John Adams once said, to the chagrin of libertarians through the ages, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Indeed, many of the problems we see manifested in our nation today, from the refusal of the president and attorney general to enforce the laws of the land to the Supreme Court finding a right to sexual perversion, have their genesis in the fact that it has become déclassé among the self- described elites to look upon religion as anything other than a curious practice engaged in by proles.
How did we get to this point where we have a government that is fundamentally hostile to religion and religious expression? Where we have a president who repeatedly defines Freedom of Religion as a much more narrow Freedom of Worship?
Don’t be fooled. What follows is not a book review.
Contrary to the prevailing theory on secularization, that a decline in religion leads to a decline in family formation, presumably as we become more tolerant of alternative lifestyles. Eberstadt makes a convincing case that religion and family exist side by side in what she terms a “double helix” analogous to DNA structure: that neither can survive without the other and neither can be stronger than the other.
Who pioneered the unmarried Western family and its close ally, the welfare state (whose arguably critical role in secularization is also part of this picture)? Scandinavia. What is arguably the most atomized place in the Western world today, as measured by, say, the number of people who don’t even live in a family at all? Scandinavia again. Almost half of Swedish households are now singletons, for instance.
I believe these trends aren’t occurring in a vacuum. Scandinavia is an excellent case in point of the book’s thesis: religious decline and family decline—as measured by proxies like fertility, marriage, divorce, and cohabitation—go hand in hand. They’re causally related.
As a social conservative her analysis rings true. The basis for everything is the family. It is where values are learned. It is where traditions are created. It is also where religion is passed on.
So what happens if we live in a world, as we Western people do, where more and more people have less experience of these very things? The point is that the splintering of the family introduces new complexity to relaying certain features of the Christian message. How do you explain God the Father to someone who has grown up without a male parent in the home? Or how do you get across what’s so sacred about a baby to people who—in a time of falling birthrates and other familial changes—may never have held or cared for one?
These problems aren’t insurmountable. But they are problems that didn’t exist before. Again, family change and religious change go hand in hand.
Lest this be seen as a totally religious viewpoint, it isn’t:
Brookings economists Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill studied the noneconomic components of poverty and came up with a rule. “If young people do three things — graduate from high school, get a job, and get married and wait until they’re 21 before having a baby — they have an almost 75% chance of making it into the middle class,” Haskins said.
Think of it as a stool with three legs: jobs, family and education.
But here they aren’t entirely correct. It isn’t a three-legged stool. It is a single pillar. One of these three things is not like the other two. Kids do better in school when raised in intact families and the desire to attain full time employment is closely tied to the desire to start a family. In fact, the three rules Haskins and Sawhill articulate for avoiding poverty are nearly impossible to attain outside an intact traditional family. There are exceptions, of course, but you can’t order society based on exceptions you must order it based on the norm.
So what have we done for the family lately? Nothing. In fact, the family is trashed and denigrated at every turn. We have created a government juggernaut dedicated to supplanting the family. That is turn has led to a fatally weakened morality. What Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted in 1965 as peculiar to black families, we have succeeded in making the norm for the entire nation. We have defined deviancy down. Sexual promiscuity, out of wedlock births, serial marriages, lack of attachment to family or community are all the logical consequences of various well-intentioned acts that have made morality and family the punchline in stand up comic’s routine.
We have gone from the vice president of the United States being ridiculed for stating the obvious, that out of wedlock birth is not a good thing, to being forced to accept that all manner of alleged families are equal to the traditional nuclear family to being called bigots by a Supreme Court justice for asserting that marriage has had a particular meaning for some four or five thousand years.
The problem that we face nationally is not a fiscal one but a moral and cultural one. Dozens of nations have been bankrupted and rebounded. No nation has ever recovered from moral and cultural collapse.
Which brings us back to John Adams. If he is correct, that our Constitution is designed for a “moral and religious people” and Mary Eberstadt is correct that family and religion are inextricably linked then we are near a tipping point where our Constitution and form of government are simply not relevant to or compatible with the nature of America.