Virtual Voices

Rendell's sin

Culture

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell got himself in hot water for claiming that incoming Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano-a childless, unmarried 51-year-old-has "no life." Journalists immediately branded him a sexist, but he explained soon after that he simply meant she works really hard, just like him. Of course, that's not what he meant at all-his point was that she has nothing to distract her from her work, which he considers a good thing.

Rendell's sin is to suggest that adults who have never married or conceived or adopted children are somehow less fully alive than the rest of us. This is a sin-in the eyes of the popular press, feminists, and a great many unmarried, intentionally childless individuals-because the modern ethos of choice is that it must not only be freely available, but each individual's exercise of it affirmed. Whereas the Founders established principles of limited liberty, the modern libertine demands complete freedom, and further, that we applaud him as he revels in it. Anything less is seen as an attack on his person.

Thus Rendell was chastised for suggesting that someone who forgoes marital intimacy and the bondage and joy of parenting is somehow worse for it. He was right, but we can't expect an unmarried childless person to understand this, because he reasons under an information asymmetry. He knows what it is like to live his lifestyle, but he can't fathom the position of spousehood, of parenthood. The married parent, in contrast, stands in a position of greater information. He has been single and married. He has been childless and child-blessed.

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Napolitano indeed loses the blessing of a spouse, of children. She is-by electing not to take part in this union of life-sharing and life-creation-quite literally in possession of less life than someone who has bonded herself into one flesh with another, and from that union brought life into the world.

But Rendell is wrong as well, when we consider that these blessings also bring suffering. Napolitano will likely never know the pain of lessening herself that her spouse might increase. She will not bury her beloved. She will never see her children suffer, nor petition God for their salvation, nor sacrifice parts of her life that they might be raised. In this sense she saves her life, whereas we married parents relinquish ours. Napolitano and other childless singles have, from that perspective, more life.

The question is, as for each of us, what kind of life-however much of it we are given or salvage for ourselves-will be lived? The monk and the spouse alike are called to sacrifice themselves for a beloved. This seems an intrinsic part of the Christian walk, that we are to be poured out even as we are filled up, to suffer even in blessing, to lose our lives even as we are saved. An increasing part of the Western world, however, is gravitating toward the middle ground, governed neither by asceticism nor marital sacrifice. It is a modern religion whose chief dogma is: I will find my happiness unencumbered.

Does someone living in that accursed middle ground have more life, or less? The paradoxical answer, incomprehensible to the world, is "both."

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