Part III: Moral Relativism — the logical choice from a child's perspetive…
In a contemporary world, where the family meal is among many of the 'movable feasts', and where in consequence for a certain part of each week, a child lives with one parent and for the next part of the week, with the other parent — values become relativised, not out of any insidious love of vice, or a direct denial of an Absolute Being, but out of something inherently virtuous in itself — filial love. If God is love, and love is not Absolute, as my parents have divorced, then there in fact can be no God — such is the conclusion that an intelligent child contemplating the divorce of their parents can logically construe. If God doesn't exist — then it necessarily follows that the Church is purely a fantasy. God thus ceases to exist, not because of any theologically deficient argument, but by way of a breakdown of primary human relationships: wife and husband, father and mother.
Not infrequently the impact of a divorce results in a turning away from Church by the parents, thus further re-emphasizing in the minds of the children the inadequacies of the Truth as preached by the Church; if a God-ordained marriage is over, God must be dead. Such apostasy can spread in chaos-like fashion throughout heart-broken, extended families, fanned like fire by a warm breeze, but here carried by the strong winds of fractious emotions, and broken hopes. The child, being a spiritual being, may in time find religion, but whether this religion is the religion of his or her parents is extremely doubtful — for the religion of the parents has been tried and found wanting, as is evidenced by their failed union — a 'disaster' originally sanctified within the walls of the Church. The Church thus becomes the whipping-post for human fallibility.
Similarly if one Truth cannot contradict another Truth, then a child in order to recognize the Truth in a divorce scenario, must make an explicit moral choice. Either the Church must be speaking the Truth regarding love and commitment, or the Truth must be incarnated in the way in which their parents; people whom they do know, and who have been caring for them, are living. Thus the Church's arguments are inevitably deduced as being fallacious — not because there is in fact no Truth in what the Church teaches, but that the parents own a 'higher' Truth, as they have a far more 'sacred' role in the life of the child. Ironically, parents thus begin to take on the role of God in a family in which God is not credited with existence — for what surer piece of ground is there to securely tie an anchor, than for a child to do so at the gateway as to how they as an individual, came into this world. To believers, God is recognized as the ultimate existential Being, but without God, we rely on our parents for giving us meaning behind our existence; God may also have been called upon by a child without any previous religious exposure within the family, as a last port of call from despair.
Alternately, for those children who live in the absence of parental example, the most immanent presence for the child in their moral development must become 'significant others': relations, friends, peers, the media (the secular Church), or the Church Itself. Hence in the case of Marquardt's study some children actually became stronger in their faith, post-parental divorce — through a necessity to hold on to God for want of all other support structures being taken away from them. Yet in this latter case there must have existed a strong faith in this child prior to the divorce in order for the child to have 'tried' God for support.
The Parent/Child relationship and the evolution of morality…
Parents by the way in which they lead and have led their lives, educate their children in moral theology, in a far more pervasive fashion than the voice preaching from the pulpit — they are immediate to the child, and not only a 'Sunday friend'. John Paul II affirmed this notion when he described parental instruction and example as the child's "First Experience of the Church". (John Paul II, 1981, par. 39)
The child whose parent smokes marijuana, fornicates, lies, and is verbally abusive, may still love their parent very much — but, without an arbitrary, immanent, consistent form of morality, entangled inextricably within this love may be an unwillingness to question their parent's behaviour, for this very questioning could be seen, as a breach of this love, and all they, the child, have in this life to hold onto, in a world without God — is parental love. In a situation in which the child lives with such a parent, it is naturally easier for physiological and psychological survival to accept the parent's poor example as being Truth.
