Nope ... this isn't a preamble to a speech on the welfare state.
Yesterday, I saw a Discovery Health Network program about the Duggar family of Arkansas. Said family is raising 15 children (the latest, Jackson Levi, born just recently) without the help of the government and, by all accounts, are doing a pretty bang-up job of it.
The Duggars, headed by Jim Bob, 38, and Michelle, 37, are in many ways practicing a lifestyle that harkens back to the 1800s when large families were the norm and there was no such thing as Nintendo, MTV or iPods to take away from family time. We are so infatuated in this culture with radical individualism and having as few kids as possible to impinge on our lifestyles, I think we tend to forget that the typical American family of 2.3 children is something of a recent invention and hardly a global cultural norm.
Admirably, the TV program was upbeat and complimentary about the Duggars' lifestyle. They are obviously devout Christians (of some very conservative Evangelical stripe, but I don't know which), and the show completely avoided the sneering, contemptuous tone you might otherwise expect from the MSM. (For commentary that is sneering and contemptuous, click here.)
These people are not rednecks. The homeschooled children are remarkably intelligent, well-behaved and self-assured. The home is clean and well-ordered. I think we all could take a few lessons from the Duggars about personal responsibility, devotion to family and simplicity of living. Our kids would only benefit if we had less TV and more outdoors playtime, less Internet and more playing the violin, and -- dare I say -- more siblings and less stuff?
So ... why am I not in a mad rush to recommend that we all live exactly like the Duggars?
Well, first of all, a disclaimer: Whatever the Duggars' flavor of Christianity is, I do not subscribe to it. That is, I don't have a problem with married couples using contraception. The Duggars, however, have chosen to take the natural route and have as many children as God sees fit to give to them. Fair enough -- I just don't see Scriptural warrant that that is the way it must be done. I'm also not opposed to women wearing pants or shorts and cutting their hair, whereas the Duggar women do neither. But, again, I don't quibble with their convictions.
However, I'll be honest here: Once you get into the rural South, you occasionally see folks of this stripe, and you can spot the women a mile away. It isn't just that they don't cut their hair or wear slacks or jeans. For some reason, they wear the ugliest, frump-granny jumpers and potato-sack dresses. While the gentlemen look a ready for a business lunch with their crisp chinos and polo shirts, the women range from looking like poorly-dressed kindergarten teachers to refugees from the cast of The Waltons. The Duggar females are no different. The plaid and the ankle socks and the white collars the size of Texas are hideous. And don't get me started on the hairdos.
I'm not trying to be cruel here, I just don't understand why the women have to look anachronistic and frumpy in the name of modesty and devotion, especially when the men blend in with the general population. There are plenty of flattering clothes on the market that adequately cover the body and many flattering ways to wear long hair. Between the extremes of Britney Spears and Laura Ingalls, isn't there a happy medium?
My only guess is perhaps modesty is not enough -- perhaps they believe the women ought to look distinct and different than other women for the sake of, well, looking distinct and different. Which leads me to my second point ...
The Duggars have a huge family, no debt, no TV, no Internet and no iPods -- and that right there puts them outside of the mainstream of American society. However, Christians were never called to mainstream and be like everyone else. We are called to live differently and have different priorities, which often the general culture fails to understand.
BUT ... and this is a big "but" ... I don't think the radical kind of cultural isolation the Duggars have is necessarily a good thing. I am opposed to "enclave Christianity" where believers create their own hermetically sealed microcosms of existence and have virtually no exposure to the larger culture. Besides Jim Bob's professional and political career, I don't see any evidence that the Duggars interact significantly with those who live differently than they do, nor do they seem to have any points of commonality with people in general.
To put it bluntly, they live in their own world. Sure, I applaud them for keeping gangsta rap and porno out of the house. That's not the issue. But Jesus told us to go into all the world to make disciples. The only way the Duggars' lifestyle can be self-sustaining over the generations will be to reinforce the "differentness" and isolation. I have my doubts as to whether that fulfills the Great Commission or is merely an interesting social experiment.
Jesus freely interacted with the common folk of his day. He did not sin, yet he was a "friend of sinners," so much that he won the reputation of being "a glutton and a wine-bibber." However, I noted in the program that the Duggars' primary -- and, from what I gather, only -- social outlet are other members of their "home church" who are rearing their children in the same way.
So, kudos to the Duggars for chucking the worst of American life and culture. But there's a great big world out there.