Posts tagged with: family

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, February 14, 2014
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heart mosaic1In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I offer this wonderful bit from Jennifer Roback Morse’s transformational book, Love and Economics, in which she observes a particular vacancy in modern discourse and policymaking:

Economics has been a successful social science because it focuses on things that are true: human beings are self-interested and have the capacity for reason. But it is equally true that we have the capacity to love. This capacity is no less human, and no less defining of who we are. Too much of our public discourse has proceeded as if these two great realities of the human condition, reason and love, were in conflict with each other. The Right favors the cold, calculating, tough-minded approach of the intellect: man is essentially a Knower. The Left favors the warm, fuzzy, emotional approach of the heart: man is essentially a Lover. Yet the Left at its most extreme has given us the cold, impersonal state and its bureaucracy as the answer to social problems. At the same time, the Right at its most extreme has given us the irrationality of trying to reduce man to the sum of his bodily needs…

…It is time to cross this divide in the sphere of public discourse as well. The consequences of going off the deep end into either the direction of Love or Reason and ignoring the other can be grim indeed.

Noting the French Revolution’s bloody altar to the “Goddess of Reason,” and, somewhat inversely, the Russian Revolution’s chaotic attempt to unite humanity under “one giant family,” Morse argues that the American Revolution was distinct because it preserved the “underlying social and cultural order.” It unleashed the powerful forces of freedom and individualism, but did so in a way that kept love for the other in focus. (more…)

poverty-in-america-300x300In addition to reading Joe Carter’s striking by-the-numbers piece on the War on Poverty, and in keeping with Sam Gregg’s reflections on the deeper social and cultural forces at work, I heartily recommend taking in Josh Good’s excellent retrospective in AEI’s The American.

Leveraging a lengthy quote from Herman Bavinck’s The Christian Family, one I’ve put to use myself, Good notes the “inverse impact of changing family structure on productive work and a flourishing economy”:

The fact is, poverty is not merely a material problem. A half-century after the dawn of the War on Poverty, we would be well-served if President Obama addressed the American public on the cultural aspects of poverty…Americans truly interested in serving the poor more effectively will do well to recall this insight, from the late theologian Herman Bavinck:

“For children are the glory of marriage, the treasure of parents, the wealth of family life. They develop within their parents an entire cluster of virtues, such as … devotion and self-denial, care for the future, involvement in society, the art of nurturing. With their parents, children place restraints upon ambition [and] as with living mirrors they show their parents their own virtues and faults, force them to reform themselves, mitigating their criticisms and teaching them how hard it is to govern a person. The family exerts a reforming power upon the parents … [transforming] ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses.” (more…)

2013-12-20 15.27.57In my Christmas commentary this week, “Gratification and Civilization,” I examine the connection between making your kids wait until Christmas morning to open their presents and the development of civilization.

Self-denial and self-sacrifice form the basis of human life together. As Matthew Cochran puts it in a piece last week at The Federalist, “Civilization depends on the tendency of men to produce more than they consume for themselves.”

A key factor of driving forward the development of civilization, then, is the family unit. For Cochran rightly warns that civilization “depends on masculine ambition.” The ambition to grow a business for someone “could mean feeding himself & his workers, along with any family they might have. His ambition could be a huge boon to society. Take that away, and you have a bunch of men doing what they need to do to stay comfortable, but nothing more—nothing for any women or any increasingly hypothetical children.”

The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explores the link between family and civilization in his study of The Christian Family. Bavinck describes the triad of father-mother-child:

The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.

These relationships are of civilizational significance:

This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody. No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities, and to both man and woman, the child is held up as an example (Matt. 18:3). These three characteristics and gifts are always needed in every society and in every civilization, in the church and in the state. Authority, love, and obedience are the pillars of all human society.

One can hardly discuss the family during this season of the year without also reflecting on the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Bavinck describes them as “the divine counterpart” to Adam, Eve, and their children. “The holy family is the example of the Christian home,” writes Bavinck.

And on this Christmas let us remember and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus Christ!

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Dan Clements, an American student studying at the University of Leuven, and I help greet conference attendees

Last week, an exciting new organization called the Transatlantic Christian Council (TCC) hosted its inaugural conference. The theme of the conference was “Sustaining Freedom”, which aligns well with the Council’s mission “to develop a transatlantic public policy network of European and North American Christians and conservatives in order to promote the civic good, as understood within the Judeo-Christian tradition on which our societies are largely based.”

What I find most exciting about this Council, for which I commend Todd Huizinga and Henk Jan van Schothorst on their vision and initiative in founding, is this: like the Acton Institute, the TCC is not exclusively devoted to just one aspect of life, but rather aims to provide a forum for conversation on a broad range of life’s many important and fundamental human questions.

The starting point for these conversations is with a basic concept of human dignity. This concept is rooted in an openness to the idea of man as an image of God — endowed with the capacities for willfulness and reason, a creature and a sub-creator. And it is this understanding of the human person that serves as a point of departure for working through all sorts of interesting questions of politics, economics, liberty, government, religion, and family.

When I mentioned to a friend that I would be travelling to Belgium for this conference, he said to me: “Be sure they don’t euthanize you and harvest your organs!”

“Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s certainly a novel way to wish someone a good trip.”
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Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, December 5, 2013
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children“All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life,” writes Herman Bavinck in The Christian Family. “If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle.”

Such a process of reformation is complex and varied, and is somewhat unique for each of us. But for the moment, I’d like to focus on one particular dynamic: the unique role that children play in reforming their parents.

