Repairing our culture

What must we do to repair our culture of massive family fragmentation?

American Experiment’s most recent publication aimed at strengthening marriage is a symposium featuring 35 essays by 36 writers addressing the critical question: Specifically, What Must We Do to Repair Our Culture of Massive Family Fragmentation? Compiled by Founder Mitch Pearlstein and released in June, it followed up on another Center report, written by Dr. Pearlstein and released in January, based on roundtable conversations with 19 religious and other Minnesota leaders pondering the question, Can America’s Religious Traditions Strengthen Marriage? Yes, they encouragingly concluded. Here are excerpts from the newest publication.

Bryan Dowd. “A personal example of life-long commitment based on self-sacrificial love can be intensely powerful to the people who observe it and subsequently desire it for themselves. To paraphrase Gandhi’s advice, perhaps the most important step we can take is to encourage ourselves and others to be the cultural change we desire. But be forewarned: To paraphrase Bette Davis’s assessment of old age: Obedience, self-discipline, selfsacrificial love, and lifelong commitments ain’t no place for sissies.”

Todd R. Flanders. “Repairing a culture of family fragmentation requires a culture of self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice must be modeled and taught if it is to be handed on. There must be schools that inculcate it. Consequently, the ongoing viability of such schools requires vigorous defense of First Amendment freedoms of speech, association, and exercise of religion.”

Arvonne Fraser. “So long as the good-father model is that of supporting a family, marriage rates will decline because a majority of men can no longer live up to that model, and our culture does not encourage or support sharing the responsibilities of parenthood – that is doing what has historically been called women’s work.”

Amber Lapp & David Lapp. “Our own interviews with working-class young adults revealed that many young people are suffering from the legacy of their own parents’ divorce and other childhood traumas, like abuse. Many also hold, to borrow from psychologist Carol Dweck’s terminology, a ‘fixed mindset’ about love and happiness, rather than a ‘growth mindset.’ . . . This is why further education and healing are vital.”

Lawrence M. Mead. “Few today oppose the value of marriage as such, yet many do not achieve it. That’s because we have not yet evolved the combination of more demanding policies with public support that has brought progress in other areas. Federal experiments have shown that counseling spouses how to marry and stay married has little effect. That is because the tested programs were nondirective and because public opinion was not yet mobilized to demand change. To be effective, policies must more clearly expect better behavior, and the public must back it up.”

Erin Mundahl. “Making families stronger means spending more time with family. Only by coming to love not the ideal of family, but the people themselves – with all their annoying habits and human flaws – can the institution be strengthened. Love is a choice; it’s also hard work. The same is true of friendships.”

Stephen B. Young. “Cultures do not arise by accident of faith; they are shaped by human needs and human will responding to both realities and aspiration. There once was no Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, and then there was. There was once slavery, legal and widely accepted in England and the United States, and then it was not. Rome was once mighty, and then it wasn’t. . . . Family fragmentation in America is a comparatively recent cultural expression of social preferences. It has yet to burrow its way deeply into our national soul. It is still vulnerable to attack from the right directions.”