Every pastor knows that having kids has a way of bringing young parents inside the church doors. Or, at least, every pastor used to think so. Today, it's less clear. There was a time when you could almost count on young people whose attendance had dropped off after they left Mom and Dad's watchful eyes to return when they became parents themselves. But increasingly, young people who leave aren't coming back. What's going on?
According to Mary Eberstadt, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, it has a lot to do with the fact that fewer young people are getting married and having kids. And if they do finally settle down to start a family, it's much later than it used to be. For Eberstadt, there's an intrinsic link between faith and family, and the decline of the family in Western society has a lot to do with the shrinking size of our churches. In fact, that's How the West Really Lost God, as the title of her new book puts it. "As the family goes," Eberstadt argues, "so go the churches." In North Atlantic societies, the family has not done well in recent years, and to her mind that's been the single most important factor driving secularizing trends in the Western world.
If Eberstadt is right, it's an argument with "radical implications," as she claims. Social scientists and other observers have tended not to view the family as the chief motor of secularizing trends, but Eberstadt believes her argument "turn[s] the standard account of Western religious decline upside down." Rather than the separation of church and state, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, two World Wars, and the rise of education, prosperity, science, technology, ...1