Republicans, Women, Institutions and the Insufficiency of all things Attainable

Republicans and Women

RR Reno at First Things and Amanda Hess at Slate have been going back and forth on a new report to Republicans on how to attract women. This debate is full of red meat for politicos on both sides.

My first impressions of Reno’s take were

  • “Oh this will not go over well”
  • “This is kind of like dismissing social conservatives by explaining away their promotion of traditional sexual norms through suggesting it is motivated by their own frustrated sexual repression”

Reno’s comments, however, did prompt some other thoughts in me about faith in institutions and traditions.

Add into the mix of my pondering these pieces over the weekend a Backstory podcast on the impact of WWI in American culture, especially the attempt to keep venereal diseases from impact the US Army.

Social Success Seeds Failure

What Reno’s piece prompted in my was the pondering of the widespread abandonment of the assumed sexual, marital and moral formula that dominated the American mid-century. Church, marriage, monogamy, career and company loyalty were the formula for temporal and eternal security and success. Government supported these things but didn’t directly administer them.

The assumption of the truth of the formula was pervasive but is now questioned or dismissed.

It doesn’t seem difficult to see it was oversold and now in the angry reaction to its failure over-rejected. We tend swing back and forth on these things.


  • RC Priest Abuse Scandal,
  • Skepticism about revealed or received knowledge
  • Break-up of the mainline
  • Emergent reactions/rejection to big-box, seeker, suburban evangelicalism
  • Almost every day you can find a blog post written by a millennial decrying the failure of the church. Here’s a recent one that got traction.

Marriage and Monogamy

  • Divorce among the Boomers gave their children doubts about the institution
  • Rise of cohabitation as a delaying alternative to marriage
  • Gay marriage, plural marriage, serial monogamy and the polyamorous. See Linker

Career and Company

  • Globalization disrupted the American company culture
  • Creatives are sought after talent, labor is a global commodity
  • Traditional pensions are mostly gone from the private sector
  • Individuals have to be their own entrepreneur with their career being their business

Straw Woman

Reno paints a picture of a woman who has been successful in making the new tradition. Her career has been her business and it is successful but as she ages she realizes that no woman is an island. She needs community and enduring community requires institutions.

In all fairness here the picture isn’t much different for men. I don’t know why Reno singles out women in this.

Picture a man who has been “successful” in his career as business but is divorced, alienated from his children and also facing a future alone.

What happens when these two self-made individuals enter the romantic relationship market as two entrepreneurs looking to self-maximize?  Ask Robin and Dave.

Republicans and Democrats

The supposed great divide between the parties is what role should government play in creating or supporting the new good life?

It’s usually played that Republicans want small government and Democrats large but both sides have plenty of inconsistencies in their message. There is plenty of finger pointing over these lines when it comes to abortion (it’s my body the government has no say, except to keep abortion clinics from being shuttered by the Texas legislature), gay marriage (it’s my farm I’ll rent it to whomever I want).

We need institutions to facilitate our need for community to support our visions. How is or should government be involved?

The Progressive Era

We are probably paying too little attention to previous American experiments in social harmony engineering. The Progressive Era, between reconstruction and Prohibition laid the groundwork for much of life today.

We like to line up the great march of progress: abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights… We often forget the temperance movement was right there in the middle along with other streams of that era.

  • Prohibition was a strategy to improve the lives of women and children by getting rid of the saloons.
  • Eugenics was a way of improving society scientifically. Hitler shamed the West by this thorough going pursuit of it but before WWII many were persuaded by it. You can’t read stuff during the progressive era without bumping into it regularly.
  • The Backstory piece talks about the three strands in fighting venereal disease during WWI: those endorsing purity with a vision of the virtuous soldier who isn’t chasing prostitutes, the social justice strain that didn’t want women to become prostitutes, and the efficiency group that resorted to passing out condoms. Condoms and eventually penicillin won.

The Insufficiency of All Things Attainable

Karl Rahner has a great quote: “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.”

What if your ideology, however, demands that anything that can be attained must done in this life?

Review again Tim Keller’s list of our current cultural moral assumptions:

  1. No moral authority other or higher than the self. My personal happiness is the highest good.
  2. In the end the good of the individual always trumps the good of the community.
  3. If God does exist he does for our benefit to make this a good world to live in (MTD)
  4. Whatever meaning or happiness there is must be found within this material world

Consider also Earnest Becker’s Romantic Solution from the Denial of Death.  Once there is no longer a divine lover to give us affirmation and meaning we turn to the romantic partner. If that romantic partner fails we keep looking for another, and another.

From Pillar to Post

  • Those with power, money and influence will continue to try to seize the institutions that seem to be able to provide what they need and desire. Political parties will perform as their market dictates.
  • Those who feel themselves disenfranchised from those institutions will either opt out radically (read the current fear of Americans joining ISIS) or competing institutions.
  • Religion isn’t going away and neither are religious institutions. Money, Sex, Power, Religion. These four remain.


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Culture commentary, Institutional Church. Bookmark the permalink.

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