community

community

Freedom of Community: Next Frontier in Societies that Work

community, religious freedom No comments

In happy families members belong to each other and know and enjoy the belonging. But family life gets even better when the family belongs in a community of its own choosing, a community it likes and one where it feels it belongs. In the United States, and across the globe, the task facing governments increasingly is to find solutions that permit co-existence of communities of different religious and moral norms.  Most people derive a critical component of their personal identity from their membership in their community of choice (Israeli Jew, Palestinian Christian, Hispanic Catholic in the United States, gay activist in Ireland, an Evangelical in Texas, an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, a Muslim mother in Dearborn Michigan, a Hassidic Jewish father in New York, and so on ad infinitum).

The struggle for individual freedoms is often really a struggle for freedom of community life.  The United States, which is the most successful experiment in political freedom in the history of mankind, now must solve for itself (and demonstrate to the world at large) how to solve the problem of freedom of very different communities within modern complex market-integrated societies.

The U.S. has a rather checkered history in the struggle for freedom of community.  It never got it perfect, but it keeps on trying to adjudicate between the ideals of freedom and the totalitarian temptation, a temptation given into many times in its history. Its first indulgence was in the constitutional protection of slavery, which denied freedom of marriage, family, community and religious practice to African-Americans brought to this country by force.  Native American communities suffered even worse treatment at times.  Coming to America does not make political saints out of immigrants, even Founding Father immigrants.

Another great totalitarian temptation, the impetus to deny freedom of religious community, did not triumph as much, but has remained a permanent presence. Despite the monumental achievement of the First Amendment, Catholics and Jews suffered a lot. In the first part of the 1800’s the Know Nothings as well as the dominant Protestant ethos of the time imposed a different religious education on Catholic families.  This lasted through the mid 1900’s when prayer was banished from public schools (not the preferred ending). This corruption in education of the American ideal of religious freedom metastasized early into the Blaine Amendments as new states were added to the Union, amendments that, to this day, distort family and community freedoms in many state constitutions. American Catholics, however, were prepared to pay the price of their freedom of community: they built their own school systems so that families could raise their children in the norms and ethos of their own faith communities. That struggle and that cost continues to this day.

Despite giving into the totalitarian temptation repeatedly through its history, the cornerstone American belief in freedom has triumphed repeatedly in other areas, even in matters of community.  An iconic example is the successful constitutional battle of the Amish to live their faith-community lives as they see fit.  This example may well be the template for the future of America.

The Amish community has clear behavioral boundaries that everyone can easily recognize. Though it makes high demands on its members the rewards are evident in its thriving viability. It does respect freedom, including freedom of family, religion and community of its own members. Young Amish adults have to choose to opt in or out of the community after a time of reflection and even experimentation outside. It does not impose its beliefs on neighbors. By and large an American attitude of “live and let live” operates on both sides of these community boundaries. Amish are very different but they are good citizens, happy to respect the existence of very different moral/religious communities around them because their own community borders and boundaries are respected.

Attaining this type of respect of the boundaries of moral communities is the great global problem of our day. People differ on what they believe is right or is wrong, particularly in matters that interface with family, sex and religious beliefs. With increased migrations from diverse religious and ethnic cultures this problem is intensifying not only in the US, but also across the globe.  In the United States it also takes on a rather unique configuration: the boundaries between traditional religious-value communities and newer, more morally relativist communities are in dispute, with sexual-morality-signals being the strongest markers of boundaries between these different communities.

These sexual-signal-markers indicate revered cultural, yet personally intimate practices on marriage, birth, abortion, contraception, divorce, adoption and education of children.  All people become quite agitated if their community way of life is threatened at its boundaries.  It is one of the deepest sources of intense energy (of love or anger, even rage) in human nature.  It is this dimension of freedom — freedom of community — that our generation of Americans is now called to solve if our nation’s historical experiment in freedom is to continue to unfold positively.  Furthermore, the whole world needs to see how we solve this problem.

Without freedom of community one does not have individual freedom. We all need our freedom to marry, to have family, and to live in communities of our choice in our legitimate ways of conducting family, church, school, marketplace and government at the micro levels of local community.  The Founding Fathers fought for this.  Our generation has to fight for it again and insist on a government that protects (rather than violates) our liberty to do good for our families in the legitimate ways of our own communities.

The United States started as a federation of states, to continue it must become also a federation of cultural communities that undergirds the founding structure of the Union.

Pat Fagan

(To be continued)

Millennials: a Dilemma for Social Conservatives

chastity, child well-being, commitment, community, family, fathers, happiness, intact family, monogamy, mothers, parents 1 comment
Society is a network of relationships between its citizens. Each citizen’s capacity to relate to others increases or decreases the social cohesiveness and strength of a nation, and each one of those individual citizens’ capacities to relate has been significantly shaped by the family which formed them. As any family therapist will tell you, these family relationships, in turn, are significantly tied to the relationship between the father and mother of that family. As their marital relationship goes, so goes the intra-psychic strength and the social capacity of their children. The marital relationship changes everything in the family. Multiplied a hundred million times in the U.S., it has a massively compounding effect on society—for strength or weakness.

Thus, the relationship between the mother and father figures in a family is the most foundational relationship in society, the “DNA” that influences all the relationships that emanate from it. How the shopkeeper responds to his customers, or the professor to her students, is often quite tied to how they experienced their parents’ marriage. When a marriage breaks apart, it affects a child’s behavior and relational capacity. When a parental relationship is never transformed into marriage (e.g, in out-of-wedlock births or cohabiting households that break up) it alters the child’s social capacity.

Thus, the future of society is structured by the social ordering of this primary sexual relationship. That is the heart of the culture wars.

