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Archive for December 2012

Begin the New Year with Light

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sunlightOne of the most succinct and powerful statements about the nature and character of God comes from St. John: “God is light, and in Him there is absolutely no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) It is impossible to measure the depth and power of John’s statement. God began the world by speaking the words: “Let there be light.” Indeed, God’s light illumines every lesser light by which we see anything and everything. So I thought it might be good to encourage you at the beginning of 2013 with some Scriptures on “light.” Of course, there are plenty more than I’ve provided here, but I thought, if you so desire, you might take these few and meditate on them, perhaps even memorize some of them, as you begin another year afresh.

The LORD “reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings the deep darkness into light.” Apart from the Lord we “grope in the darkness with no light.” The LORD’s light arises on all. He lifts up “the light of [His] countenance upon us.” The LORD “light[s] my lamp,” yea, He “illumines my darkness.” The Psalmist declares that “the LORD is my light and my salvation,” therefore, we shall not fear anyone. The LORD “is a fountain of life, in Your light, we see light.” We ought to pray that the LORD will “send out [His] light and [His] truth,” that they may lead us. God sets “our iniquities before [Him], our secret sins in the light of [His] presence.” God sows light for the righteous, and God covers Himself “with light as with a cloak.” God’s word “is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” The “unfolding of [God’s] words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” God leads us and “make[s] darkness into light before [us].” God is the one “forming light and creating darkness.”

St. John tells us that “all things came into being through [Jesus], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Jesus came into the world as “the light of the world,” but people “loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Yet Jesus promised that everyone who follows Him “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus told us to “believe in the light, so that [we] may become sons of light.” St. Paul said that God sent him to open people’s eyes “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in [Christ].”  St. Paul also told us to “put on the armor of light” in our daily lives. Indeed, the only ones who become Christians do so because God “has shone in our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Paul tells Christians that “formerly” they were “darkness, but now [they] are light in the world.” Therefore, we should “walk as children of light.” Indeed, Christians “share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” God Himself “dwells in unapproachable light,” and every gift we receive comes “from the Father of lights, which whom there is no variation nor shadow of change.” In heaven, there is no need of sun, moon or lamp, because Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, is the lamp of heaven. He “will illumine” our lives as the eternal saints under His glorious kingdom reign.

May our 2013 be filled with the abundant light of Christ; may His word illumine our every path; and may the holiness of His unapproachable light burn away and consume the darkness the resides in our hearts. In His light, may we see light.






Written by Michael Duenes

December 31, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Muslim Prayer in Public Schools and the Law

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muslimprayersBy way of introduction, the law should, in my view, tell the government to get out of the business of providing education explicitly. I take the words of the third article of the Northwest Ordinance in their plain sense: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall ever be encouraged.” Larry P. Arnn, Liberty and Learning, 81 (Hillsdale College Press 2004) (italics mine). To “encourage” education does not mean to “administer” it, and I think there are powerful and practical ways that the government can “encourage” education without directly administering it. I take this view because I accept a much broader meaning of the term “religion” than do our courts (and than do the majority of Americans, including religious Americans). I think it is precisely because the Supreme Court takes a narrow and reductionistic view of “religion,” and its central place in any educational scheme, that it will struggle even more in drawing appropriate lines as more devout Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and others continue to show up at our shores. Yet it is clear that government-sponsored education is not headed for extinction any time soon, so my proposed solution to the issue of Muslim prayers in public schools must grapple with our educational system as it currently exists.

