Thursday, November 18, 2010

Does marriage matter?

WASHINGTON (AP) - Is marriage becoming obsolete?

As families gather for Thanksgiving this year, nearly one in three American children is living with a parent who is divorced, separated or never-married. More people are accepting the view that wedding bells aren't needed to have a family.

A study by the Pew Research Center highlights rapidly changing notions of the American family....

Indeed, about 39 percent of Americans said marriage was becoming obsolete. And that sentiment follows U.S. census data released in September that showed marriages hit an all-time low of 52 percent for adults 18 and over.
John Adams warned that "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Adams was perhaps the most religious of the Founders, but his point is not a religious one. He is reminding us that the Constitution is primarily a governing document. It reflects and derives from our cultural and moral values, but it is not the source or repository of those values. It remains the bedrock of our civil society only so long as we remain a reliably moral and just people apart from it. The Constitution was created of, by, and for the American people -- people with a particular culture, character, and creed. Adams knew that our values and our virtues are the ultimate authority, and that if we lose our way as a people, not even the Constitution can save us.

It follows that we require a mechanism, wholly apart from government, to protect and preserve our culture and values. Traditionally, the family and the church have assumed these responsibilities, reliably passing our societal DNA from one generation to the next. But these institutions are breaking down; church attendance has been falling off just as the family has become an endangered species.

As these institutions become less prominent, what will take their place? Nature abhors a vacuum, and man is not exempt from this. Where will we turn when the structure that sustains us begins to atrophy? I fear the answer is government and the trend is already well established. We've given over so much power to government that it no longer simply governs us, it defines us. It's begun to dictate where we can live , what we can eat, what we can drink, what we can buy, what we must buy, and more intrusive decisions.

So the nuclear family, and therefore marriage, matters. It is more than some trivial artifact of antiquity that we can give up without consequence. It fixes us in place that we might remember who we are and what is important to us. And that's essential, because if we lose our definition we risk being increasingly defined by a voracious government that can sate itself only by feeding on our freedoms. I believe this society, robbed of its freedoms, is what Adams anticipated when he observed that our government alone is "wholly inadequate" to the task.

Tragically, few seem to recognize this risk:
About 34 percent of Americans called the growing variety of family living arrangements good for society, while 32 percent said it didn't make a difference and 29 percent said it was troubling.
Count me firmly as part of the 29 percent.

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