The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
“How the West Really Lost God” Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 20 May 2013

Editor’s Note:
 We’re about one-third of the way to where we need to be in our fifth-anniversary fund drive this month. Many of you have been taking advantage of the offer of a free copy of the anthology of TCT columns for all donations of $100 or more. We really need many more donations at that level - and  higher - if TCT is to continue bringing you a daily dose of real Catholicism this year and in the years to come. Let me remind you that when you send your donation or make one on Paypal to include your mailing address. Books will be available in mid-June – more than 300 pages of your favorites writers at The Catholic Thing with a Foreword by our friend, Archbishop Chaput. We’re also inviting you all to the June 19 reception at the Catholic Information Center in Washington DC. Michael Novak, Hadley Arkes, Brad Miner, George Marlin, and several others among our regulars will be there for you to meet and talk with. But you must click on the notice on this page and register. Attendance for readers who register is free, otherwise there will be a small charge for food and drink at the door. And while you’re at it, please also click on the DONATE button. The kind of commentary you find here is as good as you’ll see anywhere. Show your support for the writers you’ve enjoyed and benefitted from over the past five years. Make your contribution to the work of The Catholic Thing today. – Robert Royal 
 

My sons grew up in an affluent community half-an-hour by train from America’s largest city. The schools here are good, but my wife and I decided early on that we would not defer to teachers responsibilities that properly belong to us. You could say the boys were homeschooled and educated publicly.

Early in my editorial career, I worked on a terrific parenting book, one that was partly an attack on the approaches to childrearing by such groups as Philadelphia’s Better Baby Institute, which promoted accelerated, high-pressure tutoring of babies (most of which the stressed-out kids later forgot). The premise of the book I edited was: make your children smart with love.

Stipulating the truth of that suggests that family is the crucible of stable, faithful, loving people, and, conversely, that family breakdown may lead to unstable, naïve, angry people – and a society that resembles them.

Although not per se the premise of Mary Eberstadt’s new book, How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, I think she’d agree with the substance of what I’ve written above, to which I’ll add just another note of, well, doom, before I get to the content of Mrs. Eberstadt’s remarkable, powerful, prescient book.

In 2011, the percentage of all live births accounted for by unmarried American women was north of 40 percent. Among African-American women, it was over 72 percent [Child Trends Data Bank].  (The national rate hovered around 5 percent in 1950, which is where historically it has been for much pre-modern societies.) You may recall the press conference Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other New York City religious leaders held in that same year in which he and they lamented that nearly 40 percent of all pregnancies in the Big Apple end in abortion; among African-Americans, the abortion rate exceeds 60 percent.

No rational person can look at these data and think them anything but symptoms of a great disaster in the communities affected.

But such data, as Eberstadt shows, are symptoms, not causes, and while there are many factors affecting societal crises (“Urbanization, industrialization, belief and disbelief, technology, shrinking population . . .”), the most important is surely the decline of stable family life, which tracks more-or-less exactly with the decay of faith in God.

These two, faith and family, form the foundation of civilization and civility, of strong cultures and strong people, which can endure those other societal crises, but which when weak threaten the collapse of everything.

In one chilling sentence, Eberstadt succinctly summarizes the downward spiral: “In other words, family change has been an engine fueling statism – and statism in turn has been an engine fueling family decline.”

Modern skepticism about God has been a smoldering fire for centuries; the current indifference to family is gasoline thrown onto that fire.

Eberstadt’s case is sound, although the chicken-egg problem remains. She clearly believes that family decline (measured in part by numbers: of weddings, divorces, abortions, rates of contraceptive use, et cetera) deserves more credit for driving the loss of faith than is usually assigned to it by social scientists.

She spends a chapter arguing that assertions of rising secularism – of the diminishment of faith (especially Christian faith) – fail to account for the evidence that faith isn’t moribund – not anyway according to the expectations set by the familiar Cassandras of modernity, by Nietzsche and the rest.

Belief persists because it’s true. Yet even societies that vigorously profess belief in God may crumble, and they are crumbling, except in those areas in which families are robust.

The simplest formulation, as Eberstadt puts it, is this: “More God means more babies; less God means fewer of them.” The heart of her argument is that faith fails where families fail, not the other way around. Nothing precedes God, but family does come before faith, at least from the standpoint of each new family member.

But is faith really caused by family? Intuitively we sense it’s the opposite: that faith leads to emphasis on childbearing, and the data certainly show that those communities with the greatest religious commitment have the largest, most stable families.

And Eberstadt isn’t suggesting that belief is always a secondary factor in the health and happiness of individuals and communities. She simply suggests that belief often flourishes and finds its proper influence within the family, which sustains and magnifies belief.

So among Protestant Fundamentalists, tradition-minded Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and committed Muslims bigger families are more the norm, but – as Mary likes to say when building to a conclusion – so what?

Well, in Christianity at least, the Family Factor (mother-father-child) creates a primal bond of love – itself the heart of the faith: in the Trinity and the Church founded by Jesus. Without such a bond, faith is weakened and society is put at risk.

I suspect we ought to be extremely wary – much more so even than we already are – about such forces in society as are seeking the destruction of traditional marriage. And we are wary for the most part, but perhaps our essential American liberalism blinds us to the demonic force driving this movement for change.

The good news, if it will be good news, is that family and faith have ebbed and flowed throughout history, and current declines in childbearing and worship may be reversed. The realization of such a hope will make little difference in the short run, but a bellwether of a brighter future may be changing attitudes towards abortion.

In the event, the conversation has been changed by Mary Eberstadt. We say three things identify good real estate: “location, location, location.” Now we’ll say the measure of a truly blessed cultural future is: family, family, family.

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (18)Add Comment
0
...
written by Ken Tremendous, May 19, 2013
This sounds like an interesting book, Brad...one I'll be sure to add to my reading list. My response here will be based on your review of the book and not the book itself which your review might not be representing completely.

Two things stand out:

“In other words, family change has been an engine fueling statism – and statism in turn has been an engine fueling family decline.”

There is something to this for sure. But I would be curious what sort of "statism" the author or the reviewer have in mind. Medicare? medicaid? Social Security? Food stamps? student loans? what? these are the biggest drivers of government budgets. To what extent do these things fuel family decline?

A bigger question would concern changes in the economy. I mean mainly the rapid decline in the number of jobs by which the earner could support American families in a recognizably middle class existence. Why does this never EVER seem to enter into the sociological analyses of right-of center Catholic authors? If working class people can't support their kids in the private economy as they used to, are we so surprised that they turn to government instead? If working class men cannot earn enough to support a family are we really so surprised that working class women are not eager to marry them? Yes some of this is a moral and cultural problem....but is it all a moral problem? Why so little attention to economic factors here? Am I wrong to suspect that calling attention to these factors will in turn call into question economic policies championed by conservatives since Reagan?

another quote

“More God means more babies; less God means fewer of them.”

This strikes me as a deeply ideological assumption about how the world ought to work than any sober empirical analysis about how it really does work. Birth rates declined precipitously in the US in the 1930's. Was this because people were becoming less religious? They shot upwards from 1946-to the mid 60's...was this because the US suddenly found God? Further, birth rates are declining in most of the developing world today...but it is odd to claim that this is due to secularism since it is occurring even in some African countries and Islamic ones--not hitherto considered havens of godless humanism.

In fact, fertility in the modern world seems to vary inversely with female literacy rates. This might not always be the case but it is now. The reality is...the demands of modern life and the levels of education needed to maintain a standard of living in the developed(ing) world have placed very strong downward pressure on fertility rates. Until this changes I think we will see few more baby booms. Most societies will do well to maintain population at a replacement level.

Yes, it is possible to overstate economic forces in all this. But conservatives have developed a very nasty habit lately of grossly neglecting them.
0
...
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, May 20, 2013
In France (I do not know the figures for the USA) 44% of all births are out of wedlock, including 56% of the births of first children. Nevertheless, 85% of children under 15 are living with both their parents.

It is not that parents do not stay together; rather they see marriage as something of relevance only to the rich, Muslims and gays.
0
...
written by Brad Miner, May 20, 2013
@ Mr. Tremendous: I think you'll find when you read Eberstadt that she has pored over a remarkably wide range of sociological and economic work. The two sentences you quote are from the book, and in the first case (statism), she's referring to the growing dependency of so many on various government programs that appear to actually encourage broken families -- and in the absence of mediating structures that encourage marriage. In the God-babies paradigm, it's an empirical fact: across the globe and here at home the more religious a population segment is, the higher the birthrate. Again -- and I now wish I'd emphasized it in the review -- this is a well-researched study.
0
...
written by Manfred, May 20, 2013
This whole subject must be handled in an historical context. We cannot overlook the discovery of what became known as "the birth control pill" in the 1960s, the fact that penitents were told in Confession to follow their own consciences (which practically extinguished the practice of what at one time was weekly Confessions!) by priests, Cdl Dolan admitting that sexual morality had not been taught in the U.S. for forty-four years (1965-2012), all these have shown that the Church was admitting It had nothing to say beyond some silly bromides. It was "tradition-minded Catholics" who went down into the Church's basement and brought up the vestments and the 1962 Missale Romanum and rebuilt for their own purposes a replica of the Church the last time It worked. These Catholics understand they are on their own as they suffer a White Martyrdom of raising their families in the economy and secular mindset that Ken Tremendous describes above. They are opposed by the progressive-minded Catholics who far outnumber them both among the laity as well s the priesthood/hierarchy where contraception (abortion?) is normative. This group is easy to find as the secular press almost every week is exposing another predator-priest and the bishop who is hiding him as they violate a court order that the priest not be anywhere near children. The recent revelations that the IRS targeted the Religious Right and other Pro-Life groups and not mainstream religion demonstrates how diabolical this administration really is. We traditionalist realize we must be doing something pleasing to God.
0
...
written by Colleen Parker, May 20, 2013
I understand the logic that this segment of the article states.
But the most simple reason we are failing in this country is that we asked God to leave! We said "no prayer in school", we say "no public icons of God", including Nativity scenes and the like. God is a gentleman, we said,"Get Out" and He did, He backed away, and now we are on a state of faithless and evil. If you don't agree, go back in the time line and see for your self, when we took our Lord our of all public places,including school, all unwed pregnantcys went up, all divorces went up, all school grades (except private and parochial schools) went down...you will see it is not rocket science, it is a fact. God has left us to our own devises and we are failing without Him.
0
...
written by Dennis, May 20, 2013
The opening paragraph of today's essay points out a major engine of secularism: in an affluent community, the children went to public schools.

Public schools, government schools, scrub references to God. There is no shortage of news about the child who tries to buck the secularist school by declarations of faith, only to be suspended or scolded or ostracized or whatnot. Twelve years learning that education can be complete without encountering God. The deepest moral statments encountered in such schools appear to be that a thing is "inappropriate" or "appropriate."

Public schools are subsidized schools, schools (in this community) where parents can afford to carry the cost of Catholic or Christian education but choose not to.

As I've found everywhere we've lived, the local government schools are considered "great:" it's those other school districts down the road that are the problem in public education.

We will never bring about the Kingdom of God by sending 90% or more of Catholic children to be schooled by secularists.
0
...
written by Dan, May 20, 2013
We are headed toward a catastrophe. The utter and complete blindness of our elites is characteristic of a society that is veering out of control as the result of having lost touch with reality. Ours is a case of the patient thinking the disease is a sign of health. When that is the case, instead of treating the disease the patient actively fosters it and, as a result, the disease quickly spirals until it kills the patient.
0
...
written by Dennis, May 20, 2013
'God is a gentleman, we said,"Get Out" and He did' What a marvelous insight.
0
...
written by Dan Deeny, May 20, 2013
Michael Paterson-Seymour writes about France. Very interesting! "85% of children under 15 are living with both parents." And "they see marriage as something of relevance only to the rich, Muslims and gays." Perhaps we can learn from the French? France has an abortion rate of about 20%, which is lower than ours. And France has a very strong pro-life organization: Choisir la Vie.
0
...
written by Sir Mark, May 20, 2013
Quoth Colleen: "We said "no prayer in school", we say "no public icons of God", including Nativity scenes and the like."

