Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Basia and the Squirrel: Scruton’s Tale of Eros Transubstantiated

 

“The apostolic church is a church of the heart. When you steal from it you steal the heart. Hence the theft is easy, and amends are long and hard.” A strange way to sum up a story of erotic love. Nonetheless, it was Scruton’s way, as he described, in the second half of his essay, Stealing from Churches, the thwarted love affair that taught him a “narrative of transubstantiation” transmuting body into soul. In truth, the love affair wasn’t thwarted at all, but one that fulfilled its purpose, a purpose his stubborn young beloved, Basia (pronounced “Basha”), saw more clearly than he did.

Scruton had organized a subversive summer school for the Catholic University in Poland, bringing together Polish and English philosophy students to resist communism. Under the codename “Squirrel” (in Polish “Wiewiorka”, for his red hair) and tailed by at least one jug-eared agent, Scruton had stumbled into more James-Bond mystique than most ginger-haired philosophy dons could hope for. It would be almost cliche, then, for an exotic young thing to throw herself at him. Wry-smiling, stunning Basia was no cliche, though. Or rather, if she were, it would be the cliche in a kind of story too little told these days to count as cliche anymore.

Basia, at 26, the oldest, most academically-advanced of the bright young things attending Scruton’s summer lectures and their unofficial leader, was an uppity young woman with a checkered past. She wasted little time with Scruton: after his second day in Kazimierz, she waylaid him in the woods to announce she noticed no ring on his finger. Such a frank admission of desire seems likely to end in embarrassment all round whether the desire is reciprocated or not, and perhaps it would have if it weren’t accompanied by her equally frank admission that consummating desire was not her aim:

“It is not for a woman to tell feelings woman must hide, otherwise she is cheap. But you come here for truth, I think. So it is much worse than I tell. I love you. I want to be yours. And it is impossible. This is God’s work for me. [H]ow do you say ‘come over’ my love?”

“Overcome.”

“Yes, overcome,” she said with a self-deprecating laugh.

Because Basia was young, Scruton mused, “her first need was to confess.” Before pursuing a degree in “one of those arcane syntheses of Thomism and phenomenology that enable its adepts to speak incessantly about Being, Becoming, and Eternity while drawing ever-larger circles on a blackboard”, Basia had been a nanny overseas, seduced by the household’s father, returning home to her mother in shame to bear his child. Basia confessed,

“I had this thought once that there is no hope, that this salvation is a nonsense. And almost I committed a suicide. I was such a small shrinked person. But He did not accept. He hunted me, He found me, He was there in dark corner where I go to hide. And now you see, He gives me you for a rescue.”

“He,” Christ, gave her him “for a rescue.” Scruton noticed, “the crazy idea had also come into her head that she could help me to salvation.” Uppity: how often is someone’s — much less some woman’s — self-declared mission to save another anything more than delusional hubris? Byron was not wrong to observe, in Don Juan, the likely result of such ambitions:

Love, then, but love within its proper limits,

Was Julia’s innocent determination

In young Don Juan’s favour, and to him its

Exertion might be useful on occasion;

And, lighted at too pure a shrine to dim its

Ethereal lustre, with what sweet persuasion

He might be taught, by love and her together—

I really don’t know what, nor Julia either.

Donna Julia, despite her initial pieties, “whispering ‘I will ne’er consent’–consented.”

Still, what Byron’s pious Donna Julia did not know, Basia did. So began a salvific friendship, conducted mostly by letter, with

our few brief meetings [] troubled and painful. Without chastity there was no sense to our relationship. But chastity was hard, like an examination for which we were always insufficiently prepared. It was thanks to her that we got through these times undamaged

Marriage, the only chaste means of consummating their desire, proved impossible. Basia had become who she was when Scruton met her by becoming devoutly Catholic, and Scruton had already divorced from a Catholic marriage.

***

Of those souls, like Basia’s, who resisted communism, Scruton said,

In those orderly souls who stood upright in the flow of lies you saw how civilizations survive…. [T]heir effort was of a piece with that labour of the soul described to Socrates by Diotima, and which marked Basia’s every gesture towards me: the effort of erotic love. The erotic and the personal belong together: they are temples built above the roar of animal life, into which we scramble in desperation from the flood. Here we find refuge, are idealized and made whole. But only by our own work are these temples constructed, and when the work is neglected, chaos supervenes. In those communist backwaters the contests between person and animal, eros and sex, law and calculation, religion and appetite, were felt as one single contest, and every word, every gesture fed the aims of one or other protagonist in a fight to the death.

