12 May 2009

Diagnoses and Cures

I'm reading a novel and got to a place that has stopped me cold.  I'm not going to name the novel or the author because I really don't think it's that great and don't want to recommend it, but an exchange between a couple of characters is yet another example of a trend I've been noticing the last six months or so and if I don't write about it, I won't be able to finish the book.  It's an okay right-before-I-turn-the-lights-out-to-go-to-sleep read, in other words, I'm not finding it completely unpleasant, but I also don't care enough about the characters that I simply must read another chapter.

One character says to another:

'You have to make allowance.  […]  She's got eight kids and a husband who spends even more time in the Mucky Duck [the local pub] than Seamus Galvin.  What we need is some decent kind of contraception … like this pill thingy.'

Those of you who know me know that I have a basic problem with the very idea of contraception, but that's not what I'm going to focus on {shocker!}.

Read it again.  This poor mom's problem is diagnosed pretty well.  Her husband isn't acting like either a husband or a father.  But look at the logical hiccup when we come to the proposed cure - more contraception and fewer kids.  Maybe this mom and her children would be better served if the local community took a two by four to her husband's head and insisted that he man-up and care for his family instead of running away from his responsibilities.  Would she really be better off with two kids and a husband who abdicated his role as husband and father?  And which kids shouldn't she have had?

I saw the same thing in Atlas Shrugged.  Ayn Rand identified certain societal problems with laser-like accuracy, but her solutions were empty and unworkable, as substantial as a cobweb.  I see the same thing going on in Washington, Phoenix, and our local city council chambers.

We must think clearly about both problems and solutions.  If we don't consider deeply and follow a problem all the way to the root, our efforts to help will merely make the situation worse.



  1. Please...be specific...which of Ayn Rand's solutions were empty and why? I'll be looking for your response.

    Robert Taylor
    Horeseshoe Bay, TX

  2. Well, Robert, a couple jump to mind immediately.

    1) Her views about charity. She's right in that some people take advantage of the compassion of others and those compassionate people allow themselves to be taken advantage of. But her solution is to abolish charity. As a Christian, I can't agree with this.

    The more balanced solution is to approach charity not on the basis of how it makes me feel but on the basis of what those in need actually need. The more compassionate thing to do for someone who is able to work but won't is not to give that person food or money, but to insist that he work because that's what's best for him. However, that solution won't work for 90-year old Grandma who is too physically frail to work and who does need to be lovingly cared for with no thought of return.

    2) Rand's approach to Christianity. In his diatribe, John Galt describes Christian thought. Rand understands the doctrine of sin (even if she doesn't agree with it). We are all sinners and cannot earn God's favor no matter how hard we try. Everything we do is tainted. So far, so good.

    But she seems to believe that this causes a lack of self-esteem and constant guilt, which can then be manipulated by others to our own harm as we continually try to earn our way into God's favor. This is the source of her view that compassionate people allow others to take advantage of them - it's based on feelings of guilt.

    However, the true solution to our sinful state is that God sent his own Son to live a perfect life and pay our debt on the cross. When he saves us, he changes our very hearts, so that we are able, out of gratitude for his mercy, to live lives that glorify him (not lives of perfection, but lives of humble repentance and grateful joy). God credits to us Christ's perfect obedience.

    She's right that we cannot earn our salvation, but she's wrong in her thought that we have to. 'For you have been saved by grace, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.'

  3. I think that the topic of abortion comes up rather frequently in Irish writing (the book you're reading sounds like a Maeve Binchy) because laws on contraception and abortion were so different just over the water in Britain.
    But you're right. It seems like they are treating the children as a curse (or a negative consequence of having a drunkard for a husband). It would be nice if the barkeep at the Duck told her husband that he had a new one pint limit unless he manned up and took care of his family.

  4. Sebastian,

    First, I'm sorry it took so long to approve your comment - the summer got away from me!

    Second, I love your solution! Let the community apply pressure to get this slacker to attend to his duty! But would something like that work today? It's so easy to be anonymous in a city (lots of bars to hop to) and there just might be a law that says a barkeep can't refuse service for anything but intoxication. Oh, the times we live in!