Posts Tagged ‘Social’

Where Irreligious Trends Lead After Decades

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JAN. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- To see how disturbing a secularist and increasingly irreligious society can become, one need only look to Sweden.

Abortion has been free on demand and available without parental consent in the country since 1975, resulting in the Nordic nation having the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe (22.5 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in 2009).

Swedish law does not in any way recognize the right to conscientious objection for health care workers (last year, the Swedish parliament overwhelmingly passed an order instructing Swedish politicians to fight against the rights of doctors to refuse to participate in abortion).

Meanwhile, sex education is graphic and compulsory, beginning at the age of six, and children from kindergarten age are taught cross-dressing and that whatever feels good sexually is OK. The age of consent is 15.

“We have so many violations of human dignity on so many levels, and so many problems when it comes to social engineering,” explained Johan Lundell, secretary-general of the Swedish pro-life group Ja till Livet. “This has been going on for the past 70 years.”

Lundell was a guest of ours recently at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (Institute for Human Dignity) where he laid out a catalogue of offenses against human dignity in Swedish society. “We have the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe. Why? Because we say abortion is a human right, it doesn’t kill anything, just takes away a pregnancy,” he said. “And after 20 years of this, young people don’t care any more. Why should they? For 10 to 15 years no one has even said abortion should be legal but rare.”

Its sex education program, seen by some social liberals as groundbreaking but others as far too explicit, has been given by some as the principal reason for a low teenage pregnancy rate. But the high number of abortions among that age group are rarely discussed, nor are the figures disclosed. “No one talks about child abortions,” said Lundell. “They’re ashamed of them. Yet we’re the only country in Europe where there’s abortion on demand, there are no formal procedures, no parental consent, no informed consent.”

Nor are the number of rapes in Sweden widely known or advertised. Yet according to Lundell, over the past 50 years — during this era of loose sexual mores — they have risen by “1,000 percent.”

Lundell further noted that all other countries want to reduce the number of abortions, yet despite having 550 different government departments in Sweden, none has a mission to lower the number of terminations. “Children can see this is wrong, parents can see it’s wrong, and as a society we don’t want it and yet no one talks about it,” Lundell added. “It’s absurd.”

He said that Sweden should “definitely” be taken as a warning to other countries pursuing secularist, socially liberal policies “because then you can see what the agenda is for people, and how the European Union and the United Nations are copying these Scandinavian ideas.”

Returning to the subject of sex education, Lundell said Swedes generally don’t bother any more trying to argue that homosexuality is genetic– a common argument used to promote the same-sex agenda — because the movement is now so fully accepted that it no longer needs this argument as a support. “In sex education books, they don’t talk about someone being heterosexual or homosexual — there are no such things because for them everyone is homosexual,” he said.

Lundell referred to a brochure for children published by same-sex associations, and printed with the help of financing by the state. “They write positively about all kinds of sexuality, every kind, even the most depraved sexual acts, and it goes into all schools,” he explained. “The information is put on Web sites, and school children are told about the Web sites so they can see it.” Teachers, he said, are encouraged to ask students “What turns you on?” yet Lundell pointed out that if the chief executive of a company asked that at a business meeting, he’d be fired. “It would be sexual harassment,” he said. “And yet you train people to do this to children?”

Some parents have made formal complaints, branding it as carnal knowledge, too candid for the classroom and labeling the lessons as “vulgar” and “too advanced.” But the majority acquiesce to the curriculum, while the option to homeschool children is almost forbidden.

Yet to many outsiders, Sweden’s popular image is of a fair, ordered, just and harmonious society — the model example of a functioning welfare state. In many cases this is true if one looks at infant mortality rates, life expectancy, standard of health care and access to education. The level of poverty is also relatively low.

“It’s long been said that if it is not possible to bring about a socialist world in Sweden, then it’s not possible anywhere,” said Lundell. “That’s why some have tried to make it into a socialist paradise. But unlike in, say, Italy or Greece, in Sweden it’s not about the socialism of finances but rather the socialism of families — social engineering, which has been much more visible here than in southern Europe.”

