By Michael Kirke
It’s funny. “Chickens coming home to roost” should be such a reassuring metaphor. One thinks of chickens as such harmless inoffensive creatures. Seeing them roosting seems to be an image of peace and tranquillity. But when we talk of chickens coming home to roost we generally have something sinister in mind, something bringing with it rather dire consequences.
A lot of chickens have come home to roost recently and we are all a bit fearful of the consequences. We are and we should be. There is a unity about life that we ignore at our peril. I suppose that this is a permanent threat in the human condition. But over the past 20 or 30 years we seem to have succumbed to it in a more thoughtless way than usual. What am I talking about?
Nothing less I suppose than the disjunction between the need to have and the desire to have. This disjunction is what is at the root of most of our recent and impending economic woes. For what, ultimately, are we indulging when we are seeking to possess or consume something which bears no relation to our needs? We are indulging greed.
We are now, hopefully, seeing our society, perhaps a little painfully, come to the realisation that the rampant gratification of the desire to have things, irrespective of the need to have things, is a formula for disaster. Consumerism – like that other “C” word, communism, has proved to have within itself the seeds of its own ultimate destruction.
The engines of commerce drove us to distraction and seemed to be measuring only one thing in their economic gauges: consumer confidence. The sentiment of the business world was either up or down as it measured the sentiment of the consumer. Did those walking the high street feel that they wanted to buy this, wanted to buy that, wanted to buy more and more? If there was weakening in consumer sentiment then it was doom and gloom; if there was a rise it was hurrah! hurrah! At all costs help them to be happily consuming. Don’t worry about money, they were told; we will lend you the money at unbelievably low interest rates. Just please, please, keep buying. And so they did, and everyone thought they were happy.
Now the bubble has burst and hopefully out of it will come some common sense and a return to that sense of unity of life which tells me that I must in some way keep my basic desires to have in touch with my real needs. If not, I’m going to succumb to nothing less that the vice of greed and in the end I’m going to get back into that bubble which is once more going to burst with all those painful consequences.
We cannot say we were not warned. The true and authentic moral leader of the world, the Pope – whomsoever he may have been over the past 50 years at least – has been drawing our attentions to this folly in one way or another. Were we listening? No. But it is all there, in so many letters and addresses to all men of good will over those fifty years. What a pity we do not listen more.
But if the wages of one sin is economic collapse, the wages of other sins are ultimately more devastating. In his traditional end of year address just before Christmas Pope Benedict drew our attention to a folly – the kind which we sometimes parallel with that of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Saving the rainforests is all very well and commendable, but what is the point if at the same time we destroy mankind with our false reading of his true nature.
Nearly ten years ago I read an article by Michael Novak in which he said that Pope John Paul II had planted a time bomb in the Church – which, he estimated, would go off in the early years of the 2020s. I don’t quite know what he meant by “planted” but I think that he was giving us the same kind of warning about the dire consequences of misreading our nature, and our sexuality in particular, as Pope Benedict has just done. He was also telling us that the breakdown of that unity which should keep our sexuality linked to its true purpose is a fatal breach.
His reflections in that article were anchored in the radical series of radical addresses by Pope John Paul, begun in 1979 and ending in 1984, which contain the substance of what has since come to be known as the “theology of the body”. The addresses themselves are not a warning. They are profoundly positive. The warning and the time bomb that goes with it are implicit: ignore this true reading of our nature and the consequences will be truly dire. Novak sums up his assessment in the following way:
At the very head of the Bible it is written: Male and female, he made them from the beginning. He made them in his image. If we miss the point of that, it’s hard to believe we’d get much right about the rest. At least since 1969, and no doubt even since much earlier, say the 1930s, when the secrets of human fertility began to be broken into at last by scientists, Western culture has been in a fever of free love, contraception and the Pill. Doing what we will with our bodies has become a worldwide passion, the acme of fulfilment. The project cannot be going very well, however, or else why would there be so many self-help books on sex, so many manuals, so many grapplings to understand the widespread disappointment?
That is why I began this essay by describing what the Pope has worked out as a ticking time bomb, two or three decades yet from going off. Who among us is ready for it? Who among us would dare to admit he learned the humanness of sexuality from a Pope? That would be preposterous. Just wait. Boredom is as boredom does. Disordered sexual love and death are partners in a deathly dance. There will come a time when minds will be open, when women and men will begin to wonder: when God wrote Eros into our embodied selves, what did he intend?
An Irish-American psychologist and sociologist, Dr. Patrick Fagan of the
Family Research Council, Washington D.C., gave a lecture in Dublin recently under the auspices of the Iona Institute and the Pro-life Campaign. It was a sobering illustration of what this time bomb is preparing for us. From all that he presented to us it was clear that much of the malfunctioning of society which we are currently experiencing is linked to the breakdown of family. That, in turn, can be directly linked to the current disregard for the traditional norms of sexual morality.
