Monday, September 1, 2008

Miss Palin and the Puritans on the Left

By now the news of Bristol Palin's condition is known to all, and has had time to be discussed in various places. I can honestly say that Rod Dreher is doing an excellent job with this.

I know that some people are very troubled by the whole situation. That's perfectly natural; we should be troubled by fornication, whether it's being committed by teenagers or adults, because it's a serious sin. For Catholics, presuming the other two conditions are present, it's a mortal sin requiring sacramental confession before the parties to it can receive Communion again. For Christians like the Palins I'm sure that fornication isn't laughed at or considered "normal teen behavior" either.

But the fact that Christians reject the cultural values of the "sex without consequences" crowd does not mean that Christians never commit sexual sins, fornication among them. Our fallen nature reminds us of the sadness of its reality in many ways, and Christians are far from being immune to sin and its effects.

Two big differences exist between Christians and others, though: one, we recognize unmarried sex--or, indeed, any sex outside of marriage--as sinful, and two, we are clear that it is the sexual activity, and not the resulting pregnancy and baby, that are sins. Many times in the Bible we see that God has chosen to bring a good result out of a bad situation. Does this mean He condones sin? Of course not! But He is bigger than sin, and can turn even our sinful choices into His purposes. King David's actions in regard to Bathsheba were truly reprehensible, yet God chose Bathsheba to be the mother of King Solomon; that is only one example of a sinful union becoming, after repentant sorrow and humble remorse on the part of the sinner, one that God chose to bless.

In our age, Miss Palin could have made what the world sees as an "easy" choice, and covered up her unmarried activities by means of an abortion. It is good that she and her boyfriend did not choose to compound sin with sin, and are instead rising to the challenge of early parenthood. I think that all of us here could say that we do not want our sons or daughters to end up in this position, that we want them to make good moral choices all their lives and never commit the sin of premarital sex; but if they made so wrong a decision, I know most of us would also want them to do exactly what Miss Palin is doing--or, if not "exactly," at least the part about having the baby. (So early a marriage is not exactly unknown in rural areas, or all that unusual in Alaska, but depending on the circumstances it might not be desirable in other situations.)

From what I've seen so far, there are two sorts of people who are being critical about all of this. The first sort are blaming Sarah Palin for her daughter's condition: if, the reasoning goes, she hadn't been an "absentee mother" this would never have happened. Sadly, human history provides plenty of examples of daughters being raised by excellent, attentive mothers who nevertheless rebel just long enough and just seriously enough to end up in the same condition. I'm not saying that Mrs. Palin's work as governor these last twenty months might not have contributed to Miss Palin's bad choices, but there's really no evidence of that on the surface, and our duty in regards to charity positively forbids those of us who call ourselves Christians to engage in gossip and unkind speculations in the absence of any compelling evidence. Indeed, it is malice of the worst kind to blame the sins of children on their parents without certain knowledge that the parents have been deliberately neglectful or incompetent.

But the other sort, the hysterical in an Andrew Sullivan way sort, are the neo-Puritans and neo-Victorians on the left. Their criticism--in fact, their attack of the vapors--is pretty amusing in some respects. They tend to disagree with us about the morality of sexual activity, and are pretty much in favor of teens having sex. They're fine with kindergarten sex ed programs, with the infamous "condoms on bananas" excercise in grade school, with Planned Parenthood having direct access to everybody's kids in school. They sniff at abstinence programs, and insist that the rest of us ought to be "realistic" and expect our children to be "active" by the time they're Miss Palin's age, if not considerably younger. But tell them that Miss Palin is in the family way, plans to have the baby and marry his/her father, and oh! what hand wringing and fainting and passing around of smelling-salts there is. In their world, sex without consequences is normal, to be expected and encouraged, and even a civic virtue; but sex with consequences? You must be joking--horrors!--surely nobody does that anymore. They're not shocked that Bristol has engaged in reproductive activity--they wouldn't be shocked if her thirteen-year-old sister were engaging in that sort of activity! But they're aghast and dismayed at the prospect that the reproductive part of the activity is being permitted to continue, and even anticipated with something approaching joy.

The same attitude that caused them to look askance at a forty-four year old female governor welcoming her Down syndrome baby with love and thanksgiving causes them to elevate their eyebrows to an alarming and painful height over the family's calm acceptance of this latest bump on the road of life. No Christian I know takes the matter of premarital sex lightly, nor should we, but the moral instruction and remonstrance that parents engage in when confronted with a situation like this involving an unmarried daughter or son will naturally be private, and will also naturally take a back seat to the need to prepare for the arrival of the little one whose existence must never be regretted, however regrettable the circumstances.

I hate to have to admit it, but Barack Obama's statement today took exactly the right tone:

“I have heard some of the news on this and so let me be a clear as possible: I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people’s families are off limits, and people’s children are especially off limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics,” the Democrat said forcefully. “It has no relevance to Governor Palin’s performance as governor, or her potential performance as a VP. And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories,” he continued.

The candidate who himself was born to a teenage mom, reminded reporters, “You know my mother had me when she was 18, and how a family deals with issues and you know teenage children, that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that’s off limits.”

I'm sorry if the temperature of the netherworld just dropped precipitously, but I have to say this: I agree with Mr. Obama. I probably couldn't agree more.


Daddio said...

I agree, that was actually very gracious of Mr. Obama to say that.

But to be a little negative for a minute, he's probably just relieved that there's some "dirt" on the other side now so that people will lay off of him and his "colorful" African relatives. Of course, this will only make the right dig deeper and try to bring up some other "dirt" against Obama and Biden.

But I don't see this going anywhere. I mean, Cheney's gay activist daughter, and her partner having a child, became old news pretty quick, and never cost Bush an election. I think it's different because she was an adult and not a current responsibility of his, to potentialluy distract from his job performance. Bristol and the boy are teenagers and theoretically need a lot of their parents' help and attention. Perhaps the Palins plan to let them "grow up" right quick and mostly support themselves. I've seen in my in-laws that the more involved and "helpful" the parents try to be in bailing my sister-in-law out of trouble, the worse she gets. She fears no consequence because she knows someone will save her butt. Can't hold down a job, two unwed pregnancies (with two different men), two attempted suicides, countless financial dents, untold but obvious drug and alcohol problems. Bristol and her guy will be alright if they are forced to accept the consequences and get their own shit together. Like you said, Alaskan high school seniors are a lot more capable of starting an adult life than the soft sissy spoiled kids we usually see.

Anyway, in the end I think there will be two kinds of people. The ones who think both Palins should have had abortions (Sarah at 44 and Bristol at 17), and those who admire them for choosing life in both cases.

nicole said...

I feel for these teenagers as they undergo what is an enormous event in normal circumstances, and will now be much the larger because of the media attention. I'm sure there will be many criticisms of Palin's parenting, but like you said, Red, this happens to everyone, everywhere in all kinds of families. These kids need lots of prayer.

Daddio--I agree that they need to take responsbility for their own choices, but I would expect there to be some help from the parents, at least in handling the things they will deal with in regards to media attention and so on. It will be tough for them, no question. And it should be, because our actions have consequences.