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How the West Really Lost God — and How It Didn’t

Mary Eberstadt uncovers a new chicken-and-egg question: does family decline fuel religious decline?

by
David Forsmark

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June 2, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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 ”You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. …. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion …”

— Barack Obama

There is a constant narrative in today’s increasingly irreligious modern Western societies that the reason we are less religious — specifically less Christian for this discussion — is that we have just outgrown such outmoded notions.

The common theme pumped out by educational, media and societal elites is that there has been a steady march to personal enlightenment since the Enlightenment, and that the smarter, more prosperous and more individualistic a society becomes, the less it needs the superstitions of the past with all its silly restrictions on human freedom and individuality.

In her new book How the West Really Lost God Mary Eberstadt, a scholar at the Hoover Institution (and the author of one of my favorite all time articles, “Why Ritalin Rules“), provides her signature unique take on something “everybody knows” and shows us how little actual wisdom there is in the “conventional wisdom” on the subject.

It is important that Eberstadt’s re-examination of this subject not only be used to puncture the conceits of the secular elites; but also that ultra-conservative Christians hear this message too. Many of them, wittingly or unwittingly, promote this fallacy by acting as though everything modern — from music to movies — is inherently evil, and some even treat the Enlightenment (even in its most general sense) as the equivalent of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This guy below is a prime example. While Eberstadt repeatedly makes the point that “conservative” Christian churches are still thriving, this brand, which thinks it is the only “conservative” church, is getting decidedly smaller.

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Top Rated Comments   
In 2010 I was involved in the production of a magazine. A copy still survives in thenewjames dot com. We produced a pilot and it was a huge hit in that area (Central Virginia). However our financier who was partial to the current dictator retired his support because our Conservative slant was too strong. I wish I had a video of the people coming out of the small town stores to run after our distributor asking for more copies. The project was a success and so we lost our peanut brain financier but I learned that month of July 2010 that there is a core of Christian Conservatives all over the Bible Belt who can be turned into a powerful political and social force if they only organize themselves well. I'm afraid they are not even aware of their potential. The progressive crowd is nothing compared to that.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
For me here in Germany it is morning and, being an old man, I am grumpy from too little sleep. The thesis presented is excellent and deserves detailed comment. Maybe later in the day. But, I have an immediate reaction. Statistics relieable since the mid-19th Century to this day show that Catholicism and (state) Protestantism are in a head-to-head race as to which confession will disappear first. At the moment the Protestants are winning. Recently the so-called Protestants proclaimed their undying support to homosexual marriage, sex outside marrriage (at times) and to dedicating their Christian life to fighting the weather change (really, Jesus is seldom mentioned). In the meantime Bishop Zollitsch, the head of the German Conference of Catholic Bishops, just denied the "Sühnetod Christi", i.e., that Christ died for our sins ("brutal" was the German word he used to describe the doctrine). According to the heretical bishop, Christ shows "solidarity" (the German word that has displaced "salvation'") with us by accompying us all through life, from birth to death. NO death as a sacrifice! I suggest looking up Michael Voris' "Church Militant tv" in American internet and gathering in his statistics that show about a 75% loss in Catholicism in all manners in the last 40 or 50 years. I can go on an on, but I have only dropped a couple of tear-drop facts. Christianity is NOT well as Eberstadt seems to console us. It is rotting from within. (Even under Pope John Paul 2, Catholicism is heading towards a syncretic world religion with a world government--the spirit of Assisi. Surpise, my Catholic brothers and sisters.)

However, as inaccurate as Eberstadt is about the "health" of Christianity, her focus upon the family and its "dialectical" relation to Christianity is excellent and, alas, brilliantly correct. Here research should be undertaken. Prof. Lind in his studies (including a 20+ minute internet show on "Cultural Marxism"--Prof. Kimbal even appears) has well focused upon the influence of "cultural Marxism" and the nefarious influence of the sexualizing Freudians (Marcuse first and foremost). Alas, as a student in America I lived all through that and in part was displaced as a prof. in America because of my resistance. (I moved to Europe and wandered through universities until old-age + running out of money slowed me down.)

