The West’s demographic winter may finally be striking fear where fear should be struck. While news of falling birth rates has plagued Europe for a long time, there seems to be a growing interest in actually doing something about the problem. And now, for the first time, the birth rate in the United States has fallen below the replacement level. All of this is finally generating a buzz. If you’re a young Catholic looking for an effective long-term strategy to reclaim Western culture, having a large family should be on your short list.A culture that preaches we must collectively "sacrifice for the children" divides against itself when it produces proportionally fewer and fewer children.
I don’t mean to imply that raising a family should not be on your short list for other more important reasons. But as your own personal culture project, raising a good family is very close to the pinnacle of sound Catholic strategy. Moreover, at this particular moment the social stigma so often associated with large families may be receding. This is not only because Europeans and Americans are becoming acquainted with large families again through Islamic immigrants in Europe and Hispanic immigrants in the United States. That in itself could reinforce the stigma in the minds of some. But there is also growing concern (at last!) about a childless future.
When the enormous wave of public secularism washed over Western culture in the middle of the twentieth century (curling and crashing in the 1960’s and still continuing to run up the beach), vast numbers of Catholic families were unprepared to adopt the kind of counter-cultural lifestyle that was necessary to ensure their children would keep the Faith. These families took their faith for granted at home and either relied heavily on public schools and conventional universities or failed to realize that Catholic educational institutions had also been drowned in the secular wave. The result was that enormous numbers of Catholic families failed miserably in what turned out to be an anemic effort to raise committed Catholic children.
The members of many of these families have been washed away. Other families have been adversely affected by the failure of Catholic ecclesiastical leadership (bishops, priests, theologians) to lead an effective resistance to the secularizing trends of the larger culture (many actually embraced these trends). Still others saw a loss of Faith in an occasional child despite their best efforts, because the influence of the surrounding culture became increasingly pernicious and children, after all, always possess their own wills. But Catholic families who take their Faith very seriously have since learned a great deal about how to raise counter-cultural children, about how to strengthen themselves and their children interiorly so as to become ever-better Catholics by deliberately living values which oppose most of what surrounds them.
Among the life-techniques developed have been a clear communication of parental values at every level and in every activity (personal responsibility, prayer, study, entertainment, etc.), careful association with other like-minded families for peer support, formation of new and robust Catholic schools deeply committed to Christ and His Church, development of widespread home-schooling, prudent selection among the various opportunities for higher education, extensive time together as a family, a constant example of personal self-control and sacrifice for Christian principles from the father and mother, and frequent family prayer. Parents who form a positive Catholic culture in their own homes and extend it through their decisions about life outside the home are very successful in raising a new generation—most often a new generation delightfully outnumbering themselves—of young men and women who will also refuse to think of themselves as prisoners. As a result, they will gain enormous spiritual and cultural ground.
I would never want to suggest that anyone should set about having children primarily as a strategic maneuver to retake or reform the larger culture. Children are never to be instrumentalized, and any attempt to instrumentalize our own children will ensure that they flee from whatever beliefs they have been instrumentalized to serve. Some families who are overly strict about one-size-fits-all conformity fall into this trap. Successful parents have children because they love God (and each other) in Christ. Love always seeks to extend its blessings to others. Indeed, those who cannot have children will seek to extend the blessings of love in other ways. But for those called to marriage who are able to have children, the most important expression of love, rooted in their very vocations, is found in procreation. Once again, this models the infinitely fruitful generosity—the inexhaustible self-giving—of God Himself.
We must keep in mind here the Christian’s utter refusal—no, his utter inability—to conceive of himself as a prisoner. Were he not truly Christian, he would act like a prisoner in declining the adventure of life outside a dead culture. But if he refuses thus to be culturally incarcerated, he will have no possible reason to turn and make his children prisoners of any cultural objective, no matter how laudable. In fact, the whole Catholic cultural idea consists in recognizing that sin in every form is our prison and that Christ alone frees, just as Christ alone saves. Once we learn to live a continual interior act of subordination to Christ, we are prisoners no more. It is this same interior act of subordination to Christ alone that we wish for our children. But what possibilities for human culture then!
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
One More Time: Culture Wars are Wars of Attrition
A lengthy excerpt from "Having Children: Anatomy of a Cultural Strategy" at Catholic Culture: