The breakdown of the traditional family is at the heart of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan once called a “tangle of pathologies.” The image I have often used is that the breakdown of the nuclear family is in fact a kind of nuclear fission. For the family (not the individual) is the basic unit of society. Splitting the family is like splitting the atom, it leads to a destructive chain reaction that, if not somehow controlled and contained, destroys just about everything in sight.
So many of our national ills are show a strong connection to the breakdown of the family: poverty (the highest correlation to poverty is single motherhood), juvenile crime, teenage suicide, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, lower SAT and other academic scores, higher dropout rates, authority and trust issues, abortion (85% of abortions are performed on single women), a demonstrated lower capacity to make and keep commitments, delayed maturity, and a whole array of other things in a “tangle of pathologies.”
Clearly God, and nature provide that a child should have the influence of both a father and a mother, both a male and a female influence. It makes sense that proper human formation would require both male and female influence, which is both complimentary and diverse. There are important things that a child can learn from his father than he cannot learn from his mother and vice versa.
In a recent article, author Doug Patton does a good job setting forth some of the numbers and the things that ought to cause us serious concerns. While his article is essentially political, I here use the non-political aspects to frame our discussion. As always, the Original Text is in bold black italic typeface and my comments are in plain red text.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Labor Department official, released an alarming report about the number of black children born to unwed mothers. The percentage at that time was 25 percent. In the years that followed, Moynihan went on to become a United States Senator from New York, and the percentage of out-of-wedlock births among African-American mothers soared to today’s level of 73 percent.
If alarms were being sounded at 25% surely now with the rate approaching 80% merits a major national outreach. But what do we have? Silence. To speak of single motherhood is politically incorrect, and most leaders in the Black community, while privately lamenting the huge problem, consider public discussions of the issue to be “off message.” The preferred message is one which emphasizes poverty and racism. These are not insignificant issues but more attention must be paid to the “self-inflicted” wounds. And while some would like to trace illegitimacy to racism and poverty, the fact is, that when both were far worse back in the 1950’s and 60’s, the out of wedlock rates were below 20%. There are simply other factors to consider, and understanding these wounds as self-inflicted restores personal responsibility and overrules the “victim” card.
Some years ago I was at a meeting of inner city church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant. Out topic was how to lower the poverty rate. After many of the usual solutions were trotted out (e.g. job training, Government outlays etc.) I suggested that we ought to vigorously teach and encourage chastity. Well, heaven forfend, did the room ever grow quiet and icy stares come my way. It was clear that I was “off message” and that such “moralizing” was an unkind. Someone quickly changed the subject.
In my own African American Parish we do speak a lot about this problem. I have met with the men especially, and called them to account. We are currently planning to view the movie Courageous and prepared the men to make public promises to live and act responsibly toward the women and children in their lives. We are also ramping up to provide more vigorous marriage preparation and marriage enrichment. Among the High School students, yours truly speaks quite clearly that fornication is a mortal sin and a huge barrier to success. Progress is slow but steady.
Indeed the marriage numbers are grave. In the African American community only 37% of women college graduates have ever been married. And at any given time, only 33% of black women are married.  Grave numbers. Until such things are addressed, the soil grows ever thinner and the taller growths among our children are less and less likely.
Hard though it is, accepting personal responsibility is essential to human dignity.
As we shall see the Black Community is not alone in demonstrating serious issues with sexual promiscuity. The White community too is mired in promiscuity and irresponsibility.
That [out of wedlock rate in the African American community] is higher than the rate during the years when parts of America still practiced slavery. Ponder that fact for a moment. In 1850, when black men, women and children in several of the states could be ripped from their loved ones and sold as property, a higher percentage of their children were being born and raised in marriage-based, two parent families than there are a century and half later, in 2012. – Exactly. And now author Patton widens the conversation.
This troubling fact is reflective of what Moynihan once called “a tangle of pathology.” Indeed. And in 2012 that tangle has ramifications for every aspect of society, as the percentage of unwed white mothers has risen sharply to rates higher than the ones that so alarmed Moynihan about blacks in the 1960s. In fact, the combined rates for unwed American mothers of all races have climbed to a staggering 41 percent. In the case of women under age 30, the rate now stands at 53 percent.
Yes, it is too easy for White America to point to the Black and inner city community. I was once confronted by a brother priest who asked me, in effect, “What is wrong with those Black folk you serve…having all those illegitimate births?” I accepted his concerns for the illegitimacy rate but warned him that the White community was not far behind and that in his suburban affluent white community he might be surprised if he actually did the math and saw the actual rates.
In a certain sense the African American Community is like the “Canary in the mine.” In the old days, miners brought down canaries into the mine. If there was gas, the sensitive canaries died first signalling the miners that there was trouble.
The truth is, for all the finger pointing, most white children are now raised in single family homes and the number has jumped dramatically in the last ten years. And as for Latinos, especially immigrants, the numbers are also horrible. Among teenagers, who are at the greatest risk for getting into trouble, — 70 percent of U.S.-born teenagers with immigrant parents live in unmarried households.
This is an increasingly illegitimate, irresponsible and immature nation. As always, it is the children who suffer. While adults take care of themselves and refuse to form responsible marriages and stick to their commitments, children are made to endure endless ignominies and conflicts. With dad one week, mom the next, “By the way, mom has a new boyfriend, but he is not as nice as the last one.”
Of course the expectation that these children will have any capacity to form lasting marriages or even have a modicum of human trust, grows ever remote.
Yes, this is the nuclear fission of our culture. And as the basic unit of the family is split and melts down, enormous and uncontrollable chain reactions set in that cause widespread destruction and loss.
A 53 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate among America’s young women is unsustainable…. Nothing less than the future of the country and the next generation is at stake.
It is increasingly clear that we need a miracle to save the West, and to save our country. Either that or we need a crisis that will so rock us back on our heels that we will actually have to start sticking together again to survive.
I will say that in this harsh desert there are some oases, some couples who do manage to form and keep stable and healthy marriages. God has worked with small and faithful remnants before to effect miraculous reforms. I pray that we can find enough faithful couples to work with God in this regard, before God’s judgment on the decadent West is final. As a priest I strive to work hard to prepare couples by emphasizing biblical principles and the teaching of the Church. I also strive to preach on marriage a lot. It’s all I can do. But with the culture so far gone, instructions and sermons alone may not be enough.
Help Lord, send us your mercy and heal our hearts wounded by lust and immaturity, hatred and unforgiveness. Help Lord, we need a miracle.
Indeed, an old song says, “In times like these you need a savior….”