Another highly anticipated January Series speaker, Frederica Mathewes Green left a chorus of lively debate behind her. Taking as her title “When Every Day is Casual Friday: Anxiety Hangs Over a Culture When Adults Act Like Children” she developed a thesis that the baby boomer generation, brought up by parents well used to hardship, generally developed a negative perception of adulthood and as a result have engendered a culture that doesn’t know how to be adult.
Contrasting modern film heroes with those of the films of the 20s and 30s, Mathewes Green made a compelling claim that the filmstars of that era carried a far greater gravitas than those of today. She pointed to later marriage and extended time in education as causes, and the emergence of films such as Garden State and books like Quarterlife Crisis as evidence, of an increasingly extended adolescence.
She cogently argued that a greater degree of maturity is good for a society, not saying that adulthood involves claiming that the world is simple (she was questioned on this and clarified there) but that it is a developmental stage that allows us to effectively engage with the world, rather than spending our time searching for a place within it. Her analysis shed more light on the plight of the orphaned children Paul Farmer had discussed on Monday.
Mathewes Green believes that one answer to this maturity-deficit is (while making a point of reinforcing some peoples’ calling to celibacy) earlier marriage. Her own children were all married in their late teens and early twenties and she pointed to statistics that show that 50 years ago when the average age of marriage for a woman in the US was considerably lower the divorce rate was also lower. She argued that marriage and child-rearing considerably increase maturity and that biologically we are wired to want this earlier than it often takes place in the modern west.
These claims naturally drew strong reactions. Questioners pointed out that there are a range of other factors involved in getting marriedit’s not so easy as simply deciding to get married early! Sadly time was limited, and I for one would have liked to question Mathewes Green on whether perhaps having children and marriage have these effects because of particular innate characteristics that they share with other activities, whether this could perhaps lead us towards other models of developing maturity within society, and where the line comes between the essentialness of childlikeness and this maturity.