IN VIEW OF THE PRESENT CRISIS ...
While Internet Monk is running a series of pieces on scandals in the contemporary church this is not necessarily about those scandals. Instead this is a sidelong rumination on conditions that are described as setting the stage in social and economic terms for certain kinds of scandals in a specific church. While Christians will obviously and understandably want to frame the scandals in spiritual terms there are things that will ensue that can be framed in social and economic terms and it is those timebound and placebound elements that are of interest because different Christian communities define different things as a scandal or a crisis. While some of Wenatchee's blogging associates have written extensively about the crisis of sexual abuse that is not reported among the neo-Reformed churches in the last decade Wenatchee has noticed that when given the time to voluntarily air grievances about what they consider to be a crisis the neo-Calvinists have, often enough, considered the problem with today's culture (over the last ten years) to be ... some kind of epidemic of singleness. Let's get to that after a lengthy digression on some historical background to church careers and family options in Ireland over the last few centuries, though, shall we?
Martha of Ireland has written at some length on the subject of abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. She provides a lengthy (if still curtailed) history of the Irish Catholics in relationship to England. One of the things she mentions is the Catholic Emancipation Act. This act, in 1829, opened doors for middle-class Catholics to hold public office. Catholics could leave property to heirs instead of subdividing estates before death.
When the Great Famine of the mid-19th century hit Martha writes a bit about the significance of the famine and I'll quote selectively.
... Now, what is the point I am trying to make here in relation to the reeking mess
of scandal in latter-day Ireland? It’s this: due to political and social
circumstances, in pre-Famine Ireland the tendency was for early marriages and
high fertility, particularly amongst the lower orders and the poor. Since
Catholics could not inherit or will property from or to other Catholics, if a
man had a farm or any sizeable amount of land, he would divide it up amongst all
his sons. They, in turn, would further sub-divide what they had amongst their
children and so forth. Because of the high yield food crop – the potato – this
made it feasible for a man to marry and raise a family on a small patch of land;
if you had an acre of potatoes and a pig, as the saying went, you could make a
living. It wasn’t sustainable, of course, but the system staggered along pretty
well until a crisis hit – a crisis like the Great Hunger.
After the Famine, this all changed. The poor, the farm labourers, the landless,
were the ones who suffered most. This meant that those who had land wanted even
more land for economic security. A farm had to be a certain size to be viable.
And since Catholics could now inherit property, a man could leave all his land
to his eldest son upon his death instead of sub-dividing it during his life. It
also meant that to be marriageable, a woman had to bring a dowry with her.
What this meant was that one son (and maybe only one daughter, who had a
dowry to marry on) were provided for. The rest of the children? There was always
the emigrant ship, since there wasn’t the industrialised base to absorb their
Or there was religion. Yes, I’m finally tying it all together.
Remember, Irish Catholicism has become very respectable in response to
pressure of political and public opinion from the British government and public.
Couple that with a tendency in 19th century Irish Catholicism towards Jansenism,
which meant a very rigid and rigorous and unforgiving parade of public piety,
and the fact that some earnest British officials did actually blame the Famine
as the just punishment of a rebellious and ungrateful (and even worse, papist)
Irish populace by a wrathful God, and the urge to prove our probity and
respectability and innocence of wrongdoing was even more pressing.
So any kind of slip, any kind of perception of sin, was not just dishonouring
yourself, it was bringing disgrace on your family and on your nation. It was
proving that the Irish were drunken, lecherous, criminal, rebellious types whose
only hope of salvation was to turn towards becoming good British subjects and
adopting the Protestant religion. Poverty was not a misfortune, it was a crime.
And crime itself –- unforgiveable!
On the other hand, having a priest or a nun or a religious brother in the
family brought good repute, gave the family high standing in public respect, and
was a pledge of virtue in this life and heavenly reward in the next.
So a combination of lack of opportunity, lack of a mature
understanding of sexuality, and social pressure meant that a lot of men and
women who were not suited for the religious life entered monasteries and
convents and teaching orders and seminaries. If they found, in the
middle of their novitiate, that they were unsuited, there was little they could
do. The disgrace of leaving – of being a “spoiled priest” or a nun who dropped
out – meant that their families would be shamed and that they would have to
emigrate anyway, with little or no formal education or trade to fall back on. So
by default, they stayed where they were.
And since the State was not operating the range of social services we now
expect them to run under the umbrella of public service, it was the Church and
the religious orders who took up the slack. So untrained people were given
responsibility and authority that they didn’t know how to handle in a culture
where suffocating social conformity and outward respectability was the norm, and
any deviation was seen as meriting firm discipline.
I don't mention these things to revisit the interminable Protestant/Catholic debates. I bring it up as a matter of observation about the economic opportunities and restrictions Catholics dealt with in Ireland in certain areas of land options and marriage. And here's why.
It's hard to escape the observation that among various types of Reformed bloggers and cultural pundits that in the last ten years no shortage of blogging and bloviating about the "epidemic of singleness" happened. In many cases the diagnosis is that young men just won't "man up" and go take wives to the glory of Jesus. Maybe feminism will get blamed for giving women unrealistic expectations about their biological clocks and the degree of career options they want before they try to have a baby in a panic as middle-age looms. I've seen that happen, but for the most part it gets back to the young men having this need to man up. As a certain preacher liked to put it if you get the young men you get everything, the culture, the women, the children, the money, the power to shape the future legacy in your area and if you don't get the young men you get nothing.
