Rebuilding a Marriage-Centered Culture

William E. May
November 15, 2012
(c) Culture of Life Foundation 2012
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life Foundation

William B. May is the founder, President, and C.E.O. of "Catholics for the Common Good" (CCG), a lay apostolate based in California for the evangelization of culture. The CCG has played a major role in California, in cooperation with the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, in protecting marriage as a union of one man and one woman open to the gift of children for whom they have the right and primary responsibility to educate. The CCG was instrumental in educating California voters to support and pass Proposition 8 in the 2008 election, an amendment to the state constitution that limited marriages to couples of opposite sex. Before the passage of Proposition 8, California was only the second state to allow same-sex marriage. As the Executive Director of the California Conference, Edward Dolesji, said: "Catholics for the Common Good is bringing fresh new insights to the application of authentic Catholic social teaching …on issues related to sexuality, marriage, and family."

In its post-2008 work CCG effectively made use of Pope John Paul's powerful and fresh teaching on the person, marriage and family. As a result of numerous conferences, seminars, and talks throughout California, May and CCG realized that the reality of marriage is illustrated if we view marriage from the perspective of the child. This experience led CCG to give birth, as it were, to a new organization that it sponsors, [1]. Since then in its work of evangelizing the culture of California on the issue of the person, marriage, and family, it has integrated John Paul II's thought (without invoking it by name) in presenting the reality that marriage is from the perspective and experience of a child, i.e. from an experience and perspective all of us have had - for without exception each one of us has been a child.

May has recently written a 71-page booklet, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: a guide for effective dialogue (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road, 2012). This booklet contains 6 "Parts" and "An Appendix." The 6 Parts are: 1. Rebuilding a Marriage Culture; 2. Public Policy: The Civil Recognition of Marriage; 3. Reversing the Breakdown of Marriage That is Touching Almost Every Family; 4. Questions to Pose and Ponder About the Rights of Children; 5. Avoiding Common Traps That Hinder Communications for Advocating Public Policy About Marriage and Family; and 6. Frequently Asked Questions About Redefining Marriage and Related Issues. The "Appendix" provides Quick Facts About the Breakdown of Marriage and Family. Here I consider Part 1.

Rebuilding a Marriage Culture

Marriage in crisis

Public policy debate over the meaning of marriage and its importance shows the cultural confusion today about what marriage is: a confusion that has very bad consequences, May says, "for every family and the whole of society." Although the percentage of high school seniors aspiring to a happy marriage with one person for life has not changed over the past several decades, the number who do marry and stay married has dropped dramatically; with the result that today 40 percent of children are born to unwed mothers.

Although some blame this controversy over efforts to have same-sex unions recognized as valid marriages, May believes that the roots of this confusion are deeper and more serious. "Marriage is in crisis because it has become nothing more than an adult centric institution, no longer the foundation of a family." Thus a major imperative of social justice, particularly to children, is to confront the crisis at its roots and to rebuild a culture that encourages men and women to marry before they have children.

Clearer ways to communicate

As a result of the post-2008 evangelizing work of CCG it became clear to May and CCG that in the contemporary cultural climate relativism is a predominant influence and that most of our contemporaries make moral decisions based on their own points of view: "what is true for me may not be for you." This tempts people, including many Catholics, to reject reality and objective truth or Catholic teaching as unreasonable if one does not agree with it. May and CCG discovered that if they could communicate the principles of sound reasoning and social thought in non-religious language that ordinary people can understand, these truths then appeared fully reasonable to a great many.Pope John Paul II communicated so effectively with young people all over the world because he had a way of teaching that resonated with the heart and common experience of man. As May put it: "He did not tell young people what they wanted to hear, but they knew that what he told them exuded the truth, goodness, and the beauty of undeniable reality."

Reality-based Thinking

CCG's chief adviser, Michael Sweeney, O.P., President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA, reminded CCG that Church teaching does not create reality but gives us a deeper understanding of it. There are many fundamental things we can know from common human experience, reason, and the pursuit of beauty and goodness. When we look at marriage and family through the eyes of a child we begin to become like little children ourselves and see marriage as the reality it is. Each of us can remember how much we desired to know about our origin and end and be loved by our mothers and fathers.

Today children are manufactured in fertility clinics specializing in new reproductive technologies. They are "products" desired by others, but they are not treated as the irreplaceable persons that they are. This reminds us that we, in a real sense, are "products" of the culture in which we live. And the meanings it has mediated to us may well not be true or reality-based. We all sometimes try to make a point by appealing to something that is not true. May gives this example: "The most important thing to a child is to have someone who loves him" - as some might say in justifying use of new reproductive technologies for a gay couple or for a single woman or man who wants to have a child of her or his own. But assertions such as this can be shown to be false in the light of what May calls "reality-based thinking." This is the kind of thinking that Father Sweeney O.P. had spoken of. It is thinking rooted in our common experience, experience in which we make use of fundamental principles such as the principle of non-contradiction (that something cannot be bad and at the same time be good - it is either bad or good, true or false), that it is good to know the truth, to live in fellowship and harmony with others [2]Our mission is to evangelize our culture to support families based on the rock of married men and women who have given themselves to one another irrevocably. To do this, "We must," May says "have the humility to recognize that we are all in need of learning and formation. Our focus must be to be in solidarity with the victims of the breakdown of marriage- future children deprived of married mothers and fathers, and young people deprived of their dreams for marriage because of misconceptions about love, sexuality, and marriage."