09 January 2014

The Incubator of Moral Formation

Note: Posted day earlier on RedeemingLaw blawg.

Go here to read a longish post by Campbell Law School prof and friend Kevin Lee titled "Constitutional and Traditional Values: On Same-sex Marriage." Although the article is worth reading for Lee's ultimate conclusions, it is his take on how moral values are formed, and the relationship between moral formation and the family, that I want to highlight.

"Christian values do not arise sui sponte in people. The Christian life is supported by living among Christians and trying to live together in Christian societies." No lone ranger Christians, at least no well-formed lone ranger Christians. One might then think that the Church is the primary incubator of the compleat Christian. One might think thus but Kevin Lee does not: "Before there is Church, however, there is family."

It's not the family simpliciter where fundamental values are caught and taught. Rather it is the family's simultaneous orientation toward the past and the future that enables its members to inculcate a meaningful frame of reference to the world beyond the family. For better or for worse, the past is inescapable in a family. Today's parents are yesterday's children and bring with themselves the weight of practices, hopes, and desires rooted in the experiences of their families.

With respect to the future, Lee observes that "to give oneself for the family, to work for them, to risk it all for them, to give it all for them: these are the acts by which serious men and women are liberated and find ultimate beatitude, raising children and learning the meaning of life through their innocent faces." Having and raising children is a great risk but taking that risk is the primary means by which human beings give evidence of their belief that the world has a future.

That beginning a family entails risk is obvious to all who have done so. Raising children is not a science. It is not even an art. Because children are, like their parents, ultimately mysterious even to themselves, we can never be certain if, when, and how the specific practices, hopes, and desires will come to fruition. Yet we can take heart that the family's natural orientation to the future can be replicated and extended beyond the little platoon of the family itself. And it is an orientation to the future writ large, and the cooperation first learned in the family, that are the most important markers of society's health in the present.

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