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Sex Negative

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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The attitude toward sex in our secular culture is simultaneously tedious and disturbing. Tedious because of its predictability. Disturbing because of its profound negativity, despite absurd claims to the contrary.

A good example was provided last week by Aimee Byrd. Over at her Housewife Theologian blog, Byrd highlighted an online interview with a woman called “Gracie X.” The lifestyle Gracie describes will probably surprise no one. Her promiscuity and the fluidity of her relationships are nothing new. In the ’70s, people like Gracie were known as swingers. Today they are respectable members of the “ethical non-monogamy community.” The nomenclature is oxymoronic, the underlying attitude merely moronic.

As is conventional when today’s hard-hitting journalism deals with fringe lifestyles that mock traditional mores, the interviewer asks no hard questions and makes no critical observations. Such would be impolite and judgmental, I guess. Well, let me break once again with the contemporary canons of journalistic social commentary and offer a few impolite and judgmental observations of my own.

The language of the interview is revealing. The omnipresence of the first-person singular is quite remarkable, reminiscent of The Beatles song, “I, Me, Mine.” Yes, this really is all about Gracie. To be fair, she does claim that her refusal to control her libido is good for her children—but she also makes it very clear that even if they asked her to stop, she would not, because she is her lifestyle.

The best parts of the interview are those involving pious sub-Oprah psychobabble, such as this gem: “The biggest burden you can put on your child is an unfulfilled life. We really have to make sure we’re living.” Really? I suspect the burden of not having any kind of stable parental relationship to rely on might rank somewhere. But as long as a mature ten- to eleven-year-old is able to offer wise and informed support to an ethically non-monogamous parent, all will be well.

Most sadly disturbing is Gracie’s use of the term “sex positive” to describe her lifestyle. Clearly she enjoys sex. But that hardly amounts to being “sex positive.” Her view of sex seems so truncated and so emptied of any real meaning, so centered on herself, so reducible to physical pleasure, that it becomes little more than an act of mutual masturbation. To say that such represents a “positive” view of sex is akin to saying that the person who enjoys cluelessly bashing out random notes on a piano has a positive view of music. Sex with no deeper relational context is sex with no positively meaningful content, as Henry Miller demonstrated over eighty years ago in the tragicomic nihilism of the myriad encounters recounted in Tropic of Cancer.

There was once a time when sexual intercourse was thought to be full of rich social and emotional significance. Now, even our language betrays our impoverished and negative attitudes. That we speak of “having sex” and not of “making love”—that the latter phrase can even evoke sniggers—is significant. A man can have sex with a prostitute. He can only make love to a woman he knows and about whom he cares.

So is Gracie X “sex positive” in her attitude? Well, sexual intercourse used to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. That has been taken away. Sex has been reduced thereby, as indeed has adulthood—the childish obsession of Gracie with herself is surely no accident. There was also a time when sexual intercourse was only considered legitimate between a man and woman committed to a lifelong partnership. It marked their exclusive relationship to each other. That too has been taken away. Sex is no longer the consummation of an exclusive bond. Now it is just a form of recreation. A bit like golf, but usually cheaper and generally without the plaid pants.

Fortunately, Gracie is an extremist, even by today’s standards. But she is the logical end term of our culture’s simplistic, pornographic, selfish, abusive, mechanistic, and, yes, negative view of sex. Sex’s sole significance is what it does for Gracie as an individual, and damn the consequences if that hurts anyone else. It is who she is, after all. Indeed, I imagine that even now some liberal Episcopalian bishop is desperately wrestling with how to be open and welcoming to the “ethical non-monogamous community.” Might I suggest that a minor change to the marriage liturgy is all that is needed? “With thy body I me worship.”

Joking aside, such a vow would be entirely appropriate because, superficial as Gracie’s understanding of sex is, she is actually advocating in practice the rather more sophisticated philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, whereby the other’s body is a mere instrument for her own personal satisfaction and nothing more. That we live in a time in which de Sade’s approach can be described as “sex positive” is not something to be celebrated. That we describe it that way simply reveals the impoverished, mendacious, and ultimately lonely view of sex and relationships that we are passing on to our children. We have robbed our children not only of stable families but also of the real joy of sex—of sex that exists as a vital part of a committed relationship and thus has more than mere momentary, physical significance.

Anyway, I look forward to Part II of the interview, scheduled for when Gracie turns seventy-five. That’s my own sadistic streak speaking. You see, I have a sneaking suspicion that growing old is going to be especially cruel for members of the “ethical non-monogamy community.”

By: Carl R. Trueman and published on August 31, 2016 in First Things can be seen here.

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Students’ Broken Moral Compasses

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Atlantic which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?

The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.

This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.

I was satisfied that students were clearly thinking about tough issues, but unsettled by their lack of experience considering their own values. “Do you think you should discuss morality and ethics more often in school?” I asked the class. The vast majority of heads nodded in agreement. Engaging in this type of discourse, it seemed, was a mostly foreign concept for the kids.

Widespread adoption of the Common Core standards—despite resistance by some states—arguably continues the legacy of the No Child Left Behind Act. The 2002 law charged all public schools to achieve 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014, meaning that all students were expected to be on grade level. This unrealistic target forced schools to track and measure the academic achievement of all students, a goal lauded by most, but one that ultimately elevated standardized testing and severely narrowed curricula. Quantifying academic gains remains at the forefront of school-improvement efforts to the detriment of other worthwhile purposes of schooling.

As my students seemed to crave more meaningful discussions and instruction relating to character, morality, and ethics, it struck me how invisible these issues have become in many schools. By omission, are U.S. schools teaching their students that character, morality, and ethics aren’t important in becoming productive, successful citizens?

For many American students who have attended a public school at some point since 2002, standardized-test preparation and narrowly defined academic success has been the unstated, but de facto, purpose of their schooling experience. And while school mission statements often reveal a goal of preparing students for a mix of lifelong success, citizenship, college, and careers, the reality is that addressing content standards and test preparation continues to dominate countless schools’s operations and focus.

In 2014, an annual end-of-year kindergarten show in New York was canceled so students could focus on college-and-career readiness. Test-prep rallies have become increasingly commonplace, especially at the elementary level. And according to a 2015 Council of the Great City Schools study, eighth-graders spend an average of 25.3 hours a year taking standardized tests. In Kentucky, where I teach, high schools are under pressure to produce students who are ready for college, defined as simply reaching benchmark scores in reading, English, and math on the ACT.

Talking with my students about ethics and gauging their response served as a wakeup call for me to consider my own role as an educator and just how low character development, ethics, and helping students develop a moral identity have fallen with regard to debate over what schools should teach. The founders of this country, Jessica Lahey wrote in The Atlantic, would “likely be horrified by the loss of this goal, as they all cite character education as the way to create an educated and virtuous citizenry.” According to Gallup polling, Lahey added, 90 percent of adults support the teaching in public schools of honesty, acceptance of others, and moral courage, among other character traits. What adults hope occurs in schools, however, is in sharp contrast to observations provided by teens themselves.

The 2012 Josephson Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth reveals a pressing need to integrate elements of character education into the country’s public-school curriculums. According to the study, 57 percent of teens stated that successful people do what they have to do to win, even if it involves cheating. Twenty-four percent believe it is okay to threaten or hit someone when angry. Thirty-one percent believe physical violence is a big problem in their schools. Fifty-two percent reported cheating at least once on an exam. Forty-nine percent of students reported being bullied or harassed in a manner that seriously upset them.

In the recently released Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, Michelle Borba claims narcissism is on the rise, especially in the Western world, as more teens concur with the statement: “I am an extraordinary person.” If empathy is crucial to developing a moral identity, then this trend should be troubling to parents and educators who hope that students foster the ability to see the world through others’s eyes.

My own observations support the data. I’m frequently unnerved by the behaviors I see in classrooms and hallways every day, from physical and verbal bullying, to stereotyping, to students leaving trash strewn all over the outdoor cafeteria courtyard.

“Teaching character education in schools is actually unavoidable … [E]verything the school chooses to do or not do in terms of curriculum choices” influences the culture of a school and the character of its students, Steve Ellenwood, the director of Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility (CCSR), wrote in an email. His words resonated with me. During my 12 years in education, I can’t recall a single meeting in which the discussion of student character and ethics was elevated to anything close to the level of importance of academics within school curricula.

Groups like the CCSR and the Josephson Institute of Ethics’ Character Counts! initiative strive to enhance existing school programs and curricula to address these issues, proof that efforts do exist to transform schools into places where character education is elevated within traditional curricula. But Ellenwood laments that many educators “blithely accept that schools must be value-neutral,” adding that there is legal precedent for teaching about religions (and not imposing any set of beliefs), character, and ethics. And divisive national politics have left many educators with difficult choices about addressing certain issues, especially those who teach immigrant students who are actively afraid of their fates if Donald Trump wins the election.

A reluctance to teach about religions and value systems is coinciding with a steady decline of teen involvement in formal religious activity over the past 50 years, according to research led by San Diego State Professor Jean Twenge. And while attending church is only one way young people may begin to establish a moral identity, schools don’t seem to be picking up the slack. There’s undoubtedly a fear about what specific ethical beliefs and character traits schools might teach, but one answer might be to expose students to tough issues in the context of academic work—not imposing values, but simply exploring them.