Per Bylund, a Swedish fellow at the Von Mises Institute, once described the all encompassing power of the state thus: “A significant difference between my generation and the preceding one is that most of us were not raised by our parents at all. We were raised by the authorities in state daycare centers from the time of infancy; then pushed on to public schools, public high schools, and public universities; and later to employment in the public sector and more education via the powerful labor unions and their educational associations. The state is ever-present and is to many the only means of survival — and its welfare benefits the only possible way to gain independence.”

Yet this social engineering has had dire consequences. Few European countries have witnessed such a rapid decline in the institution of marriage, nor such an expeditious rise in abortion. During the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, the marriage rate in Sweden was historically at its peak. Suddenly, the rate started dropping so quickly that it saw a decrease of about 50% in less than 10 years. No other country experienced such a rapid change.

Between 2000 and 2010, when the rest of Europe was showing signs of a reduction in annual abortion rates, the Swedish government says the rate increased from 30,980 to 37,693. The proportion of repeat abortions rose from 38.1% to 40.4% — the highest level ever — while the number of women having at least four previous abortions increased from 521 to approximately 750.

With the exception of a few stalwart campaigners such as Lundell, most Swedish Christians — and particularly Christian politicians — remain silent in the face of the countless social violations against human dignity. Little resistance is also given to attacks on religious freedom for Christians, with priority increasingly being given to Sharia law.

Judging by the figures, it could almost be said the faith has packed up altogether. At the end of 2009, 71.3% of Swedes belonged to the Lutheran Church of Sweden — a number that has been decreasing by about one percentage point a year for the last two decades. Of them, only around 2% regularly attend Sunday services. Indeed, some studies have found Swedes to be one of the least religious people in the world and a country with one of the highest numbers of atheists. According to different studies carried out in the early 2000s, between 46% and 85% of Swedes do not believe in God.

Lundell said that although small, the Catholic Church has a good bishop and is helped by immigrants from Poland and Latin America. But Catholics are generally seen as outsiders with little influence and they are wary of overtly campaigning or being seen as “too tough,” he said. Even Pentecostals are reticent to raise objections. “They are probably the only Pentecostal church in the world that doesn’t,” he added.

But despite all this, Lundell, whose organization is attracting a growing number of young people, remains hopeful — and he remains ultimately loyal to his home country. “I’m so proud of Sweden I can’t imagine moving away,” he said. “But I am ashamed of the politics when it comes to the family, sexual politics and restrictions on freedom of religion.”

“Whole parts of society aren’t Sweden any more,” he added. “So we will fight, and we will do so with more eagerness than ever.”

Edward Pentin is a freelance journalist and Communications Director at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. He can be reached at epentin@zenit.org.

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Escaping Poverty: Interview With Archbishop Silvano Tomasi

GENEVA, OCT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Intelligent use of the economy, market and culture is needed to attain objectives coinciding with our values as Christians and members of the human family, says a Holy See representative.

In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, spoke of the necessary avenues to help developing nations escape poverty.

Q: What tools does Vatican diplomacy use to evaluate the most underprivileged in the world?

Archbishop Tomasi: The Holy See works within the international sphere, with the United Nations and in the U.N.-related agencies, as an “observer” state; this gives the Holy See the right to intervene and take part in non-voting activities, thus allowing the Holy See to act more freely than other states.

Furthermore, the Holy See endeavors to promote a line of discourse to support and aid the least developed countries, particularly those suffering in conditions of extreme poverty.

Specifically, the Holy See tries to generate a public culture, a world opinion within the international sphere, by declaring that developed countries are not only in a position to choose to support poorer populations, but that they bear the ethical responsibility to do so.

Then, the Holy See tries to offer actual help to these populations, not only in the form of financial support, which sometimes contributes to corruption, but, above all, through technical training, the exchange of information and licenses, all to help facilitate production.

And, with the aid of existing international structures and U.N.-related entities, such as the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development, we try to equip less wealthy countries with the ability to take part in trade, keeping in mind that participation is one of the most important concepts in the Church’s social doctrine.

