Ault - Reckoning (94-105) - Reckoning Like Amway or...

Info icon This preview shows pages 1–6. Sign up to view the full content.

Image of page 1

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

Image of page 2
Image of page 3

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

Image of page 4
Image of page 5

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

Image of page 6
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: Reckoning Like Amway or anything. . . T WAS ONLY TWO MONTHS after first meeting Frank Valenti that I had to present my initial findings to our seminar at Brown. Over the past six months of field research, I had gathered the life stories of thirty—four individuals and observed the activities of groups they were involved with, including Shawmut River and the Fourniers’ Holy Family Academy around Worcester, Birlhright and right—to—life chap- ters near me in the Connecticut River Valley and most recently a group fighting sex education in the public schools ofAthol, Massachu— setts, a run-down mill town near the New Hampshire border. Though the Athol group recognized their young people’s needs for information about sex—especially AIDS and other sexually transmit— ted diseases—dieywere pained by the values they saw embedded in the curriculum developed for their schools, especially its nonjudgtmental attitude toward sex outside marriage and. even more so, the “values clarification” approach to teaching morality underpinning it. That approach, they felt, encouraged students to see values as things indi- viduals chose from competing possibilities, rather than as unchanging givens they needed to accept. In their View, it denied the existence of moral absolutes.1 As I approached my presentation to our seminar, I decided to focus on Shawmut River to raise some of the larger issues involved. As a community enterprise, it demonstrated in a more immediately appre— henSIble way the sense I was making of popular support for new—right polltics. At the same Lime, the life stories ofits members resembled in Rec/caning 95 important respects those I heard from other conselyatives I‘ inter— viewed. AS I listened to their stories and observed events in then daily livCS, I began to see how new~right politics. as well as fundamentalist christianity, easily meshed with lives so different from my own. ' Virtually all the conservatives I met (with some exceptions dis— cussed below) spent their formative years into adulthood involved in a circle of relatives and family friends on whom they relied to meet dayv to—day needs. Prominent among those needs were help with child care and with the profusion of loose ends that domestic life necessarily involves. For those in wage work or small business, help also included basic economic needs like roofing a house, fixing a car or providing money to meet household expenses. For those better off—like the family of a local banker or medical doctor—help also involved the advantages and amenities “good connections" can bring. But nothing promoted stronger bonds within these family circles than sharing the love and care of children across generations. And in all these helping and sharing relationships, reciprocity was the governing standard of conduct and the willingness “to oblige,” the prevailing ethos. At Shawmul River itself, extended-family ties were the building blocks of church life. The Valenti-Nlorse clan provided the engine for founding and building this pioneer church. Furthermore, family ties provided the chain of relationships along which conversion and re- cruitment traveled and the backbone, the tensile strength, of its core membership. Five family groups, including the Valentis, Strongs and Keeners, made up more than half of the church membership. And those three individual families alone made up half of Wednesday nights “oldrhome crowd.” This pattern was similar to Jerry Falwell’s church in its early days and was evident in what I casually picked up about other like—minded independent Baptist churches around the Country. Not infrequently they could be found to be copastored by a father and son—in~law, or two brothers. The president of the Massa- cliusett's chapter of the A/Ioral lVlajority at the time, for example, shared the pastorate of his church with his fatllcr-in-law. Shawmut River not only incorporated existing family ties but also gave family relationships a privileged place in its symbolic order. Members were fondly addressed as “Brother Dave” or “Aunt Nlar- garet,” and Pastor Valenti routinely paid deference to elders in the congregation by greeting them from the pulpit on a Sunday morning or by inviting their stamp of approval on an accepted truth. “Am I .5’. Rh“ 7"“ 4 . . niece had stopped attending, how back and forth for services. 