When people get educated, get a job, get married, and then have babies, and in that order, their lives go dramatically better. George Will wrote yesterday about the “Success Sequence.” Look at what happens when young people follow this route:
A comparably stunning 55 percent of this age cohort have had children before marriage. Only 25 percent of the youngest baby boomers (those born between 1957 and 1964) did that. Eighty-six percent of the Wang-Wilcox millennials who put “marriage before the baby carriage” have family incomes in the middle or top third of incomes. Forty-seven percent who did not follow the sequence are in the bottom third.
Will writes a compelling piece that is information dense, but wisdom and understanding poor. He made no mention of God, faith, family, and the church and the role of these institutions in initiating and keeping the Success Sequence on track.
Parents who believe that education, self-sufficiency, and marriage before children are going to raise their kids with those beliefs and more importantly, choose environments that support those beliefs and strengthen those beliefs. Their beliefs drive their reasoning which drives their decisions.
These beliefs, and the social pressure to keep those beliefs, are especially important for the economically fragile — those in the lower income strata for whom every deleterious choice can have economically devastating consequences. With fewer social resources, savings, and prospects, a bad decision can mean an immediate and lifetime filled with pain and poverty.
What institution reinforces life-affirming beliefs and gives social and economic support to people beyond their families? The State? No. The Church.
George Will, libertarian and devout atheist, ends his piece with these prescriptions for the dire illness of single-parenthood and poverty:
Reversing social regression using public policies to create a healthy culture is akin to “nation-building” abroad, an American undertaking not recently crowned with success. Wang and Wilcox recommend education focused on high-level occupational skills, subsidizing low-paying jobs, and “public and private social marketing campaigns,” from public schools to popular media, promoting marriage toward the end of the success sequence. [Emphasis added.]
Perhaps, however, unfortunate new realities are the result of the disregard of old principles.
There’s no mention of who taught those “old principles” or even what those “old principles” are or how the community supported those principles.
It used to be understood that people should be married before babies came into the world. It was shameful to have a child without a father. It was shameful to be unmarried. It was shameful to get divorced. It was shameful to not support one’s children. People knew they were wrong for having sex before or outside of marriage. They also knew a baby might come out of the union and that “problem” (thank you Barack Obama) would be dealt with by either a Shotgun Wedding, adoption, or shamefully, by a man running away from his responsibility.
Most pregnant girls today don’t feel shame. Nor do the disinterested boys encouraging abortions. Shame is so rarely used as a social tool that when a pregnant single mom in a parochial school wasn’t allowed to walk in graduation, even conservatives balked. At least she was keeping the baby rather than have an abortion. True. At least she finished her education. True. But why shouldn’t there be social consequences for violating the belief system that would protect her life and that of her child? She and her baby would be far better off had she waited until marriage to have sex; waited until after marriage and graduation to have a baby. But she was impulsive and selfish. She did not think of her family and community who would have to support her. She did not think of the strain on herself and how that would affect her baby. She did not consider how that child needs a consistent father figure for whole development. The father of that child did not think of those things, either.
Shame serves a purpose. It amplifies the social stakes for other women and men considering the same path. In a day and age where abortion is an alternative, being shamed can make abortion appealing and this is abominable. Whether with abortion, adoption, or raising a baby, a girl deals with the consequences of sexual liberties, and those consequences are not romantic and they’re forever. Modern feminism and the culture that has swallowed feminism’s beliefs, never quite deal with the enslaving consequences of their belief system. A lifetime of guilt? A lifetime of struggle? No matter what, the woman has a lifetime of something should she get pregnant before she is educated, with a job, and married, or married to a man with a job.
The “old principles” that Will alludes to are taught in church. Don’t fornicate or adulterate. Take care of your children (I Timothy 5:8). Get married (I Corinthians 7:9). Work hard (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Don’t get divorced (Matthew 5:31). Care for widows and orphans (James 1:27). Take care of the hungry and needy (Matthew 25:35-45). How quaint, right?
