Friday, July 5, 2013

Wandering Home: Reflections on Today's Moral Climate

my ninja husband
By Mary C. Tillotson

Home is supposed to be that place of tranquility and comfort, where you can be yourself and know you are loved. It’s supposed to be stable and unchanging. It’s hard for me to imagine that right now: I’ve got a candle and a cup of tea with me, but my kitchen is cluttered with an overflowing wastebasket and a clothes drying rack, complete with two towels and three filthy washrags. I don’t even know where half our stuff is. We helped the previous tenants move out Monday evening and crashed on the floor late that night. It’s been cleaning, cleaning out, and reorganizing since then. My husband is working 9 to 5, and while his elbow grease and moral support were a huge help in the evenings, most of the home-making is falling to me.

I haven’t lived in the same place for more than a year since I was in high school, but it still seems odd to move so often. I don’t like it. There’s a kind of restlessness and instability; also, a holding back, trying not to get too attached to any particular place or routine. A part of me aches to be settled. I know I shouldn’t complain: moving frequently is a normal part of life in my generation. Our world is bigger now; with the internet, freeways, and airports, far-away opportunities are often more available than nearby ones.

There’s an underpinning restlessness to our generation, it seems.
We have a hard time settling in one place or one career; in moral matters, we “open conversations” and “continue the discussion” instead of searching for truth. We know, intuitively, that it’s important to talk about abortion, marriage, economics, foreign policy, God, and the meaning of life, but we don’t actually expect to arrive at any particular destination. We plead ignorance on matters our parents and grandparents never questioned; we search for our own truth and in doing so make sad attempts at reinventing the wheel.

Let’s look at sex and marriage. Our grandparents assumed that children were a natural result of sex, and that children deserve a stable, committed, loving environment in which to learn about the world and grow to adulthood. None of this is rocket science, and most of it was cultural mores. We don’t have those cultural mores anymore, no stable consensus except “tolerance.” Family is whatever the adults want it to be, and we pretend the children will be fine.

Those who oppose granting legal marriage benefits to same-sex couples often use the term “redefining marriage.” But this isn’t accurate. Marriage has already been un-defined, and as far as societal consensus is concerned, we probably won’t reach a definition any time soon. For most Americans, marriage doesn’t necessarily mean children; without children (or even with), it doesn’t have to mean lifelong commitment. Societally, we don’t know what marriage is. How many adults? Do children matter? Does commitment matter? How much commitment? Should we sign prenups in case of divorce, or make other ridiculous agreements? What changes about our relationship once we make vows? What holds us together? Whatever it is, how strong is it? We don’t know. We’re wandering.

And so we continue the conversation. It begins with the unspoken assumption that we will never really know, and it rejects only those claims to timelessness and truth that transcends our merely human conversation. Our minds were made for truth, and without truth, they are lost. There is nothing wrong with walking haphazardly through the forest of ideas, trying to make our way home. There is everything wrong with forgetting our home.


  1. One wise man I know (Mary's dad) said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Unfortunately, when we try to fix something that "ain't broke," we often break it in the process. The traditional concept of marriage, husband-wife-children, works. While the search for truth is important, when the truth is staring right at us in Church teaching, we don't have to search too far. When we find the truth, we should embrace it and live in it. Simple enough.

    1. When you write something short, you have to skip over a lot of important points, so thanks for adding this one! I am grateful to belong to a Church who, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, "has revealed herself as a truth-telling thing." That said, "the Church teaches..." isn't a convincing argument for most people, and I'm realizing more and more that the underlying assumption about the existence or nonexistence of truth is at the root of almost all cultural debates.


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