9th May 2013

Is Christianity Over? – The Decline of the Family and Rise of Secularism

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The world is a mess. We make choices. We make mistakes. We fall short. It’s always been. Always will be.

(It’s why we need a Savior!)

And so: We admit mistakes. We ask for forgiveness. We try again.

Or: Do we fashion God in our image so that we can keep from feeling bad when we fall short of His will for us? Do we adapt? Do we give up?

With declarations of “spiritual homelessness” as shepherds try to communicate Church teaching in a world in which it seems increasing foreign — see the incident on Fifth Avenue this weekend and subsequent commentary — it is no wonder why people feel overwhelmed, beleaguered, and tempted to despair and surrender. When we live in a culture where people think Dorothy Day couldn’t be a saint because she had an abortion — for which she sought forgiveness — we know we have miles to go toward building a culture where people understand that God offers His Divine Mercy to everyone, regardless of what it is we’ve done. And, yes, even if you’ve had an abortion. Please, please, know this.

As Holy Father Francis has said, we must never tire of asking for the Lord’s mercy.

I mentioned Mary Eberstadt’s new book, How the West Really Lost Godin my syndicated column this week. She argues that the decline of the family and rise of secularism are intimately related, a double helix, changing the DNA of our culture.

“[I]f you spend your alternate-custody weekends happily with your father and his new wife, you may find intolerable the traditional Christian idea that so long as your mother is alive, your father is committing adultery and risking hell,” Eberstadt writes.

She continues:

Similarly, the very idea of being punished in eternity for fornication may strike you as bizarre under any circumstance — especially if you’ve been sexually active, and on the Pill since you were fifteen years old. In a hundred ways just like these, traditional teachings at the core of Christianity — teachings still held by the Catholic Church, and to a lesser or negligible degree in the churches of Protestant Christianity — are not only difficult when considered from the point of view of many modern people; they are positively puzzling to some and openly resented by others.

The “decline of the family has contributed to the decline of Christianity in more ways than one,” she writes. And she continues:

It has rendered some people less capable of understanding what life with a protective, loving father could be like. It has left others feeling annoyed and on the defensive about church teachings, either on their own part or that of others near and dear to them (mothers, fathers, friends, etc.). And the simple ubiquity of the modern varieties of un- and anti-Christian behavior further erodes the traditional understanding of right and wrong in these matters by sheer repetition. After all, many people seem to reason, if there really is a hell for these sorts of things, isn’t just about everyone they know going to end up there? It is thought impossible for many people in a secular modern society to believe; and so they don’t.

This is a seminal challenge of the Church today: Informing the consciences of people who have little to no experience of life lived in faithfulness to Church teaching.

That we’re arguing about whether or not marriage has fundamentally to do with men and women speaks to just how far we’ve fallen away from having a common moral vocabulary.
The “fracturing of the family combined with the sexual revolution has put a great many people in the West on a collision course with certain fundamental teachings of the Christian faith,” Eberstadt writes. The “unprecedented proliferation of weakened natural families and nontraditional quasi-families has left a great many individuals resistant as they never were before to fundamental features of the Christian moral code,” she observes.

While trying to lead with the positive, to exude joy, we also must tell the truth, share exactly what it is that we believe. That’s hard. That even takes courage — it is not always going to be well-received. It sounds foreign in this culture, and it hurts. It requires prudence, humility, courage, and sacrifice.

And it is healing.

We have a cultural resistance to the cross — to choosing a life that involves self-giving and sacrifice and, ultimately, surrender as an exercise and experience of the fullest freedom. And there has been surrender even within the Church in recent decades.  This makes telling the truth all the more difficult for all involved.

At one point in her book, Eberstadt writes: “How — apart from the Holy Spirit — could Christianity thrive and prosper at such a time, given what appears to be its multilayered dependence on the selfsame battered family.”

Well certainly, never apart from the Holy Spirit.

As the Holy Father said Monday morning, Christianity just doesn’t make sense without the Holy Spirit, who draws us into the Trinitarian union we’re invited to — the union we’re called to, the one we’re meant for.

As we try to communicate Gospel truth, as we try to make sense of it in our world as it is, in our lives, with the experiences we have, and the knowledge of our own sin and failing, it is the grace of the sacraments and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that is going to be our strength. It’s why we must pray — unceasingly — above all. We must learn, serve, work, and share. But always — always — we must do it in encounter with Christ, moving ever closer toward the Father, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large. She is a member of the Archdiocese of New York’s Pro-Life Commission.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)