Julia Shaw

Losing my religion: faith, family, and the real story of secularization in the West

Julia Shaw
By Julia Shaw
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August 14, 2013 (Public Discourse) - In her new book, Mary Eberstadt argues that the West started losing God when it started losing the natural family. If she is right, then churches need to encourage and promote family formation, and religious believers need to form families.

The West is less Christian than it used to be. “A growing number of Western individuals greet the milestones of life with no religious framework at all,” Mary Eberstadt writes in her new book, How the West Really Lost God. They are born without being baptized or dedicated to a Christian community; they attend Sunday brunch rather than Sunday service; “and upon dying their bodies are incinerated and scattered to the winds, rather than prayed over whole in the ground as Christian ritual and dogma had hitherto commanded.”

In her thoughtful and engaging book, Eberstadt offers a new explanation for the religious downturn. Nietzsche’s madman predicted that religion would inevitably fade away. The traditional narratives about secularization see world-historical events or broad intellectual movements as silver bullets killing God. But Eberstadt encourages us to take another look at home and hearth—especially broken ones.

By looking at the decline of the natural family, she argues, we can understand how the West really lost God. While the religious and irreligious alike will find this book enlightening, the key audience includes the small “o” orthodox believers eager to spread the gospel. Once this audience understands the relationship between faith and family, perhaps Western society can find God again.

The Family Factor

To start, Eberstadt reviews the conventional theories of religious decline and reveals how they are incomplete. Most theories point to either an intellectual movement or a world historical event to explain the decline of religion. For instance, some blame rationalism and the Enlightenment for crowding out God. Others accuse consumerism. Sometimes, we are told that secularization results once people realize they no longer need the imaginary comforts of religion, or that the catastrophic world wars caused men and women to lose their faith. Many of these theories have a kernel of truth, but Eberstadt argues convincingly that none is sufficient to explain the whole picture because none can explain the ebb and flow in religious belief. They cannot answer why Christianity “has flourished in some times and places and declined in others.”

Enter what Eberstadt calls the “Family Factor”: the “active effect that participation in the family itself appears to have on religious belief and practice.” By the family, Eberstadt means the natural family: a married mother and father raising their biological children. The Family Factor explains why secularization occurs and fills in the gaps that other theories leave behind.

Family life is not an outcome of belief but a conduit to religious faith. Eberstadt compares learning religion to learning a language. She argues that “trying to believe without a community of believers is like trying to work out a language for oneself.” Eberstadt’s theory explains the communal way in which individuals “think and behave about things religious—not one by one and all on their own, but rather mediated through the elemental connections of husband, wife, child, aunt, great-grandfather and the rest.”

Her theory is unique. Most secularization narratives ignore the family’s role in religious formation or see familial decline as a result of secularization: people stopped believing in God and then they stopped having families. But Eberstadt turns this simple, direct relationship on its head. The connection between faith and family is multidimensional: “faith and family are the invisible double helix of society—two spirals that when linked to one another can effectively reproduce, but whose strength and momentum depend on one another.”

It’s no secret that churches provide a necessary infrastructure and larger community for raising children. But Eberstadt conjectures that something deeper drives families to the pews. “Something about children might make parents more inclined toward belief in the infinite—to a supernatural realm that is somehow higher and less well-understood than this one.”

Childbirth is the miracle of life, and parents experience it, in Eberstadt’s words, as a “moment of communion with something larger than oneself, larger even than oneself and the infant.” This may explain why seemingly banal activities of family life—caring for an ailing parent or just staying married for seventy years—seem almost supernatural. The family, in a sense, defies death. Individual members may perish, but genes, names, and memories live on.

Eberstadt shows that strong family formation means more God. America enjoys a higher degree of religiosity than European countries, because “there are more families following the traditional model in America, even today, than in Europe.” Indeed, the post-war American baby boom coincided with a religious boom.

Conversely, weak family formation (e.g., illegitimacy, cohabitation, and divorce) means less God. The countries that have experienced religious decline have seen the natural family at its weakest. The French lost God earlier than other Western nations, because they stopped having babies and forming families in the late eighteenth century. Scandinavia, an area that has experienced dramatic decline in religious belief, has a high divorce rate and late marriage, and although there is a high rate of out-of-wedlock births, the total birth rate is very low. Countries that stop marrying and giving birth also stop attending church.

Lost in Translation

As Eberstadt reminds her readers, the language of Christianity is familial. Christians greet one another as brothers and sisters of the same God the Father. Christian marriage symbolizes the union of Christ and the church. The Holy Trinity is described in terms of a familial relationship: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation—the seminal event in Christian redemption—relies on the human family: God the Son came to earth as an infant, born to Mary, and adopted by Joseph.

Without the family, the Christian story may be lost in translation. If one is raised without a father, how can one contemplate the unconditional love of God the Father or understand Joseph’s adoption of Jesus? If children are a choice, how can a person consider accepting them, as Mary did, as a matter of obedience to God?

And if unencumbered self-expression is the highest virtue, then Christianity’s teachings on sex, money, and vocation are vicious. Sadly, says Eberstadt, “when many people live lives that contradict the traditional Christian moral code, the mere existence of that code becomes a lightning rod for criticism and vituperation—which further drives people away from the church.” Eberstadt concludes that “family illiteracy breeds religious illiteracy.”

Protestantism, Catholicism, and Family Decay

If family decay leads to and accelerates religious decline, then how should churches respond?

In a chapter aptly titled “Assisted Religious Suicide,” Eberstadt focuses most on how churches harmed the family by embracing certain doctrinal changes to the Christian moral code. This chapter is essential reading for any Christian believer, whether Protestant or Catholic. Yet it also reveals the weak point in Eberstadt’s analysis: she fails to distinguish between thriving and decaying churches in Protestantism and why, despite keeping key doctrines on family formation, Catholicism is declining.

Eberstadt argues that the Christian moral code remained intact until the Protestant Reformation, “when churchmen started picking apart the tapestry of Christian sexual morality—hundreds of years ago, long before the sexual revolution, and over one particular thread: divorce.” Now, several hundred years later, “divorce in the mainline Protestant churches is not only destigmatized, it has been almost entirely emptied of moral content, period.”

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(Eberstadt does not explain the difference between an annulment, which seems not to damage the institution of marriage, and divorce, which in her view does undermine marriage.)

The doctrinal changes on divorce, Eberstadt argues, were a “template for other related doctrinal changes to come”: first divorce, then contraception, and finally homosexuality. Reformers throughout the ages intended these changes to “construct a Christianity with a kinder, gentler, more inclusive face” and thereby expand the flock, but instead, Eberstadt argues, they decimated the family and church attendance.

Her point is well-taken—changes in doctrine on marriage and sexuality have undermined the family—but I question the accuracy of her critique of Protestantism, particularly of its beginnings. At various points, she comes close to reducing the Protestant Reformation to a revolution about divorce and sex, rather than a disagreement about the authority of the pope, the status of scripture, and the nature of grace.

Eberstadt also fails to explore why there was a sizable chunk of time between the sixteenth-century Reformation and the twentieth-century Lambeth Conference that embraced contraception. Nor does she consider why the doctrinal changes on homosexuality are quite recent.

So, did the Protestant Reformation, rightly understood, lead to widespread abandonment of traditional Christian moral teachings on marriage, family, and sexuality? Or was the liberal theology that infected at least some Protestant churches 300 years later responsible? It is hardly fair to lump Cranmer in with Schleiermacher (Henry VIII notwithstanding), much less Luther and Calvin with the father of liberal theology.

In earlier chapters, Eberstadt distinguishes between mainline Protestants (e.g., Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Lutherans) and the pentecostal and evangelical Protestants. She acknowledges that “certain evangelical denominations are thriving despite the secular trend.” And she recognizes that the same thriving churches “do not have theological injunctions against birth control as such, and have a higher fertility rate than secular people.” If doctrines of family decay were part and parcel of the Protestant Reformation, one would expect all Protestant churches to suffer the same fate. And how would Eberstadt account for the recent doctrinal divisions between the Episcopalian and Anglican churches in America? The chapter would have benefited from considering each doctrinal change (divorce, contraception, and sexuality) and churches’ responses separately, rather than collapsing them in to one fluid phenomenon. While Catholic writers and theologically liberal mainliner connect all three doctrines, others (namely thriving, evangelical churches) do not.

Her arguments on the health of Catholicism merit a similar analysis. The Catholic Church as an institution resisted doctrinal changes on divorce, contraception, and homosexual activity: “the exception [to these doctrinal changes], of course, was the Catholic Church, whose issuance of Humane Vitae in 1968 both famously and infamously affirmed the traditional moral code by upholding the ban on birth control.”

