Tuesday, December 9, 2008

American Family Values

Family Values. You hear a lot about them, but what are these values? Many people (including the authors of this blog) will complain that America has lost the family values of the past. Other Americans are trying very hard to radically redefine the concept of what a family is and what its function is in society. To most Americans, I think, the family unit is still viewed as the foundational basis for society. TV shows like John and Kate Plus Eight, Little People Big World, and Super Nanny display the fascination that America still has with a loving, caring, family (or what happens when parents don’t raise their progeny right). Family Sitcoms, even reruns, are still primetime hits. Family memories, good or bad, dominate the psyche of every man and woman. Clearly, issues that face the American family in general are issues that concern most, if not all Americans, no matter what their ideal family looks like.

It is my strongly held opinion that almost all of the ills that plague our society today can be traced back to problems within the individual family units of America. Nations and cultures throughout history have always relied on the family unit as the base for their society. In studying history, one has only to look at the status of the average family as a thermometer for the status of the rest of the nation, empire, tribe, kingdom, or what have you. History shows us that when families crumble, nations are not far behind.

For an example, let us take what is probably the most famous civilization in the whole of Western history; the Roman Empire. The Romans had many problems in their society. During the age of the republic, the main crisis was class discrimination. Later on the Romans had to deal with an apathetic populace, sadistic rulers, a total disregard for the sanctity of human life, and barbarian hordes (to only name a few problems). But there is no denying that the ancient Romans had something going, after all, they established a civilization that ruled the Western world for hundreds of years and contributed countless cultural achievements to civilization.

What was it that made the Romans so great? I believe that it was the respect that their society initially placed on the family unit. The Roman family unit was given a large degree of autonomy in the early republic. The Father or “Pater” was given complete authority over what went on in his home and in most cases, the state could not interfere. Children were taught to be loyal, respectful and obedient members of the family who were not expected to be served by their parents, but to be contributors to the family and eventually society. Children learned to better themselves by contributing to something that was larger than they were. This tradition of loyalty, respect and obedience carried generations of Romans into cultural and political dominance for hundreds of years, but what about the later years of the empire? As the Roman Empire fell into decline, the symptoms of a decaying society were everywhere. The Roman political scene was rife with corruption, all standards of sexual decency were done away with, thousands were unemployed and relying on the state to provide bread, and innocent people were being thrown to the wild beasts in the coliseum. At this time in Roman history, the Romans were not too keen on the traditional family values. Every “respectable” Roman man was expected to have a mistress or two, “Religious” festivals were celebrated with wild sexual abandon, and many other deviations from the traditional family format were common.

And so, Rome fell. Not because its armies could not stand up against the barbarian hordes that it had been crushing under foot throughout its history, but because it had been weakened by internal corruption to the point where society’s institutions could no longer stand. This corruption began with the destruction of family values.

Now that this little historical allusion is over, let me just say that the Roman family, even in the early days, was not ideal. There were problems even from the beginning. For instance, the father held the power of life and death over his children, in no way is this in keeping with my own Biblical ideal. But, the Romans did realize the natural truth that’s says: Strong families = strong countries (or empires, in this case). They certainly did not believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”, they left family business up to the family and kept the culture intact. Unfortunately for the Romans, they did not have a Biblical worldview that told them that truth does not change over time, and family values should not change either.

So what in the heck does this have to do with us today? Hopefully you’ve been able to draw some application by now, but allow me to explain this concept as it parallels our own culture. Today, our families are being torn apart by a variety of things. Divorce comes readily to mind as perhaps the number one culprit. The American culture of divorce is steadily hammering the proverbial nails into the coffin that belongs to the American family. Divorce tears kids up inside. It takes the foundation right out from under them. It removes authority from the parents and places it into the hands of either the child, or the state. I’ve seen this phenomenon firsthand in today’s school system, and I’ve studied it in my psychology classes. Divorce isolates many members of the next generation – in boys, being raised in a broken home will often lead to anger, resentment, and insecurity. With girls, it often causes a feeling of distrust around men; this continues into adulthood and affects the marriages of the next generation. Yet divorce is still seen as a way out of a problem when in reality it creates more problems. Instead of sticking around and learning to cooperate with a fellow human being whom you’ve made a commitment to, it’s a lot easier to run from the initial marital problems through the escape route called divorce.

There are a great many other things that are attacking our families today. I have only scratched the surface with the divorce topic. When Parents don’t take responsibility for their children, thousands of kids are left to state control. Is this what we really want for America’s children? Let us learn from history and open our eyes to the moral decay of our civilization. Moral traditionalists may be looked down upon by many of the elites in our society, but I firmly believe that we are trying to save our families, our culture, and our nation.

12 comments:

  1. Puh-leeze! The fall of Rome was the result of a decline in family values?!

    I'm sure it is arguable that the decline of Rome was the result of the institution of Christianity 100 years prior. . .

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  2. Actually, even most secular historians agree that one of the main reasons for Rome's downfall was moral corruption. Moral corruption starts with values being lost to the next generation instead of being handed down faithfully. It's just logical.

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  3. And it "can be argued" that the institution of Christianity under emperor Theodosius is what preserved much of Western civilization. This combining of Christianity under one hierarchical organization, allied with the Roman state, was not the New Testament ideal for the church, and eventually led to many problems during the middle ages, but I do not see how it would have led to Rome's downfall. In all my historical studies on Rome, I've never come across that theory. maybe you could pitch it to me.

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  4. I realize that I'm sort of arguing with myself here... but I'm naturally interested in historical theories and ideas.

