Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The family has no inherent value?!

There was a classic piece of nonsense from leading dissident Michael Mullins over at the Jesuit rag Eureka Street yesterday, attacking the importance of the family for society.

The context is the bishop's recent Social Justice Statement on the Family, which I've blogged on previously.

The family has no inherent value?!

Mr Mullins' basic line is, the family "holds no value in itself but it is an often fruitful means to a morally good life".

Is that view consonant with actual Catholic teaching? I don't think so!

Mullins is trying to argue that the single life has an inherent value and should not be viewed as 'failure'.  That is at least potentially true.  But his piece seems to reflect an utter ignorance of actual Catholic teaching surprising (though not!) for an editor of Eureka Street and of Cath News' weekly 'blog watcher' column.

Worse, his conclusion is that pro-family policies on the part of Government, or demands from the Church that Catholics actually conform to Church teaching on the family, far from being an obligations, are actually a bad thing when they run counter to 'the generally accepted norms of society'. 

Sounds like relativism par excellence!

The family as a means to an end

In fact of course the Church has always taught that the family is the fundamental unit of society, the original cell of social life.  It is a privileged community that stands prior to any public authority and that presents for us an image of ecclesial communion (CCC 2201-2213).

Mr Mullins seems to have forgotten altogether that our aim as Christians is not simply to lead a 'good moral life', but rather to get to heaven.  That would be why marriage is a sacrament, providing grace to the spouses.

He also seems to ignore entirely the most basic reason just why we really have families, because it is not just to help us lead a morally good life - it is in order to perpetuate the human race!

One of the reasons why Australians should be concerned that only 50% of Catholics over 15 are married is that failure to marry generally translates into a failure to have children, at least at a rate sufficient to avoid an ageing demographic that will make it hard for us to care adequately for the elderly in future, and encourage the priestly and religious vocations we need to keep the Church alive in this country.

Australia's currently dire demographic outlook - particularly in the form of the baby boomer bulge - are being hidden to some degree in the short term by massive immigration.  But those aren't sustainable responses in the longer term, as Governments past and present have actually acknowledged.

And in the case of the Church, the shrinkage in family size and number is having dire effects.  Paix Liturgique's most recent newsletter provided some alarming figures for France that I suspect are pretty much mirrored in Australia.  Every year, the newsletter points out, some 800 priests retire.  The current upsurge in vocations - in France around 96 diocesan priests were set to be ordained this year - doesn't go anywhere near replacement rates.

The family as a means of combatting loneliness

Another key reason for being part of a family is that man is at base a social creature.  As Scripture says, 'it is not good that man should be alone' (Gen 2:18).  Men and women complement and complete each other, providing mutual support and room for spiritual and psychological growth.

That's why, for example, we have the model of the Holy Family set before us.

It is certainly possible to thrive alone if one has an intimate relationship with God, as the lives of the hermits, anchorites and others down the centuries attests.  But this is a heroic lifestyle, a special vocation, not a norm appropriate to most.

And frankly it is hard to believe that the continued increase in the number of single person households represents a voluntary choice in most cases.  Rather, it reflects a pattern of increasing secularization, as we discard the ties of family, ditch the concept of a lifelong commitment to another, and insist on living in ever larger spaces rather than facing the compromises involved in sharing.

The single vocation?

Mr Mullins proposes that instead of membership of a family, the test for whether our lives are successful or not is whether we live a life of self-giving, and points to other paths to achieve this.

That is true of course.  While the family is not, as Mr Mullins tries to argue, simply the 'default unit' of society, it does not in fact reflect the highest state of life.  Rather, the choice of celibacy/virginity for the sake of the kingdom is the highest state of life, with a life devoted to contemplation the highest path within that state.

But it has to be a deliberate choice.

It is not enough to find oneself unmarried and so devote yourself to good works.

Is there a solution to the growth in the number of single Catholics living on the margins of our parishes and communities in this country?


We could bring back more systematic discernment of one's vocation.

We could look to create new forms of communal living.  Promote membership of religious orders as tertiaries, or the taking of private vows.  But all these require radical commitments and rethinking.  They require resistance to the creeping secularisation of our thinking.

And of course we could actually promote marriage - make sure there are social functions where young catholics can meet each other, support them to find appropriate partners.