Basia, Scruton said,

brought home to me, then and subsequently, what is perhaps the most important truth conveyed by religion… that sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory between, and that nothing matters more than the customs, ceremonies and rites with which we lift the body above its material need and reshape it as soul… Basia phrased it in the pure, simple, liturgical language of her church, and showed through her emotion that she had re-made herself… Perhaps she should have been a nun; but it was too late for that. Now her first thought was to encounter the temptation that I presented, not to flee from it, but to vanquish it.

I’m not sure “sex is either consecration or desecration” is religion’s most important truth, unless religion is reduced to a purely instrumental means of social control. The larger point of lifting up the body to reshape it as soul seems nearer the mark. The word “soul”, as Scruton observes,

is a useful, indeed a necessary word, since it reminds us of what we are for each other. And what we are for each other is a large part of what we are. The soul is what one person elicits in another, when he sees the other as a free, self-conscious, self-governed and answerable being. This is the true mystery of the Annunciation… a simple woman surprised by an angel, who addresses her I to I.

Basia, Scruton says, “entered my life like an annunciation,” as “a messenger from another realm, an angel in the original meaning of the term”, though she herself remained a simple woman, self-consciously, self-governing accepting the grace God first had given her.

***

Despite my having extensively quoted Scruton’s tale of her, Basia herself may seem like a cipher at this point. What, after all, does it mean to call another person an angel, an annunciation, a vessel of God’s grace? Especially someone counted as a friend? Aren’t friends particular people, marking their friendship with their particular quirks? Isn’t reducing them to such exalted generalities depersonalizing?

It is, which may not be Scruton’s fault, but the fault of my summary, which transmits Scruton’s quotable Big Ideas, rather than his little asides about how Basia sang to her child, cut her hair, or caroused with friends. Basia was a particular person to Scruton in a way she cannot be to us because she was his friend, his stubborn companion who convinced the both of them to want more from and for each other than mere instinct — and the modern idea that sex is love’s highest expression — would have wanted.

Feminists might complain Scruton’s story of Basia adheres to the tired trope of a woman not existing for herself, but merely as an instrument to serve men — as muse, as caretaker. Scruton ends his account of Basia by subverting that trope, though: yes, Basia is a caretaker — just like one old man, Maronite priest of his Lebanese village, whom Scruton met one winter after Basia, a man whose gift of love shed light on Basia’s gift. Despite persecution ending in maiming, this priest had extended pastoral care to everyone around his village, including Muslims. Scruton “asked him at last why the Christians had done so much for the Shiites, if [destruction] was their only reward.” The priest replied:

“C’était notre apostolat.”

That is, “That was our apostolate,” our mission. Scruton muses, “Rightly or wrongly, Basia had seen me as her apostolate: in caring for me she was following Him.” As Scruton says, “what we are for each other is a large part of what we are.” If Scruton defined women in large part by what they are for others, so did he define men. So should we all define ourselves.

***

Basia was, by Scruton’s standards, poor and oppressed, though by the standards of her immediate circumstances, gifted and even somewhat lucky: how many unwed mothers in even a free country (and hers was not) get the chance to pursue an advanced degree in a philosophy even Scruton admits he can’t understand?

Basia was also, in the most important sense, a liberated woman. It’s easy for conservatives to mock today’s consent culture, its hollow silence on what consent is for. For the Christian sexual ethic, consent is merely a starting point, though it’s needed as the starting point. Else how would we “see[] the other as a free, self-conscious, self-governed and answerable being”? How would we see one another as souls? Stories about women who want sex on their own terms, who are strong enough to rebuff unwanted advances while also cultivating nonsexual friendships with men, aren’t inherently PC: they also describe stories of exemplary Christian women. A woman free to choose sex on her own terms is free to choose chastity as her terms. Not chastity born from mere fear of shame, either, but chastity born of recognizing how important non-sexual love is for cultivating souls. To live peaceably with one another, we should love a far greater number of people than we knock boots with.

Basia had already lived her shame. From the hard-nosed viewpoint which justifies chastity as social control, Basia was already damaged goods. If “sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory between, and [] nothing matters more than the customs, ceremonies, and rites” controlling it, Basia was already desecrated.

In reacting to the chaotic encroachment of all that threatens to undermine our “customs, ceremonies and rites”, it can be easy to forget those rites aren’t for control, but for redemption. But Basia could not forget. And thanks to her, Scruton could not, either. Basia offered Scruton “faith [as] an invitation to re-work the human body as a sacred vessel, to transubstantiate ourselves in thought, from appetite to will, and from flesh to spirit.” Byronic cynicism isn’t wrong in pointing out how spectacularly offers to transubstantiate eros into chaste friendship can fail. It’s easy, moreover, for conservatives to retreat into cynicism’s shell. Thank God retreat isn’t all there is.

