Im sure we are all pleased that the Linkers have been blessed with a son,
as Damon Linker reports in Fatherhood,
2002 (November 2002). Moreover, it is good to know that mother and child
(and, we must now add, father) have passed successfully”indeed, triumphantly”through
the perils of gestation, labor, delivery, and middle“of“the“night lactation
it is always a tricky matter”not impossible, but tricky”for the relatively inexperienced
to offer their hard“earned wisdom to the relatively experienced. And those of
us sufficiently worn down by the years, who now get up a few times overnight
just to go to the bathroom ourselves rather than to see to the needs of a newborn,
may perhaps be forgiven for having our suspicions aroused by the fact that Mr.
Linker supposes that he and his wife have now gotten past the most physically
and emotionally taxing era of parenting. God bless you, Damon. May it be so
for the two of you. But Id like a report twenty years or so from now, when
you may well look back on this time as a golden age. (I also note, just in passing,
that although Mr. Linker has the parenting lingo down, a reference to my
wife is still a bit hegemonic, drawing, as it does, the identity of Ms. Linker,
if she has taken that surname in preference to her fathers, rather too firmly
into the orbit of Mr. Linker.)
aroused by the notion that the toughest part might already be past, I began
to note other troubling aspects of Mr. Linkers account of his experience of
fatherhood (if I may be just a bit archaic in my terminology). For example,
I found myself unable to decide whether his heroic middle“of“the“night labors
were motivated chiefly by a laudable effort to help Ms. Linker with burdensome
and tiring responsibilities, or whether they were motivated chiefly by a desire
for experiences he found personally fulfilling. (It is striking, for example,
that he should describe the unconditional love one gives to ones child as a
gift the giver experiences. I had thought the point was that the child should
experience it.) I even detected a slight whiff of regret at his own inability
to lactate, a sad biological fact that should concern those gnostic enough to
think simply in terms of parenting. Im sure he helped, and helped nobly,
on many occasions, but I found myself wondering whether it was just possible
that his desire for fulfilling experience might occasionally have deprived Ms.
Linker of moments feeding her son that could have been calm, still, even highly
sensuous”had it not been for her husband stumbling around in search of fulfillment.
But I may be wrong, and that is surely for the spouses themselves to decide.
Some other matters
are less reserved for private judgment. I am, for instance, surprised that Mr.
Linker, philosophically sophisticated as he is, should suppose that fashioning
a thoroughly modern, egalitarian marriage must ideally mean splitting all
tasks (lactation, alas, aside) down the middle with no division of labor. That
an egalitarian marriage can be structured in such a manner is, of course, obvious.
But its less clear to me why Mr. Linker supposes that (to borrow an analogy
from C. S. Lewis) stones laid in a row should be more appealing than an arch.
Moreover, I am quite confident that, if the day comes when Baby Linker is blessed
with brothers and sisters (known to him, perhaps, as siblings), Mr. Linker and
Ms. Linker will often come to see that equal treatment of these children does
not at all mean identical treatment.
Or again, there
is nothing wrong with spouses deciding to put less emphasis on their work outside
the home in order to share in the pleasures of domesticity (and it is that,
not sacrifice, that Mr. Linker actually has in mind). But I would find this
more persuasive were Mr. Linker less captive to the notion that being at home
with ones child constitutes a horrible deprivation. With apologies to many
fine colleagues past and present, I often found the company of my young children
more interesting than the company of my colleagues. (I have, though, tried as
best I can to be guided by a truth that seems to me immutable: ones children
are never as interesting to others as they are to oneself. I commend this truth
to Mr. Linker, lest the many predictable achievements of Baby Linker incite
in him the impulse to provide regular reports.)
is for my taste just a bit too much slaying of the father going on in Mr. Linkers
essay. He does a disservice, I suspect, to his own father and to many other
fathers in his suggestion that only an experience of fatherhood like his own
(rather brief) experience can enact or express unconditional love. Working hard
to earn a living and thereby to provide for ones children is surely at least
one way to enact such love. With all good will and with the hope that fatherhood
may continue to be as satisfying for him as it has thus far been, I commend
this possibility to Mr. Linker.
Damon Linker is definitely
on to something. As my forthcoming book, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: Religion,
Ideology, and Male Familial Involvement (University of Chicago Press), will
show in greater detail, the rising generation of fathers”especially Christian
fathers like Mr. Linker”are significantly more involved in the lives of their
children than were their fathers and grandfathers. But Mr. Linker goes beyond
his own experience as a father to speculate that contemporary fatherhood is
on course towards a thoroughgoing model of gender equality. He seems unaware
of the fact that the division of labor in contemporary American families remains
strongly gendered in practice, even though most couples subscribe to an egalitarian
ideology in theory.
fathers spend more time with their children than did previous generations, mothers
still do the lions share of child care (and household labor). In 1998, for
instance, the average father of children at home in the United States devoted
just slightly more than half the time to child care (fifty“seven minutes a day)
that the average mother did (104 minutes a day). One of the reasons that fathers
of children at home devote less time to their children than do mothers is that
the vast majority of these fathers work full“time outside the home, while a
majority of mothers do not. Consequently, married fathers with children at home
generally earn about 70 percent of their families income”that is, more than
twice as much as do married mothers. Thus, at least in the U.S., it does not
seem likely that we will be adopting the egalitarian model of family life advocated
by Mr. Linker anytime soon.