So that epidemic of single guys in their 20s or 30s who won't grow up is a big old crisis that has to get remedied. How? Well, you just tell them they're the problem and that they need to fix it already. They know the solution because you tell them it's to love Jesus, get a real job, take a wife and make babies for Jesus' fame.
Curiously enough the middle-aged guys who are most likely to get on this soapbox benefited from the lending practices and housing market of a decade ago. Building your stump speech on what you got to work before the housing bubble is building your stump speech on a set of circumstances that don't exist anymore.
Ten to fourteen years ago the big spiel at Mars Hill was living in community. What that meant was a bunch of young couples with foundational influence in the nascent church bought houses they probably couldn't have afforded on their two incomes, rented out every possible spare room to singles in the church, and used the revenue of that rental matrix to cover basic expense of the mortgage while the newlyweds built a nest egg to meet expenses on their own terms once babies emerged and the single tenants could be sent on their merry (and ideally married) ways. Living in community was in some practical sense a shorthand for dispersion of costs that young couples couldn't afford more than a decade ago. It was all good because over time earning power would grow. That was then, now is now.
And now is after the real estate bubble of 2008. When economic times get rough the age of first marriage gets later and later. Correlation doesn't always indicate causation but has any Christian cultural pundit noticed that the last time the age of first marriage got so late was during the Great Depression? That might be worth noting. It's not that people don't find each other attractive, personally appealing, and sexually desirable. It happens, it's just that marriage and attaining that nuclear family has become more and more financially difficult. In the early years of Mars Hill the Driscolls were known to rent their spare rooms to three or four single guys. Wenatchee has met a few of them, for what that's worth.
The "epidemic of singleness" or "adultescence" may not simply be because young guys won't "man up" but because there are more young people than jobs for them to do in the American economy. What if a generation that got used to living on credit and trading tomorrow for today sunk a chunk of the jobs that today's young people could have had? Whatever the moral problems of whatever "hook-up culture" is are not mutually exclusive to an economic climate in which people find each other sexually desirable but probably can't go build nuclear families without help from a panoply of programs that have existed since The New Deal. Some of the middle-aged pundits who are opining about men in their 20s not manning up now may not realize that when they were that age they benefited from a set of lending and real estate options that today's young guys won't have access to.
Over generations Protestants and some progressive Catholics have proposed that if priests were simply allowed to marry that sex scandals would disappear. Doubtful. Anyone who has kept track of the scandals associated with sex in evangelical settings would find it improbable that merely letting Catholic priests marry would prevent sexual abuse from happening. Many sexual predators may be married and have marriages that are a suitable cover from which to prey upon others. The Eastern Orthodox permit a man to marry before taking orders and that may help some but it's impossible that the Orthodox scene is completely without sex scandals, either.
But Wenatchee's not going to deal with that, rather Wenatchee's considering that sex scandals are no less legion in evangelical Protestantism in some parts. What the difference is between institutional suppression in one realm and a lack of documented abuse in another may simply be a difference of the Catholics having better bureaucratic tools to measure what's already there that Protestants may sweep under the rug. Sexual abuse can happen in any institution, whether schools or the military or hospitals. It's more scandalous when it happens in settings where people are steadily enjoyed to flee fleshly lusts because while a person may like to have a lot of sex and work in the medical profession the requirements to manage risks doesn't include eternal reward or punishment in a lot of medical settings.
Here's an idea for consideration for the neo-Calvinists, go dig through economic histories and ask to what degree the American middle-class nuclear family and "working class" family existed prior to the New Deal. To what degree has the American suburban family come about through the panoply of New Deal programs set in place before the Second World War? What about removing the gold standard? What about fiddling with interest rates? What about these things existing in tandem with fractional reserve banking? What about the G. I. Bill for education? What about the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, give or take wording in the title? During the last few years in which Wenatchee has done job hunting it was an interesting discovery how much of the welfare net exists for families. It's not as though I've never come across people even inside MH who were on food stamps or needed state assistance. I've heard of a case or two in which a family man could not seriously consider taking a job at Mars Hill because if he did he'd end up on food stamps, he didn't want that, and so he looked for work somewhere else. At the tippy top where Black Dynamite fights Richard Nixon money may be plentiful but on lower rungs in the employment ladder non-profits are not places where employees roll in money.
And as I've intimated and hinted at throughout this blog the idea that 20-somethings can get married and start nuclear families is not economically realistic in most cases. It wasn't even how things played out in the earliest days of Mars Hill and this many of us saw directly as the church was taking shape. It was the expanded informal approach of extended family in which blood and friendship might overlap that a lot of marriages were able to thrive while the 20-something men and women got their footing secure enough to really own their houses and not just live in houses that were only financially feasible for couples who were renting every spare room to whomever they felt they could trust.
In the neo-Calvinist scene I'd hear it said that Paul's instructions about marriage in 1 Cor 7 are conditional on a time of persecution, most likely. We don't know for sure, so the presentation went, but the praxis is that unless you're smuggling Bibles into China you should be married. But what if the "present distress" was a famine? Then Paul's argument becomes a practical consideration, if you live in a time and place where financial resources and food are in short supply it may be wise to not marry unless you absolutely cannot prevent yourself from "coming together". Some people abstain from sex not because they haven't given any thought to married life or attraction but because it wouldn't be financially responsible to seek marriage or appropriate certain famous privileges within married life in a given economic setting.
In light of sex scandals even among neo-Calvinist churches that have come to light in the last few years it hardly seems like the most besetting epidemic to be dealt with in the new Calvinist scene has really been the old epidemic of singleness. The last ten years the neo-Calvinists may have been barking up the wrong tree.