The Renaissance of Family

In crisis periods of history like the one we are now experiencing, almost everything changes. Economies change, as do governments, businesses, schools and societies--often in major and surprising ways. Since few of us want to admit that the cycles of history are driving things, most people are frustrated and feel vulnerable and even victimized by widespread changes. Many turn to government to solve our most pressing problems, hoping it can work miracles. Others turn to other institutions or their own efforts for solutions.

Few realize, however, the power of families in such times.

Indeed, increased financial challenges and difficult world events often amplify the pressure on marriage and family relationships. Divorce rates increase, family dysfunction grows, and people look outside the family for more and more help--at the very time family members need each other and can help each other the most.

“But the crisis is over,“ some say. When economists measure an economy to determine growth or recession, an preferred indicator is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  The fact is, this “recovery” was actually one more quarter of decreased profits and capital values—no change in the trend of economic slowing there—masked by the other factor: government spending in the form of  bailouts.

The problem with this is that since government gets its money either by taxing the private sector or printing money, it can’t keep spending like this and maintaining a “recovery” for long without drastically raising taxes or causing inflation.

In short, reports that a recovery is here to stay are, let us say, premature. A lasting recovery will only happen if profits and values also increase. One of the better indicators of where we are is the unemployment rate, which continues to worsen.

This means that pressure on families is almost certain to increase for the months and probably years ahead. Crisis Periods in history are preceded by Good-Times Periods and then followed by Rebuilding Periods. If the cycles of history hold true and we face major military conflict and even the draft in the decade ahead, or even if unemployment continues to worsen, families will face even more challenges.

I am an optimist, and I’m convinced that great things are ahead for America and the world. And whether or not you share my hope for the future, I believe we can agree on one thing: Our nation and our world will rise no higher than our families. If the family continues to decline, so will peace, prosperity, freedom and happiness.

The experts have studies and graphs outlining the details, but history is absolutely clear on this point. The future of the family is the future of our world. Higher numbers of single-adult, single-parent and other non-traditional families are included in this great opportunity.

In past Crisis Periods, layoffs and failed businesses have resulted in the family pulling together--planting gardens, starting businesses, chopping wood to save on fuel and otherwise facing and working to overcome challenges together. In our current world, with its urbanized and technologically advanced lifestyle, we aren’t following this pattern of family retrenchment. We aren’t relying less on paychecks and more on the family farm, or even leaving the family farm to find opportunity in places like the New World (1780s), the West (1860s), or California (1930s). In our times, no geographical Promised Land has arisen to deliver us.

At the same time, the modern world keeps us busy and separated from each other--kids at school, youth with groups of friends, mom and dad holding down multiple jobs or seeking employment, etc. Even where both adults in some homes are unemployed, they don’t necessarily spend more time together, but rather cope with their stresses and seek solutions independently.

Diminished finances for vacations, no time off at a new job, productivity-related compensation and workplace competitiveness all bring pressure to emphasize less family time and more work time. And the technologies that used to be tools to help connect us have turned on their masters. No longer luxuries, they have gone from being pervasive to invasive to divisive; each family member has his own unique and virtual social life, and family life suffers as a result.

The average American couple spends only 16 minutes a day talking with each other, according to a report in Men’s Health. Half of that time is spent discussing things like household chores and finances, leaving very little time to build relationships. The same Men’s Health reported that “lack of quality time” is the number one cause of tension in couples’ relationships, more than finances, work issues or other challenges. Unlike past Crisis Periods, we are spending less time together just talking and having fun as couples and families than we did even in the past two decades. Rather than refocusing on our marriage and family relationships during Crisis, we are pulling even further apart.

The simplistic reason that Good-Time Periods turn into Crisis Periods is that families turn away from each other to serve the agendas of corporations, marketing firms, schools and others. Crisis Periods are all about recapturing the most important things--especially happy and successful families.

If families don’t come together, strengthen communities, entrepreneur new enterprises and begin to rebuild society, we won’t see the benefits of a great Rebuilding Period ahead. This is a potential tragedy of Dark Ages proportions. Just consider Rome in the first century, France in the late Seventeenth Century, the South after the Civil War, or modern Cambodia, Bosnia or Rwanda. A society has no destiny that is not tied to the strength of its families. Without a family renaissance, no society rebounds from crisis.

