Masculinity and Family Values: The Cure to Society’s Ills?

Culture Vultures I’m very skeptical about “Christian” patriarchy and the Family Integrated Church movement for biblical and (Reformed) theological reasons.  I’m also skeptical of these things for social (or sociological) reasons. I agree with many of the points made by the authors of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  Here’s an excerpt from the introduction where the authors give some common suggestions on why American culture is crumbling.

“Perhaps the most widespread alternative explanation locates the source of our problems in a crisis of the family.  The cry that what our society most needs is ‘family values’ is not one to be dismissed lightly.  …But why is the crisis expressed as a failure of family values?  It is unlikely that we will understand what is going on here unless we once again take into account the culture of individualism.”

In other words, in our individualistic society we tend to blame individuals for society’s problems: if we fix individuals, social problems will be solved.  The authors say there is some truth in this, and a call to renewed commitment to marriage and family responsibilities is a good call.  However,

“…to imagine that problems arising from failures rooted in the structure of our economy and polity can primarily be traced to the failings of individuals with inadequate family values seems to us sadly mistaken.  It not only increases the level of individual guilt, it also distracts attention from larger failures of collective responsibility.”

“The link between cultural individualism and the emphasis on family values has a further consequence.  …Failure [for a man] to support [his] family may be taken as an indication of inadequate manhood.  It is easy to draw the conclusion that if American men would only act like men, then family life would be improved and social problems solved.  Some such way of thinking undoubtedly lies behind the movement known as Promise Keepers, as well as the Million Man March of 1995.”

“While we share many of the values of these movements, we are skeptical that increased male responsibility will prove to be an adequate solution to our deep structural economic and political problems or even that it will do more than marginally diminish the sever strains on the American family.  The notion that if men would only be men then all would be well in our society seems to us a sad cultural delusion.”

Bellah and the other authors go on to explain these things in more detail.  Their perspective is that rampant individualism is the major factor that has been tearing America apart for years: not primarily loss of family values or loss of masculinity (though these things are somewhat related).  Simply regaining family values and “manhood” is not a deep and lasting cure for all cultural ills – there’s more to it than that.

Perhaps the same could be said of the church?  How much has American individualism and populism weakened the church?  Quite a bit, I would say.  If you want more info on this, I recommend Habits of the Heart.  You may not agree with all of it, but it will stretch you, challenge you, help you fight against individualism, and think more in terms of solidarity and community.

Habits of the Heart, ed. Bella, Madsen, etc. (2008 edition).

shane lems

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