Monday, December 6, 2010

Marriage, an ongoing series

My attention span is even shorter than you think.  Early mornings usually find me express-caffeinating while clicking between the news and email -- resulting, this morning, in a mental mash-up of Ross Douthat's column in the NYTimes and an invitation to a wedding of two former Fairfield University students.

Douthat presses the point of the culture/class/marriage news that I've been circling for a while now.  Increasingly, not only are the more educated and affluent more likely to get and stay married, they are also -- stereotypes of elite liberal hedonism to the contrary -- more likely to be formally among what used to be called the "churched" (or "synagogued" or "mosque-ed," you get the point).  Douthat continues:

But as religious conservatives have climbed the educational ladder, American churches seem to be having trouble reaching the people left behind. This is bad news for both Christianity and the country. The reinforcing bonds of strong families and strong religious communities have been crucial to working-class prosperity in America. Yet today, no religious body seems equipped to play the kind of stabilizing role in the lives of the [high school grads/some college] “moderately educated middle” (let alone among high school dropouts) that the early-20th-century Catholic Church played among the ethnic working class.
The wedding invitation illustrates some of the story:  two highly-educated (one finishing grad school, one in a prestigious law school) late twenty-somethings (1) getting married in a Catholic ceremony, (2) inviting a broad circle of similarly-situated friends and family, (3) savvy and connected enough to invite a priest from one parish to preside at their nuptials at a different parish, (4) attached enough to the University to invite several faculty, and (5) with the resources and cultural sophistication to provide a reception in an interesting locale.
[I know from conversations with these two people that they exemplify Douthat's observation about the ongoing breakdown of any easy "liberal/conservative" categorization, as would many recent graduates of Catholic colleges and universities.]

But the point for today is about the presuppositions of their story as I describe it in the paragraph above; check out the web of support and formation that is implied.  Economic factors have been enough in their favor to move them to this point (I have no idea what their family backgrounds are), but money alone (necessary but not sufficient) doesn't do it -- there's a class-and-culture story here, which comes with a set of shaping institutional commitments that continually reinforce a cohesive narrative supported by a social network of expectation and mentoring and access.  

Notice that, if these two were on a tight budget, the only thing that would change might be that the reception gets moved to the parish hall, though it would still be an interesting reception, done well.  But the rest reflects what is increasingly the case among educated (read:  socially affluent) Americans:  the ability to build a life, among similarly formed others, that weaves a net of social and cultural support. 

This is a fine thing, but how to invite others along?