Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gratus as an Ontological Proof

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season I would like to recount a story of how gratitude led a man to God.

The summer after finishing college I backpacked Europe and for a month stayed at the American Seminary at Katholic University, Belgium. A good priest friend of mine was spending the summer there in hopes of finishing his doctoral thesis.

One day, while talking, he shared of how his father found faith. His mother was devout her entire life, but had recently passed away. After the funeral the priest's father, who had always been agnostic, sat together with his family around the dinner table. His father then began to share that of all the feelings he was experiencing - grief, loss, pain, even anger - the most poignant was a sense of gratitude. He felt an unoverwhelming sense of gratitude for being able to share his life with his wife. Yet, this gratitude was not 'to' his wife, but 'for' his wife. And as gratitude is relational and always needs someone to be grateful to, he wondered what it meant that he felt gratitude 'for' his wife. Relenting to his own logic, he suggested that it must be God whom he is grateful to for his wife, and with that he had found God.

Hence, let me meagerly suggest - while well knowing the philosophical limitations - that the feeling of gratus can be an ontological proof for God's existence. For everything one is grateful 'for', but not 'to' let it be a meager insight to the possibility that something both greater and good must exist.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Economics and Oikos: Christian Reflections on Polygamy

After reading Augustine’s ‘On the Good of Marriage’ and listening to Dr. Brent Waters wax eloquently on the essay, the question of polygamy in Christianity began to loom. Maybe the topic is currently captivating because of Mitt Romney’s run for President and the anachronistic Mormon polygamy that he engenders, maybe I am fascinated with polygamy because I can barely fathom what monogamy means in society where more than half the marriages end in divorce, maybe I am simply fascinated with it because of a banal and sophomoric interest in the possibility of two wives, and all that might entail… but I digress.

Of all the myriad reasons for interest the real reason is economic.

In Gary Becker’s Treatise on the Family he made an interesting observation about polygamy namely societies that condone polygamy help women and children.

Considering that married women want children (an assumption), women will need resources to support their children and herself. Monogamous societies restrict the supply of possible husbands. As any limited commodity marriageable (monetarily supportive) husbands will be scarce for some women (typically those who are least likely to have qualities to find a spouse). These women may then find themselves making a hard decision: marry the dud who proposed to them, or make it on there own.

If they marry the ‘dud’ they face the possibility of lack of resources to have children or even simply sustain the two-unit family. Further, if they have children they risk not being able to properly provide for them.

If the women choose to live a single life she may have to forgo motherhood in sake of livelihood. Or, as so many women do these days, they have children outside of marriage harrowingly raising the children on their own and on their own salary.

Polygyny – having more than one wife – allows women to have more selection in choosing a husband. Ostensibly this increase in choice will lead to husbands who are better able to support their wives and desired children.

If monogamy falls more in the realm of Christian convention than creed than can the practice of polygyny be acceptable in Christian communities? In most cases the answer will probably be a roaring, ‘No!’ I am sure Christian feminists and moral traditionalists could come up with numerous reasons for why it is a preposterous idea even while conceding that it may, at times, help support destitute women. In the United States the notion could never be entertained, besides nuanced theological, sociological or political arguments (the tax-code would probably have to be augmented, too) it just seems down right un-American. So, perhaps the lasting (yet, still distressed) institution of monogamous marriage is a symbolic vanguard to a culture that is beleaguered by quantitatively squared cost-benefit analyses that seem to forever champion pareto efficiency regardless of the moral costs.