96 spiiiiTAvo FLESH right or wrong, Granny?” he would often shoot from the pulpit to Sally Keener’s grandmother in her customaiy pew. liven for members without relatives in church, I was much their lives were anchored in such extended—fami Most, even those without any smal l—business proprietors w struck by how ly relationships. relatives in church, were wage earners 0r hose families were rooted in the area. If they attended college, it was usually a local college, and, while attend. ing, they continued to live at home. The church’s one educated profes— sional at the time—apart from teachers and nurses~was a veterinarian who, after schooling at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, had returned to \«Vorcester to set up a practice in his hometown? Some church members, however, were not from the Worcester area or for some other reason were now removed from daily contact with their own families oforigin. They included Scott and Sue Sander— son, Aunt Margaret, two families who had immigrated from Taiwan and Northern Ireland, respectively, and Anne Sullivan. a on welfare who had [led an abusive marriage in a nearby members, Shawmut River’s climate fostered the form family—like ties ofmutual dependence like those they h tomed to rely on in the past. Anne Sullivan and her three children, under the wing of a middle—aged couple in cl call “Granny and Grandpa Harding.” The Hardings helped care for Anne’s children, bought them things they needed and took the family out to dinner. At the same time, these relationships were a “blessing” to the Hardings. Though they lived right next door to their own son and daughter-in—law, a family feud had alienated them, at least for the time being, from treasured relationships with their own grandchildren. Like the Hardings, Aunt Margaret had grown up in Worcester but had experienced a breach in her family network. She had been very close to her mother until she passed away but had had no children of her own. Most of her siblings had moved away , and after her parents and husband had died, she had few relatives to turn to. It was a niece, however, who had first brought her to Shawmut River and introduced her simply as “my Aunt Margaret.” “Very pleased to meet you, Aunt Margaret. " Margaret recalled Pas— tor Valenti responding, and the title had stuck ever since. \Vhen her ever, Margaret had had no way to get single mother city. For these iation of new ad been accus- for example, were taken lurch whom they came to Rcrkoning 97 “50 Dan Keener came over," Margaret recalled withl glee a:::: UN: Keener’s brother, “and said to iue, Can I take you iome, ~u Maggi: you can take me home. I’d love it. So going-hoiiieilhye say: :1: Tm not going into the details, but I want to not just w you i d d 1116. arct. I’ve decided I’m adopting you.’ He let his mother and a. 12:25," she continued, savoring every detail in the progressions: 3:1: relationship, “and he brought his mother over one day, an st: [X web— introduced. And they had me over to the. house one time, too. i clot in his mid—thirties, Dan still lived with his parents. f . S or Now and then Dan would give Aunt iVIargaret a bag 0 grgcgriijme help her out in some way orgother. Sally Keener rerlneilnberli‘etd ehflms he gave her a whole bag of “goody—type thlflgS—ilt; e c2; r yourselfi special cheeses and crackers#things you wouldn t U) I o yyfor two: only if company was coming. And shes like in he}: g or} nd 51V weeks,” Sally recalled, smilipgdjroadly. ‘She d call im up a 1,: ‘ ' ’m eatin tom it. ‘ . ‘ G1Tifi:::: Inot donegas chfrity, carrying the stigma of receilvmg blip without giving in return. Instead, it was part of a personal re :tionfsamp knit by auchain of reciprocities between A’Iargaret and Dan—Dow did a ily members were expected to act toward each other. When , [an he short stint at Liberty Baptist College in Virginia, for instancle, d rented a one-room apartment with shared bath for $100 a mofnt and found himself, at times, he said, with “one-quarter of a tank 0 gas an t halfa box of noodles to eat. ” During this period, it was Aunt Alargare ' ' little mone ' to help out. “h31521;:11:r1:’n:w how that3 woman survives," Sally observed, “but shef would be the first one to give somebody money." As othetfstudent'ilse:S reciprocity have noted, thosiwflgo delpend most on help tom 0 ' ‘ tto ive in t e rstp ace. . . are;:::tq:::l:ensti refitted to this creation of helping relatipnshigs within the church as “the third stage of church growth: when 13:3: start doing things for other people: It wasa feature of the'chciliz.is Wi; Phil andJean Strong first attended in Florida. The pastorgn . d t d didn’t “counsel us,"Jean said, correcting my language. 1 ey a CppDen us.” Through “adoptions” like those between Aunt i\’largare§lan ad Keener. between the Sandersons and Keeners, and Anne Su ivzinf an f the Hardings, Shawmut River helped repair and patch-upha . 