At a recent convening of 15 teacher-leaders from around the country at the Center for Teaching Quality in Carrboro, North Carolina, I spoke to some colleagues about the balance between teaching academic content and striving to develop students’ moral identities. Leticia Skae-Jackson, an English teacher in Nashville, Tennessee, and Nick Tutolo, a math teacher in Pittsburgh, both commented that many teachers are overwhelmed by the pressure and time demands in covering academic standards. Focusing on character and ethics, they said, is seen as an additional demand.

Nonetheless, Tutolo engages his math students at the beginning of the school year by focusing on questions of what it means to be a conscientious person and citizen while also considering how his class could address community needs. His seventh-grade class focused on the issue of food deserts in Pittsburgh and began a campaign to build hydroponic window farms. While learning about ratios and scaling—skills outlined in the Common Core math standards—students began working to design and distribute the contraptions to residents in need, a project that will continue this fall as Tutolo “loops” up to teach eighth grade.

William Anderson, a high-school teacher in Denver, takes a similar approach to Tutolo, but told me that “most teachers haven’t been trained to design instruction that blends academic content with an exploration of character and ethics.” He emphasized that schools should promote this approach to develop well-rounded students. Addressing academic skills and challenging students to consider ethics and character should not, he argued, be mutually exclusive.

When I reflect upon my own education, two classes stand out with regard to finding the balance between imparting academic skills and developing my own moral identity. My high-school biology teacher Phil Browne challenged us to think about the consequences of our consumer choices and individual actions as they related to ecosystems and the environment in a way that challenged us to think about ourselves as ethical actors.

A couple years later, I signed up for a freshman seminar in college titled “Education and Social Inequality” at Middlebury College in Vermont. I remember being moved by Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities and his moral outrage at dilapidated, underfunded, and understaffed schools in impoverished areas; early on in the course, I struggled to articulate my thoughts during essay assignments. My professor, Peggy Nelson, would sit quietly during seminars, watching us squirm in our seats while we grappled with big ideas such as personal responsibility, systemic injustice, and racism.

Entering my 13th year in the classroom this fall, I hope to continue striving to capture the dynamic that Browne, Nelson, Tutolo, Skae-Jackson, Anderson, and other skilled educators have achieved by blending academic instruction with the essential charge of developing students as people. It’s time for critical reflection about values our schools transmit to children by omission in our curriculum of the essential human challenges of character development, morality, and ethics. Far too often, “we’re sacrificing the humanity of students for potential academic and intellectual gain,” Anderson said.

By Paul Barnwell and originally published in The Atlantic on July 25, 2016 and can be seen here.

Assimilate! How Modern Liberalism Is Destroying Individuality

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in National Review which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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Progressives claim to celebrate diversity, but demand that everyone fit their mold.
I was once called a “cracker” by a member of the Nation of Islam. It was in the mid-1980s and I was driving through Washington, D.C., in the kind of neighborhood that conservatives call dangerous and liberals call “transitioning.” I saw a member of the Nation of Islam, bow tie and all, on the corner hawking copies of The Final Call, the NOI’s newspaper. I rolled down the window and asked for a copy. That’s when he hit me with it: “F*ck off, cracker.”
I thought of this gentleman fondly when I was reading the new book, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies by Polish scholar Ryszard Legutko. The book is an intense read that argues that liberal democracies are succumbing to a utopian ideal where individuality and eccentricity might eventually be banned. As liberals push us towards a monoculture where there is no dissent, no gender, and no conflict, the unique and the great will eventually cease to exist. No more offbeat weirdoes, eccentric crazies, or cults. No more Nation of Islam there to call me a cracker. No more of the self-made and inspired figures of the past: Duke Ellington, Hunter Thompson, Annie Leibowitz.
Legutko’s thesis is that liberal democracies have something in common with communism: the sense that time is inexorably moving towards a kind of human utopia, and that progressive bureaucrats must make sure it succeeds. Legutko first observed this after the fall of communism. Thinking that communist bureaucrats would have difficulty adjusting to Western democracy, he was surprised when the former Marxists smoothly adapted — indeed, thrived — in a system of liberal democracy. It was the hard-core anti-communists who couldn’t quite fit into the new system. They were unable to untether themselves from their faith, culture, and traditions.
Both communism and liberal democracy call for people to become New Men by jettisoning their old faith, customs, arts, literature, and traditions. Thus a Polish anti-communist goes from being told by communists that he has to abandon his old concepts of faith and family to become a member of the larger State, only to come to America after the fall of the Berlin Wall and be told he has to forego those same beliefs for the sake of the sexual revolution and the bureaucratic welfare state. Both systems believe that societies are moving towards a certain ideal state, and to stand against that is to violate not just the law but human happiness itself. Legutko compares the two: “Societies — as the supporters of the two regimes are never tired of repeating — are not only changing and developing according to a linear pattern but also improving, and the most convincing evidence of the improvement, they add, is the rise of communism and liberal democracy. And even if a society does not become better at each stage and in each place, it should continue improving given the inherent human desire to which both regimes claim those found the most satisfactory response.”
Legutko argues that, of course, there are huge differences between communism and liberal democracy — liberal democracy is obviously a system that allows for greater freedom. He appreciates that in a free society people are able to enjoy the arts, books, and pop culture that they want. Our medical system is superior. We don’t suffer from famines. Yet Legutko argues that with so much freedom has come a kind of flattening of taste and the hard work of creating original art.
We’ve witnessed the a slow and steady debasement of our politics and popular culture — see, for example, those “man on the street” interviews where Americans can’t name who won the Revolutionary War. Enter the unelected bureaucrats who appoint themselves to steer the ship; in other words, we’re liberals and we’re here to help. Inspired by the idea that to be against them is to be “on the wrong side of history,” both communism and contemporary liberalism demand absolute submission to the progressive plan. All resistance, no matter how grounded in genuine belief or natural law, must be quashed.
Thus in America came the monochromatic washing of a country that once could boast not only crazies like Scientologists and Louis Farrakhan, but creative and unusual icons like Norman Mailer, Georgia O’Keefe, Baptists, Hindus, dry counties, John Courtney Murray, Christian bakers, orthodox Jews, accents, and punk rockers. The eccentric and the oddball, as well as the truly great, are increasingly less able to thrive. As Legutko observes, we have a monoculture filled with people whose “loutish manners and coarse language did not have their origin in communism, but, as many found astonishing, in the patterns, or rather anti-patterns that developed in Western liberal democracies.” The revolution didn’t devour its children; progressive-minded bureaucrats did.
By Mark Judge and originally published on August 11, 2016 and can be seen here.

 

Mammon Ascendant

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  It is by one of my favorite theologians/philosophers, David Bently Hart (see here), and regards the relationship between capitalism and Christianity, and takes a view with which I tend to agree.  Be edified.

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So, there I was, pondering, with an old familiar feeling of perplexity (about which more anon), certain reactions to my reaction to various reactions to the pope’s last encyclical, when it occurred to me that the one thing on which ­Hegelians of every stripe—right or left, theological or materialist, contemplative or activist—are undoubtedly correct is that the logic of history is not the logic of individuals, or of parties, or of states. It is not ideology, that is to say, that determines the course of cultural evolution, but the dialectic of history, which (even if it is not materialist) can never float free of material conditions. Hence Hegel’s famous “master-slave dialectic”: that process by which the material economy of ancient society slowly but inevitably inverted the order of knowledge and power upon which that society rested. History—its meaning, its irony—reveals itself only by way of a ­continuous pragmatic labor, an engagement between spirit and matter; and the final issue of that labor becomes manifest not in the abstractions we profess but in the culture we create.

Take, for instance, American political history of the last thirty-five years. One of the great political masterstrokes of the late twentieth century was Ronald Reagan’s successful creation of a coalition between cultural “conservatives” and fiscal “conservatives,” one that seemed to a great many at the time and for a long while thereafter not only a stable alliance, but a natural association. All at once, Wall Street Journal–reading mandarins began caring about abortion, “family values,” and even school prayer; pro-life Christians and Jews became genuine partisans of supply-side economics, reduced marginal tax rates, and expansive free-trade agreements; and both sides shared just enough traditional American traits (sincere patriotism unburdened by the disenchantments of postwar Europe, genial optimism, the language of self-reliance, pioneer myths, small-town ideals, and so forth) to overcome whatever regional and cultural differences might otherwise have separated them. It was an invincible political force.

But, again, it is culture—not politics—that pronounces the final historical verdict on our transitory ideologies and grand social projects and high ideals. The coalition that Reagan wrought has largely collapsed, and has done so as the result not of external hostile forces, but under the weight of its own contradictions. It has been said often enough that in the long aftermath of the 1960s, it became evident that the “right” had won the economic argument over culture and the “left” the moral argument. At least, I have heard one of my friends say it often enough (usually in a slurred voice and under fairly dim lighting: free markets and free love, corporatism and hedonism, low taxes and high times, Ben and Jerry’s, Whole Foods, Bill Gates . . .).

And, of course, it is true. The social revolution of the late 1960s was a marvelous impasto of cultural, political, social, and moral gestures, many of them more spasmodic than deliberate, and most of them only accidentally associated with one another. The most licentiously self-indulgent hedonism dallied for a gay flirtatious season with the grimly severe moralism of Trotskyite or Maoist rhetoric; the revolution was proclaimed by cossetted children of the middle class who imagined the socialist utopia as an interminable revel of psychedelic drugs, casual copulation, and ever shorter skirts; Madison Avenue was relentlessly denounced by its most servile victims. (And, oh, how I sigh with genuine nostalgia for the idiot happiness of those days.)

