As I’ve mentioned before , I’m leading a seminar on the family and political thought. There are seven of us all told, five smart and accomplished young women, a sharp young man, and their cranky middle-aged professor. We’re finishing up by reading the Girgis/Anderson/George book on marriage , which they for the most part don’t like.

If I had to name one reason for their dislike, it’s the tight connection between marriage and children that the book draws. All of them say they want to get married, but I haven’t heard one express any real enthusiasm for having children. I suppose that that might change with age (and the right spouse), but I’ll credit them with having given the matter some serious thought and won’t attribute it to the short-sighted self-absorption of youth. So for them marriage isn’t even in principle about having kids. It is about emotional intimacy and lifelong commitment. Again, I give them credit for distinguishing between the emotions of the moment and the moral commitments that begin from, but transcend, those emotions.

Of course, I agree with Girgis and company that there’s no principled distinction between this sort of “marital” promise and any other contract into which I might enter to satisfy the passion of the moment. The energy underlying the commitment comes from my integrity or my interest in appearing to possess integrity (the difference, perhaps, between a Kantian and a Hobbesian reading of the contract). The state might enforce such contracts simply because we want it to, just as we would want it to enforce other contracts that provide goods to the partners. But we couldn’t regard them as anything special, with all the costs that the book well elucidates—costs, by the way, that we’re already paying.

My nightmare is this: There’s a continuum between the attitudes my students display and the largely unappealing portrait of prospective parenthood sketched by this anonymous father . Here’s hoping his twin boys never read his self-indulgent expressions of dismay (pre-partum depression?) at the prospect of bringing them into the world. (I can’t help but think in this connection of friends for whom similar treatments produced triplets, to add to the boy they already had. My friend’s quip: “We wanted three, but settled for four.” Amen, brother.) May the grace of God rescue my students from harboring the thoughts so frankly expressed in that post. And may the grace of God change this man’s heart, so that he and his wife come to welcome the gifts they have been given.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg


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