Religious practice and the family are intricately intertwined, according to Mary Eberstadt, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Eberstadt studied the relationship between family and religious practice and describes their inter-dependence in her new book How the West Really Lost God. Eberstadt explains their relationship as “the double helix of society, each dependent on the strength of the other for successful reproduction.”
Last week, Eberstadt presented her findings in a lecture at The Heritage Foundation.
The Western world has begun moving away from religious belief and practice, as Eberstadt notes:
It’s hard to survey Western societies today and not see that many people have turned their back on the Judeo-Christian God—including in places that were once Christian strongholds. Across Western Europe, church attendance has gone over a cliff.
The decline in religiosity isn’t limited to Western Europe. In 1972, 94.9 percent of Americans reported a religious preference. That figure dropped to 82 percent of Americans in 2010. When family bonds start to slip, the pews at Sunday services begin to empty.
Eberstadt set out to find out why religious practice in the Western world declined. Her study suggests—and social science corroborates—that religious observance and family bonds go together.
Eberstadt’s research suggests that family strengthens religious practice, and likewise, religious practice strengthen the family. Marriages tend to be stronger when the spouses attend weekly service. Likewise, parents—especially fathers—are more involved in the lives of their children when they frequent religious services. As previous Heritage research has pointed out, religious practice contributes to the well-being of individuals, families, and the community.
However, Eberstadt also emphasizes that the opposite is true. Where there is a breakdown of the family—particularly as marriage rates decline and the welfare state grows to fill the void left by broken or never-formed families—religious observance likewise slumps.
Both a robust marriage culture and frequent religious practice contribute to a healthy civil society.
National leaders and policymakers have an important role to play in rebuilding a culture that appreciates and promotes marriage and family for the benefit of women, men, children, and civil society as a whole.