05 October 2013

Culture of Life Guilt

We've probably all experienced it at one point or another, the confounding certainty that we can never possibly represent the Culture of Life well enough. No matter what you do, what choices you make, some Good Catholic is just waiting to tell you why you're all wrong:

If you don't have children right away after marriage, you are selling out the Culture of Life because no one will see any difference between you and secular couples!

If you have children right away after marriage, you're selling out the Culture of Life by sending the message that the Church says everyone has to have lots of kids and be miserable!

If you don't have lots of kids, you're selling out the Culture of Life by not trusting God!

If you have lots of kids, you're undermining the Culture of Life by showing people who are skeptical of the Church's teaching on contraception that NFP doesn't work!

If a woman wears pants instead of skirts, she is tearing down the Culture of Life by blurring the line between masculinity and femininity!

If a woman wears skirts instead of pants, she loses the ability to build up the Culture of Life by setting herself apart and being seen as unrelatable by secular women!

If both husband and wife work outside the home, they represent the Culture of Life badly because they aren't supporting the traditional family division of labor!

If a wife doesn't work outside the home, she is allowing feminists to mock the Culture of Life and equate it with oppression!

If a stay-at-home mom takes the time to dress nicely, fix her hair, and wear makeup, she doesn't really support the Culture of Life because the family clearly has the time and resources to take care of another child!

If a stay-at-home mom doesn't take the time to dress nicely, fix her hair, and wear makeup, she is hurting the image of the Culture of Life by confirming people's prejudices about parenthood ruining your life!

If your children misbehave in public, you're undermining the Culture of Life by reaffirming others' decision to avoid having children!

If you don't take your children out in public to avoid public tantrums, you're undermining the Culture of Life by giving in to the secular culture's desire to not see children!

If you let anyone else see that you are ever exhausted or frustrated because of your children, you are tearing down the Culture of Life by supporting the popular belief that children are a burden!

If you paste on a smile even though your children are making your life difficult, you aren't doing the Culture of Life any favors by sugarcoating the truth!

Am I wrong? 

Sad to say, I've heard all of these statements before. Some directed at me, others related by other moms struggling with the impossible task of raising a family while conforming to the crazy, contradictory demands constantly being placed on us. There are days that we all need a big red Mute button to carry around with us and block out the people who feel the need to share their enlightened views with us poor uninformed peasants.

Look, I just undermined the Culture of Life again by speaking of them in a manner inconsistent with their infinite dignity as human persons. You can never win.

What does it really mean to live the Culture of Life? Does the 1950s housewife intrinsically do it better than the modern CEO? The family with seven kids than the family with three? There is a reason that the Church doesn't dictate exactly what circumstances do and do not make avoiding pregnancy with NFP legitimate, and I think the principle applies well to the question as a whole: every family is different, and so the manifestation of the Culture of Life will look different in every family.

In a society where traditional moral structure is crumbling, circling the wagons can seem like the safest, maybe even the only, way to maintain Catholic values within our families. Circle them too tightly, though, and you lose the catholicity you are trying to protect: from apostolic times, the Church has sought to not burden people with more rules and restrictions than are necessary (Acts 15). There are an awful lot of things the Church doesn't take a formal stance on! When in doubt, check the Catechism or canon law. 

When we judge people according to whether or not they do X, when the Church doesn't take a position on X, we are trying to make them feel guilty for something that we don't have the authority to declare wrong. And that doesn't contribute to building up the Culture of Life at all.

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