The Toxic Tragedy Of The Fatherless In American Civilization

Dec 19th, 2020 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Mary Eberstadt, senior fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, has challenged us to think about the cause of the cultural disruption we have witnessed in 2020.  “The explosive events of 2020 are but the latest eruption along a fault line running through our already unstable lives. That eruption exposes the threefold crisis of filial attachment that has beset the Western world for more than half a century. Deprived of father, Father, and patrium [filial piety], a critical mass of humanity has become socially dysfunctional on a scale not seen before.  Six decades of social science have established that the most efficient way to increase dysfunction is to increase fatherlessness. And this the United States has done, for two generations now. Almost one in four children today grows up without a father in the home. For African Americans, it is some 65 percent of children.”  Eberstadt powerfully summarizes the devastating results of the fatherless phenomenon:

  • “Absent fathers predict higher rates of truancy, psychiatric problems, criminality, promiscuity, drug use, rape, domestic violence, and other less-than-optimal outcomes.”
  • “Fatherlessness leads to a search for father substitutes. And some of these daddy placeholders turn out to be toxic.  The murder rates in inner cities, for example, are irreducibly familial phenomena. That’s because the murder problem is largely a gang problem, and the gang problem is largely a daddy problem. As the Minnesota Psychological Association put it in a study published in August:  ‘A high percentage of gang members come from father-absent homes . . . possibly resulting from a need for a sense of belonging. Gaining that sense of belonging is an important element for all individuals. Through gangs, youth find a sense of community and acceptance. In addition, the gang leader may fill the role of father, often leading members to model their behaviors after that individual. . .  Having a father in the child’s life greatly reduces the likelihood of a child joining a gang . . . .’”
  • “The biographies of at least some of today’s race-minded trailblazers suggest a connection between fatherlessness and identity politics. The author of the bestseller White Fragility was a child of divorce at age two. The author of the bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race reports that her father left the family and broke off contact, also when she was two. The author of another bestseller, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, was raised by a single mother. The author of another hot race book, The Anti-Racist: How to Start the Conversation About Race and Take Action, was raised by his grandmother. Colin Kaepernick’s biological father left his mother before he was born, but he was then adopted and raised by a white family. James Baldwin, a major inspiration for today’s new racialist writers, grew up with an abusive stepfather; his mother left his biological father before he was born. The list could go on . . . Biographies on the alt-right and far-right offer similar suggestive evidence. The founder of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa is a child of divorce. The neo-Nazi who founded the alt-right media network The Right Stuff is a child of divorce. George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, was a child of divorce. Timothy McVeigh, the poster boy and prototype for today’s violent far-right aspirants, was a child of divorce who was raised largely by his father. This list, too, could go on. An Atlantic profile of neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin concluded: ‘Like so many emotionally damaged young men, [he] had chosen to be someone, or something, bigger than himself on the Internet, something ferocious to cover up the frailty he couldn’t abide in himself.’”
  • Finally, consider Eberstadt’s conclusions about Portland, Oregon:   “The city that has been ground zero of nonstop protests and riots for months now is not just any American town. For more than thirty years, abandoned children and runaways have been a unique part of the city’s culture. And, for thirty years, documentaries and other reports on these lost children have abounded. It was Portland’s permissive approach to runaways that created the nation’s best-known subculture of ‘teen hobos,’ ‘teen homeless,’ and ‘street teens.’ In Portland, the link between dysfunctional kids and absent authority figures has been clear for a long time now. As one researcher summarized: ‘The inability to emotionally connect with parents is a thread of commonality linking the narrative of street kids and travelers in Portland.’  Lacking family ties, Portland’s feral children have bonded since the 1980s in ‘street families,’ complete with ‘street moms’ and ‘street dads.’   Some of the most grotesque crimes in the city’s history have ensued thanks to ‘laws’ about ‘family’ loyalty—including last year, when a group of three boys from such a ‘family’ shot and killed a man as he was collecting cans, then took his car on a joyride. ‘Street families’ are an especially toxic variant of the current voguish phrase, ‘chosen families.’ Street families are like gangs: poor and desperate substitutes for the real thing, called into being by the absence of the real thing.”

Eberstadt also argues that the increasing secularization of American civilization is inextricably linked to the fatherlessness phenomenon.  In 2019, 44 percent of Americans aged eighteen to twenty-nine were “nones.” “None of the above” is now the fastest-growing religious subset in the United States.  “There is evidence that the loosening of family ties and the loosening of religious ties are linked—especially among practitioners of identity politics. A 2016 study of white nationalists by the University of Virginia’s Family Policies Institute turned up at least two suggestive findings. One was that subjects were much more likely to be divorced than to be married or never married. Once again, family rupture and extremist identity politics appear to be related.  The same study also confirmed that those drawn to white nationalism are unlikely to attend church (indeed, most white nationalists fervently oppose both Christianity and Judaism). Thus, religious rupture and extremist identity politics also appear to be related.”

Eberstadt reaches several devastating conclusions:  “What is happening to America is an excruciatingly painful truth that life without father, Father, and filial piety toward country are not the socially neutral options that contemporary liberalism holds them to be. The sinkhole into which all three have collapsed is now a public hazard. The threefold crisis of paternity is depriving many young people—especially young men—of reasons to live as rational and productive citizens. As the Catholic theologian Deborah Savage put it recently, reflecting on America’s youth: ‘They have been left alone in a cosmos with nothing to guide them, not even a firm grasp of what constitutes their basic humanity, and no means of finding the way home.’ All manner of accelerants have made matters worse: the Internet, social media, racial prejudice, lax political leadership, scandals within the churches, the coarsening of political conversation, the polarization of the media into clashing armies . . .  Still, summer 2020 signals something new. The triply disenfranchised children of the West have achieved critical mass. They have slipped the surly bonds of their atomized childhoods; they have found their fellow raging sufferers and formed online families; and they have burst as a destructive force onto the national consciousness en masse, left and right, as never before . . . The dispossessed children who roam the streets in search of yet more destruction may not be large in number compared to the rest of America. And to understand them is not to exonerate them—far from it. But they will not go away until the crisis that has unhinged them, and severed them from their own, is ameliorated.”

The devastation of the fatherless piercingly documented by Mary Eberstadt drives us to one conclusion:  The solution to this formidable crisis is only found in genuine, biblical Christianity, for it alone teaches that the fundamental problem of the human condition is a spiritual one, solved only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the church that must teach and model godly families.  It is the church that must teach and model the transformation that the Gospel produces.  The fatherless phenomenon demonstrates the toxic consequences of a civilization that consciously and deliberately defies God’s Creation Ordinance of Genesis 1 and 2:  God created marriage and the family and when humanity ignores that truth and pursues its own selfish ways, dysfunction and devastation will result.  We are living with those consequences in 2020.  Only God’s grace in Jesus Christ can rescue us.

See Mary Eberstadt,The Fury of the Fatherless in  First Things (December 2020).

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