Even in European
countries like Sweden that provide generous, paid parental leave to both mothers
and fathers and strong cultural support for egalitarian norms, fathers are much
less likely than mothers to take time away from the labor force to be with their
children. Moreover, these countries also see women in the workforce tending
towards professions like daycare, education, and social services that enable
them to maintain some type of contact with children, and men tending towards
professions like business that have little to do with children. So even high
levels of female labor force participation can mask significant gender differences
in the ongoing level of connection that men and women have to the caring functions
traditionally ascribed to mothers.
Since the 1960s,
the United States has witnessed dramatic gains in paternal involvement among
fathers who reside with their children (sadly, a shrinking share of the population
of fathers). But Mr. Linker should not confuse his brief experience as a new
man, and perhaps the experience of his well“educated peers, with trends in
the nation as a whole. The day when the average American father is up with baby
on a 50“50 basis is by no means in sight.
W. Bradford Wilcox
Department of Sociology
University of Virginia
While I appreciate almost any effort to glorify fatherhood, I believe Damon
Linkers Fatherhood, 2002
suffers from several core errors. These errors lead him astray as he attempts
to discern the role of fathers in contemporary society.
First, Mr. Linker
perceives a generational gap between him and his elders concerning the role
of a father. His argument seems to be that attending childbirth classes and
being present during the birth of his son have given him and his cohort an entirely
new and different perspective on fatherhood. As Mr. Linker and I are only a
year or two apart in age, I suggest that this difference is not generational,
but instead experiential. Might not the critical difference between Mr. Linker
and his fifty“something interlocutor be not that the former was permitted into
labor and delivery, but instead that the latter has actually raised a child”and
probably more than one”to adulthood? I would suggest that it is the eighteen“plus
years of experience as a father, and not the absence of a therapeutic childbirth
class, that has created the gap Mr. Linker experiences.
Second, Mr. Linker
has fallen into the trap that social science graduate students are taught to
avoid from their first day of training. He has extrapolated from his data. Mr.
Linker has three key experiential points”the pre“birth coursework he attended
with his wife, the (vicarious) experience of childbirth, and six months of tending
a newborn infant. From these experiences, Mr. Linker creates an egalitarian
paradigm to cover experiences”the birth of a second child, schooling, sibling
rivalries, puberty, watching children leave home”about which he knows nothing.
This is not to say that one cannot speak about things one has not experienced,
but Mr. Linker hinges his essay on the universality of his personal experience,
leaving his argument lacking where that experience ends.
From his data,
Mr. Linker derives an authoritative endorsement of egalitarian parenting.
Yet, as Harvey Mansfield has forcefully reminded us, the verb to parent is
a recent addition to our language. While the distinction is hard to discern
when the object is a six“month“old infant, I would maintain that Mr. Linker
will soon find out that his job is not to parent, but instead to father”an
entirely different task (albeit with some overlapping responsibilities) than
to mother. Mr. Linker seems to believe that an egalitarian marriage must necessarily
be an androgynous one. Does he really wish the androgynization of marriage”and
by extension, society”to proceed to the point where parenting is all that
a child requires, or deserves? Does he realize where the logic of his argument
leads? To bring up just one difficulty, perhaps Mr. Linker could explain the
behavior of similarly egalitarian new men in Western Europe, with their below“replacement
fertility and high rates of extramarital cohabitation.
I do not believe
Mr. Linker realizes how much his egalitarian marriage rests on the relatively
easy nature of the work he performs (try staying up with the baby after several
successive overtime shifts at the mill) and the fact that he has only one child.
If he is blessed with more children, I suspect he will find that certain stubborn
facts”specialization, division of labor, comparative advantage”might cause him
to question his androgynous model.
essay is not without merit, as he does highlight”following Christopher Lasch
and Allen Carlson, inter alia”the tensions that traditional families have faced
in post“agrarian society. And his concern that the dignity of women not be sacrificed
to societal transformation is certainly a valid one. But Mr. Linker seems to
believe that only women have been affected by these societal changes, and that
adapting to our new world requires abandoning traditional sexual roles. Does
he really believe that nature is so fragile that a century of industrialization
and automation has rendered it obsolete?
There are certainly
tensions between contemporary society and the family. But I would maintain that
people of faith should not surrender to these tensions, but instead resist them.
And let me assure Mr. Linker that men, as well as women, feel the strain. No
one, male or female, can have it all. But men will simply never feel these
tensions to the same extent as do women. Neither Mr. Linker nor I will ever”no
matter how supportive we attempt to be”be able to ovulate or lactate. Biology
has consequences. I would suggest that Mr. Linker accept this fact, get a good
nights sleep, and perhaps wake up with his son early in the morning to permit
his wife a few hours uninterrupted rest.
Douglas A. Ollivant
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
My husband and I have something in common with Damon Linker, author of Fatherhood,
2002 . We too have a new baby boy, born August 2, 2002. Our son joins seven
older sisters and brothers. How commendable for Mr. Linker to get up in the
wee hours to keep his wife company while she nurses the baby; however, my dear
husband is skeptical that a significantly older Mr. Linker will still be doing
so with their eighth newborn.
thoroughly modern, egalitarian marriage in which equality of obligations is
the default position seems appealing on the surface. He anticipates that he
and his wife will both work outside the home, and dodge the babysitter tension
by sharing equally the responsibilities of child“rearing. Realistically, I think
this will be difficult and stressful to achieve. To avoid daycare, parents will
need complementary part“time jobs, full“time swing shifts, or home“based employment.
