by Amer Haleem
SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION professor Phillip E. Hammond, himself the son of three generations of Methodist ministers, made the following observation about the apparent revival of Christian tradition in the fabled “morning-in-America” Reagan days:
“Everyone can ‘affirm’ family values, of course, but divorces are not likely to decrease, birthrates are not likely to increase, women’s participation in more and more arenas outside of the house is not likely to be reversed, and children are not likely to find home an adequate substitute for the technical training required to live in this modern world. Traditional family values can be affirmed, therefore, but they are doomed to be elusive in reality.”
Hammond’s unsentimental foresight has been both obviously and devastatingly dead on.
Family in America, for all the talk 20 years ago about a return to tradition—and despite the improbable political ascent of the Evangelical right—could not escape the relentless human shredder of modernity by merely applying to it more of the synthetic “isms” that oiled its whirring blades to begin with.
Nor would America’s “Christian” impulse—no matter how muscular it was to become—enable it to defy secular society’s kinship-cutting edges once two mortal choices had been made by its leaderships:
(1) The Catholic hierarchies, straight down from the Vatican, determined to crush a grassroots liberation theology movement led by lay people and some clerics seeking to translate their faith into a meaningful prophetic social agenda of communal equality and enfranchising the poor. Instead, the Catholic leadership chose to continue the Church’s banal program of personal “adherence” and institutional involvement that never arrives on time or at any urgent point.
(2) Evangelicals took the fatal decision of conflating their “dispensationalism” with a coarse “Americanism.” Dispensationalism is their belief that there has been a series of successive divine “administrations” since the departure of the Messiah and that the one they currently live under calls for them to usher in his political return in our time. Americanism, for them, is the conviction that God brought the United States into existence as a divine exception to history, gracing it with unprecedented global influence, military power, and wealth—specifically for the purpose of enabling them to order the world in such a way as to compel the second coming of the son of Mary and to ring in the end times.
Busied with the externalities of ritualizing their own personal religion and launching the Kingdom of Heaven, establishment Christian America had little time to establish the tradition of family here on earth—and, above all, the traditional family requires tremendous amounts of presence, tireless human interactions, focused inculcation of the generations, heroic self-sacrifice, and rich mutually lived time. Continue Reading…