*****************

Scruton’s essay extensively quoted in this post, “Stealing from Churches”, appears to have been scanned in from a paper copy at the Catholic Education Resource Center, losing punctuation along the way. I made my best guess at restoring punctuation in quoting the essay, for readability’s sake omitting most square brackets around my guesses. My summary of Scruton’s essay was inspired by a post of @garymcvey’s from July 2019, and began as a comment there. Cropped image of Polish red squirrel licensed under creative commons, photographer hedera.baltica.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Scruton’s essay extensively quoted in this post, “Stealing from Churches”, appears to have been scanned in from a paper copy at the Catholic Education Resource Center, losing punctuation along the way.

    I was thinking “How did I miss this?” the entire time I was reading until I got to your postscript.

    Well-written. Good catch, too. Thank you, Midge.

    • #1
    • January 14, 2020, at 9:22 AM PST
    • Like
  2. Titus Techera Contributor

    So the upshot of all this is that Christianity is all about denying a father to children, even in precarious conditions? Most Catholic!

    • #2
    • January 14, 2020, at 9:45 AM PST
    • Like
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    So the upshot of all this is that Christianity is all about denying a father to children, even in precarious conditions? Most Catholic!

    You’re joking, right?

    • #3
    • January 14, 2020, at 10:20 AM PST
    • Like
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A wonderful post! Thanks, Midge! Plenty to think about…I’ll be back!

    • #4
    • January 14, 2020, at 10:43 AM PST
    • 1 like
  5. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You my squirrelly serpent are obsessed with eros.

    • #5
    • January 14, 2020, at 11:16 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: it can be easy to forget those rites aren’t for control, but for redemption.

    The letter of the law and the spirit of the law, like faith and reason, are discussed sequentially but exist simultaneously (or else are broken). God’s law is the manner in which we fulfill His love.

    “All you need is love” is both correct and juvenile. Yes, love is the whole purpose of life and its guiding principle. But how to love is lifelong challenge — even for the wise, informed, and disciplined — because love has definition. As God is one Being and not another, as a human is one person and not another, so love — a just and beautiful, fulfilling relationship — is something of particular description. The success or failure of interactions between Creator and created are bound with design. 

    Eros was designed for marriage in which two charitable souls join in self-giving. The rules, when accurately discerned, are boundaries of being. One may venture beyond the map’s borders, but there be dragons.

    • #6
    • January 14, 2020, at 12:43 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. Titus Techera Contributor

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: it can be easy to forget those rites aren’t for control, but for redemption.

    The letter of the law and the spirit of the law, like faith and reason, are discussed sequentially but exist simultaneously (or else are broken). God’s law is the manner in which we fulfill His love.

    “All you need is love” is both correct and juvenile. Yes, love is the whole purpose of life and its guiding principle. But how to love is lifelong challenge — even for the wise, informed, and disciplined — because love has definition. As God is one Being and not another, as a human is one person and not another, so love — a just and beautiful, fulfilling relationship — is something of particular description. The success or failure of interactions between Creator and created are bound with design.

    Eros was designed for marriage in which two charitable souls join in self-giving. The rules, when accurately discerned, are boundaries of being. One may venture beyond the map’s borders, but there be dragons.

    One recalls Augustine’s homiletic word: Love God, & do what you will!

    But this other matter–playing around with the word eros raises my eyebrow. Marriage is not a particularly high station, given that Christ & the apostles were celibate, as are monks. Among Catholics, so are priests. The Orthodox & Protestants disagree on this matter only concerning priests, apparently on grounds of reasonableness. So there’s a quarrel between holiness & nature which one might wish to paper over, but one is unlikely to succeed. More–lifelong marriage, itself a remarkably high burden which cannot square with eros, seems to be less & less popular, even among those who call themselves faithful Christians. It requires an obedience that cannot be enforced, it would seem. We end up with incredibly high demands that may achieve little, or nothing. Certainly, experience teaches some skepticism of these exalted teachings–charitable souls, unlike erotic ones, seem in very short supply… More & more, it seems our Christian faith is a pleasant dream concealing from us an America where people don’t even bother getting married. This is now a minority option. Now is, of course, no time to lose the faith, but it’s a good time to wonder how design & reality can be so massively disjointed. Or else we might end up thinking that the basics of human nature only work for a minority & that’s Christianity. Seems somehow strange.

    Eros is not primarily a matter of marriage–it is longing. The full understanding of the longings of the human soul, as I suggested, includes the celibate who are held in highest regard. & others in-between. That American Christians don’t know much about the soul is proven by all their multifarious failures. We should understand at least this–the desire for beautiful speeches that ignore these realities is indeed itself erotic, but unhelpful in its public form. It is a wishing after perfection that dismisses nature. I’m not sure it’s quite faith, but it’s certainly not reason, since it investigates nothing & it affirms without achieving anything.