Change the DNA of the body, and you change the body by altering its whole functioning process. Alter the sexual relationship, and you alter everything else. Political philosophers are very aware of this. Marx and Engels saw this as absolutely necessary for their massive project: the permanent altering of society along the lines of their utopian dream.

Others see this connection even if they do not desire the same outcome as did Marx and Engels. Most bright Millennials understand it. They see that society has to pay a certain price for the sexual choices permitted to them today —choices that were not sanctioned in times past. They will even admit and accept that the innocent children of these sexual acts will have to pay the price. Many are prepared to see such prices paid, and therein lies the dilemma.

Marx and Engels wanted this sexual restructuring; many Millennials accept it. Though Millennials are certainly not all Marxists, it hardly matters: In the cultural and political contest of the day, they will stand aside and let the coercive liberal state march forward in the direction laid out by Marx and Engels.

Are we doomed to some form of coercive Marxist state as our future because of the sexual choices many in our society treasure? Other than widespread religious conversion, I do not see much potential for change in the right direction; hence, I invite your comments. Is religious conversion the only route?

Marriage vs. Alluring Images of Infidelity

commitment, community, culture, divorce, Hollywood, intact family No comments

The seven-decade tradition of TV watching continues apace in the Internet Age: 34.2 percent of the internet bandwidth is occupied by Netflix during primetime according to Sandvine the provider of such data. But there is a link between TV viewing and the state of marriage.

A natural experiment occurred in Brazil between 1960 and 1990 as the government there pursued a TV expansion strategy, moving into a new state every few years and building the infrastructure for TV watching. This staggered project provided a staggered change in behavior as peoples TV viewing changed in each newly furbished state. The end result: a significant rise, and a staggered rise province by province, as TV viewing spread. Soap opera viewing (i.e., infidelity-viewing) was identified as one of the most significant aspects of the change.  Henry Potrykus of MARRI summarizes the research in a brief paper.

We in the states have been watching TV for so long, and its content increasingly depicts family lifestyles that we have come to accept and condone (sex outside of marriage, divorce, and cohabitation), that we are likely totally unaware of the effect of TV watching on the family behavior of ourselves and of our children. Even mature adults are affected. Divorce among those fifty and above has grown very significantly in the last few decades. Instead of seeking marital therapy that works, the divorce court seems to be the route of choice.

Where lies this power to change? One of the most powerful resources of the mind is the faculty of the imagination. Skilled hypnotherapists use it all the time, and to great effect. Top athletes become experts at using it constantly in their preparation and even during peak contests. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, psychotherapists ever, Milton Erickson, started early in his career with traditional hypnosis but forty years later had evolved to getting the right helpful image into the mind of his client… By the art of storytelling. TV combines the story, the image, and the idea. No wonder it has such powerful effects.

Americans watch an average of 2.8 hours of TV per dayaccording to one of the best sources, the Department of Labor’s Time Use Survey. Can we have a strong culture that feeds on so much family-weakening imagery? Brazil says no. 

It may not be the picture or what is viewed as much as the ideas—conveyed most powerfully through the image—that have the impact, as Richard Weaver in 1948 contended and as he foretold the generalized effects of TV, which he called “The Great Stereopticon” in his classic “Ideas Have Consequences.” Ideas with story images have even greater consequences for good or for ill. Parents, take note. And my wife and I had better be careful about what we watch on TV. We become what we think about.

Marriage-Minded Community: The Wide Scope of New Research

children, community, family, MARRI, marriage No comments

 By Avery Pettway, Intern
      
          A new Harvard study released this month entitled “Where is the Land of Opportunity?: The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States” provides expanded insight and a refreshing new weight to the findings of previous MARRI research. As Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project explains in his January 22 article in Slate, this new study takes center stage because it is “the first major study showing that rates of single parenthood at the community level are linked to children’s economic opportunities over the course of their lives.” Experts in the realms of social science and social advocacy have long been pushing for greater attention to be given to the relation between a child’s well-being and the marital status of his parents. And as our own research has revealed, social trends in which the state has a significant interest—particularly the educational success and productive potential of children—are shaped in large part by family intactness. Another MARRI study found that while education, income, race, and ethnicity are all factors to be considered when determining positive outcomes for children, they fall short in significance compared to the level of family intactness. Harvard’s study in effect joins hands with MARRI’s findings, showing the tight link between individual family units and the entire community when it comes to the effects of broken family structure.

To many, the assertion that having married parents helps kids do better in school and in life may seem like the beating of a dead horse—but in fact, such claims are only one facet of a large and problematic reality that we as a society will soon face. Not only does single parenting put the child at greater risk of continued poverty or stagnancy—that parent’s entire community takes a blow. To understand this fully, we must consider the implications of this research in terms of which family status to promote. Marriage must be the encouraged norm of a community in order for people to thrive. In this healthy, stable, relational space, the less common single parents who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances can have the support of a married community to aid them. The intact majority bolsters the non-intact few, and all can be pushed towards mobility and strength—so long as marriage is the dominant culture of the community.

On the other hand, when single parenthood grows and marriage weakens, incomplete parental support becomes the defining culture of the area, ultimately leading a community away from economic mobility and health. As the proportion of those who need stabilizing aid grows relative to those who can give stabilizing aid, that community is already regressing and cannot offer much hope of upward mobility to its children. Encouraging marriage in the political and social realms is not intended to disregard or disrespect the single mother—in fact, as the Harvard study reveals, her children and her neighbors’ children are in theory at a disadvantage if we fail to foster a better alternative. Sadly the subjects of the study—single parents and broken family structure—are becoming more the norm in the United States as divorces increase, out-of-wedlock births rise among many people groups, and marriage loses public and political esteem. If we hope to avoid this broken outcome becoming our national standard of success, married couples must be the driving force in encouraging and supporting marriage for their communities.