How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization


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Drawing on a wealth of sociological data, Eberstadt establishes the intellectual need for an explanation of the decline of Western Christianity. European Christianity, she shows, is now but a shadow of what it was seventy or eighty years ago.

Yet when Eberstadt turns to the standard academic explanations of the secularization of once-Christian lands, she finds strange incongruities and ruptures in logic. Of course, many observers have recognized a linkage between the decline in religious belief and the transformation of the family. But most have regarded the decline in religious conviction as a cause of this transformation of the family. Stalin had three children.

Eberstadt stands on solid ground in emphasizing the importance of the family in fostering religious belief. Acts —by telescoping three generations of scriptural family history. Not just birth but also death—or the threat of death—can invest family ties with a singular power to pull men and women toward religious questions. Surely family love gives individuals an extra incentive to contemplate eternity. Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, so too are there fewer inside the nursery as opposed to out of it—and the same for the critical care unit. Eberstadt is wise in inviting her readers to ponder great literature when considering how family life can turn men and women toward God.

Readers who accept that invitation may continue literary reflections as Eberstadt moves from her discussion of how the family nurtures Christian faith to her discussion of how family disintegration fosters apostasy from that faith.

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For we recognize that these family-less and promiscuous sybarites simply lack the life experiences necessary to understand wedlock or Deity. To whom I would be. Yes, the West lost—or is losing—God by jettisoning marital and family commitments. And Eberstadt merits high praise for clarifying this culturally devastating development.

But our best novelists and poets can now help us see just why confused and misguided men and women have turned against both family and God.

Our most acute literary artists can illuminate the counterfeit religion that is fast replacing Christianity, a surrogate religion fusing the Dream of Self with the Vision of Utopia in a modern mythology that blocks from view both the family and the God who laid marital and family responsibilities on Adam and Eve as He exiled them from the Garden.

Bryce J. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America , trans.

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