1 :won mutual dependence that members were accustomed to in t eir _ 98 SPIKII AND Fttsit family circles. These adoptions, or “fictive kinships" as sociologism sometimes call them, flourished in Shawniut River's \rillagelike atmo_ sphere, where existing kinship ties were present and recognized, where the idiom of kinship reigned, and where the willingness to oblige and to think of “others” before “self” was seen as an absolute issuing from the very word of God." For their part, Dave and Sally Keener could rely on either set of their parents to help care for their children, or on Granny Glll‘ld (Sally’s grandmother) and her two unmarried daughters living with her (Sally’s aunts). This was part of the Keeners‘ ongoing round of social interaction “I spend halfmy time at my relatives’,” Sally told me. “We go there for supper a couple of nights a week." Sometimes Granny Gund would simply insist on taking their children for the day just to have them around. Granny Gund was a huge woman in her early seventies who suf— fered from emphysema and heart ailments and wheeled uncomfort- ably when she walked. Iier imperious manner made her known affectionately among her relatives for being able to “drive you nuts,” as Sally put it. Still, Sally and Dave felt obliged to take her out shopping and on other outings Then one day they would drop by her house, Sally reported, and Granny would say, “I just bought you a twenty— five—inch console TV,” or, when she knew their car was failing. “Take my car. You drive it for a while. IfI want it, I’ll call you back.” She beamed to report these reciprocities as if they were the fulfillment of what good living was all about. Shawmut River invested such giving and the sacrifices it involved with sacred meaning: God wants you to give to those in need, even when it involves sacrificing self. They believed God would particu— larly bless the sacrificial giver, one who gives even when it hurts, and regaled one another with stories about how, after they made such sacrifices, God saw to it that their own particular needs were met through someone else’s benevolence. Self—sacrifice was a virtue that gave expression to the predictable logic of life: Giving was, through reciprocity and God’s almighty hand, a reliable way to meet needs and find fulfillment in life. Dave and Sally Keener, even with their scant income. were particu- larly joyful givers. Sally claimed Dave was “forever giving our last five dollars " to a single mother they knew who did not have enough to eat, even though the Keeners themselves needed the money for groceries. Rec/zoning 99 “The“ somebody will turn around and give us a bag of groceries or a Check," Sally said. “It works out that way.” . , . . Though a life of mutual dependence within a family Circle was Comfl‘lOl’lplflCC among members of Shawmut Riverand other-new—right activists I met, it was foreign to people I knew in academia and the \Icw Left, as well as [0 other educated professionals I knew. Most of us were prepared, from the moment we left home for college, to leave family dependencies behind and learn to live as self—governing ll‘llelde uals. This left us free to move from one city to another for graduate education or for those specialized jobs for which our training qualified us. in the process, we learned to piece together a meaningful life with new friends and colleagues alongside old ones. Our material security did not rest on a stream of daily reciprocities within a familydmsed circle of people known in common but rather on the progression of professional careers, with steadily increasing salaries and ample bene~ fits to cover Whatever exigencies life would bring. These contrasting patterns of family life between my progressive friends and colleagues, on the one hand, and conservatives I met, on the other, encouraged me to consider new—right polities against the background of lives that worked quite differently from my own If Shawmut River was busy repairing and infusing with sacred meaning a life lived through family obligations, what could be gained by ooking at new-right enthusiasms as an effort to defend and strengthen such a life? . . This perspective helps resolve some of the puzzles new —rigit poli- tics pose to outsiders. For instance, considering Sally’s readiness tp give, it seemed incongruous that she was so hostile to public welfare, I don’t have any sympathy for people on welfare,” she told me. “I think vou should earn what you get. "’ She felt only the disabled shou d qual— lfv. Like other conservatives I spoke with, Sally objected to social prov giams where benefits were, as Sharon Valenti put it, “just hanc ed over Without any cost." That is, where benefits were given solely on the basis of an individual"s right with no obligations attached.” ‘ This vantage point might even help us understand the familiar Charge that conservatives like Sally or Sharon frequently make: tiat 'led Kennedy (01' some other liberal Democrat) is a “communist? and that “communism is undermining the moral fiber of American life." This Was the kind of statement that might prompt us. as it did the historian Richard Hofstadter, to judge rightewing conservatives to be paranoid.