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Over the last several decades, there has been a momentous debate sweeping across the world over the present health and future prospects of families. This debate has been especially intense in the United States, but during recent trips to Australia, South Korea, England, and South Africa, I learned that these countries have conflicts analogous to those in the United States.
These debates are about real issues. There are powerful trends affecting both advanced and underdeveloped countries that are changing families and undermining their ability to perform customary tasks. These trends are often called the forces of modernization. Of course, theories of modernization are now being extended by theories of globalization. However one refers to them — and they are distinguishable — these processes are having disruptive consequences on families in all corners of the earth. Older industrial countries have the wealth to cushion the blows of this disruption, but family upset throws economically fragile countries deeper into poverty. There are many sources of poverty in the world; family decline is one of them.
Of course, there are other sources of family disruption besides the forces of modernization and globalization. Wars, oppression, racial discrimination, and conflicts between cultures and religions are additional factors. The family disruptions of Bosnia and Afghanistan are fresh on our minds. Before that, there were the sad family tragedies of Vietnam, Cambodia, and apartheid South Africa. But this book is mainly about modernization and globalization as such. From time to time, however, we will see how these forces interact with political oppression, conflicts between racial and ethnic groups, and collisions between alternative cultural and religious ways of life. There is no way to avoid the observation that a significant subtext of the world struggle between Western democracies and the new terrorism is the perceived conflict between modernity and certain family patterns in Islam and other religions that modernization is thought to threaten. This includes traditional privileges of men and women, their roles in and out of the home, their respective responsibilities to children, and the place of children in family and society.
Most social scientists now acknowledge that modernization, independent of factors such as wars and famine, can by itself be disruptive to families in certain ways. But many distinguished sociologists believe there is little that can be done to allay these negative consequences. The social forces producing them, they believe, are simply too deep and powerful to be stopped or changed. I do not share this view. I argue that much can be done, but only if we understand the task as a complex cultural work — one that is like weaving a richly designed tapestry containing many threads. The threads needed for this cultural task are religious, political, legal, economic, and psychological. No one perspective can accomplish alone what needs to be done. In addition, this cultural work must be worldwide in scope. Finally, because there is an inevitable religious dimension to this cultural task, I see it as a work of practical theology conceived as an international ecumenical endeavor. At least from the perspective of what the Christian churches and their theological disciplines can contribute, the field of practical theology may have the most to offer to this complex cultural work.
Central to this practical-theological work is the worldwide revival and reconstruction of marriage. Admittedly, this is a big idea. Some people will call it grandiose, perhaps hallucinatory. And, of course, I do not envision this renewal and reconstruction happening tomorrow. My point, rather, is this: the world disruption of families cannot be addressed solely with policies emphasizing jobs, education, and the economic liberation of women — the favorite strategies of the United Nations, the World Council of Churches, and other international agencies. It is true that such strategies are essential, but more is needed. Without this "more," economic and development strategies can go awry. This additional emphasis should entail a culturally sensitive reconstruction of marriage and the roles that males and females play in this institution. I am calling for a new international practical-religious dialogue (indeed, practical-theological dialogue) between the major world religions designed to place the matter of marriage before the world community. Later in this book, I will outline a method for conducting this dialogue in a manner that preserves the core identities of various world traditions yet also effects real reconstruction. This book will not, however, conduct this full practical conversation, but it will investigate and illustrate its possibility. The actual dialogue itself requires other real voices speaking about and for the other religions. I have assigned myself the task of giving voice to the possible contribution of Christianity. Even then, it will be primarily a Christianity viewed from the eye of liberal Protestantism.