The Court’s struggle to find the right words with which to draw appropriate lines on the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment points up what I believe is a larger problem in jurisprudence, particularly jurisprudence of the positivist bent. The problem, at least with respect to religious expression in schools, is that education, by its very nature, is religious and cannot be otherwise. The lines the Court does draw, in my view, will be always be on a continuum. They will also be arbitrary. This is because the Court is working on a foundation of the false dualism it accepts within the educational realm, as though the promotion and impartation of knowledge, wisdom, skill and character – which are the central tasks of education – could be split off into separate compartments called “religious” and “secular.” Surely it is incumbent upon the Court not only to draw the line between “religion” and “State,” but between “religion” and “nonreligion.” I do not think positivists have sufficiently developed the legal terminology with which to do this, which is largely why I think the Court uses so many different terms in drawing lines. (The Supreme Court has employed a vast terminology in adjudicating the proper “Church-State” relationship mandated by the Religion Clauses, to wit: “Secular purpose,” Roberts, 921 F. 2d at 1053, “entanglement with,” id., “indirect coercive pressure,” Engel, 370 U.S. at 431, “separation,” Roberts, at 1049, “neither advances nor inhibits,” id. at 1053, “aid,” Wallace, 472 U.S. at 53, n. 37, “prefer,” id., “advance,” id. at 56, “entirely motivated by,” id., “neutrality,” id. at 60, “favor,” id., “impede the observation of,” Sherbert, 374 U.S. at 404, “discriminate invidiously between,” id., “burden,” id., “endorsement,” County of Allegheny, 492 U.S. at 578, “favoritism,” id. at 593, “promotion,” id., “taking a position on,” id. at 593-94, “acknowledge,” id. at 631 (O’Connor, J., concurring), “accommodate,” id. (O’Connor, J., concurring), “coerce,” Weisman, 505 U.S. at 587, “indoctrinate,” id. at 591-92, “enforce a religious orthodoxy,” id. at 592, “affiliate itself with,” id. at 599 (Blackmun, J., concurring), “obtrude itself in,” id. (Blackmun, J., concurring), “a complete and permanent separation of the spheres,” id. at 601 (Blackmun, J., concurring), “imprimatur,” id. at 606 (Blackmun, J., concurring),  and “approval,” Id. at 619 (Souter, J., concurring). Doubtless the Court has used other terms as well. This is not simply a “problem of the penumbra,” it is a kind of linguistic jungle.).

The Lemon Test, which states that government action must have “a secular purpose,” creates a raft of problems all by itself. What goes unacknowledged by its assertion that “state action must have a secular purpose,” Roberts, 921 F. 2d at 1053, is that baptizing “secular purposes” is doing the very thing that the Establishment Clause prohibits, namely, establishing a religion. To argue this is not some semantical gamesmanship. Secular agnosticism and/ or secular pluralism, which is what the Lemon Test as applied to government schools invokes, is a kind of religion, for like all religions, it presupposes things about God, about the nature of reality, about the legitimacy of authority, about the destiny of humankind, and about freedom. Further, secular agnosticism is not without de facto religious ceremonies (e.g., diversity celebrations, to give but one example) or de facto high priests (e.g., certain university professors, social commentators, or political officials). Clearly, secularism also retains authorities who – religious magistrate-like – have the power to enforce conformity to its religious norms, such as principals, backed by the force of law, who are able to compel elementary school teachers to keep their Bibles in their desk drawers lest they “teach Christianity.” See Roberts, 921 F.2d at 1056. People object to this line of thinking because they assume that “religion” must go under the name of “religion.”

Yet one need only consider that religiosity has to do with worldviews, and secularism is a worldview, as I have shown. Worldviews are inherently religious, for as I said, they all presuppose things about God, perhaps even presupposing that God does not exist. A secular atheist or agnostic cannot be exempted from the world of “religion” simply because he or she disdains the label and claims no God or gods. This means, however, that the secular non-adherent is also a religious practitioner who deserves constitutional protection under the First Amendment. Her cry of “freedom from religion” is really a cry that her own religious worldview be enforced by government, with all the attendant social, emotional, and psychological benefits she imagines attend to that enforcement. It is time more people, including judges, start to acknowledge this reality. Once they acknowledge it, they can conduct their jurisprudence without continued paeans to a non-existent religious neutrality. This might free the Court up to allow for a more religiously robust culture in the public schools.

To be continued…


Written by Michael Duenes

December 27, 2012 at 5:46 pm

The Public School and Why Your Kid is “Bored” with World History

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ralphwinterWhat are your children taught about world history at the local public school?

What are they taught about world history at the local church?

Why care about world history at all if history is “not your thing?”

