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Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproductionby Amy Laura Hall
Synopses & Reviews
Genetic manipulation. Designer babies. Prenatal screening. The genomic revolution. Cutting-edge issues in reproductive bioethics grab our attention almost daily, prompting strong responses from various sides. As science advances and comes ever closer to ?perfect? procreation and ?perfectible? babies, controversy has become a constant in bioethical discussion.
Amy Laura Hall, a self-described pro-life feminist, seeks out the genesis of such issues rather than trying to divine their future. Her disturbing finding is that mainline Protestantism is complicit in the history and development of reproductive biotechnology. Through analysis of nearly 150 images of the family in the mainstream media in the twentieth century, Hall argues that, by downplaying the gratuity of grace, middle-class Protestants, with American culture at large, have implicitly endorsed the idea of justification through responsibly planned procreation. A tradition that should have welcomed all persons equally has instead fostered a culture of ?carefully delineated, racially encoded domesticity.?
The research in Conceiving Parenthood is new, the theory provocative, and the illustrations exceptional. The book is replete with photos and advertisements from popular magazines from the 1930s through the 1950s ? Parents?, Ladies? Home Journal, National Geographic, and so on. Hall's analysis of these ads is startling. Her goal, however, is not simply to startle readers but to encourage new conversations within communities of faith ? conversations enabling individuals, couples, congregations, even entire neighborhoods to conceive of parenthood in ways that make room for families and children who are deemed to be outsidethe proper purview of the right sorts of families.
"Hall, who teaches theological ethics at Duke, combines perceptive reading with stirring criticism of the corporate-inspired family ideals that have come to pervade the American Christian mainstream. Focusing on the Methodist experience, Hall's narrative potentially resonates across the theological spectrum. How did a denomination with roots in gospel activism come to be so captivated by images of material and technological progress delivered by corporate marketing? Hall mines church publications and popular media to reveal several dynamics at work. Partly because of its attempts to market itself as part of the American dream, the mid-century church became infatuated with an image of the ideal family that inevitably, if unintentionally, encouraged middle-class Protestants to insulate their families from their troubled neighbors. At the same time, corporate and scientific messages undermined the confidence of parents — and particularly mothers — in natural or traditional ways of providing for their children without commercial products and expert advice. Aspiration and anxiety combined to create families that were more focused on themselves, less secure in their Christian identity and less engaged in mission to others. Contrasting these trends with the example of Christ and the unifying message of the sacraments, Hall invites her readers to wage a 'resistance' and reconsider 'the least of these.' When Cupid fails to come your way, there's always a self-help book — or better yet, a love poem — for Valentine's Day." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Presents an analysis of corporate-inspired family ideas that were found in the mainstream media during the twentieth century and their impact on middle-class Protestants.
Could it be possible that a Christian viewpoint paved the way for genetic engineering? It is, in fact, likely. The very Protestant tradition that should have emphasized a sense of divine gratuity, human contingency, and the radical giftedness of all life came in twentieth-century America to epitomize justification by meticulously planned procreation. Accomplishing the proper model of family life ? a very specific configuration of domesticity ? became the means by which an American couple could prove themselves providentially fit and encouraging this model would do no less than ???save the world.??? This culturally loaded conception of kinship also subtly distinguished ???us??? from ???them, ??? too often rendering those whose lives did not cohere as ???ill begotten.???
After a well-thought out confrontation, Amy Laura Hall offers us hope for living out grace ? a future secured neither through scientific progress nor by way of the march of children to advance the race, but through the inscrutable birth of one child ? the Word made flesh. She carefully establishes that faithful discipleship may mean not only following the child born in Bethlehem but bringing one??'s own children along, to identify with and live among those who are considered today to be ???the least of these.???
Conceiving Parenthood calls Christians who are intent on being of use to God??'s work in the world to rethink their motives for choosing certain neighborhoods, schools, drugs, and children and to risk in multiple ways a holy kind of ecclesial miscegenation.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Conceiving parenthood — American Protestantism and the spirit of reproduction — Holy hygiene — Parents', Protestantism, and the germ-free home — The corporate breast — "Scientific motherhood" during the century of progress — To form a more perfect union — Mainline Protestants and the American Eugenics Movement — For domestic security — The Atomic Age and the Genomic Revolution — Conclusion: Reconceiving parenthood — The Holy Spirit of procreation.
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