Can America Become a Christian Society Again? | The Imaginative Conservative
What is the status of Christianity in the United States today? Can there be such a thing as Christian society or culture?
There are many points worthy of highlighting in this lengthy but excellent essay by Thomas Ascik – which I strongly encourage you to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest! – but here is one that jumped out at me, and not only because it features one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Tony Esolen:
"Focusing on the differences between men and women and between fatherhood and motherhood, Dr. Esolen goes into an extensive analysis of the contemporary American family. He argues that girls become women more easily than boys become men, and, thus, the redefinition of masculinity and the compromising of formerly boy-oriented institutions like the Boy Scouts has been catastrophic. As a summary of 'the way of the world' in modern times, he points out that the Industrial Revolution took the father out of the house and feminism took the woman out of the house."
Think about that for a minute (and ponder it daily): "the Industrial Revolution took the father out of the house and feminism took the [mother] out of the house." Who does that leave? No one, that's who!
And so our children are turned over to so-called "professionals," from day care providers, to teachers, to "recreation leaders," who may (it is to be hoped) have the overall well-being of our children in mind, but who may – in this day and age, often do – have an ideological agenda to impart (impose?) on them which may not be what the parents desire.
Spending only a few hours each day at home with the family – basically supper, bed and breakfast – and with parents who are probably exhausted and distracted from their own jobs, children have little or no opportunity to imbibe family traditions and history, which are imparted only through sustained, lived contact and interactions with those who, themselves, recall them and wish to pass them down.
Maybe one of the reasons we have such an obsession with Christmas (and to a lesser extent, Thanksgiving) these days is that it may be, for many, one of the few opportunities available to pass down such traditions!
And of course, such an arrangement also gives little time or opportunity to pass down matters of faith and morality from parents to children, since, again, these are best inculcated in an environment of close and sustained contact. Maybe there is Sunday church, but there is likely to be little or no time for family prayer (with the possible exception of bedside), and almost none in which children can observe, on a sustained basis, the influence of faith in the lives of their parents.
The weaknesses of this situation are not hard to see, and indeed many people are becoming more attentive to them. But for many, the solution is to return to a 1950s model of the husband as "breadwinner" and provider, with the wife remaining at home as mother and homemaker. And this is indeed a far-preferable alternative to what we have in most families / households today. But it is not, really, a traditional model of the family.
For one thing, the 1950s were unique in their coming together of social, technological, and especially, economic factors. Technology ("labor-saving devices") meant that it was now possible for one person (who could not afford "help") to manage a household – without succumbing to utter exhaustion in the process.
It could be done in earlier times, of course, but not without back-breaking labor. In the 1950s, a woman could be not only a full-time wife and mother, but also have time to attend PTA meetings, the Homemakers Club (sponsored by the local university's extension service), go shopping, pursue crafts, etc.
But closely tied in with this was the fact that in the 1950s (and for a few decades thereafter), for the first – and possibly last – time in history, the post-WW II economic boom meant that it was possible for a single income earner to support his (usually) family at a comfortable material standard of living. Nowadays, the rising cost of land and housing in particular, and living in general, means that unless that person has managed to land (or work his way up to) a fairly high-paying job, that is less and less possible.
So for many people and families, holding forth the ideal of the 1950s single-earner household, with the father as breadwinner and the mother as homemaker, is tantamount to taunting a starving person with the sight of others enjoying a delicious meal!
But the question must also be asked, is that model even the ideal for family living? To that, I would answer "no." As the quote with which I opened points out, the Industrial Revolution took the father out of the house, and feminism took the woman out of the house. The root of family breakdown, then, is not with the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s – though that, obviously, greatly accelerated the process – but with the industrial revolution of the 19th century, which took the father out of the house and away from the family for a significant portion of each day.
Prior to that, for most people, most of the time, throughout human history and even prehistory, household and family were coterminous. Several generations of the family lived, if not in the same house, then in nearby houses in the same village. At minimum, both parents (unless one had died) lived at home – and worked, often in the home, or if not, then nearby. The importance of this cannot be overestimated!
In a largely agrarian society (as was all human society until the Industrial Revolution, and remained so, for many, for a good while thereafter), of course, the father and his sons worked the fields around – or if not, then within an easy walk of – the house, usually coming home for midday dinner as well as supper; the "womenfolk" and younger children (all of whom had tasks, appropriate to their age and station, around the homestead) would often visit them in the fields with jugs of cool water or haymaker's switchel (this article says it originated in the Caribbean, and the present version may well have; but a very similar drink was known in the Middle Ages), and help at certain times (such as harvest) when all hands were needed. Fieldwork stopped as daylight faded, and the family gathered once again at home.
In medieval and later Europe, fieldwork would stop at the ringing of the Angelus bell from the village church, and the family would pause for a few moments of prayer before resuming their tasks, or, in the evening, concluding them for the day.
Evening Prayer (L'Angélus), 1857/59 by Jean-François Millet
If one lived in town, whether as an artisan, tradesman, shop-keeper, or merchant, one's shop, workshop, or office was generally on street-level, with the family lodgings above, and once again, the family lived and worked in close proximity to one another, and children grew up being taught by the example of their parents, grandparents, and other elders: not only the skills but the value of hard work, and the importance of faith and morality, customs and traditions.
If the father (and perhaps one or more sons) did have to leave home – for hunting, or a trip to town or the city to obtain items not locally available, or to serve in the militia (only a very small percentage of our forebears were ever professional soldiers) – it was for a defined and relatively short period of time, and (barring catastrophe) he / they would soon be safely home again. Such trips were the exception, not the rule; home and family were the focus and the goal of daily living, and heaven the ultimate goal of life.
This is why I say that the breakdown of the family – and with it, arguably at least, of Christian and even civil society – began not with the sexual revolution of the 1960s and its concomitant rise of radical feminism, but a hundred to a hundred-and-fifty years earlier, with the Industrial Revolution, and the breakdown of the age-old pattern sketched out above. The true and full cure for our societal ills, I believe, will not come unless or until we find ways of getting not just the mother – as important a first step as that would be – but both parents back into the home.