July 2009 Archives
Amid the flap over Rick Warren giving the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration was the fact that it marked the end of an era: Billy Graham as an evangelical force in American politics. Now that he’s 90 years old and in frail health, the tendency is to remember Graham as a spiritual leader—a man who since the late 1940s has been so focused on saving souls that he’s risen above the mundane quibbles of politics. Indeed, compared to the more vociferous pillars of the Christian right, like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, Graham has seemed almost politically neutral, a model of moderation, humility and Christian charity.
But, as the independent scholar Steven P. Miller reminds us in Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, Graham played a key role in shaping the American political landscape of the second half of the 20th century, as confidante to presidents and adviser on domestic issues (particularly civil rights) and foreign policy (Communism and the Cold War). Much has been written about Graham the evangelist, contends Miller in this edifying but hardly accessible book of academic nuance, but less has been said about Graham the de facto politician, especially his role in paving the way for the South’s seismic shift from a Democratic bloc to the bulwark of the GOP.
From an interview with Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, published in the Baltimore City Paper, where the billboards in question first sprang up.
You have seen them on bus stops and on billboards along the interstate—advertisements boasting a pair of beaming newlyweds, rice showering over their heads, teeth radiant, and eyes agleam with the promise of the future. Above their heads is the takeaway: married people earn more money.
Funded by a private organization called Campaign for Our Children, the advertisement is one of nearly a dozen launched in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in 2005 to sell the idea that marriage deters teen pregnancy. The messages came in a variety of forms. Other ads promised that marriage leads to longer life, better health, happiness, and smarter children. Whatever the variation, the bottom line was the same: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. In other words, marriage works.
Except when it doesn’t, which is about half the time according to most American marriage statistics. Yet a roughly 50 percent divorce rate is only a piece of the puzzle of marriage and family life in America, according to Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University.
In his recent book, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in American Today (Knopf), Cherlin observes that the United States is the only developed country to put such a premium on marriage. Marriage has become a social marker coveted by individuals in every strata of society—from the affluent to the working class, from the near-poor to the impoverished. It is the most valued structure of family life, influencing when a child comes of age and has children of his or her own.
Yet increasingly marriage and a traditional family structure are the preserve of a privileged few. Divorce rates of the college educated are mostly flat. But for poor whites, a stable marriage is a coin toss, even for the religious, such as Southern Baptists. Put another way, the people who most want a traditional lifestyle—those in what used to be called the working class—are the same people most likely never to see that dream come true.
“Philosophy begins, then, with the questioning of certainties in the realm of knowledge and the cultivation of the love of wisdom,” Critchley writes in a witty miscellany of death called The Book of Dead Philosophers. “Philosophy is erotic, not just epistemic.”
That word, “erotic,” leaps at you. Who knew syllogisms were so titillating? Yet Critchley isn’t kidding (though the book profits from the New School professor’s deadpan humor). By “erotic” he alludes to phenomena that defy rigorous systems of evidence-gathering, hypothesis, and verification. Obviously, “erotic” has other senses, too—hunger, desire, arousal, sex. Again, these are apt in describing the spirit that animates pursuits of knowledge and understanding. That spirit is, you might say, a real turn on.
Put “religion” in place of “philosophy” and you might have a viable introduction to Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s ambitious, erudite, and—there’s no other word to describe its dizzying effect—psychedelic book, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious. Religion, Judaism in this case, is erotic in that it’s a human institution built on non-concrete things like language, tradition, and faith. But religion also mirrors eros by manifesting a primal human urge to look into the void and make sense of it.
Whole review at Search magazine.