Links to Think

Links to Think: 13.05.27

May 27, 2013


What’s Wrong with “Family Values” – Don’t judge an article by its title until you read it. Nor should we assume that the contemporary family values movement has an accurate picture of the full spectrum of traditional family value.

“It’s a truism among social historians that the nuclear family is not the traditional family. Peter Berger and Hansfried Kellner pointed out years ago that marriages used to be “firmly embedded in a matrix of wider community relationships.” Husbands and wives knew each other long before they were married, and their marriage “pulsed” with the same life as the wider community. Today, by contrast, “each family constitutes its own segregated subworld,” a subworld that married couples have to exert “much greater effort” to construct. For today’s couples, “success or failure hinges on the present idiosyncrasies of only two individuals.” Once, it took a village. Now two are enough to tango.”

“Traditionally, marriage and family in turn opened out to the community. As Wendell Berry says, “Lovers must not, like usurers, live for themselves alone. They must finally turn from their gaze at one another back toward the community.” Even today, married couples “say their vows to the community as much as to one another, and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and on its own. It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is.”

“Fragmented communities weaken marriages, and our society seems cunningly designed to fracture communities. The subtle threats are the most corrosive, and are deeply engraved on the physical arrangements and habitual patterns of our lives. What kind of scrutiny can a community have over marriages when neighbors see neighbors only when both are comfortably encased in a sound-proof, air-conditioned bubble of glass and steel? How much help will your friends be to your family if you squeeze out time for real conversation only a few times a year, on the handful of evenings you’re not working late at the office? How much community scrutiny is possible when “live and let live” is a cultural axiom?

Raising such questions, and invoking Berry, presents a spectrum of issues that many cultural conservatives prefer to dodge. The most penetrating conservative analysts of family life, such as Allan Carlson, have always recognized the cultural contradictions of capitalism and of technological society. They have always recognized the costs (as well as the gains) of separating work and home; of geographic, vocational, and social mobility; of the indisputable wealth-generating power of capitalism. On the ground, though, conservatives look the other way when told that our economic system or our technological progress might inhibit the formation of what Berry describes as an economy that “exists for the protection of gifts, beginning with the ‘giving in marriage.’

Nuclear families as we know them today are the product of the same forces that undermined the communal support system on which nuclear families depend. Without that support system, the nuclear family is at best a thin reed, at worst a cause of yet more fragmentation. So long as cultural conservatives avoid addressing these wider forces, we will be able to mount nothing more than a rear-guard reaction. So long as we stay in our ambulances, we’ll continue to see an alarming number of industrial accidents. God willing, we’ll heal some, but it’s high time we take a look at the factory to find out what’s happening inside.”

Is Breastfeeding a Modesty Issue? – As a breastfeeding mother, I am often shocked at the stigma that has come to be attached with what was once a universal part of normal life and care for children. I have heard of mothers, who in the name of piety and modesty, refuse to breastfeed their infants, and others who believe that breastfeeding anywhere besides behind closed doors is a sexual act. Sadly, many of these messages still swirl in my own head and make me uncomfortable to breastfeed my children in certain environments and with some people. This article covers a lot of the common objections and misconceptions that are endemic in American Christian parenting thought. And really, until there was another option for feeding a baby, everyone was used to knowing and often seeing mothers nurse their babies.

“The great thing about the Biblical references to breastfeeding? They’re fairly graphic! It’s not just vague allusions – it’s detailed descriptions of the nursing process. There’s joy and excitement in the words, like the kind a mother sees on her baby’s face when he realizes it’s time for milks again. Yet these passages weren’t written to nursing babies – these words were written to an entire people group, including men and women of all ages.

Even Muslim women, who probably have the highest standard of modesty for women in the world, do not consider breastfeeding to be immodest – not if they live in the Middle East, anyway. The Qur’an, the holy book of the religion of Islam, prescribes nursing until age two:”

“The idea that breastfeeding is somehow immodest is not an historical idea. It does not come from any particular branch of faith. It’s a very recent phenomenon – with roots not in modesty, but in marketing.”

“I may never be the mom who is entirely comfortable with public nursing. I admit to using a cover, and I’ll even admit that I’ve never done it unless I had someone with me to give me moral support. I was raised in this culture, and I’m still something of a victim of it – at least enough that I’ll always be slightly intimidated by the glares of an older generation.”

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