Decline of family linked to drop in religious practice, author says

| Susan Klemond | May 8, 2014 | 0 Comments
Mary Eberstadt, author of “How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization”

Mary Eberstadt, author of “How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization”

The decline of the family in the United States and other Western countries is a driving reason behind the concurrent drop in the practice of religion — a connection not acknowledged by many researchers attempting to explain the phenomenon of secularization in society, according to Mary Eberstadt.

She is the author of “How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization” and delivered the keynote address May 3 at a conference hosted by the Siena Symposium for Women, Family and Culture at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

“To study the historical timeline is to see that religious vibrancy and family vibrancy go hand in hand,” said Eberstadt, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Conversely, so do religious decline and family decline.”

Theories about secularization, some going back a century or more, have failed to account for the ebb and flow of Christianity, while some explanations for the decline of religion don’t add up, she said. Still, it is impacting society.

“A newly aggressive secularism encroaches on religious people and religious practice across the boards in our courts, in our schools, in the circle of polite society and even on the international level.”

To combat these problems, Catholics are called to do on the public stage what women by their nature have always done privately: perpetuate truth to one soul, one generation at a time, Eberstadt said.

Recovering the culture

The conference, “Women as Prophet and Servant of Truth,” featured talks from a variety of disciplines, said Deborah Savage, theology and philosophy professor at St. Paul Seminary and co-founder of the interdisciplinary faculty group founded at UST that is dedicated to rebuilding families and culture through scholarship and insights of the Catholic faith.

“Each and every paper spoke to the critical role women need to play and, indeed, already are playing in the recovery of our culture,” she said.

Some scholars have concluded that the elimination of religion is inevitable, reasoning that greater material prosperity would result in lower religious involvement. They also surmised that religious practice would decline following the world wars of the last century. History, however, hasn’t supported any of these theories, Eberstadt said.

“What I’m proposing is that something about families — and actually more than one something — increases the likelihood that people will go to church and believe in God.”

Christianity itself is intrinsically familial, Eberstadt said. “It both privileges the family in a unique way, and it tells its own story via family metaphors time and time again.”

Reaching out

Deanne Wessel of St. Michael in Stillwater attended the talk and said more ministry is needed for the many who are familiar with the faith but have rejected it.

“We’re dealing with people that are in the midst of a divorce from their faith,” Wessel said. “We need to really be ministerial and personal in sharing our stories and our own divorces [from the faith] along the way, etc. It’s kind of more of a personal approach I think for Catholics and just being willing to drop the name of Jesus and how much he means in our lives.”

Men and women will respond to the challenge of rebuilding faith and family through their unique masculine and feminine gifts. But there is a need for patience and clarity in reaching out to others, Eberstadt said.

“We must look for ways of arguing and evangelizing that reach across the usual lines,” she said. “This is emphatically not a call to capitulate so much as one iota of principle. But it is to say that the ability to see beyond ideas and into the human person, which is an ability women have intrinsically in virtue of being women, amounts to underutilized ammunition on behalf of the Church and on behalf of the truth.”


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