According to this concept, everyone is entitled to take part in international life, to have access to common goods in a fair, proportionate and justified manner.

Q: What is your position in the debate about debt forgiveness for poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: For years, particularly since the Jubilee of the year 2000, several private organizations, the Church, and the Holy Father himself, have issued exhortations on the subject of debt forgiveness for poor countries because even payment of the interest is so burdensome that it obstructs development.

Therefore, I am in favor of debt forgiveness for the poorest countries as soon as possible, so that some of the resources that thus become available can be channeled toward social development, health care, children’s education, drinking water systems, all for a gradual improvement of living standards.

Q: Do you consider the developed world to be adequately informed and involved in the problems of poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: Public opinion is often distracted by many things that are not so essential. Occasionally, great tragedies or humanitarian campaigns draw attention for a while.

Some time back, we had the tsunami in Southeast Asia, which brought about people’s very constructive, positive and generous response. But we have other “tsunamis.” We have thousands of people dying of hunger, malaria or AIDS every day while nothing is said about these silent tragedies.

The media sometimes reports on these, issuing information, but it is then lost because the news items are not dramatized, and public attention wanders.

The fact that there are wars going on, people dead as the result of conflicts in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, is viewed with a certain degree of indifference. It is almost as if we have grown accustomed to the normalcy of these tragedies.

In my opinion, for people to see on the news that 100 people have been assassinated in Baghdad, another 20 in Mogadishu, and 50 refugees have died in a tragedy in Africa, is sometimes not very different from watching an entertainment movie after the news bulletin.

Therefore, it is important for Christians to sensitize people through the network of parishes, groups and movements, about the need for solidarity toward the most disenfranchised, to work together toward peace, for a bit of progress and for a better standard of living for these distant people.

Q: What are your thoughts on multilateral diplomacy versus bilateral dialogue in the international community?

Archbishop Tomasi: I would say, above all, that there is still a strong desire to struggle and negotiate in order to continue on a multilateral level, to seek solutions to current problems, particularly in the field of trade.

For example, the director general of the World Trade Organization insists on the fact that we must definitely continue to grow together in the same direction in order to be truly effective in the long term, even in the case of developed countries.

However, at the moment, there is the temptation in Europe and in other states to try to bypass common action through bilateral negotiations. This tendency can have very dangerous consequences because the stronger party tends to impose its terms on the weaker one, so that the negotiation is not really equitable.

In the long term, this can just lead to the maintenance of the status quo, in other words, the coexistence of rich and poor countries, which, in fact, does not succeed in combating poverty.

Q: As permanent observer of the Holy See in Geneva, do you consider international organizations in the field of economics, especially the World Trade Organization, as directing their course of action toward the sustained development of Third World nations?

Archbishop Tomasi: I attended the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference at the end of 2005, when the WTO tried to evaluate the “Doha Development Round” [from November 2001].

On that occasion, it became clear that, despite the extremely tough bargaining, it is possible to reach agreements that are beneficial to all concerned. Therefore, these international structures, which are necessary to achieve the globalization of the economy, the market, and culture, must be used intelligently.

We have to make an intelligent use of these structures in order to attain objectives that are truly in line with our fundamental values as Christians and as members of the human family.



The Vital Role of Spiritual Values

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The intersection between religion and politics continues to provide ample cause for debate, with contentious issues in the areas of bioethics, family policy and social justice. While some insist that religion should have no place in politics, a book published last year proposed that a pluralistic democratic society is in need of faith and religious arguments in public debate.

Brendan Sweetman explained his position in “Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square” (InterVarsity Press). Sweetman, a professor of philosophy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, is convinced that attempts to remove religion from politics are based on a misunderstanding of modern pluralism.

Sweetman starts with an explanation of what he terms “worldviews” that underpin our concept of reality, the nature of human persons, and moral and political values. A wide variety of these worldviews exist, some of them purely secular, others that are based on religion. 

