If families are to thrive, Christians are going to have to dispense with the destructive forces and ideologies that have made family life untenable.
In the book, The Recovery of Family Life: Exposing the Limits of Modern Ideologies, Boise State University professor Scott Yenor continues his exploration of the breakdown of the family and the contributing factors that have caused it.
The book is a sequel of sorts to his first book, where he traced the philosophical underpinnings that have undermined families for centuries. His latest book focuses specifically on the past 50 years, examining the sexual revolution, modern feminism, sexual liberation theory, and contemporary liberalism.
The idea that human beings are independent means "that human beings are not dependent on any other particular human being, that love must not be a dependent passion or virtue, but rather it comes only after they've achieved a kind of self-sufficiency or independence of people," Yenor said in an interview with The Christian Post.
This has seeped into everyone's view of how they should live their lives. Today, even among professing Christians, having a good job is prioritized much more than getting married and having children. The older and more Christian view, he stresses, implies dependence for the common good in an uncertain world.
"Especially in middle-class and upper-middle-class Christianity, so many people buy into it just accidentally because it's so much a part of the air we breathe — this idea that we need to be independent and self-sufficient, and that just involves a moving down of marriage and family life in the order of our lives and in the circle of our affections," Yenor said.
That sets in motion a few other profound things like delayed marriage, fewer children, fewer marriages, and regarding cohabiting as morally acceptable.
Another force that has waged destruction against family life has been the feminist push to make women act more like men and ending all sexual taboos, he explained. Also threatening is the ideology of contemporary liberalism, he maintains, which he defines as the view that asserts the state should be neutral in moral conflicts. By being neutral, this allows everyone to exercise their personal autonomy and rights, yet this is unworkable.
Family life cannot be promoted in law or public policy if the social environment is not conducive to getting married and having children, he explained. And there are no short-term fixes, no single economic lever, that can be used.
"The principles of sexual liberation theory are going to have to be widely criticized and rolled back from how society approaches education for there to be any recovery and movement toward family life," he told CP.
Much of the conservative and Christian movement dealing with questions of family have downplayed the ideological underpinnings and have thus failed to address the root of the problem. Without taking on the ideologies it will be difficult to make progress, Yenor says.
"I am for increasing the size of the child tax credit. This is a success, first established in the 1990s, and it has increased with time," he said of one public policy championed by conservative-leaning Christians that is intended to incentivize families.
Yet birth rates and marriage rates are still down; a tax credit, as helpful as it might be, bypasses the larger questions.
Asked if he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise since it has facilitated greater family connectedness and strengthened them amid crisis, Yenor offered that any benefit has been to certain segments of the population. The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, not just economically but emotionally, he said.
In addition to addressing the ideologies at the root, he urges American Christians to rethink the prevailing mindset about preparing children for family life. What is held out in culture as the success formula drives many to obtain a university education, become established in a career, and consider forming a family after that.
This parenting ethos that centers on professional development and economic well-being is fundamentally misplaced as earning degrees and financial security is not a panacea, he maintains.
"The career stuff, in a way, will take care of itself," Yenor said.
"The part that is most difficult to shape in your children's souls, in the future, and in their minds, is the centrality of loving another human being and giving yourself up to that human being sacrificially over the course of life, and all of the hard things that entails and all the practical things that entails that we no longer teach our children as much as was done in previous generations."
For those who want to advocate for families going forward, Yenor advises that they remember that the ideologies besetting culture do not promise to deliver happiness to people and the family does compromise individual autonomy.
"But what's so bad about that? Human beings are made for happiness and virtue. And one of the great ways in which to achieve that in is marriages and families," he added.