But, once the mists had cleared and the lava lamps had dimmed, things began sorting themselves out very rapidly. The economic radicalism faded, but the new social mores persisted, and grew in power, and became the common social grammar. A once very fashionably idealist generation found the adventure of revolution far less exhilarating than the venture of capital; it continued to cling to the old new Bohemianism (which, after all, always sold very well), but realized that endless self-indulgence requires the sort of resources that only canny investment can secure. Apple Records began as a collectivist idyll but a few bats of the eyelashes later was a tightly controlled distribution firm with security cameras at the gate; George Harrison soon learned that it was easier to find time for Krishna and room for organic farming on the sprawling grounds of an English manor house; Haight-Ashbury tie-dye ­mutated into Silicon Valley office casual; the homiletics of public property yielded to the legalese of the public offering; cannabis was just the new Chivas. All that now remained of economic debate were procedural details: the relative preponderance of development and regulation, the shifting balance of power between business sectors and state agencies, and so on.

In another sense, however, the notion that two opposed ideologies divided the spoils of the culture between them is deeply false. In truth, no political faction won or lost, because none was involved in the process at all except as one of the forces employed (and then perhaps discarded) by a deeper power. What in fact won the day was a single historical dynamism, a single indivisible cultural philosophy. That its political expressions had been distributed among different parties was a purely incidental matter of process, an especially exquisite example of “the cunning of history,” which effectively hid the true form of what everyone really wanted behind the spectacle of superficial antagonisms. Or rather, I should say: not superficial, but certainly futile. The struggle over “values” was quite real on both sides, as far as personal commitments were concerned. But, once again, the reasons for which individuals act are not the reasons by which history unfolds.

All right. Perhaps I am not as much of a German idealist as all that. But I do believe that the relation between material conditions and moral concepts is never accidental, and that cultural logic invariably discovers the real harmonies and balances and accords that our fleeting intellectual paradigms generally cannot. As late modern persons, we live in a society whose highest values—in every sphere: moral, religious, economic, domestic, cultural, and so on—can loosely be described as “libertarian.” We understand freedom principally as an ­individual’s sovereign liberty of deliberative and acquisitive choice, and we understand individual desires (so long as they fall within certain minimal legal constraints) either as rights or at least as protected by rights. And we are increasingly disposed to see almost every restriction placed upon the pursuit of those desires as an unreasonable imposition. Our natural economic philosophy, then, is of course “neoliberal” (or, as it is also called in America, “neoconservative”) while our natural moral philosophy is voluntarist, individualist, and hedonist (in a not necessarily opprobrious sense). Not only is there no contradiction here; there is an essential unity.

And, in this sense, talk of history’s dialectic is not only pardonable, but probably necessary. The story of how, over a far longer period than thirty-five years, we arrived where we are has been told often before: on the side of ideas, the rise of late scholastic voluntarism, the emergence not only of epistemological nominalism but even of nominalist accounts of the good, theologies that subordinated all divine attributes to the supreme attribute of absolute sovereignty and that increasingly conceived of sovereignty as something like pure spontaneity of will, then the eventual migration of this idea of sovereign freedom from theology to anthropology, as well as the rise of mechanistic metaphysics (and so on); on the side of material circumstance, the rise of the absolute state, the creation of denatured ecclesial establishments, the rise of early market institutions, the growth of an enfranchised merchant class, the rise of the power of large capital in the age of industrialization, the inevitable emergence of consumerism (and so on); and, between the two sides, a dynamic, fluctuating, oscillating, but ultimately inexorable dialectical process. It is an absorbing tale, but it has gone through so many editions by now that even the effort of declining to repeat it is tedious.

Even so, just at the moment I feel as if somehow I have to remark this essential, indissoluble concomitance between the logic of late modern secularity and that of late modern capitalism. It all has to do, I suppose, with those reactions to my reaction to those reactions I mentioned above, and with that old familiar perplexity they occasioned in me. At least I feel I want to confess, if nothing else, the limits of my imagination on one vexing point. Simply said, I have never been able to understand those (almost exclusively American) souls who expend such energy both on lamenting the late modern collapse of so many of the moral accords and cultural values and religious aspirations of the past and also on vigorously promoting the very system of material and social practices that made that collapse inevitable.

The history of capitalism and the history of secularism are not two accidentally contemporaneous tales, after all; they are the same story told from different vantages. Any dominant material economy is complicit with, and in fact demands, a particular anthropology, ethics, and social vision. And a late capitalist culture, being intrinsically a consumerist economy, of necessity promotes a voluntarist understanding of individual freedom and a purely negative understanding of social and political liberty. The entire system depends not merely on supplying needs and satisfying natural longings, but on the ceaseless invention of ever newer desires, ever more choices. It is also a system inevitably corrosive of as many prohibitions of desire and inhibitions of the will as possible, and therefore of all those customs and institutions—religious, cultural, social—that tend to restrain or even forbid so many acquisitive longings and individual choices.

This is what Marx genuinely admired about capitalism: its power to dissolve all the immemorial associations of family, tradition, faith, and affinity, the irresistible dynamism of its dissolution of ancient values, its (to borrow a loathsome phrase) “gales of creative destruction.” The secular world—our world, our age—is one from which as many mediating and subsidiary powers have been purged as possible, precisely to make room for the adventures of the will. It is a reality in which all social, political, and economic associations have been reduced to a bare tension between the individual and the state, each of which secures the other against the intrusions and encroachments of other claims to authority, other demands upon desire, other narratives of the human. Secularization is simply developed capitalism in its ineluctable cultural manifestation.

Mind you, part of the difficulty of convincing American Christians of this lies in the generous vagueness with which we have come to use the word “capitalism” in recent decades. For many, the term means nothing more than a free market in goods, or the right to produce and trade, or buying and selling as such. In that sense, every culture in recorded history would have been “capitalist” in some degree. And for many, then, it also seems natural to think that all free trade and all systems of market exchange are of a piece, and that to defend the dignity of production and trade in every sphere, it is necessary also to defend the globalized market and the immense power of current corporate entities—or, conversely, to think that any serious and sustained criticism of the immorality, environmental devastation, exploitation of desperate labor markets, or political mischief for which such entities might often justly be arraigned is necessarily an assault on every honest entrepreneur who tries to build a business, create some jobs, or produce something useful or delightful to sell.

But, in long historical perspective, the capitalist epoch of market economies has so far been one of, at most, a few centuries. At least, in the narrower acceptation of the term generally agreed on by economic historians, capitalism is what Proudhon in 1861 identified as a system—at once economic and social—in which, as a general rule, the source of income does not belong at all to those who make it operative by their labor. If that is too vague, we can say it is the set of economic conventions that succeeded those of the “mercantilism” of the previous era, with its tariff regimes and nationalist policies of trade regulation, and that took shape in the age of industrialization. Historically, this meant a shift in economic eminence from the merchant class—purveyors of goods contracted from and produced by independent artisanal labor or subsidiary estates or small local markets—to the capitalist investor who is at once producer and seller of goods, and who is able to generate immense capital at the secondary level of investment speculation: a purely financial market where wealth is generated and enjoyed by those who produce nothing except an incessant circulation of investment and divestment.

Along with this came a new labor system: the end of most of the contractual power of free skilled labor, the death of the artisanal guilds, and the genesis of a mass wage system; one, that is, in which labor became a commodity, different markets could compete against one another for the cheapest, most desperate laborers, and (as the old Marxist plaint has it) both the means of production and the fruit of labor belonged not to the workers but only to the investors. Hence the accusation of early generations of socialists, like William Morris and John Ruskin, that capitalism was to be eschewed not because it was a free-market system, but because it destroyed the true freedom of the market economies that had begun to appear at the end of the Middle Ages, and concentrated all real economic and contractual liberty in the hands of a very few.

This is a system that not only allows for, but positively depends upon, immense concentrations of private capital and private dispositive use of that capital, as unencumbered by fiscal regulation as possible. It also obviously allows for the exploitation of material and human resources on an unprecedentedly massive scale, one that even governments cannot rival. And it is a system that inevitably eventuates not only in economic, but cultural, “consumerism,” because it can continue to create wealth sufficient to sustain the investment system only by a social habit of consumption extravagantly in excess of mere natural need or even (arguably) natural want. Thus it must dedicate itself not only to fulfilling desire, but to fabricating new desires, prompted by fashion, or by seductive appeals to what 1 John calls “the lust of the eyes”—the high art of which we call “advertising.”

Now, without question, capitalism works. It is magnificently efficient at generating enormous wealth, and increasing the wealth of society at large—if not necessarily of all individuals or classes—and adjusting to the supersession of one form of commercial production by another. But this is practically a tautology. That is its entire purpose, and it is no great surprise that over time it should have evolved ever more refined and comprehensive means for achieving it. It generates immense returns for the few, which sometimes redound to the benefit of the many, but which often do not; it can create and enrich or destroy and impoverish, as prudence warrants; it can encourage liberty and equity or abet tyranny and injustice, as necessity dictates. It has no natural attachment to the institutions of democratic or liberal freedom; China has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that endless consumer choices can comfortably coexist with a near total absence of civil liberties. Capitalism has no moral nature at all. The good it yields is not benevolence; the evil is not malice. It is a system that cannot be abused, but only practiced with greater or lesser efficiency. It admits of no other criterion by which to judge its consequences.