Almost in an aside – because he was approaching his subject from a sociological rather than a moral position – he alluded to the view that underlying many of the sociological problems he was describing, there was one simple common factor: disregard for the virtue of chastity. The view holds that if you abandon or disregard this virtue, marital infidelity, co-habitation, reconstituted families, divorce and much more will inevitably follow. Each and all of those things then bring in their wake a sea of troubles. In other words, when you abandon or jeopardize what he called “the foundational relationship” of society itself – stable marriage between man and woman – you rupture society itself. Remove or mess with that foundation – as America and Britain have done for the past 70 years – and you create a tale of woe. But woeful as that tale already is, it a pale image of the chaos to come. This is the time bomb.
What are the indicators that this is going to happen? Dr. Fagan presented a picture of what is already happening and its connection with the root cause. If the acme of fulfilment continues to be identified with the worldwide passion which Novak talked about, then these statistics from Dr. Fagan’s research will just keep growing in the wrong direction until eventually Western society will self-destruct like the civilization of ancient Rome. Look up Dr. Fagan’s full picture on www.familyfacts.org. Here are just some nuggets – if that’s not an inappropriate metaphor for what they are describing, nuggets being precious little things – showing us what the quality of life of women and children shapes up like when marriage is abandoned or messed around with.
The research assembled by Dr. Fagan shows the following:
Never-married mothers experienced more domestic abuse than mothers in any other category of marital status. Among those who had ‘ever married’ (including those who are married, divorced, or separated) the annual rate of domestic violence was 14.7 per 1,000 mothers. Among mothers who had never married, the annual domestic violence rate was 32.9 per 1,000. Therefore, never-married mothers suffered domestic violence at more than twice the rate of mothers who had been married or were currently married.
Never-married mothers suffered more violent crime than those who were married or had been married at one time. ‘Ever-married’ mothers with children suffered from overall violent crime at an annual rate of 52.9 crimes per 1,000 mothers, while never-married mothers with children suffered 147.8 violent crimes per 1,000 mothers. Thus, never-married mothers experienced violent crime at almost three times the rate of ever-married mothers.
Rates of serious abuse of children were lowest in the intact, married family but six times higher in the step family, 14 times higher in the always-single family, 20 times higher in cohabiting-biological parent families, and 33 times higher when the mother was cohabiting with a boyfriend who was not the father of her children. In cases where abuse resulted in a child’s death, the relationship between family structure and abuse was even stronger. It was lowest in intact, always-married families, three times higher in the step family, nine times higher in the family headed by a single mother who had never married, 18 times higher in the cohabiting-biological parents household, and 73 times higher in families where the mother cohabited with a boyfriend.
And among the other “nuggets” gathered together by Dr. Fagan were the following – linking the element of religious practice with intact families and showing quite clearly not only that God seems to be good after all but that religion is also good for you and good for your society:
Teenagers from intact families – that is, unbroken families with mother and father married to each other – with frequent religious attendance were least likely to have ever used hard drugs (8.5 percent) compared to (a) their peers from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (9.5 percent), (b) peers from intact families with low to no religious attendance (14.6 percent), and (c) peers from non-intact families with low to no religious attendance (20.1 percent).
Teens from intact families with frequent religious attendance were the least likely to have ever committed a theft of $50 or more (11.7 percent) when compared to (a) those from intact families with low to no religious attendance (15.3 percent), (b) those from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (15.8 percent), and (c) those from non-intact families with low to no religious attendance (23.5 percent).
Teens from intact families with frequent religious attendance were the least likely to have ever been expelled or suspended from school (17.3 percent) when compared to (a) their peers from intact families with low to no religious attendance (25.5 percent), (b) peers from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (32.5 percent), and (c) peers from non-intact families with low or no religious attendance (46.7 percent).
Teens from intact families with frequent religious attendance were the least likely to have ever been drunk (22.4 percent) when compared to (a) their peers from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (24.5 percent), (b) peers from intact families with low to no religious attendance (33.4 percent), and (c) peers from non-intact families with low to no religious attendance (41.2 percent).
Time bomb indeed. If our society persists in casting off the “shackles” of morality in its frenzy for “freedom”, misunderstanding both itself and freedom in the process, then these will be the consequences. Can anyone plausibly spell out some other scenario? The economic bubble that has burst and the consequences that this has brought or will bring is a minor matter when compared with the disintegration, havoc and misery that this bomb will bring when it explodes. The corrections we are trying to make in our financial and economic systems seem to be much easier to achieve and are more readily tolerated than any suggestion that we correct ourselves in this far more important field of human behaviour. But correct them we must. If these chickens actually come home to roost there will be nothing peaceful or tranquil about it.
Michael Kirke, formerly of The Irish Press, is now a freelance writer. His views can be responded to at firstname.lastname@example.org Other writing can be found at www.mercatornet.com and on his blog, Garvan Hill. www.garvan.wordpress.com