Similarly, a child whose parent's divorce, may not wish to condemn this separation on the basis that they love each of their parents equally, and through this love seek to affirm the wisdom of both parent's actions. Critically though, it is logical to assume that the child who cannot affirm the wisdom of such a fundamental family decision, as whether the family should stay together, has every right not to trust any future decision these parents make, and rebel; for if the parents 'cannot get the large questions right', what gives them the credibility to get less important questions right? For harmony sake, at least, it becomes 'better' for the child in a broken home, to trust and affirm; and by way of this affirmation, create in their minds the notion that love can be as temporary as commitments made to people or to institutions; hence the quoted Rutgers University findings regarding children from broken homes being far more likely themselves to divorce or to co-habitate. Thus when it comes to the child of a dysfunctional family making choices, should this child be criticized for making choices on the basis of a relativism that caters for their parents not being condemned as morally bankrupt or ambivalent? Should we as a society, be surprised then, if what is taught at places of higher learning reflects in good measure a ridicule of the traditional family unit, if we assume that many of those who have become qualified to teach in these institutions are in fact 'happy' products, of what are essentially in Christian terms at least, 'unhappy' situations?
We have seen the impact of parent's lifestyle on children, but there is conversely a no less powerful line of influence that runs from child to parent. A parent may indeed be a practicing Catholic, but when faced with a daughter who is sexually promiscuous, or a son who abandons his wife, then the parent's love for their child, for not wanting to lose the bond between them, readily blinds itself to the Truth. In this way the second generation can by moral laxity affect the previous generation, in altering the standards of the first generation, by way of the love the parents have for their children. In family breakdowns, it is not unusual for the parents of 'warring' parties to side with their children — especially in the case of an acrimonious divorce, and irrespective whether their child is in fact in the right or the wrong, with regard to tabled accusations. In consequence of such a scenario as depicted, the practicing Catholic parent may be repulsed from attending Church, as they do not wish to hear their son's or daughter's behaviour condemned from the pulpit; the parent rightly loves their child, but now, as distinct from previous occasions, will not hear one word said against these behaviours, as the situation has now become far too personal: "Why should the Church deny my son, or my daughter, some right. I have been good to the Church!"
Outside of the Church, in the supermarkets and car-parks, there these parents meet with other parents, whose children have moved from the Church teaching, and consoling one another as to the archaic nature of the Church — they resolve to stay away. It is a heart-breaking situation for the parent, for they have in fact been sandwiched between two forces that they love dearly, the Church and their children. Mention has been made of the Chaos Theory flow on of emotion through a family, and according to the original depth of bond between family members, the 'shock' at a rupture in one part of the family reverberates across generations.
Family Exodus in the Catholic Church…
Yet neither party, child or parent in such scenarios can be justly criticized. Even the 'best' families are struggling today, inasmuch as the counter-Gospel message is no longer whispered but shouted through the media, and through educational institutions. What was once even too shameful to be posted in brown paper envelopes to an adult male; now can find its way to the e-mail address of a young child. John Paul II was to write regarding this new-world moral order:
"faced with a society that is running the risk of becoming more and more depersonalised and standardized and therefore inhuman and dehumanising, with the negative results of many forms of escapism … the family possesses and continues still to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his anonymity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with deep humanity and actively placing him, in his uniqueness and unrepeatability, within the fabric of society". (John Paul II, 1981, par. 43)
Wherein His Holiness' comments contain many eternal Truths, the pressures against family life are so invidious that the power to repel these threats, is surely tested. The family that prays together, may have a greater chance of staying together, but how can the Church concretely assist a parent who has devotedly done everything that they can to nurture a son or daughter in the Faith, only to see their child become addicted to drugs, or be pregnant at the age of fourteen, or suffer depression and commit suicide? Is the Church prepared to walk hand-in-hand with families, in a time of such great moral storm and stress, and if so, how so? If the Church is not ready, that is of no surprise, for nor are many governments it seems — if It cannot become so, the Church will become increasingly irrelevant, in a western world losing a grip on the notion of God.