I am sure Mr. Linker, supportive as he sounds, would not demand that his wife
be out bringing home an equal amount of bacon because he did half the housework.
But there is a regrettable modern phenomenon of husbands who prefer a maximum
wifely paycheck and full“time daycare for the youngsters over supporting a wife
as a stay“at“home mother to the children.
I can testify
from experience that the Linkers may find traditionally female“dominated fields
more compatible with their need for flexibility in employment. Nurtured on the
1960s barrage of feminist ideals and self“fulfillment indoctrination, I chose
to study the nontraditional (for women) field of engineering. Not until my childbearing
years did I realize that part“time and/or flexible jobs in this field are not
the norm. I am encouraging my own daughters to carefully consider the demands
of mothering when choosing a career path, and they are leaning toward more flexible
careers in the medical field and education.
While Mr. Linker
poignantly recognizes that theres no substitute for the act of devoting oneself
to another person, he still seems to think that a career is the answer to the
possibility that a stay“at“home mother might be lonely at home, and he does
not want women to suppress their desire for the goods that come from pursuing
a career. However, there is a cost involved for the family and the church when
women choose en masse the lure of money and recognition rather than the self“sacrificial
route of the homemaker. Relief of loneliness and acquisition of worldly goods
cannot compete with the supreme calling of the stay“at“home mom to lay down
her life for others, and the intangible rewards of pursuing that call. She can
minister to the needs of husband and children and, unlike her working counterpart,
may still have some time and energy to volunteer, to show hospitality, wash
the feet of the saints, relieve the afflicted, and devote herself to doing good
in every way as did the commended woman of 1 Timothy 5:10.
Houghton, New York
Damon Linker is a good modern husband. He is attentive, sensitive, and conscientious
about doing his 50 percent to make a successful egalitarian marriage. He is
also a new father, and in good Fatherhood
2002 style, Daddy Linker does more than the customary share of feeding,
changing, holding, and rocking. It gives him a great deal of satisfaction to
contribute his fair share.
But he and his
wife have been doing full“time Parenthood 2002 for a while now, and its time
for mom to decide whether to stay home with the baby or go to work. Mr. Linker
is, of course, supportive of his wife as she faces this tragic choice. Being
an intelligent man, one whose occupation requires thinking rationally, he is
well“suited to do the pragmatic and moral calculations necessary to playing
his role in the team decision“making process.
up the pros and cons, this is what he comes up with. Feminist ideology is here
to stay”a point for mom working. Lack of handy extended family members”point
for working. Male“egalitarian“partner types cant ask women to suppress their
desire for the goods that come from pursuing an occupation outside the home”another
point for working. Women need the public recognition of the workplace”working.
The length of the maternity and paternity leaves granted under Family and Medical
Leave Act are too short”working scores again.
To be fair, Mr.
Linker tries to help the stay“at“home side by considering the point of view
of premodern conservatives. He sympathizes with traditionalists like his parents,
but he cant, in the end, give credit to the arguments of an old“fashioned generation
that made expectant dads wait in the Stork Room during delivery.
So, after weighing
the arguments advanced by feminism, materialism, and progressivism, Mr. Linker
concludes that some kind of daycare arrangement is obviously justifiable. QED.
I suppose modern
readers would think it petty if someone pointed out that all the arguments on
the working side of his equation are either non sequitors, not true, or what
we used to call vices. And far be it from me to be insensitive to a nice young
husbands stress faced with the heavy moral calculus required to Have It All.
But someone needs to tell Mr. Linker that theres a crucial constant missing
from his equation”the B“A“B“Y. It seems that Childhood 2002 means being the
forgotten factor in the moral equation.
Thank you for publishing Damon
Linkers moving and intelligent dispatch from the front lines of first“time
fatherhood. It is all too easy for a conservative to confuse how things were
done fifty years ago with how nature means for things to be done, and Mr.
Linker exhorts us to shake off any such confusion. It may suit the modern economy
for families to send fathers out to earn bread and keep women home to bake it;
it is less clear that such an arrangement is suitable to the needs of parents
and childrens souls. Do we imagine St. Joseph would have been satisfied to
be with Jesus only a little each evening and on the weekends?
have argued for nearly a century that men and women have no intrinsic differences,
only conventional ones. While this claim seems evidently false to anyone with
the slightest experience of life”let alone the experience of raising boys and
girls”it does not therefore follow that mens and womens spheres must be as
separate and distinct as possible. Children benefit from spending substantial
amounts of time with their fathers: How can we ask our children to love God
the Father if that appellation suggests to them a deity with little spare time
for children and not much knack for ordinary daily caring and loving? Fathers
benefit likewise from the experience of tenderness given and received, over
and over, with patience and exasperation and boredom and hope. Mothers, too,
benefit when fathers spend more time fathering: suddenly spaces open up in their
lives for prayer, for volunteer work, for wage“earning, for reading novels and
maintaining friendships and all the things that get pushed aside by the needs
of young children. How many women might consider that third child (or fourth?
or fifth?) if they thought it would not mean the end of the necessary quiet
spaces in their lives?
