Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A celibate Catholic priesthood; a new film about "Demographic Winter"

Most mainline religious denominations (outside of Catholicism) expect their pastors to marry and have relatively large families. Many churches buy parsonages with ample yards and living space, expecting lots of kids.

On the other hand, there is the well-known Roman Catholic priesthood, and the debate over whether the Church ought to allow priests to marry. Of course, in our constitutional system in the U.S., “private” religious groups may regulate their clergy as they like, and there is no legal debate, but there is a practical, religious, moral and cultural one.

The Vatican insists that the majority of its priests are heterosexuals who are responding to a spiritual calling to remain abstinent. (The same would apply to nuns.) They give elaborate theological justification for clergy celibacy and abstinence, starting with the example set by Jesus (despite the theories of novelist Dan Brown and others).

The practical reality is that in a psychologically diverse world, some men will be less emotionally interested in the prospect of biological lineage and may perceive themselves as less “competitive” in forming families. Obviously, this brings up the question of gay priests, the various scandals and litigation against many dioceses in the Church in the past few years, and the recent efforts of the Church to effectively ban male homosexuals from enrolling in seminaries. For those who want to look at the Church's official position on the seminaries, there is a link in Italian.

The December 2006 issue of Mother Jones contained a commentary by JoAnn Wypijewski, "Roman Inquisition: For a thousand years the Catholic Church has been a refuge for gay men. Now Pope Benedict hopes to "purify" his priesthood," link here. A summarizing quote from the article: "Body and blood, a heady mixture of rapture and camp, at once repressive and sensual, dependent, like the army, on structures of submission and domination, only here dedicated to a spiritual doctrine of love—that culture is now exposed and under attack."

Abstinence is supposed to be total, even to the extent of covering fantasies and masturbation. The abstinent priest is, from the viewpoint of external individualism, placing himself in the subordinate position of serving the interest of marital sexual intercourse among the parishoners. That would make him a second-class citizen if it were not for a special religious calling, and an institutionalized prestige and religious authority.

It’s this double-take on the social position of the priest that has come under scrutiny. Yes, there have been programs questioning Catholic policy. And there have been jokes. “The military doesn’t gays, the Catholic priesthood doesn’t want straights.” The Ban in reverse. Well, not exactly. Not by a long shot. I remember in 1993, while the debate on Clinton’s proposal to lift the military gay ban went on, that the Marine Corps said it didn’t want to recruit already married men. All rather perplexing. And probably misguided.

The Right Weighs in on Population Demographics, and the Left takes the Right to Task:

I had planned this post as is today, and this evening saw (actually, received at my business box unsolicited) the current (March 3, 2008) of the “left-wing” “The Nation” with a rather startling article by Kathryn Joyce, called “Missing: The ‘Right’ Babies.” I knew what that would be about. And I was right. On p. 11, the subtitle reads “Pandering to fears about Muslim immigration, US Christian conservatives declare that Europe will face a ‘demographic winter’ unless white couples do their biblical duty and multiply.” The link for the article is here.

The article mentions a new film by Rick Stout: “Demographic Winter: The Decline of the American Family,” from the Family First Foundation, website here, where a long trailer is available free online viewing. The article quotes Stout and Barry McLerran: “Only if the political correctness of talking about the natural family within policy circles is overcome will solutions begin to be found. These solutions will necessarily result in policy changes that will support and protect the natural, intact family.” Joyce's online article also has a YouTube video related to the film.

The United States is said to be a lot better off in this regard, since the birthrate is now higher than in any time since 1960. But the birthrate is lower among well-to-do people and especially Caucasians, still, so the idea does seem like a bit of voodoo. Right-wing proponents of the “demographic winter” are right in that some, often non-western populations, accept family solidarity as prominent moral value and that may indeed produce political and demographic contents in the west, and they also point out that for some decades we have been hearing that the world would become over-populated as a whole. In fact, with the global warming and fuel issue, there is a question about the “carrying capacity” of the planet that is legitimate and that does have political consequences.

