Wheatley Roundtable on Family gathered students and faculty from BYU, intrigued community members, and scholars from across the country to discuss philosophical defenses for the family and its value to society. On February 14, Mary Eberstadt gave the conference’s keynote address, “Family & Faith in a Pagan Time,” acutely focused on the societal shift of family and faith in Western civilization. She began, “Once, belief in God and traditional religion were unremarkable. Now increasing numbers seem to think both those things require explanation and also resistance. That difference between cheering God and jeering God is not just a sea change; it is wholly uncharted water.” Eberstadt argues that the shift away from Christianity and towards Paganism has everything to do with the collapse of the family. She explains that there is almost “a rival secularist faith that sees Christianity as a faith to be crushed.” This persistent attack on the traditional moral code has become “an engine of secularization itself,” one that denies any distinction between male and female and therefore the role of mothers and fathers. She continues, “Here is the fundamental question: Why the drive toward androgyny in the first place? Who benefits? What is it about our time that makes this more attractive or desirable to some people than it used to be?” Years of secular attack on the family, protests for a redefinition of marriage, and legislative rulings have fractured the family and created a new kind of cultural system. “The collapse of the family has left a great many people more vulnerable than ever before. It has meant the disappearance in the lives of many children of the one figure meant to protect them from physical harm, their fathers.” This vulnerability does not come without consequence. It forever alters an individual’s life, whether for better or for worse. Decades of breaking down society’s core institution was bound to create unprecedented ripple effects.
It is likely that many children who lack a relationship with a parent, witness a divorce, undergo a collapse of their sense of security, or any variety of similar scenarios will feel betrayed and let down by “the family.” Eberstadt asks, “Is it far-fetched to think that the drift toward androgyny might just have something to do with radically altered opinions? Might they just be responding to opinions from those broken by a world they assume to be lost?” It all comes full circle. The constant battering of the family, religion, morality and tradition is, in part, a chain reaction to scars created from the breakdown of the family. “In the public square, under the voices, one can feel loss and the fumes of a world lost to many. As a result, the diminishing of the family is a key player in the diminishing of western religiosity.” Yet, not all is lost. To reinvigorate society’s faith we must reinvigorate the family. Family is key to faith. “Each institution needs the other one to produce” and strengthen lives. And “we shouldn't underestimate the power of Christianity to speak to the lost”, to repair the years of loss brought on by the weakening of the family. Eberstadt concludes with an important point for hope and a call to action for the religious, “Christianity has faced enormous obstacles throughout its history. The faith has the ability to speak to all. And that is the case for optimism about faith in a pagan time."