Unification News For January 1996
Dan Quale Was Right
In April of this year, it will be three years since Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's bombshell article "Dan Quayle Was Right" appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. As many readers will recall, the article laid to rest the liberal notion that alternative structures to the traditional family were equal in their effects on children. Rather, research proved that by all measures children did best in intact two-parent families. Further, the article established decisively that the dissolution of the two-parent family was the doorway to the three societal scourges of poverty, crime and educational underachievement.
Since then, much lip service has been paid to the importance of the two-parent family to personal and societal well-being. Nevertheless, although it appears that a theoretical consensus has emerged on the desirability of the two-parent family, the absence of any practical society-wide effort to promote this ideal is notable. Churches, community organizations, government, the mental health community, etc. have all largely been inert. There has been much talk but little action. This absence of practical efforts suggests that research and insights like Dafoe's will be allowed simply to wither on the vine.
Perhaps one reason for this absence has to do with the lack in the United States-and perhaps the Western world in general-of an ideology of the family. There is no worldview that explains the significance of the family and that serves to offer vision, support and direction to young people in their family formations. This is one need the Family Federation has the capacity to fill.
In any event, while many issues are being addressed by our society, it is clear that central issues are being overlooked. While we are doing many things, we are perhaps not doing the things that most need doing.
A recent article by William Bennett makes a similar point in a different context. Writing in "Imprimis", a monthly publication of Michigan's Hillsdale College, Bennett, former Secretary of Education and editor of the "Book of Virtues", addresses the ongoing decay of the American social fabric. Striking for its description of certain aspects of this decay, as well as for its diagnosis of the cause, Bennett nevertheless makes the point that our core problems are not being addressed. His observations and arguments are worth nothing.
At the outset, Bennett tells a story of a young girl from Eastern Europe who after coming to America found herself adopting behaviors that she knew were not consistent with her old-world ethic and which she recognized were not "good things to get used to". Picking up on this theme, Bennett cites a number of other developments in American culture (e.g. 30% of all births and 68% of black births are illegitimate; the U.S. leads the industrialized world in murder, rape and violent crime) which are "not good things to get used to", but which now seem to have been accepted as normative.
Bennett's description is reminiscent of the story of how to cook a frog alive. It is said that a frog will jump from a pan of water that is heated suddenly but that it will remain in place if the temperature of the water is increased only degree by degree. In this way, the frog progressively gets used to water that will ultimately cook it.
Bennett suggests that a similar process is occurring in the United States today. We are progressively getting used to that which will ultimately destroy us.
Why are we experiencing such decay? Bennett pinpoints what he calls spiritual "acedia", meaning a type of spiritual slothfulness. For Bennett the root of America's cultural decline has to do with spiritual causes, with "an absence of zeal for divine things".
Elaborating his point, Bennett relies on the insights of the novelist, Walker Percy, and the famed Russian, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Responding to a question regarding what concerned him most about the future of America, Percy answered:
Probably the fear of seeing America ... be defeated, not by the Communist movement ... but from within by weariness, boredom, cynicism, greed and in the end helplessness before its great problems.
And according to Mr. Solzhenitsyn: "In the United States, difficulties are not a minotaur or a dragon-not imprisonment, hard labor, death, government harassment and censorship-but cupidity, boredom, sloppiness, indifference. Not the acts of a mighty, all-pervading, repressive government, but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright."
America's problem, then, is one of attitude, of heart, of spirit. "Cynicism", "greed", "helplessness", "listlessness": the words of Percy and Solzhenitsyn strike a chord.
Bennett then makes the point that I wish to emphasize here. That is, for all its energy and activity, our society is ignoring what must not be ignored. Just as we have recognized the problem of family dissolution, but have done little to address it, so too we do little to face our spiritual acedia. Despite the deficit of our spirit,
The conventional analysis is still that this nation's major challenges have to do with getting more of the same: achieving greater economic growth, job creation, increased trade, health care or more federal programs.
In other words, Bennett argues that our energies are fundamentally misdirected. Our real challenge is the restoration of spirit. If this nation is to be saved, Bennett would appear to say, we must reacquire a "zeal for divine things".
What then is needed to acquire such a "zeal". What is needed to address the problem of family collapse? These are critical questions.
The Family Federation locates the answers to the two challenges of family-collapse and spiritual acedia in one unit -the "true family". Such a family embodies God's love in its interpersonal dynamics and at the same time reflects God's love to the larger world.
Such a family is one that while maintaining its own integrity, broadens the scope of its caring to the larger society and world. Because self-centeredness is what numbs the spirit and dulls one's life, such a family recognizes the spiritual value of sacrifice for a larger good.
While the process of renewal must thus pass through the intact family, it cannot stop there. The "listless public" that Solzhenitsyn describes and that Bennett sees suffering from spiritual acedia must be raised to a new level of vibrant life. What must be held up as a societal ideal is the intact family oriented toward the public good. Building such families of our own and stimulating the multiplication of such families is the task that faces us all.
As a society, approaching the final years of this millennium, our task is to focus on our core challenges. Those have to do with re- constituting the intact family as the standard for human life and re- appropriating our connection with the divine. Without being successful in these two areas, America faces rough-sledding. With success, she can have great hope in her future.
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