I intend here to focus on one point, which may bring me into trouble with the "freedom lovers" of PJ Meida, namely the fact that I support Putin---in one point. (I spend much time and Russia and the daily life reported in the Western press, including PJM, is superficial. You really do not know what it is like.) Recently, Putin forbade the propagandizing for homoseuality, particularly homosexual marriage re the Solchi Olypmpics. (Note: homosexuals and private activity was not touched, only propaganda for it.) This has provoked a firestorm in the West. Freedom of speach!!! heads the banner. I have met Russians of party origins to Church officals to the everyday toiler on the street. They do not want a "fundamental change" (and many know the direct connection with the Obama foreign policy of promoting homosexuality) of their values. What is the big deal?

Homosexual marriage is the wedge!!! If such marriage is part of the defining feature of marriage per se, a sexual (viz. culturally marxistic) reworking of the sexual structue of society will follow, quite logically. Abortions, divorce, hook-ups, pansexualism (not here defined) are parts of a complex relative to which the homosexualization of society focused in the marriage aspect is the opening wedge. Here Putin, influenced by the Orthodox Church, has taken a stand. Let him lose this battle and the flood gates here in Europe will be open --> a flood that sweeps away the family and traditional Christianity with it. Amen! Enough! I too old for this bunk!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
> "All this might seem intuitively obvious. But is it empirically so? Is there really a straight causal line from the ideas of the Enlightenment to today’s continuing falloff in Christian observance?"

To be causal, why would it have to be a straight line?

I think it's simpler than what Eberstadt thinks: man cannot serve both God and mammon; he will love the one and hate the other, or vice versa.

Capitalism, powered by institutions such as the family and the rule of law, builds wealth; wealth erodes the need man feels for God by offering him a different sort of salvation; as faith in wealth increases, the erosion of faith in God inevitably finds its way into faith's supportive institutions, such as the family.

Erosion of faith becomes a dismissal of faith, followed shortly by a loathing of it.

This is not a new problem. Jesus warned against it, speaking against the difficulty of maintaining faith in God while focusing on building wealth. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to be saved. A man cannot serve two masters. Sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, and follow me. What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?

The Enlightenment was the bringer of bad philosophy. Only the rich can afford bad philosophy. It was an effect, not a cause.

If there is good news in all this, it is this: things will eventually come full circle. The lack of faith and the dissolution of the family will eventually erode the underpinnings of the wealth that made the dissolution inevitable. There will be a need again for faith; perhaps we'll even find it.

Capitalism is a very bad economic system; problem is, all the others are so much worse. All of man's isms contain contradictions that eventually do them in. Why? Man is a fallen creature and everything he touches turns to poop. Capitalism is not an eschaton, as much as the Randists and libertarians would have us believe. It is simply a workaround for depraved human nature -- it's the most effective system we have for coaxing people into doing something for others. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons just seems to work out better, economically, than doing the wrong things for whatever reasons -- and that explains capitalism's success. Its success has blurred its inherent contradictions, and its imminent fall will hit us all the harder, for us not seeing it coming until just a few short years ago.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is probably true, but then it is an odd phenomenon: Christianity is not primarily a teaching about the family, but about individual salvation, so tying it to the family means that our ideas of "Christianity" and "religion" as something an individual seeks to gain salvation is drastically wrong.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jesus, of course, was a Jew, "King of the Jews," if you will (and if you are Christian, perhaps). Establishing a new covenant didn't wipe out the old one. If "Jewishness" is about anything, to me it is about history and family. As a Christian, I look to the Old Testament to investigate, from time to time, what must have been taken as given in Christ's time. To Christians, the Old and New Testaments are chapters in the same story.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
No...... WE want to be comfortable and happy. G_d sees this, sees into our hearts and then gives us what we ask for. If severity and possibility of want gives us pause, then we will see the Path that the Christ offers us; but only the Path we take to where we are going whether that is where we wanted to go or not........
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Though both Marxism and Freudianism would fall precipitously from grace by the end of the twenty-first century, it seems safe to say that their antifamily legacies linger on in Western culture."

Dang, I'm older than I thought. I could have sworn we were just getting started on the twenty-first century.

