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

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Raising Kids Catholic

I've had this post from Catholic Moral Theology sitting in my "to blog on" list for quite some time now, in part because I'd wanted to read all the Commonweal essays that it's based on.

Our oldest children are currently 11 and 10, not yet, by any stretch, what Elizabeth Bennet called "the most trying age". Intellectual development, with it's joys and trials, is a continuum, and watching my children grow older and wrestle with ideas themselves I experience both the joy of seeing them really adopt ideas as their own, and the fear that they will someday use that intellectual ability to stray from what I believe is the path of truth and goodness.

To love someone is to want the best for them. My belief in God and practice of the sacramental life of the Church is one of the things that I think of as "best" in my life, and so naturally I want it for my children as well because I love them. And yet, as a parent, this is one of these naturally terrifying things, since no matter how much I pray, no matter how well I teach and live my faith, there is always the chance that my children will turn away from it -- for a time or for good. This would not make me a failure as a parent. After all, we are children of God, and yet we believe that the very first thing that humans did was rebel against their creator. The parent whose children leave the faith is experiencing a taste from the same cup which God drinks -- seeing His children turn away from what He knows is good, and what would, in the end, make them happy.

Perhaps it's fear of this pain, fear of being thought a "bad parent" which creates the desire to create some alternate bar of "success". This is what bothers me in the CMT article. The author writes:
The parents in these essays attended weekly mass, prayed in their homes with their children, introduced them to great thinkers in the tradition, had them involved in youth groups and community service. Some of the children grew and continued to practice the faith, and others did not. Almost every author whose children were no long practicing attempted to figure out why. Was it their failure? The disposition of the child? The failure of church leaders? The surrounding culture? The lack of friends with a shared faith? The lack of a Catholic subculture? None of these answers sufficed.

Yet, many of the authors noted that their children who were not practicing carried with them much of their formation. They were committed to the vulnerable in their community. They took their civic responsibilities serious. They had a strong commitment to do what was good and right in their personal and professional lives. In “Passing on the Faith in an Era of Rising ‘Nones’” (a 2013 presentation at the College Theology Society Annual Meeting), Julie Hanlon Rubio asked if this was the standard by which parents might hold themselves? We might hope for a committed faith, but, perhaps, we should be happy if our children grew up to do good and avoid evil.
I think this suggested division of hoping for a committed faith but being happy if children follow more general social values of good and evil is problematic, because it suggests a division of "good" from God. Belief in God is not simply a nice add-on to our core moral values and political beliefs. God is the source and summit of goodness.

Having read through the Commonweal essays on raising kids Catholic, I wonder if part of the thinking here is that for many progressive Christians, their moral/political positions are held with a greater absoluteness than their belief in God and certainly in the Church. The goodness of equality, the need to fight oppression -- these are seen as truly absolute and pure. With God and with the Church, however, there is a sense of tension. The Church must reform in order to deserve it's faithful. God is in some sense in the dock over the suffering and injustice He allows, and the supposedly retrograde way His church has behaved. Rather than an act of unmerited love, in a certain progressive view the Incarnation becomes a necessary move on God's part because otherwise He would never truly understand the suffering which is humanity's. It's the least that He could do, and perhaps due to it we can forgive Him.

I think we, as humans, are drawn to belief in that which is pure and absolute -- and to the extent that people make their moral values more absolute than their belief in God or belief in the Church, people will tend to drop the less absolute faith in deference to the more pure one.


Anonymous said...

Based on twin and adoption studies, parenting has a much bigger effect on a child's religious beliefs than on whether they "take their civic responsibilities seriously," etc. So if a parent is falling back on saying they affected the latter but not the former, this is probably wishful thinking.

But it's understandable wishful thinking. The experience of having your child abandon the faith has got to be a painful one, and I'm sure a lot of parents feel conflicted about whether it was really their fault. Ultimately, though, it's important to remember that God gave us all free will, and while we might be able to influence what our children come to believe, we can't really control it, any more than our parents got to control what we thought. And that's a good thing.

Jenny said...

I wonder if you are misreading what they believe to be their standard of success. I haven't read the articles so I'm speculating here. Perhaps the thought is that if they are well formed which would be evident in their civic behavior, they will eventually be drawn back to the Truth.

I know the Anchoress has been fairly straight forward in writing about her oldest son's wanderings, not that she talks about either of her children much. She says that he is just out swimming right now, will be back be in the boat someday, and she has to trust in the Lifeguard.

I view it as a sensible approach.

bearing said...

Yes -- it seems to me that many people come across the notion that one can have morals and virtue without religion, and then decide to test it out for awhile. Dangerous? Maybe. But also common among people who end up securely back in the company of believers. God judges our hearts and our intent.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

So glad for you that your children are not yet in the most trying age.

Obviously it would be less trying for a lot of young and for their parents as well, if they had had the opportunities to marry which they would have had in the Middle Ages rather than the legally enforced procrastination to 16 or 18 (depending on country and state) which was obviously inspired by philosophers frowning on procreation.

Gail Finke said...

RE: the last post... WHAT???

FYI, for those who might be wondering, marriage was fairly late in the middle ages. With the exception of some noble families who married off daughters very young for dynastic purposes, most women didn't marry until their late teens or early 20s. I used to have a handy chart around but can't find it. And of course, a great many people never married at all. "The middle ages" is a long time and we are talking lots of countries, but people today tend to think all sorts of things about it that are not true. People didn't all die by age 35, for instance -- if you survived to about age 5 and there were no epidemics, your life span probably wouldn't be much less than it was in the early 20th century.

I know this is a tangent but that kind of statement drives me crazy. I am not sure what the point was supposed to be but it has no basis in fact.

Darwin said...


Agreed. I thought about responding, but Hans-Georg Lundahl has been making himself the combox madman for the last week and I was kind of hoping that if I ignored him, he'd go away.

There have been some good studies done of marriage ages in Europe through history using parish registries to track the baptisms and marriages. In western European societies where the oldest son inherited, oldest sons were much more likely to marry than younger sons. And people married later or earlier based upon their ability to support a family. During much of European history men married at 26-29 and women at 23-25, while 20-30% of the adult population never married. (Among the more affluent class, women tended to marry much earlier, though men still often did not marry till their late 20s or even early thirties.)

In the period leading up to the industrial revolution (throughout the 1700s and early 1800s) marriage ages began to fall until men were often marrying in their early twenties and women were marrying in their late teens. Much of this was a result of the rapidly increasing productivity and relative prosperity resulting from the agricultural innovations of the 1700s.

Settlers in the Americas tended to marry even earlier, and the percentage of the population that married was much higher, perhaps to a great extent because there were more available resources for an able bodied young family to go out and support themselves.

Moving into the 20th century, the trend of more and more of the population marrying (and doing so younger and younger) increased up until the 1960s, when the percentage of never married adults began to increase again.

Quite frankly, virtually no one (certainly in modern society, but I think it's more general than that) is mature enough to get married before 18, and the odd fringy idea in some modern circles that some golden age was lost when marriage moved up into the twenties is based on both a misapprehension as to history and a rather sick set of ideas about marriage.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karie, the Regular Guy's Extraordinary Wife said...

I agree with some of this being wishful thinking. "At least he or she is still a 'good person' even if s/he is not Catholic." I do remember that having my parents go to Church every Sunday for my life and enrolling me in Sunday school is what finally brought me back to my faith. I wandered a bit during my college years but never felt comfortable being anything but Catholic. When I finally returned to practice my faith it was really a "home-coming" for me.