Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What is an exemplary family?

The Pope today spoke of what he described as the urgent need for "exemplary"Christian families that will give a concrete witness to,  "the inviolability of human life from conception until natural death, the singular and irreplaceable value of the family founded upon matrimony", which I read as meaning "must be married" and "must not practise contraception" - although this may be a somewhat limited and narrow interpretation on my part...
     I value enormously the idea of strong families. There are few things more important than bringing up children in loving and supportive environments which allow them to mature into confident and happy adults. However, I cannot buy into this idea of an "exemplary" family. To start with,  I am not sure this exemplary family even exists, nor that I would want to be part of any family that felt it could not be anything other than "exemplary" at all times. Furthermore, a christian married couple and their children  might tick all the "exemplary" boxes  but still be no such thing , as the wonderful cartoon from ASBO Jesus shows. All sorts of unsavoury things can be found under the surface of the "exemplary" family. Moreover, another family that did not pass some ludicrous litmus test could still be an environment where children are loved and nutured. It might not be "perfect", but it might be good enough. Should any family be considered a "second class" family?
       I would also challenge the idea that one of the main points of a family is to be some kind of testament to the virtues of Christianity or Catholicism. Surely families are there to allow people to live together, to care for each other, to bring up children and offer something which is valuable in itself?  Do people of faith own unique rights to THE FAMILY? Sometimes you would think we do!  Is a child best brought up within a faith system in any case? It can be great gift, equally it can be damaging and limiting, especially if children are not also given freedom of belief and the right to make their own choices.
So, I am not very impressed when I hear people harping on about family and family values. I agree with the idea that love is a family value. It is the qualities found within a family that count, not its external respectability.  Even when families are not "exemplary" - and I am pretty sure mine isn't - if there is love and respect and relationship, can they not still be a "concrete witness" to all of us?


  1. Great post, Sue and a good analysis of the weakness in the Pope's statement. Family life can be, and very often is, a wonderful witness to the best in human nature, but that it should consciously strive to be such all the time is both an unrealistic goal and a refusal to acknowledge how often it can be exactly the opposite.

  2. There is only one example of perfect Christian Family life - that of the Holy Family, where the submissive wife is Ever-Virgin.

  3. Yes, a good post... The idea of the perfect family is just cultural ideology. Religions saying it is the heart of society, Capitalism saying it is locus of consumption. The former loads you with guilt for not being a good parent or child if everything isn't going swimmingly; the latter also tries the guilt trip if you don't have enough possessions and all the 'right' outward trappings of success.

    I get rather fed up of celibates loading burdens on people they haven’t carried themselves – I think it should also be politely pointed out that our nearest Catholic neighbour, Rep of Ireland has the highest rate of single parent families in Europe – despite 50% mass attendance on Sunday, but one in five families only have one parent. So there is a failure in translating the idea into practice somewhere along the line. And let’s face it, many a single parent has managed to bring up children who are no worse for the experience – sometimes better, if in becoming a single parent, a violent or abusive partner has been got rid of...

    What is a family? It may sound a daft question, but the definition depends on where you are in the world and at what particular point in history. Whatever, I am not really in the mood for old Red Socks to start pontificating on family, nor defining what is a ‘good’ family and what is a ‘bad’ one.

    I thought you might like this – a little bit of our shared heritage!

    (And he’s a super guy – I’ve met him on several occasions!)