On this, Bavinck offers the following reflection:

For children are the glory of marriage, the treasure of parents, the wealth of family life. They develop within their parents an entire cluster of virtues, such as paternal love and maternal affection, devotion and self-denial, care for the future, involvement in society, the art of nurturing. With their parents, children place restraints upon ambition, reconcile the contrasts, soften the differences, bring their souls ever closer together, provide them with a common interest that lies outside of them, and opens their eyes and hearts to their surroundings and for their posterity. As with living mirrors they show their parents their own virtues and faults, force them to reform themselves, mitigating their criticisms, and teaching them how hard it is to govern a person.

The family exerts a reforming power upon the parents. Who would recognize in the sensible, dutiful father the carefree youth of yesterday, and who would ever have imagined that the lighthearted girl would later be changed by her child into a mother who renders the greatest sacrifices with joyful acquiescence? The family transforms ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses. Imagine there were no marriage and family, and humanity would, to use Calvin’s crass expression, turn into a pigsty.

Bavinck precedes this by noting that, “Holy Scripture evaluates having children entirely differently than the modern generation,” and here, let us pause and remember that he was writing in 1908. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
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In a stunning new video, Matt Bieler strings together beautiful images and a few simple words to celebrate the work of three stay-at-home moms from three different regions of the country.

The tasks shown, like those of any mother, are numerous and varied, and those explicitly mentioned follow accordingly: breakfast-maker, sibling caretaker, teacher, cleaner, doctor, angel. “She’s with me all the time,” one child whispers.

In our celebration of work — the dignity it brings, the service it provides, the provision it leads to — how often do we neglect to remember that which is spent outside the confines of the office or the interwebs? Our modern way of thinking about “work-life balance” doesn’t help us in this regard, encouraging us to draw false divides between the punch clock and the playroom, even when, as any parent knows, the work of the latter is often far more consuming and less forgiving. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
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Cradle

Photo Credit: akatrya via Compfight cc

I share Fr. Robert Barron’s concern about many of the attitudes on display in this Time magazine cover story on “the childfree life.” As Barron writes, much of the problem stems from the basic American attitude toward a life of “having it all.”

Thus, Barron observes, “Whereas in one phase of the feminist movement, ‘having it all’ meant that a woman should be able to both pursue a career and raise a family, now it apparently means a relationship and a career without the crushing encumbrance of annoying, expensive, and demanding children.”
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Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure (Values and Capitalism)When it comes to integrating family and vocation, modernity has introduced plenty of opportunity. But it has also produced its own set of challenges. Though our newfound array of choices can help further our callings and empower our contributions to society, it can also distract us away from the universe beyond ourselves.

Thus far, I’ve limited my wariness on such matters to the more philosophical and theological realms — those areas where our culture of choice threatens to pollute our thinking about marriage, weaken our obligations to the family, and limit our view of Christian discipleship and vocation in the process.

In his new book, Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure, Nick Schulz provides firmer support to these concerns, focusing on the more tangible economic outcomes we can expect from key shifts in the modern American family, namely: declines in marriage, increases in divorce, and spikes in out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Avoiding the deeper debate about whether these developments are “right” or “wrong” in a moral or theological sense, Schulz seeks instead to analyze the data as an economist, identifying which economic outcomes we can expect from which changes in the American family, along with some intriguing social speculation as to the why.

Schulz begins by pointing to an widely discussed study from the Brookings Institution, which found that “if young people finish high school, get a job, and get married before they have children, they have about a 2 percent chance of falling into poverty and nearly a 75 percent chance of joining the middle class by earning $50,000 or more per year.” Another study, referenced in a book by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, found that “adolescents who have lived apart from one of their parents during some period of childhood are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to have a child before age twenty, and one and a half times as likely to be ‘idle’—out of school and out of work—in their late teens and early twenties.”

The research rolls on, and Schulz wields the scalpel nicely, explaining how children raised without a mom and a dad are at much higher risk of failure across a variety of areas. (more…)

HermanBavinckBigThe Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck has some wise words for reform of cultural institutions, notably marriage and family, in his exploration of The Christian Family:

All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life. If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle and begin to rebuff with the facts themselves the sharp criticisms that are being registered nowadays against marriage and family. Such a reformation immediately has this in its favor, that it would lose no time and would not need to wait for anything. Anyone seeking deliverance from the state must travel the lengthy route of forming a political party, having meetings, referendums, parliamentary debates, and civil legislation, and it is still unknown whether with all that activity he will achieve any success. But reforming from within can be undertaken by each person at every moment, and be advanced without impediment.

We often take the liberty necessary for such reformation for granted. Will the world continue to be open for such reformation? Will there still be circles of Christian influence that will allow us to live out the realities of the gospel everyday?

dad-baby-bjorn1With the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting material prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal reflection and vocation-seeking. This is a welcome development, to be sure, but as I’ve written recently, it also has its risks. Unless we continue to seek God first and neighbor second, such reflection can quickly descend into self-absorbed and unproductive naval-gazing.

Thus far, I’ve limited my discussion to the ways in which privilege and prosperity can impact our views about work outside of the home, but we needn’t forget the side effects that modernity might foster in an area that often consumes the rest of our daily lives: the family.

Just as most of our ancestors had few choices about where they glorified God in business (toiling for the feudal landowner), they also had few choices when it came to raising families (who they married, how many children they had, etc.). Whether due to lack of contraception, more practical material/financial concerns, or any number of other factors, for most families, children were simply a given.

Today, much like in our approaches to job-seeking, child-bearing has come to involve a significant degree of choice, and the overriding choice of the day seems definitive. As Jonathan Last points out in his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, birthrates in the Western world are in a free fall, with more and more adults opting for fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Last offers plenty of nuances as to why this is happening, pointing to a “complex constellation of factors, operating independently, with both foreseeable and unintended consequences.” But on the whole, he concludes that “there is something about modernity itself that tends toward fewer children.” (more…)