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A Simple Choice

The great division in this world will be between the bitter and the lonely, who serve only themselves, and the family men and women whose labors prefigure the kingdom of God.

Abraham and Sarah at the court of the Pharaohs, 1875, by Giovanni Muzzioli (1854-1894). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Abraham and Sarah at the court of the Pharaohs, 1875, by Giovanni Muzzioli (1854-1894). (Photo by DeAgostini /Getty Images); Modena, Museo Civico Archeologico Etnologico (Archaeological Museum) Palazzo Dei Musei.

I’ve been reading the news less and less these days, which tends to make my job exponentially harder. I get national headlines in bits and pieces, and often a day or two behind. So it wasn’t until yesterday that I learned about Donald Trump’s participation in yet another “Spirit of Lincoln” gala with the Log Cabin Republicans down at Mar-a-Lago. 

It is morally irksome and electorally moronic, and an unsurprising repetition of 45’s constant collaboration with the gay lobby—maybe the gravest fault of the most promising politician to arise in this country since Teddy Roosevelt himself. 

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You might expect me to write a column about that; it’s certainly worthy of one. But I’m in a good mood, and that stuff is old hat anyways. 

This story starts with a bad omen. I had just boarded a plane bound for London out of Boston, and I was already less than cheery due to the very large young gentleman occupying the aisle seat and a good bit of my own. As I tried in vain to find something worth watching from the in-flight entertainment selections, I caught a glimpse of the audiobook my girlfriend had just started playing.

It was called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. It was written a little over a decade ago by a woman named Lori Gottlieb, and it seems to be exactly what it sounds like: a desperate plea to the women whose lives have been ruined by feminism to change the way they make major life decisions without changing any of their presuppositions. (As far as I can tell Ms. Gottlieb, now 55, remains unmarried; she still writes an advice column for the Atlantic.)

I wish I was joking. I am not. If we are to believe my then-girlfriend’s version of events, it was for her job, which requires her to listen to a number of audiobooks every month. Regardless, I might have preferred other listening material on the trip where I was planning to propose.

The story starts there. (I suppose, if we are being truthful, it starts many years earlier in a high school cafeteria in Boston.) But it ends with a bottle of Dom Perignon and a couple of very nice steaks, so I’d say the story on balance is a happy one.

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In the two and a half years I spent in the office of The American Conservative, I think I counted seven babies born to a staff that never grew very far beyond ten people. Trends were similar among my broader group of friends in Washington. I remember in particular a party last St. Patrick’s Day at which a friend (also in his early 20s) and I were smoking on the front lawn while he held his baby daughter—upside down, if I remember correctly—and my now-fiancée chatted with his wife. That led later to an argument (which I have not yet won) over whether smoking would be allowed around our children in the future.

I’ve been blessed to live in that bubble, and in others. Many of my closest friends from high school (class of 2017) and college (class of 2020) are married—a few of them with growing broods already. The schools I attended were not conservative, nor were they in conservative parts of the country. But there are pockets like this to be found anywhere, and it feels like a tide is turning with my generation.

It is hard in some ways. Prevailing cultural attitudes remain rabidly anti-family; economic incentives seem almost intentionally so. And the element of risk, which offends even self-consciously anti-modern moderns, remains ever-present.

But it is very easy in others. At the end of the day, the choice to get married is a fairly simple one. In fact, it is an obvious one for just about anyone not called to religious life. The question is not “Why get married young?” (or why “settle for Mr. Good Enough,” to borrow Ms. Gottlieb’s misunderstanding). It is “Why not?” What has changed in the past three generations that makes the way life has been lived since time immemorial suddenly unwise?

In other words, why wait, when waiting is so costly and so far removed from historical norms and human nature? Forget, for a moment, the fact that the family life toward which marriage is ordered is halfway to becoming a miracle at the point when most modern authorities would advise you to begin. Why would you put your adult life on hold until you're beaten up by a world you were never meant to face alone? Why surrender to the wisdom of the age when you can see all of the misery it produces?

A society in which that wisdom took hold completely would not just die off because it has no next generation. It would die sooner, because it has no interest in the future and no strong bonds of loyalty to govern in the present.

Left and right are insubstantial, and the Log Cabin Republicans are one tiny subset of a much more expansive problem. The great division in this world will be between the bitter and the lonely, who serve only themselves and sow destruction in the process; and the joyful, loving family men and women whose labors prefigure the kingdom of God in some small part on earth. 

The former may find pride and glory for a moment. The latter, against great odds in a hostile land, can hope in God’s promise to Abraham:

Lift up thy eyes, and look from the place wherein thou now art, to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west. All the land which thou seest, I will give to thee, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: if any man be able to number the dust of the earth, he shall be able to number thy seed also. Arise and walk through the land in the length, and in the breadth thereof: for I will give it to thee. So Abram removing his tent came and dwelt by the vale of Mambre, which is in Hebron: and he built there an altar to the Lord.

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