[written in 1977 and revised twice, including this final version in 1980;
submitted to several publications; rejected by all]
The challenge of the '80's may already be upon our society: can we change without tearing apart our culture? Can we even talk about change without ending up on the scrap heap of civilizations past? More and more people are singing the praises of "alternative lifestyles," while advocates of family life and traditional values warn of moral disaster.
Some say that the world is going to hell while others assert "We've only just begun to live." The fact is that adult society is changing while resistance to change remains firmly entrenched, and the people most directly affected by this struggle are the young -- the adolescents as they leave their childhood cocoon and begin the inevitable process of finding a place in a world which no longer offers a clear-cut pigeonhole for each new member. In a sense, we are all, like the adolescents, going through a sort of re-socialization process as society grapples with some revolutionary issues and not-so-age-old questions: Should women be allowed free abortions? Or any abortions at all? Should gay people be allowed equal opportunity? Or any opportunity at all? Should women or men who live alone be left alone? Or should they be urged to get married? And what about those who live together without bothering to get married? Is that wrong? Is anything wrong anymore?
What about the rights of children, that tragically alienated minority who will soon join the majority for better or worse? Do they even have any rights? And speaking of children, what about the rights of parents to bear multiple offspring? And then, what about the fundamental problem of over-population? And here we are back at the abortion question, not to mention other methods of birth control, starvation, depleting natural resources . . . and the beat goes on.
In the good old days (for the sake of argument, pre-1960's), questions of social charge often were answered by those grand old self-righteous clichés, like "If God had intended people to fly, he would have given them wings!" Even today we hear simplistic arguments, with those who oppose change quoting the Bible out of context or warning that our society is collapsing as did that of ancient Rome. The net result of many of the attempts to maintain the status quo is that people who want to live different lifestyles are often denied their right to exist free of harrassment. Most Americans agree with the President's insistence that human rights be observed in Venezuela, South Africa and the U.S.S.R., but some very vocal attention-getters in our own country are advocating that some rights be denied here at home in the interest of keeping social change at a minimum.
It seems that the heart of much resistance to change in our country, and the reason behind most of the noisy attempts to deny some rights to some American citizens, is a deep-rooted fear that the American family is in danger of extinction. Historically, the family has been quite literally the sine qua non of every society, simply because of the need people felt to insure the propagation of the species. Of course, now this very propagation threatens to ruin the species if left unchecked. The tables have turned, and some change is simply inevitable. But what will become of the family?
It is understandable that someone who thinks in simplistic terms ("It has always been this way, therefore it must be right!") might fear that if the institution of "family" is not protected it will disappear altogether. But this is just as absurd as saying that if you plant four apple trees you'll destroy your neighbor's orange grove!
Consider the above-mentioned device of comparing present events to the fall of Rome. Some people believe that a trend away from the omnipotent family, toward more individual lifestyles, means that our society is collapsing. On the contrary, it is obvious to many that this trend is society's solution to its hydra-headed problems of overpopulation, alienation and diminishing resources.
Consider also the previously-mentioned fact that quotes from the Bible are often used to resist social change. One response to this is that the Bible is itself a document of change, showing how various groups of people adapted to new conditions and each time tended to form a better society. Jesus himself advocated a great deal of change, because it was needed to accomodate the developing future of the human race.
Even in New Testament times some parts of the Old Testament were becoming anachronisms. Consider the prohibitions of Leviticus which few people observe today: not eating pork, not cutting hair or beard, etc. Then consider God's advice to the first people, "Be fruitful and multiply." Today, such an admonition must not be taken literally. We've multiplied enough!
It makes much more sense that God, through the collective actions and consciousness of thinking people, is sending us a new message for today, something like, "Be intelligent, and stop multiplying: stabilize your numbers and begin instead to develop individual excellence."
It is highly probable that if society survives, so will the institution of "family." But the survival of society almost certainly also depends on allowing individual lifestyles outside of family life to find their proper place in a balanced, "zero population growth" culture. It seems obvious that there will always be enough people having children to keep the world populated. It would be a great service to humanity if our culture -- as an example to the world -- would learn to practice "peaceful co-existence" of those who really enjoy family life, with those who prefer to live alone, with those who find happiness living with another person of A) the same sex, B) a different color, or C) both. There is no reason the nuclear family will have to "die." It will just have to accept a less dominant role, and learn to get along with the "new" lifestyles of the millions of people who are "left over."
Why can't it happen? The answer is, it can. The answer also is, it will. The only question seems to be, "When?" When people begin to realize that allowing a gay person to exist without undue restriction does not mean that family life will be forced underground. When people begin to understand that allowing a single woman, or a black (or even a black woman!) to become President of the United States does not mean that she might not choose a white father of three to be her vice-president. When people start to acknowledge that allowing abortions and encouraging only sincere, interested parents to bear children does not mean that in ninety years the last person on earth will be muttering through her/his false teeth, "Where is everybody?"
We can be assured that when social awareness does begin to admit, allow and even encourage alternative lifestyles, there will be some problems to contend with. But consider the potential benefits: There will be enough food, fuel and resources for an optimally-populated world. The human respect quotient of society in general will be much higher, with individual differences less and less a cause for hatred and envy. Children will be conceived by those who want them; parents will not feel trapped into giving birth just so that society can maintain the appearance of being based on a strong family structure; and the children who do come forth will generally be more welcome and more loved. As for that old adage, "If God would have wanted people to fly, he would have given them wings," it seems much more sensible to believe the Biblical doctrine that individual human beings are created with free choice (and, of course, responsibility for the consequences of those choices). As a result, the old adage makes much more sense when it reads, "If God would have wanted people not to fly, he never would have allowed Mrs. Wright to have Orville and Wilbur."