Above all, we must rejectof the 'generally accepted norms of our society' that promote self-indulgence over commitment...


Carob Moll said...

Kate, I hope you will accept this occasional comment.
I agree with your prescriptions, but please note that the population outlook is not dire; Australia increased its population by 1.5% in the 2011 year; of which 43% was due natural increase (i.e. more births than deaths) and not immigration.


Our population would still slowly grow absent immigration.

Please blog on facts.

Note that Catholicism as such does not require us to populate 'big Catholic armies' to make ever-increasing numbers of soldiers and peasants for a Catholic elite to play its geopolitical games, even if the Church did think like this in the Baroque (i.e. traddie-fantasyland) and possibly 19th C periods. You need to get out of 'big Catholic empire' thinking.

As for clergy numbers, Australia has pretty much always relied on foreign clergy imports. Traddies did not have a panic about this in the past, because the source of these imports was comfy, familiar Ireland. Now it is elsewhere. So what? Unless one is a culturally-insecure racist, whats the problem?

Martin S. said...

Eureka Street is a terrible scourge on the life of the Church in Australia.

St. Joseph pray for us.

Martin S. said...

Here was an excellent opportunity for Mr Mullins to reveal what constitutes the gravest threat to Catholics - the state's public philosophy - advanced liberalism. http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2011/07/community-and-liberty-or-individualism-and-statism/ how it works to dissolve institutions like marriage, family and Church and voluntary groups that are large enough to be credible restraints on the expansion of the liberal market-state [Kalb]. How non-discrimination/equal opportunity laws work to suppress these native institutions and artificially support opposing groups small enough to be made economic and therefore political clients.

In other words the great Leviathan 'I' that the ruling class is completely wedded to (Codevilla 'The Ruling Class') WANTS everyone to be tiny atomised 'i's. Amenable to rational bureaucratic control and ultimate dependence.

What those in the Church need to be doing is drawing again from things 'both old and new' in preparation for an end that could well be a fait accompli now [Deneen: 'Unsustainable Liberalism']

""Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen—at least by some people—as a liability rather than as a source of hope. Here it is obligatory to compare today’s situation with the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice its vital energy had been depleted." Cardinal Ratzinger ['Europe and It's Discontents']

Martin S. said...

Eureka Street, CathNews and all associated need to find in themselves to get their bleeding act together. Same sex marriage is the END. That is the stripping of the Church's public respectability - crucifixion follows immediately after.

How do they think they can avoid judgment wasting resources material and intellectual, dividing the Body of Christ, scattering His flock?

Philip Rieff devastatingly describes these kinds of people as therapeutics - desperately trying to translate sacred order into the idiom of the dominant therapeutic anti-culture, in futile hope of holding on to some kind of position of spiritual preceptorship.

These have to be among the most pathetic group of people alive today. Faith was GIVEN them and as a reminder of the gravity of refusing it Christ used the metaphor of 'thrown out and trampled under foot'.

They need to get it together - and now.

Martin S. said...

How our rulers and their 'man shall live on bread alone' is going to work out for them.


We need to be readying our people. Christians were able to live and love in community originally and showed the declining pagan empire how to live. We have this duty again today.

The National Catholic Rural Movement didn't have Permaculture or the Internet, perhaps we could look at that again. Or take a cue from Susannah Black's 'http://distributistreview.com/mag/2012/09/jane-jacobs-urban-distributist-matriarch/

Anyway that stuff CathNews and Eureka Street offer is warmed over death.

Kate Edwards said...

Carob - Please tone down your rhetoric, I'm giving you this go, but...!

In fact I wasn't making a point about population growth overall (because personally I'd be happy if we had zero population growth overall), but the demographic mix. The problem we have is that a rapidly ageing population. That is because the total fertility rate is still below replacement levels.

It is true that there is some natural population increase- but it is mainly coming from from new, non-Christian migrants.

As for importing priests, I certainly have no objection to the practice as I've made clear many times on this blog. But I do think it is a reasonable 'health indicator' of a diocese or country as to whether or not it can 'grow its own' vocations.

And one of the key factors affecting vocations is family size-because parents typically do want to be grandparents! Cut the size of the average family, and you cut the number of vocations. Adn without enough vocatins, the spiritual health of the nation declines.

