What those who value the traditional married state perhaps fear most is that in the unravelling of traditional units, in the blending of disparate families, in the separation of procreation from the linear narratives captured in multi-generational family trees, we grow closer to a chaotic state where our connections weaken and where the common good is not ultimately served, the Irish Ombudsman told a marriage conference last weekend.
David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, Ireland’s premier think-tank on social values, family and education, reports on the Iona Blog about the conference
The Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, Quinn says, is probably best described as a conflicted liberal and before taking up her current job was one of Ireland’s best known political journalists. “She has supported most of the liberal causes down the years, but she’s smart enough to know that the liberal reforms have a downside as well as an upside, especially in the area of family life.” Quinn continued:
In fact, O’Reilly is that very rare thing, a liberal (or is she a conservative liberal?) who understands the concerns of traditionalists about what happens to families and children in societies which place such a high value on adult autonomy.
In O’Reilly’s view what was happening in her own country was part of the process of global influence, so her critique was not just of relevance to Ireland. It is also relevant to all those cultures where these changes have taken place:
Much of what has happened was undoubtedly inevitable. In this globalised world, our little country was hardly going to be immune from the contemporary Western cultural influences of secularism and individualism and where the pursuit of personal growth as a dominant value would, like everywhere else, undermine the traditional values of long term commitment, self sacrifice and all of those intangibles that serve not just the individual but the community.
In her speech she discusses how commitments like marriage, which insists your own freedom must take second place behind your responsibilities, lose out when so much emphasis is placed on adult autonomy and self-fulfilment.
O’Reilly, married mother of five between 12 and 21, points out that there is one issue which should compel married couples to put aside their own desires for flight or self fulfilment or whatever personal imperative might be leading them away from their commitment to marriage, and this the children of the relationship. She clearly regrets to have to say that all too often this does not happen.
All bets must be off when it comes to safeguarding the happiness and security of children. I have no doubt that there are intolerable situations where a parent has no option, or feels that they have no option, but to separate and then manage the care of children as best as they can between them but that has to continue to be the avenue of last resort.
As adults we have made our choices, our children do not have that freedom or independence, they utterly rely on us for their happiness and certainly through their early formative years and only in extremis should we put that happiness and security at risk.
And looking at the impact of the effects of the weakening of this another traditional institutions on society at large, she says:
And perhaps that is what those who value the traditional married state perhaps fear most. That in the unravelling of traditional units, in the blending of disparate families, in the separation of procreation from the linear narratives captured in multi-generational family trees, we grow closer to a chaotic state where our connections weaken and where the common good is not ultimately served.
And it is what is taking place all around us. It is spurred on by the over-emphasis on personal freedom and also by new forms of reproductive technology that think nothing of splitting motherhood between birth mothers and genetic mothers, and turning fathers into sperm donors and mothers into egg donors and treating the natural ties as though they hardly matter at all.
Unfortunately when traditionalists raise these sorts of concerns they tend not to be listened to. But given Emily O’Reilly history as a liberal, although admittedly a conflicted one, perhaps a few more people than usual will listen to her.
Her speech in full is here.