I disagree with Damon Linker
about the importance of stay“at“home moms to the raising of children. Yes, our
society has changed, but the fundamental needs of our children have not. Despite
feminisms claims, many intelligent, well“educated women have put public recognition
and the pursuit of a career aside to commit full time to the important task
of raising their children”sometimes, as in my case, at great financial sacrifice.
I have done this because I think there is nothing more rewarding than raising
physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy children, and because I believe
it is one of the most important things I will ever do.
I am not concerned
with feminist ideology or with the egalitarian tendencies of modernity, neither
of which seems to have resulted in the raising of better children. What I am
concerned with is being there when ten“month“old Elizabeth takes her first step,
watching five“year“old David get off the school bus, and listening to two“year“old
Mary happily chatter away. My children will always know that their mom considered
being with them more important than pursing a career as an attorney.
Yes, at times
my life seems unappealing. While other women my age in my profession are consulting
with clients and bringing in sizable incomes, I am changing diapers and pinching
pennies in order to pay off my school loan. Yes, at times I feel isolated, but
the rewards are much greater than any sacrifice that I make. My children are
special, irreplaceable gifts from God, and I am richly blessed and honored that
He has afforded me the privilege of raising these precious human beings. I trust
Mr. Linker and his wife will think long and hard about their sons needs before
deciding who will be there for him.
Fergus Falls, Minnesota
It was a Saturday morning when I read Fatherhood,
2002 , and I had just changed the diaper of my nine“month“old. A few feet
away, my four“year“old was watching Saturday morning cartoons. I was minding
the little ones so that my wife, now pregnant with our fourth child, could have
a chance to sleep in. Mr. Linkers advice that fathers should help out more
in the home was certainly apropos; and of course its hard to argue with that.
However, his other advice was not well taken by this father of four, holder
of two demanding jobs, and husband of a stay“at“home mom, even in the twenty“first
What I take issue
with is Mr. Linkers position that traditional (he used the very telling term
premodern) marriage roles”in which the father earns the family keep, and the
mother cares for the children and home”are neither possible nor desirable for
most people. One of Mr. Linkers main reasons is that traditional roles face
powerful opposition from feminist ideology. With all due respect, if we start
down the slippery slope of worrying about feminist opposition, we will end by
rejecting not just traditional roles, but fatherhood itself. Feminist ideology
has already demonstrated a preference for same“sex relationships and non“procreative
sex. The real question is not whether fathers will face opposition from feminists
(they already do), but whether the opposition deserves respect and acceptance.
I am also uncertain
what is meant by a thoroughly modern, egalitarian marriage. Mr. Linker mentions
this in contrast with male friends from an older generation. For my own part,
I am older than Mr. Linker, but only by five years; I might therefore be considered
of the same generation, and yet I find myself consciously and deliberately out
of step with my generation. The reason? My prior commitment to the God of Judeo“Christian
revelation, who was, generally speaking, accepted by the older generation
and rejected by mine (though there are signs He is making a comeback). Anyone
who really accepts and understands Judeo“Christian tradition will find the teaching
clear, even if often glossed over: the husband is”or at least should be”the
head of the family. While it is very nice to say ones marriage is egalitarian,
the honest truth is that there can be no absolute equality in a marriage”unless
it becomes a divorce. A marriage is like a couple dancing a waltz. Both dancers
are equally important; however, one leads, the other follows. Otherwise they
eventually go separate ways and there is no more dance (partnership) to speak
of. I do not presume to judge the case of Mr. Linker, but in my experience,
most couples who tout their egalitarian marriage are cases in which the wife
is playing the role of head, but neither she nor her husband are likely to admit
it. Absolute egalitarianism in marriage is at best a noble, if unattainable,
goal, and at worst an invitation to self“deception and hypocrisy.
L. A. Carstens
Damon Linker replies:
When I submitted Fatherhood,
2002 to my fellow editors, I warned them that it might be controversial.
My endorsement of government“supported paternity leave would, I surmised, generate
some annoyance on the part of our more libertarian readers. But my colleagues
knew better. Every one of them predicted that my advocacy of thoroughly modern,
egalitarian marriage and parental roles would be far more contentious. How
right they were.
Meilaenders charming letter raises or gestures toward many of the criticisms
launched in the others, I will begin with his. Professor Meilaender thinks he
has caught me in a contradiction”or even a series of them. On the one hand,
I indicate that I did my best to help my wife immediately after the birth of
our son in an effort to relieve her of burdensome and tiring responsibilities;
on the other, I appear to have been motivated to do so by a desire for experiences
[I] found personally fulfilling. Likewise, he notes that I consider the unconditional
love one gives to ones child to be a gift the giver experiences when, in
fact, the point of such a gift should be that the child . . . experience[s]
it. Prof. Meilaender implies that these contradictions or tensions reveal an
underlying confusion on my part: while I sometimes treat being at home with
ones child [as] . . . a horrible deprivation and sacrifice, at other places
I write as if I long to enjoy the pleasures of domesticity.
To judge from
some of the other letters, Prof. Meilaender is not alone in his perplexity.