The article quotes a number of “pro-family” conservative leaders in quite a bit of accumulated volume. For example Philip Longman is paraphrased as characterizing secular humanists as “a sterile ‘elite’ … too self-absorbed to reproduce” and as among “certain kinds of human beings” who “are on their way to extinction.” (My review of Longman's "The Empty Cradle" (2004) is here.) Later Mormon Paul Mero is quoted as declaring “bachelors over 30 ‘a menace to society.’” Then, as the article progrsses, Catholic conservatives get into this: "Catholic activist de Vollmer talks about the intergenerational collapse family planning will bring: an echo of her charge that contraception, by splitting sexuality from procreation and rejecting potential offspring, leads to generations of damaged, alienated children ... who will later refuse care to their own aged parents." Hence, we come back to the idea, that the Catholic church has tended to regard certain kinds of men as needing a crafted place, or else they can at least become a big distraction, if not a danger. (Mussolini, remember, severely taxed bachelors.) To an individualist, this all sounds like “victimization.” But collective public morality gets around that.

The Nation article online has a two-minute YouTube video (called again "Missing: The 'Right' Babies") where Joyce explains that this is an "old argument" that is being recycled as propaganda, in a veiled attempt to restore the "national family" or patriarchal family. The image of "rejected potential offspring" sounds like an echo of moral arguments over abortion, as if there were a moral obligation to reproduce to ratify the value of your own blood and family as "human."

Some other entities mentioned in the article include Steve Mosher 's "Population Research Institute" in Front Royal, VA, The Family First Foundation in Erie, PA, and the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, and the World Congress of Families.

Earlier articles by Joyce on the pro-natalist movement include "Arrows for the War" from the Nov. 27, 2006 issue (of The Nation), here (there is religious talk of making oneself a "sacrifice" for more babies), and the video link for "Wanted: More White Babies," here in "Videonation".

Suzanne Fields has a commentary in the Feb. 28 Washington Times, "Looking for Mr. Good Enough: Child-man in the promised land," p. A17 print, link , with more numbers that support the concerns over the fact that both men and women are putting off marriage and babies. She also mentions the work of Kay Hymowitz ("republican marriage"), which I discussed in my books blog here (2 reviews).

I have a couple of earlier posts about this problem: Russia's "Conception Day" (Aug 2007 post here); loyalty of immigrants to blood family back home, Sept. post, here.

Also, check this post, discussing an ABC news story about a woman who delays having her own children because of eldercare resposibilities, for grandparents!

Update: May 1, 2008

The US Census Bureau is now reporting that 20% of all children in the United States under 5 are Hispanic. In New Mexico and California, the percentage is 50%, but overall state populations are 44% and 36% respectively. In Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado one third of these kids are classified Hispanic.

The numbers probably have to be taken in some context. Some people with largely European ancestry (as from Spain itself) might have been counted, as this is common in areas like Texas. Still, there is a tendency for lower income people of minority origins to have more children.

The biggest impact may be on school systems, that will have to spend more resources on English as a second language (ESOL). But there may eventually be political implications as more affluent people have fewer children. A lead story in the Washington Post is by N.C. Aizenman, p A2, May 1, 2008, link here.

Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal on May 1 ran a story on p A3 print by Connor Douugherty and Mirian Jordan, "Surge in U.S. Hispanic Population Driven by Births, Not Immigration; Dynamic Differs From '90s Growth, Census Data Show" link here.

A story on p A4 of the May 1 Wall Street Journal is related more to immigration than just birthrates. It is also by Miriam Jordan, and is titled "Fewer Latino Migrants Send Money Home, Poll Says," and appears on p A4, with link here. That is somewhat driven by the economy. Nevertheless, in Europe Muslim immigrants apparently regularly send money home, in comparison.

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