Proponents of secularism, the book explains, wish to exclude worldviews founded on religion because they are supposedly based on sources that are not reliable or are irrational. In a pluralistic society is it not sustainable, according to secularists, to introduce religious arguments because this is imposing elements of a religion on others who do not share these beliefs.

Rational

Sweetman quickly points out, however, such a position ignores the substantial part that reason plays in religion. Sweetman, who early on in the book declares his Catholic faith, cites the example of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” which contained a lengthy explanation on rational grounds for opposing abortion. 

“The secularist conveniently ignores the issue of the rationality of religious belief, or superficially denies that religious belief can be rational, or fails to compare the rationality of religious belief with that of secularist beliefs,” Sweetman argues.

It is time, he proposes, that we move away from the view that religion is somehow a synonym for irrational. The religious view of the world in general, Sweetman maintains, has nothing to fear from rational scrutiny.

The book also maintains that religion should not be considered as some kind of threat to democracy; on the contrary it can make a valuable contribution to public debates. For a society to be truly democratic it should take into account the worldviews of its members and allow them to participate by adding their voice, it says.

Religion can also make a valuable contribution to discussions on human rights, political values and the concept we have of the human person, Sweetman adds. 

He admits that religions do not always live up to the beliefs they proclaim, and that there is often disagreement among religions on moral, social and political matters. Moreover, not all elements of religion are suitable in terms of providing guidance for public policy, and Sweetman also explains that he is not claiming that all religious beliefs are rational. 

The religious worldview does, however, have a valid contribution to make and it deserves a hearing. In fact, suppressing a religious worldview without any chance of a public debate being held on the arguments it proposes is a violation of democratic principles.

One objection raised by secularists, Sweetman notes, is the argument that religion introduces division and dogmatism, or even violence, into the political arena. It is true that religion can divide, Sweetman admits, but this is equally true of purely secular-founded arguments. The 20th century provides abundant examples of excesses committed in the name of secular ideologies.

Catholics in action

A series of recommendations over religion’s role in politics came last year in the form of a question-and-answer booklet authored by the Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona. In his pamphlet, “Catholics in the Public Square,” published by Basilica Press, he recommends the faithful to be respectful of the beliefs of others, or of those who have no faith.

At the same time, however, “Catholics should not be afraid to embrace their identity or to put their faith into practice in public life.”

The Church, Bishop Olmsted continues, does not seek to impose its doctrine on others. It is, nevertheless, legitimately concerned about the common good, the promotion of justice and the welfare of society.

There is, unfortunately, he observes, discrimination against people of faith, and especially Catholics when they express their views in public debates. Not only is there misrepresentation of what Catholic view are, but there is also outright hostility to people of any faith.

“Nonetheless, it is our duty to engage the culture, not run from it,” Bishop Olmsted comments. People of faith, like others, have every right to bring their views and beliefs into public.

Basic values

Another recent contribution to the theme of religion’s role in politics came from Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl. On April 13 he spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

In recent years there has been a weakening of support in public opinion for the role of basic religious values as a support for laws and public policy, the archbishop commented. Instead of values that are common to many faiths there are increasing calls for purely secular justifications of governmental policy.

Archbishop Wuerl argued that this tendency is contrary to the prevailing views of America’s founders. There is one common principle in the American political experience, he maintained: “The belief in the binding character of moral law is fundamental to any understanding of American thought.”

Catholic thought is in agreement, the archbishop continued. He noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the importance of the natural moral law and how the commandments are privileged expressions of the natural law.

“Religious faith has played and continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice issues as it does in defending all innocent human life,” the archbishop explained. Faith, he added, helps us to see our life and to judge right and wrong according to God’s wisdom.

Schizophrenic approach

Moreover, Archbishop Wuerl emphasized, attempting to separate morality and political life, or spiritual values from human values, is “a schizophrenic approach to life,” that only brings “devastation to the person and to society.”

“The secular model is not sufficient to sustain a true reflection on human action capable of giving guidance that is faithful to a life-giving understanding of human nature,” he concluded.

