquisitely conscious of our creatureliness, why have they devoted so many decades to reviling the imperfections of others? If they are, as Gerson says, "about the acceptance of forgiveness," why do they diabolize difference? The fecundity of Bristol Palin is a windfall for Jesus, but the fecundity of black girls is the doom of the republic. Spiritually speaking, the forgiveness of oneself or of one's own is a smaller attainment than the forgiveness of the other or of all. My friends, the politics of virtue is a vice.
And yesterday the Editor in Chief of the National Enquirer had an editorial piece in the Wall Street Journal, attempting to defend the importance of the sort of muckraking that his venue is known for, fired a few passing shots of a similar variety:
Unlike during the Edwards affair, the mainstream media instantly joined the fray, questioning Mr. McCain's people about the report and triggering Mrs. Palin to announce that her teenage daughter was pregnant. After a collective right-wing gasp, the only sound that could be heard clearly was erasers furiously dragged over the "family values" section of the Republican Party platform....

In this fractious environment, politics has made for more than strange bedfellows. Witness Mr. McCain greeting Levi Johnston and quickly becoming buddies with the 18-year-old hockey player who impregnated the daughter of his running mate.

Mr. McCain presumably did not have a copy in his pocket of the recently adopted platform of the Republican Party, which contained within its instructive gospel of morality and values: "We renew our call for replacing 'family planning' programs for teens with increased funding for abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior. . . . We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception."
Now, it's political season, so one must expect people to try to score their points, whether they make any sense or not. But given how proud all these authors seem of this talking point, I can't help wondering if they actually believe what they are saying. If so, they've long misunderstood what it is that the "family values" crowd is about. And badly.

All of these writers seem to believe that conservative Christians believe in some sort of outcome-base morality -- in which it is having a child while not being married that is wrong. In their imaginations, Christians then use these distinctions to divide the world into "good people" and "bad people". Good people white, married married and have three children and a dog. Bad people are dark, have children out of wedlock, and collect government assistance.

Perhaps there are a few people like that in existence, but it's certainly not what most conservative Christians are like. Rather, Christians belong that in any given situation, some choices are right, and some are wrong. Having sex before marriage is one of those things that we think is wrong -- but once it's been done, destroying the evidence (especially when that evidence comes in the form on an innocent human life -- is not what we believe is the right thing to do.

Nor is the predicament that the Palins find themselves in one which is unfamiliar to active Christians. Most of us have several friends in our local churches who have an oldest child whose birthday is separated from their anniversary by less than nine months. Truth, conversation and repentance are all central themes in Christianity. And so Christians will seldom have a problem with people who have made mistakes, so long as they acknowledge the truth and resolve to attempt to live in accordance with it.

And this is where the "culture war" differences come in. Christians do insist that having sex before marriage is wrong. And that intentionally choosing a "lifestyle" of single parenthood is not only wrong, but irresponsible. And that abortion is the taking of innocent life. All of these have to do with what action is the right or wrong thing to do in a particular situation. Christian morality is action-based, not outcome-based. Thus, while having pre-marital sex is wrong, the right thing to do next is not whatever it is that creates the appearance of not having had premarital sex, but rather whatever is actually right to do in the new circumstances.

Religious conservatives are not, thus, saying that it was right or good for Governor Palin's daughter to have premarital sex -- but having done so, getting married and raising the baby is definitely a choice that religious conservatives approve of. And in that it reflects an understanding that childbearing and family are the natural context for sex, it is in fact a "pro-family" approach.

That so many authors think otherwise simply serves to underscore how little they understood about religious conservatives in the first place.


J.C. said...

Insightful grouping of articles and an interesting read. Thank you. But they really don't get it, do they?

Anonymous said...

If evangelicals are so exquisitely conscious of our creatureliness, why have they devoted so many decades to reviling the imperfections of others? If they are, as Gerson says, "about the acceptance of forgiveness," why do they diabolize difference?

And here the author shows that he's tone deaf to everything about Christianity. Look at his choice of words: We "revile" imperfections, and "diabolize" differences. Who is he talking about? That twisted preacher with the "God Hates Fags" protest signs? Apparently the author can't tell the difference between serious, principled Christianity and the wacko fringes of it. No, that would require deeper understanding, something he wouldn't deign to do.

Mr. Wieseltier, to insist that some things are right and others wrong is not to revile or diabolize. That you think so shows more about you and your ideology than it does about Christianity. Because for secular progressives (such as I assume you are), there is no objective truth, nothing transcendent or eternal -- there is only the here and now, and the struggle to have one's ideas triumph over another's. So of course you must revile or diabolize the person who dissents from your viewpoints, right? What other instrumentality do you have, Mr. Whatever, than power? You certainly don't have the Cross. The only salvation for you is to win.

They don't get it. They don't understand at all.

Anonymous said...

"They don't get it. They don't understand at all."

Very true. Many people on the Left do not know any Christians as real people they meet and interact with on even an infrequent basis. To them we are merely the strawmen they have in their mental images of Christians. They assumed that we would react with horror in regard to Palin's daughter's pregnancy and when, to their vast disappointment, we did not, it must be because we are hypocrites. They do not understand that for the vast majority of us it is only sin we hate and that we really do love the sinners. Many of them are so Biblically illiterate that the power of the episode of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery completely escapes them. One of the reasons we have a Culture War is because so many of our elites are simply ignorant of Christianity and the force it plays in the lives of their fellow citizens.

CMinor said...

Well, I didn't gasp, but I think I shrugged.

So our panel of experts opines that an abortion is the ticket for enabling a young woman to go forth into Ozzie-and-Harriet land--maybe with a load of unspeakable baggage capable of destroying her marriage and family relationships, but hey, at least she's safely in a traditional marriage.

These guys obviously didn't grow up in the same US I did--kids marrying at Bristol Palin and Levi Johnson's ages weren't unusual, and still aren't, from where I'm standing. And I know I've encountered stats indicating that there's always been a fairly consistent pregnancy rate among brides, even when religion was more dominant in everyday life.

I think they're just mad we didn't hold a stoning.

Anonymous said...

I worry about Palin's impetuous emotional behavior. She herself had to get married just as her daughter did. Yes, look it up! Todd and Sarah had a baby (not premature)after 8 months of marriage. Today, many women have the baby first and then get married, but Palin represented abstinence and wasn't able to deliver on it. So, to me, that represents a lack of control - a lack which I see in other aspects of her career.