Many religions espouse the merits of the "ideal" family focussed around the healthy husband and wife surrounded by content children in good relationship with their extended family and community. In reality, very few souls ever achieve this nirvana, and even when they do, it is soon disrupted by the exigencies of living in a mortal world where death, illness and change are inevitable. Wise souls recognise there is a constant juggling act between aspiring for the ideal whilst coping with the inadequacies of a reality where we all fall short of God's full glory. The challenge is therefore to build just systems that reward reverence but are not excessively punitive on those who are unable to reach "the ideal".
The Canadian Catholic News recently referred to a report from North America called "Marriage and Law: A Statement of Principles". The 100 experts suggest that the "family diversity model" has failed and and are calling for the shoring up of heterosexual marriage as a social institution. The authors of the report bemoan that traditional marriage is seen as "just one of many equally valid lifestyles", and that this is a symptom of forty years of social experimentation.
They cite that children outside of intact marriages have higher rates of poverty and are at greater risk of health and sociological problems. Their other concern about the diversity model is that it no longer expects men to become reliable fathers and husbands, which diminishes "...the human dignity of men, women and the needs of children".
These are legitimate concerns that any reasonable soul should be addressing. But the picture and problems can not simply be resolved by institionalising heterosexual monogomous marriage and dismissing all other societal forms. This would create a two-class world, with those blessed to have the utopian ideal; and the outcastes forced to eek out an existence in difficult circumstances.
The diversity models came about because of societal and financial apartheid against those not fortunate to have come from the "ideal family." For example, single mothers who chose to keep a child from rape rather than commit murder and have an abortion; those parents whose partners are lost through illness, war, adultery; those limited souls who are dependent on siblings or others as they are incapable of a full adult relationship. These souls often do have a more difficult existence than those blessed by the two parent ideal. But penalising them for circumstances beyond their control only exacerbates their situation.
Simlarly, being the moral police on why they are in such circumstances is the same as having a woman judged as guilty of provoking being raped. For those who are innocent, we add a stigma and trauma to already difficult circumstances. Wisdom would suggest that we cite the benefits of the "ideal" but provide a safety net to allow a minimum dignity to all souls. That means that we must sometimes tolerate that which is not pleasing because history has demonstrated any "outcaste system" always contains the innocent.
The comments about men not being expected to become reliable husbands and fathers is valid. But it is a symptom of a bigger problem: where we no longer expect individuals to have an identity from puberty until death. To placate a narcisstic global economy, we not longer offer tenure for live and expect people to be able to change their career paths several times in their lifetime (assuming they are employable at all). We no longer worry about having jobs for the limited intellect, quickly replacing simpler jobs with technology, and we have been blind to the needs of families "not in our space" such as those from other countries.
Similarly, the question of dignity is not peculiarly male issue. Mark I Wallace in his book Finding God in the Singing River cites that the dignity and full development of the female dignity and identity has also been lost, perhaps even more so that the masculine. For example he hopes that it might be possible to construct an appropriate model of God that can facilitate the process of full female becoming (pps 48-49). If such a model were to develop, it would also open the opportunity to reconstruct appropriate masculine models.
In a world where identity and income have become permeable and are no longer based on the land, we need to find new anchors that enable us to bring out the best in both ourselves and each other. When change is imposed and inevitable, it is unrealistic to impose monolithic models, and thus diversity will continue. But that does not mean that we can not paint the picture of the ideal and aspire to its actualisation, but we need to be gentle on both ourselves and each other when we fall short of the ideal.
Click here to view the archive »