by David P. Goldman
A degree of resignation over the gay marriage issue is evident from the conservative camp, marked by Matthew Lee Anderson's exchange with Ross Douthat over how supporters of traditional marriage should respond. It seems likely that our side will lose, but in my view we should fight tooth and nail such that our defeat--if, God forbid, it comes to that--will be a bitter and indelible memory. The memory part is important, for we will win eventually. If gay marriage succeeds, it will be a Pyrrhic victory.
People who don't want traditional marriage, who consider a fetus a career inconvenience or children a drag on entertainment options, tend to have small families, or none at all. People of faith tend to have lots of children. A number of analysts have noticed this, including the popular writer Phillip Longman who wrote in 2004, "This much is sure: The uneducated have far more children than the educated, and the religiously minded generally have bigger families than do secularists. In the United States, for example, fully 47% of people who attend church weekly say that the ideal family size is three or more children, as opposed to only 27% of those who seldom attend church."
We see this in the microcosm of the Jewish community, where an Orthodox majority seems likely in two generations. The Modern Orthodox have three or four children, the ultra-Orthodox seven or eight, while liberal and secular Jews have one or two, and half of those intermarry. The diversity of American Christianity makes it harder to find numbers, but the principle is the same, as Longman indicated.
Life will triumph so long as enough people believe in life. I have little fear for America, although Europe may be lost.
One minor quibble with Douthat: He seems to think that divorce is just as bad as gay marriage.
The goal should be a world where the struggle to defend marriage is understood primarily as a struggle against divorce and out-of-wedlock births and premarital promiscuity, and not just a world where the law offers a particular distinction to Newt Gingrich’s third marriage that it doesn’t afford Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi. And if all that social conservatives can ever hope to accomplish is to keep homosexual couples from getting marriage licenses, then there’s a case to be made for living with the public redefinition of the institution, taking the older ideal private, and trying to rebuild a thicker culture of marriage from the ground up.
I agree with Ross that no-default divorce laws hurt family life and that divorce should be discouraged. If the core of the Western view of these matters derives from the Bible, though, it must be noted that there is no Biblical proscription against divorce. On the contrary, the Bible (which Catholics as well as Jews considered to be revealed truth) contains detailed laws of divorce. By contrast, the Bible everywhere considers homosexuality an abomination. Divorce may be a bad thing, and Christian denominations may forbid their members to divorce. But it should not be put on the same level as gay marriage.
This bears on a broader issue: Most people practiced religion in the past under the communal constraint of traditional society. Eastern European rabbis tended to discourage Jewish emigration to America a century ago because they knew that most Jews would give up observance once they got here. By the same token, mass attendance and birth rates have plunged in Quebec and other Catholic countries after the intrusion of modernity.
Orthodox Jews comprise just 10% of the notionally-Jewish population in the US; there are some members of Conservative synagogues who are observant, but it is hard to know how many. I don't know what proportion of American Catholics may be considered orthodox by rigorous Catholic standards, but it must be a minority. A quarter of Americans consider themselves evangelical Christians.
People of traditional faith may or may not be a minority in America, but even if we are, we are self-regenerating and growing. The culture of death consumes itself. We will win, first of all because we will be the majority before long.