Am I the only one who feels like there’s some kind of cosmic joke being played out in our culture right now?
More often than not, bad art is celebrated and good art reviled. In our communication and dialogue, grammar and spelling were no longer important. To be clean is no better than to be filthy. Criminals deserve as much sympathy as their victims. Good manners are no better than bad. In fact, bad behavior (especially among celebrities!) is lionized.
I have long suspected that the greatest way to destroy a civilization is not to outright defile what is sacred, but to make sacred the profane — and thus debase everything that is hallowed. And few things are more debased in our era than our most fundamental institution: the family.
I flatter myself to be a student of philosophy as well as history, especially where the two intersect — which is often. Lately I’ve been studying the Bolshevik Revolution in Tsarist Russia (circa 1905) and I’ve found some interesting socio-political parallels to our own time.
See, for many Bolsheviks, the fundamental goal of the revolution was the creation of “a new kind of human being” who only lived for the “common good.” Of course, that “common good” was defined as service to the Party and its cause.
Creating this new kind of being required a destruction of “the shell of private life” that was the source of competing loyalties and obligations. This conviction put the family in the Bolsheviks’ crosshairs. For them, it was an article of faith that the traditional family — or the “bourgeois” family as they called it — was the stronghold of “religion, superstition, ignorance, and prejudice.”
So the Bolsheviks did everything in their power to undermine it, starting with removing the influence of the church in marriage and divorce. They re-wrote the law to make divorce easy and gave couples living together the same rights as married ones. It’s also worth noting that state-sanctioned abortion was readily available.
The result was a huge increase in casual marriage and the highest rate of divorce in the world. Sexual morals were loosened and familial and communal ties were weakened. The birth rate declined disastrously, which left the USSR short both of laborers and soldiers. Child abandonment became a mass phenomenon. The Communist Party was then left trying to clean up the mess that its war on the traditional family had created.
Well, less than 20 years after declaring war on the family, the party did an abrupt about-face. Suddenly marriage was promoted as glamorous and wedding rings, which had been banned as Christian relics, became available. Divorce laws were tightened and abortion was outlawed. The good Stalinist was expected to be monogamous and devoted to his family. And some comrades were expelled from the Communist Party for being bad fathers or husbands.
Obviously, Communist Party elites weren’t acting out of new-found respect for tradition, much less religion. Theirs was a pragmatic response to hard-learned experience. Creating good Soviet citizens, they found, required strong families. What a concept!
Consequently, in studying this reversal on the family, it’s difficult not to draw parallels with our own time.
Of course, let me emphatically say that comparing Stalinist Russia with our modern federalist-republic of the United States is absurd. In virtually every way that matters, they’re diametrically opposed. At the same time, today we ourselves are in the midst of a kind of social experiment involving the traditional family.
“No-fault” divorce has given this country the highest divorce rate of any Western society. Increasingly, cohabiting couples are treated the same as married ones. While child abandonment is rare, increasing numbers of children are born out-of-wedlock, all-but-abandoned by their fathers. And of course, selective abortion due to disability or gender is common practice.
The personal and social costs of this experimentation are well-documented, but they’re also ignored or at least downplayed. Why? Ideology. In this instance, it’s an ideology whose “article of faith” teaches that personal freedom and autonomy are the highest goods. Any appeal to the common good or to the traditional family’s role in promoting the common good is regarded as an imposition and even worse, as “bigotry.”
But that won’t stop the troubles we’re creating for ourselves. We can only hope that an about-face is in our not-too-distant future. Then we can all roll up our sleeves and begin cleaning up the mess. You see, this belief in the traditional family is not just a tenet of our religion but a self-evident reality rooted in the way God made the world.
Family life is often derided as an outdated bourgeois concept, and each successive generation has come to venerate it less and less. As a result, our homes and classrooms have become increasingly chaotic. After all, if there is no ultimate right nor wrong, there can be no basis for punishment or reward.
Thus we have sown into the wind, and now we are reaping the whirlwind.