Encyclicals, Papal Declarations and Apostolic Exhortations contain powerful messages, but the Church needs to act on teachings, so that the very Truths that are espoused by Her, do not become just another ill-frequented text on a dusty library shelf. No matter how profound the Truths spoken by the Church — they become mere platitudes if they are not supported by action. Part of this action is the need to openly and vigorously reach out to the needs of families, Catholic families, who in the midst of their suffering in the chaotic moral climate, have become alienated from the Church. The Church has a pastoral role, not only for the ten per cent that attend the Divine Liturgy each Sunday, but much more so, to those of Her flock, who speak ill of Her, who feel slighted by Her. (cf. Luke 5: 31-32)
No greater task is there in the Church today, than to seek out the disenfranchised, and open a constructive dialogue, a dialogue that in no way dilutes the Truth of the Church — but serves to show that the Church loves not only by what She says, but also in how She prays, and in how She acts, with mercy, understanding and warmth. This is the real Church of Christ, a Church that fears the loss of even one soul — a Church that searches for the one lost sheep, despite holding in its fold, ninety nine. Yet we are speaking here of a catastrophe for the Church, and not a mere agrarian parable, for whereas one lost sheep in itself is a tragedy, whole families that fall from the Church, are the worst kind of cancer infecting the Bride of Christ — for herein lies a domino effect, that runs across generations. Pontiffs may call for parents to meet the challenges the family faces "with courage and great interior serenity", but in a vale of tears, sometimes a person needs to be guided back to the safe harbour, for want of being able to see their way to safety. (John Paul II, 1981, par. 53) How does the Church propose to meet this task? The surest means of outreach is of course through the media.
Choosing — blind-folded…
The modern absence of religion in the life of many in the West, also means that whereas in the past, choosing a partner in marriage meant a bringing together of spiritually like-minded people, today the choice is not so simple. The power of love still draws people together, but today this means that often a man or woman must frequently forgo their 'abstract' Faith for a 'concrete' partner who, in all probability, may not have religion. By agreeing to disagree, a religious vacuum is created around the family hearth, so as to bypass prospective conflict over values, and to create harmony in the family home. Yet this 'agreeing to disagree' is also fraught with danger.
In The Social Health of Marriage in America (2001), Who Wants To Marry A Soul Mate?: New Survey Findings on Young Adults' Attitudes about Love and Marriage, the authors of the study, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, comment that of those who took part in the research, "An overwhelming majority (94%) of never-married singles agree that 'when you marry you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.'" The study revealed that young people today are searching in a prospective spouse a spiritual connection. That this would indeed be the case is logical, for even if deprived of formal religion in the home, the human person still seeks the quenching of their innate spiritual desires. Yet the critical issue for these people looking for such a 'soul-mate' is in fact where to find them. With Churches now nearly empty in Australia, where are those institutions in which a single man or woman, by virtue of simply entering the doors could assume that within those walls is a person who at least subscribes to a set of values similar to their own? In the Church's place one can go to a bar, or a sporting event, but in the goulash of morals that you encounter at such places, how is one to recognize among all the lovely faces, in a great crowd, that one person, with whom 'a spiritual connection can be made'?
Rutgers, also reveals in another study, (Ten Important Research Findings on Marriage and Choosing a Marriage Partner — Helpful Facts for Young Adults — November, 2004), that: "The more similar people are in their values, backgrounds and life goals, the more likely they are to have a successful marriage. Opposites may attract but they may not live together harmoniously as married couples. People who share common backgrounds and similar social networks are better suited as marriage partners than people who are very different in their backgrounds and networks."
The modern demise of the Church, with regard the loss of so many baptized individuals from the Sunday pews, has in fact led to a cycle, in which consecutive generations are 'lost' as the faith of the individual is diluted, for the compromises that are made in the process of selecting a spouse. Two Church-going Catholic parents, may do everything in their power to instil the Catholic Faith in their child, but the decreasing probability of that child finding a spouse from the same religious background, who they are compatible with as people, is a major problem. Yet as the research indicates compromising values in marriage, become one significant cause of divorce; hence the Church has spoken wisely when She advises that: "In the appropriate preparation for this type of [mixed] marriage, every reasonable effort must be made to ensure a proper understanding of Catholic teaching on the qualities and obligations of marriage, and also to ensure that the pressures and obstacles mentioned … will not occur." (John Paul II, 1981, par. 78)
IN PART IV
©2007 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania