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Niedner: Are we becoming the Divorced States of America?

Updated: September 19, 2012 6:03AM



While viewing “Hope Springs” at a movie theater last Sunday, absorbed in the marital woes of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as they play a couple sitting tensely on opposite ends of marriage counselor Steve Carell’s office couch, I couldn’t help thinking about the shouting match I’d overheard that morning.

It so happened my car radio was tuned to one of those Sunday morning public affairs programs. The guest panelists were likely meeting the press or facing the nation, but they talked over one another at decibel levels that made it sound more like the “Jerry Springer Show.” I expected at any moment to hear the shattering of hurled glassware.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate had obviously precipitated these verbal fisticuffs, and the rancor left me wondering if we won’t soon become the Divorced States of America. At the very least, we seem headed for separate bedrooms and trying our best when we do cross paths in the kitchen or garage to make each other as miserable as possible.

We need counseling, but what kind of therapy shall we seek?

As in most marriages, our disagreements center around money, sex and control. The seemingly friendly game of Monopoly we’ve had going for a while now seems near an end. A tiny handful of players has gathered up nearly all the properties and wealth, and the rest of the family finds it difficult to keep playing.

In a board game, you can start over. Return everything to the box, redistribute the pieces and begin again. In real life? People suffer.

Then they scream. Eventually they take up sticks and stones. To no one’s surprise, our respective financial advisers each say someone else should make the first move toward replenishing the box. For now, no one’s giving an inch. On Sunday morning radio, however, one could almost feel hands around the table reaching down to find the right-sized stone.

Our nation has always obsessed over sex. We’re convinced too many people are probably enjoying it, but we can’t agree on how our laws should reflect our sensibilities. We say we don’t want the government in our own bedrooms, but many want sanctions on other folks’ sex lives. Mostly, we don’t want women having sex without facing “the consequences.” Moreover, we praise family stability and lifelong commitment, but maybe not for everyone. Too much of a good thing might cheapen everyone’s union.

Another good reason to fight about sex is that it distracts us from facing bigger, more deadly problems, including those having to do with money.

No couple can share a TV remote, much less a home and children, without facing control issues. Groups that share territory and resources experience similar tussles. Although they want roads, safe drinking water and national security, some among us don’t want a government because they don’t trust anyone but themselves. Others want substantial regulation on our communal affairs, also because they don’t trust their fellow human beings.

We call ourselves a republic, a semi-democratic form of government, which means we share control equally, at least in theory. Indeed, we teach our children that every vote counts. In practice, however, we have become a plutocracy, especially now that corporations have become persons and some votes have much greater weight than others.

Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones kissed and made up, although therapist Steve Carell did little more than ask them to ponder life without each other. Amid the current political din, can we hear any voice that helps us see ourselves as one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all?

Frederick Niedner is a professor of theology at Valparaiso University.



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