Believe, Go to Church, Get Married

“When was the last time, in this debate about men and violence, did you hear someone in our current leadership invite us ‘To reflect on the charity and hope that is embedded in our society based on the faith of the Christians’?”

There has been a lot of discussion about improving safety for women in Australia of late. And safety for women, particularly the vulnerable with their children, is an important test of how civil society is. Put bluntly, women should never be bashed or abused.

But there has also been a lot of blindness in these discussions, and I suspect sometimes, that it is blindness driven by wilful ignorance. I suggest this because there is a narrow-mindedness about the causes of this relational horror, and therefore, what are realistic longer-term approaches become difficult to see.

The reductionism in thinking about this problem comes from what JP Moreland calls scientism. [i]  Moreland notes that in our modern era, knowledge has been reduced to facts. Within this mindset, information is only considered true if it has been generated by the ‘scientific method’. Such a viewpoint from which to study humanity is critically flawed of course.

There are aspects of our reality that cannot be ‘put under the microscope’. The idea of science as science cannot even be put under the microscope. Science, as a way of thinking and operating, requires information and beliefs to which people commit themselves, through their actions via their intentions. Science cannot even tell us from where the information came for the origin of the universe, or for the first DNA molecule to form. This is why even Dr Richard Dawkins admits that science has no answer for our self-consciousness.

Despite these limitations, our leaders insist that they ‘follow the science’ – even to places where science cannot guide them (and I will not become side-tracked about how this misunderstanding played out during COVID-19 or is being played out currently with climate alarmism ‘modelling’). With reference to domestic violence, the ‘science’ is very limited. For such horrible acts of aggression are not simply a matter of physical predispositions, social upbringing, and current context. These factors may play a part in some starting points in a person’s life.

But we are embodied souls. We have agency – we get to decide how to respond to our lives in response to the starts we had and our current contexts. This aspect of human reality is regularly misunderstood, downplayed or downright ignored in our discussions on issues such as violence in the family. Because of this neglect, we cannot in our civic discussions even affirm that which is inherently good – like, the family.

Too many of our current leaders float around on the whims of what they deem as vote-winning messaging, in a misnamed direction called ‘progress’. However, their direction is unmoored, for their morality is unhinged. Sentimentality wins over any appeal to a Human Law against which we can review our lives, regardless of inheritance or current context.

Subsequently, our leaders say they will pay money for this intervention or that program. But it is all soulless and ignores the heart of the problem, which is our hearts. It is why in Australia we have systematically ignored the fruit of the presence of the Christian church when we do our ‘social research’.

We collect numbers that are proclaimed to explain what is happening, but they are meaningless statistics because they have no window of discernment through which see the light ahead. Such quantification is dominant in this land, and it is why I cringe so often at the phrase, ‘The Research says…’

But there are researchers who do try to put numbers in perspective. They work to pit their observations against a morality that is not dependent on the dominance of a particular collective. Below is some of this research that our leaders ignore.

If we look across history, sociologists like Rodney Stark explain why it was the Christians who helped to shift what we meant by compassion for all people, regardless of status or inheritance:

Christianity served as a revitalisation movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world…. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope…. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family…. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. [ii]

When was the last time, in this debate about men and violence, did you hear someone in our current leadership invite us “To reflect on the charity and hope that is embedded in our society based on the faith of the Christians”?

Here is another observation of similar tone. Peter Hitchens, like Christopher, gave up on his faith, but then found it again. He lived in two very different kind of societies – one communist, the other a ‘liberal democracy’. The latter was still infused with the influence of Christianity:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).  The huge differences that can be observed between Christian societies and all others, even in the twilight afterglow of Christianity, originate in this specific injunction…. In [any] society where the absolute code has been jettisoned and we have all become adept at making excuses for shirking such duties, selflessness of this kind will become less common…. There is far more love offered for those who honestly attempt to follow the law, and unbounded forgiveness for all who seek it…. And that is why, while it is perfectly possible for convinced atheists to do absolutely good deeds at great costs to themselves – not least because God so very much wishes them to – it is rather more likely that believing Christians will do such things.  And when it comes to the millions of small and tedious good deeds that are needed for a society to function with charity, honesty, and kindness, a shortage of believing Christians will lead to that society’s decay. [iii]

More recently, Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, (2014) and Tom Holland’s Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (2019) agree that the commitment to stay with each other, man and woman together, in sickness and in health, in richer or poorer, and for better or worse, was only possible because of how the Christians took the Jewish God’s teachings further. My summary of their description is that Moses described this different way of life (the Creator’s way), Jesus fulfilled it, and Paul taught how to apply it.

