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Thursday, August 16, 2012

We Have Met The Enemy


A lot of Catholic parents detest dating. According to these parents, dating encourages the participants to get used to frequent breakups, emotional roller coasters and psychologically prepares them for divorce.

Perhaps it does all of those things.
But the problem isn't with the dating.
The problem is with the Catholic parents.

Is Kellmeyer Crazy?

As I've pointed out in other posts, parents in post-industrial societies like our own infantilize their children. In pre-industrial society, 12-18 year olds were treated as adults. For centuries, canon law allowed 12-year old women and 14-year old men to marry (today, canon law has raised the age... to 14 and 16, respectively). Pagan Rome, where the average age of marriage for women was 14, had allowed the same thing, ages before Christ founded the Church. In fact, nearly every pre-industrial society on the face of the earth allowed what the Church allowed.

Twelve-year old men were apprenticed and learned a trade - they were expected to be masters at their craft and able to support a family by age 18. For centuries, that's exactly what at least half the population did - women were married by age 16, men were married by age 18.

Now, I know your first rebuttal, and it is wrong. Medievals weren't all mostly dead by the age of thirty.  Early marriage was not permitted because everyone died at age 30. Everyone thinks nobody made it to fifty because no one understands what "median age" means.

Any medieval who made it to age 10 was likely to live to be 50. The median age of death was in the low 20s and 30s for medievals because a lot of medieval children died in their first few years. This high early childhood death rate dragged the median death age artificially down.

In point of fact, if a person was able to survive the nutrition and health problems of medieval childhood, s/he was as likely to make it to 50 then as anyone born in modern-day Russia is today.

What changed?

Well, with industrialization, we decided to use a different kind of educational system. We pretty much scrapped apprenticeships and went for mass public schools. This new method warehouses children through age 18, keeps them out of the workforce and out of job competition with older adults. It also infantilizes them.

But it didn't used to be that way. In colonial Mexico, for instance, "More than half the Indias are married by the time they turn 16....using Nahua censuses for some Morelos villages around 1540, McCaa has built a strong case for child marriage. There were girls married before ten; mean age could stand between 12 and 14.(9) In all likelihood, the introduction of Christian marriage, with its threshold of 12 years for wedding girls, brought about a small rise in mean age at marriage for Indias.... At the age when half the girls (16) and the boys (18) were already married, both parents were alive in three cases out of four.(12) Adult mortality did not explain precocity of marriage."

St. Rita married at age 12. The Blessed Virgin is assumed to have been about 12 to 14 when she got pregnant with Jesus. Edward Longshanks married at 15 to his 13-year old second cousin, Eleanor of Castile. They had 14 children. St. Elizabeth of Hungary married at age 13 and had her first child at age 15. Chrysostom said young men should marry as soon as possible (before they turn 20), to keep them out of the whore houses and theaters.

Why were saints marrying and having children at what we would consider a very young age? As I point out in my book:
[Did not St. John Chrystosom say] “What greater work is there than training the mind and forming the habits of the young?” Indeed he did. But the Latin reads “Ouid maius quam animis moderari, quam adolescentulorum fi ngere mores?” (emphasis added). That is, Chrysostom was referring to the education of teenagers. This is quite clear from the context of the homily in which the sentence appears, a homily in which the saint is at pains to point out:
The fathers are to blame. They require their horse-breakers to discipline their horses, they do not permit the colt to remain untamed. Instead, they put a rein and all the rest upon it from the beginnings. But their children? These they overlook. They allow their children to go about for a long season unbridled, and without temperance, disgracing themselves by fornications and gamings and attending the wicked theaters. Before the fornication began, they should have given their son to a wife, to a wife chaste, and highly endowed with wisdom. Such a wife will bring her husband away from this disorderly course of life, and will be instead a rein to the colt…. Do you not know that you can do no greater kindness to a youth than to keep him pure from whorish uncleanness? (Homily #59 on Matthew 18).
Chrysostom knew something we have forgotten.

We all remember that marriage is meant for the procreation of children and the unity of the couple. But we rarely recall - because no one ever teaches it - that marriage also serves a third and critically important purpose. Holy Marriage is the salve for concupiscence, the remedy for our tendency towards the sin of lust.

Why do you think our society is so steeped in sexuality? It is due in part to the fact that our society does not allow teenagers to get married. Teens want what they are made for - marriage and the procreation of children - but they can't have it. So society tantalizes them with what they can't have: a stable family, a good sex life, with themselves as the heads of that family, loving their spouses.

Conclusion
You see, when your 12 or 14-year old dates, they really do expect that they are finding a mate. If society, including their Catholic parents, left them alone, and didn't push post-industrial expectations of higher education, better jobs, etc., upon them, these teens really would get married at 14 or 15, as men and women that age have for thousands of years.

They would get married as the Church permitted them to for thousands of years.
They would get married as St. John Chrysostom recommended they should over 1500 years ago.

But as a modern, responsible Catholic parent, you won't allow them to marry at age 12, 14 or 16. They cannot imitate St. Rita of Cascia, or St. Elizabeth or the Blessed Virgin. You won't allow it.

If they start getting "too serious", you will actively step in and forbid them seeing that young man or woman so often, or perhaps, even forbid them meeting at all. You will break them up. It doesn't matter if they have a true vocation to marriage to that person. You will make sure it is delayed or destroyed. Catholic parents don't want early marriage and dozens of grandchildren from their only daughter or only son. Rather than allow the marriage, or encourage the couple to stay together to get married at age 14 or 15, the parents will either provide no support or actively encourage the couple to breakup.

And so the young men and women will be emotionally overwrought, they will go through innumerable breakups, they will spend the next ten or twenty years preparing themselves for the divorce that comes from marrying the wrong person. This will not result because of dating, but precisely because we will not allow them to marry.

Now, I'm not saying that you necessarily should allow your children to marry at age 14. I'm just pointing out that the problem with dating is not dating - it is the parents. Parents don't have the same expectations for their children they had prior to the industrial revolution.

So don't go blaming the culture for corrupting our children.

If anything, we are the ones who actively contribute to our children's corruption, because we go along with society's expectations for our children. We helped set up today's currently highly sexualized culture, we keep our children from marrying young so that they have to endure the tantalization for years, even decades, and we expect them to live as celibates without a community to support them or a vow of celibacy to give backbone to their lifestyle.

Yeah, the people corrupting our children?
That would be us.

3 comments:

Flambeaux said...

And so the solution is?

I don't disagree, Steve. But I also don't see what the solution is. Suggestions?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

That's a darned good question. I really have a lot of respect for it.

We have to raise our children with the expectation that they will be married by age 16.

That means they need to be mature enough and capable enough to handle a household by age 14-16 at least.

If parents walked in with that attitude, they would have a tremendously different take on life with their children.

Since I'm just making these discoveries myself, it's certainly affecting the way I look at life.

Andrew said...

Excellent post Steve. The problems of dating really are a result of the unnatural extension of childhood that we call being a teenager.

Pax Christi