“Until what seems like yesterday,” writes University of Chicago professor Leon Kass at Boundless.org, “young people were groomed for marriage, and the paths leading to it were culturally set out, at least in rough outline.”
I can certainly attest to the truth of that statement. When I went to college it was normal to date, go steady, get engaged, and then marry soon after graduation.
As Kass points out, “Opportunity was knocking, the world and adulthood were beckoning, and most of us stepped forward into married life, readily, eagerly . . . We were simply doing… what our parents had done, indeed, what all our forebears had done.”
But today, he observes, few students expect to find a spouse in college. They all—male and female—expect to launch themselves into careers. And while careers may leave time for casual friendship and all too often casual sex, there’s no time for relationships at the deep level of marriage or even, for that matter, serious dating.
Kass contends that these cultural trends have damaged the relationship between men and women and have lowered their prospects for sustained, happy marriages and families.
As a result, he writes, young men appear to be “nervous predators” who “act as if any woman is equally good.” And “most young women,” he says “strike me as sad, lonely, and confused.”
This is compounded by what Kass calls “deep uncertainty about what marriage is and means, and what purpose it serves.” Is marriage a serious covenant between a man and a woman, designed to provide for the next generation–or is it all about the personal fulfillment of two autonomous individuals?
Of course, this is the fundamental question behind the same-sex marriage debate—a debate that is reaching a critical point now that a federal judge has struck down California’s Proposition 8.
Marriage as a covenant providing for future generations is for serious adults. Marriage as self-fulfillment encourages a protracted adolescence in a culture already biased toward remaining youthful.
Kass notes correctly, “for their narcissistic absorption in themselves and in immediate pleasures … the young are not condemned but are even envied by many of their elders.”
People won’t grow up these days, and the understanding of marriage as a means of self-fulfillment in which children are optional matches their desire. And as the divorce rate shows, many who do marry do so with minimal commitment.
What do we need? Kass prescribes: “a desire in America’s youth for mature adulthood (which means marriage and parenthood), an appreciation of the unique character of the marital bond . . . and a restoration of sexual self-restraint generally and of female modesty in particular.” Well, that’s a tall order, Dr. Kass.
As a friend of mine commented, Kass’s article is a reminder that the funk many older Christian singles find themselves in runs deep, into the very fabric of our culture. Lack of a dating life is not necessarily their own fault; it’s part of a bigger picture. And the Church needs to step in and actively seek to be a radical counter-cultural voice in an increasingly difficult cultural setting, preparing young men and women for marriage—Christian marriage, a lifelong covenant for raising children.