Do these kinds of observations link to the current political considerations of helping our families be less violent, more stable, and more fruitful? Even though we ignore such questions in our Australian context, others find consistent patterns of families of faith being the ‘little platoons’ that hold civic society together, as Edmund Bourke proposed. Thomas Sowell, in exploring whether racial structures were most important in understanding different family outcomes in society, noted this:

If black family poverty is caused by ‘systemic racism’, do racists make an exception for blacks who are married? … [because] single-parent families have much higher poverty rates than married-couple families – whether black or white. [iv]

Do we hear our leaders encouraging people to be married (and when I use the term, I am thinking of ‘classical marriage’, not the newer legal term of our land)? Not many. Do they put in structural encouragement for people to be married, for example, in the tax system? Some try to raise this, but they are sadly a minority.

Being committed to marriage and family within faith also seems to help young people in their studies. This is what Horwitz found when she stepped away from the dominant lenses of her field and decided to explore the role of faith amongst the children and youth of the USA:

When it comes to performance, I found that religiously restrained students who live their life for God fare better because they are conscientious and cooperative. This is the case regardless of students’ social class upbringing. Working-class abiders have better grades than working class nonabiders. Middle-class abiders have better grades than middle-class nonabiders, and so on. [v] 

And what Horwitz means by ‘abiders’ is those young who grow up in a family of sincere faith. She also notes at the end of her work that:

On all indicators, abiders across social class groups fared better than nonabiders. … abiders are significantly less likely to experience emotional, cognitive, or physical despair. They feel less anxious, healthier, and more optimistic about life.  Without a doubt, their deep relationship with God helps them overcome several challenges they bump up against. Abiders are simply more resilient. This is driven by their involvement in a religious social community but also their steadfast belief in God. [vi]

I have seen this pattern of leaders ignoring such descriptions about our personal spirituality for decades here in Australia. I have also seen Australian researchers ignore the role of faith in our civic life for decades, even when it has not been ignored in other places. For example, in terms of what is good for men in how they relate to women and children, Nancey Pearcey’s latest book summarises it well:

Compared to secular men, devout Christian family men who attend church regularly are more loving husbands and more engaged fathers. They have the lowest rates of divorce. And astonishingly, they have the lowest rates of domestic violence of any major group in America. … [but] nominal Christian men have the highest rates of divorce and domestic violence… [vii] 

We do not need those who pretend (the ‘nominals’). We need men who believe that Jesus is who He says He is, to go to church because they understand it heals their soul, to get married and to then live together before God. Let’s pray that enough of our leaders will start to accept these realities, even if they do not understand them. Jonathan Haidt has started to:

I am an atheist, but I find that I sometimes need words and concepts from religion to understand the experience of life as a human being. This is one of those times.

He also notes that the most cohesive of societies are those who are religious. His comment is that:

There is a hole, an emptiness in us all, that we strive to fill. If it doesn’t get filled with something noble and elevated, modern society will quickly pump it full of garbage. [viii]

Please God, help us to avoid the garbage. Amen.

[i] Moreland, JP. (2018). Scientism and Secularism: Learning to respond to a dangerous ideology. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.

[ii] For example, Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Harper Collins, 1996, p.160.

[iii] Peter Hitchens, (2010). The Rage Against God – How atheism led me to faith. Zondervan pp. 143-145

[iv] Thomas Sowell. (2023). Social Justice Fallacies. New York, NY: Basic Books, p.24.

[v] Horwitz, L.M. (2022) God, Grades and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success. Oxford University Press, p. 175.

[vi] Horwitz, pp. 179-180

[vii] Nancy R Pearcey, The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity reconciles the sexes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2023, p. 15

[viii] Jonathan Haidt, The Anxious Generation: How the Gret Rewiring of Childhood is causing an epidemic of mental illness. UK: Allen Lane, 2024, p.210, then 216.

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