Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review: How The West Really Lost God

“God created the world; He has a plan for humanity;
He promises everlasting life to those who live by His Word.”
“Today no great majority continues to believe
in all such particulars.”

So begins Mary Eberstadt’s look at Western culture.  She asks what caused this “sea of change from a civilization that widely fears God, to one that now often jeers Him?”  She then goes on to look at all the common answers to that question: urbanization, industrialization, technology, and many other factors which really DO correlate (more or less) with secularization, but then she goes on to consider that perhaps all these explanations leave out something critical: the importance of family.  She posits, and presents compelling evidence, that “family decline helps to power religious decline.”  And at the end of her book, she speculates what this might mean for the future of Western Christianity and civilization.
Early on Ms Eberstadt points to the declining birth rates as a result of family declines, and the resultant aging population in the West.  As a result, aging people now more than ever expect government to do things once done by sons and daughters.  “In other words, family changes have been an engine fueling statism – and statism in turn has been an engine fueling family decline.”  And in so many ways, she goes on to factually show, family decline is a root cause of our faith and culture’s decline.
Is family decline leading to a faith decline, or is faith decline leading to a family decline?  “That is the chicken-or-egg question at the heart of this book.”  In the end, Ms Eberstadt presents evidence that “faith and family are the invisible double helix of society … depending on one another.”
I enjoyed this book for the way it brought out many facts, opinions, and studies regarding the decline of Christianity, and answered them with facts alone.  This book is not about the author’s opinions and it does not try to steer yours.  She readily quotes Comte, Engels and Freud and their thoughts (and predictions) about religion, and then presents recent facts.  She factually shows the downward trends (as they predicted) and the upward thrusts of faith over the years (like after WWII) which they did NOT predict, and cannot explain.
In this book, she presents a possible explanation.
There are so many contra-“everybody-knows-that”-assumptions in this book that I can’t begin to summarize them, like the idea that poor people are more faith-filled, and “wise” people don’t believe in God anymore.  Facts say otherwise.  Or the notion that religions which make a sin of birth control have larger families.  Much data suggests that it is not faith (or faith tenets) that drive family life, but rather family that drives faith.
In Chapter 5 Richard Dawkins is quoted: “The paradox has often been noted that the United States, founded in secularism, is now the most religious country in Christendom, while England, with an established church headed by its constitutional monarch is among the least.  I am continually asked why this is, and I do not know.”  The author presents data showing the Anglican church’s permissiveness of divorce and its effects on family, and faith.
I thought this book was a little light on presenting facts showing the declining presence of fathers to children, and its huge impact on society, but it was mentioned.  I liked the data showing that having children inclines people to return to church, which makes me wonder if single families are not a potential fruitful area on which to focus New Evangelization efforts.
I greatly enjoyed this book, and it will be on my Christmas gift list, especially to those people who are in position to act on the implications of this book:  Families are important, and must be supported; Homes with children may be more open to evangelization; For single people, community or small groups (family substitutes) may be more receptive to evangelization, and finally, our church and our country may depend on the strength of families.  ANYTHING that reduces the strength of family should be strongly resisted.
While the decline of faith, family, and the American culture as we once knew it certainly give us anxiety over the future, knowledge is a weapon.  Aware of the importance of family, we can fight back.  Focus On The Family should not just be the name of some television show, but a strong reminder of how we should prioritize our life --- and our family.

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