Vivian Rohe, for example, praises the self“sacrificial route of the homemaker
and condemns me for assuming that one can raise children without a cost. Judy
ONeill, by contrast, apparently believes that I consider the life of a full“time
homemaker to be one of unremitting drudgery”and that my wife and I have decided
to rely on daycare in order to allow her to avoid it. (For the record, we have
no such plans.)
So which is it?
Do I think that caring for ones children is a burden or something from which
we benefit? As I worked very hard to make clear in my essay, I think it is both.
Indeed, I must admit to being somewhat dismayed that so many readers failed
to understand that I meant to be making the simple and obvious, but also profound,
point that raising children involves sacrifice as well as joy”and even that,
paradoxically, the former can lead to the latter, which is something to which
Ms. Rohe rightly draws our attention when she writes of the intangible rewards
of pursuing . . . [the] call to devote ones life to another. I thus consider
raising a child to be a very great good, although also a complex one that requires
the sacrifice of other goods on the part of both parents.
I suspect that
confusion about my position arose, at least in part, from the fact that I meant
to emphasize that mothers and fathers have traditionally had to make very different
kinds (and degrees) of sacrifices in raising children”and that these differences
have changed over time. Men, for instance, have traditionally been called upon
to sacrifice relatively little, since their role as provider for the household
did not fundamentally change with the arrival of children; whether a couple
had no children, one child, or several, the mans responsibility consisted primarily
in supporting the family financially by going to work outside the home.
With these traditional
husbands and fathers in mind, Prof. Meilaender informs us that working hard
to earn a living and thereby to provide for ones children is perfectly compatible
with enact[ing] or express[ing] unconditional love. Im sure it is. Still,
I wonder why he so stubbornly resists the possibility that, in contributing
more than they traditionally have to the life of the home”that is, in recognizing
the domestic goods (and sacrifices) from which their traditional roles have
excluded them”fathers might become capable of enacting or expressing that love
in a purer, more direct way.
and rewards faced by women”traditionally assigned to the task of caring for
the children full“time in the home”have been very different. As I pointed out
in my column, the structure of premodern social life provided substantial support
to mothers. But today that structure has largely broken down, frequently leaving
them isolated and overwhelmed (as Diane Grotberg, for one, admits). Moreover,
many women (and not only women) have come to realize that their exclusion from
activities outside the home was based largely on false assumptions about their
natural capacities and the activities to which they are naturally suited. (Ill
return to the issue of nature in a moment.) The result is that women today find
themselves divided between the same competing (private and public) goods as
men, although for many women the division is much more stark.
are the tensions that define modern fatherhood and motherhood”and it is the
attempt to mitigate them that leads so many families to pursue the egalitarian
ideal I sketched in my column. W. Bradford Wilcox (along with L. A. Carstens
and Ms. Rohe) is certainly right to note that, in practice, the division of
labor in contemporary American families remains strongly gendered. Yet surely
the fact that, as Prof. Wilcox concedes, most couples today subscribe to an
egalitarian ideology in theory is, historically speaking, a profoundly significant
change that will have important long“term consequences for the structure of
the family, even if the day when the average American father is up with baby
on a 50“50 basis is by no means in sight.
And here we come
to the heart of the matter. Confusions about my position aside, perhaps the
most striking thing about the letters is their almost uniform hostility to my
praise for an alternative to the hierarchical model of marriage. Many were inspired
by this praise to defend the traditional family structure against what they
took to be my assault upon it (what Prof. Meilaender calls my slaying of the
father). These defenses take a number of forms. Some, like Ms. ONeill and
Mr. Carstens, seek to defend tradition as such, baldly asserting that (in Carstens
words) the husband is”or at least should be”the head of the family. I must
admit to finding such declarations unpersuasive. One problem with them is that
they presuppose the existence of a coherent, intact tradition on these matters
that, for many of us, no longer exists. Despite what Ms. ONeill thinks she
can infer from my column, my own family, for example, was far from traditional.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old, Ive had no contact with my
mother since I was nine, and my younger brother and I were raised exclusively
by my father from that time forward. Needless to say, for children of such untraditional
households, appeals to the tradition of the stay“at“home mom and the full“time
working dad cant help but sound like a call to innovation.
And this points
to the more fundamental problem with such appeals”namely, that tradition is
considered to be prescriptive only when we believe that it embodies, reflects,
or expresses truths that transcend the merely traditional. What I understood
myself to be doing in my column was simply describing a situation in which growing
numbers of husbands and wives no longer believe that the traditional division
of labor in the family adequately embodies, reflects, or expresses the truth
about how best to answer the call to love and serve one another and their children.
of the limits of appealing to mere tradition can be detected in some of the
letters. Hence Prof. Meilaenders and Douglas A. Ollivants (tentative) attempts
to bring in notions of human nature. Yet even here, I am struck by how weak
the arguments are. Oddly enough, both authors speculate that my desire to participate
more fully in raising my son is somehow connected to a deep“seated longing to
lactate. The proposal would seem to imply that Messrs. Meilaender and Ollivant
believe traditional family roles are linked in some mysterious way to a womans
ability to breastfeed, although, unfortunately, they never explain the connection”just
as they fail to confront the fact that breastfeeding was actively discouraged
by doctors and social norms in the middle decades of the twentieth century,
when the traditional division of labor in the family was rarely questioned.
