Saturday, March 18, 2006

"She Don't Tell Me To"

Our local country stars, Montgomery Gentry, have a fascinating new love song. The characters in their songs are usually tough, conservative guys, unreconstructed men's men. In their latest outing, they start from a traditional masculine theme of independence and not taking orders, a point of pride that is particularly strong among Appalachian men in our region.

The narrator tells of his "goin' my own way attitude." The chorus begins:
Any other woman I know would have tried,
To control me and it would be over.

But, the whole song is about how this stubborn guy, with more than a little self-destruction in him, keeps doing decent things for her and because of her – picking flowers, coming home early, going to church -- "'cause she don't tell me to." This is a subtle step in the dance of courtship and marriage.

The key line, I think, is

An' she don't even know,
That she keeps me lookin' for the next right thing to do,
But she don't tell me to.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Is Gay Essentialism a Fad?

Don Browning and Elizabeth Marquardt's essay in The Meaning of Marriage offers some "liberal cautions on same-sex marriage."

In the discussion of sex, it is normal now for liberals to automatically translate that term into "gender." The prevailing liberal theory is that no feature of masculinity or femininity is rooted in the biology of men and women. Everything is a social construction.

Everything, that is, except sexual orientation. When it comes to sexual orientation, liberals become essentialists again. Advocates of homosexuality are increasingly drawn to the idea that sexual orientation is a biological fact, not a social construction (and certainly not a choice). Therefore, society must accommodate to all sexual orientations and "get used to it."

Browning and Marquardt point out that the logic of modernization is dissolving all claims of fixed relations and innate or essential qualities. Even the deepest and most ancient of essential differences, those between fathers and mothers in marriage, are subject to the acids of social constructivism. It may be premature to fix the flag of same-sex marriage to homosexual essentialism today; the same modernizing theory that all identities are just social constructions may sweep it away tomorrow.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Marriage as a Sacred Vow

[In the next set of posts, I will work through the essays in a rich new book, The Meaning of Marriage, edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain.] [Sorry for the delay - Blogger was down.]

Roger Scruton, a noted British cultural commentator, starts his analysis of marriage from sexual desire. He says our culture is debasing sexual desire into a game of physical sensation pursued for pleasure. Really, though, sexual desire is a desire for the other person. Further, men and women are so contrasting and complementary in their natures that something as strong as sexual desire is necessary to bridge the gap, to make us desire the Other person.

Desiring the other person who complements us opens the way to becoming a new kind of being, different and in some respects greater than we would otherwise be. But to become this new status, it is not enough to be joined merely physically, and it is not enough to be joined for a moment.

Marriage, in its inner nature, says Scruton, is a vow. It is not just a promise, and it is certainly not just a contract. Promises are for a time; contracts can be fulfilled. A vow, though, is an eternal change of status. This is why marriage is sacred in its internal meaning, because through marriage we participate in an eternal transformation.

Scruton is a famous curmudgeon in Britain, and in the manner of British curmudgeons, expects the worst from America culture. He knows he is arguing against the grain of elite opinion in our society, even if most people feel the sacred sense of marriage as he does. He expects that the courts will impose a different definition of marriage, under which "marriage" is whatever contract for sex individuals want to make. Moreover, he expects that once this elite opinion has been imposed in law, it will be imposed just as thoroughly by the thought police of political correctness.

I am not as pessimistic as Scruton (I am more gruntled). I am impressed, though, with his deeper reading of sexual desire and the vow of marriage. I also think he is right that we are on the verge of enshrining in our law a much shallower, more self-serving and hedonistic understanding of sex and marriage.

Which is why we need to have a clear and open discussion of the deep meaning of marriage, without thought police and political correctness.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Missing Pretty White Women

The news covers missing pretty white women obsessively. Anderson Cooper tries to answer for the news media about why this happens. He writes:

I've never, not even once, seen a story spiked because the victim was not attractive enough or the wrong race. But I've seen plenty of stories fall by the wayside, pushed down and out of the show, because a consensus develops that says, "You know, I don't think our viewers are very interested in this case." Is that racism or realism?

The most egregious case of missing pretty white woman syndrome is not the blonde in Aruba or the drowned wife in California, but Pvt. Jessica Lynch, captured in Iraq. A pretty, blue-eyed blonde in uniform, the Barbie soldier, didn't just get obsessive news coverage, she got a full-scale rescue mission, which almost killed the Iraqi doctors who were helping her.

What was not obsessively covered, what was barely mentioned, was that Spc. Shoshana Johnson was also captured that day. She fought back, was injured, and also later rescued. When she returned to the States, she was discharged on disability. She is solid and gracious in interviews, and defends Lynch from falsehoods that have been told about what she did and said.

Why isn't she famous, too? She's black, and not half as cute as Jessica Lynch.

Is that racism or realism? It's racism.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Could Women Thrive at Yale if They Could Respect Their Househusbands?

The current issue of the Yale alumni magazine explores how much having kids, or trying to have kids, contributes to the still-low numbers of tenured women at Yale. Yale (and Harvard and Princeton) famously give no advantage to their junior faculty when they come up for tenure – they still have to prove they are the best in the world. Getting a Ph.D. – now obligatory in the Ivies – and writing books and articles for tenure come at the same time as the baby-having window. Indeed, those fifteen years or so can completely obliterate the body's time to have kids.

Men do not have the same problem. Why? Because they have wives who take the lead with the little kids when their husbands are doing what it takes to get tenure in the Ivies. So why don't women find husbands who would act like those kinds of wives? The first reason is that such men are harder to come by. The more difficult reason is that, as a rule, women want to marry men who achieve at even higher levels than they do.

The most difficult reason, though, seems to be that it is just much harder for women to fully respect men who stay home and take care of the kids.

That is a deeper revolution than more childcare can solve.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How Big is the "Spiritual But Not Religious" Market?

A favorite social category that sophomores who have been through their first religion class use to describe themselves is "spiritual, but not religious." This is a hard category to pin down, especially since religion and spirituality are almost identical except for what they imply about your connection to a religious institution.

Recently the Higher Education Research Institute complete a massive survey (40,000+ respondents) on “Spirituality and the Professoriate.” If any group would be interested in adopting such a nuanced identity, it would be professors. So, what did the survey find?

The study defined the highly spiritual professors this way:
Seeking out opportunities to grow spiritually,
considering oneself a spiritual person, and
having an interest in integrating spirituality into one’s life.

By this standard, 43% scored high, 15% low.

They then asked how many professors considered themselves religious. Not surprisingly, more than two thirds of the highly spiritual professors also considered themselves highly religious.

Only 13% of the highly spiritual professors said they were not at all religious.

13% of 43% = 5.5% of all professors consider themselves "spiritual, but not religious."

Five and a half percent ain't zero, but it sure doesn't look like a sign that "religionless spirituality" is the next big thing, even among this unusually irreligious group.