Academia and parenthood both demand significant time if one is to do either well, which explains, I think, why so many academics are single, or, if married, have few, if any, children. Indeed, over and over again among friends in academia I’ve heard the refrain, “My books are my children.”
It’s a painful refrain. Frankly, the humanities’ adoption of the model of the German research university has meant that there are ever more books being written of ever less value and truth, books with a short half-life which the author lists on a curriculum vitae (CV) and which libraries dutifully purchase. It’s easier to evaluate someone based on quantity than quality, and so in the capitalist economy that contemporary academia has become, publications function as currency for jobs and tenure. Hence the pressure to “publish or perish,” perishing meaning getting a real job (as certain of my relatives would have it).
Nothing novel there, as it’s been pointed out again and again. But it’s disturbing, I think, to hear Christian academics talking about sacrificing children for the sake of publications. “Be fruitful and multiply publications on your CV” is the one instance of allegoresis I’ve seen tolerated and encouraged among those who otherwise insist on an exclusive reading of the plain, literal sense of Scripture. To me, it’s another instance of modernity capturing supposedly conservative Christianity. Many of us have surrendered our view and practice of family life to the demands of the marketplace, often preventing the miracle of procreation by means of the miracles of technology.
Will our articles help us grow in faith, hope, and love, as children will, the family being the domestic Church, the school of discipleship? Will our books bury us? Will publications mourn our passing?
We prefer the merely physical to the ensouled, extensions of our minds to extensions of our bodies. Modern materialism rears its head. More modernity: We can control what we write, pixels and toner being at the mercy of our fingertips. Children…not so much. True, parents are an authority and influence over them, but children are persons with souls, wills, minds, and bodies all their own.
Relying on the mystery of Providence, I think Christian academics need to sacrifice some of our publications for the sake of children, and trust that God will find us jobs wherein we can be both good mothers and fathers while using our academic gifts for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humanity.
Alice von Hildebrand had it right when she wrote, in The Privilege of Being a Woman, “One thing is certain: When the time has come, nothing which is man-made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God’s image and likeness.”
And when I die, I do hope my little dissertation will have affected how believers and scholars read the Gospel of Matthew. I hope more, however, that my children are my legacy, that they become by God’s grace good people who love God and neighbor. My children are my books, and I hope to help them write their lives to eternity.