Okay, with that out of the way I guess I should make a more on point comment. I'm not what you would call a religious person from any standpoint. I'm pretty much a live and let live type. I guess the closest I come to a religious position is that I try my best to follow the Do unto others as you would have them do unto you rule. In other words leave me alone and I will leave you alone. It seems to work pretty well for me.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Gillispie, I do not know how to add comment to comment. So I have to answer you here in order of appearance. Your words on Putin himself are very true. I could tell you tales of corruption, murder and theft. But Putin is like the last Tzar, i.e., he is in power so long as his power base is faithful. Putin is depenent up support from the Orthodox Church, from common people, from the man and woman toiling along. Turn to Austin Rose "Gay Panic over Russian Laws" in "Crisis Magazine" of Thomas Aquinas college in Nashville. You will find that gays walk the streets of Moscow and ply their wares and have their clubs just like anywhere else. (If you want you can google "Gay Moscow" and arrange an interview (sic)). It is Western ignorance of concrete life combined with Western antagonism to Putin's Russia, that simply leads to reading the real, concrete life there in Russia falselly. The few brave demonstrators are a mariginal phenomenon for the moment. But the masses now being re-Christianiszed by the Church are a different matter. Add to the internal propaganda, e ternal lecturing by Western licentious sex promoters in the name of Western freedom and you have a possible loss of support for the current Tzar in the Kremlin. (I have just lost the use of a letter on my computer, so spelling must be odd.) I spend much time in Russia, I intract with the "toiling" masses, I interact with some former communists and know students. I have difficulty finding people not supporting the dictator (which is not unusual if his dictates are popular). Indeed, Putin is surprisingly popular, which one cannot say of Obama. Like so many, you are floating about in the clouds of abstractions led by Western values of "free speach", etc. The real picture is much more confused. Addto that my own values and I may well make a deal the the current Tzar.

Yesterday, here in Germany, I chatted with two young Russians from Siberia in a grocery store. They rapidly e pressed unrestrained support for Putin and decidedly wanted protection against progandistic efforts supporting homosexuality that the West seems to find to be of essence to freedom. Russia has its share of the sodimites (to use a former term) and it has its normal reactions therewith. Push it, however, though tv praise and lecturing upon the viewers of tv and offense will be taken and Putin will lose some of his base. That is dangerous for the dictator. In this context, however, I do not find Putin's law (such as I know it) to be offensive to me within a Russian, no within a Slavic conte t.

Turn your internet to "Gloria tv" and look up Elijah, Patriarch of the Orthodo Catholic Church in the Ukraine. There you will hear a direct and damning attack against the "dictatorship of homose uality" (the letter once again went dead in my computer) pushed by people such as Merkel of Germany as a demand for absorbtion into the EU. You are pushing Western libertine values upon a people trying to recover from the secularization of communism and threatened with population shrinking (and homose uality does not promote children). I see a parallel between such pushing of modernity on Russia and Obama's pushing of democracy upon Egypt. Too early on a society with another traditions. I will test your critique soon enough, however, as I will be in Russia from dec. on for awhile. I'll chat about.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I feel as a libertarian thinker that while it isn't the government's authority to be involved with social institutions like marriage, the traditional family and religion go along hand and hand. They provide the best possible benefit to society both morally and economically.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
In 2010 I was involved in the production of a magazine. A copy still survives in thenewjames dot com. We produced a pilot and it was a huge hit in that area (Central Virginia). However our financier who was partial to the current dictator retired his support because our Conservative slant was too strong. I wish I had a video of the people coming out of the small town stores to run after our distributor asking for more copies. The project was a success and so we lost our peanut brain financier but I learned that month of July 2010 that there is a core of Christian Conservatives all over the Bible Belt who can be turned into a powerful political and social force if they only organize themselves well. I'm afraid they are not even aware of their potential. The progressive crowd is nothing compared to that.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Eberstadt may have a very interesting point. The decline of family (as measured by fertility) is not limited to Christian societies.

Japan, Italy, Russia, Germany, Canada, Thailand, Algeria, Iran, and Chile are among countries with birth rates below replacement. Peru, Ukraine, Tanzania, Turkey, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, South Africa, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia are some with substantial declines in fertility in the last 15 years.

