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Defenders of the Family are Not as Warm and Fuzzy As You Think


Amanda Tipton CC

Catherine Ruth Pakaluk - published on 11/24/14

Taking on those who would harm innocents is a battle against evil
“An evil man threw tobacco in the eyes of the macaque-rhesus monkey.”

If you love Solzhenitsyn as much as I do, you’ll recognize those words from the closing of "Cancer Ward." I never studied literature, so I do not know if there is some prevailing interpretation of the phrase. But as a college student traveling through Europe, when I worked my way through the pages of that beloved novel, this literary genius conveyed the anguish of the senselessness of a certain kind of evil. Not "man’s inhumanity to man," as they say, but man’s inhumanity to innocents — the lame, the sick, and especially the young.

Last week I was privileged to attend the Humanum Colloquium held at the Vatican, and about which I wrote in advance with optimism regarding the use of new visual arts to convey old truths. Now, with the colloquium behind me, I find myself thinking about the lasting contributions of this international gathering. And it strikes me today that perhaps one of the most important things was an attempt to frame the current 
international debate about marriage in terms of the humanity owed to the innocent.  

Much has been made of the so-called "positive" message of the colloquium — here is a gathering which wants to "celebrate and affirm" the beauty of complementarity and marriage. It doesn’t seek to reject and condemn. But I wonder if this isn’t a bit disingenuous. We know that there would not have been any Humanum were it not for the sense that we are losing the marriage debate both in law and public opinion. This was not a random act of affirming positive things. It was rather a deliberate act of asserting that it is evil to deprive children of a mother and a father.

But here is the interesting thing — because the product of the colloquium was a kind of art (see the videos here if you missed them) and not a statement of principle, the desired effect seems to be something like Solzhenitsyn’s commentary on the macaque monkey. In the six Humanum videos, we are treated to a story, a story about masculine and feminine as archetypes in nature, a story about children receiving distinct gifts from mothers and fathers, and a story about marriage as the institution that binds men and women to each other, for each other and for their children.

In this art, there is an intentional depiction of the obscene: literally, obscene because it is off scene. An evil man threw sand in the eyes of the rhesus monkey. An evil person deprives an infant of a mother. We do not see it in these films but we feel it.

Now there are many ways in which a child may come to be deprived of a mother or a father. Some are acts of nature — a mother dies in childbirth, a father in an accident. Some result from marital failure — either the failure to form a marriage at the time of the child’s birth, or the failure to maintain a marriage while the child grows. In these cases — together with the child — we grieve what is lost and seek to remediate the suffering through adoption, remarriage, and other forms of familial and social assistance to broken families.

This leaves, by comparison, the most vicious ways that a child might come to be deprived of a mother or a father, in which we socially and civilly protect the creation of a child with "no father" (through anonymous sperm donation for single mothers and/or adoption into female partnerships) or "no mother" (through surrogacy and/or adoption into male partnerships). Of course all children have a mother and a father — but these are deprived of the chance to know them, deprived of the chance to be loved by them.  

This is most vicious not because those involved are most evil. Rather, it is most vicious because it deprives a child of the longed-for parent, and also of the right to grieve that loss. Consider this testimony from the website written by a donor-conceived girl with a single-mom:

I look at history, and there are dads, I look at wildlife, there are dads, I look at society and there are dads. … I feel like I will never know what it’s like to be in the arms of a man who loves me unconditionally in an innocent non-sexual way, and who will be my other half. … But these feelings make me feel like I’m a bad child; I betrayed my mother … I feel as though my feelings are invalid and selfish. But then I think "shouldn’t kids’ feelings come first?" But then I think "no because our parents made us, so we should always be grateful for whatever they do."

Here one can see the "double-loss" — the loss of the father and the loss of the right to grieve. The Humanum colloquium has helped to call attention to this obscene injury bound up with the marriage debates and the invention of legal rights for adults which trump the natural needs of children. And it has done so without the dry language usually associated with the defense of marriage.

"An evil man threw tobacco in the macaque-rhesus eyes." Oleg was struck dumb. Up to then he had been strolling along smiling with knowing condescension, but now he felt like yelling and roaring across the whole zoo, as though the tobacco had been thrown into his own eyes. "Why?" Thrown into its eyes, just like that! "Why? It’s senseless! Why?"

Catherine Ruth Pakalukis an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University, a Faculty Research Fellow at the Stein Center for Social Research, and a Senior Fellow in Economics at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. Her research is focused in the areas of demography, gender, family studies, and the economics of education and religion. She also works on the interpretation and history of Catholic social thought. Dr. Pakaluk earned her doctorate in economics at Harvard University (2010). She lives in Ave Maria, Florida with her husband Michael and seven children.

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