In my previous post I discussed briefly the theory that Europe is less religious than the U.S. because of a stifled market of religious competition. While I think that religious freedom has certainly played a part, I would like to discuss another contributing factor.
Some years ago I speculated upon the role of the family in propagating traditional values and religion. I wrote:
…if religion is the opiate of the masses, the traditional family is the pusher.
Relativism is perhaps easy to espouse intellectually. However, it is completely impracticable in the day to day interactions between father, mother, and children. A great deal of familial interaction represents an ongoing negotiation with an innate sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, “fair” and “unfair.” Regardless of how well it is adhered to, the Law of Nature, as C.S. Lewis called it in Mere Christianity, is the unassailable backdrop to the entire experience of Family.
Just as there is a relationship between form and function in poetry, chemistry, biology, physics, and government, the structure of the family is interrelated with its function. I believe that the structure of the family not only propagates the values of society—it engenders them.
Along these lines, there is an interesting article in the June-July edition of the Hoover Institution’s “Policy Review” by Mary Eberstadt called How the West Really Lost God in which she sets forth the following idea:
…what secularization theory assumes is that religious belief comes ontologically first for people and that it goes on to determine or shape other things they do — including such elemental personal decisions as whether they marry and have children or not. Implied here is a striking, albeit widely assumed, view of how one social phenomenon powers another: that religious believers are more likely to produce families because religious belief somehow comes first.
And therein lies a real defect with the conventional story line about how and why religion collapsed in Western Europe. For what has not been explained, but rather assumed throughout that chain of argument, is why the causal relationship between belief and practice should always run that way instead of the other, at least some of the time.
This essay is a preliminary attempt to supply that missing piece. It moves the human family from the periphery to the center of this debate over secularization — and not as a theoretical exercise, but rather because compelling empirical evidence suggests an alternative account of what Nietzsche’s madman really saw in the “tombs” (read, the churches and cathedrals) of Europe.
In brief, it is not only possible but highly plausible that many Western European Christians did not just stop having children and families because they became secular. At least some of the time, the record suggests, they also became secular because they stopped having children and families.
The article then goes on to present the case and, though a lengthy read, it is fascinating and well worth the effort. Do take some time to trudge through it and let me know what you think.