This suggests that family decline has a cause independent of religious decline, and thus could be a driver of it.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
David Goldman argues something similar in his recent book "How Civilizations Die: And Why Islam is Dying Too". His point is that because there is no reverence and support for the sanctity of life in Islam, especially the sanctity of the individual outside of the tribe, the more educated Muslims are seeing raising large families of believers as extending this Mobius loop of hopelessness (and repression). They are stuck in an 11th century time warp, and the only way out is to opt out of creating the large families that have supported the tribal culture and breaking thus breaking the cycle. The net result is over the next 100 years, with lower reproductive rates, much of what we know as the billion strong Islamic Umma will be a shell of itself.
Many more factors at play here such as the clash with modernity/secularism, etc., but that's the gist of it and as you point out, it goes beyond Christian society.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
For me here in Germany it is morning and, being an old man, I am grumpy from too little sleep. The thesis presented is excellent and deserves detailed comment. Maybe later in the day. But, I have an immediate reaction. Statistics relieable since the mid-19th Century to this day show that Catholicism and (state) Protestantism are in a head-to-head race as to which confession will disappear first. At the moment the Protestants are winning. Recently the so-called Protestants proclaimed their undying support to homosexual marriage, sex outside marrriage (at times) and to dedicating their Christian life to fighting the weather change (really, Jesus is seldom mentioned). In the meantime Bishop Zollitsch, the head of the German Conference of Catholic Bishops, just denied the "Sühnetod Christi", i.e., that Christ died for our sins ("brutal" was the German word he used to describe the doctrine). According to the heretical bishop, Christ shows "solidarity" (the German word that has displaced "salvation'") with us by accompying us all through life, from birth to death. NO death as a sacrifice! I suggest looking up Michael Voris' "Church Militant tv" in American internet and gathering in his statistics that show about a 75% loss in Catholicism in all manners in the last 40 or 50 years. I can go on an on, but I have only dropped a couple of tear-drop facts. Christianity is NOT well as Eberstadt seems to console us. It is rotting from within. (Even under Pope John Paul 2, Catholicism is heading towards a syncretic world religion with a world government--the spirit of Assisi. Surpise, my Catholic brothers and sisters.)

However, as inaccurate as Eberstadt is about the "health" of Christianity, her focus upon the family and its "dialectical" relation to Christianity is excellent and, alas, brilliantly correct. Here research should be undertaken. Prof. Lind in his studies (including a 20+ minute internet show on "Cultural Marxism"--Prof. Kimbal even appears) has well focused upon the influence of "cultural Marxism" and the nefarious influence of the sexualizing Freudians (Marcuse first and foremost). Alas, as a student in America I lived all through that and in part was displaced as a prof. in America because of my resistance. (I moved to Europe and wandered through universities until old-age + running out of money slowed me down.)

I intend here to focus on one point, which may bring me into trouble with the "freedom lovers" of PJ Meida, namely the fact that I support Putin---in one point. (I spend much time and Russia and the daily life reported in the Western press, including PJM, is superficial. You really do not know what it is like.) Recently, Putin forbade the propagandizing for homoseuality, particularly homosexual marriage re the Solchi Olypmpics. (Note: homosexuals and private activity was not touched, only propaganda for it.) This has provoked a firestorm in the West. Freedom of speach!!! heads the banner. I have met Russians of party origins to Church officals to the everyday toiler on the street. They do not want a "fundamental change" (and many know the direct connection with the Obama foreign policy of promoting homosexuality) of their values. What is the big deal?

Homosexual marriage is the wedge!!! If such marriage is part of the defining feature of marriage per se, a sexual (viz. culturally marxistic) reworking of the sexual structue of society will follow, quite logically. Abortions, divorce, hook-ups, pansexualism (not here defined) are parts of a complex relative to which the homosexualization of society focused in the marriage aspect is the opening wedge. Here Putin, influenced by the Orthodox Church, has taken a stand. Let him lose this battle and the flood gates here in Europe will be open --> a flood that sweeps away the family and traditional Christianity with it. Amen! Enough! I too old for this bunk!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
You know, I think you have make an excellent point. I'm neither Catholic nor Protestant, but I don't rejoice in the churches of Europe being emptied out (especially in favor of socialistic hedonism). Christian churches have to choose between standing for Christianity and being the leaven of the earth, or watering down Christianity to appeal to the masses (who aren't going to convert anyway). When churches water down Christianity, they lose the congregations they have and don't make any new converts.

Let the hedonists abort themselves out of existence while real Christians provide a place for the principled and the moral. As the Scriptures say, the wicked will fall into the pit they digged for the righteous.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
There is somewhat a point here, but Putin is nothing more than part of the old Soviet guard who's intention is to take Russia back to some form of Communism. This whole charade of the traditional family and such is just to save Russia's dying population since it severely declined at the fall of the Soviet Union. Don't buy into this act what Putin and his cronies are doing.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
>> … how can the story of the Holy Family be understood in a world where a family is increasingly said to be whatever anyone in possession of voluntary associations wants it to be?

