Message from Malachi
- Post by: Bryce J. Christensen
- January 8, 2017
The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It
- Richard and Linda Eyre
- Familius, 2014; 339 pages, $18.95
Sociologists, political scientists, ethical philosophers, demographers, psychologists, public-policy experts—these are the credentialed authorities loudly proffering their services as guides to a world confused about family life in the twenty-first century. So on whom do authors Richard and Linda Eyre rely in developing their perspective on this critically important topic? First and most fundamentally, they rely on Malachi, the ancient prophet who delivers the word of the Lord in the concluding lines of the Old Testament: “… turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6). Having taken these words as the epigraph and—implicitly—the title for their book on family issues, the Eyres cite them in a sobering opening chapter on the “curse” certain to fall upon the world “if families lose their cohesion, if the hearts of parents are not turned to their children and the hearts of children do not turn to parents.”
In the modern pivot away from both the inherited social patterns of the past and from the revealed mandates of religion, the Eyres detect profound threats to family life—and to the freedom and well-being that depend on it. Resisting the bombardment of neophiliac media obsessed with the latest trends, the Eyres affirm “the basic, and ancient, institution of family” as the wellspring of timeless benefits. “The family,” they realize, “has functioned for millennia as the basic unit . . . for replacing and replenishing humanity, and for raising and rearing children by teaching and training them and integrating them into broader society.” Regardless of changes in economic, political, or cultural institutions, they insist, “the essence of families doesn’t change.” Underscoring their point, they remark, “Some things never change: the innocence of children; our own innate, intuitive, inherent love for children and family; and the natural emotional tendency to prioritize spouse and kids. These feelings, these priorities have not changed from the beginning of time.”
But the Eyres recognize developments that might tempt us to regard family as a historical artifact we—as enlightened creatures of a postmodern world—can leave behind. “Prior to the twentieth century,” they note, “most households were farm and rural families,” families that functioned much as families always had: “farm families worked together, and family communication happened in connection with the work time spent together.” Marriages rested upon a natural gender complementarity in an agrarian world where “the specialized roles of husband and wife, mother and father were accepted and recognized.”
The Eyres trace the persistence of this agrarian pattern even during the first half of the twentieth century as newly urbanized (and suburbanized) families developed “an adjusted and updated version of the rural lifestyle,” a version defining “fairly clear roles according to gender” and marginalizing “both divorce and living together before marriages [as practices] . . . shunned to the point of social stigma.”
Though they insist that the deep-down character of family never changes, the Eyres concede that norms that once reinforced marriage and home-based family life began to “change in the sixties, and these changes increased as the last decades of the century played out.” Many cultural developments helped catalyze this acceleration of family-subverting social change, but few proved more potent than a new contempt for the past among social revolutionaries.
And as the Eyres point out, the media have never stopped celebrating—and exacerbating—this break with the past by tirelessly (mis)informing us that “traditional families are out of date and old-fashioned.” Rendering this rupture with the past more decisive and more difficult to reverse, “government as a whole seems determined to take over every traditional function of the family.” As a branch of government, “public schools often undermine family values and parental authority.” The educational war against traditional family values and parental authority has grown especially intense in public universities, where students learn from utopian ideologues—Marxist, feminist, Malthusian, and environmentalist—that the natural family of ages past incubated sexism, bigotry, prejudice, and indifference to Nature. Not surprisingly, influential figures in the private sector—including corporate executives, advertisers, entertainers, and merchandizers—have sought profit and social influence by attacking family-centered traditions while opportunistically advancing trendy replacements.
Family life inevitably decays in a society cut off from its past. So, too, does faith. For, as the Eyres remark, when schools and other institutions promulgate “anti-family or family-irrelevant views of the world,” they inevitably advance an ideological world meant “to supersede the religious world or the family world.” Though they slide toward infelicitous jargon when they speak of “the faith and family factor,” they do underscore the vitally important linkage between “the greatest institution (the sovereignty of God) and the most basic institution (the family).” It is thus a linkage between “faith [as] the force from the heavens above, the belief that God’s word is more important than man’s” and “family [as] the force from the grassroots below, the belief that the fundamental unit of society is what makes up and controls all larger institutions.”
Sadly, the linkage between family and faith frays, even threatens to disappear, in an insistently secular world. The fading of traditional, family-reinforcing faith—faith in the God of Malachi—has not, to be sure, meant the disappearance of all forms of spirituality. As a fundamental human need, worship persists—albeit in socially destructive new forms. As the Eyres soberly acknowledge, “We live in a world that literally worships the cult of the individual.” Indeed, only the prevalence of this cult can account for the way “words like ‘spirit,’ ‘soul,’ and ‘faith’—once the domain of the church—are trendy and popular now to mean my spirit, my soul, my inner consciousness, my faith in my self.” With good reason, the Eyres worry about how this pseudo-spirituality of self “can work against a reverence for God, a dependency on His will and power. With self-orientation… can come a kind of selfishness that detracts from family commitments.”