    • #7
    • January 14, 2020, at 1:47 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    The success or failure of interactions between Creator and created are bound with design.

    Eros was designed for marriage in which two charitable souls join in self-giving. The rules, when accurately discerned, are boundaries of being. One may venture beyond the map’s borders, but there be dragons.

    Maybe I’m about to get into weeds a la “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is”, but, though the sexual expression of eros is for marriage, and there sure “be dragons” in the path of those trying to keep a friendship nonsexual despite erotic attraction to one another, I’m not sure “designed for marriage” captures all that eros is.

    Psalm 42, for example, strikes me as evoking erotic longing. Not sexual arousal (or we hope not! — though there are doubtless weirdos out there aroused by as little as an unplugged toaster). But a longing for intimacy that other names for love don’t capture. The psalmist is lovelorn: had he directed those sentiments at a woman, we’d call him “in love”. Outstanding musical settings of Psalm 42 emphasize this erotic quality, too. Herbert Howells’s setting uses a more modern idiom to express this, one which makes it rather obvious. But if we go back to Palestrina’s time, when the long suspensions and vocal entwining of Monteverdi’s Pur ti miro were something musicians would recognize as expressing scandalous passion, Palestrina’s setting Sicut Cervus is not so different from Howells’s in this respect.

    It’s true marriage has a metaphorical, theological meaning, too, captured in the trope of Christ as bridegroom. If by marriage, you also mean that mystical marriage, then it’s not clear the abstract eroticism of, say, music, does fail to be designed for marriage — just not ordinary mortal marriage. But it’s reasonable for people, when they hear “designed for marriage”, to confine their imagination to ordinary mortal marriage.

    Theologians point out ordinary mortal marriage is an icon of the Trinity, elevating sexual expression into stable, mutually self-giving love. But are sexual expression and eros identical? I would say no — indeed, I must desperately hope they’re not!

    • #8
    • January 14, 2020, at 1:49 PM PST
    • 1 like
  9. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Psalm 42, for example, strikes me as evoking erotic longing.

    It is a temporal, instinctive longing for connection and fulfillment. 

    From Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est

    3. That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks. Let us note straight away that the Greek Old Testament uses the word eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use it at all: of the three Greek words for love, eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agape, New Testament writers prefer the last, which occurs rather infrequently in Greek usage. As for the term philia, the love of friendship, it is used with added depth of meaning in Saint John’s Gospel in order to express the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. The tendency to avoid the word eros, together with the new vision of love expressed through the word agape, clearly point to something new and distinct about the Christian understanding of love. [….]

    5. Two things emerge clearly from this rapid overview of the concept of eros past and present. First, there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence. Yet we have also seen that the way to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct. Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. Far from rejecting or “poisoning” eros, they heal it and restore its true grandeur. [….]

    Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels (cf. Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24; Jn 12:25). [….]

    Eros is the most basic attraction of temporal beings, physical or otherwise. It is a low thing only when severed from the other aspects of love, denying a fullness of purpose and being. When harmonized with philia and agape, it is, like the body, glorified and beautiful. 

    It is not a joy reserved for a few of utmost discipline and sacrifice. But it is frustrated by cultures which favor corrupted forms, as all evil is corruption of a loveful origin.

    • #9
    • January 14, 2020, at 3:28 PM PST
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  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Eros is the most basic attraction of temporal beings, physical or otherwise. It is a low thing only when severed from the other aspects of love, denying a fullness of purpose and being. When harmonized with philia and agape, it is, like the body, glorified and beautiful. 

    It is not a joy reserved for a few of utmost discipline and sacrifice. But it is frustrated by cultures which favor corrupted forms, as all evil is corruption of a loveful origin.

    Maybe what’s puzzling, Aaron, is, if eros is the most basic attraction of temporal beings, what then does it mean for it to be designed for marriage?:

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Eros was designed for marriage in which two charitable souls join in self-giving.

    You quote,

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    From Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est

    3. That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks.

    Do you mean 3. as a definition of eros? Because then it seems there are two competing but related definitions, one that is between a man and a woman and one that belongs to all temporal beings and need not be directed at the opposite sex (or sex at all).

    The ancient Greeks themselves did not always mean eros in the same way, from what I understand. Colloquially, it could be mere lust, but philosophers characterized it as some greater principle, of which lust is a coarse manifestation. Or something like that.

    Anyhow, if eros is harmonized with philia and agape, it’s not absent from the harmony, even if it’s not dominant. For obvious reasons, eros as a component of nonmarital affection must be kept in careful check. But it seems better accepted, then kept in check, than denied altogether — not acknowledging the prevalence of something makes it harder to control, not easier.