I look forward to reading this provocative book. She is no doubt correct that people try to make too much of statistics in isolation. I don't doubt that I'll agree with much of her points, but she may drive her thesis a bit hard since her thesis isn't incompatible with the others. I suspect that she's right in what people are missing about the family in all this, and I've always thought the "it's the Enlightenment" crowd were way off-base.

But at the end of the day if Christians merely react, as I fear they have and are, against "voluntary associations" that do in fact naturally form *after* broken families find father figures as Mary Magdalene found Christ, then they're being reactionary boneheads not worthy of their religion. But somehow I'm afraid that rejecting voluntary associations that resemble families fully within traditional Christian understandings are being rejected too. And Christians are heading down the biologism and hereditarianism route. They'd tell modern day Mary's that Christ wasn't her "real dad" and she shouldn't pathetically chase a non-biological father figure and just hope her "real dad" shows up someday. But she knew more about fatherhood they such people. Sometimes you learn more what something is by not having it than those who never lacked it will ever know.

But the point is that biologism, hereditarianism, and legalism was already very strong in the church as legacies of the 19th century, and as it circles the wagons to try to head off the specter of homosexual unions and polyamory they seem to be sticking around. They should fight these things, but they must recognize that "voluntary associations" that perform the function of families are a part of the Christian tradition of people adopt the broken hearted. I fully act as the father for two fatherless girls though I have no legal or biological claim over them. It is entirely voluntary on my part. And it is entirely permanent from both of our perspectives. And this is something that most modern churchgoers cannot understand or accept. Past generations could and did. The truth is that the classic understanding of caring for widows and orphans is now radioactive in vast swaths of American Christianity as the church has been feminized. What the church needs to do is find its former energy it had when it debated metaphysics with the best philosophers. Because there is a clear line between improper voluntary unions and improper ones. But as long as the church doesn't wish to argue properly for this and wishes to stigmatize all voluntary associations, then they're not worthy of their ancestors, shame the cause of Christ, and will lose this battle over the proper definition of the families quite decisively. I'm not saying Eberstadt does that (haven't read the book yet), but if it turns out that all she does is argue against voluntary associations without distinguishing proper ones from improper from a Christian perspective, then she's just going along with the stream of all the 19th century "isms" that are resurgent now and just as bad and worse than many of the ones she rejects.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
+1 for getting it and for pointing the way back to the Path...'>........

Modern Christians are a polluted people by all the factors you've mentioned and more to the point where we're merely more of the lost, but operating under a falsely assumed badge. Before you can defend the family, you have to GET what the family is. Same can be said for the sanctity of human life, as the two are intertwined.........
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
> and as it circles the wagons to try to head off the specter of homosexual unions and polyamory they seem to be sticking around.

Seems to me it's more than a specter.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Spector" was a poor word choice. The point is that the reality of the threat doesn't justify throwing the baby out with the bath.

The point is it is destructive for a religion that defines itself as a voluntary union to attack voluntary unions because they are voluntary unions. One would think the whole point of life is to distinguish legitimate voluntary unions from illegitimate ones.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And we don't particularly care when gays voluntarily form a union inasmuch as they understand that we tolerate it without approval much as we tolerate others who are unrepentant sinners but strive to seek forgiveness and attempt to perfect their natures as much as they might. Nor will we conduct a marriage ceremony for it as God does not bless unions other man and woman. Our guiding texts make this clear.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is a strawman argument. Christians disapprove of homosexuality but don't particularly care what people do. This thing has been blown out of proportion because gays have suddenly insisted on gay marriage with one goal in mind - to sue churches. To bankrupt them.

If you don't understand the danger (and it is already manifesting itself) then please don't pontificate to us about what we should and shouldn't be concerned about.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Westboro Baptist Church and their kind aside, Christians say that practicing any sex, hetero- or homosexual, outside of marriage is wrong. Being homosexual, but not practicing it, is no impediment to salvation. I'm a single heterosexual man who goes to church. My church gives me no leeway to act out my sexual inclinations outside of marriage to someone of the opposite sex. But if they did 'allow' me to act in such a way, I would leave them. My church has several homosexuals attending. No one worries about it.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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