Most relationships are fairly tenuous whether it be in context of neighborhoods, support groups, or churches. This is due in part to the transient nature of modern life. Whether the weakness of relationships encourages the transience or vice versa is anybody’s guess. But nowhere do relationships suffer more than in the context of the family. Fathers are disappearing. 36% of American kids are born without fathers (up from 5% forty years ago), and 64% of children under six are without their moms during the daytime hours (up from a couple of percentage points forty years ago).
According to Mary Eberstadt, author of “Home Alone America,” “Practically every index of juvenile mental and emotional problems is rising.” Crime and suicide rates are higher than they were three decades ago among children and teens, and the percentage of overweight children has tripled between the 1960s and the late 1990s. Studies indicate that parents will monitor their child’s TV viewing and food consumption more closely than hired caretakers. The above noted statistics have not been without social consequences. Indeed, these trends portend more dysfunctionality and more break down in other social contexts in the future, not to exclude our churches, our businesses and the entire social fabric of a nation. The problem of social isolation is only getting worse. A recent Washington Post article (June 23, 2006), reports that “A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985.” Compared to 1960, 40% fewer American families eat together today.
What is even more revealing concerning the state of decline in our social and moral structure, is the response evoked on the part of our social leaders on consideration of the above statistics. When they hear that 36% of children are born without fathers, they are not sad. Nor are they angry. Apathy does characterize the response or even wonderment over the fact that some of us are concerned about it. These statistics simply do not reflect for our world the metric of health. They are far too busy pouring over the Gross National Income and the Republican to Democrat ratios in the state. These are the metrics of interest. “Forget relationships! What is the annual growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product?”
Nevertheless, whether a child is orphaned of both parents or of just a father, or whether a child is orphaned into institutions for long hours and long months throughout his formative years, it is plain that far more children will suffer from the breakdown of the family in the next generation. A recent Rutgers university study concluded that American families were the weakest in the western world, and the trends continue to point to the unravelling of the family.
It should go without saying that the worldview of modernism did not consider the priority of the family and community, while it built its schools, churches, universities, and corporations. The combination of the dissolution of family farms and businesses, the corporate job for father, and another corporate job for mother, the rise of a “teaching class,” the segregation of the children into classrooms by age, and non-interactive forms of entertainment (such as television and video games), all served to undermine the vision God had for families. God’s vision for education was about relationship, discipleship, mentorship, life integration, and character development. “You shall teach your children my Words as you sit in your house, as you walk by the way, as you rise up, and as you lie down” (Deut. 6:7). But, as a bad worldview worked through the industrial revolution and the modern educational systems, it became impossible to pull off this kind of discipleship, and the end result is a corruption of family relationships and education, and a badly crippled faith.
While it is obvious in the biblical story that Joseph’s brothers did not love him, the modern world would not have even provided the opportunity for love or hate to express itself. The brothers are all segregated into different classrooms. They each have their own television set, their own video games, and the context for integrated relationships has been removed. Nobody would be fighting over an inheritance from father Jacob because there would be no inheritance. Long ago, the government provided social security and removed the incentive for saving any inheritance. And why compete over father’s affections? Fatherhood virtually disappeared two generations ago. Increasingly, the family becomes obsolete and relationships are passe. It is a sterile life without much love and without all that much hate.
Disunity is the name of the game for the modern family, whether the family is “intact” or not. Feminists like Gloria Steinem defined the modern atomized world and disposed of the concept of a household unity and a complementarian concept of marriage, “We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.” Women and men were told to live their own lives, to compete, not complement, and most young 18-year-old high school graduates know that their goal in life is to prepare for an independent career track, where one’s value is effectively measured by his or her own economic achievements. So they carefully prepare for a life of independence, instead of the biblical norm of dependence (1 Cor. 11:11).
The sterile life without relationships is sick. Affection in family relationships should be natural and it does not always require a spiritual regeneration. But this phileo love is missing from much of modern family life. One need only note the increase in abortion since 1973 or the steep decline in the birth rate since 1900, and he must conclude that love for children has dissipated, replaced by a love for less organic things like drywall. As the birth rate fell from 4.0 to 2.0 during the 20th century, the average square footage of homes more than doubled. The water of love does not flow as it once did because the environment in which relationships are supposed to operate in the modern world has become a parched desert. Consequently, love is reduced to eros, and the empty perversion of incest is on the rise.