That argument is also frequently made by Benedict XVI. One of his most recent interventions on the need for faith and moral values in politics and society came in his July 5 speech to a group of bishops from the Dominican Republic, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

It is the role of laypeople to work and act directly in constructing the temporal order, the Pope noted. Nevertheless, they need to be guided in this by the light of the Gospel and Christian love. 

Christians who are active on the public sphere should, the Pontiff recommended, give public testimony to their faith and not live two parallel lives: one which is spiritual; and another which is secular, dedicated to their participation in social, political and cultural activities. 

Instead, the Pope urged, they should strive for coherence between their lives and their faith, thus providing an eloquent testimony of the truth of the Christian message. A coherence only too often lacking among many active in public life.

Summarized in 10 Points

VERONA, Italy, JULY 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a reflection on the laity published this week by the Cardinal Van Thuân International Observatory for the Social Doctrine of the Church.

It has been presented in preparation for an upcoming issue of the “Social Doctrine of the Church Bulletin,” which will be devoted entirely to the theme of the laity.

* * *

10 Points on Laity

Our Observatory has started a comprehensive reflection on laity, which today stands at the crossroads of manifold ethical, social and political issues. One of the first results of our work is the study by Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, published in issue 1 (2006) of the “Social Doctrine of the Church Bulletin,” entitled “Brief Notes on Laity According to J. Ratzinger — Benedict XVI.” Further in-depth studies and reports will follow.

One of the next issues of the “Social Doctrine of the Church Bulletin” will be entirely devoted to this theme and will feature contributions from different countries where laity and secularism take on different forms.

In the meantime, we have decided to summarize the reflections of the Observatory on laity in 10 points.

1. Laity Is Conceived Today as the Public Domain of Reason That Is Free From Absolutes

Nowadays there is a tendency to conceive laity as the exclusive domain of reason, that is of reason that considers religious faith as being irrational and therefore not worthy of entering the realm of public debate. The consequence is that religion is assimilated to a sect and the development of an attitude of tolerance that assumes that all gods are equal. Lay neutrality, therefore, accepts religion only according to three modalities: as private business, as a sect in the market of religious sentiments, as vague and generic mysticism. All three modalities deny the public dimension of religion.

2. Such Laity Free From Absolutes Is in Turn an Absolute Itself

This rigorously rational conception of reality embodies an absoluteness, the absoluteness of rational knowledge, the hypothesis of the exclusive validity of scientific knowledge and, consequently, the questioning of religious absoluteness. Laity that pretends to be free from absolutes is in turn an absolute choice, a dogma.

3. But an Absolute Reason Is Impossible

A reason that wishes to remain faithful to itself, that is true reason, cannot renounce its relationship with faith. If reason does not open up to faith, hence making itself absolute, it does not do so out of rational reasons, but either out of a form of fideism of reason or a form of rationalism of faith, that is to say, based upon a reason that becomes lay religion and on a religion that becomes solely social ethics.

4. The Political Refusal of Christianity Is Also a Refusal of Reason

By refusing Christianity the Western state refuses also the reason that Christianity embodied and thus delivers itself into the hands of the divinities.

Christianity does not look up to the divinities of myth but to God as the only being and truth of the Greek logos. The Christian God however is not only truth, he is also love. But the fact that he is love does not cancel his being Truth. “There is a primordial identity between truth and love.” In this way Christianity unifies truth and life. It cannot do without truth, and in this it assumes rational needs, but does not accept the separation between truth and life that reason on its own would propose.

5. The “Self Limitation” of Absolute Reason

Laity, as public reason that seeks to eliminate its relationship with faith, is bound to undergo an inevitable process. It tends to absoluteness but, in striving to be absolute, it must restrict the scope of its truth to be able to claim an absolute knowledge. The conclusion is the extreme reduction of truth to what can be proven through experiments.

6. From Absolute Reason to the “Dictatorship of Relativism” 

Here is the transition from absolute reason, taken in this meaning, to the “dictatorship of relativism.” On any truth that is not the outcome of reckoning or experiment, positivist laity expresses a dogmatic doubt. Its sole certainty is doubt; it doubts everything except its own doubting. In this way it proclaims relativism, but it proclaims it dogmatically, as the last dogma that is left after the deconstruction of truth, hence it is the ultimate truth.

