Monday, 28 October 2013

Is being a mother to be regarded as a good thing; or not?


Since neutrality is, in fact, impossible - we have to take sides on all major issues: we must favour.

So, is being a mother a good thing, or not?


The Christian answer is that to be a mother in the context of marriage is a good thing.

The Christian evaluation of the goodness of motherhood is, ultimately, not-worldly, but a matter of eternity - not of pleasure but of purpose.

(Much more could be said, but let that suffice to sketch the framing of motherhood.) 


(Which is not-at-all to say married motherhood is always and under every circumstance a good thing, far from it; but that we must and will always start from a bipolar assumption against which evaluations are framed: so motherhood will, like it or not, be regarded either as good or bad - and for Christians it is good. For Mormons it is the highest behavioural 'good' for a woman - for Catholics it is a good, but lower than the celibate religious life.) 


The secular modern answer is that motherhood is a lifestyle choice.

The evaluation of motherhood is therefore done by the same criteria as other lifestyle choices - which is essentially related to hedonic prospects, the probable predicted outcome in terms of pleasure and pain, fulfilment and suffering.

From the secular perspective, motherhood (of course) has nothing to do with divine plans of ultimate purpose or eternity -it is not a profound thing - at most it might be said that motherhood (for a particular person) might be helpful - or even necessary - for their personal development.


As secular lifestyle choices go, motherhood has some advantage of being a biologically powerful experience (due to evolutionary heritage), but this also brings problems because of phenomena like 'bonding' and the forms of psychological dependence - which mean that mothers may be made miserable by bad things happening to their children, children's failure to be beautiful or status-enhancing; plus of course if a mother finds that her need for personal development requires her to abandon her marriage and children - then these biological factors may make her feel guilty and miserable.

(Note: From a secular modern perspective it is the woman's feelings of guilt and misery that are bad - not abandoning marriage and family in pursuit of self-development. Luckily, any such guilty and miserable women have therapy and antidepressants to make them feel better about things...) 

So, considered as a secular lifestyle choice, motherhood- and indeed marriage - are high risk investments; and (from this secular perspective) probably best undertaken by people who either thrive on psychodrama or are immune to guilt - so that dependence is avoided and responsibilities can be walked-away-from without sabotaging the primary and sacred goals of fulfilment and self-development...


These two perspectives on motherhood are - if not exactly opposed - about as far apart as it is possible to be: the Christian and secular framing of motherhood have almost nothing in common: the one is a end validated by other-worldly considerations, the other a means to an end validated by here-and-now emotions.

Of course, Christian motherhood is also often validated by here-and-now emotions of astonishing intensity - but from a secular perspective this is not due to intrinsic worth but merely to a biological heritage.


And there must be some secular women who have a very powerful, but theoretically inarticulate and publicly indefensible gut-feeling that marriage and motherhood are something of primary significance for women - far, far more than the normal run of lifestyle choices such as choice of job, car and house.

And this justifies their own existential choice to put motherhood near the centre of life - as far, far more important than other aspects of lifestyle.

But even if they do regard motherhood as more important for themselves; when it comes to organizing society (propaganda, laws, regulations etc) secular moderns have zero basis for 'assuming' that motherhood (in marriage) is what most women want to do, or ought to be able to do (if possible) - no way for organizationally privileging the status of motherhood...

Because all that would be prejudiced; it would entail setting-up and maintaining a society primarily organized around the needs of married couples and families - what would help them; and therefore necessarily a society according lower status to the single, and to childless couples.


If the secular modern frame is  being applied, it is difficult/ impossible to justify privileging one lifestyle choice - married motherhood - over another; especially because it would inevitably be one consequence that single and childless women would be made to some significant extent to feel less happy, second rate, either an object of sympathy or disapproval.

This is a real cost (both real, and a cost) of acknowledging the special transcendental value to motherhood.

To the modern Leftist, this cost seems absolutely intolerable. So motherhood is and must be treated as merely a lifestyle choice, on a par with choosing a college or a holiday.

And, since motherhood really is a very a high risk lifestyle choice, with vast potential to induce misery - by and large modern secular women women don't take the risk - and therefore focus on what else is left-over: careers, fashion, sex, friends, holidays... the stuff of a modern women's life as displayed and advocated daily by millions upon millions of mass media outputs.


...Which, if Christians are correct, means that women in modern secular culture are, en masse, rejecting reality in one of its most fundamental aspects; and instead embracing a very obviously false, very obviously fake, and very obviously unsatisfactory delusional existence.

Look around - it's everywhere!



Anonymous said...

Is there anything that so thoroughly damns the modern world as the existence of the term "lifestyle"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - Indeed.

But posting comments as the ubiquious/ non-existent Anonymous is a bit of a modern perversity as well ;-)

Use a pseudonym, please.

dearieme said...

Yeah, why is there no "Anon Y. Mous" on the web? It shows a deplorable lack of initiative.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I'll take your word for it - although I have seen other versions of the same pun as commenter pseudonyms.

mormonchess said...


I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I find that I am in agreement with your sentiments about 94% of the time.

I particularly liked your statement here that secular women are denying reality. I do believe that our modern addiction to pretending that an objective morality doesn't exist is the bane of our culture. It's moral nihilism, enshrined.

Al. said...

Dr Charlton,

when you write 'organizationally privileging the status of motherhood', what do you have in mind? I presume that in a Christian society this might not primarily be through monetary advantages and services?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Al - If marriage and motherhood are to be a focus of society, this entails arranging *many* other things around this priority.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

(Sorry if you receive it twice: I did not put my ID the first time)

…for Catholics it is a good, but lower than the celibate religious life.

I did not study the question deeply, but experience tells me that marriage, motherhood and fatherhood are not considered by the Catholic Magisterium and theology as a lower state of life as such. Rather, like when St Paul says he would wish that all people be like him, the Church means (and teaches) that it is easier to attain theosis -- or a greater degree of it -- through a celibate life organized in that purpose and assembling people working toward the same goal as a family. I also think that, if the flock became much smaller in the West in the sixties, we can already see that mostly the best survived the hurricane and that the ranks are already replenishing a bit in the West, and at a fairly good rate in the Third World.

imnobody said...

You know that you live in decadent times when the most obvious truths must be explained. Modernity is a refusal to accept reality so you live in a virtual world of fantasies.