God’s Vision for the Integrated Family
The home school movement is a radical return to the integrated family, at least in the area of education. Millions of parents have tossed the programs that dis-integrated the family, the institutions and the classrooms to the winds, and are re-incorporating a relationship-based system of discipleship, focusing “more on character than cleverness; deeds not words” (This is the ancient Christian, pre-Aquinas, definition of education provided by St. Chrysostom in his homily on Ephesians 6:4).
This re-integrated family will produce sweeping implications in other parts of life. We are already seeing the revival of household-based economies as home-educated students graduate. In fact, the word “economics” is taken from the Greek “Oikonomia,” literally translated the Vision of the Household. Historically, the basic economic unit was never the individual but the husband-wife combo, united by God as dominion taker and fit helper. As an ax head and an ax handle combine productively to take down a good many trees, they are effective working together. To the extent that a family sees themselves in this way, they become productive and effective together. But if an entire family were to mosey into a human resources office of some large corporation to offer their services, I’m sure they would be quickly removed by security. One applies for a job individually and receives one individual paycheck. This world’s systems are not built for families. It is built for atomized individuals. Its economics, its corporations, even its churches are built for fragmented families and fragmenting families. This world is structured for divorce.
This vision for the re-integrated family must be inculcated into our sons and daughters throughout their formative years. As they approach the college years, they should be reminded that they are (normatively) preparing for a life together with somebody. If, for example, my daughter has skills in medical science; ie. She is dissecting frogs at 3 years old, and operating on her brother’s appendix at 12, then of course she should continue her preparatory work in the medical field. We may seek out a medical degree for her. But she must not see the purpose of it all as her own economic success and an independent career track. Her preparation will uniquely fit into the oikonomia, a unified economic vision of a home some day. She may marry a man whose vision it is to go to a remote mission post in Africa, where medical treatment and minor surgery would be an indispensable element to the ministry. The unified household vision has been very much lost in our day. Hardly a college or university in America would uphold such a vision. Therefore, it must be left almost entirely up to parents to inculcate these values into their children, and to make sure they are retained into the post high school years.
Even the college programs have been largely geared for the corporate track, rather than the entrepreneurial, household-based business. Thus, homeschoolers are increasingly seeking mentorships that can prepare them for an entrepreneurial track for life. One 23-year-old home school graduate I interviewed on the Generations radio broadcast, said that he preferred to stay at home through his “college years,” work in the daytime hours, and study books at night, because this would give him a better preparation for life. I asked him what he wanted out of life, and he told me, “Freedom from debt and the big corporation, family relationships, a family-based business, and opportunities for leadership in ministry.” College education is not as much about strong academics anymore. A federally-funded study recently found that literacy rates among college graduates has slipped 10% in the last 10 years. Instead, college education produces training for a certain social environment. It is not so much about discipleship, mentorship, relationships, character, and the real life of business, church, and home. It’s about sitting in classrooms in the day time, and partying at night on an island called “education.” It turns out to be a very slow and inefficient way to nurture the mind and character for life. It is an efficient way to process people through a system. But it is not an efficient way for the individual who wants more out of life, than to be processed through a system. And it has little to do with preparing our children for re-integrated families.
The Direction of the Heart
When you are facing 200 years and trillions of dollars of educational and economic institutions that oppose your worldview, it is incredibly hard to change those institutions. Nevertheless, millions of parents have taken the plunge, and they have home schooled their children for the first 18 years. We may not be able to change all of our educational institutions and economic systems in our lifetimes. But let us at least set the direction for our children. Let us give them the vision. We may never fully recognize a unified household economic situation, but let us at least begin with a heart that understands the importance of unity in our marriage and family. And this vision will then beat in the hearts of our children and our grandchildren, and, by God’s grace, their families will be stronger in relationship and economics than ours were.
Unified families mean strong families and strong families mean strong economics and strong churches. And as far as I can tell, in terms of basic survival for our faith and our civilization, this is precisely what we need today.