“Man no longer accepts any moral entity that lies outside his reckoning,” thus desires are transformed into rights.

7. “Self-Authorization” of Human Action, Namely the Nihilism of Technology

If man is measured by his capacity, this is the nihilism of technology and man can “self-authorize” himself to do anything he knows how to do. The observation that the dictatorship of relativism leads to the nihilism of technology decrees the non-sustainability of the idea of laity as being detached from transcendence. It tells us that true laity is that which not only admits or tolerates transcendence, but also needs it and promotes it.

At the level of concrete political practice, true laity takes on two fundamental attitudes: a) it does not ask believers to shed their faith when they participate in public discourse and to clad themselves only with the garments of reason; b) it does not grant the freedom of speech only to individual believers but also to religious communities as such. This, from the standpoint of politics, means recognizing that the religious community has the right to be a player in the field of social and political culture.

8. Laity Needs Transcendence

If only a laity that does not exclude transcendence can truly be lay, then, and at least, laity must reason “as if God does exist.”

9. Not All Religions Guarantee the Same Openness to Transcendence

Not all religions are the same in guaranteeing the necessary transcendence to politics. A religion such as Buddhism, for example, that envisages the dissolution of the individual in the “everything is one” is less capable of guaranteeing the rights of the individual in a transcendent sense than a religion such as Christianity where the relationship with God will be a personal relationship. It is in laity’s best interest not to fall into an attitude of indifference and contempt toward religion.

10. Laity, Christianity and the West

The concept of laity exists only in the West. But it is precisely in the West that laity has taken on the characteristics of the dictatorship of relativism. Only in the West, therefore, can it happen that laity goes beyond the features of the dictatorship of relativism and opens up to transcendence. But since not all religions are capable of allowing the West to do this but only Christianity, it is evident that the West cannot afford to cut its ties with Christianity. Laity is not possible without Christianity. Undoubtedly Christianity does not coincide with the West, but if the West cuts its ties with Christianity, it will lose sight also of itself. Opening up in an indiscriminate manner to anything external, without confidence in itself anymore and without relying on its ties with Christianity, the West will no longer succeed in integrating anything, not even itself.

New Studies Reveal Close Relationship

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The fortunes of family life and religion may well be linked, say experts in recent studies. W. Bradford Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is the author of a research brief published in May by the Institute for American Values’ Center for Marriage and Families.

“Churches are bulwarks of marriage in urban America,” he affirmed in the brief “Religion, Race, and Relationships in Urban America.” Wilcox started by observing that in spite of widespread concern over the breakdown of marriage and family life in contemporary society, so far little attention has been paid on religion’s influence for the family.

His attempt to remedy this omission is based on a reading of data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (FFCW), sponsored by Columbia and Princeton Universities.

The dramatic changes in family structures are graphically illustrated by Wilcox.

— From 1960 to 2000, the percentage of children born out of wedlock rose from 5% to 33%.

— The divorce rate more than doubled to almost 50%.

— The percentage of children living in single-parent families rose
from 9% to 27%.

Poor and minority families have suffered even more. In 1996, for example, 35% of African American children and 64% of Latino children were living in married households, compared to 77% of white children.

Wilcox argued that religion can influence family life in four ways.

— Religious institutions promote norms strengthening marriage, for example, the idea that sex and childbearing ought to be reserved for marriage, and broader moral norms that support happier, more stable marriages.

— Religious faith endows the marital relationship with a sense of transcendence.

— In many religious groups there are family-oriented social networks that offer emotional and social support, plus a measure of social control that reinforces commitment to the marital bond.

— Religious belief and practice provides support to cope with stresses such as unemployment or the death of a loved one. A greater psychological resilience, in turn, is linked to higher quality marriages.