One world history textbook says that “the basic reason to study world history involves access to the historical context for the globalized society we live in today.” (Peter N. Stearns, World History: The Basics, Routledge, 2010). Another workbook, designed to assist the school teacher in teaching world history, says: “The student needs to understand that world history is the student’s own. World history is not an abstract philosophy about other people; it is the heritage of the student’s own family, culture, language, and values. Students share universals with other students and with the instructor, as well as people around the world past, present, and future.” (David Hertzel, The World History Workbook: The Ancient World to 1500, Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). Doubtless other textbooks would say much the same thing, and at the public schools, this is what your child will be told is the purpose of studying world history. It will have no reference to God and His purposes. Thus, these statements about the purposes of studying history are woefully inadequate. At most, the public school teaching of history will encourage your child to emphasize his own overblown sense of his self-important place in world history, or to simply to think about “how we got here” and how we’re all interrelated. The study of history will be a curiosity, and for many, a drudgery, rather than an compelling invitation to further exploration and understanding.

One thing is certain, at no public school, at only some Christian schools, and likely at even fewer churches, will your child be taught to think of world history under the banner of Matthew 24:14, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.” Yet this is what world history is about. As Ralph Winter says in his brilliant piece, The Kingdom Strikes Back: Ten Epochs of Redemptive History, there are “four different ‘mission mechanisms’ at work to bless other peoples: 1) going voluntarily, 2) involuntarily going without missionary intent, 3) coming voluntarily, and 4) coming involuntarily (as with Gentiles forcibly settled in Israel – 2 Kings 17).” In other words, world history is centrally about God’s purpose of having people “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27). The only ultimate purpose to the history of the universe, and to humankind within it, is to glorify God and bring about His enjoyment of His own creative and redemptive acts within the universe. Inextricably bound with this is our enjoyment of those same creative and redemptive acts. Nothing less will do.

I was not taught to think this way about world history until I was well into adulthood, and even then, only because I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” at my local church. I was not taught to think about what God was doing in the history of the world, and how He was working out history for His own glorious ends among the nations. I was not taught about the ways that God has been at work to advance His kingdom through the workings of the peoples and nations of the earth. This is a profound deficiency, and it points up the need for Christian children to be given an explicit and robust Christian education. Pieces like Ralph Winter’s should be central to the curriculum, and should be taught far and wide in homes and churches and schools.

Winter writes: “From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of ‘the Kingdom strikes back.'” Winter develops this theme, in broad strokes, by considering ten epochs in world history, wherein “the grace of God [is] intervening in a ‘world which lies in the power of the Evil One (1 Jn 5:19), contesting an enemy who temporarily is ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4) so that the nations will praise God’s name.” Winter admits that “in the space available…it is only possible to outline the Western part of the story of the kingdom striking back – and only outline. It will be very helpful to recognize the various cultural basins in which that invasion has taken place. Kenneth Scott Latourette’s History of Christianity gives the fascinating details, a book extending the story beyond the Bible. (A book more valuable than any other, apart from the Bible!).” I would heartily recommend Latourette’s two volumes myself.

In the first five Epochs in world history, which Winter only summarizes, we have God at work through the period of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), through the Captivity in Egypt, through the Judges in Israel, through the Kings in Israel, and through the Exile to Babylon. After this, Jesus comes, in a kind of “incriminating ‘visitation.'” The “chosen nation – chosen to receive and to mediate the blessing [of God’s good news] – has grossly fallen short.” Thus Jesus ushers in the second five Epochs in world history. In Epoch 6, Winter argues that “Rome was won but did not reach out with the gospel to the barbaric Celts and Goths. Almost as a penalty, the Goths invaded Rome and the whole western (Latin) part of the empire caved in.” In Epoch 7, “the Goths were added in, and they and others briefly achieved a new ‘Holy’ Roman Empire. But this new sphere did not effectively reach further north with the gospel.” In Epoch 8, “again almost as a penalty, the Vikings invaded these Christianized Celtic and Gothic barbarians. In the resulting agony, the Vikings, too, became Christians.” In Epoch 9, “Europe now united for the first time by Christian faith, reached out in a sort of pseudo-mission to the Saracens in the great abortion known as the Crusades.” In Epoch 10, “Europe now reached out to the very ends of the earth, but still done with highly mixed motives; intermingled commercial and spiritual interests was both a blight and a blessing. Yet, during this period, the entire non-Western world was suddenly stirred into development as the colonial powers greatly reduced war and disease. Never before had so few affected so many, even though never before had so great a gap existed between two halves of the world.” We are still in this final phase of reaching all of the world for Christ, with the two-thirds world now truly taking the lead over the West.

