Promises and Covenants

Men are simple creatures. It doesn't take much to please us. The problem is women. How does an utterly simple creature understand an infinitely complex one? Since this creature realizes he is even simpler than most men, I knew only women could help me understand, well, women.

I have been asking women two questions. My first question was "What is your greatest fear in life?" Uniformity characterized the responses. (Yes, these are actual responses from Cliffies; I did not fabricate them.) "Watching my husband walk out on me." "Losing my lover." "Getting a divorce."

My second question was very similar: "What is your deepest hope in life?" Again, the responses were uniform. "Finding and holding onto the love of my life." "Being a good wife and mother." "Marrying a man who worships me and whom I worship."

Really?

My sample is admittedly small and perhaps unrepresentative. If it is representative-I tend to think it is-then maybe men can unlock the secret to a woman's heart and soul. Maybe the key is nothing more than a lifetime of love and devotion, of selflessness and sacrifice.

Yet that is a lot to ask of a man: Talk to a psychologist, a sociobiologist or a mother and you learn that men are naturally restless and rowdy, maybe even a little incorrigible. Throughout time, though, women and social institutions have conspired to break man's unruliness. In the past few decades, however, they have largely abandoned that noble and necessary project.

Perhaps to compensate, some admirable men are striking out on their own. First, we have the Promise Keepers (PK). PK is a mass, Christian-based movement of men known for filling football stadiums with men who repent their sins and shortcomings, and then promise to be stronger husbands, fathers and spiritual leaders. Tomorrow, in its largest event ever, PK will attract hundreds of thousands of men to the Washington Mall. Those (improved) men will then return to their homes and churches, joining the small, PK-influenced men's groups that now populate one-third of churches nationwide. Second, we have state politicians, most of whom are men, taking on no fault divorce. Louisiana recently became the first state to attack this 1970's innovation. Louisiana's new law creates something called "covenant marriage." Couples who choose a covenant marriage undergo counseling before they marry and can divorce only with fault, defined as abandonment, physical abuse, adultery or conviction of a capital crime. State legislator Tony Perkins, the author of the law (and an active member in PK), expects covenant marriages will soon account for half of all new marriages in Louisiana. Many states are expected to follow Louisiana's lead.

Presumably, women should encourage such developments since divorce leads to their "greatest fear in life." And most women probably do support them, but not the putative potentates of feminism.

The National Organization of Women (NOW) has dedicated itself, nationally and in its state chapters, to "exposing" both PK and covenant marriage as a thinly veiled attack by the Religious Right on women's rights, or as an attempt to re-establish patriarchy. An example of the fanaticism with which NOW follows this course is its powest subdivision, the "Promise Keepers Mobilization Project."

Feminists understandably view movements like PK and covenant marriage with anxiety. They undermine what feminists consider a crowning achievement, no fault divorce. Feminists say no fault divorce was a large hurdle on the path to female liberation. They apparently don't consult the deepest hopes or greatest fears of young women.

Nor do they consult the data on no fault divorce. This data says that 62 percent of divorced women used to receive permanent alimony, whereas now only 13 percent receive any alimony. It says that only 25 percent of divorced women with child custody receive child support, and only one-half of that is ever paid. It says that after divorce, men see their standard of living increase by 42 percent, while women see their's fall by 73 percent. It says, in short, that divorce is a leading cause of poverty among American women.

Feminists might say that these figures show a need to crack down on "deadbeat dads." That blithely misses the point. As revolutionary patriot, jurist and marriage counselor James Wilson said, "When divorces can be summoned to the aid of levity, of vanity or of avarice, a state of marriage becomes frequently a state of war or stratagem; still more frequently, a state of premeditated and active preparation for successful stratagems and war."

Feminists who allegedly speak for women should attack divorce, not its effects. If men have easy access to divorce, many will choose it thoughtlessly. They may not gain true happiness with their new trophy wives, but they certainly will not slide into the material indigence and emotional misery that awaits most divorced women. If restrained, however, men can fulfill women's deepest hopes. They can learn that personal happiness comes from the desire to devote and sacrifice oneself to one's beloved.

A few men can see this by themselves, and women are quite lucky to hook them. Ordinary women must not only defend these men against feminism, but also demand that all other men accept the lifelong nature of marriage. If not, one-half of all women who marry see their "greatest fear" come true. If so, they can have their "deepest hopes" fulfilled.