How the West Really Lost God: An Interview with Mary Eberstadt

Editor’s note: This interview of Mary Eberstadt, conducted by Gerald J. Russello, was first published July 21, 2013 in The University Bookman under the title “Faith and Family: A Two Way Street” and is reprinted with permission. Eberstadt is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C.

Q: Thanks for joining us. Tell us the thesis of your new book.

A: How the West Really Lost God opens with a review of the conventional arguments for Western secularization and observes that those arguments don’t adequately explain the decline of Christianity in certain parts of the Western world. If that’s correct—if, pace the new atheists and other secular thinkers, material progress and education and rationalism alone have not caused secularization—then what has?

My book argues that the great puzzle of secularization has been missing a critical piece: the family, and the ways in which changes to the Western family have in turn affected Western Christianity. For reasons that are laid out in several chapters, I believe that these two institutions are best understood as a double helix—that each is only as strong as the other at a given moment in history, and that each requires the other to reproduce.

This is a new way of understanding what’s been happening out there, a firm departure from the standard post-Enlightenment secular script about what Nietzsche and others have called the death of God. Under the influence of that script, many people seem to have decided that religious decline is simply inevitable. But that’s not what the record shows.

Q: Your book helpfully analyzes the varied effects that modernity has had in different parts of the world. You note that modernity and loss of religion need not always go together. In your view then, what caused the secularization of Europe?

A: Western Europe is more secular than the United States, and Scandinavia in turn is the most secular territory of all. So let’s consider Scandinavia as one petri dish for the book’s theory. Who pioneered the unmarried Western family and its close ally, the welfare state (whose arguably critical role in secularization is also part of this picture)? Scandinavia. What is arguably the most atomized place in the Western world today, as measured by, say, the number of people who don’t even live in a family at all? Scandinavia again. Almost half of Swedish households are now singletons, for instance.

I believe these trends aren’t occurring in a vacuum. Scandinavia is an excellent case in point of the book’s thesis: religious decline and family decline—as measured by proxies like fertility, marriage, divorce, and cohabitation—go hand in hand. They’re causally related.

Q: You write of the “Family Factor” and “the effect that participation in the family itself appears to have on religious belief and practice.” Can you explain the relationship?

How_West Lost God covA: Conventional sociology has just assumed that religious decline leads to family decline—that people first lose their Christianity, and then change their habits of family formation. I think that’s too narrow an understanding, and that the causal relationship between the two institutions is far more dynamic.

For instance, we know that if people are married, they are more likely to go to church. We also know that if they are married and have children, they are far more likely to do so. Sociologists looking at that connection have hitherto assumed that going to church is just something that married people “do.” They haven’t asked whether things like getting married and having families might be causal forces in their own right—inclining some people toward increased religiosity.

What the big picture shows, I think, is that there is something about family life—actually, more things than one—that are driving people to church in the first place: things like the desire to situate their children in a moral community; or the fact that birth is experienced by many people as a cosmic, sacred event; or the fact that Christianity ratifies the kind of sacrifice involved in family life as no secular creed does; and other factors that I get into in the book. Again, family and faith seem to be operating on a two-way, not one-way, conceptual street.

Q: What data did you find that connected the decline of the family with economic or sociological woes?

A: There’s plenty of data to connect family strength with economic benefits—and conversely, to connect family decline with economic trouble.

By now a whole library could be built to house the social science on family breakup, for instance, including the fact that broken homes statistically raise the odds that children will have educational, behavioral, and other problems that might impede their success in life; or that the quickest road to impoverishment is to become a single mother; or other unwanted truths that are nonetheless firmly empirically established. As the late great social scientist James Q. Wilson once quipped, there’s so much data testifying to the benefits of family that by now even some sociologists believe it.

In the book, I also try to look at kinds of fallout that are less familiar but also apparent on inspection—especially the ways in which family decline helps to power religious decline.

Q: But aren’t family structures just arbitrary? Why is a “natural” family important?

A: By “natural” family, I mean simply the form of family that other forms can imitate but never replicate: that is, the fundamental form based on irreducible biological ties of mother, father, children, and the rest. This form of family is the one on which Christianity has historically depended, and it’s this form of family that shows up in the pews of traditional Christian churches.

The fate of the natural family is also important to the fate of Christianity in another way: because the Christian story itself is saturated with familial characters and metaphors and meaning. This is a religion, after all, that begins with the birth of a baby. It has a Holy Family. It understands the very concept of God as that of a benevolent, loving Father.

So what happens if we live in a world, as we Western people do, where more and more people have less experience of these very things? The point is that the splintering of the family introduces new complexity to relaying certain features of the Christian message. How do you explain God the Father to someone who has grown up without a male parent in the home? Or how do you get across what’s so sacred about a baby to people who—in a time of falling birthrates and other familial changes—may never have held or cared for one?

These problems aren’t insurmountable. But they are problems that didn’t exist before. Again, family change and religious change go hand in hand.

Q: Why should we care about the decline of Christian belief in the West?

A: It’s a contention of the book that everybody has a dog in this fight—secular people as well as believers—because Christianity is a net plus in the modern public square.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to the data demonstrating just this proposition. It’s hard to capture it in a sentence without sounding reductionist, but just for starters, religious believers as a whole are happier, healthier and significantly more charitable with their time and money than are secular people. Of course we can all think of exceptions, but these are still generalizations borne out by perfectly secular social science.

That’s one example of how believers at their best “give back” to the rest of society. There are others too. Traditional Christianity tries to encourage strong families, for example, and to the extent that it succeeds, this institutional priority too is of clear social benefit. One can argue that the large and growing welfare state itself would not exist without the fracturing of the Western home, because much of what the welfare state does is to serve as a father and provider substitute—to do the sorts of things that used to be done by self-sufficient families.

Q: What effect have the new Islamic immigrants to Europe had on your analysis?

A: The book limits its analysis to Christianity, which is already more than enough for one volume. That said, it may well be that the thesis of the book applies to faiths other than Christianity.

Across the globe, for instance, higher fertility is associated with higher religiosity; the more religious people are, the more likely they are to have children, and deeply religious people are far more likely to have large families than are other people. It’s the double helix at work again, and the Muslims of Europe exemplify it too.

That said, it’s obvious that what makes the bustling of the mosques in Europe so obvious is the silence of many churches—because they’re empty.

Q: Do you think there is anything that can be done to reinvigorate one or the other of the “double helix” of faith and family you describe?

A: There’s always something to be done. Part of the answer lies in the grassroots. If people understand that “the importance of the family to faith” is not just rhetoric but rather a profound organic connection they need to pay attention to, then re-invigoration happens one church and congregation at a time.

Having families in any day or age is hard work, so those people concerned with the family as an institution might think of all the things that make it easier for people to live in them—things like meal drop-offs when babies are born, or organized babysitting co-ops, or mothers’ prayer groups that double as social hours—small but meaningful things like that.

Churches naturally do some of these things, but arguably they could be done better or more vigorously. Again, it’s tempting to have the welfare state take up the slack for what small institutions like churches can actually do better and more sensitively and more efficiently—and that’s a temptation that needs to be resisted if the churches are to build more vibrant communities. In effect, churches have to compete with the state by offering better community services.

Beyond the grassroots, the largest question on the horizon may be what will happen to that modern welfare state that has both contributed to family decline and also emerged as an expensive substitute for the family. Is the cradle-to-grave caretaking state as we know it sustainable—or is it not? Demographic and economic trends, especially in parts of Western Europe, suggest that the answer in the long run might just be negative. And if the welfare state as we have known it were to be reigned in or even to implode, it’s hard to see how any institution but the family could emerge in the resulting vacuum.

In the book, I offer two chapters—one on the case for optimism, and one on the case for pessimism—so that readers can decide for themselves. Even so, revival of both institutions has happened before in history, as the book often notes. It’s not hard to imagine either renascence happening again.

Gerald J. Russello

By

Gerald J. Russello is a Fellow of the Chesterton Institute at Seton Hall University and editor of The University Bookman. He is also the editor of the 2013 edition of Christopher Dawson’s Religion and Culture from Catholic University of America Press.

  • DCG

    This is not a particularly well-formed thought, but in addition to the primary opportunity for the church to out-do the welfare state (because it can and should), there is opportunity for a political movement that focuses on encouraging and strengthening the family as a solution to our financial crisis that has just started. It will have thousands of years of data and truth on its side. It will appeal to traditionalists and the young who recognize the devastation that they’ve been put through and the financial burden they are saddled with under the current national trajectory. There appear to be a few politicians who may be willing to discuss these inconvenient truths (Santorum, Carson) without being constrained by current party mantras.

  • Mork

    The unquestioning positive mytholigization of the frequently sick-making, dysfunctional “family” as the be-all and end-all of human society makes this whinging wheeze of an article completely irrelevant. Many people are delighted not to be entombed in the dysfunctional inferno of American family life, and grateful for state institutions that make it possible to escape from abusive structures like clans and tribes and the supposedly sacred “family unit”. I know that every day when I don’t see any of the miserable fools I was raised by and with is a gain for me. Being trapped in the “self-sufficient” familial nightmare of those people was why I grew up wanting to kill myself, and the Christian insistence that you’re stuck with the horrible people supposedly meant for you by a god who seems oddly hung up on accidents of birth is truly and justly the cause of so many people ditching the traditional churches. I would rather die than pretend to love the people who taught me Christian self-hatred before I was verbal. For many of us, family is hell.

    • Bob

      Wow…….quite the post. And I can attest to the opposite, that “blood is thicker than water” and truly the only people I can count on when my back is against the wall are family members. And Christ was (and is) the center/head of our family.

      • Mork

        Your experience obviously negates mine. Thanks for the rebuke.

        • Bob

          Have you made Christ, the sacraments (especially the Eucharist) the center of your life, Mork? Possibly this will give you a different view of your family and how you respond to them. Perhaps you are being called to an example of saintliness that your family is thirsting for.

          • Mork

            You are asking me to return to my abusers. Thanks. Advice like that is why I no longer rely on the institutional church for guidance. Leaving one’s family is not the worst thing one can do. I believe there is even biblical precedent.

            • Bob

              OK….no worries. What always seemed like unrepairable situations in my family always started with one family member making the first move out of love. It could turn out great, it could be a disaster. But by doing nothing you’ll never know. The Prodigal Son story always comes to mind.

    • publiusnj

      Trust state institutions over the family? Why: because one is more likely to find true altruism in governmental employees rather than in the people who bore and sired you? As Bob notes that is highly unlikely given that “blood IS thicker than water.” Are some parents less than perfect? Sure, but so are some civil servants, believe it or not.

      • Mork

        And then there are abusers. Yes, I trust neutral state helpers over “parents” who savage the spirits of their children. You can keep the bloody thick mystical blood. My true family is not the vile brood that bred and now bores me with its sick psychodrama. But thanks for the cheap advice.

        • justamom

          Mork, may i ask who may your “true family” be? I am truly sorry for your past and the abuse you endured. I do hope for your sake that you are able to work through your hatred.

          I would also ask why you would think anyone – state helpers or not- would be truly neutral in their help. Everyone is operating on SOME agenda. Really, who can you trust?

          Everyone’s experience is different. There are people out there who would tell you their horror stories of being abused by “neutral state workers” as well.

          • Mork

            I definitely don’t trust you.

            • justamom

              That’s not very nice. By posting here you are asking all of us to trust you and your words. Shall i say the same about you? Maybe you are making this all up.

              • Mork

                As you please. I didn’t post to win your sympathy.

                • justamom

                  What is your reason for posting?

                  • Mork

                    You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.

                    • HJG

                      You have to figure that one out, Mork.

        • publiusnj

          As though public school teachers don’t abuse their children? As though prison guards don’t abuse their charges? As though military instructors don’t abuse their trainees? As though politicians don’t lie and cheat and yes even abuse their subordinates? Jefferson with the 16 year old Sally Hemings? Kennedy with his 19 year old intern? Bill Clinton and Monica? Or San Diego Mayor Bob Filner with his very recent abuse of subordinates?
          “Neutral state helpers” is a rose-colored glasses version of “civil service time servers.” Time servers have led to all kinds of muck-raking from Thomas Nast with Boss Tweed to the Knapp Commission with its classic expose of NYPD Corruption. Parents of course can be bad trustees but people with no interest in the children save “altruism” or self-interest are almost certainly more likely to look to their own interests rather than that of their charges if there is any conflict.

          • Alecto

            The fact that government, schools, public officials are capable of abuse does not negate or mitigate the fact that someone was abused by his family. Who is anyone to tell Mork what he feels towards his family is invalid or tell him how or what to feel at all? Forgiving his family may be great for him, but he has to figure that out on his own. But, the overarching reality is that “state” help is coming to a rapid end a la Detroit. The future of the nanny state collapse is real. Why are we having this debate? Maggie Thatcher was correct – the problem with socialism is eventually you run out of OPM.

            I believe the better use of time would be in trying to imagine how to deal with the looming collapse so that the needy aren’t totally forgotten and trying to set up local help for the elderly, disabled and forgotten? If people believe we can live in a society where 100 million people receive food from the government and and that can go on forever is a sign of insanity. It cannot and it will not. So what to do now to head off a future tragedy?

            • Adam__Baum

              “mitigate the fact that someone was abused by his family.”
              Facts are not established by pseudononymous internet postings. What we have here is a charge, without corroborating or contradicting evidence.

              • Alecto

                “Our scars make us know that our past was for real.” Jane Austen You look for the objective, he can only be subjective about his own life. Do you think you will change his opinion by asking for proof?

        • Adam__Baum

          Neutral. Disinterested and indifferent. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference and indifference is the worst form of abuse.
          Apparently Stiockholm Syndrome is a real malady.

    • Adam__Baum

      Other than to test our compassion for the mentally infirm, why are you here, are there no blogs dedicated to those who worship the administrative superstate and practice the faith of statism?

  • Alecto

    How do you explain God the Father to someone who has grown up without a male parent in the home?

    The bigger challenge is explaining or providing an example of a loving and merciful God to children raised by abusive, medicated, selfish and neglectful narcissists when they profess “belief”? That’s the epidemic in this society, not lack of belief or crumbling family structures. The vast majority of Americans claim belief in God. I am confused as to where Ms. Eberstadt sees loss of faith? I respect much of what Eberstadt writes, but her hypothesis is simplistic and misses the mark.

    • Mork

      Precisely. Growing up with my particular raging jerk of a male parent in the home was the very reason why my image of “God the Father” makes me hope in agnostic fervor than no such thing exists. The message that one must worship the abuser or else still more (indeed, eternal) abuse is forthcoming was what I took from family life, and I am but one of countless millions. Churches that harp on family-of-birth-origin and denigrate the families that we make for ourselves after fleeing the horror shows given us at random by a supposedly loving deity lose credibility and membership. Leaving my biological family to its nasty disrespectful narcissistic stews was the best thing I ever did and the first, essential step to freedom. Thankfully the state, so unthinkingly maligned here and in all the other knee-jerk “Christian” finger-wags, did not ask why I needed help to leave or insist that I go back and try again on the dysfunction treadmill. I am extremely glad that preachy ideologues of family sanctity are not the only caritas providers available. In short: vivat the welfare state.

      • Adam Baum

        “Leaving my biological family to its nasty disrespectful narcissistic stews was the best thing I ever did ”

        I wonder what they might say about you.

        “I am extremely glad that preachy ideologues of family sanctity are not the only caritas providers available. In short: vivat the welfare state.”
        The state is “caritas” the same way Jerry Sandusky was love.

        • Mork

          I suppose you would be happier if I had stayed within the miasmic fog of paternal abuse just to buttress the illusion of an intact family. Yours is the kind of comment I’ve come to expect from a lot of churchy types. Thankfully you don’t represent the entire spectrum, and even more thankfully there do exist state agencies to help abuse victims and deal with Sandusky types. Which, by the way, you might want to be careful about using as a rhetorical bludgeon. If Jerry had been a priest he’d probably be living in quiet retirement right now and Archbishop Dolan would be shifting funds around to protect his pension.

          Thanks for taking the side of my family abusers and reminding me why I don’t take my problems to priests. Even if you guys could take over from the secular welfare state in terms of facilities and finance (you can’t), your prejudices would only end up sending women back to abusive husbands and children to insane parents, because God’s plan, right? Thankfully you’re not the only game in town, or people like me would be in trouble.

          • Alecto

            Covenant House is one example of outreach to abused and runaway kids in a number of cities. It was founded by a Catholic nun and isn’t a state institution, but they do help kids in concrete ways like providing housing, food, counseling, and helping them finish school, get jobs. They do not judge, nor do they try to return anyone to abusers.

          • Deacon Ed Peitler

            Mork, if you want to engage in honest dialogue, you are welcome here. If you want to perpetuate the abuse that your were subjected to by heaping the same on those of us here whom you do not know and who profess the Catholic faith, you should go elsewhere. The world is filled with enough hate; we do not need more of it here.

            • Mork

              The deacon has weighed in.

              Well, have your closed circle and enjoy your spirituality. Defining opposition as “hate” is an easy out. The only thing lacking at this point is a promise to pray for me. The religious person’s way of pretending to do something while doing nothing at all. Bye now.

              • Deacon Ed Peitler

                Disagreeing is not objectionable; being disagreeable is.

          • Adam__Baum

            Not knowing you or your family, my hedonic state is unaware and unaffected by your decisions.

            What I do believe in is objectivity, and all we have here is a vague account of familial dyfunctionality, without any defense of the accused or cross-examination of the accuser.

            Quite frankly, you sound like a “preachy” statist troll attempting a lachrymose story to “buttress” your belief in the administrative superstate as messiah.

            I have rather extensive experience with your false god, and I recognize it for what is, and you for what you are.

      • Alecto

        I don’t know what to write, but in the end, even good, well-intentioned parents have issues; some which we may never know. Family is complicated stew and none of us ever has the full picture of what goes on in someone else’s head! Family of origin is preferable, but not always possible. There are churches that do not ask “why” or attempt to do anything other than help. This is an area where sweeping generalities cannot be made.

      • Tali

        Why return to abusive family? The true Christians are not abusive (it is against Christianity) and their family is not an object of abuse. If they ARE abusive, it is because they are too far from Light and Love that is God. They need help.

        • Mork

          The “no true Christian” fallacy rears its empty head. How helpful.

      • SJBB

        Mork, I empathize with you, the son of an abusive father myself. I comment here to take issue with your mentioning “…horror shows given us at random by a supposedly loving deity…”. Please consider the alternative: that God would give everyone a fully functional, perfectly loving dad (or family)? This is not possible without affecting / negating Free Will.
        In my case, I recognize how ill-prepared my own dad was. He did not know well how to really love (having lost his own father at a very young age). Abusive fathers don’t have good excuses to allow abuse; they must work to remove their own dysfunction. But they typically have causes contributing to their lack of love. No excuse, but challenges to work through. This is my dad’s fault, not the fault of a loving deity. My dad used his Free Will to continue abuse, instead of getting needed help. Now, it is just habit “normal” for him. In fact, it is God’s Grace that I recognized and left this to begin my own healing. So many others persist with this version of “normal”.
        But, I myself have these challenges passed on to me from my dad. It is very good to remove yourself from abuse, and try to overcome these challenges. I support you in prayer. By the way, I actually think this is a very real example of Original Sin; abusive behaviour passed down from parents to children. It persists until we recognize it, name it, and heal from it. Only then can we stop ourselves from passing it to our children. As for me, I am working, using the Sacrament of Reconciliation and prayers especially, to ensure it dies with me. Peace to you, Mork.

    • David Castlen

      I am sure data will show that few, very few, true Christians are the type of parents as Alecto describes.

    • Were you from a broken family? A single parent who works and works to support her family is overwhelmed, tired and most likely resentful and angry. that does not make for a peaceful family life that teaches the goodness of God. no one is perfect. Christians are not perfect. However, their imperfections should not lessen our believe in our core faith. Without Christianity, our brave new Western civilization faces dismemberment by Islam and the Atheist Left.

  • Dick Prudlo

    The real elephant has left the room. That elephant goes by the name of the Catholic Church. It disposed of all its trappings and became a post enlightenment nonsense. All confessions, whether they will admit it, looked to Her and Her alone for guidance. She has failed the last 50+years and that failure provides the added dimension lacking in Mrs. Eberstadt’s thoughtful answers.

    • Ralphster

      Bravo, Dick Prudlo.
      The missing elephant here is Second Vatican thinking, the Church disarming herself and distancing herself from certain key doctrines, especially the Social Reign and Kingship of Christ. Mary E. has perhaps been hanging out too much with George Weigel, a man who seems to revel in the hermeneutic of rupture and foisting Locke, Jefferson, and Bush over Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII.

    • HJG

      But you are still here? Will you move on with your life? Simply chuckle as you walk past the elephants outside of the room? No you won’t. You are here engaging. Ever wonder why? Why toil and torment yourself with simple fools?

  • Cheshireton

    Best of luck with the pipe dream of replacing tax-based “welfare state” assistance with tithe-based church charities. It seems to me there is a place for both, so I’m always puzzled as to why advocates of the one so often insist their preferred option should outdo and supplant the other. Why, for instance, are food-bank handouts of bags full of carbs preferable to food stamps that allow the recipients at least to attempt to choose their diet for themselves? I submit to you that the latter is better for those on the receiving end of charity. Why would anyone choose a box of bland canned goods that some housewife doesn’t want to use herself anymore over cash with which to make one’s own selection?

    We may soon find out whether churches are capable of picking up the slack whenever repulsive pseudo-Catholics like Paul Ryan (who likes to pose in closed soup kitchens washing already clean pots and pans) eventually manage to cut food stamps in this greatest country on earth. Something tells me the churches will strain to cover the gap. And yet here we are with yet another assumption-filled piece on how the supposedly awful “cradle-to-grave” welfare state (where does the lady think we’re living, Finland?) can be replaced by the efforts of a church that has to hide funds in cemeteries to avoid paying its existing victims. In terms of my own family values I’d be happier getting assistance from the impersonal state with no questions asked than having to go hat in hand to a marginally solvent institution whose male representatives can’t see to be trusted to be alone with kids.

    • patricia m.

      You’re a very bitter person.

      • Cheshireton

        Because I express opinions you disagree with? What a very unexpectedly insightful person you appear to be. Perhaps you’ll offer to pray for me. That’s always a good fallback position.

        Or you could try critiquing my critique, if it wouldn’t strain you too much.

    • Alecto

      The food banks in my area give us lists of their needs, and we don’t raid our pantries for items like baby diapers or laundry detergent! That’s why many of us just give cash and a paid-up Costco membership to pay for their bulk needs. Those food stamps are used for junk food, too. Back in the day…people used to have these things called “gardens” to produce food. And, canning is still popular in my part of the country which also has numerous local farms. But the government is making it difficult for individual farmers, too. Now we have 100+ million Americans and others receiving food aid from the government. It’s amazing what a little packet of seeds and elbow grease does. There is massive, massive fraud and waste in the SNAP program. And I write that not as a bystander.

      You just don’t get it, do you? It isn’t about church vs. state. The government has created dependency and is gradually stamping out any sense of personal responsibility, or self-reliance in this society. That cannot continue because government is inefficient, and we are bankrupt as a country because of the federal government’s intrusion into areas of society historically reserved to private institutions and individuals (churches, mutual aid associations, and families). Government is never efficient with resources (see above). Private charities which rely on individual generosity are because they have limited revenues, and unlike the government cannot take from anyone, people have to give voluntarily. Government can and will take everything we have, and Obama is on track to do that.

      I am as angry as anyone about sex abuse scandals, and the way that was handled. The Church’s biggest problem now is that it relies on federal contracts to fund social welfare, not its own dwindling membership. In a way, the only charity performed by the Catholic Church in the U.S. is the charity of its individual parishes and members.

    • Adam__Baum

      Your glib references to Finland aside, if you had any experience with the welfare state (no quotes necessary), you’d realize how demoralizing and dehumanizing it is to create legions of people whose vote is hijacked through dependency and hoplelessness solely to provide the veneer of democratic legitimacy to the scheming of the ruling class.

  • CharlesOConnell

    Carle Clark Zimmerman, “Family and Civilization” 1947, http://lccn.loc.gov/47006503 , argues that when family is strong, government is weak & vice versa.

    Therefore, can government be posited syllogistically as the intrinsic enemy of faith?

    • Adam__Baum

      The state will always find an enemy in that which annoys, inconveniences and oppose it. It seeks rule, no matter how much it is supposed to govern and when faith asserts that God has a prior claim on the loyalties of people, the state will move againsat it.

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  • davend

    Based on Mary Eberstadt’s logic, Scandinavia should be experiencing economic collapse and the worst sort of poverty–resulting from the deterioration of the family structure and rising secularism. That’s obviously not the case.

    • vito

      No, in fact, they are the healthiest economies in Europe now. They are almost the only ones here that have worked hard, lived according to their means, paid taxes, invested in education and science, and can still make a decent product.

      • Deacon Ed Peitler

        I would be very interested in a study of what Swedes view the are the purpose and meaning of their lives. In fact, I would like to see a cross cultural study of this question.

      • Adam__Baum

        And absent just four of our largest inner cities, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadephia, our crime statistics would be markedly lower. Unfortunately, you don’t get to cherry pick. The Arab immigration n Sweden is merely a sign that there is a demographic problem.

        • vito

          You can take states without any big cities, especially in the south, the Bible Belt, and the crime stats will still be much much higher than in Sweden, and most Europe actually. Sweden is still a very safe country, with or without immigrants. And immigration is mainly a sign of very high living standards. And also of the fact that Swedes themselves no longer want to do some dirty, hard and relatively low-paid jobs. My guess is that their unemployment benefits are higher than wages in low paid jobs in the US.

          • Adam Baum

            “My guess is that their unemployment benefits are higher than wages in low paid jobs in the US.”

            That would explain the sloth you described.

    • dch

      Yes the data does not support the idea that secularism leads to social decline.
      The group Nordic of countries dominate the rankings in the Satisfaction with Life Index and are the MOST secular of countries.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_with_Life_Index

      • Adam__Baum

        I am always suspicious of hedonic indexing, especially in homogeneous populations subject to a proagandistic culture, I’m guessing the hedonic inices in 1930’s Germany would have been fairly high as they beamed with pride about their ethnic superiority and massive public works.

    • Adam__Baum

      You really should pick up the book “The Black Swan”, which will show you how “fat-tailed” economic events, such as collapse are invariable inobservable, unanticipable and sudden events, that always look obvious only when seen in the rear view mirror.

  • vito

    Yes, a lot of Swedes live single, a lot do not marry and have children out of wedlock… and most of them are happy about it. This has been covered widely in European press. Scandinavians in general are a very happy and successful bunch, and very honest, trustworthy people too. Sometimes their happiness is not so apparent, as they do not tend to wear the idiotic 24-hour smile on their faces and generally are illusion-resistant, so never excessively optimistic or joyful about anything. Yes the article’s author is right, the Swedish life model may be related to loss of religion, but the point is family for them is no longer a pre-requisite for a happy life. A (happy) family is an extra bonus.

    I live in a Catholic European country, nearly everyone I know is at least nominally Catholic, but we have the highest suicide rate in Europe and one of the highest in the world. Take my family for instance: my mother came from a large family, many brothers and sisters, now dying out one by one – we now have a funeral like every month or so. I have been observing their lives for all my life, and they all seem to be very happy and proud about them being a huge family. Problem is, they have hardly been happy about anything else. It seems that all the time their lives have been very difficult, and for the most part that was due to something bad happening to their numerous close ones or themselves (like health problems etc). It seems that they never really got a change to take a break and enjoy their own lives… Constant circle of worry and and misfortunes.

    I now have my own family – wife and kids, and, of course, very sick old parents – and my greatest and only dream… is just to be left alone… at least for a week. And how come when I look at single people and their lives I often envy them so much

    • Alecto

      Population of Sweden = 9.55 million
      Population of United States = 314 million

      Forget for one second the U.S. population is drawn from every nation on the planet, is the most diverse country on earth with the highest immigration rates of any country by far. The U.S. has the largest economy in the world and Sweden has Swedes and produces Volvos and meatballs? The only reason countries like Sweden, France and rest of those lazy, good for nothing Europeans have their socialist utopias is that Americans have foot the bill for their defense, have bailed them out for a hundred years. Go away, ya bug me.

      • dch

        It must really bother you that another population is doing better than you. Sweden is a rather nice country and ranks high in societal rankings. Oh as far as your numbers go, adjust for the population:

        Per Capita GDP:

        Sweden $55,158 (8th)

        United States: $49,922 (11th)

        Sweden has a HIGHER standard of living by the way.
        And they are the LEAST religious of Western countries. LOL

        • Alecto

          Say what? If Sweden had to include its defense costs (picked up by the U.S. taxpayer via NATO) its per capita GDP would be about $20,000. As I wrote, we’re sick and tired of carrying Eurotrash.

          I would be very happy to close every U.S. base in Europe, and elsewhere, defund all foreign aid. The more we give, the more the world hates us. I want out of all of it: UN, regional wars, tribal conflicts, etc…. And, I don’t you people coming here. Fix your own damn problems, pay your own way, and stop bellying up to our trough.

          • dch

            1. Sweden is NOT a member of NATO!
            2. There are no US military bases in Sweden.
            3. Sweden receive no foreign aid from the US.
            4. Immigration from Sweden to the US has been minimal since about 1920.
            We’ve never had a problem with Swedes and the other Nordic countries. They are a rather agreeable bunch.
            The US goes not spend $30,000 per Swede on the defense of Sweden. Show your math.

            • Alecto

              1. You need to check your GDP numbers. The 2011 GDP for Swedes per capita is $40,993, putting it lower than the U.S.

              2. Sweden is a member of specific NATO programs and initiatives for which it receives remuneration. You might want to check the State Dept website: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2880.htm or the NATO website: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-984ED5F7-98B2724F/natolive/51288.htm
              And, Sweden is the 9th largest exporter of arms in the world. Considering its 9.55 million populaton, that’s a staggering sum of money from arms dealing.

              3. Sweden does not received development assistance, but it does receive U.S. funds, and since Swedes coming to the U.S. do not need visas for visits of 90 days or less, it’s not possible to tell who goes back and who doesn’t.

              • dch

                The GDP numbers vary by source and methodology.

                They are not in NATO – exchanges with NATO are not significant to the Swedish economy. Sweden actually CONTRIBUTES to NATO operation in the Kosovo and Afganistan.

                As for the third point – the US does track entries and exits and knows who overstays visas. (My wife is a foreigner and when she applied for each tourist visa prior to our getting married the US consulate that issued her visas knew every date of entry and exit precisely from her previous visits over five years.) There is NO evidence hidden immigration from Sweden to the US.

                The point of the article is about the logic that assets that
                The “Decline of religion” > leads to “Decline of the family” > 3. followed “Decline and collapse of the society.”

                I was merely pointing out that the Nordic countries do not follow any such pattern after the almost complete secularization of their societies in the late 20th Century.
                Basically the Swedes have discarded religion at the highest rate in the western world and NOT suffered any of the outcomes suggested by the writer. Many people do just fine without religion at the center of their lives.

          • vito

            No one is forcing you to waste your money on your military crap. Sweden is not taking your money in military aid or otherwise and as far as I know they don’t have your bases. Get your troops and get out of Europe, if you want. You are staying there only as long as it is in your imperialist interests, anyway.

            • Alecto

              Gladly. Let Russia cut off your gas supplies and freeze this winter. For too long, American politicians have pandered to every country’s citizens but ignored the demands of the U.S. taxpayer. Allies? The last thing any country in Europe is to the U.S. is an ally! Parasites, yes, whining spoiled Polanski-esque pervs, yes, but friend? Not since we liberated the camps, and instituted the Marshall Plan. And if it weren’t for Ronnie Reagan, you’d probably be living under a worse Soviet version of Putin!

            • Adam Baum

              as far as I know they don’t have your bases.

              But they know that if attacked it will be US F-15’s and F-22’s, our carrier battlefleet engaging that attacker.

              Still I’m glad. Europe seemed to be a consistent source of geopolitical instability and mass slaughter when they maintained more impressive military forces.

          • vito

            No one hates the US too much (do not confuse hate with criticism towards some of its crazy leaders from recent past or ridicule of the culture), except maybe people on the heads of which you occasionally drop some bombs (but that could be your fault in part…). On the other hand, I believe that IF a country is hated by others, it surely deserves it.

            Judging from your comments though, you appear to hate the entire continent (or you don’t realize that Europe is not a country)

            • Alecto

              Coming from the country where the PM outclasses his contemporaries with Bongo Bongo parties? Gag me. You’re on track to establish Sharia law or be so beholden to the Chinese in the next decade you’re forced to legislate Mandarin or Cantonese as your official language. We should have left well enough alone and let the Kaiser have at you.

            • Adam Baum

              We didn’t create the transnational EU, you did.

        • Adam__Baum

          I find it ironic that the left that once so readily parroted Neil Kinnock’s quip about nations being more than GDP and with a penchant that is always equating income with “greed”, promotes their socialist paradises with per capita GDP statistics.

      • vito

        Why are you comparing populations is beyond me… And what does it matter what Sweden produces? At least when it makes something, like a car, it is of good quality, unlike the crap you produce in your Chinese and Italian owned semi-bankrupt tragedies… And again, Sweden is not taking your defense money and is not dancing your dirty international dances and not killing people in your dirty useless invasions..

        • Alecto

          We have locked onto your location and the drones dispatched.

        • Adam Baum

          Right, Saab is a pinnacle of economic stability.

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  • I grew up in a single parent home. I was the first generation of latch key kids. I hated that life. my mother did her best but still nothing can replace a decent father. My brother suffered the most. Unsupervised kids are mean and especially mean to kids who are disabled- my brother suffered from seizures. My childhood was a long time ago but the abuse from that time still reaches out to me in nightmares and daytime memories, If my family had been intact, things would have been different. There would have been stability, there would have been faith, my mother would not have been so tired & angry. The futures of myself and my siblings would have been much brighter; no fears or tears. I know that in my heart.

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