“ IOO SPIRIT AND FLhSH But is it so irrational to think that people’s greater reliance On sion‘might weaken their need to rely on other means to survive, like family? Is it not the expectation, as with Aunt Margaret, that you will eventually need help from others that compels people to sacrifice to help others out in the first place? Therefore, would not people’s fuller dependence on a safety net of government programs threaten to dissolve some of the underpinnings of reciprocal obligation—or the “moral fiber” ofAmei: ican life, as such citizens experience i t? Furthermore, recognizing that by “communism” many Americans mean, at least since the Bolshevik Revolution, the full—scale bureaucratization of society under a central- ized state, can’t we appreciate how someone like Sally Keener might government programs~the liberal Democrats" see the vision of growing state welfare as a kind of “communism” bound to undermine the moral foundations of her way of life? In such ways, seeing conservative politics through the lens oflife lived through family obligations governed by reciprocity helps make sense ofconser— vative statements we might otherwise dismiss as paranoid or irra- tional.7 Or consider another puzzle new-right enthusiasms pose to liberals: that conservatives oppose abortion as murder yet support militarism. Liberals often see this pairing as evidence of conservatives’ wanton hypocrisy or, at best, hopeless illogic. “Their so~called pro-life argu— ment, one scholar charged, reflecting a commonly held View, “is deeply compromised by staunch support for increased military spend- ing and for the death penalty. It seems clear that their pro—life position is not a consistent theological or philosophical stand.”8 (By the same token, conservatives I met seized upon the hypocrisy they saw in liber— als’ crusade to “save the whales" while championing the right to “kill babies”) However, seeing right to life and militarism through the lens of a life lived through reciprocities within a family circle shows how extraordinarily consistent they are, for both express familyrlike obliga— tions of an ultimate kind: for men, to take up arms and even sacrifice their lives to defend women and children; and for women, to risk their lives to bear and care for children and other dependents. In these ideal— izations, stirring the highest passions, family obligations appear as matters mt of r/Joire, but of unquestionable duty." That opposition to abortion aims to uphold the broader obligation to care for dependents in the family is seen in how readily right-to- Rrr/enning I or lifers slide from one to the other in their political rhetoric. “If life isn't safe in the womb,” they would typically say, “it isn’t safe in the nurs» ing home.” Sally Keener, along with others at Shawniut River, was adamant about caring for older family members. Having worked in nursing homes, she was greatly upset to see people “dump off their rel- atives" there. If Granny Gund became bedridden, she said, “I would feel obligated to quit my iob and take care of her. I would never put her in a nursing home." Similarly, having antiwar activists refuse to bear arms because they disapprove of a particular war, or of war in general, makes men’s obligation to protect women and children a matter of choice,:iot un— questionable duty. (This would be so even for a war like Vietnam, which conservatives I met often saw as senseless.) From this perspec— tive, any contradiction between opposing abortion and supporting militarism melts away. Instead, they appear as part of the same vision ofwhat life is all about: men and women being willing to sacrifice self for the larger good in ways defined by traditional gender roles in the family. In {his vision, family obligations are cast in terms ofsharply dif— ferentiated gender roles felt to express essential differences between women and men. To deny these obligations or these rolesior the essentialist views of gender underpinning them—means for many con- servatives the dissolution of the family and the consequent collapse of civilization as they know it. However sensible it was to see new—tight politics in these terms, Supporters themselves were not apt to interpret their politics in this wav. They spoke simply of defending “the family” or fighting for “tra— ditional family values” against, for example, the “do—younown-thing mentality” of the sixties or “antifamily” forces they saw arrayed against them. This was so. I came to believe, because they took extended— family ties so much for granted that they Could not imagine life with— Out them. When I told members of Shawmut River that l was interested to see that family groups were the building blocks of their congregation, they would say things such as “Any fundamental church would be that way. " “It’s like Amway or, anything,” Sharon's stepfather, Tom iVIorsc, replied simply. “The first thing you do is get your family involved." So much did he consider a wider family Circle the natural foundation of anything you might organize, including the remarkable marketing suc— cess of Amway. IOZ SPIRIT AND FLESH I‘he taken-for—grantedness of our own pattern of familv life make it a faulty lens through which to perceive the actions of others. Th: mispereeptions it creates occur in both directions between conserVa- tives and liberals in American life. When I mentioned to Sharon fllat some mainline Protestant churches ...
View Full Document

  • Spring '09
  • Any

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern