Happy_Family_1274104835Cleaning up the Mess – Learning from the Soviets

by John Stonestreet, April 5, 2013 commentary on www.breakpoint.org [1]
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Recently, my colleague Eric Metaxas told Breakpoint listeners about an
extraordinary example of Christian forgiveness taken from Orlando Figes’
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia.

There’s a lot more we can learn from Figes’ book as well. For example, we
can learn the folly of trying to redefine the family to suit our ideological
purposes.

According to Figes, for many Bolsheviks, the “fundamental goal” of the
revolution was the creation of a “new kind of human being” who only lived
for the “common good.” Of course, the “common good” was defined as
“service to the [Communist] Party and its cause.”

Creating this “new human being” required “blowing up the shell of
private life” that was the source of competing loyalties and obligations.
This conviction put the family in the Bolsheviks crosshairs. For them, it was
an “article of faith” that the traditional family—or the
“bourgeois” family as they called it—was the “stronghold” of
“religion, superstition, ignorance, and prejudice.”

So the Bolsheviks did everything in their power to undermine it, starting
with “[removing] the influence of the Church in marriage and divorce.”
They re-wrote the law to make divorce easy and gave cohabiting couples the
same rights as married ones. Abortion was readily available.

The result was a “huge increase in casual marriage and the highest rate of
divorce in the world.” Sexual morals were loosened and familial and
communal ties were weakened. The “birth rate declined disastrously,”
which left the USSR short both of laborers and soldiers. Child abandonment
became a “mass phenomenon.” The Communist Party was then left trying to
clean up after the mess that its war on the traditional family had created.

Well, less than twenty years after declaring war on the family, the party did
an abrupt about-face. Suddenly marriage was promoted as “glamorous” and
wedding rings, which had been banned as “Christian relics,” became
available. Divorce laws were tightened and abortion was outlawed. The
“good” Stalinist was expected to be “monogamous” and “devoted to
his family.” And some comrades were expelled from the Communist Party for
being bad fathers or husbands.

Obviously, the Communists weren’t acting out of a new-found respect for
tradition, much less religion. Theirs was a pragmatic response to
hard-learned experience. Creating good Soviet citizens, they found, required
strong families.

Reading about the USSR’s reversal on the family, it’s difficult not to
draw parallels with our own time. Now, let me state this up front: comparing
Stalinist Russia with contemporary America and the rest of the West is
ridiculous. In virtually every way that matters, they’re diametrically
opposed.

But that said, today we ourselves are in the midst of a kind of social
experiment involving the traditional family. And while the goals are
different, the elements of that experiment resemble the one Figes described.
“No-fault” divorce has given the US the highest divorce rate of any
Western society. Increasingly, cohabiting couples are treated the same as
married ones. While child abandonment is rare, increasing numbers of children
are born out-of-wedlock, all-but-abandoned by their fathers. And of course,
selective abortion due to disability or gender is common practice.

The personal and social costs of this experimentation are well-documented,
but they’re also ignored or at least downplayed. Why? Ideology. In this
instance, it’s an ideology whose “article of faith” teaches that
personal freedom and autonomy are the highest goods. Any appeal to the common
good or to the traditional family’s role in promoting the common good is
regarded as an imposition and even worse, as “bigotry.”

But that won’t stop the troubles we’re creating for ourselves. We can
only hope that an about-face is in our not-too-distant future. Then we can
all roll up our sleeves and begin cleaning up the mess. You see this belief
in the traditional family is not just a tenet of our religion. It’s reality
rooted in the way God made the world.