All of which reluctantly leads me to conclude that their suggestion has about
as much substance”and perhaps the same intention behind it”as a playground taunt
To the bit about
lactation, Mr. Ollivant adds the observation that women alone can ovulate. True
enough. Though in this case, too, I fail to see what such a biological fact
tells us about the suitability of either parent for raising (as opposed to conceiving
and birthing) children. (Id also like to suggest to Mr. Ollivant that he apply
his very sensible warnings about the dangers of extrapolating from available
data to his thoroughly unsubstantiated assertions about a link between the prevalence
of new men in Europe and the continents below “replacement fertility and
high rates of extramarital cohabitation.)
Im afraid that
if the hierarchical family has any hope of surviving in the long term, its
going to require a better defense than this. I, for one, doubt that such a defense
is possible”as does, I presume, Jennifer DeRose, whose praise I note with gratitude.
The traditional familys stark division of labor is simply too much at odds
with the way too many of us now live and think about what it means for a husband
to love his wife as himself (Ephesians 5:33). Eventually most Americans”if
not the authors of the most critical letters, then almost certainly their kids”will
come to accept and affirm the not“so“radical proposition that, for their own
sake no less than that of their wives and children, fathers can and should contribute
more to the family than a paycheck.
Mary Ann Glendons trenchant analysis in The
Hour of the Laity (November 2002) points ineluctably to the emerging dilemma
for those concerned to find the appropriate role for lay people in the current
crisis of the Church in the United States.
On the one hand,
the proper and specific sphere for lay participation in the Churchs mission
is”as Vatican II, Pope John Paul II, and common sense all indicate”the secular
order (the world). On the other hand, not just the current crisis but the
right ordering of relationships within the Christian community both demand a
heightened role for the laity within Church structures and institutions, including
a meaningful part in the shaping of decisions. We have hardly begun the hard
but crucial task of sorting“out that this situation requires.
As this work
goes forward, it will be essential to set aside the clericalist mentality, common
to so many laity and clergy alike, that raises obstacles to clear thinking.
Flannery OConnor got it exactly right. When someone asked her, back in 1959,
why she, a Catholic writer, wrote so much about Protestant zealots, she replied:
To a lot of Protestants I know, monks and nuns are fanatics, none greater.
And to a lot of the monks and nuns I know, my Protestant prophets are fanatics.
For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic
and have this intensity of belief you join a convent and are heard from no more;
whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to
join and you go about in the world, getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing
the wrath of people who dont believe anything much at all down on your head.
remarkably acute; and it cuts more ways than one. It is not necessary to be
an aging 60s“style Catholic dissident, as Professor Glendon unfortunately suggests,
to believe that clericalism”which reserves a truly serious living of faith,
whether in the Church or in the world, to clerics and religious”must finally
go. Only then will a comprehensive response to the crisis on the part of the
Catholic laity truly be possible.
The Catholic reader, saturated but still shocked at ongoing Scandal Time,
turns eagerly to Professor Mary Ann Glendons article The
Hour of the Laity for some help, as she puts it, in seeing things afresh.
A lawyers clarity, perhaps, or at least the fresh insight of an observant layperson.
But the tip“off
to the inadequacy of her interesting comments comes very early: the sleeping
giant body of laity is beginning to stir”roused by media coverage
of clerical misconduct. Is the coverage to be yet again complained
of? What is missing, of course, as the reader continues, is any discussion at
all of the role of the bishops. As Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, and
others have repeatedly pointed out, the present scandal is two“edged”clerical
abuse and episcopal malfeasance. The outrage among the laity in Boston,
for example, now described as the crisis epicenter, is primarily directed at
Bernard Cardinal Laws cover“up policy. But Prof. Glendon finds no need to even
mention the bishops until the fifth page of a seven“page article and the word
clericalism never appears at all. One might have expected that the habladors
of which she speaks would turn out to be the episcopacy, but, no, they are the
assimilated theologians, educators, and clergy.
have indeed been repeatedly addressed by letters from the popes and called by
the fathers of Vatican II; Prof. Glendon thinks they have lost a lot of mail,
but where was the letter carrier? Isnt the shepherd“teacher the carrier of
the message to the laity?
There have been some attempted
lay initiatives aimed at engaging the secular culture, at the evangelization
for which Vatican II called and for which Pope John Paul II pleaded in his largely
ignored exhortation, Christifideles Laici. Nationally, Catholic Campaign
for America has flopped; Catholic Alliance has flopped. Neither had much support
from the bishops and, in fact, Catholic Alliance was kicked by at least two
bishops as it stumbled out of the starting gate.
Sounding ever more like a defensive
spear carrier for the bishops, Prof. Glendon goes on to attack the presumptuousness
of Bostons Voice of the Faithful (VOTF)”a mixed bag of dissenters and of enraged
Catholics loyal to the Magisterium”purporting to speak for all the laity and
also to flog the hapless Governor Frank Keating. How quickly it is forgotten
that Keating was appointed by the self“applauding, media“driven bishops at Dallas,
along with Leon Panetta and Bob Bennett; these are secular political choices
already regretted. (One has to wonder who authored the attack on Keating in
the Boston Pilot where his words were distorted to suggest that
he was urging protesting Catholics to skip Mass.)
