WACO—Weakened families that followed the advent of the birth-control pill and the sexual revolution have fueled increased secularization, conservative cultural analyst Mary Eberstadt told a crowd at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary.
The pill put great pressure on marriages and families because of the temptation it brought, said Eberstadt, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and author of How the West Really Lost God.
“At a minimum, we know that it made extramarital sex easier and therefore destigmatized extramarital sex,” she said. “Ever since the pill, the sexual revolution has been like a great big party that is completely out of control.”
The birth-control pill paved the way for increased secularization in the Western world and is linked specifically to higher abortion rates, Eberstadt asserted.
“One thing that happens is that the pill is a gateway drug to abortion,” she insisted. “That’s why you see what sociology cannot explain, which is, as the pill becomes more and more available at ever younger ages, abortion rates go up.”
Eberstadt also directly connected the state of families and religion.
“Religious vibrancy and family vibrancy go hand in hand,” she said.
At the same time, she emphasized, global changes in sexual morality have contributed directly to a decline in Christianity’s significance in the West in the last half-century.
A ‘dumbed-down’ society
People haven’t rejected religion because they “smartened up about the God racket,” she insisted. Rather, society has been “dumbed down.” Negative family models make it difficult for many young people to relate to a loving Father in heaven, she asserted.
“How did a wide swath of society go from fearing God to jeering God?” she asked at a symposium sponsored by Baylor’s Center for Ministry Effectiveness and Educational Leadership, the Institute for Studies of Religion and the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Truett Seminary.
She rejected the notion of religion’s death predicted by secularists as far back as the Enlightenment.
“Plainly, the Almighty has not gone away on the schedule predicted by his supposed eulogists,” she quipped.
Similarly, Eberstadt disputed the idea people naturally reject religion as they become more educated, sophisticated and prosperous. Reality refutes the stereotypes of the uneducated pious poor. In fact, she pointed to a study specific to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that revealed a rise in religious adherence as educational and socio-economic levels rose.
“Mammon alone does not necessarily drive out God,” she said.
Baby boom linked to religious revival
Rather, Eberstadt views the family as the key variable that drives people toward or away from religion. She pointed to a 15-year revival in religious influence after World War II that coincided with the Baby Boom.
Parenthood can be a transformative spiritual experience for many couples, making them more open to religion, she observed.
“Mothers and fathers seek out like-minded moral communities in which to raise their children,” she said.
And, she added, when children grow up without a loving father and mother, they are less likely to be religious. Churches and families combine to create the “double helix of family and faith,” she said.
‘Families need churches. Churches need families’
“Each side of the spiral needs the other to reproduce itself. Families need churches. Churches need families,” she said.
In a response to Eberstadt’s address, Byron Johnson, director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, observed the changing demographic landscape of secularism in the West. He noted studies from the University of London that conclude secularists do not reproduce themselves anywhere near the rate religious people do.
“People who are secular have less children,” Johnson stated. “This is a global phenomenon. There are many countries in Europe that are just not having enough children to sustain the population.”
Johnson is optimistic secularism rates will decrease over the next 50 years, simply because religious couples “outbreed” secular couples.
Eberstadt also finds reason for optimism that secularism can be dealt a fatal blow, because of the strong influence the faith community can have on secular society.