A Brief Definition of Practical Theology
Since I am taking a practical-theological perspective on these world family transformations, I need to give some hint as to how I envision that discipline. Practical theology, as I view it, begins theological reflection with concrete questions in social and cultural life — questions that confront both church and society. Practical theology acknowledges that the very task of defining such issues and questions is itself a major intellectual undertaking. To define a major social issue, practical theology first views it from the angle of the grand themes of the Christian faith such as creation, the fall, redemption, and sanctification. But it also should employ the social sciences in a subordinate way to refine its grasp of empirical facts and trends that shape the issue at hand. After a preliminary definition of the issue is achieved through careful description, practical theology should then bring the issue into a more historically critical dialogue with the central themes — the classics, as Hans-Georg Gadamer would call them — of the Christian faith. It tries to retrieve these symbols in search of orientations and answers to the practical issue at hand. The question then becomes: Do we really understand these symbols and what they imply for our preliminary problem? And is what they imply actually true and useful?
This is an exercise in what the philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur call understanding or verstehen — a concept that I will explain more fully during the course of this book. Let me say this now: the exercise of understanding should be conceived of as practical through and through. As Gadamer has said, a concern with "application" informs the understanding process from the beginning and is not something added at the end. Within the context of practical theology, the goal of understanding anything, even the classic religious and philosophical texts of the past, is from the start to create strategies of practical response.
Furthermore, the style of practical theology I practice believes that strategies of action should be critically grounded; that is, those who advance them should be willing to debate, give reasons for their plausibility, and criticize alternative proposals. Practical theology, as viewed in this book, is nurtured by faith and tradition; it is, as is all theology, born out of confession. But it also strives, in both the inner rhythms of ecclesial life and its witness to the public world, for the persuasiveness of good reasons that can be critically defended. In short, my question will be this: Does Christianity have anything to say about modernization and globalization, especially as these forces affect families?
Modernization, Globalization, and the World Situation of Families
Of course, not all changes wrought by modernity are negative to families. In fact, many of them are very positive. Higher incomes for large numbers of families must be seen as a plus. Better health and longer lives for millions are goods that are universally affirmed. But these positive consequences are unevenly distributed; at the same time that modernization pulls many into a better material life, others lose ground. The new educational and economic possibilities for women that often accompany modernity are also promising, but they do not always convert into concrete benefits. Improvements for some women are frequently accompanied by negative consequences such as the mounting impoverishment of millions of mothers and their children due to abandonment, divorce, and nonmarital births; the increased violence of youth; new forms of coerced prostitution; and the growing absence of fathers from their children. This last issue will be a major focus of this book and investigated theologically and philosophically in Chapters Four and Five.
It will be my argument that the usual benefits of modernization in the form of better education and more jobs for both men and women must be supplemented by the worldwide revival and reconstruction of the institution of marriage. Notice that my argument will not pit modernization against marriage but will be about having both modernization and marriage. Some people will accuse me of wanting it all. Many people say that we cannot have both. It must be one or the other. Such people believe that the world, like some allegedly dull-witted politicians, cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Marriage, they will insist, belongs to a premodern age. To some extent I agree with these criticisms. Modernization and marriage cannot coexist unless modernity is in some ways curtailed and marriage is in many ways redefined.
Because of the complexity of world family transformations, I will avoid getting lost in the details. I will begin by reviewing the theories of three outstanding sociologists — William Goode, David Popenoe, and Alan Wolfe — who are attempting to describe and assess the worldwide metamorphoses of family life. Although social scientists aspire to objectivity, these three can be distinguished more by their philosophical and ethical assumptions than their empirical facts. Furthermore, in reviewing the thought of these three sociologists, I will not become preoccupied with overly refined distinctions between modernization and globalization. Modernization is generally defined, following Max Weber, as the spread of technical rationality into various domains of life. Some theorists, including Weber, have seen this as a deterministic process that augurs for the triumph of science, the narrow rationalization of all of life (Weber's "iron cage"), and the final defeat of religion. The German social theorist Jürgen Habermas has complicated the theory of modernization; he argues that technical rationality can take the form of either market economics or bureaucratic control. In either case, modernity is generally thought to flow from the West and the North to other countries of the world in the Southern and Eastern parts of the globe.
There is much recent preoccupation in the press and among intellectuals with this first type of globalization — the spread of capitalism in the form of free trade between nations and the unrestricted flow of capital and labor across national boundaries. It is better, I contend, to conceive of capitalism, especially in the form of the fashionable neoliberal economics, as just one expression of technical rationality. Bureaucratic rationality, in the form of either welfare policies or harder kinds of socialism and Marxism, is also a form of modernization that can take on global proportions, indeed global ambitions. These two kinds of modernization have technical rationality in common, i.e., the belief that the efficient use of powerful technical means in the form of either business procedures or government bureaucracies can increase our individual and collective satisfactions.
But the inevitability of modernization as the triumph of technical rationality can be overstated. It is certainly not the only form of globalization. And modernization as technical rationality, although real, is not as inevitable and deterministic as some have thought. There is, as Arjun Appadurai has argued, another form of globalization that is aided by but distinguishable from the worldwide spread of technical rationality. This is the move of cultural influences across the world in all directions. Some of these cultural movements, although by no means all, are actually resisting technical rationality even though, to a significant extent, they are communicated by it. Some see this resistance as a kind of "reflexive globalization" that is greatly aided by the rise of modern forms of electronic communication. But whether a form of resistance or a product of spontaneous cultural creativity, these currents are often thought to flow from the West through American movies, television (HBO and MTV), and news media (CNN and Fox). But increasingly the cultural flow is moving from the rest of the world back to the West in the form of art, music, fashions, immigration, and trade. Even as I write, Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, has recently swept into Washington, D.C., and New York City wearing his green cape and gray fur cap, dazzling alike the media, fashion designers, and their potential patrons. It is just a matter of months, I wager, before men and women in the U.S. will be wearing look-alike capes and hats. Interest among Western women in some modified version of the exotic and mysterious burkha, in spite of its association with the oppression of women under the Taliban, is also likely to develop.
This form of globalization is a product of the human imagination rather than the blind forces of technical rationality. It is fed by the images of electronic media (television, movies), but the imagination itself uses them to preserve and recreate identity. The imagination can work to halt or redirect the march of modernity in its more mechanical and rationalistic forms. The imagination creates new centers of locality and solidarity. These new localities are not necessarily territorial; they are more phenomenological products of the imagination that may spread across the boundaries of neighborhoods and nations in all kinds of directions. Appadurai uses the concept of imagination in much the same way that I will use the concept of phronêsis or practical reason. It is the human capacity to synthesize received images and present experience with the inherited classics of the past. Imagination and practical reason are reconstructive abilities of humans, not likely to be destroyed by the forces of modernization in the form of spreading technical reason. The imagination, according to Appadurai, can give rise to "micro-narratives" — alternative stories to modernity's dominant narrative about the inevitability of progress wrought by the unfolding victory of what the Greeks called techne.
I appreciate Appadurai's more generous view of globalization. But in this book I will employ both views, the narrower view of globalization as the rationalizations of modernity and the fuller view about our imaginative responses to these processes. Although most of the time I will use a nondeterministic version of the first view, there is a sense in which my entire constructive proposal is an illustration of the second. For I will be calling for the revival and the reconstruction of the institution of marriage as a crucial new imaginative response to the forces of technical rationality. I will be calling for the creation of new micro-narratives to counter modernity's dominant message about the inevitable decline of marriage. I will be urging a new conversation between the various micro-narratives about marriage and family that can be found in the world's religions. These religions' stories about marriage have not been micro-narratives in the past, but they appear to many to be small and anemic in the present. This is true because they are not heard well and accurately either by their own adherents or the rest of the world. They are increasingly drowned out by the noisy narrative of technological expansion. But this situation can change.
Excerpted from MARRIAGE AND MODERNIZATION by Don S. Browning Copyright © 2003 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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