It is obvious that the laity do
have to be energized to become evangelizers, reminded of their history in the
extended sense. This has to come from the bishops who need to heed the Popes
call to be not afraid. The bishops have to emerge from under their desks,
use their crosiers, and be shepherds. The crosier was once known as the rod
of correction. It is dispiriting to learn of one cardinal saying that he was
happy with the way the bishops had handled the crisis and of another shepherd
who described himself on the radio as but a saluter. (In my own diocese, after
dilatory reaction to three distinct scandals, the bishop worsened the public
relations”read evangelization”disaster by having a letter read in every parish
in which he insists”five times”that he acts immediately.)
Vatican II did indeed call for
lay participation in the Church and in the evangelization of the culture. It
has not happened. Instead of heading out from the pews to engage the culture,
part of the congregation wanted to assimilate and part wanted to charge into
the sanctuary. Confusion and blurring of roles abounded as to proper ministry
and the nature of evangelization. Clericalism continued in its two formats:
collegial clericalism in which the fraternity bonds together to protect the
image, and condescending clericalism in which the pray, pay, and obey attitude
toward the laity continued and even the advisory parish council concept collapsed.
An understanding needs to be reached
as to how this hierarchy“laity cooperation can really work. Voice of the Faithful
may be dismissable as a bunch of tired Call“to“Action types, seizing the opportunity
that the crisis presents to push old agendas, but the reality remains that the
episcopacy has not figured out how to cope with and motivate a laity too assimilated,
too sophisticated in a secular way. As but one glaring example, the bishops
educational efforts have been so diffused and the bishops personally so risk“averse
that the majority of Catholics have no problem routinely supporting pro“abortion
Before the long“awaited hour
of the laity can even begin, there must be a modus vivendi worked out between
the neo“Protestantism that the enragées of VOTF seem to invite and which Prof.
Glendon fears, on the one hand, and the condescending and collegial clericalism
which Prof. Glendon does not mention, on the other. The bishops have to act
like bishops, ignore the secular media, become countercultural, and find the
courage to use their crosiers.
Mary Ann Glendons portrait, The
Hour of the Laity , is incomplete. Her comments on faith illiteracy and
the need for greater adult formation are valid. Yet she has overlooked two fundamental
elements: trust and leadership”especially from the clergy and the hierarchy.
I know quite a few committed faithful
lay Catholics, steeped in fidelity to the Magisterium, who have devoted their
talents to evangelization. Sadly, they have become disenchanted with the substandard
business and administrative practices that got in the way of fulfilling the
mission. In one particular case, a strongly pro“life woman with superb credentials
in fund“raising and communications raised serious legitimate concerns about
the institutions investment policy and related fiduciary practices. The reaction
from management and board leadership (both lay and episcopal) was dismissive
and evasive. When she relayed this experience to a highly respected priest“friend,
his comment was, One thing you need to learn about the Catholic Church is that
it values loyalty over honesty.
While devout Catholics will readily
agree that the Church is fundamentally a sacramental communion, it is also true
that the Church must operate as an institution. It is in this arena that the
Church has much to learn from its counterparts in other faiths”particularly
regarding financial support, where Catholic giving is far behind. Since philanthropy
is rooted in trust, our Church leadership must come to terms with the full impact
of the mistrust that has arisen from the clergy sexual“abuse scandal.
It is on these very temporal matters
that the Church is much in need of reform, both structurally and culturally.
The laity, faithful and literate, stands ready to serve.
Susan Emily Jordan
Mary Ann Glendons The Hour
of the Laity , an analysis of American Catholicisms loss of identity, also
accurately describes the situation of confessional Protestants (Lutheran, Reformed).
As our ethnically connected communities (Swedish, German, Dutch) disperse and
the privatizing pressures of American culture intensify, we too find it increasingly
difficult to maintain a living confessional heritage. Our storytellers also
seek out other stories to tell. And in my own denomination (the Christian Reformed
Church) we also see a growing democratizing of our institutional church life
accompanying the decline in awareness of Reformed identity. I find Professor
Glendons analysis illuminating, challenging, and encouragingly hopeful. Thank
It seems to me that there is another
dimension to her analysis. Does the public silence of the laity not receive
implicit encouragement when the institutional Church itself through its bishops,
assemblies, synods, and social justice offices enters the public arena as one
more political lobbying group? When the Church goes beyond sending President
Bush a letter reminding him of Christianitys traditional teaching on just war
and asks him to consider these criteria in dealing with world terrorism, and
instead specifically writes to tell him that it is against the gospel to invade
Iraq, what happens? First, the laity receives a message that its public involvement
as believers is not necessary. After all, the official Church is already
publicly witnessing for Christ and the gospel. What is every bit as serious
is the message sent to the laity that their political judgment as Christians
is not to be trusted. After all, there may be church members who come to the
wrong conclusion. Now partisan politics becomes identified with the gospel
itself and political disagreement becomes dissent from the gospel.
I submit that this is an untenable
position for the Church. The irony is that in a feverish desire to be relevant
and involved in public life, to equip Gods people for more active service in
the broader arena of culture and society, the institutional Church may in fact
be contributing to immobilizing the laity. The result would be an even greater
loss of identity, with the Churchs story known by fewer and fewer. The lesson?