Winter ultimately asks some important questions: “Will the immeasurably strengthened non-Western world invade Europe and America just as the Goths invaded Rome and the Vikings overran Europe? Will the ‘Third World’ turn on us in a new series of ‘Barbarian’ invasions? Will the OPEC nations gradually buy us out and take us over? [I would ask: Will China?] Clearly we face the reaction of an awakened non-Western world that is suddenly beyond our control. What will be the role of the gospel? Can we gain any insight from these previous cycles of outreach?” Pertinent questions indeed, and ones that Christian students should be wrestling with, but largely aren’t. Who will train them up to consider these things, and to live their lives in accord with God’s purposes in world history?

I highly commend to you Winter’s piece, which I’ve linked to above. Let us teach it to our children, and enlarge their vision of their own lives, and how they might live in line with God’s plan and purpose to bless all the nations with the gospel.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 26, 2012 at 10:17 am

Mass Murder and the World in Which We Live

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sinI make no excuses for the wicked and horrific acts of men, nor for my own wickedness and transgression. But when we ponder over children being murdered in our world, we ought to strip away the layers of sentimentality about this place, and consider just what kind of world it is in which we live.

It is a place under God’s curse, for God said to the first rebels, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen.3:17-19) As if to interpret this, God tells us that “against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope,the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Rom. 8:20-23).

Jesus told us that “from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and they defile the man.” (Mark 7:21-23). He told us that, “in this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33)., and called us an “adulterous and sinful generation.” (Mark 8:38). He was continually casting evil spirits out of people, including two men who were “so extremely violent that no one could pass by” where they were. (Matt. 8:28). Jesus told us that “no one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18). He said of the devout religious leaders of his day: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). He said that spouses divorce each other “because of your hardness of heart.” (Matt. 19:8). He announced: “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes.” (Matt. 18:7). Jesus had no illusions about the world of men.

God brought a destructive flood upon the whole earth because he saw “that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5). Shortly after bringing His children into the promised land, God observed that “the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.” (Judges 2:11-12). Indeed, in Israel, as in our world, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). The history of Israel is a litany of wickedness and rebellion against God. The New Testament tells us that “with most of them (i.e., the Israelites), God was not well-pleased.” (1 Cor. 10:5). Far too many of them were idolators, sexual transgressors, and grumblers. And so it is with us in our world today.

We live in a world where “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth in their wickedness.” (Rom. 1:18). In our world, people who are “professing to be wise, became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” (Rom. 1:22-24). Just as we “did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them (and us) over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, the not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

We live in a world where virtues are turned in to vices, and where vices are honored, where greed and covetousness are exalted as drivers of civilization, where narcissism is promoted as “self expression,” where the wisdom of the elderly and the ancients is thought quaint and irrelevant, where fornication and adultery are celebrated and glorified as something beautiful, liberating, and enlightened, where blowing people’s brains out in video games is for too many an obsession, where “putting a cap in someone” in gangsta rap is hip and cool. We live in a world where we have “stubborn and unrepentant hearts.” (Rom. 2:5). Indeed, we are told that in this world, “there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, none who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of snakes is under their lips; whose mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, and their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom.3:10-18). We live among “a crooked and perverse generation.” (Phil. 2:15). God says that this is a “present evil age,” (Gal. 1:4), and that we “all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Eph. 2:3). “In the last days difficult times will come, for men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim.3:1-4). God tells us that we “lust and do not have; so we commit murder. [We] are envious and cannot obtain, so [we] fight and quarrel. [We] do not have because [we] do not ask God. [We] ask and do not receive because [we] ask with wrong motives, so that [we] may spend it on [our] pleasures.” (James 4:2-3).

