Gun Violence and the Religious Nones: If Family is the Remedy, What Assaults the Family?

Gun Violence and the Religious Nones: If Family is the Remedy, What Assaults the Family? December 5, 2015

Many of our friends identifying as religious conservatives (or conservative religious?) are correct to see the family as a major, vital structure in the establishment of our society. It is the breakdown of the family, it’s been submitted, which is to blame for not a few of society’s ills. Some of these ills include (gun) violence and a lack of interest in religion. This makes sense. But, everything is connected. In what ways are we hurting the family institution?

The Holy Family. Attributed to Bernhard Plockhorst (German, 1825-1907).
The Holy Family. Attributed to Bernhard Plockhorst (German, 1825-1907).

Some pretend to believe that the Left is waging war on the family – and, perhaps, some on the left may have a gruesome detestation of the family. What about gay marriage, divorce, and contraception? Certainly, we’re told, the advocates of these things hate the family.

“We ought rather to ask: how would human society, the family, the state, and the economy perform if Christian principles were put into practice everywhere? Then, among other things, there would be no more wars. But so long as human passions lead men to oppose God’s law, so long as the ‘capitalistic spirit’ prevails in practice, so long as there are unscrupulous statesmen and just aggressions, this bloody scourge of humanity will persist.” – Heinrich Pesch. Ethics and the National Economy, page 132. Pesch knew all of these things were connected. Why then are Christians of the Right separating something as real as the economy – insomuch as it impacts the family – when discussing social ills, like (gun) violence? (p.s. Pesch was inspired by Rerum Novarum and, some would say, was to eventually greatly inspire Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno.)

The family, as we tend to think of it today, seems to have been under assault for much longer than Barack Obama, gay marriage, no-fault divorce, and contraception have been around. Truly, it seems ignorant to say ‘The family is the solution, and the assault comes from x.’ X being any of these things previously mentioned. The reason, again, is that the family has been under great distress for generations prior to these other potential ’causes’.

The family is the vital cell of society. Indeed, civilization has flourished where families have flourished – and we don’t speak of flourishing in a materialistic sense.

Capitalism destroyed the family

This is a bold statement. However, it doesn’t seem to be a fantasy.

Capitalism, with its vices and inequalities – that is, its negative consequences of spiritual and material poverty – appears to be a major culprit in the devaluing of the family.

Whether we look at how capitalism prefers and reinforces a consumerism, hedonism, relativism, individualism, and utilitarianism – especially among the affluent – or impoverishes, denies, and leaves for dead – among the poor and vulnerable – we have something concrete to address in our fight for the family.

We may consider the words of John Paul II, who would never fail to note the connection between family life, poverty, and peace:

The State also has an important role in creating the conditions in which families can provide for their primary needs in a way befitting human dignity. Poverty, indeed destitution — a perennial threat to social stability, to the development of people and to peace — in our day affects too many families. It sometimes happens that, because of a lack of means, young couples put off having a family or are even prevented from having one, while needy families cannot participate fully in the life of society, or are forced into total emargination.

The duty of the State does not, however, excuse individual citizens: the real reply to the gravest questions in every society is in fact ensured by the harmonious solidarity of everyone. In effect, no one can be at ease until an adequate solution has been found to the problem of poverty, which strikes families and individuals. Poverty is always a threat to social stability, to economic development and ultimately therefore to peace. Peace will always be at risk so long as individuals and families are forced to fight for their very survival. – 1 Jan., 1994.

Truly, John Paul II encourages a connection between poverty, the mentalities reinforced by economic life, and the breakdown of the family:

Since the family is the basic cell of society, its life, harmony and stability are full of consequences for every aspect of human well-being and progress; not least for the development of local and national economies, as well as of the global economy itself… Many aspects of the economy strongly condition the life and harmony of families. The phenomenon of poverty and under-development strikes hard at the institution of the family. Various kinds of limitations and privations make the mission God has willed for parents and children very difficult. There are problems concerning food, housing, hygiene, education… In western societies in particular, young people, faced with serious economic uncertainties, are frequently tempted to put off the time to get married and to have a family. Nor can you overlook, in your reflections, the negative effects on the social fabric caused by family breakdown, with the enormous economic costs that ensue. It is paradoxical that in such a situation, political authorities often seem incapable of taking measures, including economic investments, which will strengthen the family institution and make families once more the main protagonists of family policies. – 8 Mar., 1996.

Economic investments directed towards elevating the family? That’s intense. But he doesn’t say it just once. The prevailing economic system seems to discourage marriage and family life. Especially among the poor, there is a lack of confidence that a family can be sustained:

[D]efend your families as a precious and irreplaceable gift — a precious and irreplaceable gift. Protect them with just laws that fight poverty and the scourge of unemployment and, at the same time, allow parents to fulfil their role. How can young people start a family if they do not have the means to support it? Poverty is destroying the family, preventing access to culture and to basic education, corrupting morals and undermining the health of young people and adults. Help them! Help them! Your future is at stake! – 4 Oct., 1997.

John Paul II will not shy away from saying that our economic condition leads to a devaluing of the family. From Familiaris Consortio:

The People of God should also make approaches to the public authorities, in order that the latter may resist these tendencies which divide society and are harmful to the dignity, security and welfare of the citizens as individuals, and they must try to ensure that public opinion is not led to undervalue the institutional importance of marriage and the family. And since in many regions young people are unable to get married properly because of extreme poverty deriving from unjust or inadequate social and economic structures, society and the public authorities should favor legitimate marriage by means of a series of social and political actions which will guarantee a family wage, by issuing directives ensuring housing fitting for family life and by creating opportunities for work and life. – 22 November 1981.

These “unjust or inadequate social and economic structures” are maintained by our capitalist ways. Capitalism is hostile towards the family.

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