This topic has been marinating in my head for a few months now. I debated writing about it because it’s one of those taboo subjects: politics, religion and money. You aren’t supposed to talk about those. But let’s be honest – they all directly impact our daily lives, and therefore our parenting and families. PGPB hopes to foster a community that is a resource to parents on all family topics. We already post about money on Financially Savvy Fridays. And knowing me, I’m sure politics will rear its head at some point. So here’s to ripping off the band aid on religion! Is there a place for faith in the modern family?
Faith and the Modern Family
The seed was planted during a girls’ night out with my closest friends. One of my girlfriends had been struggling with getting her second baby to sleep through the night, and I had recommended a book and method for her to try. As close friends, we do not mince words or opinions amongst us – and given our varied political, religious and personal backgrounds – conversations often heat up to debate. So when I asked her what she thought of the book, I was neither surprised, nor offended, when she told me she didn’t care for it. Her reason, however, gave me a bit of a shock – she was ‘turned off’ by the heavy Christian undertones in the book’s introduction and felt it hard to give the authors’ opinions credibility after reading that. I didn’t debate this view with her and the conversation moved on, but the comment stuck with me.
The seed grew further throughout the holiday season – a season which for me is so full of faith-based tradition. I won’t go so far as to say I fully buy into the ‘Fox News: War on Christmas’ dramatics, but there are enough headlines out there to make me wonder… every time I saw a Nativity scene, I paused – was someone out there actually offended just driving by it? During the holidays at our local town hall, there is a nativity scene at one entrance and a menorah at the other – I’ve certainly never been offended by the latter as a Christian.
As I have continued to kick this around, I find myself confronted by news broadcasts and experiences which furthered my internal discussion: schools banning coaches from praying with athletes before games; my own gut reaction to others’ prayerful Facebook posts; the preponderance of dialogue around religious tolerance for other world religions; and a friendly Facebook debate with my little brother who loves to post universe questioning status updates that toe the line of comedic relief and shock value. I pondered whether public professions of Christian faith were the new ‘Southern twang.’ Praise Jesus publicly and suddenly your IQ and education-level are questioned, and every opinion you express thereafter gets an asterisk.
[bctt tweet=”Are public professions of Christian faith the new ‘southern twang’? #Faith and the Modern #Family “]
I get that the average American family today no longer fits the traditional family image painted in the 1950s, which included dressing everybody up for Sunday services. And while there may or may not be a ‘War on Christmas,’ there seems to be an endless push for increased tolerance of minority religions and views (which I wholly support), while Christian expression is viewed with increasing disdain… as though one must come at the expense of the other.
Have we really come so far as a country originally founded on religious freedom and Judeo-Christian beliefs, that it is now only socially acceptable for the Christian majority to practice in private? Does separation of Church and State now extend to all facets of life? And is there a place for faith in the modern family?
Before we examine these further, let me be open about faith in my family…
My Faith Story
I was raised in the Catholic church. And I don’t just mean, I was brought up Catholic. I literally grew up inside the Church. While my Mom finished her college degree, my Grandmother watched me. She went to daily mass, praying the Rosary before and after, every morning, and so did I. I learned to recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers, just like I learned to sing my ABCs. I colored on old bulletins, while my Grandmother and her fellow altar society members cleaned the Church every week. I went shopping for flowers for the altar arrangements with her every Friday, and pretty sure my destiny in finance was sealed learning to count money from the Sunday collections with her and the Church secretaries every Monday. Faith was never something I was taught – it is part of my earliest memories and an integral part of who I am.
My grandparents sent all 8 of their children to private, Catholic school, from kindergarten through high school… that’s over 100 years worth of private tuition! And despite this investment (or perhaps because of it), few of them observe their faith with the same fervor as my Grandmother and her peers. After my preschool days, there are periods of my childhood I recall attending Sunday mass with regularity, but for the most part, we were C&E’ers. I went to enough Sunday school to make my first Communion and Confession, but don’t recall learning much. When my grandparents moved down the street from us in high school, my Dad affectionately donned my Grandmother the “Church Police,” since she could easily tell when our cars were still in the driveway on her way to Sunday mass.
Fast forward to my high school graduation. That August, in a loaded-down suburban, I waved a tear-filled goodbye to my Dad and siblings, as my grandparents and Mom backed out of our driveway to start a 1,300 mile drive across the country to move me into the most recognizable Catholic institution in America… the University of Notre Dame.
In my four years at Notre Dame, my faith was deepened. Being surrounded by 10,000 other young people, 80% of which share your religion, will do that. We took study breaks together on Sunday nights to go to mass in our pjs in our dorm basements. I made my Confirmation my sophomore year, alongside my roommate, sponsored by our friends. For me, I think the power of faith was and will forever be cemented by living through the events of 9/11 while on campus and attending an impromptu outdoor mass with the entire student body. Nothing can describe the embrace of a shared community of faith in the midst of great tragedy and uncertainty.
End of Blind Faith
However, while at Notre Dame, my ‘blind’ faith also came to an end. Growing up Catholic, I had never thought about or questioned where the Church’s teachings came from. That’s not to say I agreed with them all; I just accepted them as delivered. At ND, all undergraduates are required to take 2 theology courses during their studies. Foundations in Biblical History was the intro theology course required for all Freshman. In one semester, I learned more about the institution, politics and history of major world religions, including my own, than I had in my entire life. I learned how the Bible was actually written, how many stories are shared across the Old Testament, Koran and Torrah, and how entire books were eventually excluded from the Biblical canon. All of this contributed to what I will describe as my ‘adult view of religion.”
Faith in My Modern Family
I value my faith, for the community and support it provides throughout life’s changes, particularly in times of trouble. I feel comforted and spiritually uplifted when I walk out of mass on a Sunday, much the same way I do when I walk out of a great yoga class. For my family, it is the foundation of our moral and value system, as well as part of our tradition, one that we hope to impart to our children. And don’t let me mislead you – we don’t go to mass regularly, and due to the remote location of my in-laws where we spend most holidays, we don’t even go for Christmas and Easter. But both our girls are baptized, have been to church on several occasions, and while Big M may have belted out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star while the congregation sang Bread of Life at our last visit, we plan for the Church to be a part of their young lives.
And yes, ultimately, I believe there is a greater being than all of us out there, and I call Him, “God.” But I also believe that the Church is one of the oldest ‘businesses’ of mankind, that the Bible was written by men to convey various messages in support of that business (which back when it was written walked hand in hand with politics and monarchs), and neither business nor man are infallible or all knowing. I know this may be as blasphemous to some, as my discussion of religion at all is to others. And lastly, I believe that everyone is entitled to their own point of view, and as long as you have a belief system that includes a healthy moral compass, I respect that, and hope your value system shows me the same respect.
Is Faith Just Out of Favor?
So now that you know where my inherent bias on this topic stands, back to the big question of the day: is there room for faith in the modern family?
Generational Turnings and Archetypes
As I wrestled with this question, I encountered a series of articles featuring the Strauss-Howe generational theory. William Strauss and Neil Howe published a series of books in the 1990s in which they explored a recurring, generational cycle throughout Western history, dating back to 500 years.
A generational cycle is marked by four stages of social eras, or moods, they call turnings, each lasting around two decades, and each full cycle spanning 80-90 years. The four stages are: High, Awakening, Unraveling and Crisis. A High occurs in a post-crisis period when institutions are strongest, and the individual is weak. An Awakening occurs thereafter, when institutions are attacked and personal and spiritual independence is defended. The Unraveling marks and era when institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. And finally, Crisis hits when institutional life is completely destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s survival.
According to their theory, America’s last Crisis was marked by the stock market crash of 1929, and ended with World War II. Some say we have now entered the Crisis phase again, marked by the housing and economic crisis of the last decade.
These varying social moods produce generational archetypes, or a group of people sharing a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, as a result of the world they are born into and spend their formative years in. Strauss and Howe label these four archetypes: Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. Prophets are born after a Crisis Turning, growing up indulged during a High as children, imparts a sense of narcissism to this generation. They serve as leaders during the Awakening, and are elders during the next Crisis. The Baby Boomers are the most recent Prophet generation.
Nomads are born during the Awakening, and grow up as under-protected, over-exposed children. They come of age during the Unraveling, and enter mid-life and positions of leadership during Crisis. Generation X represent the most recent Nomad generation.
Heros are born during the Unraveling, during a period priding itself on self reliance. The come of age during Crisis, and emerge as confident leaders during the post-Crisis High. The GI Generation was the last Hero generation, and many point to the Millenials as the current Hero generation, though we are just entering our mid-life phase when generations make their greatest mark.
Last, Artists are born during Crises, and grow up overprotected by the adults suffering through it. The come of age during a High, lead through an Awakening, producing amazing Artists and Reformers. The last Artist generation is known as the Silent Generation, and produced the likes of Elvis and Martin Luther King.
So how does all this relate to faith and family?
While Strauss passed away in 2007, Howe via his ongoing publications at LifeCourse Associates asserts we are currently in the Fourth Turning of the current cycle, which began with the economic crisis of 2008, following the unraveling of the housing bubble. As you enter a period of crisis, “trust in institutions and leaders are at an all-time low and individualism is at an all-time high.” Traditional religion is an institution like any other – and has suffered its own Unraveling over the last decade and entered a period of Crisis, alongside the rest of civilization. Scandals of abuse, of finances, and worse, children, have created significant distrust in the religious institution and its leadership. Furthermore, as an institution, the Catholic church has been slow to adapt, and out of touch with its people. Though many will argue, the new Pope Francis is beginning to change that.
Change is coming about because it has to. The Church, Catholic and Protestant alike, are losing membership in droves as the Millennials come of age. Whether this too is a generational cycle set to reset post crisis, remains to be seen.
“…young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.”
As further evidence to her point, the younger, more educated, and financially secure you are, the less likely you are to believe that faith, or belief in God, is necessary for morality. The Church is no longer the leading source dictating the rules of moral righteousness. Instead, many with the Church was more of a supportive and inclusive faith community, where questions could be asked, doubts could be shared, and healthy debate replaced pedagogy.
Intellectual Integrity vs. Faith
As a Millennial, how do I reconcile it all? Those into labeling would call me a theological liberal, or religious progressive. I believe the Bible was written by men, albeit inspired by God and an oral tradition dating back to the time of Jesus, to impart messages of morals, virtues and wisdom. Written during a time pre-dating modern science, some stories sought to explain the inexplicable, like natural disasters, and the untenable, like plague, devastation and famine.
Does that discredit the Bible and everything it seeks to teach? Of course not. It just has to be read and examined in the context within which it was written, and appreciated for the messages it seeks to deliver. Do I share the blind faith of generations who have come before me? No way. Do I agree with all the Church’s teachings? Absolutely not. But I can still be spiritually fulfilled by attending services, have faith in God and share that faith with my children, all while believing in modern science and supporting current social issues. For me, it boils down to the fact that religion was created by men, documented by men, and led by men – who are infallible. My faith is not in religion, or the priest leading the services, but in the spiritual community it fosters by a shared belief in God.
Can they broadcast Sunday Mass via podcast?
There is definitely a crisis of faith in my generation. Individuals are choosing to leave the Church, and I can only blame the institutions themselves, whose rigid dogma is driving them away. The last major changes in the Catholic Church were instituted in the 1960s during the Second Vatican Council. When I was baptized, my parents had scores of family members and friends to choose from as godparents.
When our girls were baptized, none of our siblings were viable candidates because they weren’t “practicing Catholics” and couldn’t deliver a letter from a Parish vouching for them. Shouldn’t it be enough for the Church, with an aging and dwindling congregation, that I’m seeking to baptize my child and these family members want to stand in support of that? Tolerance for dissenting or conflicting practices and lifestyles does come at the expense of Christian faith, and vice versa, because neither side can see past what often amounts to a handful of differences, instead of walking forward on the much broader spread of shared common ground. Add to that the longer hours people work, and the limited time families actually have to spend together, and suddenly, dressing everyone up for Sunday services seems less and less appealing.
I still look to teachings from my faith to guide my moral compass, and I do still value the Church as a place of spiritual comfort. I hold on to it like I hold on to other family traditions. However, it doesn’t feel approachable or receptive like the Church of my youth – perhaps because I don’t invest enough in it. Our time is scarce, and we don’t have enough, or make the time, to spend there now. We are not there every week on a first name basis with all the priests.
When life presents me with trying events, while I am comforted within the pews of the Church (when I can get there), after my husband, I seek answers from my closest friends – we started careers together, got married together, and now have children together. We counsel each other, mentor each other, inspire one another, call each other out, keep each other grounded and ask each other the tough life questions – and we do it via text, email or if we are lucky, over monthly dinner and drinks. So even while they may cast doubt on my traditional faith, they bridge gaps my traditional faith no longer fulfills … the modern religious council of Mommyhood? And when the question is so loaded with controversy, I take to the virtual community provided by the internet, social networks and mommy blogs.
This is a longer, far more serious post than I typically write. If you’re still with me, thank you for indulging my faith quest, history lesson, and letting me dip my toe in controversial waters…What is your faith story? What role does it play in your family? If not religiously based, what sources of guidance do you use to instill values in your life, your children?
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Teaching Your Preschooler about Race and The Parent Commandment: Respect Thy Fellow Parent. You can find all of these on our Guru Taboo board on Pinterest, along with other thought-provoking posts on family, religion, and politics.