    • #10
    • January 14, 2020, at 8:09 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    More–lifelong marriage, itself a remarkably high burden which cannot square with eros, seems to be less & less popular, even among those who call themselves faithful Christians. It requires an obedience that cannot be enforced, it would seem. We end up with incredibly high demands that may achieve little, or nothing. Certainly, experience teaches some skepticism of these exalted teachings–charitable souls, unlike erotic ones, seem in very short supply… More & more, it seems our Christian faith is a pleasant dream concealing from us an America where people don’t even bother getting married. This is now a minority option. Now is, of course, no time to lose the faith, but it’s a good time to wonder how design & reality can be so massively disjointed.

    An ideal of Christian life and love which is too centered on the natural family would seem to neglect non-family ties at its peril. For one thing, single people exist. For another, it’s reasonable not to burden another family member, even a spouse, with everything. That makes friendships outside the family important, to take the strain off family. Reluctance to honor that importance, though, plays into the temptation of becoming “more than just friends” with someone you shouldn’t.

    I’ve had close friendships with many people, including guys, over the years. Had I been silly enough to think that a special closeness should mean we were “meant” to become “more than just friends”, I’d have missed out on a lot of love — and also the education in reverence or guardedness toward friends which helps a spouse stay faithful in marriage. In fact, the phrase “more than just friends” irritates me a little, because friendship isn’t a consolation prize. Lifelong marriage means all others but your spouse are “just” friends — but thinking that “just” a small thing sells it quite short.

    • #11
    • January 14, 2020, at 8:43 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Maybe what’s puzzling, Aaron, is, if eros is the most basic attraction of temporal beings, what then does it mean for it to be designed for marriage?

    You’re right. I said that specifically in regard to sexual/romantic attraction, but eros is not only that. Rather, sexual attraction, infatuation, and such are the clearest and most volatile manifestations of instinctive and immediate want of togetherness. 

    If eros is the ideal of one aspect of love, then lust is arguably a corruption of it by which selfish hunger overtakes desire for any sort of harmony. That might more aptly be assigned the part of the overwhelming madness Pope Benedict XVI refers to in Greek literature. 

    In celibacy, eros is not wholly denied. It is most evident in impatience for the fullness of Christ’s kingdom; the desire for a more imminent and more richly experienced relationship.

    Humans are essentially both body and soul, and thus beings made for sensational experience. Eros is satisfied by various manifestations of beauty and awesome events beyond the sexual. Artwork made to glorify God is a product of eros as it brings the otherwordly into worldly focus. But the conclusion of temporal satisfaction always returns us to a cycle of hunger for eternal experience. Only beyond death and resurrection can the ecstatic vision be maintained as a perpetual quality of life. 

    • #12
    • January 14, 2020, at 9:34 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Titus Techera Contributor

    Midge, you’re right–the only way the American family survives is by abandoning the mid-century nuclear family. Families with deeper roots, more branches, or at least planted in more fertile soil are needed…

    But a re-education concerning eros is also needed, since it just doesn’t lead to marriage anymore. You need to lead the horses to the carriage & nobody’s able to-

    • #13
    • January 14, 2020, at 11:01 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Marriage is not a particularly high station, given that Christ & the apostles were celibate, as are monks.

    It is worth noting that, at least within Orthodoxy, marriage is seen as a form of martyrdom (hence the crowning). And many are the times I’ve heard or read that marriage is not to be denigrated, nor to be seen or treated as an inferior path to salvation when compared with monasticism, but that monasticism and marriage are two distinct but equal paths. They both involve a form of giving up of the world, and of self sacrifice for others.

    • #14
    • January 15, 2020, at 6:52 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Midge, you’re right–the only way the American family survives is by abandoning the mid-century nuclear family. Families with deeper roots, more branches, or at least planted in more fertile soil are needed…

    As someone born into a family sparsely and irregularly branched, I’d agree. Keeping problems “in the family”, especially when the generations are supposed to prove their independence from one another as soon as they’re adults, is asking a lot from comparatively few.

    Multi-generational living among Asian immigrants is more common, and it hasn’t caused them to lose their model-minority reputation as outstandingly successful and, well, “non-moochy”. There seems to be more stigma among whites in particular that multi-generational living is a sign that something’s wrong or someone’s been slacking.

    A friend of mine with a degenerative disease who’s currently working full-time, but must reasonably expect to retire early, just got some grief from family for still living with a parent — not grief from the parent: they are happy to have one another. But the idea she’d somehow prove herself more “responsible” and “independent” by paying for her own place now rather than splitting housing costs with family and saving her split for a retirement which almost certainly will be both early and medically-expensive is, quite frankly, nuts.