Yet despite “sticking to its theological guns on the family,” Eberstadt writes, Catholicism has seen a “significant falloff in practice.” If keeping the doctrines was enough, why are individual Catholics, and even whole parishes, selectively following these teachings? While chiding Catholic scholars for arguing that secularization is a Protestant problem, Eberstadt readily admits that many Catholics are “Catholic” in name only: men and women who ignore not only the basic holy obligation to attend weekly mass but also the church’s teachings on sex.

Perhaps Eberstadt’s emphasis on these doctrines is misplaced. The doctrines on divorce, contraception, and homosexuality don’t seem to explain the whole story. Perhaps fidelity to the Nicene Creed keeps families in the pews.

Eberstadt writes that the “most vibrant areas of Catholicism are the most orthodox.” The same applies to Protestantism, but Eberstadt doesn’t explicitly say it.

Over the years, mainline Protestants have been eager to embrace doctrinal changes relating to family formation, but they balk at affirming the basic tenets of Christian faith. To put it another way: divorce, contraception, and homosexuality are no big deal, but the teachings of the Nicene Creed are controversial.

Thriving Protestant churches, to the contrary, take the tenets of the Nicene Creed (as well as traditional Christian moral teachings) seriously. Indeed, by so doing, many evangelical churches attract those raised devoid of religious faith. They also draw some of those “Catholics” in name only, who were baptized in the Catholic Church but didn’t believe in Christ (let alone follow the moral teachings) until becoming Protestant. (The Mormons, who embrace family formation but not the Nicene Creed, appear to be an outlier.) Eberstadt’s chapter on doctrinal changes would be stronger if she had explored these differences.

Eberstadt is both a great thinker and a devout Catholic. Protestantism has benefited from the intellectual heft of Catholicism on moral issues relating to marriage, the family, and natural law. Eberstadt, by failing to distinguish fully between thriving and decaying forms of Protestantism, misses an opportunity to engage with evangelical churches explicitly.

Still, her arguments raise challenging questions for my fellow Protestant and evangelical brethren in flourishing mega-churches. Should Protestants consider children negotiable in marriage? Should pastors be indifferent to means of procreating (or preventing it)? Do we adequately incorporate children into church life and the Christian story as Eberstadt describes it? Most importantly, how often are churches growing by attracting former Catholics, instead of training up children the way they should go? Converts are great, but so are lifelong committed Christians raised in the church.

The Fate of the Double Helix

The future of the faith-family double helix is unclear. Eberstadt recognizes that predicting the future is risky, so instead she presents both a case for pessimism—fewer people are getting married and staying married; fewer people are bearing children, let alone bearing them in wedlock; and a case for optimism—as society becomes more fragmented, the need for the family increases, so decline can lead to resurgence.

If Eberstadt is right that family decline led to religious decline, then churches need to encourage and promote family formation, and religious believers need to form families. Secularization isn’t inevitable. Christianity is still strong in the United States. Can it last another generation? The answer to this question, as all Christians must acknowledge, lies with the Holy Spirit. But Eberstadt makes a convincing case that the Holy Spirit often enlists the family.

Reprinted with permssion from  The Public Discourse


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A Nazi extermination camp. Pete Baklinski / LifeSiteNews
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Imagine the outrage if anti-Semites were crowdsourcing for gas chambers

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By Pete Baklinski
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A Nazi oven where the gassed victims were destroyed by fire. Pete Baklinski / LifeSiteNews
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Empty canisters of the poison used by Nazis to exterminate the prisoners. Pete Baklinski / LifeSiteNews
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Syringe for Manual Vacuum Aspiration abortion AbortionInstruments.com
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Uterine Currette AbortionInstruments.com
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Imagine the outrage if the Nazis had used online crowdsourcing to pay for the instruments and equipment used to eradicate Jews, gypsies, the handicapped, and other population groups — labeled “undesirable” — in their large industrialized World War II extermination facilities. 

Imagine if they posted a plea online stating: “We need to raise $85,000 to buy Zyklon B gas, to maintain the gas chambers, and to provide a full range of services to complete the ‘final solution.’”