But regular churchgoers do follow these social constructs more devotedly and enjoy more sex, happier marriages, better socioeconomic outcomes, fewer divorces, give more to charity, volunteer more, and are generally happier. Devoted churchgoers are more likely to be conservative. They’re more likely to see the cold indifference and limitations of the state.
George Will is right. The state is woefully inadequate at shaping behavior. The church and the families who attend can be extremely effective.
Millennials, though, are less religious, less likely to see the tangible value in their educations, and less likely to interact with, have sex with, much less get married to and have kids with someone. And when they have kids, they’re more likely to do so outside of marriage. Whose fault is that?
The late Boomers and the Gen X-er parents were and are less likely to take their kids to church, less likely to preach abstinence (it’s naive, you see), less likely to stay married, oversold education generally (instead of job skills specifically), undersold personal responsibility, and helicoptered or ignored. A generation of technologically connected but humanly isolated, morally ambivalent people with fewer community and spiritual ties will see few examples of solid, God-fearing, church-attending, job-holding, marriage-valuing people and are confused as to why poverty descends when he or she buys the moral-equivalence and lives it by having sex, getting pregnant (or an STD), dropping out of school, taking a menial job, with no supportive father, and ends up on food stamps.
This single mother likely has little family support, less extended family support, and social isolation with no community. She is exhausted. She is scraping by. She is alone. She is desperate. She is confused because she has been sent the message her whole life that she doesn’t need a man, that men let you down, that there are no good men out there, and that only the weak-minded need God or those archaic beliefs. She marches into Walmart with her EBT card entitled and angry with her three kids in tow. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The sexual revolution forgot to tell her about this part.
Then along come the pointy heads talking about the Success Sequence. The logic of good choices is obvious to them. But it just seems like so much condescension to the mom struggling day to day and for her children watching her. What’s a good choice anyway?
If a person admits that there is a good choice, then there is such thing as a bad choice. And just as bad choices have consequences, so do good choices. And what many liberal, or as this case, libertarian, elites divine by logic — that education, job, marriage then children is a prescription for success — must be actively taught and encouraged with social pressure for most people.
The problem is that most liberals and many conservatives and libertarians are loath to acknowledge that there are better choices (that’s moralizing) and that mores enforced by social pressure work (that’s mean). What is really mean, though? In service to protecting feelings and making everyone feel good about their life choices, poverty, and social isolation is now generational. It’s not unlike the minimum wage hikes that hurt the very people they’re meant to help. Liberals march on anyway even as kiosks replace low-wage workers. High minimum wage, consequence-free sex, and no moral absolutes feel pretty but have ugly results.
The poverty-solution is not easy. Jesus, himself, said that the poor will always be with us (Matthew 26:11). However, it is possible to improve the situation. People who know the answers about what leads to success must evangelize and convert. Sure, that means preaching about education, but there is also actual preaching — as in, preaching in a house of worship. There must be social support, too — that’s a politically correct term for love and community. Government workers stink at this. Christians can be very good at it, though.
It’s time for the church and Christians to do better. Teach better. Evangelize better. Convert better. Serve better. There’s fertile ground out there. As always, the workers are too few.
For those who don’t believe and who value sexual expression over all else, find a better answer to social ills than the family with a mother and father, and the church. Find a better belief system than the Judeo-Christian concept of right and wrong. Find a better social safety net than a church — people willing to feed, clothe, and protect a needy person til they’re on their feet again. A church is a built-in community, but there are expectations and there are teachings and there is right and wrong.
It’s the latter that many elites cannot abide. Even as they live conservative, and maybe even Christian lives, they cannot voice the truth: that unwed motherhood leads to ruination, that fathers matter, that marriage matters, that delaying gratification and getting an education matters. That’s way too judgy.
Since, as George Will admits, the state stinks at these kind of solutions, what’s the answer? Likely, it is to play pretend that free sex is free while the social fabric unravels.