    But a re-education concerning eros is also needed, since it just doesn’t lead to marriage anymore. You need to lead the horses to the carriage & nobody’s able to-

    I don’t know. While growing up subject to mutually-conflicting expectations has its own problems, I do count myself lucky in that, if you’re exposed to unrealistic expectations, at least if they’re mutually-conflicting, it’s possible the least-realistic aspects might be forced to cancel each other out. I think the resulting “purpleness” of my upbringing is what educated me — quite accidentally, at that.

    • #15
    • January 15, 2020, at 9:36 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Titus Techera Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Marriage is not a particularly high station, given that Christ & the apostles were celibate, as are monks.

    It is worth noting that, at least within Orthodoxy, marriage is seen as a form of martyrdom (hence the crowning). And many are the times I’ve heard or read that marriage is not to be denigrated, nor to be seen or treated as an inferior path to salvation when compared with monasticism, but that monasticism and marriage are two distinct but equal paths. They both involve a form of giving up of the world, and of self sacrifice for others.

    Yeah, well, until you get a lot of married saints or rewrite the Gospel, the obvious will stare people in the face. Of course, maybe super-Christians learn not to notice the obvious!

    Of course, Orthodoxy is such that it’s hard to find unmarried priests, so it’s a bit trickier in that case…

    All in all, the rhetoric of exalted marriage made more sense when a large majority of adults were married. When a society fails to even get there–well, most adults already believe marriage is martyrdom & are declining the opportunity!

    • #16
    • January 15, 2020, at 9:36 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

     

    Yeah, well, until you get a lot of married saints or rewrite the Gospel, the obvious will stare people in the face. Of course, maybe super-Christians learn not to notice the obvious!

    Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her,” but it’s harder for a family to do without the Marthas.

    American Christian culture has often struck me as frustratingly Martha-oriented, but that does fit its especially family-oriented nature. Even if you’re not a natural Martha, family-formation seems to require willingness to play one, at least part-time. And time spent being Martha (especially if your lack of natural Martha skills means it takes even more time to play her) is time spent not being Mary.

    Sometimes I do wonder if American Christianity misreads the passage as “Martha has chosen what is better”. Gratitude for the Marthas, and feeling a debt to them, in that they have given up “what is better” to manage everyday concerns, is important. But the gratitude can get defensive, to the point of denying anything “better” has been given up.

    To take one example from the Mommy Wars, it’s become an understandable, and just, concern of American conservatives to push back — hard — against the trope “children ruin your life”. The desire to present a united front in pushback, though, can result in open discussion of the tough parts of motherhood being treated like betrayal. “What, you’re not a Stepford mom? You haven’t yet found motherhood mystically fulfilling in a way nothing else can match? You can’t brag about how awesome a mom you are? Traitor!” I exaggerate, of course, but that undercurrent is definitely there.

    • #17
    • January 15, 2020, at 10:40 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  18. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Multi-generational living among Asian immigrants is more common, and it hasn’t caused them to lose their model-minority reputation as outstandingly successful and, well, “non-moochy”. There seems to be more stigma among whites in particular that multi-generational living is a sign that something’s wrong or someone’s been slacking.

    My grandparents lived with my grandfather’s parents even for some time after they were wed, back in the 1930s, and this sort of arrangement was far from uncommon. My great-grandfather’s health was poor, and my grandparents were, themselves, poor – the arrangement was natural enough. At that time there was no real racial divide along those lines. On my wife’s side, there’s an entire road running out of Egg Harbor, NJ, that was once family property for miles and miles of farms and houses – the family stuck togetherI would commend the film or the play by Neil Simon, Brighton Beach Memoirs, for his own New York City 2nd generation Jewish immigrant presentation of the same phenomenon.

    The new found prosperity after WWII made it possible for even those of modest means to separate from the family enclaves, or even move far away (my grandparents moved from Duluth, MN, to Ohio), and this started a trend and a new expectation. Since that time, the perception has been that if you do not move out in the absences of any good reason to stay behind, then you are showing a laziness or lack of competence. And when I look at my parents’ generation, that is certainly what you see: cousins who never married or dated and whose continuance at the family abode was due to inertia, or else out and out deadbeats who could not (or would not) hold down any job, and whose mother coddled them endlessly. This carried into us GenXers as well.

    And all the stereotypes of the still-at-home millennial plays into this perception as well – incel man-childs, the student-loan underwaters, woke aesthetic hipsters who do not want to work, and other assorted people who, in their 20s, are still emotionally children, etc. Of course these stereotypes are not necessarily fair, (what stereotypes ever are?) but their widespread perception still serves to dissuade any from continuing to live with family even for very good reasons (shared care, eased finances, actually liking their own families, etc.).