People would be more than outraged. They would be sickened, disgusted, horrified. Humanitarian organizations would fly into high gear to do everything in their power to stop what everyone would agree was madness. Governments would issue the strongest condemnations.

Civilized persons would agree: No class of persons should ever be targeted for extermination, no matter what the reason. Everyone would tear the euphemistic language of “final solution” to shreds, knowing that it really means the hideous crime of annihilating a class of people through clinical, efficient, and state-approved methods of destruction. 

But crowdsourcing to pay for the instruments and equipment to exterminate human beings is exactly what one group in New Brunswick is doing.

Reproductive Justice NB has just finished raising more than $100,000 to lease the Morgentaler abortion facility in Fredericton, NB, which is about to close over finances. They’re now asking the public for “support and enthusiasm” to move forward with what they call “phase 2” of their goal.

“For a further $85,000 we can potentially buy all the equipment currently located at the clinic; equipment that is required to provide a full range of reproductive health services,” the group states on its Facebook page.

But what are the instruments and equipment used in a surgical abortion to destroy the pre-born child? It depends how old the child is. 

A Manual Vacuum Aspiration abortion uses a syringe-like instrument that creates suction to break apart and suck the baby up. It’s used to abort a child from 6 weeks to 12 weeks of age. Abortionist Martin Haskell has said the baby’s heart is often still beating as it’s sucked down the tube into the collection jar.

For older babies up to 16 weeks there is the Dilation and Curettage (D&C) abortion method. A Uterine Currette has one sharp side for cutting the pre-born child into pieces. The other side is used to scrape the uterus to remove the placenta. The baby’s remains are often removed by a vacuum.

For babies past 16 weeks there is the Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) abortion method, which uses forceps to crush, grasp, and pull the baby’s body apart before extraction. If the baby’s head is too large, it must be crushed before it can be removed.

For babies past 20 weeks, there is the Dilation and Extraction (D&X) abortion method. Guided by ultrasound, the abortionist uses forceps to partially deliver the baby until his or her head becomes visible. With the head often too big to pass through the cervix, the abortionist punctures the skull, sucks out the brains to collapse the skull, and delivers the dead baby.

Other equipment employed to kill the pre-born would include chemicals such as Methotrexate, Misoprostol, and saline injections. Standard office equipment would include such items as a gynecologist chair, oxygen equipment, and a heart monitor.

“It’s a bargain we don’t want to miss but we need your help,” writes the abortion group.

People should be absolutely outraged that a group is raising funds to purchase the instruments of death used to destroy a class of people called the pre-born. Citizens and human rights activists should be demanding the organizers be brought to justice. Politicians should be issuing condemnations with the most hard-hitting language.

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Everyone should be tearing to shreds the euphemistic language of “reproductive health services,” knowing that it in part stands for the hideous crime of annihilating a class of people through clinical, efficient, and state-approved methods of destruction that include dismemberment, decapitation, and disembowelment.

There’s a saying about people not being able to perceive the error of their day. This was generally true of many in Hitler’s Germany who uncritically subscribed to his eugenics-driven ideology in which certain people were viewed as sub-human. And it’s generally true of many in Canada today who uncritically subscribe to the ideology of ‘choice’ in which the pre-born are viewed as sub-human.

It’s time for all of us to wake-up and see the youngest members of the human family are being brutally exterminated by abortion. They need our help. We must stand up for them and end this injustice.

Let us arise!


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Paul Wilson

The antidote to coercive population control

Paul Wilson
By Paul Wilson

The primary tenet of population control is simple: using contraception and abortifacients, families can “control” when their reproductive systems work and when they don’t – hence the endless cries that women “should have control over their own bodies” in the name of reproductive health.

However, in much of the world, the glittering rhetoric of fertility control gives way to the reality of control of the poorest citizens by their governments or large corporations. Governments and foreign aid organizations routinely foist contraception on women in developing countries. In many cases, any pretense of consent is steamrolled – men and women are forcibly sterilized by governments seeking to thin their citizens’ numbers.  (And this “helping women achieve their ‘ideal family size’” only goes one way – there is no government support for families that actually want more children.)

In countries where medical conditions are subpar and standards of care and oversight are low, the contraceptive chemicals population control proponents push have a plethora of nasty side effects – including permanent sterilization. So much for control over fertility; more accurately, the goal appears to be the elimination of fertility altogether.