The good news in all this is that the bad news is good news: If the biggest challenge in our families is lack of quality time and taking the time to really talk, then the solutions are simple. What if you spent a lot more time with your spouse talking about less urgent, more important, more fun things and enjoying each other? What if you did the same with each of your children, siblings and/or parents? Not everyone has all these options, but clearly not enough of those who do have families are giving them enough attention and effort.

What if families spent two or three evenings a week and half a day each weekend doing fun things, entrepreneurial ventures and/or service projects together? Together is the key word here. This is truly the way that Crisis Periods in history are solved at the grass roots.

Usually economic or political realities force family unity and mutual cooperation in surviving and making a living. In our day it is still as vital to ending the attitudes, behaviors and habits that brought on Crisis; these same elements will keep the Cultural Renaissance progressing until things change.

Of course, this only works where families both bond within and connect without--not isolating themselves but strengthening their relationships with each other and the rest of the community. And it works most effectively where families reject the temptation to draw factional, us/them lines and instead reach out and build new relationships.

Here is the pattern: improve marriages, strengthen family relationships, make new friends, and build stronger connections with friends and community. This naturally overcomes Crisis, and without it Crisis Periods persist and worsen.

Whatever happens in Washington, Wall Street, Main Street, Hollywood or Silicon Valley in the next ten years, it will all be irrelevant until our families come together at a much higher level. Ironically, it is the little things that will most likely win (or lose) this battle.

In the next decade, improving your marriage one-hour-a-day-at-least may be the most important thing you can do for society. Same with many-hours-a-week spent actively talking with and doing activities together with children and grandchildren. Seldom has so much depended on such little things!

Will we follow the course of societies past that have lost their way and crumbled under the devastating forces of economic upheaval, war and other crises?

Without a Renaissance of family, no new candidate can rise to save us; no new legislation, policy or program will heal our land.

On the other hand, the buttressing and revitalization of our society at the most basic level of family, though it be quiet and virtually ignored, is the incredibly powerful secret catalyst to the revitalization of our freedom and prosperity.

If we get it right, we’ll also see a Renaissance of America and, hopefully, watch it spread to the world. No matter what experts may say or what historians may someday write about our times, it will certainly be defined by either the Demise or the Renaissance of the Family.

The Future of Marriage and the Wisdom of Tradition

wedding-rings[1]As Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and I argue in The Wall Street Journal, the future of marriage is the future of humanity.

Conservatives rightly uphold the institution of marriage between a man and a woman because marriage is the seedbed of society, the necessary precondition for limited self-government.

But not everyone sees it this way. With the Supreme Court expected to decide this week whether to hear challenges to traditional marriage laws, now is the time for citizens to think deeply about the nature and purpose of marriage.

Marriage unites a man and woman holistically—emotionally and bodily, in acts of conjugal love and in the children such love brings forth—for the whole of life.

In the revisionist view of marriage, however, what sets marriage apart from other bonds is emotional intensity—what one philosopher refers to as your “number one person.” But nothing about emotional union requires it to be permanent. Or limited to two. Or sexual, much less sexually exclusive. Or inherently oriented to family life and shaped by its demands.

As a result, redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships would harm the common good as it obscures the true nature of marriage and thus weakens the marriage culture. Weakening marital norms would hurt children and spouses, especially the poorest among us.

Empty appeals to “equality” get us nowhere. As my co-authors and I argue:

Every marriage policy draws lines, leaving out some types of relationships. Equality forbids arbitrary line-drawing. But we cannot know which lines are arbitrary without answering two questions: What is marriage, and why does it matter for policy?

The conjugal and revisionist views are two rival answers; neither is morally neutral. Each is supported by some religious and secular worldviews but rejected by others.… So voters must decide: Which view is right?

The best philosophy, theology, sociology, and what G. K. Chesterton called the democracy of the dead—tradition—all suggest that the conjugal view is right.

As we argue in our new book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, marriage is a uniquely comprehensive union. It involves a union of hearts and minds but also a bodily union made possible by sexual complementarity. Marriage is inherently extended and enriched by procreation and family life and objectively calls for similarly all-encompassing commitment, norms of permanence, and exclusivity.

In the op-ed, we detail why conservatives would be ill-advised to abandon support for conjugal marriage even if it hadn’t won more support than Governor Mitt Romney in every state where marriage was on the ballot.

Read our WSJ article here; our book may be ordered here.