Together with the Tory and Whig-Clio, Anscombe is hosting Mary Eberstadt for a lecture on her new book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization. Many people think that secularization led to a decline in moral and family values (“the family that prays together stays together), but Eberstadt argues that rather the collapse of the family caused the decline of faith in the West. It should be an engaging talk, and it’ll be interesting to see Mrs. Eberstadt defend such a bold thesis. Check out the facebook event also.
The central idea behind this culture can be summarized by Pope John Paul II’s assertion that “The family is the first and fundamental school of social living.”[i] Education begins in the family environment. Key aspects of your character, like who you are, how you think and how you interact with others are first formed within the family, and later develop throughout life by formal education, experiences and interactions with other people. Rather than stifling individual development, continuing to live at home complements it. In Venezuela, Chile and Argentina, I lived with families with college-age students. Rather than witnessing tension or confrontation, I observed how many virtues, such as respect, patience, generosity and charity, developed while sons and daughters who were living at home still studied, went out, partied and did everything fitting for a regular young man or woman. It was completely natural and healthy. The fact that “living with your parents” is looked down upon in the U.S. is ridiculous.
It is important to note that our situation as college students in the U.S., often living quite far from home, is equally conducive to the development of a different set of virtues. When I explained that most students in the U.S. live away from their families, everyone I spoke with usually made a comment to the effect of, “Wow, that’s tough, you guys must mature really fast.” This is absolutely correct. We become independent more quickly and if we use our freedom responsibly, we will also mature more quickly. We ought to take joy in the fact that although there is no one stopping us from doing whatever we want, we have the discipline to restrain ourselves in order to remain faithful to our moral principles.
Living away from home comes with its own set of serious challenges, and I discussed this topic with a class of Chilean high school students. Towards the end of a talk I gave about preparing for college, one of the questions that came up was, “There are clear qualitative advantages of being educated at a university in the U.S. But what about the moral environment? Is it really worth going if you’re going to expose yourself to so many bad things we hear about and see in movies?” I told him that the moral depravity to which he was referring–premarital sex, heavy drinking and drugs–can be found among college students anywhere in the world. The difference in the U.S. is that since we live in dorms far from adult regulation, it’s much easier to engage in those behaviors without fear of being caught and reprimanded. That doesn’t mean that well-formed, upstanding young men and women should avoid attending great universities on account of moral laxity. Quite the opposite: it is essential that such people attend to face the challenge and show others how to improve our culture by ceaseless personal example. We can transform our culture as long as we are dedicated to the continual development of our own character and are interested to the utmost in the improvement of those around us.
[i] Apostolic Exhortation: Familiaris Consortio. Pope John Paul II. Point 37.
The last thing I was expecting when I went to go see George
Clooney’s latest film, Up in the Air, was a story reaffirming some of
the core values of the Anscombe Society. The trailers and critical reviews of
the film presented it as a story about the primacy of human relationships in
opposition to the atomistic, solitary life of the main character, Ryan Bingham
(George Clooney). While that theme was certainly central to the narrative, the
message of the film goes further in explicitly endorsing marriage and family as
crucial to human flourishing.
Bingham is employed by a firm that hires him out to corporations who need
someone to fire their employees for them. The twist in this seemingly
cold-hearted premise is that Bingham views his job as filling an important
social role, helping confused, vulnerable, and spiritually crushed individuals
get through the devastating experience of being fired. Given the current
economic climate, the numerous scenes spotlighting the pain of losing one’s job
are timely and serve the important function of giving human faces to the
lifeless unemployment numbers we see everyday.
Beyond this noble intention of the film is the two-fold theme of family and
marriage. Bingham’s job requires him to fly across the country constantly,
well-over 300 days out of the year. He claims to relish this lifestyle and to
abhor the time spent at his permanent address. Indications are given that he
has little connection to his family, and he has never married, ostensibly
because he has no desire to. Bingham, in short, goes through life with no
strong personal connections to other people. He spends his time wrapped in a
cocoon of hotel check-ins, mini-bars, and airport Admirals clubs.
Then comes along a new employee at Bingham’s company, Natalie Keener (Anna
Kendrick). A rising star within the company, Natalie is assigned as Bingham’s
apprentice to learn the ropes of the downsizing industry. She comes with a
Stanford pedigree, obvious ambition, and dedication to her career. While these
can all be laudable characteristics, given that this is a
film I would have expected an attitude on the part of Natalie which emphasizes
her career over any notion of marriage or children.
Refreshingly, quite the opposite is true. She views marriage
and children as vital to her future happiness. In fact, we later find out (no
big spoiler here, though) that she sacrificed a better job prospect to maintain
the possibility of marrying her boyfriend. Of course, whether that was a good
idea on her part is a separate question, but the fact that she so valued
marriage is encouraging (the implication that she and her boyfriend were living
together prior to marriage as well as other implied premarital sexual
encounters is a distinct, but relatively minor, negative aspect. Can’t ask for too much from Hollywood!). She is therefore appalled
by Bingham’s claims to being happy with his solitary lifestyle and his
disavowal of marriage, children, and family. Bingham’s casual,
no-strings-attached sexual relationship with a fellow frequent-traveler, Alex
Goran (Vera Farmiga), is the antithesis of the future Natalie sees for herself.
Thus, the main conflict in the film revolves around Bingham’s way of life and
the events and characters that influence him to change it.
By the end of the film, Bingham comes to see the utter emptiness of his former lifestyle
and the importance of family and marriage to human happiness. The life he used
to live is shown to be a lie, a self-delusion in which the number of airline
miles he accrued was his primary goal and comfort. Life is about far more than
the materialistic and selfish desires of individuals; its purpose is to be
found in the relationships we maintain, the lives we touch, and the people we
In a way, the seed of Bingham’s transformation is present at the beginning of
the film. His conviction that firing someone can and must be handled with
compassion shows his belief in something greater than his exalted Hertz and
American Airlines membership benefits. In truth, materialism and self-isolation
were never compatible with his core beliefs.
While crude language abounds and a brief scene of nudity is featured, I can recommend
the film as having a generally pro-family message. Director Jason Reitman (Juno,
Thank You for Smoking) masterfully weaves together the many threads of
this film to deliver a wonderful affirmation of the importance of the family,
marriage, and the interdependency of human beings. One could hardly ask for a
better message during the season of the year most dedicated to those values.