    • #18
    • January 15, 2020, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. Titus Techera Contributor

    Mothers are in an untenable intellectual position. Conservatism doesn’t have that much to offer them culturally. Conservatism is primarily for men & manly women. It prizes spiritedness & in the political conflict, it’s not hard to see why. But conservative music is country, so consider that, too… The praise of motherhood, as well as education for it, which used to be a bigger part of the culture, is now strangely absent.

    Then there’s liberalism saying, if you were a real woman, you’d have killed that child!

    There’s of course much to American life instead that makes life worthwhile, & also workable–women organize themselves, up to & including digitally, for everything from cooking to homeschooling & how to budget or just how to deal with the onslaught of dawn…

    But it is not possible to say in a persuasive way, this is public life, this is private, & this is the place of family.

    Maybe it’s possible for Christians to ally themselves with mothers.

    • #19
    • January 15, 2020, at 10:53 AM PST
    • 1 like
  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Maybe it’s possible for Christians to ally themselves with mothers.

    I expect, “You don’t think we have?!!!” would be a common reaction to your proposition.

    I have little reason to doubt American Christians intend this alliance — and generally intend it more vehemently the more conservative they are. I do have some doubts about the practical consequences of the intent, though.

    • #20
    • January 15, 2020, at 11:26 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. Titus Techera Contributor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Maybe it’s possible for Christians to ally themselves with mothers.

    I expect, “You don’t think we have?!!!” would be a common reaction to your proposition.

    I have little reason to doubt American Christians intend this alliance — and generally intend it more vehemently the more conservative they are. I do have some doubts about the practical consequences of the intent, though.

    Well, it’s not impossible in America to figure out things like church attendance, voting, & everything in-between by way of a first guess at how things work. I suppose nobody wants to do it, but it’s not impossible to do-

    • #21
    • January 15, 2020, at 11:52 AM PST
    • 1 like
  22. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Well, it’s not impossible in America to figure out things like church attendance, voting, & everything in-between by way of a first guess at how things work. I suppose nobody wants to do it, but it’s not impossible to do-

    I know of research that’s at least adjacent to that. Mark Regnerus’s, for example. While Regnerus and those like him get a lot of grief from the left, some of the tidbits they turn up don’t exactly fit the right’s narrative, either. For example, the conservatism of the church youths go to doesn’t provide nearly as much support for a sexual script of self-control and stable family-formation as does simply going to church regularly, any church.

    Christian rhetoric on both right and left often seems to treat Christians on the other side as its worst enemies where sexual politics are concerned, but the lived differences seem fairly small. The very devoutest of conservative Christian youth are more chaste than the very devoutest of liberal Christian youth, but the difference is not nearly so big between them as it is between the devout of any political persuasion and the unchurched.

    To me, this news comes as a relief — maybe there’s hope of getting somewhere together despite some seriously vexing differences. But firebrands might find the news positively disappointing.

    • #22
    • January 15, 2020, at 12:20 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  23. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Maybe it’s possible for Christians to ally themselves with mothers.

    I expect, “You don’t think we have?!!!” would be a common reaction to your proposition.

    I have little reason to doubt American Christians intend this alliance — and generally intend it more vehemently the more conservative they are. I do have some doubts about the practical consequences of the intent, though.

    Well, it’s not impossible in America to figure out things like church attendance, voting, & everything in-between by way of a first guess at how things work. I suppose nobody wants to do it, but it’s not impossible to do-

    Yabbut here’s the rub – it gets mechanized. If you want something like church growth, in the hands of the right wrong people that becomes the goal – it becomes an idol, and you end up with the mega-churches that resemble perpetual concert series for the middle-aged, and churches as products to be sold to consumers. American Christians, when they to set their sights on something as a goal would quickly turn it into idol, and if you say “Christians must ally themselves with mothers” you’ll have, within a year, a new proliferation of commercially produced and pre-packaged programmes for Outreach Coordinators® (complete with video series and workbooks, and an official soundtrack available on CD). You’ll have special Mothers’ Services, Mothers’ Bible Studies, Mothers’ Study Bibles, and so forth.

    • #23
    • January 15, 2020, at 12:32 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  24. Titus Techera Contributor

    Might still be better than a situation with unmarried savage youths & a significant demographic plunge!

    I agree that the can do attitude Americans are world famous far has its drawbacks, in church as in the Middle East. I would also agree that there’s no way to mount a crusade to Christianize America again, & do it right. It’s not happening.

    But this is a uniquely bad situation for the country. It’s unlikely to take care of itself. It would be good if lots of people in lots of places saw the problem for what it is.

