8 years ago: Counter-culture

August 31, 2005, on this blog: Counter-culture

Right-wing American Christians seem ambivalent about the Gospel’s counter-cultural imperative. On the one hand, they seem to regard America as God’s chosen nation, a city on a hill. They tend to speak of an undifferentiated “we” that refers to both church and state, and proudly speak of their nation in terms that their scriptures use exclusively for the fellowship of believers. On the other hand, they love to rail against the supposed decline of American morality and embrace jeremiads with titles like “Slouching Toward Gomorrah.”

Whether they describe America as Babylon or as the New Jerusalem seems to depend on how you phrase the question. Ask them if America is “good” and you’ll get an uncritically patriotic affirmative. Ask them if America is “moral” and you’ll get a fire and brimstone warning of the wrath to come.

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  • It strikes me that complaining about divorce on the grounds that it is painful and dififcult and unpleasant is a lot like complaining about bypass surgery.

  • You should probably stop saying that before he’s old enough to realize that it means the exact same thing as “You are the reason I have resigned myself to a life of unhappiness.”

  • P J Evans

    There have been divorces as long as there have been marriages.
    Your church/s teachings on the permanence of marriage notwithstanding, marriage is between two people, and if the marriage is over, it’s over.

  • Steve

    Ahhh, sir… you’ve not met my wife. Don’t worry about me being unhappy.

    You seem unfortunately dismissive of optimism about marriage. That’s precisely the attitude I’d love to see reversed in our society. If more people believed it were possible, more would do it. And we all be better off.

  • If it’s not an issue, why are you filling your son’s head with nonsense about how you wouldn’t get a divorce even if you needed one?

    We don’t find a couple that’s had a successful marriage for decades worthy of celebration because they stubbornly refused to get a needed divorce. We find it worthy of celebration because *they didn’t need to*. There is nothing praiseworthy about staying in an irreparable marriage.

  • Lori

    That’s precisely the attitude I’d love to see reversed in our society.
    If more people believed it were possible, more would do it. And we all
    be better off.

    citation needed

    Please keep in mind that “the good old days” weren’t actually all that good for a whole lot of people. Folks didn’t change things because they didn’t know when they had it good or whatever other nonsense you might believe. They changed things because for a lot of them things were bad.

  • Uh, that whooshing sound was the point flying straight over your head.

  • Yes, this.

  • First of all, remember that not everyone you’re talking to is Christian.

    Second, you’re assuming that divorce is never the better option for the children of a marriage. Please get it through your head that that simply isn’t true.

  • Greenygal

    No. Deep down I know the goodness of a happy marriage, whether it’s lasted for six years or sixty. If that couple had been unhappily married for sixty years, and had stayed together because they believed divorce was a bad thing and things would get better if they just kept trying…that would be awful.

    (And speaking as a child of divorce, the idea that that’s what my parents ought to have done, and that they ought to have done it for me…god, no. I can’t express how awful that would have felt, knowing that my parents hadn’t been able to have happy lives because they thought they owed it to me.)

  • Optimism is hoping it won’t rain. Wisdom is carrying an umbrella just in case.

    I mean, hey, I don’t see me and Mr. ShifterCat ever splitting up. We’ve been together a long time, and both have the attitude of “try to figure out, together, how to solve any problems that come up”. But that doesn’t guarantee that there won’t, ever, be some problem that’s insurmountable (like, I dunno, aliens experimenting on our brains).

    That very lack of guarantees in life is one of the reasons why I don’t give divorced friends a “you should have tried harder” speech. If they hadn’t been willing to try, they wouldn’t have gotten married. But sometimes, all the willingness to try in the world cannot provide a solution.

  • Lori

    First of all, remember that not everyone you’re talking to is Christian.

    This is true, but not really relevant, in spite of what Steve thinks. The divorce rate among Christians is virtually the same as the divorce rate for the population as a whole.

  • True also, but I was pointing out that Steve’s “Jesus says so!” arguments aren’t particularly relevant for those of us who don’t follow Jesus.

  • Lori

    On this topic at least it’s apparently not all that relevant for those who do either.

  • There have been divorces as long as there have been marriages.

    Well, it may be more accurate to say that as long as there have been marriages, there have been ways of getting out of them, whether or not a given society legally allowed divorce.

    For instance, before the digital age, people would sometimes move to a place where nobody knew them (and therefore, nobody knew they were technically still married), and start a new life there, often with a new spouse. Sometimes they didn’t even bother changing their names.

    Other people simply chose to murder their spouses. In Victorian England, an era when escape for most women was impossible, husband-poisoning became quite popular.

    Consider as well that for the nobility, marriage was often in name only. Sure, the king had a wife, and dutifully visited her chambers now and again to beget heirs, but everyone knew he spent most of his time with mistresses.

    And finally, factor in that life expectancy before the 20th century was drastically lower. Someone who managed to live a long time probably went through more than one spouse, because the previous ones cacked it.

    To anyone with a reasonable knowledge of history, all this “Oh, what a fallen age we live in, when people Don’t Take Marriage Seriously Anymore” is bullshit.

  • Heh.

  • Yeah. My parents have been married for forty-two years, and that would not mean a damned thing if the only reason they’d done it was for the sake of the children.

  • Mr. ShifterCat has given me permission to use his family as an example.

    His mother’s ex-husband was a narcissistic, womanizing drunk. He kept a “little black book” full of booty-call numbers, would stumble in late at night and throw up on the bed, then pass out and leave her to clean everything up. He spent most of his wages on his fancy car. Finally, his wife told him to choose between her and the car… and he chose the car.

    Mr. ShifterCat is nothing but glad that his mother divorced that guy, and frankly, so am I. I shudder to think how damaged both he and his mother would have become if they’d been forced to stay with her scumbag ex.

  • Maniraptor

    Have you been a young person whose parents hate eachother, absolutely hate eachother, and put off divorcing for years because of a misguided idea that it’d hurt the kids? *That* is a calamity. Divorce is an inconvenience. The process can be hurtful for the kids as well, but it’s because of the underlying problems more than the actual paperwork that allows the people involved to finally put together some kind of tolerable life.

    Finally getting divorced was the best thing my parents ever did for us.

  • John Alexander Harman

    Trying to grow a lush, golf-course like lawn in Arizona is likely to be a failed enterprise.

    Um, actually Greater Phoenix has, IIRC, more golf courses per capita than any other metro area in the U.S. — and most of the houses in Paradise Valley, North Scottsdale, Sun City and the other wealthy areas of the valley have lawns as green and well-manicured as the golf courses. Of course, the long-term prospects for all that out-of-place greenery may be grim — unless we manage to build some massive desalination plants in California and/or Mexico and run similarly massive aqueducts from them to the Valley of the Sun, sooner or later there won’t be sufficient water to keep irrigating the lawns and links.

  • smrnda

    What about the couple married for 60 years who barely talk to each other and avoid even being in the same room together but who stayed married because they thought divorce was somehow bad? I’ve seen lots of marriages that were dead as could be, but which lasted a long time.

    Sometimes marriages work well. That’s great. Other times nothing could have been done to keep the people together and happy for 60 years.

  • smrnda

    I should have added that it would not necessarily be a failed enterprise, but would likely be unsustainable in the long-term, and perhaps it’s better to just accept the climate and locate golf courses where they would be more natural.

  • In a lot of situations, the hard solution is not necessarily the best one.

  • smrnda

    The reason people are dismissive of the ‘anybody can make it work’ optimism is that it’s not realistic. When divorce was less prevalent, unhappy marriages simply persisted out of fear of social shame, and expectations for ‘happiness’ were pretty low as most people, at best, were hoping to simply survive.