    After some research on the topic I came across the opinion of Edward Gibbon, who wrote "The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire". He seems to be of the persuasion that the institution of Christianity did indeed contribute to Roman downfall by pacifying the Romans and distracting them with various heresies and schisms. Like I said earlier, I do not agree with what was done by combining all of the Christian churches into one universal organization and allying that organization with the Roman state in a political union. But, I do not think that this act was a large contributing factor to Roman decline.
    First off, there is no proof that the Romans became any more peaceful and any less warlike as a result of the Christian religion. In fact, Emperor Constantine (issued the Edict of Milan which declared Christianity legal) claimed a vision that involved a cross being emblazoned in the sky with the words "In this sign, conquer." Conquering isn't very peaceful. The Romans certainly did not lay down their arm en masse when Christianity was instituted. Secondly, the only major heresy within the empire before 476 A.D. (The date many historians will choose as the fall of Rome) was the Aryan heresy, and that was settled in quick order by Constantine himself at Nicaean.
    Most historians will cite economic, political, and social, corruption as a catalyst for Roman decline before anything is said about Christianity. I also believe that many of the Roman citizens realized the state of moral decay that their empire was in. Why else would they call Attila the Hun "The Scourge of God"? While this title may be theologically problematic, it shows that many Romans realized that they were living in a society that was morally decadent and deserved punishment.

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  5. "And when could you find more vices abounding?
    When did the gullet of greed open wider?
    When did the dice draw more to the tables?
    They didn't bring their wallets along
    They brought the whole treasury"
    -Juvenal, poet of the 1st century, on the loose morals of post-Augustan Roman society.

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  6. Even though I haven't commented to this point (mostly because I don't feel I have the expertise in this area), I have been reading with interest.

    Although it's been ages since I read it, Dr. Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? deals with this at length.

    I probably should dig up a copy & read it again.

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  7. Since Christianity cannot be instituted by a decree of Rome, what actually happened was unbiblical and therefore sin. Sin is corruption and so I guess we agree.

    Seriously, I fail to see your logic regarding family breakdown and the fall of Rome. Do you have proof that families were stronger earlier in the Roman Empire and then changed? And when you refer to families, are you talking about a Roman family or one of the many cultures within the Roman Empire? Certainly, they did not have the same philosophy of family.

    What about those families of the people that eventually conquered Rome -- did they have stronger families than Rome?

    Your modern idea of family and the Roman idea of family are, most likely, very different. How did morals get transferred to the next generation? Was it indeed through family? Did each family go to Hammurabi’s stone, read and then discuss the content (I know I mixed civilizations, but you get the idea)? Did the typical Roman family have the time and freedom to confront and questions boundaries like we do today?

    The impact of changes to the family unit would be different back then versus now.

    The sociological differences between now and then, makes me question your logic regarding family, but not regarding lax morals.

    Nations fall when they spend more time, money and attention on frivolity than on governance and leadership; when they forfeit civility for personal liberty; when they expect more from others than they are willing or able to give.

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  8. As I stated before, I'm far from a history expert, but I think the main strength that the traditional family brings is that from an early age, children are raised to respect their elders.

    In a traditional home, boys learn the proper attitude toward women by their father's treatment of their mother (and by parental correction as well). A stable mother/father relationship also provides an example for girls as they seek relationships.

    Today's lax attitudes toward sex lend to disease, children raised by single mothers (one of the leading predictors of poverty).

    Boys raised by single mothers (regardless of social status) learn that fathers are not important - which becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. When they grow old, they believe their responsibility ends at sperm donation.

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  9. John, aren't you talking about modern-day dynamics? I'm not sure one can extrapolate back 1600 years. For example, I wonder what kind of respect for women Roman men taught their sons.

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  10. I'm sure you are correct that respect for women was probably not high on the priority back then, however, respect for authority certainly was - and that goes a long way to maintaining order in society.

    Again I'm not the expert in this, but the family structure would seem to be the best place to establish morals at an early age.

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  11. Well, I guess that we can all agree that moral corruption was a factor in the fall of Rome. What we can't agree with is whether that moral corruption was caused by a breakdown in the strength of the Roman family. I, personally, think that the upbringing of the children in any society has alot to do with contributing values to the next generation, and therefore was a strong factor in Rome's downfall. The Roman family was by no means ideal at any point during their history, but it was a stronger, more autonomous unit during the earlier days of the republic. divorce was less common, adultery was not the norm, and children were brought up with a strong respect for authority. during the later days of the empire. In this, I am talking about the families of the Romans themselves, not necessarily the families of the cultures they conquered. But since you brought it up, many of the families of these "barbarian" peoples were stronger than the Romans because they lived in a tribal community. Also, the Roman historian Tacitus expressed the contrast between the family values of the Germanic peoples, in fact, he was a bit jealous of the Germans for this reason.

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  12. "The Most important unit of early Roman society was the family. The power of the family father (pater familias) was absolute, and strict discipline was imposed to instill in children the virtues to which Romans attached particular importance - loyalty, courage, self control, and respect for laws and ancestral customs. The Romans of the Early republic were stern, hardworking, and practical,. The Conservative values of an agrarian society formed the values of both men and women. With much of a Roman Man's time taken up with military or political concerns, women had great responsibility in supervising the upbringing of children and maintaining estates and farms. In contrast to the frequency of divorce in the late Republic, marriage in the early republic was viewed as a lifelong union."
    - Civilization, Past and Present, tenth edition, Longman press, page 128.

    I'm not making this stuff up. I'm a history teacher whose been studying History of all sorts, including Greek and Roman, since I could read. I really don't think I'm making a leaps of logic or faulty historical conclusions here. I've mostly been writing this stuff off of the top of my head, but if you want me to start citing sources, I guess I can.

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