Further, God tells us that there is a personal devil in this world, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). Further, most of us walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (i.e., the devil), the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 2:2). This is a place full of “the rulers…the powers…the world forces of this darkness…the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12).

Some will protest that this is too one-sidedly negative, that the world also has good in it, that it is also suffused with the grace of God. Indeed this is true, but it simply cannot negate the stark reality of which God reminds us: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) It was because of our desperate situation as humans, our great wickedness and rebellion against God and our contempt for each other, that God came down here in the person of Jesus on that first Christmas, to save us from our sins. He did not come because our situation was just kind of bad; he came because it was dire and critical. We’re on death row, awaiting execution. For this, the Christ child was born. To tell us the truth, without sentimentality, and to redeem us from our fallen, broken, and rebellious state, Jesus died. Let us not “pretty-up” our reality. Let us not gloss over the unrighteousness within  and among us. But let us turn to Jesus, and cast ourselves upon Him, desperately desiring His mercy. Turn our hearts to Thee, O Lord, and deliver us from the evil one. Make us your own, and own our desires and actions, for Your glory’s sake.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Now More Single American Women Over 30 Than Married Women Over 30: Part II

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marriedAs I said, make of this what you will. I make a few things of it:

1. It means that marriage seems much more of a trifle and bother for both young men and women. This makes sense when one considers how many people now believe that relationships are almost exclusively about gaining mutual emotional and sexual fulfillment. If that’s the case, who needs marriage?

2. It means that more men are prolonging adolescence well into their twenties and thirties. I know a bit about this, having engaged in it myself. I would not re-do the emotionally immature and selfish train wreck that was my romantic life in my twenties for anything. But when scores of young men are voluntarily underemployed, doing lots of “hanging out” and playing video games, and moving from girlfriend to girlfriend without making any commitments, then it is no wonder that many women, who would marry, are unable to do so.

3. It means that contraceptives have done their work. Because birth control is ubiquitous and getting pregnant is much less of a worry, single women are now as “available” for sex as single men. Both can now safely “play the field,” advance their careers, and generally pursue their own interests. Bearing and raising children is an afterthought. If perhaps a woman does get pregnant, she’ll always have abortion as a back-up birth control option. As the Supreme Court has said, because we have contraception, we must have abortion.

4. It means we are all much more existentialist in our thinking. In other words, both men and women have bought into the philosophy of “living for the moment,” and for “authentic experiences.” We are less willing to sacrifice our own aspirations and goals for the disciplines and sacrifices called for by marriage and children. The idea of raising up new, faithful generations seems difficult and distant to us. Further, it is often less emotionally satisfying.

5. It means that more children are being born illegitimately, and that the government is providing ever more benefits to young women. As Ann Coulter aptly said, “Single women look to the government to be their husbands and give them, you know, prenatal care, and preschool care, and kindergarten care, and school lunches. These are not programs designed to appeal to Bruce Willis.”

6. It means that things will be getting harder for women. Women have now been “liberated” to devote themselves entirely to their careers, to have sex without worrying about pregnancy, to be as sexually aggressive as men, to “control their own lives.” But what has all this “autonomy” brought with it? Greater sexual and emotional vulnerability and insecurity. Greater “objectification” of women and treatment of them as sexual playthings to be had and discarded, even while promising less of these things. Ingestion of discomforting and sometimes dangerous hormonal substances, both to prevent fertility and/ or to increase fertility when the woman finally realizes that she wants children after all. The setting of mothers against the lives of their own unborn children, doing untold damage to such mothers’ feminine souls and renting the spiritual fabric of our nation. Fewer marriageable men for those who wish to marry, leading to greater loneliness and anguish. Greater dependence on government, who is a “cold lover” indeed. And likely more women with a vague and uneasy feeling that something central to authentic femininity and womanhood has been lost, and that the prize of “autonomy” and “control” does not deliver on its promise.

Of course, it needs to be said that there are scores of single women (and men) for whom none of the above is true. My observations describe broad trends, but such trends are nonetheless real and significant. To say that I am “generalizing,” is, in one sense, both true and beside the point. Virtually all truisms are generalizations, and counter-examples can always be given. This does not change the overarching reality which describes so many.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 19, 2012 at 7:21 am