Faith and the 'One and Done' tradition

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why so many mainstream journalists do not want to write about the practical implications of the choices made by liberal religious believers and even those of skeptics. While coverage of religious conservatives (much of it inaccurate or simply simplistic) consumes oceans of ink, the fine details of the lives of liberal believers are rarely examined. Your GetReligionistas have been saying this since the first days of this weblog.

Consider, for example, that recent Time magazine cover story that ran with the headline, "The Only Child Myth." (Once again, alas, the full story is behind a digital wall and you can only see an abridged version. Also, the parts of the story that center on religion were among those cut out. I'll watch for the full text in future weeks, but for now you'll have to rely on passages that I have typed up to share with you.)

This topic, and this report, raises lots of questions, including why the Time editors made the Meacham-esque decision to publish a news essay on this controversial and emotional topic that was written by a reporter, Lauren Sandler, who right up front states (good for her, in terms of candor) that she is an only child and that she is the mother of only one child and that's fine with her, thank you very much.

The article feels like an extended argument on behalf of a cause, with few sympathetic voices showing up to argue for the other side. After all, states Sandler, the one-child model has become the "new traditional family," especially during these hard economic times. Take that, Focus on the Family.

I kept wondering if and when a clearly religious angle would show up in this story, fearing that it would be totally haunted. Finally, one did.

If you comb the World Values Survey, you'll find religiosity and fertility go hand in hand, whether in more secular Europe or in more pious America. As much as family size is a deeply personal issue, for many people it is also a spiritual one. And as Samuel Preston writes in his 2008 paper "The Future of American Fertility," high fertility can beget high fertility: children who inherit their parents' religious beliefs inherit at least one of the reasons to have many children themselves. No wonder churches nationwide vied to book Jon and Kate Gosselin (predivorce) for guest spots in their pulpits. Evangelicals -- the biggest share of their viewership -- saw the Gosselins' brood as proof of pure piety.

It must have felt good to tap in the negative rebound on that Gosselin story. However, this is a serious subject and there are many other religious voices -- including Catholics, Jews, Muslims and others -- who could speak to this point. However, there really isn't time in this editorial essay to contemplate the lives and beliefs of those on the other side.

Still, it was at this point that I really began to wonder if Time was going to leave the religion element completely out of its blissful coverage of the "One and Done" lifestyle. After all, if intense religious faith leads to fertility, what kind of religious belief or unbelief leads to this new "traditional family"? In other words, what is the religious (or, perhaps, "values") content of this new tradition?

What we read sounds persuasive, but rather -- dare I say it? -- self-centered. Check this out, from the abridged version:

As parents, we tend to ask ourselves two questions when we talk about having more children. First, will it make our kid happier? And then, will it make us happier? A 2007 survey found that at a rate of 3 to 1, people believe the main purpose of marriage is the "mutual happiness and fulfillment" of adults rather than the "bearing and raising of children." There must be some balance between the joy our kids give us and the sacrifices we make to care for them.

"Most people are saying, I can't divide myself anymore," says social psychologist Susan Newman. Before technology made the office a 24-hour presence, we actually spent less time actively parenting, she explains. "We no longer send a child out to play for three hours and have those three hours to ourselves," she says. "Now you take them to the next practice, the next class. We've been consumed by our children. But we're moving back slowly to parents wanting to have a life too. And people are realizing that's simply easier with one."

Or consider this snippet from a visit with Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick:

Ironically, it seems that if economic pressures can bring about lower fertility, so can economic prosperity. "I love my daughters to bits. But skiing and sports cars without baby seats can be fun too," he says. "That's why only children are the secular trend of a rich society we've been moving toward for the past 100 years."

Is that it? This is a "secular trend" -- period? I find it hard to believe that the Time editors were willing to settle for that.

Is this crucial question really that simple? Faith equals living for others? A lack of faith equals living for oneself? Surely there is more to the faith of the "One and Done" tradition than this? Where are the religious voices on the other side of the childbirth equation?

Please respect our Commenting Policy