    • #24
    • January 15, 2020, at 2:31 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  25. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Might still be better than a situation with unmarried savage youths & a significant demographic plunge!

    I agree that the can do attitude Americans are world famous far has its drawbacks, in church as in the Middle East. I would also agree that there’s no way to mount a crusade to Christianize America again, & do it right. It’s not happening.

    But this is a uniquely bad situation for the country. It’s unlikely to take care of itself. It would be good if lots of people in lots of places saw the problem for what it is.

    Was gonna send this to you anyway for your perusal.

    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-hipsters-just-might-save-romance/

    • #25
    • January 15, 2020, at 2:57 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  26. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I agree that the can do attitude Americans are world famous far has its drawbacks, in church as in the Middle East. I would also agree that there’s no way to mount a crusade to Christianize America again, & do it right. It’s not happening.

    I have to wonder at the language of crusades, “great awakenings” and other such things, and the hold they still have on the popular Christian imagination. They are mythologies, and especially with the “awakenings” not even very good ones. At least with the actual historic crusades you can pinpoint definite achievements or failures, and argue about motivations, beginnings, endings, and so forth. With the awakenings, like the concept of “The Renaissance” they are phenomena whose existence and impact has been largely imposed by later historians with definite agendas having to do with messianic visions of America. But they give people a false sense of destiny still, and stand in the way of recognizing the need for the hard work of evangelizing and living.

    • #26
    • January 15, 2020, at 3:21 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. Titus Techera Contributor

    During the Renaissance, people really were obsessing over, you know, renaissance. On the one hand, learning the arts & bringing back the poetry of ancient times. On the other, there were profound thinkers who had a vast influence on events, above all Machiavelli. Anyone who visits the National Gallery in Washington, for example, can see what painting was like in the thirteenth century, how it changed with Giotto, & as you follow the chronological arrangement, you can understand in what direction things were changing. That’s not imposed after the fact. The works of Marsilius & Dante on monarchy (putting the Church in its place) are forward looking to the Renaissance, not retrospective. As for Machievelli, there you see perfectly what the Renaissance was–to some extent, an attempt to retrieve antiquity, but primarily an attempt to modernize, or the birth of modernity. Maybe most of the famous characters at the time weren’t quite as clear about this, but that’s the picture they fit into…

    I know far less about the Awakenings in America (& England, in the case of the rise of Methodism), but the little I know suggests that there were indeed important changes in beliefs, speeches, habits that people at the time were clamoring for & against.

    • #27
    • January 15, 2020, at 11:14 PM PST
    • Like
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It took America three centuries to travel from Jonathan Edwards to John Edwards. 

    • #28
    • January 15, 2020, at 11:50 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  29. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    I know far less about the Awakenings in America (& England, in the case of the rise of Methodism), but the little I know suggests that there were indeed important changes in beliefs, speeches, habits that people at the time were clamoring for & against.

    There are parallel questions that need to be put whenever noting new eras:

    1. How aware were the people of the time that such shifts were actually going on? In other words, did the people of the time sense and express feeling of a monumental shift?
    2. How much of a shift can we see in retrospect?

    Doubtless for some, during the transition away from what we now think of as the Middle Ages, from year to year or decade to decade, little would have seemed to change. For those in the higher echelons of society the changes must have been profound. But can you pick a date when one era ended and another began? Likely not, unless you were to isolate a particular city, and even then, even if you were living there, you probably would only recognize the shift in hindsight. Era names and definitions are things that we tend to add to help us sort out our own memories. They’re useful to historians, but they compress things and make them seem like they’ve happened all at once. One need only look at the short (and shrinking ever shorter) shrift most American History textbooks give to the agony of our Civil War, it seems an eyeblink to many now, even though it was 4 hard years.

    And it’s the same, to an extent, with the Awakenings. We think of them almost as moments, when they were organic movements where preachers copied each others’ styles and techniques in gradual spread of emotional pietism through the fore-runners of later Revival Meetings over the Colonies. Yes, the figures are seemingly quite high for conversions from these, but a decade or two later, when the emotionalism of that time was blown out, how much really was different? To read the popular histories one would think these really were epochal shifts in the American conscience, but getting into details it seems they were far less so, far more like waves running up a sandy beach, only to retreat leaving little altered.

    But they have a hold on the minds of American Christians – “If only we could have another great awakening…” This is a captive thinking that fails to see what the earlier movements were, what they accomplished, or how they were accomplished. It’s all well and good to pray for another awakening, but the preachers of the first ones worked for theirs, and worked hard (and not always honestly).

    • #29
    • January 16, 2020, at 7:31 AM PST
    • 2 likes