The Church may be more relevant when as an institution it in fact does less.
Professor of Systematic Theology
Calvin Theological Seminary
Grand Rapids, Michigan
I commend you for Mary Ann Glendons The
Hour of the Laity , which is an excellent and timely article. I would like
to make two comments on the article, the first being a friendly correction and
the second a friendly amendment.
Professor Glendon describes a
great upsurge . . . of lay associations, formation programs, and ecclesial
movements. These groups, so varied in their charisms, so rich in storytellers,
are providing a way for Catholics to stay in touch with each other and with
their tradition under diaspora conditions. She then gives a list of such groups,
among which she includes Opus Dei, mistakenly in my view. Opus Dei is not an
association, a formation program, or an ecclesial movement. It would not even
be correct to call it a lay organization, at least not any more correct than
it is to call the Archdiocese of Boston a lay organization. Opus Dei was founded
by a priest, has a bishop at its head, and numbers many priests and bishops
among its members; its full name, before it was erected as a personal prelature,
was the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. This is surprising
to many people who know that the great majority of the faithful of Opus Dei
are laypeople, but to notice this is to make a theological point very much in
tune with the rest of Prof. Glendons article.
The charism of Opus Dei is secularity ,
which describes a missionary outlook rather than a state of life. Secularity
implies that Christians look to the created world and the age in which they
live not as an enemy to be fought or as a disease from which to be cured, but
as something to be loved and redeemed.
Secularity does not mean secularism ,
which is loving the world without attempting to order it toward Gods will.
Rather, it is the conviction that Christ became incarnate and founded the Church
in the world so as to sanctify all that is good and noble around us. This conviction,
and the outlook and practices that follow from it, can be shared by anyone,
priests as well as laypeople, which is why priests as well as laypeople can
join Opus Dei. Since there are vastly more laypeople than priests, it only makes
sense that there are vastly more laypeople than priests in Opus Dei. The large
absolute number of lay faithful in Opus Dei to some extent follows from its
charism, rather than being essential to it. (Obviously, Opus Dei hasnt cornered
the market on secularity, any more than the Franciscans have cornered the market
on poverty; the particular role of Opus Dei is to foster and teach secularity,
and to form people to love the world passionately and pursue holiness just as
Secularity is opposed to a theological
tendency, influenced by the beauty of the monastic vocation with its contemptus
mundi (contempt for the world), to act as though to follow Christ completely
requires that everyone, not just those with a monastic vocation, must reject
the world and witness to the life to come where we will live as angels (Matthew
22:30). It is also opposed to the view Prof. Glendon describes in her article:
that the best way for the laity to be active is to be involved in ecclesiastical
governance. I found Glendons quotation from Basil Cardinal Hume to be exactly
right: the Christians task is to evangelize the world, and an excessive attention
to the workings of the Church is almost always an unhelpful distraction.
Daniel P. Moloney
Doctoral Candidate in
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
Mary Ann Glendon replies:
Russell Shaw hits the nail on
the head when he writes that we must set aside the clericalist mentality if
we are ever to properly sort out the relationship between clergy and laity both
within the secular order and within the institutional Church. Mr. Shaw understands,
as Charles Molineaux and Susan Jordan do not, that clericalism afflicts the
laity as well as the clergy. That mentality leads to confusion in both spheres
about their complementary roles in evangelization, and to passivity on the part
of laypeople just where their active presence as Christians is most needed”in
public and professional life.
Mr. Molineauxs clericalism displays
itself in his complaints that bishops have not been letter carriers of papal
messages to the laity and have failed to remind us laypeople of our history
and our mission. I, too, would welcome more vigorous teaching by bishops, but
does Mr. Molineaux really need a bishop to point him to what is written to and
about laypeople in Christifideles Laici ? Mr. Molineaux takes me to task
for devoting little attention to bishops in my article on the laity. If I were
writing about bishops, I would readily agree with him that they ought to ignore
the secular media and become countercultural. Mr. Molineaux would have done
well to heed that advice himself last spring before using or being used by the
secular media to call for the resignation of Bernard Law, one of this nations
most countercultural (prolife, pro“poor) cardinals.
Ms. Jordan characterizes my article
on the laity as incomplete for failing to criticize the bishops. Her letter,
however, is incomplete in a more troubling way. Over the past year, Ms. Jordan
has been prominently featured as a leader and organizer on the Voice of the
Faithful website. Her letter speaks of trust, but her neglect to mention that
affiliation does not inspire confidence. The letter puts me in mind of what
Dr. Johnson once said of a dinner guest: The more he talked of honor, the faster
I counted my spoons.
It is hard to know what to make
of Ms. Jordans vague allegation that the business practices of unnamed Church
leaders interfered with evangelization by an unnamed lay woman. This sounds
to me like one side of an employment dispute. Since when did lay people have
to receive a salary in order to bring Christ to the world? As Paule Verdet,
a veteran of Catholic Action who teaches at Boston University, recently wrote
to me, The formula chosen by Voice of the Faithful to express their goal, Keep
the faith and change the Church, means very little to me. Id rather say, Live
the faith and change the world!
No less problematic than clericalization
of the laity is secularization of the clergy. I am grateful, therefore, to Professor
Bolt for making the important point that inappropriate involvement in worldly