Rather than sustaining the enduring family commitment that defines a marriage, the modern cult of Narcissus converts men and women into live-for-the moment sexual hedonists. Repudiating traditional religion’s wedlock-fortifying restraints of chastity and fidelity, this new cult invites one and all, as the Eyres acknowledge with chagrin, to indulge in “recreational sex” as “the ultimate easy pleasure… the almost-instant result (and gratification) of any remotely romantic encounter.” The contemporary cult of self particularly fosters the radically self-absorbed form of “recreational sex” available through pornography, identified by the Eyres as “a lie that kills love,” but nonetheless a lie now so ubiquitous (thanks to the Internet) that it has become “both the fastest growing and most profitable business in many developed countries.”
But the profitability of pornography only very partly explains why government has so far done very little to combat it—or any other form of self-centered sexual indulgence. Such indulgence may actually serve the desires of government leaders more interested in augmenting their own power over captive clients than in serving the public good. Recognizing the way those who indulge themselves sexually tend to forget about larger questions of political liberty, Aldous Huxley perceptively remarked in 1946, “As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. And the dictator . . . will do well to encourage that [sexual] freedom… [I]t will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.” We can hardly hope to see many restraints among self-worshipping cultural amnesiacs. As Alasdair McIntrye has reminded us, “Any conception of chastity as a virtue . . . in a world uninformed by either Aristotelian or biblical values will make very little sense to the adherents of the dominant culture.”
Cut off as they are from both the past and from timeless religious faith, “the adherents to the dominant culture” prove vulnerable to the temptations of hedonistic sex but resistant to the commitments of stable family life. “In virtually all developed countries,” the Eyres lament, “cohabitation, homosexual marriage, and intentional single parenthood are expanding rapidly as traditional marriages and birthrates decline.”
The malign consequences of this erosion of family life threaten our well-being, both collective and individual, on every side. The Eyres recognize family breakdown as a prime cause of “increases in violence, gangs, substance abuse, bullying, teen promiscuity and pregnancy, crime, teen suicide, gang violence, school dropout rate, and AIDS.” This growing tide of woe appears particularly ominous when many “governments . . . are now panicked by less-than-replacement birthrates” threatening their economic and political futures.
But the Eyres, at least, are not despairing. Rather, they are intent upon advancing a bold plan of action for reaffirming the family. Parts of that plan involve collective action outside of the home. The Eyres provide helpful guidance on how to form coalitions that can challenge the “false paradigms” distressingly prevalent in our governmental, educational, financial, corporate, media, and entertainment institutions. They even provide templates for letters that such coalitions might use to advance their agenda within these institutions.
Nonetheless, in a book dedicated to renewing family life, the recommendations that finally weigh heaviest are naturally those that spouses, parents, and grandparents will apply within their own homes. “No other success,” the Eyres stress, “can compensate for failure in the home.” Among the recommendations the Eyres give for home life, those that matter most are finally those that align most fully with the prophetic message they have drawn from Malachi. The Eyres indeed speak openly of their need for prayer. Readers caught in the thicket of life’s complexities are invited to join with the Eyres in remembering that “a belief in God and in absolutes can simplify life in a positive way, giving us a framework of what is right and wrong, good and bad, relieving us of the oppressive obligation to make every one of those judgements for ourselves.”
Without an eternal and divinely inspired perspective—that is, without the kind of perspective from which Malachi speaks—it is very hard to see how many readers will join the Eyres in affirming “fidelity and chastity” as essential principles for family life. Without an anchoring in religious faith, who will commit to “the value and security of fidelity within marriage and restraint and limits before marriage” in a culture awash with “casual, recreational sex”?
Themselves parents of nine children, the Eyres passionately call on fellow parents to accept “the scriptural cure of turning our very hearts [to our children] . . . [as] a solution that moves up through the trunk of parents and extends out to effect the branches and leaves of every child.” But parents are also themselves children. So heeding Malachi’s words means parents must also turn their hearts to their parents—and their parents, and their parents . . . back along an ancestral chain. Precisely because they recognize this fact, the Eyres also recognize turning to parents as part of what we must do—surprisingly—in turning our hearts to our children. “Looking back into our ancestor[-defined] identity,” they write, “is perhaps the most powerful and effective approach of all for building strong and confident identity within our children” (emphasis added). Stressing the role of “strong traditions” as “the glue that holds families together,” the Eyres explain how they “worked some of [their] ancestors . . . into [their] traditions because [they] wanted [their] children to have that extra layer of identity of knowing where (and who) they came from.” The Eyres explain, “We wrote some simple bedtime stories based on real experiences of these ancestors . . . and we now have a little ‘ancestor birthday party’ for them which includes ‘their story.’”
Twenty-first-century parents face daunting challenges. But the Eyres give us hope that we can meet these challenges by listening to an ancient prophet. Such listening will mean turning our hearts to our children and to our parents. If that hope is to be more than an illusion, that hope must also mean turning our hearts to the God who sent that prophet.
Dr. Bryce J. Christensen is Senior Editor of The Natural Family.