Nothing to do with your curious views on 'geopolitical' games...

Carob Moll said...

Re population pyramids - look at the ones here for the non-immigrant population.

There just isnt any drastic inverted pyramid to be worried about. There will be challenges, but frankly nothing that is too much to worry about. Nothing that our superannuation, health and public service systems, and our very good (i.e. well administered) church-social-security-and-schooling apparatus cannot sort out.

Beware of rhetoric from American sources simplistically applied here re demographics and decline. Different societies and social and governmental structures.

My understanding is that total fertility levels are irrelevant if a country has good immigration; and as noted, the relevant point is natural population increase, not the children-per-woman derived from that as such. Also I understand that our total fertility rates are pretty good (1.9 or so) which is very good for a western country. Again, its really only a problem if it is catastrophically low, and 1.9 pw (and increasing) isnt catastrophic.

Your point on vocations once again misses the point - we are part of an international church with other limbs that have a surplus of vocations, and can (as has always been the case) share some with us. So, again, no problem.

Kate Edwards said...

Dear Carob,

No American sources involved here, but rather the in depth analysis conducted by the Australian Treasury:


Our total fertilty rates are only 'good' by comparison with countries that are depopulating - 1.9 is not replacement rate.

You might also like to take a look at the updated analysis in the Henry Tax Review. Here is an extract:

"By the middle of this century, Australia's population is projected to rise to around 35 million (Treasury projections), an increase of around 60 per cent from today. The proportion of Australians aged 65 years or older is projected to increase to 22 per cent, from 13 per cent today. Even more remarkably, the proportion of Australians aged 85 years or older is projected to treble to 5 per cent.

The proportion of Australians in work or looking for work is projected to stabilise and then decline significantly over this period. This is in stark contrast to the rising participation trend over the past few decades (see Chart 1.1). It means that demographic change will shift from being a positive influence on income growth per person to a negative one. Coupled with this, the old age dependency ratio (people aged 65 years or older as a proportion of people of working age) is projected to double by the middle of the century. In 40 years time there could be just 2.7 people of working age for each person aged 65 years or older, compared with 5.0 people today and 7.5 people 40 years ago."

And no, immigration doesn't make a huge difference to the age distribution because of selection (ie on quaifications, experience etc that comes with age) and family reunification policies.

Moreover, mass immigration on the scale we are seeing produces its own tensions, particularly when most of the migrants are from non-Christian cultures.

The Henry Report did of course suggest some policy changes to help meet the demographic challenge - but to date, Governments have rejected most of them!

Is there really a huge 'surplus' of vocations elsewhere? Show me the evidence! Certainly some countries and dioceses have many more vocations than we do, but only a very few indeed have very low priest-people ratios. The reality is that some countries still retain the missionary instinct and we are being helped by them, but they also have growing catholic populations.

The bottom line is that a healthy catholic church produces vocations - they don't necessarily have to serve in Australia, but they do need to be there. It is a sign that we care about the sacraments, about our institutions about people praying for us.

Carob Moll said...

"The bottom line is that a healthy catholic church produces vocations - they don't necessarily have to serve in Australia, but they do need to be there."

I agree completely. The point is, we have never produced enough for our own needs - so can we affirm the other side of the coin - have we always been 'unhealthy'? I think thats a clumsy and unhelpful inference to draw from our not covering our own needs from our own populace. Yes, more (psychologically healthy and culturally sensitive) local vocations would be wonderful.
But no, their ongoing absence doesnt mean we are sick.

I will look at those state sources you cite on general demographics

lauermar said...

Face it Carob, you can't win. Kate is correct. You failed to convince me of anything you said. I only *wish* your views on "Catholic Imperialistic geopolitical power" existed. What a better world it would be if faithful Catholics had such power, eh? We could eliminate abortion, attacks on the family and religious freedoms, redefinition of marriage, etc. Instead, we have too much geopolitical influence from ex-Catholic heretics who call themselves Catholic. These moral evils are exported to countries that don't want them! Since when is a dearth of priestly vocations a sign of a healthy church? Kate was too polite. I'm glad you're not my doctor. Only a fool thinks a sudden drop in a patient's normal temperature doesn't mean the patient is sick.