Tolstoy on Domestic Bliss

tolstoy-family

Leo Tolstoy with his wife and eight of their 13 children

The first epilogue of War and Peace is itself a long section of narrative, but one that most all other stories lack: what happens after “happily ever after?” Our heroes Pierre and Natasha have survived Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and finally, after over 1000 pages, have married.

But then Tolstoy gives us 16 more chapters about their early years of family life together (along with the lives of their friends and their marriages). In these chapters, Tolstoy unabashedly preaches what he thinks an ideal home life should be. The degree of anti-political correctness here makes me wonder that no sensitive snowflakes have demanded it banned.

Here’s the most instructive of those chapters, chapter 10, with ten headings I’ve added to illustrate Tolstoy’s points, and some highlighting of especially radical (read: old fashioned) ideas.

 

IN PRAISE OF THE PHYSICAL CHANGES IN YOUNG MOTHERS

Natasha had married in the early spring of 1813, and in 1820 already had three daughters besides a son for whom she had longed and whom she was now nursing. She had grown stouter and broader, so that it was difficult to recognize in this robust, motherly woman the slim, lively Natasha of former days. Her features were more defined and had a calm, soft, and serene expression. In her face there was none of the ever-glowing animation that had formerly burned there and constituted its charm. Now her face and body were of all that one saw, and her soul was not visible at all. All that struck the eye was a strong, handsome, and fertile woman. The old fire very rarely kindled in her face now. That happened only when, as was the case that day, her husband returned home, or a sick child was convalescent, or when she and Countess Mary spoke of Prince Andrew (she never mentioned him to her husband, who she imagined was jealous of Prince Andrew’s memory), or on the rare occasions when something happened to induce her to sing, a practice she had quite abandoned since her marriage. At the rare moments when the old fire did kindle in her handsome, fully developed body she was even more attractive than in former days.

 

THE CHOICES YOUNG MOTHERS MAKE WITH THEIR TIME

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Notes and Quotes, June 2014

Education

  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.

 

Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.

 

 

Living Well

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Family Matters

From a recent edition of NPR’s Talk of the Nation:

When you have very low fertility rates, it may be OK for a while, but over time your population gets older and older. And as your population gets older and older, as I think Stan was pointing out, what you start to see is, if you will, the ecosystem for families begins to weaken.

You have – the schools begin to close down. The kind of restaurants and facilities you have, the tax system has to change in order to support the older people. So there are a lot of things that happen. But fundamentally, it’s not like we can have the population we have now, and that population will be, in terms of age, like it is. It will be very old. You have to start thinking about societies by 2050, where there’ll be more people over 80 than under 15.

And

PATRICE: Well, in my circle of friends, I’m about 24 hours old, and when I talk to a lot of my friends, we – a lot of them don’t seem to be interested in having kids at all. You know, it’s sort of the concept is odd, or they just think oh, well, it’s – kids are expensive, and they’re going to tie me down, I’m not going to be able to have the lifestyle I want, kind of like the guest is saying.

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On Exaltation, Unity, and Heavenly Mother

I recently read this excellent article, which defends the idea that female identity is essential to God’s plan of happiness.  One line in particular struck me as especially relevant for a train of thought that dominates some online discussions: an obsession with parsing speculations about Heavenly Mother.

[T]o assume that absence of mention is the same as absence is a logical fallacy…. it is possible to assert that whenever Elohim is mentioned, as it is in the creation story of Genesis (and by extension, the Pearl of Great Price), we are speaking of God, and “God” means an exalted woman and an exalted man married in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (D&C 132…).  

Quite right.  Those who demand more insight into and some kind of interaction with Heavenly Mother have completely misunderstood the nature of God.  We can already know everything there is to know about her.

We know that exaltation requires a sealed marriage, and we also know that exaltation requires the kind of perfect unity enjoyed by Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.   Continue reading

What is Marriage?

As our society debates what the definition of “marriage” should be, we would do well to remember that by defining a term at all, we must exclude everything that does not fit that definition.

If we say that a chair must be a thing on which you can sit and which has four legs, we can say that a table is a chair, but a rock is not.  If we feel that that is unjust to the rock, we can remove the requirement about four legs, and then say that a rock is a chair, also.  But what if clouds feel left out of the status and benefits of being recognized as a chair?  Eventually, the good intentions of inclusion render reality silly.  Loosening a definition–stretching the field of things that can fall within its purview–weakens the nature of the thing being defined.

However we define marriage, we will, by the nature of “definition,” exclude some people and types of relationships.  It stands to reason that some of those excluded will be good, kind, decent people who only want respect and rewards for committed relationships.  But to expand the definition to a point where all such people are included would necessarily make the definition so broad as to be meaningless.

