One day, I was explaining the tension between modernity and fidelity to orthodox Christianity and the implications of that discord to an intern. Nodding along, she interrupted my eloquent lecture: “Yeah, it’s like, we go to church, but we also watch The Daily Show.”
The troublesome relationship between Christianity and its cultural surroundings is nothing new. A chunk of the New Testament is devoted to instructions for churches in Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi and Rome struggling to figure out what it means, exactly, to be “Christian.” Two-thousand years later, the Church continues to struggle with similar questions, albeit with a twist. The sect went viral. Some folks even got on a boat and established a new nation based on the idea that human beings were endowed by God with some fundamental rights. Soon, the script was flipped. It was no longer about carving out a unique witness in the midst of pagan culture, but about preserving the Christian story in a somewhat theistic one.
Or, as my intern explained, it’s a showdown: Orthodoxy versus Oprah-doxy.
There was a time when ideas were taken seriously, considered carefully, and implemented cautiously. When Abraham Lincoln ran against Stephen Douglas, they engaged in debate seven times in three months. Each time, one candidate would speak for 60-minutes, the other would give a 90-minute response, followed by a 30-minute rejoinder. The nation was captivated.
More recently, William F. Buckley’s Firing Line gave the stalwart grandfather of the modern conservative movement opportunity to engage in lengthy dialogue and debate with leading intellectuals in a variety of fields ranging from politics to literature. In 1988, the show was reduced from 60-minutes to thirty; in 2000, Buckley stepped down.
Intellectual curiosity still exists in pockets in the United States, but more common is a pseudo-intellectual curiosity of the sort evidenced by Sunday morning talk shows, Sudoku and Starbucks. One need not explore the history and heritage of furniture to give the appearance of taste; just go to Pottery Barn.
More common still is intellectual abandonment. Americans don’t think, they feel. They stumble through life gut first. Such e-motion stems from a culture that preaches “Baby, you were born that way,” and is subsidized by mediating social institutions -- families, schools, the media -- built on shifting sand. The result is an ever-expanding nanny state that refuses to allow its chicks to experience -- and learn from -- negative consequences.
One victim of this is marriage. Senator Rob Portman is the latest to allow his heart to supersede his brain on this issue, but he won’t be the last. Those who understand what marriage is and why it matters have a two-fold task: first, to teach their lessons far and wide; second, to recognize the superiority of emotional arguments and make some.
What is marriage? It’s a permanent, exclusive bond between one man and one woman for the creation and nurturing of children. Why does marriage matter? Because experience and data tell us that family breakdown -- especially the absence of fathers -- results in calamity. Expensive calamity.
No amount of love from two moms can replace the contribution of a dad; and no amount of love from two dads can replace the role of mom. Someone should ask Rob Portman which of his parents was extraneous.
Preserving the traditional meaning of marriage has nothing to do with the morality of certain forms of sexual expression. In a free society, the state should preserve the right of consenting adults to do what they want within the broad confines of the law. Where certain inequities exist in the law, legislative fixes can be made without undermining the unique role of marriage as a social good. For example, the Windsor case coming before the Supreme Court results from a taxation disparity. Rather than redefining marriage for the nation, wouldn’t it make sense to simply repeal the Death Tax? Everyone wins.
CPAC 2013 was a depressing showcase for those of us who understand what marriage is and why it matters. Conservatives passionately cheered for the next round of presidential hopefuls, waved “Stand with Rand” signs, and had their picture taken with Michele Bachmann. But few remember that the party to whom they are so devoted was founded in opposition to the “twin relics of Barbarism” slavery and polygamy. In contrast, freedom and marriage stood as the twin pillars of society, sufficient cause for a new political movement.
As marriage is lost, whether to emotion or the sycophantic pursuit of political victory, can freedom be far behind?