This last point, moreover, needs to be particularly stressed, at least in America, where many of capitalism’s apologists are eager (perhaps commendably) to believe that our market system is not only conducive of large social benefits, but possessed of deep structural virtues. This belief often leads them both to exaggerate those benefits and to ignore the damages, or to explain them away (like good Marxists preaching the socialist eschaton) as transient evils that will be redeemed by a final general beatitude (“rising tide” . . . “all boats” . . . “supply-side” . . . “trickle down” . . . “Walmart may destroy small businesses and force the formerly well-employed into inferior jobs, but, hey, think of the joy that all those cheap—if occasionally toxic—Chinese goods produced by ruthlessly exploited laborers will provide the lower middle class in its ceaseless fiscal decline!”). But, given the sheer magnitude of capitalism’s ability to alter material, social, economic, and cultural reality, to cherish even the faintest illusions regarding some kind of inherent goodness in the system is to risk more than mere complacency.

Yes, venture capital built Manhattan—its shining cloud-capped towers, its millions of jobs, its inexhaustible bagels—but the cost of a world where Manhattans are built has to be reckoned in more than capital. And one does not even need to travel any great distance to assess some of the gravest of them. One need go no farther than the carboniferous tectonic collision zones of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky to find a land where a once poor but propertied people were reduced to helotry on land they used to own by predatory mineral rights’ purchases, and then forced into dangerous and badly remunerated labor that destroyed their health, and then kept generation upon generation in servile dependency on an industry that shears the crests off mountains, chokes river valleys with slurry and chemical toxins, and subverts local politics. And what one must remember is that all that devastation was not the result of one of capitalism’s failures, but of one of its most conspicuous successes. All the investors realized returns on their initial expenditures many thousands of times over. Those who win at the game can win everything and more, while those who lose—who more often than we care to acknowledge lose everything and forever—are simply part of the cost of doing business.

None of which is to deny that capital investment can achieve goods that governments usually cannot. While it is certainly not the case that, say, the world’s rising mean life span or the increase in third-world literacy are straightforwardly consequences of globalization, it certainly is the case that global investment and trade have created resources that have made rapid medical progress, improvements in nutrition, and distribution of goods and services—by private firms, charities, governments, and international humanitarian organizations—possible in ways that less fluid commercial systems never could have done. There are regions of sub-Saharan Africa currently enjoying the kind of economic development that once seemed impossible because certain governments and businesses (such as numerous small technology firms) have set aside generations of post-colonial prejudice and finally begun building businesses there.

On the other hand, untold tens of thousands of Africans have died as a result of large Western pharmaceutical firms, concerned for their market share and their proprietary rights, exerting fiscal and government pressure to deny access to affordable antiretroviral drugs manufactured in Thailand and elsewhere. The market gives life; the market murders. It creates cities; it poisons oceans. And throughout the third world, as well as in less fortunate districts of the developed world, the price of industrialization remains (as ever) environmental damage of a sort that cannot be remedied in centuries, along with all its attendant human suffering. The World Health Organization, on very judiciously gathered data, estimates that roughly 12.6 million persons die each year as a result of environmental degradation, particularly pollution from industrial waste products. This being so, it seems only decent to wonder whether a thriving market system might be run on more humane principles—which is to say, on principles alien to capitalism as it has always existed.

Perhaps, though, I am allowing myself to drift away from my original point. Even if it were not so—even if fully developed capitalism, per impossibile, operated without any destruction of ecologies, communities, and lives—it would still carry moral costs that would render it ultimately antagonistic to any but an essentially secularized culture. At least, it could not coexist indefinitely with a culture informed by genuine Christian conviction. Even the fact of the system’s necessary reliance on immense private wealth makes it a moral problem from the vantage of the Gospel, for the simple reason that the New Testament treats such wealth not merely as a spiritual danger, and not merely as a blessing that should not be misused, but as an intrinsic evil. I know there are plentiful interpretations of Christianity that claim otherwise, and many of them have been profoundly influential of American understandings of the faith. Calvin’s scriptural commentaries, for instance, treat almost all of the New Testament’s more consequential moral teachings—Christ’s advice to the rich young ruler, his exhortations to spiritual perfection, and so on—as exercises in instructive irony, meant to demonstrate the impossibility of righteousness through works. Calvin even remarks that having some money in the bank is one of the signs of election. But that is offensive nonsense. The real text of the New Testament, uncolored by theological fancy, is utterly perspicuous and relentlessly insistent on this matter. Christ’s concern for the ptōchoi—the abjectly destitute—is more or less exclusive of any other social class.

What he says about the rich youth selling all his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor, and about the indisposition of camels trying to pass through needles’ eyes, is only the beginning. In the Sermon on the Plain’s list of beatitudes and woes, he not only tells the poor that the kingdom belongs to them, but explicitly tells the rich that, having had their pleasures in this world, they shall have none in the world to come. He condemns those who buy up properties and create large estates for themselves. You cannot serve both God and mammon. Do not store up treasure on earth, in earthly vessels, for where your treasure is, there your heart will also be. The apostolic Church in Jerusalem adopted an absolute communism of goods. Paul constantly condemns pleonektia, which is often translated as “excessive greed” or even “thievery,” but which really means no more than an acquisitive desire for more than one needs. He instructs the Corinthian Christians to donate all their profits to the relief of the poor in other church assemblies. James says that God’s elect are the poor of this world; the rich he condemns as oppressors and revilers of the divine name, who should howl in terror at the judgment that is coming upon them, because the rust of their treasure shall eat their flesh like fire on the last day. And on and on. This is so persistent, pervasive, and unqualified a theme of the New Testament that the genius with which Christians down the centuries have succeeded in not seeing it, or in explaining it away, or in pretending that it does not mean what it unquestionably means may be among the greatest marvels of the faith.

But, again, even if it were not so—even if there is a way of possessing wealth purely as a blameless stewardship of God’s bounty, or if the system could function as well in a society with more equitably distributed capital, or what have you—the problem with which I began remains. As a cultural reality, late capitalism is not merely a regulatory regime for markets, but also a positive system of values, necessarily at odds with other orders of desire, especially those that seek to limit acquisition or inhibit expressions of the will. We may think we are free to believe as we wish because that is what our totalitarian libertarianism or consumerist collectivism chiefly needs us to think. But, while our ancestors inhabited a world full of gods or saints, ours is one in which they have all been chased away by advertising, into the hidden world of personal devotion or private fixation. Public life is a realm of pure elective spontaneity, in every sphere, and that power of choice must be ceaselessly directed toward an interminable diversity of consumer goods, and encouraged to expand into ever more regions of fiscal, moral, and spiritual life. We are shaped by what we desire, and what we desire is shaped by the material culture that surrounds us, and by the ideologies and imaginative possibilities that it embodies and sustains.

This is not to say that believing Christians, Jews, and other retrograde types cannot live peacefully amid the heaven-scaling towers and abyss-plumbing indulgences of late modernity. Believers of every kind are strangers and sojourners in this life, and should not seek to build enduring cities in this world. Still, all of us must make our livings, and seek to provide for others, and that means buying and selling, hiring and being hired, seeking justice and enduring injustice. That is the business of life, and conducted well, it can bring about many good things. And who knows? Perhaps it is possible to reimagine a real market economy on a more truly human and humane scale, of the sort envisaged by E. F. Schumacher or various other religious “economists of the small.” After all, the exchange of goods, the common commerce of everyday life, the community that exists wherever one person trades one “gift” for another—all of these are natural goods, part of the corporal grammar of community, and can usually in some way exhibit a generosity more original and more ultimate than any calculus of greed or selfish appetite. But, beyond that, the claim that capitalist culture and Christianity are compatible—indeed, that they are not ultimately inimical to one another—seems to me not only self-evidently false, but quaintly (and perhaps perilously) deluded.

David Bentley Hart is a fellow of the Notre Dame Institute of Advanced Studies. His most recent book is A Splendid Wickedness and Other Essays.

Originally published in First Things in June 2016 and can be seen here.

California’s State Religion

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Orange County Register which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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In a state ruled by a former Jesuit, perhaps we should not be shocked to find ourselves in the grip of an incipient state religion. Of course, this religion is not actually Christianity, or even anything close to the dogma of Catholicism, but something that increasingly resembles the former Soviet Union, or present-day Iran and Saudi Arabia, than the supposed world center of free, untrammeled expression.

Two pieces of legislation introduced in the Legislature last session, but not yet enacted, show the power of the new religion. One is Senate Bill 1146, which seeks to limit the historically broad exemptions the state and federal governments have provided religious schools to, well, be religious.

Under the rubric of official “tolerance,” the bill would only allow religiously focused schools to deviate from the secular orthodoxy required at nonreligious schools, including support for transgender bathrooms or limitations on expressions of faith by students and even Christian university presidents, in a much narrower range of educational activity than ever before. Many schools believe the bill would needlessly risk their mission and funding to “solve” gender and social equity problems on their campuses that currently don’t exist.

The second piece of legislation, thankfully temporarily tabled, Senate Bill 1161, the Orwellian-named “California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016,” would have dramatically extended the period of time that state officials could prosecute anyone who dared challenge the climate orthodoxy, including statements made decades ago. It would have sought “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused or misled the public on those risks.”

Although advocates tended to focus on the hated energy companies, the law could conceivably also extend to skeptics who may either reject the prevailing notions of man-made climate change, or might believe that policies concocted to “arrest” the phenomena may be themselves less than cost-effective or even not effective at all. So, fellow Californians, sign onto Gov. Torquemada’s program or face possible prosecution and the fires of hell.

The new intolerance

Although they target widely different issues, these pieces of legislation reflect a highly authoritarian and illiberal brand of progressivism evolving into something of a state religion. On one hand, California cannot tolerate the autonomy of religious institutions if they refuse to embrace the secularist ideology that dominates the state. Even religious clubs on California State University campuses can no longer restrict their leadership to those who actually are believers.

Similarly, the emerging attack on anyone questioning climate change orthodoxy represents another kind of religion, one that gives officially sanctioned science something close to papal infallibility. Despite the fact that there remain widely divergent views on both the severity of climate change and how best to address it, one has to adhere to the accepted “science” – or else.

Perhaps most shocking of all, this new spirit of progressive intolerance is affecting other institutions, notably academia and the media. Long incubators for free thinking, the academy, as liberal legal scholars such as Alan Dershowitz note, now routinely violates due process.

The University of California even has promoted the idea of “freedom from intolerance” in order to protect students from any speech that may offend them as discriminatory. In the context of today’s campus, this means that not only the lunacy of Donald Trump but even conventional conservatism must be curtailed as intrinsically discriminatory and evil. Yet, at the same time, proudly violent groups like the Black Panthers are openly celebrated.

This cult of political correctness has reached such ludicrous levels that the University of California considers it a “microagression” to assert “America is a land of opportunity,” or to dare to criticize race-based affirmative action. Perhaps more dangerous, such attitudes are incubated in our law schools, which increasingly embrace the notion that the law should be employed specifically to promote certain ideals – whether environmental, race-related or gender-related – embraced by overwhelmingly progressive institutions, irrespective of constitutional limits.

The media, to their shame, increasingly embrace these notions, for example, by refusing to print letters from climate change skeptics, as has occurred on outlets such as Reddit and the Los Angeles Times. Increasingly, mainstream newspaper accounts do not even bother considering skeptical views, including those held by dissenting scientists or questioning economists. What we used to associate only with Soviet-era papers like Pravda increasingly pervades much of the mainstream media.

In such an environment, it’s not surprising that legislators and elected state officials feel free to target churches, conservative think tanks or energy companies such as Exxon with criminal sanctions and penalties. That such approaches are disguised either as being “scientific” or reflective of “social justice” makes them no less heinous, and fundamentally illiberal, in terms of traditional American values of tolerance and respect for dissenting opinions.

Forgetting Madison, embracing groupthink

For the record, I am neither a Christian, nor do I deny that climate change could pose a potential serious long-term threat to humanity. What worries me most is the idea that one must embrace official orthodoxy about how to combat this phenomenon, or question its priority over so many other pressing concerns, such as alleviating poverty, both here and abroad, protecting the oceans or a host of other issues. Similarly, I have always disagreed with holy rollers like Sen. Ted Cruz, who would seek to limit, for example, abortion or the rights of gay people to marry, or would allow school prayer.

But the new progressive intolerance now represents, in many ways, as great, if not more pervasive, a threat to the republic than that posed by either religious fundamentalists or even the most fervent climate change denier. It violates the Madisonian principle that assumed that religious and moral ideas “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” To revoke that principle is to reduce the United States to just another authoritarian state, even if the official ideology is couched in scientific research or estimable embrace of racial or gender differences.

It is no surprise, then, that today many Christians – as much as two-thirds, according to one recent survey – feel that they are being persecuted. Indeed, if they dissent from orthodox views, they now can find themselves the subjects of official opprobrium, as seen in the case of Chick-fil-A in New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged his constituents, somewhat unsuccessfully, to boycott the popular restaurant. In some cases, you can lose your job by taking the wrong position, as was the case for Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla. The attempt to impose orthodoxy on religious schools, as in SB1146, seems the logical extension of such thinking.

The jihad against anyone who dissents on climate issues also impacts those who are not religious. Couched in the oft-repeated hysterical language that has come to dominate green politics, anyone who dissents on the orthodoxy – whether a moderate Democrat, an energy company or the stray scientific skeptic – faces the possibility of official persecution.

Already, 16 Democratic state attorneys general are actively seeking such action against companies and individuals, which should offend anyone who believes in the ideals of free speech and diversity of opinion. That our own governor and Legislature embrace such repressive views is anathema to the very idea of California, where the “free speech” movement originated and fostering unorthodoxy has been something of a tradition. Slowly, our very essence – born of debate and dissent and the presence of so many ethnicities and world views – is being stamped out in an attempt to enforce orthodoxy. This process, as in so many areas, has been exacerbated by our transition into a one-party state where, increasingly, only the most orthodox views on all issues can be tolerated.

Ultimately, we as Americans – and Californians – will pay a price for this. History is replete with stories of decline brought on by enforced official orthodoxy, from Byzantium to China’s Qing dynasty, the Spain of the Inquisition, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or the current religious autocracies of the contemporary Middle East. As we seek to limit options and ways of thought about everything from marriage and bathrooms to how the planet operates, we don’t just persecute dissenters. We also undermine our ability to innovate, adapt and evolve as a society.

By: Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.”

You can find the article here.

The Dark Pessimism of American Christians

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Week which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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n her new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, Mary Eberstadt finds a dark pessimism settling over many American Christians when they contemplate the future. They perceive a foreboding shift in public attitude. Once there seemed to be a broad and liberal respect for the free exercise of religion, even in public life. But now, the very cultural forces promoting tolerance and diversity treat Christians and their institutions with broad suspicion, and demand absolute conformity with an egalitarian ethos that has only recently even announced its own existence.

Believers see the recent battles over religious liberty in the courts and in public opinion as a desire to purge orthodox Christian views, particularly about sex and the two sexes, from the public-facing institutions that they have built: their schools, hospitals, and adoption agencies. Instead of their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, Christians are being offered, with a great deal of bitterness, mere “freedom of worship,” narrowly defined to thinking your own thoughts in your head and participating in ceremonies behind closed doors.

Eberstadt documents in exhaustive detail this widespread social urge to rob Christians of their livelihoods and their good names, merely for believing what their churches have always taught, and acting on those beliefs. This is not just a handful of bakers who refused to make gay wedding cakes. There was the U.S. Marine Monica Sterling, who was given a dishonorable discharge for posting the Biblical verse “No weapon shall prosper against me” on her own computer, which a military judge said “could be interpreted as combative.” Or the mayor of Houston, who demanded that pastors turn over their sermons to her for inspection. Religious colleges are faced with challenges to their accreditation. Charity groups and adoption agencies are subjected to continual and costly campaigns of legal assault for acting in accordance with the tenets of their religion. Even in the last few weeks since Eberstadt’s book has been published, Catholic hospitals, which service some of the poorest areas in the country, are being portrayed as an alien and malignant force as the ACLU sues them for not performing abortions.

Eberstadt, in a neat series of chapters, contrasts the self-descriptions of progressives and secularists with their actions. They believe themselves champions of civil rights, while circumscribing the freedoms of fellow citizens. They imagine themselves tolerant, while prosecuting their cultural enemies with the zeal of inquisitors. They make blacklists and call themselves open-minded.

If Eberstadt is right that this is a moral panic, that would be a considerable relief for the orthodox Christians who are reading her book. A moral panic tends to be a moral fad, and to burn itself out in a decade or two. Although some, like the witch trials, can consist of recurring panics over centuries.

But I wonder if Eberstadt’s moral panic analogy doesn’t conflict with the other novel suggestion in her book, that the post-sexual revolution ethics and anthropology that progressives are championing in the culture war is becoming a religion itself. She writes:

What’s unfolding today is not a drama in which secularist progressivism is slowly but surely eclipsing antiquated religious faith at last, but a contest of competing creeds, and competing first principles. Only when we acknowledge that truth can we see that there is only one way out of this cantankerous, riven place. [It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies]

Eberstadt argues that the way to end the moral panic about Christians and their institutions is for the two camps in the culture wars to acknowledge their differences and then agree to disagree.

But I can’t help but wonder if the analogy that is more appropriate to our times is to the English Reformation. There, a new rising faith, led by Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, confronted an institutionally powerful set of church institutes. There were many elements of moral panic around this conflict, particularly the fear of subversive Jesuits sent from the Continent to destroy England’s state power and ruin the morals of her people.

But this wasn’t a moral panic that just subsided. The new faith was part of a state-building and state-reforming project, and that meant the continued prosecution of the old one for centuries. Instituting the new faith meant crushing those institutions, robbing them of their wealth, and taking over their social functions for the new faith. Driving the old faith underground made Catholics lest trustful of the state, and in turn obedient citizens became more distrusting of them. English anti-Catholicism meant the banning of Catholics from many vocations, especially those in public life. And these prejudices endured long after many Englishmen stopped believing in Protestantism. Three quarters of a century after Catholic emancipation, Liberal Parliamentarians like H.H. Asquith contemplated arresting Catholics for wearing Eucharistic vestments in public.

The analogy to the English Reformation just contemplates the natural and historic affinities. But what if the zeal that Eberstadt uncovers in her book is motivated by something deeper? Sometimes one senses that the new progressive ethic has an uneasy conscience. And it makes you wonder if the legal, social, and moral wrath it seeks to inflict on believers isn’t really aimed at something within progressives themselves. There are some fires that never burn out.

By Michael Brendan Dougherty

Published on June 28, 2016 by The Week and can be found here.

 

 

Subversive Virginity

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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Okay, I’ll admit it: I am twenty-two years old and still a virgin. Not for lack of opportunity, my vanity hastens to add. Had I ever felt unduly burdened by my unfashionable innocence, I could have found someone to attend to the problem. But I never did. Our mainstream culture tells me that some oppressive force must be the cause of my late-in-life virginity, maybe an inordinate fear of men or God or getting caught. Perhaps it’s right, since I can pinpoint a number of influences that have persuaded me to remain a virgin. My mother taught me that self-respect requires self-control, and my father taught me to demand the same from men. I’m enough of a country bumpkin to suspect that contraceptives might not be enough to prevent an unwanted pregnancy or disease, and I think that abortion is killing a baby. I buy into all that Christian doctrine of law and promise, which means that the stuffy old commandments are still binding on my conscience. And I’m even naive enough to believe in permanent, exclusive, divinely ordained love between a man and a woman, a love so valuable that it motivates me to keep my legs tightly crossed in the most tempting of situations.

In spite of all this, I still think of myself as something of a feminist, since virginity has the result of creating respect for and upholding the value of the woman so inclined. But I have discovered that the reigning feminism of today has little use for it. There was a time when I was foolish enough to look for literature among women’s publications that might offer support in my very personal decision. (It’s all about choice, after all, isn’t it?) The dearth of information on virginity might lead one to believe that it’s a taboo subject. However, I was fortunate enough to discover a short article on it in that revered tome of feminism, Our Bodies, Ourselves. The most recent edition of the book has a more positive attitude than the edition before it, in that it acknowledges virginity as a legitimate choice and not just a by-product of patriarchy. Still, in less than a page, it presumes to cover the whole range of emotion and experience involved in virginity, which, it seems, consists simply in the notion that a woman should wait until she’s really ready to express her sexuality. That’s all there is to say about it. Apparently, sexual expression takes place only in and after the act of genital intercourse. Anything subtler—like a feminine love of cooking or tendency to cry at the movies or unsuppressable maternal instinct or cultivation of a wardrobe that will turn heads or even a passionate good-night kiss—is deemed an inadequate demonstration of sexual identity. The unspoken message of Our Bodies, Ourselves is clear enough: As long as a woman is a virgin, she remains completely asexual.

Surprisingly, this attitude has infiltrated the thinking of many women my age, who should still be new enough in the web of lies called adulthood to know better. One of my most vivid college memories is of a conversation with a good friend about my (to her) bizarre aberration of virginity. She and another pal had been delving into the gruesome specifics of their past sexual encounters. Finally, after some time, my friend suddenly exclaimed to me, “How do you do it?”

A little taken aback, I said, “Do what?”

“You know,” she answered, a little reluctant, perhaps, to use the big bad V-word. “You still haven’t . . . slept with anybody. How do you do it? Don’t you want to?”

The question intrigued me, because it was so utterly beside the point. Of course I want to—what a strange question!—but mere wanting is hardly a proper guide for moral conduct. I assured my concerned friend that my libido was still in proper working order, but then I had to come up with a good reason why I had been paying attention to my inhibitions for all these years. I offered the usual reasons—emotional and physical health, religious convictions, “saving myself” till marriage—but nothing convinced her until I said, “I guess I don’t know what I’m missing.” She was satisfied with that and ended the conversation.

In one sense, sure, I don’t know what I’m missing. And it is common enough among those who do know what they’re missing to go to great lengths to insure that they don’t miss it for very long. In another sense, though, I could list a lot of things that I do know I’m missing: hurt, betrayal, anxiety, self-deception, fear, suspicion, anger, confusion, and the horror of having been used. And those are only emotional aspects; there is also disease, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion. As if to prove my case from the other side, my friend suffered a traumatic betrayal within a month or two of our conversation. It turned out that the man involved would gladly sleep with her, but refused to have a “real relationship”—a sad reality she discovered only after the fact.

According to received feminist wisdom, sexuality is to be understood through the twin concepts of power and choice. It’s not a matter of anything so banally biological as producing children, or even the more elevated notion of creating intimacy and trust. Sometimes it seems like sex isn’t even supposed to be fun. The purpose of female sexuality is to assert power over hapless men, for control, revenge, self-centered pleasure, or forcing a commitment. A woman who declines to express herself in sexual activity, then, has fallen prey to a male-dominated society that wishes to prevent women from becoming powerful. By contrast, it is said, a woman who does become sexually active discovers her power over men and exercises it, supposedly to her personal enhancement.

This is an absurd lie. That kind of gender-war sexuality results only in pyrrhic victories. It’s a set-up for disaster, especially for women. Men aren’t the ones who get pregnant. And who ever heard of a man purchasing a glossy magazine to learn the secret of snagging a wife? Sacrifice and the relinquishing of power are natural to women—ask any mom—and they are also the secret of feminine appeal. The pretense that aggression and power-mongering are the only options for female sexual success has opened the door to predatory men. The imbalance of power becomes greater than ever in a culture of easy access.

Against this system of mutual exploitation stands the more compelling alternative of virginity. It escapes the ruthless cycle of winning and losing because it refuses to play the game. The promiscuous of both sexes will take their cheap shots at one another, disguising infidelity and selfishness as freedom and independence, and blaming the aftermath on one another. But no one can claim control over a virgin. Virginity is not a matter of asserting power in order to manipulate. It is a refusal to exploit or be exploited. That is real, and responsible, power.

But there is more to it than mere escape. There is an undeniable appeal in virginity, something that eludes the resentful feminist’s contemptuous label of “prude.” A virgin woman is an unattainable object of desire, and it is precisely her unattainability that increases her desirability. Feminism has told a lie in defense of its own promiscuity, namely, that there is no sexual power to be found in virginity. On the contrary, virgin sexuality has extraordinary and unusual power. There’s no second-guessing a virgin’s motives: Her strength comes from a source beyond her transitory whims. It is sexuality dedicated to hope, to the future, to marital love, to children, and to God. Her virginity is, at the same time, a statement of her mature independence from men. It allows a woman to become a whole person in her own right, without needing a man either to revolt against or to complete what she lacks. It is very simple, really: No matter how wonderful, charming, handsome, intelligent, thoughtful, rich, or persuasive he is, he simply cannot have her. A virgin is perfectly unpossessable. Of course, there have been some women who have attempted to claim this independence from men by turning in on themselves and opting for lesbian sexuality instead. But this is just another, perhaps deeper, rejection of their femaleness. The sexes rightly define themselves in their otherness. Lesbianism squelches the design of otherness by drowning womanhood in a sea of sameness, and in the process loses any concept of what makes the female feminine. Virginity upholds simply and honestly that which is valuable in and unique to women.

The corollary of power is choice. Again, the feminist assumes that sexually powerful women will be able to choose their own fates. And again, it is a lie. No one can engage in extramarital sex and then control it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the moral nightmare of our society’s breakdown since the sexual revolution. Some time ago I saw on TV the introduction of the groundbreaking new “female condom.” A spokeswoman at a press conference celebrating its grand opening declared joyously the new freedom that it gave to women. “Now women have more bargaining power,” she said. “If a man says that he refuses to wear a condom, the woman can counter, fine, I will!” I was dumbstruck by her enthusiasm for the dynamics of the new situation. Why on earth would two people harboring so much animosity towards each other contemplate a sexual encounter? What an appealing choice they have been given the freedom to make!

The dark reality, of course, is that it is not free choice at all when women must convince men to love them and must convince themselves that they are more than just “used goods.” There are so many young women I have known for whom freely chosen sexual activity means a brief moment of pleasure—if that—followed by the unchosen side effects of paralyzing uncertainty, anger at the man involved, and finally a deep self-hatred that is impenetrable by feminist analysis. So-called sexual freedom is really just proclaiming oneself to be available for free, and therefore without value. To “choose” such freedom is tantamount to saying that one is worth nothing.

Admittedly, there are some who say that sex isn’t anything nearly so serious or important, but just another recreational activity not substantially different from ping-pong. I don’t believe it for a second. I learned most meaningfully from another woman the destructive force of sexuality out of control when I myself was under considerable pressure to cave in to a man’s sexual demands. I discussed the prospect with this friend, and after some time she finally said to me, “Don’t do it. So far in life you’ve made all the right choices and I’ve made all the wrong ones. I care enough about you that I don’t want to see you end up like me.” Naturally, that made up my mind. Sex does matter; it matters a lot; and I can only hope that those who deny it will wake up to their error before they damage themselves even more.

It is appalling that feminism has propagated lies so destructive to women. It has created the illusion that there is no room for self-discovery outside of sexual behavior. Not only is this a grotesque lie, but it is also an utterly boring one. Aside from its implied dismissal of all the world’s many riches outside the sexual domain, this false concept has placed stultifying limitations on the range of human relationships. We’re told that friendships between men and women are just a cover until they leap into the sack together. While romance is a natural and commendable expression of love between women and men, it is simply not the only option. And in our sexually competitive climate, even romantic love barely deserves the title. Virginity among those seeking marital love would go far to improve the latter’s solidity and permanence, creating an atmosphere of honesty and discovery before the equally necessary and longed-for consummation. Where feminism sees freedom from men by placing body parts at their disposal in a bizarre game of self-deception, virginity recognizes the equally vulnerable though often overlooked state of men’s own hearts and seeks a way to love them for real.

It is puzzling and disturbing to me that regnant feminism has never acknowledged the empowering value of virginity. I tend to think that much of the feminist agenda is more invested in the culture of groundless autonomy and sexual Darwinism than it is in genuinely uplifting women. Of course, virginity is a battle against sexual temptation, and popular culture always opts for the easy way out instead of the character-building struggle. The result is superficial women formed by meaningless choices, worthy of stereotype, rather than laudable women of character, worthy of respect.

Perhaps virginity seems a bit cold, even haughty and heartless. But virginity hardly has exclusive claim on those defects, if it has any claim at all. Promiscuity offers a significantly worse fate. I have a very dear friend who, sadly, is more worldly-wise than I am. By libertine feminist standards she ought to be proud of her conquests and ready for more, but frequently she isn’t. The most telling insight about the shambles of her heart came to me once in a phone conversation when we were speculating about our futures. Generally they are filled with exotic travel and adventure and PhDs. This time, however, they were not. She admitted to me that what she really wanted was to be living on a farm in rural Connecticut, raising a horde of children and embroidering tea towels. It is a lovely dream, defiantly unambitious and domestic. But her short, failed sexual relationships haven’t taken her any closer to her dream and have left her little hope that she’ll ever attain it. I must be honest here: virginity hasn’t landed me on a farm in rural Connecticut, either. Sexual innocence is not a guarantee against heartbreak. But there is a crucial difference: I haven’t lost a part of myself to someone who has subsequently spurned it, rejected it, and perhaps never cared for it at all.

I sincerely hope that virginity will not be a lifetime project for me. Quite the contrary, my subversive commitment to virginity serves as preparation for another commitment, for loving one man completely and exclusively. Admittedly, there is a minor frustration in my love: I haven’t met the man yet (at least, not to my knowledge). But hope, which does not disappoint, sustains me.

Sarah E. Hinlicky, a writer living in New York City, is an Editorial Assistant at First Things.

This article can be seen here.

The Failure of Gay Marriage

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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In a 2009 piece in The Weekly Standard, Sam Schulman argues that gay marriage replicates “a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage. Gay advocates have chosen wisely in this. They are replicating what we might call the ‘romantic marriage,’ a kind of marriage that is chosen, determined, and defined by the couple that enters into it.”

This isn’t what marriage has been through most of human history. Instead, marriage has taken the particular shape it has because it is part of a larger network, the kinship system.

One of the things marriage has done is to force men to respect the chastity of women until sex becomes socially acceptable within marriage. Schulman thinks that “it is a scandal that homosexual intercourse should ever have been illegal,” but adds that now that it is legal “there remains no extra sanction—the kind which fathers with shotguns enforce upon heterosexual lovers.” He comments sardonically, “I am not aware of any gay marriage activist who suggests that gay men and women should create a new category of disapproval for their own sexual relationships, after so recently having been freed from the onerous and bigoted legal blight on homosexual acts. . . . [D]eclaring gay marriage legal will not produce the habit of saving oneself for marriage or create a culture which places a value on virginity or chastity (concepts that are frequently mocked in gay culture precisely because they are so irrelevant to gay romantic life).”

Because gay marriage doesn’t bear the burdens of virginity and chastity, it doesn’t bear the burdens of real marriage which, Schulman argues, even today are “honored in spirit if not in letter, creating for women (women as modern as Beyoncé) the right to demand a tangible sacrifice from the men who would adore them.”

Because gay marriage detached marriage from the kinship system, incest prohibitions have no weight: “If Tommy marries Bill, and they divorce, and Bill later marries a woman and has a daughter, no incest prohibition prevents Bill’s daughter from marrying Tommy. The relationship between Bill and Tommy is a romantic fact, but it can’t be fitted into the kinship system.”

In sum, “in gay marriage there are no virgins (actual or honorary), no incest, no illicit or licit sex, no merging of families, no creation of a new lineage. There’s just my honey and me, and (in a rapidly increasing number of U.S. states) baby makes three.”

Schulman doesn’t think the experiment will last: “When, in spite of current enthusiasm, gay marriage turns out to disappoint or bore the couples now so eager for its creation, its failure will be utterly irrelevant for gay people. The happiness of gay relationships up to now has had nothing to do with being married or unmarried; nor will they in the future.”

The losers will be everyone else, everyone who benefits from the various restrictions, obligations, and sacrifices that marriage imposes: “As kinship fails to be relevant to gays, it will become fashionable to discredit it for everyone. The irrelevance of marriage to gay people will create a series of perfectly reasonable, perfectly unanswerable questions: If gays can aim at marriage, yet do without it equally well, who are we to demand it of one another? Who are women to demand it of men? Who are parents to demand it of their children’s lovers—or to prohibit their children from taking lovers until parents decide arbitrarily they are ‘mature’ or ‘ready’? By what right can government demand that citizens obey arbitrary and culturally specific kinship rules—rules about incest and the age of consent, rules that limit marriage to twosomes? Mediocre lawyers can create a fiction called gay marriage, but their idealism can’t compel gay lovers to find it useful. But talented lawyers will be very efficient at challenging the complicated, incoherent, culturally relative survival from our most primitive social organization we call kinship. The whole set of fundamental, irrational assumptions that make marriage such a burden and such a civilizing force can easily be undone.”

This is a powerful argument, but doesn’t give sufficient weight to a point that Schulman acknowledges early on: The fact that “romantic marriage” was invented by heterosexuals, and the detachment of sex from marriage and marriage from kinship was accomplished long before anyone began seriously proposing gay marriage. Gay marriage may further damage marriage; but heterosexuals damaged marriage nearly beyond recognition all on our own.

By: Peter J. Leithart and published on April 20, 2015 and can be seen here.

NBI SEMINAR MATERIALS: Advanced Family Law Roundup

As I have posted recently (see here), I  had the great opportunity to lead (perhaps “teach”) a continuing legal education seminar hosted by the National Business Institute (a.k.a. NBI, see here).  The subject was “Advanced Family Law” and I had opportunity to speak on three topics in particular: Effectively Arguing Contempt Issues, Advanced Child and Spousal Support Issues, and Ethics.  I was joined by James Rocco, Esquire, Kathleen Piperno, Esquire, and Jan C. Grossman, Esquire.

Although NBI published the materials, I retain the ownership of the portions I wrote, which I will post here in this blog.  I have posted the aforesaid materials over the past three weeks a here are links to all of them:

 

NBI SEMINAR MATERIALS: Effectively Arguing Contempt Issues

As I have posted recently (see here), I  had the great opportunity to lead (perhaps “teach”) a continuing legal education seminar hosted by the National Business Institute (a.k.a. NBI, see here).  The subject was “Advanced Family Law” and I had opportunity to speak on three topics in particular: Effectively Arguing Contempt Issues, Advanced Child and Spousal Support Issues, and Ethics.  I was joined by James Rocco, Esquire, Kathleen Piperno, Esquire, and Jan C. Grossman, Esquire.

Although NBI published the materials, I retain the ownership of the portions I wrote, which I will post here in this blog.

Copied below are the materials I wrote for the section entitled “Effectively Arguing Contempt Issues.”

Thanks!

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Contempt is generally defined as a willful defiance of a court order or a willful failure to comply with the terms of a court order.  In a strictly technical sense, a domestic and/or family matter does not substantially differ from that of any other civil matter when it comes to contempt.  The court enters an order which lays out certain terms or instructions or directives to the parties involved in the case, and it is the responsibility of those parties to do their best to comply with the terms or instructions or directives in that order.  Failure to comply with the terms or instructions or directives in that order is to be, at least in a strictly technical sense, in contempt of that order.

 

Now, family court, perhaps more than any other court, is one which must be rather flexible to account for the vagaries of human behavior and the unpredictability of everyday life.  Therefore, while some orders may be strictly construed and enforced, others may allow for some flexibility in both practical application and interpretation.  So, when pursuing a contempt matter, it is best to do so judiciously and with discernment.

 

It is important to note that courts typically loathe to have to hear contempt actions and would much rather the parties spend the time working these issues out on their own before filing.  Therefore, before filing for contempt, please be sure to explore the options with the other party.  Sometimes a simple telephone call or email to open the lines of communication can go a long way to bring matters to a resolution without resorting to a contempt action.  Usually, a simple way to do this, at least at first, is to send a letter to the opposing party pointing out his obligation under the order and his failure to meet it, and requesting compliance within a reasonable amount of time.  Courts want to see parties make a good faith effort to resolve their differences; therefore, filing for contempt should only come after other reasonable attempts at resolution have failed.  As a corollary, and this is especially true in custody matters (described below), courts tend not to take picayune matters seriously.  If someone is violative of a court order in a minor way, especially one that resulted in no actual harm to the other party, a court is unlikely to take a contempt matter filed because of it seriously.  Sometimes a contempt matter surrounds a dispute over the interpretation of an order.  Unfortunately, even the most vigilant attorneys, judges, and jurists may write something that could be open to interpretation or does not account for every variable.  A disagreement over an interpretation is certainly something that could be resolved by a court, but if that disagreement is in good faith, it is unlikely to rise to the level of contempt.  It should be remembered that, in general, contempt actions are supposed to be corrective and not punitive; they are a safety valve to help a party receive what he is entitled to receive under a court order as opposed to a way to punish a recalcitrant person.

 

Contempt is approached in slightly different ways in each of the three primary areas of family law, and they are individually described below.

 

  • Divorce

 

Contempt in divorce matters generally crop up in two potentially contentious areas: discovery and the performance of a property division order.

 

Discovery in divorce is not much different than that of any other civil matter.  As seems unfortunately all too typical in all types of litigation, parties who receive discovery requests frequently do not respond to them in a timely fashion.  Failing to respond to discovery in a timely fashion can lead to motions to compel those responses.  A court granting a motion to compel the discovery responses typically sets out a hard deadline by which the responses must be furnished to the requesting party.  If that hard deadline is missed by the party who is to produce the discovery responses, the opposing party may proceed with a contempt action for the failure to abide by the order of the court requiring discovery to be provided by a specific date.