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Strong Families and the Success Cycle

The best quote from the best article about Charles Murray’s new book about the facts regarding faith and family in America:

In addition, he says, the upper class needs to abandon its nonjudgmentalism, start “preaching what it practices,” and stop being afraid to send the rest of America messages such as: People should not be having children out of wedlock. Hard work and religious faith matter. Contrary to the image of the rich conveyed by celebrity news, they are committed to their families and live fairly tame lives, and that’s a big reason why they raise high-achieving children and have money.

 

 

Social Science Research on Pornography

Opposition to pornography has become associated with “prudish right-wing fundamentalists,” but as with many things, the growing body of social science research confirms that this debate should extend far beyond the boundaries of belief.

A recent editorial in National Review about Rick Santorum’s opposition to pornography links to several such important studies.  I’m less interested in Santorum’s desire to combat porn by government muscle than I am in bringing facts to an honest national conversation.  Follow the links if you want some truth:

Likewise, Santorum’s views on pornography are a natural extension of his views on marriage as a public good — a sacred, lifelong bond between man and woman, designed to unify the couple and create children who, in turn, will make faithful, committed spouses one day. Interestingly, Santorum’s position is consistent with a rapidly growing body of social-science research. The older idea of pornography as a harmless rite of passage for boys, and a potential boost for the sex lives of married couples, are being challenged by data which show a potential for real and measurable harm. Studies have revealed a clear connection between regular pornography use and a host of negative consequences, including: sexual deviancy (lower first age of intercourse, obsessive masturbation), belief in the “rape myth” (that women cause rape), and loss of interest in sex. More frequent users of pornography report higher incidences of having sex for money, substance abuse, conduct problems, and having feelings of sexual desire “almost all the time.” Among young adults, pornography use correlates with higher numbers of casual-sex partners and lower relationship satisfaction. Both infidelity and divorce have been linked to the use of pornography. But there is a striking dearth of longitudinal research on the latter relationship. NIH should fund a comprehensive, long-term research project devoted to the impact of pornography use on marriage and the family.

Evaluating the Arguments For and Against Gay Marriage

My attempt at an objective analysis of some popular points:

Pro-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation Anti-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation
“Homosexuality is morally wrong.” WEAK. While people have the right to campaign for laws based on their beliefs, civil laws are not obligated to honor them.  This opinion is actually irrelevant to the issue. “We’re born that way and should be treated equally.” WEAK.  Establishing that something is natural is not the same as showing that it’s good or deserves to be protected.  Further, while fairness is a virtue, equality is not automatically universal, but is dependent on a number of factors—insisting on immediate equality is an attempt to circumvent discussion.
“It would open doors to abuses like polygamy and bestiality.” WEAK.  Even if this actually would be the case, it would be irrelevant.  You can’t ban something because it might lead to something else.  The issue has to be considered only on its own merits. “Banning gay marriage fosters discrimination and harassment.” WEAK.  Like the opposing slippery slope argument to the left, even if this is true, it’s not relevant.  Laws are not based on whether or not they might be interpreted in ways that will lead to positive or negative behavior.  Certainly mistreatment of others is bad, but laws cannot be altered because they might contribute to a more civil citizenry.
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2011: My Year In Self-Improvement

I set out to check four things off of my bucket list this year.  One proved too arduous for now, and petered out in March.  I finished the other three.

One was seeing every film on AFI’s “100 Years, 100 Movies” list, except the R-rated ones.  Finally finished in July.  More on this next week.

Another was ministering to each of my home teaching families at church every month this year.  I didn’t always have a visit–I can’t control if people open the door or pick up the phone–but in past years I’ve gone months at a time without trying to contact people.  This year, everyone at least got a chance, and a lot of good work did come from it.

But the third thing was by far the coolest.  In fact, I consider it one of the best things I’ve ever done in life.  I surprised my wife with a romantic gesture every week for a year.

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Defending Those Who Defend Marriage

Earlier this year, a Catholic Archbishop in New Mexico made controversial national headlines because he dared to teach his flock about the sacred importance of marriage.  Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan wrote in a pastoral letter:

We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation. The Church must make it clear to the faithful that these unions are not in accord with the Gospel, and to help Catholics who find themselves in these situations to do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God.

First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching that, when it comes to sexual union, there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony. There is no “third way” possible for a Christian.

The reaction was swift and brutal.  Continue reading

Yet More Research Shows That Cohabitation Hurts Kids

A new report this week documents the damage done to children who grow up in homes where parents live with partners without formal commitment:

In the latter half of the 20th century, “divorce posed the biggest threat to marriage in the United States,” sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox and 17 other scholars said in a report released this week by the Institute for American Values’ Center for Marriage and Families and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

That is no longer the case, they said.

