Marriage and Modernization: How Globalization Threatens Marriage and What to Do about It

Article excerpt

Marriage and Modernization: How Globalization Threatens Marriage and What to Do about It by Don S. Browning Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2003. 258 pp. $30.00. ISBN 0-8028-1112-4.

BETWEEN 1991 AND 1997, the Religion, Culture, and Family Project directed by Don Browning at the University of Chicago produced a series of eleven books. Written by a variety of authors from various disciplines, each addresses the ongoing debate about the health of the family in the United States and probes for responsive resources within the Christian tradition. That series stands as a significant contribution to the development of practical theology and its responses to contemporary family issues. In this new book, Browning calls for a global dialogue with the world's religions in order to identify in them resources for the solution he has already proposed: revising and strengthening an egalitarian marriage culture. Readers unfamiliar with Browning's thesis will find a full explanation of his Christian neo-liberal analysis and response to the "family values" debate.

Perhaps in anticipation of a global audience, most of the discussion revisits themes in Browning's From Culture Wars to Common Ground (Westminster John Knox, 1997). Browning now argues that these themes also have a global relevance. For example, marriage is increasingly disrupted globally by a new cultural acceptance of divorce, cohabitation, and unwed childbearing. The interaction of two forces (one "natural" and one cultural) is the cause. According to Browning, men's evolutionary tendency to "mate and procreate but live separately from their children" (the universal "male problematic") is being released from traditional bonds by the culture of "modernization" (p. 77). Modernization is the spread of the logic of economic efficiency into more and more areas of human life, including family life. Globalization now carries this individualistic and utilitarian perspective into all cultures. Consequently, traditional family ties crumble before the emphasis on individual selffulfillment. The result is a worldwide pattern in which men separate from family life.

In Browning's view, this portends a return to a pre-civilized form of family: the mother-infant dyad disconnected from a stable and long-lasting relationship with the biological father (p. 111). The global cultural acceptance of marital disruption, Browning argues, is itself an independent cause of increasing economic inequality, poverty, disease, and ignorance (pp. ix-x). Consequently, the well-being of the world's women and children is best served by cultures that value and support "equal regard marriages," defined as intact, twoparent families committed to their biological children and to the equality of both spouses with regard to mutual respect and participation in domestic and public life (pp. 44-45).

Marriage and Modernization represents a Christian conviction that religion, rightly understood, has the wisdom and power to resist unjustified social inequalities-and that it should. To that end, Browning provides an analysis of, and a proposal for, social change from his neo-liberal perspective. While Browning shares with Christian conservatives a commitment to the nuclear model of family, he rejects their insistence on distinct and separate gender roles and male headship. he argues instead that, when rightly interpreted, an egalitarian vision of marriage and family has always been at the heart of the Christian tradition (p. 21). he claims that the early Christian church elevated the status of women, redefined masculinity with a model of male servanthood, and abolished the sexual double standard. …