Precious Commodities

While we’re talking about having children, here’s an illuminating excerpt from Rodney Clapp about the way consumerism impacts our society’s view of children. Right now we are working on the summer issue of Leadership Journal on the theme of “Generations.” At least part of that will explore the possible shortcomings of segmenting the church by age, and the impact of viewing children as a separate, rather than core, part of the church community. I believe consumerism, as Clapp explains, is part of the reason. This comes from his 1996 article “Why the Devil Takes VISA.” I highly recommend reading the entire (but lengthy) piece.  It was immensely helpful in my research while writing The Divine Commodity. The excerpt: Another sign that consumption is our way of life is the profound societal confusion and ambivalence about children. Although we idealize children as innocents and perhaps sentimentalize them more than any other society in history, as sociologist David Popenoe bluntly says, “American communities are strikingly unfit for children.” Children want and need social stability, yet our communities are “transient, anonymous, diverse and increasingly unfriendly to children.” Under the sway of the consumer ethos we have shifted from child-centered to adult-centered families, fostering higher divorce rates and constructing communities that often subordinate the needs of the young to the needs (and felt needs) of grownups. Frankly, consumption as a way of life renders it difficult to make sense of having children. The consumer ethos, again, is above all one of individual self-fulfillment and autonomy, of keeping choices open. This makes it irrational to bear a child, since children represent the commitment of a lifetime. In the wonderfully apt phrase of novelist Michael Dorris, children “hold us hostage to the future.” They limit a parent’s mobility, their needs dictate how much of their parents’ money is spent, and they create “agendas” a parent otherwise would never have imagined-let alone have chosen. Attempting to stay true to consumption as a way of life, we soberly build daycare centers that label children Precious Commodities, fixate on the monetary costs of rearing a child from diapers through college, and seriously wonder whether or not we should “force” our faith and morality on our children. -From “Why the Devil Takes VISA” by Rodney Clapp. Christianity Today, October 7, 1996.

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