“Today, the rise of cohabiting households with children is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s family lives.”

I’ve been beating this drum for a while.  What’s great in this article are the quotes from a woman who still wants to champion “alternative” families:

“Generalities about cohabiting are not particularly helpful,” said Ms. Schranz, a Unitarian Universalist minister in California.

“What matters is the quality of the relationships of the people cohabiting,” she said. “Just as there are poor relationships among cohabiting people, there are poor relationships among married people. The status of their relationship does not govern the quality of the relationship.”

“Generalities?”  You mean facts gathered from research?  Isn’t it funny when people want to rebut facts and research merely by repeating the wishful thinking of their fantasy world views?  Good grief, that’s the kind of narcissistic solipsism that got our society into this mess.

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The Real Reason the LDS Marriage Rate Is Going Down (Obviously)

It would be impossible not to notice how much LDS Church leadership has stepped up the message that young people should be getting married*.  Apparently, the rates of temple marriage and marriage in general have dropped off quite a bit for the 18-30 year-old young single adult set.  As marriage is a bedrock of LDS belief and lifestyle—highly correlated with church activity and with a host of positive social and financial gains—reemphasizing marriage as a goal makes sense for the Church. 

Some articles on the new trend (such as here and here) suggest that the marriage rate is falling because of a shift in priorities to focus on education, travel, and economic worries. 

But there must be a much larger underlying problem here which is undeniably obvious, but which it would be harder for us to admit and discuss publicly.  Continue reading

On Exclusively Marrying Missionaries

Though it’s not any kind of official rule, there is a popular strain of thought among many Latter-day Saints that girls should only marry a returned missionary.  I’ve seen this written as a laudable “goal” in some publications, and have heard it taught to young women in church many times, as well as hearing it as an earnest objective from many young women themselves.

Now, at first, this is a good goal that makes sense.  After all, if we want to help the happiness and stability of our children’s marriages–and the homes in which their children will be raised–nothing could make more sense than encouraging girls to seek out the worthiest, most reliably active young men to marry.  Certainly, we’ve all seen the heartache and damage caused when women “unequally yoke” themselves to men whose choices might make them regret their own choices, and which hamper the faithfulness of both wife and children. 

However, as with the assumption that some have that being sealed in the temple is a guarantee of salvation or exaltation, this goal is ultimately wrong, as it focuses faith on titles, stations, and past actions, rather than on the Savior and the doctrines of the gospel themselves.  Yes, a returned missionary is surely more likely to be a faithful, stable mate (at least in terms of church activity) than a man who isn’t, but making that a standard is dangerous in that it trains young women to look for outward, past symbols of faithfulness (or just activity, which is not necessarily the same as faithfulness), instead of a deep, personal, ongoing devotion to discipleship. 

In short, telling young women to only consider returned missionaries for marriage is Pharisaic, and denies the reality of the Atonement.  Of course, not being an RM myself, I’m surely biased here, but that only means that my point should be taken with a grain of salt, not discarded.

A Prophetic Institute Teacher

I started college in the Fall of 1996, and enrolled in an Institute of Religion class.  I remember one day we got into a discussion that involved the Church’s Proclamation on the Family.  At the time, the proclamation was only a year old, and not yet as well known throughout the Church as it is today. 

During the discussion, our teacher said something that I’ve never forgotten.  He told us that someday, not too long in the future, the Mormons would be the main champions of the family in our society, almost standing alone in defense of that basic social unit. 

At the time, I thought that was crazy.  What could possibly happen that would turn much of society against not only us, but the universal, traditional family unit?  Sure, the nuclear family was already becoming rarer at the time, and what were already being mocked as “family values” were constantly under assault, but to me such things seemed like the sniping of fringe outsiders at an institution they couldn’t ever hope to fundamentally damage. 

A mere fourteen years bears witness to tremendous shifts in attitude in America, and my “crazy” Institute teacher seems more prophetic with each passing day. 

I don’t know just how hostile the rest of society will get towards those of us who cherish and try to maintain a nuclear family as well as we can, but there is definitely anger out there about it, and I’m grateful to all those, in and out of my faith, who stand together to safeguard those relationships that make families and society exist and work the best that they can.

Five Great Long Term Love Songs

Most love songs are about falling in love, or getting back together, or just about lust.  Few and far between are songs that celebrate being together in a stable, joyous relationship for a long time (especially marriage!).  As Valentine’s Day comes up, here are the first five great songs I could think of about love that has lasted and grown over a long time, alphabetical by artist:

Eric Clapton, “Wonderful Tonight”

Chris De Burgh, “The Lady In Red”

Collin Raye, “One Boy, One Girl”

Kenny Rogers, “Through the Years”

Shania Twain, “Still the One”