 

Now, as stated above, courts generally do not hold parties in contempt of their orders unless a party demonstrated a willful defiance of a court order.  So, if facing a contempt motion for failing to comply with a discovery order, viable defenses could, depending on the case, include, but are not limited to, things like:

  1. the items requested are impossible to produce (e.g.: they are destroyed or not in a party’s possession or have already been provided, etc);
  2. the items requested are too voluminous to produce in the time frame required;
  3. a good faith effort has been made to comply, but circumstances have resulted in untimely responses.

 

The other primary source of contempt litigation in the context of a divorce matter is the performance of a property division order.  A property division order can be the result of an agreement between the parties (e.g.: a Property Settlement Agreement) or by an order of a court after a hearing.  Regardless of which it is, they both effectuate the same purpose, which is to lay out how marital property is to be dealt with after the dissolution of a marriage.

 

A typical property division order includes provisions that identify which assets to convey, and when, from one party to the other.  As one may expect, for one reason or another, parties are not always completely compliant with the terms of a property division order.  As above, once again, a finding of contempt must include some sort of willful defiance of the order.  So, as above, defenses like impossibility or good faith may be viable.

 

Contempt matters involving agreements between the parties generally also involve a provision for the payment of the aggrieved party’s attorney’s fees by the party found in contempt.  As a result, it is important to avoid contempt and, if not avoided, keep the litigation to a minimum in order to ensure attorney’s fees do not accumulate.

 

  • Custody

 

Much of what has been said above applies to custody matters.  Contempt in custody matters distinguish themselves from the above as they also tend to carry a high degree of emotionality with them, are very fact dependent, and, if not used properly, descend into using the court as a referee or a life coach as opposed to a tribunal interpreting and applying the law.  Unlike divorce or support or most other areas of the law, the object of a custody order is not the parties, but a third party, namely a child (or children), and that child’s best interest is paramount.  This “best interests” standard potentially opens up times where a technical contempt is justified.

 

As one may expect, custody orders, among other things, lay out the times and places when a party may have custody of his child(ren), and how and when that/those child(ren) are to be transferred to the other parent.  The decision to withhold a child from the other parent, in contravention of the custody order, is one which is fraught with emotion, and the legitimacy of that decision is entirely dependent on factual circumstances.

 

Uncontrolled emotionality can sometimes lead to conduct that is clearly contempt of a custody order.  For example, two parents could get into an argument and, out of spite, the father then decides to withhold the child from the mother in violation of the custody order.  At other times, that emotionality can be a powerful source of strength to take the necessary action to protect a child.  For example, a father is using drugs in his home when his child is to be dropped off with him by the mother.  Considering the circumstances, the mother sees his drug use and elects not to provide the child to the father.  Both of these are technically contempt of an order as they both violate its terms, however a deeper investigation of the facts, and keeping the “best interests” standard in view, the second example above is justifiable and would probably not be contempt of the court order.

 

As one may expect, “best interests of the child” is a nebulous term-of-art and, therefore, interpreted all manner of ways by parents.  Before withholding a child due to “best interests,” it is important to ensure that the situation one is emotionally responding to is, actually, a “best interests” situation; clearly this is extremely fact intensive.  Watching a rated “R” movie would likely not warrant withholding a child as opposed to something much more serious like abuse, drug use, and/or neglect.

 

The typical contempt action in a custody matter surrounds compliance with the days and times a child is to be transferred between the parties.  As mentioned above, courts are loathe to get involved in the nitty gritty of someone’s life.  As a result, a technical contempt (i.e.: imprecision in compliance with the order) will likely not result in a finding of contempt, unless harm can be shown.  For example, if the child is to be dropped off at 8:00pm on Sunday night at father’s house by mother, but mother does not do so until 8:10pm, it is unlikely for this to result in a successful contempt action even if it is a technical violation of the order.  While this may seem ridiculous to the outside observer, nearly any custody attorney can vouch for the fact that it is not uncommon for a parent to expect such hyper-precise compliance with a custody order by the other, and finds that lack of compliance to be of grave significance.  The emotionality so often found in custody cases tends to distort a party’s perception of how such minor violations are viewed.  This is not to say that violating a custody order will never result in a finding of contempt.  For example, being significantly late, especially on habitual basis, will likely result in a finding for contempt.  Again, as mentioned above, these matters are highly fact dependent.

 

Custody also carries with it the vagaries of daily life that are entirely unpredictable.  All manner of things can interrupt compliance with a custody order that would not amount to contempt.  For example, failing to drop off a child at the scheduled time due to inclement weather, a traffic jam, sickness, accident, an event running long, or the like would probably not be contempt.  In fact, I think it can be said that losing track of time once or twice and being late would probably not be contempt either.  A custody arrangement is something that is embedded and intertwined with one’s life and schedule and it is important to be flexible.  Filing for contempt on a regular basis, or over minor issues, makes the filer look petty, badgering, and/or pedantic, and sometimes causes judges not to be sympathetic when a case of actual contempt arises.

 

Finally, some jurisdictions have such significant case backlog that a contempt action could lose its sting.  For example, if one party breaks a custody order for a few weeks straight in the month of May, the impact and significance of that violation may easily still be felt at a hearing on the matter in July.  Conversely, causing someone to miss some custody time in May, which is technically contempt of the order, seems distant and “yesterday’s news” when the hearing on the matter is not heard until November.  The practical issue of a court’s scheduling backlog should be considered when deciding whether to file for contempt.

 

So, when considering filing for contempt in a custody matter, it is important to do so with discretion and discernment, which accounts for one’s emotionality and the specific factual situation in which the case is found.

 

  • Support

 

Once again, as above, much of what has been said also applies to support matters.  Of the different types of family matters, support tends to be the most-straight forward.  A party (“obligor”) has an obligation to remit a certain amount of funds to the other party (“obligee”) at clearly laid out intervals (typically monthly).  Failure to meet the aforesaid obligation, in full and in a timely fashion, is to be in contempt of court.

 

Most support cases in Pennsylvania are enforced through a garnishment of the obligor’s paycheck.  As the support payments are, therefore, usually involuntary, contempt in a support context is not nearly as common as other areas.

 

Contempt in the context of support are typically in matters where someone changes employment and does not inform the Court (and, thereby, undermining the garnishment order), where someone has to personally make the payments, and/or someone fails to comply with health insurance coverage requirements.

 

Contempt in a support matter carries with it two unique aspects one ought to keep in mind when considering pursuing a support action.  The first is a consideration of the obligor’s ability to perform the support order.  For one reason or another, the parties in a support case are not always as vigilant as they could be in filing for the modification of a support order.  So, for example, an obligor who loses his job (and neglects to request a modification of his support obligation downward) may not, due to circumstances beyond his control, be able to satisfy his support obligation.  This sort of situation would unlikely, at least initially, lead to a finding of contempt as long as the obligor acts in good faith and makes reasonable efforts to pay child support.  The second consideration is the practical effect a finding of contempt may have on the obligor’s earning ability.  There are times where a judge will find the contempt of the support order to be so egregious that the obligor is penalized with incarceration.  While in the moment achieving some measure of justice may feel gratifying for an obligee, it is quickly realized that an obligor, in a typical case, will not be able to pay any support while incarcerated, and his ability to do so once released is diminished.  It is important to factor in the effect of incarceration on support before pursuing a contempt action in support.

 

  • Penalties for Contempt

 

There is a wide range of possible consequences for someone found in contempt in family court.  The wide range is due to the fact that some violations of an order are minor, while others are more significant, and some are habitual.  The more significant the violation, and the more habitual it is, the greater the penalty will be.  “Habitual violations” means more than just doing the same thing repeatedly over a course of time (e.g.: nearly always being late for Sunday night custody drop off), it also can mean repeatedly violating a court’s specific directive.  For example, someone may receive a mild penalty if found in contempt of a custody order for being late on a Friday night.  If, two months later, the parties are back in court again on the same issue, the penalty will likely be more severe.

 

Perhaps the mildest penalty will be a specific directive by a court.  So, for example, a party violating a divorce order by failing to remit a settlement check may be found in contempt and directed to furnish it to the other party on a date certain at pain of more severe sanctions upon further violations.  The Court also may award attorney’s fees to the party who filed the contempt action to be paid by the party who violated the order.  Other more severe penalties, including incarceration, are possible depending on the situation.  In custody cases, the court may award additional custody time to a parent who was deprived of his time under the order due to the other party’s violation of the custody order.  Of course, if the parties informally agree to make up time before the contempt hearing, then the impact of the contempt action is greatly diminished.

 

  • Cases, Rules, and Statutes to consider:
    • R.C.P. 1910.20 through Pa.R.C.P. 1910.25-6;
    • R.C.P. 1915.12;
    • 23 Pa.C.S.A. §3703;
    • 23 Pa.C.S.A. §4344;
    • 23 Pa.C.S.A. §4345;
    • 42 Pa.C.S.A. §4132;
    • 42 Pa.C.S.A. §4133;
    • Rhoades v. Pryce, 874 A.2d 148 (Pa.Super.2005);
    • Chadwick v. Janecka, C.A.3 (Pa.2002), 312 F.3d 597;
    • Sonder v. Sonder, 378 Pa.Super. 474 (Super.1988);
    • Schoffstall v. Schoffstall, 364 Pa.Super. 141 (Super.1987);
    • Durant v. Durant, 339 Pa.Super. 488 (Super.1985).

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