There is a method for regulating fertility that doesn’t involve chemicals, cannot be co-opted or manipulated, and requires the mutual consent of the partners in order to work effectively. This method is Natural Family Planning (NFP).

Natural Family Planning is a method in which a woman tracks her natural indicators (such as her period, her temperature, cervical mucus, etc.) to identify when she is fertile. Having identified fertile days, couples can then choose whether or not to have sex during those days--abstaining if they wish to postpone pregnancy, or engaging in sex if pregnancy is desired.

Of course, the population control crowd, fixated on forcing the West’s vision of limitless bacchanalia through protective rubber and magical chemicals upon the rest of the world, loathes NFP. They deliberately confuse NFP with the older “rhythm method,” and cite statistics from the media’s favorite “research institute” (the Guttmacher Institute, named for a former director of Planned Parenthood) claiming that NFP has a 25% failure rate with “typical use.” Even the World Health Organization, in their several hundred page publication, “Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers,” admits that the basal body temperature method (a natural method) has a less than 1% failure rate—a success rate much higher than male condoms, female condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps or spermicides.

Ironically, the methods which they ignore – natural methods – grant true control over one’s fertility – helping couples both to avoid pregnancy or (horror of horrors!) to have children, with no government intervention required and no choices infringed upon.

The legitimacy of natural methods blows the cover on population controllers’ pretext to help women. Instead, it reveals their push for contraceptives and sterilizations for what they are—an attempt to control the fertility of others. 

Reprinted with permission from the Population Research Institute.


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United Nations headquarters in New York Shutterstock.com
Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.

New development goals shut out abortion rights

Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.
By Rebecca Oas Ph.D.

Co-authored by Stefano Gennarini, J.D.

A two week marathon negotiation over the world’s development priorities through 2030 ended at U.N. headquarters on Saturday with abortion rights shut out once again.

When the co-chairs’ gavel finally fell Saturday afternoon to signal the adoption of a new set of development goals, delegates broke out in applause. The applause was more a sigh of relief that a final round of negotiations lasting twenty-eight hours had come to its end than a sign of approval for the new goals.

Last-minute changes and blanket assurances ushered the way for the chairman to present his version of the document delivered with an implicit “take it or leave it.”

Aside from familiar divisions between poor and wealthy countries, the proposed development agenda that delegates have mulled over for nearly two years remains unwieldy and unmarketable, with 17 goals and 169 targets on everything from ending poverty and hunger, to universal health coverage, economic development, and climate change.

Once again hotly contested social issues were responsible for keeping delegates up all night. The outcome was a compromise.

Abortion advocates were perhaps the most frustrated. They engaged in a multi-year lobbying campaign for new terminology to advance abortion rights, with little to show for their efforts. The new term “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” which has been associated with abortion on demand, as well as special new rights for individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT), did not get traction, even with 58 countries expressing support.

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Despite this notable omission, countries with laws protecting unborn children were disappointed at the continued use of the term “reproductive rights,” which is not in the Rio+20 agreement from 2012 that called for the new goals. The term is seen as inappropriate in an agenda about outcomes and results rather than normative changes on sensitive subjects.

Even so, “reproductive rights” is tempered by a reference to the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, which recognizes that abortion is a matter to be dealt with in national legislation. It generally casts abortion in a bad light and does not recognize it as a right. The new terminology that failed was an attempt to leave the 1994 agreement behind in order to reframe abortion as a human rights issue.

Sexual and reproductive health was one of a handful of subjects that held up agreement in the final hours of negotiations. The failure to get the new terminology in the goals prompted the United States and European countries to insist on having a second target about sexual and reproductive health. They also failed to include “comprehensive sexuality education” in the goals because of concerns over sex education programs that emphasize risk reduction rather than risk avoidance.

The same countries failed to delete the only reference to “the family” in the whole document. Unable to insert any direct reference to LGBT rights at the United Nations, they are concentrating their efforts on diluting or eliminating the longstanding U.N. definition of the family. They argue “the family” is a “monolithic” term that excludes other households. Delegates from Mexico, Colombia and Peru, supporters of LGBT rights, asked that the only reference to the family be “suppressed.”

The proposed goals are not the final word on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They will be submitted to the General Assembly, whose task is to elaborate a post-2015 development agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals next year.

Reprinted with permission from C-FAM.org.


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