The following article is part of Christianity Today's cover package on "The Case for Early Marriage."
The legal age for marriage in most states is 18. I wouldn't push that any lower. But if Christians want to be in this world but not of it, they might seriously entertain creating a culture in which their children can marry much younger than the current norm. Regnerus makes a laudable argument that penetrates the surface of what is, beneath the numbers, an ocean of sorrow.
Imagine a species that, for the first 5,600 years of recorded history, arranged its cultures so that when youth began to grow the bumps and curves that signaled biological adulthood, the culture said, "You are an adult now," and welcomed them to adulthood's responsibilities and freedoms. If you were a boy, you could read in synagogue. Medieval women, for instance, could marry at age 12. Biological maturity signaling cultural adulthood has been the norm for most ages of human history.
Now imagine that species enlightened by the blessings of the Industrial Revolution. Advances in media and technology made a way to achieve longer life spans, lower infant mortality rates, and 2,300-square-foot homes with more tvs than children. With biology the mother of neither necessity nor economic life, it soon lost its role in religious and political life as well.
Born into this vast technopoly, today's child understands her world primarily through mass media. Thanks to media's total-disclosure nature, she will be a world-weary 72-year-old by the time she reaches 12, but won't have the maturity of a medieval 12-year-old until about age 36. Ages 12 to 22 will be spent in mandatory survival training called higher education. Regardless of her primary course of study, her secondary course, undertaken when she is biologically fittest and physically strongest to raise children, will be the ironic but ironclad dogma that she must never consider having a child until she is economically, psychologically, and spiritually a fully realized autonomous self. If, after a decade of ingesting this dogma, she still has the desire to become a mother, she can only have at most two children.
If life's most meaningful work for couples is raising children, then it's a cynical system that requires the false choice between having children young, when a large family is physically possible but financially hard, or waiting until they can afford a large family, when fertility has dropped. Technology, it turns out, is a harsher taskmaster than biology, offering a world where the best form of birth control is economics, the best predictor of income is education, and the best deterrent to having children is guilt over failing to give them the very best a consumer society offers.
Meanwhile, the ocean of sorrow continues to fill with the tears of those who are childless or heartbroken by the lie that tells a woman she is free to be anything she wants, so long as she's a man about it.
Read Mercer Schuchardt, professor of media ecology at Wheaton College, and the father of seven children with his wife, Rachel
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This article responds to the cover package on "The Case for Early Marriage."
Previous Christianity Today articles about marriage include:
My Top Five Books on Marriage | By Charles W. Tackett, CEO of PursuingHeart.com (May 7, 2009)
Choosing Celibacy | How to stop thinking of singleness as a problem. (September 12, 2008)
Practicing Chastity | A lifelong spiritual discipline for singles and marrieds. Lauren F. Winner reviews Dawn Eden's The Thrill of the Chaste. (March 15, 2007)
30 and Single? It's Your Own Fault | There are more unmarried people in our congregations than ever, and some say that's just sinful. (June 21, 2006)
Sex in the Body of Christ | Chastity is a spiritual discipline for the whole church. (May 13, 2005)
Reflections: Sex, Love, and Marriage | Quotations to stir the heart and mind (February 1, 2003)
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