Paradox

Wilcox does, however, admit that religious participation is by no means an automatic guarantee of a happy family life. In fact, what he termed “one of the paradoxes of American religious life,” is the contradiction between the high level of religious practice among African Americans — the highest of any racial group — and the reality that they have the lowest rate of marriage of any racial or ethnic group.

Turning to an analysis of the data from the FFCW survey, Wilcox argued that it shows how religious attendance — particularly by fathers — is associated with higher rates of marriage among urban parents.

Moreover, churchgoing boosts the odds of marriage for African American parents in urban America in much the same way it boosts the odds of marriage for urban parents from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Paternal church attendance is particularly important for urban relationships, Wilcox maintains. If a father goes to church regularly, then he is more likely to enter into marriage and also to have a relationship of higher quality.

Benefits of belief

The arguments raised by Wilcox are similar to those put forward by Patrick Fagan in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation last December. In “Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” Fagan argued that “religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families and the community.”

“Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages and well-behaved children,” he pointed out.

Numerous sociological studies, Fagan continued, show that valuing religion and regularly practicing it are associated with greater marital stability, higher levels of marital satisfaction and an increased likelihood that an individual will be inclined to marry.

Among other points, these studies reveal that:

— Women who are more religious are less likely to experience divorce or separation than their less religious peers.

— Marriages in which both spouses attend religious services frequently are 2.4 times less likely to end in divorce than marriages in which neither spouse worships.

— Religious attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability, confirming studies conducted as far back as 50 years ago.

— Couples who share the same faith are more likely to reunite if they separate than are couples who do not share the same religious affiliation.

Moreover, Fagan pointed out, religious practice is also related to a reduction in such negative behaviors as domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse and addiction.

Losing God

Mary Eberstadt looked at the other side of the coin in the relationship between family and religion in an article published in the June-July issue of the magazine Policy Review. In the article “How the West Really Lost God,” she reflected on the causes of secularization, a phenomenon particularly notable in Western Europe.

The thesis often put forward, Eberstadt observed, is that secularism came first and that this had a negative impact on family life in Western Europe. She argued, however: “At least some of the time, the record suggests, they also became secular because they stopped having children and families.”

In support of her case Eberstadt pointed out that European fertility in general dropped well before the dramatic demise of religious practice observed in recent decades. Within Europe she cited the example of France, which saw fertility decline much sooner than in many other European countries, and is also a nation where secularism is stronger.

Ireland, by contrast, withstood the winds of secularism until a short time ago, and it was also a country with strong families. The recent erosion of religion in Ireland was preceded by a collapse in Irish fertility, Eberstadt added.

Turning to the United States she commented that the higher level of religious practice could be due to the greater number of children.

Evangelicals and Mormons, who unlike Catholics are not prohibited from using contraceptives, also have larger families. Maybe, Eberstadt posited, there is something about the family that inclines people toward religiosity.

She then examined the dynamic that exists between family life and religion. The experience of birth leads parents to a moment of transcendence. As well, the practice of sacrificing oneself for the good of the family and children may lead people to go beyond selfish pleasure-seeking. In addition, the fear of death, in terms of losing a spouse or child is a powerful spur to faith.

As for the well-known fact that women tend to be more religious than men, maybe Eberstadt argued, this is due to their more intimate participation in the birth of their children compared to a man’s role.

While fertility rates in Europe and many other countries are now very low, this could change as the disadvantages of single motherhood and the social and economic consequences of shrinking populations weigh more heavily.

“There is nothing inevitable about the decline of the natural family and thus, by implication, religion too,” Eberstadt contended. While quick to admit that, “merely having families and children is no guarantee of religious belief,” a resurgence in family life could well strengthen religion.

The authors of the studies cited here would probably be the first to admit that the interaction between religion and the family is complicated and that many other factors play a part in the strengthening or weakening of both. No doubt more research is needed, but these initial efforts point to some interesting relationships.

The natural family, Ebserstadt concludes, “as a whole has been the human symphony through which God has historically been heard by many people.” A symphony unfortunately marred by many discordant notes today, but whose return to harmony would be of immense benefit.