We didn't say those things, Colleen. The courts did. Again, statism.
0
...
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, May 20, 2013
Dan Deeny - In 2000, before the introduction of civil unions, marriages in France were running at about 300,000 a year. In 2010, there were 250,000 marriages and 200,000 civil unions,almost all of them between opposite-sex couples - a decline in marriages, but also a decline in unregulated cohabitation.
0
...
written by william manley, May 20, 2013
I am 64 years old and I can definitively say that the concept of moral absolutes died in the 1960s because of the VietNam War. That was the historical event that induced young people to ridicule and ignore authority and to ridicule and ignore basic institutions like family and faith in favor of a value system that said: "if it feels good do it if you are not hurting anyone else." This new sense of situational ethics quickly spread to older people and the divorce rate skyrocketed. As Manfred has stated above, confession became an exercise in situational ethics. The Church sex scandals put the final nail in the faith/family dynamic. It all goes back to a corrupt and deadly war.
0
...
written by Mack Hall, May 20, 2013
Yes, but there is no such construct as "homeschooling." One teaches one's children at home; one does not "homeschool" them.
0
...
written by Brad Miner, May 20, 2013
@ Mack Hall: Well, you'll want to convey that to the Unabridged Merriam-Webster online site, which I checked as I wrote the review and which lists "homeschool" as a verb in both transitive and intransitive forms. -ABM
0
...
written by Maggie-Louise, May 20, 2013
Mr. Miner, Dictionaries only reflect what has become common parlance. If enough people say it, it gets in the dictionary. Itt has long since ceased to be the arbiter of precise meaning--hence "gay" as a noun rather than the adjective it used to be when there were rules for that sort of thing.

Words mean whatever anybody wants them to mean nowadays, and, if enough people adopt a meaning, no matter how defiant of the rules of grammar or word structure they are, they go in the dictionary. A dictionary is of little use these days, unless you happen to own Samuel Johnson's. Come to think of it, it's what this essay is all about, isn't it?
0
...
written by monk johanan mattison, May 20, 2013
The saints, the church fathers, orthodox, and ex-anglican and ex-protestants all concur that we are in the "last days." Its a strange mystery to me, one of those oxford movement ex-anglicans, why roman catholics from the popes on down can't seem to see what is seen everywhere else in christendom: it is a corollary phenomenom to all these breakdowns of Church and family that at the very centre we have THE GREAT religious APOSTASY (of "modernism" as a theological "heresy of heresies", to quote pope st pius x). look up newman's tract on the antichrist that plainly repeats what st paul & the other apostles clearly state - that out of this apostasy the antichrist comes (how much he will be or won't resemble obama i'll not bother speculating!) and after the antichrist, the true Christ will return and descend with trumpet blast from the heavens. Our Creed is playing itself out; stop day-dreaming of 'another catholic civilzation' without christ (the 'gaudium et spes' approach!). the Lord is coming - look UP not down - and Alleluia! Amen!
0
...
written by Manfred, May 20, 2013
Post Script: Today the Bergen County, N.J. prosecutors arrested the Rev. Michael Fugee, a Catholic priest who violated a pre-trial agreement that he be nowhere around children for the rest of his life. The agreement was also signed by rthe Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Newark.Instead, Fr. Fugee had been invited by two lay youth ministers to go with them and youth groups to parishes in the Dioceses of Paterson and Trenton as well as Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, Canada! Fr. Fugee had been convicted in 2003 of two incidents of grabbing the genitals of a 14 year old boy, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. Fr. Fugee had given a confession to the police at his arrest and one may read this on line (if one has the stomach to get through it). These youth ministers and Fugee are friends and they knew full well what his history was. He was also allowed to hear confessions of youths at each youth activity he attended.
The pastor of the parish to which the married youth ministers belonged and the two ministers were all forced to resign by the Bishop of Trenton in which the parish was situated.
It will be noted that all these events had occurred AFTER the Bishops' Meeting in Dallas (2002) which promised ZERO TOLERANCE for priests who were suspected of sexual crimes.
0
...
written by Ben in SoCal, May 21, 2013
Liberalism has been pushing the evil of sexual immorality and the assault on faith, but lets not forget the evil of materialism and consumerism pushed by the equally prominent libertarian movement in this country. Both sides are destroying America, and both sides contradict the faith of God and the Church.

God bless you for this excellent article. Will send many eyes this way :-)

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Other Articles By This Author

CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner