Christianity Undermines the Family

Yup, that’s right; that’s not a typo. The Catholic Church was responsible for reducing the size of families in Western Europe contrary to popular belief.

Before I get stuck in the details, a little context is needed.

The fight over the reproductive health bill in the Philippines has pitted the Catholic clergy and faithful on the one hand against secular, feminist, and humanists on the other. One of the contentions of the anti-RH camp is that the bill is anti-family and will cause a rapid decline in our population similar to what has occurred in Western Europe.

Here is Sen President Juan Ponce Enrile one of our elder statesmen opposed to the RH bill,

If you are going to contract the population, you reach a point in time where you will have less workers, less production, less consumption, less taxpayers to support the government.

And again, he goes on

The economic interest of the country will be a factor and the security of this nation for the next 100 years will be on the balance. Mind you, this bill is not really that easy. It’s a matter that will affect, will impinge on the faith of each one of us.

This popular belief which he expresses comes from the experience of Western European countries where fertility rates have dipped below replacement levels since the mid-60s. This is attributable to the rise of contraception use in those countries, the strength of the women’s movement and the legalization of abortion. Concurrent with these developments has been the collapse of the traditional family and with that the greying of the population.

The Philippines with its exposure to Western media and culture has still managed to maintain laws which reflect the predominantly Catholic nature of its population. This according to Sen Enrile is the only thing that prevents it from slipping into the demographic malaise of our European counterparts.

Modern Family

In reality, the decline of the traditional family in the West preceded the rise of modern contraceptives. In his new book The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama devotes an entire chapter the title of which I borrowed from him here to discuss this form of “European exceptionalism.” According to Fukuyama, dating the rise of the modern family is a bit tricky.

Karl Marx associated it with the rise of the bourgeois class during the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the Communist Manifesto Marx claimed that the bourgeoisie “has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced family relation to a mere money relation.”

For his part, Max Weber felt that the rise of individualism came about through the Protestant Reformation with its emphasis on personal salvation and the Enlightenment with its emphasis on individual rights and secular humanism. This would date the existence of modern families to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

If Weber and Marx are correct then the collapse of traditional societies, which were based on extensive ties of kinship, restrictions on market transactions and individual social mobility due to informal social norms grounded in tradition, religion, and charisma, and the transition into modern societies which are based on individualism, meritocracy, egalitarianism and rational-legal forms of authority is only but a few centuries old.

The french historian Marc Bloch however believes that the rise of feudalism in the ninth and tenth centuries was in part a way of coping with the decline of kinship based tribal societies in Europe. According to Bloch, “Neither the state nor the family any longer provided adequate protection…Everywhere the weak man felt the need to be sheltered by someone more powerful.” This dates the birth of the modern family much sooner.

But it was actually around the sixth century, when the Catholic church, confronted with the marriage practices of newly converted Germanic tribes that had toppled the Roman empire, introduced changes to them. These tribal practices included marriage to cousins or close kin, the levirate or marriage to widows of deceased relatives, adoption and divorce. The church instituted edicts that forbade concubinage and promoted marriage as an indissoluble, monogamous and lifelong bond.

The reason according to Jack Goody was not theological but material in nature. Goody labels the marriage practices banned by the church “strategies of heirship” whereby kinship groups maintained control of property. At a time when the average life expectancy was less than thirty-five, the likelihood that a couple produced a male heir who survived into adulthood was quite low.

At that time the church encouraged donations of land and property to itself. Accordingly, women were allowed to own property to prevent their deceased husbands’ inheritance from reverting back to the family group in the absence of an heir. Thus, women’s rights to own and bequeth property was an unintented consequence of this teaching which profited the church largely. By the end of the seventh century, one-third of all productive land in France fell into the hands of ecclesiastical estates.

So there you have it. The rise of individualism, women’s rights and the modern society in Western Europe which is blamed for the demise of the traditional family originated from church law back in the sixth century. If it was motivated by material interests to outlaw old forms of marriage back then, it might be similarly motivated today in seeking to discourage new forms of family planning to prevent its flock from shrinking.

Fertile Ground

Finally with regard to the argument that the promotion of modern forms of contraception will lead to an irreversible decline of population and economic stagnation, I would offer the following chart taken from a study by Mikko Mryskyla of the University of Pennsylvania published in the science journal Nature back in 2009.

It shows two snapshots of cross-country fertility rates recorded in 1975 and 2005 on the vertical axis plotted against human development scores on the horizontal. Back in the twentieth century, you could be forgiven for thinking that the downward trend would have no end as countries that grew richer exhibited lower fertility rates. This is clearly shown by the 1975 scatter plot (in blue).

Here in the twenty-first century, that pattern has clearly been reversed with countries exhibiting advanced levels of human development recording a recovery (see the red scatter plot) of their fertility rates compared to previous levels set in 1975 (HDI or the human development indicator on the horizontal axis is a composite index of health, education and income levels).

The way that these countries have reversed the downward trend and produced the J-curve observed in 2005 has been by promoting a number of family friendly policies which include generous maternity/paternity leave allowances, free or subsidized childcare and pre-schools, pre- and post-partum care to mothers and newborns, and flexible working hours, to name a few.

Myrskyla has since then studied the relationship between happiness and fertility using data from the World Values Survey and has concluded that having children is “a long-term investment in well-being.” In the short-run however the data shows that having more kids poses challenges to happiness (less time for personal needs and interests). The policies mentioned help to counter that and allow families cope better with raising kids.

With such policies in place, these countries have seen their fertility rates rising above the demographic point of no return (of around 1.5 births per woman) to near replacement levels (around 2.1 bpw). Given that this field of policy research and development is still in its “infancy” (pardon the pun), we can expect to see more countries joining them and hopefully see fertility rates in rich countries reach replacement levels in the near future.

So to the doubters out there who still feel that modern family planning is anti-family, perhaps they need to brush up on their reading of events, both past and present.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • GabbyD

    wow cusp….

    ok. to repeat my arguments are simple. FIRST: none of the things u mentioned on this blog hurt the nuclear family, but they might hurt the extended family. SECOND, fukuyama in essays and interviews also stated that his chapter is about the dimunition of the extended family.

    however, you havent responded to any of these. instead you have called me names, and your counter is that one needs to read a book before knowing what it means.

    to which i say — bogus! my goal is not to know what the book means. my goal is much much SIMPLER. what did fukuyama mean when he said “family” in the title. i dont need to read the whole book to know that.

    your argument is a poor excuse for not giving a counter argument. just to see how bad it is, lets say its true… this IMPLIES THAT…

    1) we cannot know that the iliad is about the trojan war WITHOUT READING THE BOOK.
    2) we cannot know that twilight is about vampires and werewolves WITHOUT READING THE BOOK.
    3) we cannot know that the end of history is about liberal democracy WITHOUT READING THE BOOK.

    the list goes on and on. 

    so cusp, if you dont want to reply, or if u dont have a good counterargument yet dont want to concede the point …

    …dont rely on patently bogus excuses like “read the book”. its embarrassing.

    • GabbyD

      that said, cusp…

      i promise to give you the respect you havent given me, in that i will always be honest, argue in favor of/against your arguments using actual counter arguments.

      that is what intellectual respect means: even if i think you are wrong, i wont just SAY you are wrong. i’ll attempt to prove it. if i think you are right, and i have something to buttress it, i will do so.

      i think civility is crucial, esp in our country where there are so many problems.

      put it another way: if 2 guys cant get to together and deal with one idea, how can the country deal with more complex problems?

  • J_ag

    “So there you have it. The rise of individualism, women’s rights and the modern society in Western Europe which is blamed for the demise of the traditional family originated from church law back in the sixth century. If it was motivated by material interests to outlaw old forms of marriage back then, it might be similarly motivated today in seeking to discourage new forms of family planningto prevent its flock from shrinking.”

    So materialism determines the culture.  Tribal communities were communal in nature.  The strongest had the most partners…  

    So feudalism centralized clan power to protect material interest. 

    The of course came John Locke and Adam Smith… Natural law versus civil law. 

    “To prohibit a great people from making all that they can of
    every part of their own produce or from employing their stock and industry in
    the way that they judge most advantageous to themselves is a manifest violation
    of the most sacred rights of mankind.”

     

    “The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is
    the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and
    inviolable.”

     

    “But in the present state of Europe,
    when small as well as great estates derive their security from the laws of
    their country, nothing can be more completely absurd.  They are founded upon the most absurd of all
    suppositions, the supposition that every successive generation of men have not
    an equal right to the earth, and to all that it possesses, but that the
    property of the present generation should be restrained and regulated according
    to the fancy of those who died perhaps 500 years ago.”  All from Adam Smith… 

      He laid down the foundation of liberalism that is tied to liberal democracy… So the commie Marx took it one step further claiming that profits of the capitalist is theft of labor’s property rights. In simple words “Its the economy stupid.”

    • I knew you would come around in the end, J_AG, once you realized that the RCC was acting based on its material interests! And you did it all by yourself, without tying you and I in the tedium of debate.

      Fukuyama called this the “turtles on turtles”effect which comes from the pre-scientific notion of a flat world resting on the back of turtles. You have the economic growth that came from the individualist, arm’s-length, impersonal form of transaction. Beneath that turtle was the social phenomenon of the break up of kinship based societies. Underneath that turtle is the religious factor. But underneath that was the material interests of the church!

      Congrats on making all those connections!

      • J_ag

        The Marxists call it dialectical materialism or historical materialism.. That is what makes the world go round… Smiths invisible hand… So what is new. During those early times there was no institutional RCC. 

        The last emperor Constantine saw fit to organize the dying empire under the Cross because it was a rallying idea. He moved it to what is now Constantinople. 

        I think most leftists still do not know  that Marxism drew a lot from the original ideas of Smith on the division of labor and the correlation off prices tied to the cost of labor.. 

        Plus the idea of natural law which is an offshoot of moral principles. Hence the evolution of moral construction from the divine right of Kings to the vox populi idea. (Tribes to representative government that is tied to material self interest.)

        Look to Libya today were in the ruler was singular despot.  Put in modern armaments in that kind of culture. Look to the ARMM…

        Where oh where is the Philippine State? 

        “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” Thomas Hobbes

  • Joe America

    “In the short-run however the data shows that having more kids poses challenges to happiness (less time for personal needs and interests).”
    In large families, kids are commodities to be placed into the labor market to generate income. In small families, kids are jewels to be polished and cherished and sent forth to shine.

    You may quote this fine JoeAm-ism.

  • GabbyD

    cusp,

    if there is anything incorrect with what i said, i’d be happy to be corrected. anything here about the underming of the nuclear family? cousin marriage, inheritance? 

    i didnt read the book, but the interview should help me answer ONE QUESTION: when he talks about family, what does he MEAN?

    “One of the broad questions I’ve addressed in the book is how did these different societies make an exit out of kinship-based social organization into a modern-based state, with impersonal, centralized administration? Europe in that respect was quite exceptional, because that happened early, and it happened through the agency of the Catholic Church,”
    its perfectly clear what he means. its kinship based social organization. not the nuclear family. 

    there is another sense in which i object. you dont need fukuyama to say that family sizes go down with development (and they go up again apparently!).

    this empirical phenomena is not a problem for the church’s position on family. the church if ok with smaller family sizes per se.

    • You have conflated the intention of the Church with the outcome of its policy. That’s what’s incorrect. The RCC never intended to undermine the family as it existed back then, just as it doesn’t intend to promote large ones today as an ideal. Yet those were/are the outcomes of its positions.

      If you take the historical argument that the RCC set the institutional wheels in motion such as women’s independence and individualism of persons within the family and/or tribe that are being accused of undermining the nuclear family today, then indirectly and unintentionally, the church’s teachings back in the middle ages have spawned or given rise to modern independent thought that is seen as contributing to modern society’s ills like the break-up of the family, the greater acceptance of other forms such as single parent families, families with no children, gay marriages and the like.

      Comprende?

      • GabbyD

        ok. so this isnt about family size.

        we agree that the church doesnt care about it. yes?

        we also agree, historically, that the church was acting to limit EXTENDED FAMILIES, and focus on NUCLEAR FAMILIES. yes?

        i think those are our only disagreements. 

        i cannot object to the rise of women’s liberation, or how it happened. it was inexorable. but it only really took off post-war. but if u want to pin the beginnings in the middle ages, i have no objections.

        i only say that women’s liberation is not opposed to by the church. nor does it NECESSARILY  lead to a weakening of the nuclear family. same for individualism. well, thats the RCC’s stand.

        however, its true that certain groups of women and men DO mean to do (what the RCC) believes is is hurting the nuclear family. 

        included here is divorce, gay marriage, polygamous marriages, etc. (in a sense, this goes back to where marriage was prior to the church’s involvement).

        however, your argument (earlier) was that cousin marriage, inhertance laws PER SE hurt nuclear families. 

        i dont think thats true. it hurt extended kin relationships. but NOT nuclear families.

        so yeah, our disagreement is basically WHAT did the church do to hurt nuclear families. i (and fukuyama) believe the church didnt hurt nuclear families.

        do you?

        • It is MEANINGLESS to continue this VACUOUS discussion with you since it seems you are intent on misappropriating the author with your mischaracterization of the arguments so far. Go read him first, what he actually wrote as opposed to what you gathered from snippets after googling him. 

          Only then do you have the right to invoke him. You don’t realize you are treating his work with such disrespect the way you have been carrying about with such pretence. And the worst thing is that you seem so blissfully unaware of what a serious offence you have admitted to committing!And no, you don’t really grasp the arguments mounted in this piece either or how they flow directly from the author’s work and disprove your contentions. I have tried to spell it out for you in PLAIN ENGLISH, but you have proven how UTTERLY FUTILE that is.

          • GabbyD

            i’m trying to reach consensus. i thought it would be possible, and i still do.

            so do you disagree that: “we also agree, historically, that the church was acting to limit EXTENDED FAMILIES, and focus on NUCLEAR FAMILIES. yes?” –> that this is what fukuyama meant?

            yes? or no? 

            disrespect? what are you talking about. i’m trying to understand what fukuyama meant. he has a direct quote that tells me what he meant (not to mention a number of essays about his work).

            the wonder of this is, IF i am wrong about (the above), that i am fabricating this, then its easy to disprove it.

            so please, disprove it. why complain when its EASIER to prove it?

            if he isnt talking about extended families (cousin marriage), then it should be in your blog post, or his book.

            finally, i dont understand your attitude. we are having a simple discussion about what the author meant. why be condescending? 

          • Enough has been said. Read first, then we’ll talk.

  • GabbyD

    yeah, this is so weird cusp. none of this makes sense.

    ” forbade concubinage ” == undermine family?
    “marriage as an indissoluble, monogamous and lifelong bond”== undermine family?

    “property was passed down through male lineage but private ownership was not as we know it” == supports family?

    ” lower birth rates” ==> undermines family?
    “later marriages “== undermines family?

    where did u get this stuff? who said this stuff? i dont think anyone believes this.

    • Your beef is with Francis Fukuyama who has a title by the same name in his recent book, as I stated in the piece.

      • GabbyD

        he uses it in the title, coz its provocative. 

        but what he means is extended kinship, which is a distinctly different idea than what we (including the RCC) mean today.

        its useful scholarship, for sure. but he doesnt really mean family as we do.

        • Question, have you even read the book? or even the chapter being referred to?

          • GabbyD

            no. i read what you wrote above (he mentions cousin marriage, so i knew this was weird from the start). when u told me fukuyama wrote it, i read a couple of reviews and an interview. he really does mean extended kinship networks. 

          • I thought so. Before you babble on endlessly about what you have gathered after Googling it or whichever method you used to dig up your insights, might I suggest that you actually READ IT FIRST before making such ridiculous claims and assertions. We can then have AN INTELLIGENT DISCUSSION instead of this nonsensical debate over what you claim is the author’s provocative use of language for scholarship or whatever else you pluck from thin air.

          • GabbyD

            huh?

            do you mean to tell me that when people talk of “strengthening the family” they say…

            you know what would strengthen the family? COUSIN MARRIAGE!

            cmon, thats nuts.

          • Keep digging, GabbyD. Keep digging. You are just demonstrating further your ignorance, since it wasn’t just about cross marriages inter-tribe. That’s what happens when you decide to become a GOOGLE scholar.

          • GabbyD

            hey, its what fukuyama said in the interview. but you know what, u can take it up with him.

            i like being a google scholar :). the internet is great. you can learn so much!

          • I think the more appropriate response from you should have been, “Gee I didn’t know that about the book/author. Perhaps I should read it/him first before commenting. I might learn something new. Thanks.”That would have been a more civilized and intellectually honest response.

          • The problem is you haven’t taken everything he has said in framing your argument, basing it on snippets from an interview alone. And now you want to turn the argument against me as if I don’t understand when I am the one who read the book and you haven’t. You have already exposed yourself as a charlatan by commenting on material you haven’t read assuming to know the mind of the author better than the author himself. That is the height of intellectual dishonesty and arrogance. Have you no shame?

        • I read the book and the chapter in question, and I disagree with you in terms of your characterization of his intentions for using the title and the substance of its contents. Perhaps you can enlighten me as to where you get this unique insight into the author’s mind?

        • GabbyD

          certainly cusp. i cant link, but ill paste a snippet of an interview from NRO.

          SHAFFER: Your chapter “How Christianity Undermines the Family” is provocatively titled and sort of microcosmic for your whole thesis. Can you tell us about it?FUKUYAMA: You can’t have modern politics if society is based on the biological principles of supporting friends and family. That’s the natural mode of human sociability. We’re naturally inclined to take care of family and exchange favors with friends. Human beings will interact in that manner without anyone telling them to behave that way because it’s biologically grounded.In all human societies, social order at one stage depended on extended kinship — people living in tribes where people traced ancestry to a common ancestor that may be three, four, or five generations dead. This was no less true of Europeans than it was of the Chinese, or Arabs, or Africans, or anyone else in the world. All the Germanic barbarians organized themselves tribally after overrunning the Roman Empire.

          One of the broad questions I’ve addressed in the book is how did these different societies make an exit out of kinship-based social organization into a modern-based state, with impersonal, centralized administration? Europe in that respect was quite exceptional, because that happened early, and it happened through the agency of the Catholic Church, which changed the rules of inheritance for kin-groups. It forbade divorce, it forbade concubinage, and it forbade cousin marriages within three or four degrees of relatedness. All of these were practices in tribal societies that kept property within an extended kin-group. In the Arab world in many places they still encourage cross-cousin marriage, where you marry your first cousin and the two families get to keep property within this narrow circle.

        • Within the context of the RH debate, undermining the family as JPE stated would be engaging in population control; the pro-LIFE camp’s argument is that families should be allowed to have as many children as they can. So in those terms, the argument that it was the RCC doctrine that led to smaller families in Europe is particularly apt because it undermines that notion of the family. Hence the title.

          • GabbyD

            i remember manny pacquiao saying that there should be as many kids as possible. 

            but mannyp doesnt speak for the church.

            i dont think prolife (the organization) said that either. 

            i also think, the RCC (the pope) has ever said, there should be as many kids as they can give birth to. 

            the RCC accepts the concept of family planning. we are just arguing over the methods –> this was my earlier issue (first comment)… some methods are, from the RCC’s pov, anti-unborn. this isnt just a women’s rights issue. the fetus is also involved.

          • You think? Sorry, but I cannot discuss something based on a hunch.

          • GabbyD

            “You think? Sorry, but I cannot discuss something based on a hunch.”

            cusp,
            i’d be happy to be corrected on this. you seem to be certain this is how the church thinks about family.

            my position is, 1) i don’t think so. and 2) where did u get that?

            so far, you have gotten it from a reading/understanding of a biblical quote. whose reading? I DON’T KNOW. i dont think its the RCC’s reading of it. so i’m ASKING YOU.

            remember, you are the one saying that the church thinks about population control and how that undermines/weakens the family. thats why i’m asking YOU.

  • Migueldj

    How does this, “The church instituted edicts that forbade concubinage and promoted marriage as an indissoluble, monogamous and lifelong bond.” support your thesis that “Christianity Undermines the Family”?  And you’re right about the Church profiting.  Let’s define ‘profit’ in terms more expansive than just material wealth and ‘Church’ as being just the Roman Curia.

    • Before then individualism did not exist, property was passed down through male lineage but private ownership was not as we know it. Tribes of extended kin who traced their lineage to a common ancestor kept everything within the family.
      The changes led to greater independence from this custom particularly for women, but it did lead to lower birth rates and later marriages that we tend to associate with the modern age. In this regard it undermined the family as it was known then.

  • J_ag

    It took humanity 50,000 years to reach a population of 500 million in the year 1500.

    From that point on it only took 600 years for humanity to reach 7 billion… 

    The effects of the Copernican revolution, the Reformation and the Enlightenment period brought forth the dominance of science over religion. 

    It also broke up the theocratic hold over kingdoms. Prior to that politics, economics and culture were embedded into the political economy. There was no distinction between ruler and church… 

    The West surged ahead based on this most important paradigm shift. 

    Technology allowed us to live longer and cut down the number of birth deaths. Even with the improved productivity for destroying human lives and human embryos the world’s population is still growing… 

    What is this, an attempt to revise the history of Europe???? 

    Large families were the order of the day in Europe to provide hands for farming during the middle ages. 

    • I take it you prefer Marx’s historical interpretation based on material determinism. That view was canvassed as well.

  • GabbyD

    “The rise of individualism, women’s rights and the modern society in Western Europe which is blamed for the demise of the traditional family originated from church law back in the sixth century. ”

    i dont follow the logic. the church isnt against women’s rights — as evidenced by your earlier paragraph.

    what they are against is that abortion and certain family planning methods are against life. (and not ONLY a women’s rights issue; after all there are two “beings” involved.)

    say it another way: it becomes ONLY a women’s rights issue IF you believe that there is only ONE being involved.

    • You definitely didn’t follow me. I am saying that the Church promoted women’s rights inadvertently in the sixth century. The women’s movement that we know today would not have come about without the Church’s help. It was never my intention to go into the theological debate about whether this or that technique is morally acceptable. Thanks to the institutions that the Church initiated in the middle ages, states and the Law today have become much more independent of religious authority. This is the irony that escapes many in this current debate.

      • GabbyD

        “…states and the Law today have become much more independent of religious authority. This is the irony that escapes many in this current debate.”

        absolutely, no problem. 

        my issue is why this undermines the family(?).

        why do individualism, smaller family, women’s rights undermine the family? definitely the church supports ALL OF THAT (including the family). 

        do you have a church document that says women’s rights hurt the family? who said that?

        • Yes, well I suppose you would need to read my response to Migueldj above for that.

  • Reposting this! 🙂 Way to go!

    • Glad you liked it.

      • Manuelbuencamino

        Interesting how the church acquired lands by banning certain types of marriage and how that led to the ban on marriage for priests which was a strategy to keep the lands/wealth acquired by the church from falling into the hands of the heirs of priests and bishops.