God and Family in the West
A double helix of a mess.

Mary Eberstadt



LOPEZ: “More Pill equals less time in a family. More time in a family equals more time in church. Therefore more Pill equals less God.” Is the Sexual Revolution really that closely related to secularization?

EBERSTADTWithout doubt, the Sexual Revolution is the paramount challenge of this age for traditional Christianity. That’s so for several reasons, some more obvious than others. What interests me most, and what the book spends some time dissecting, are the subtle ways in which the sexual revolution and its fallout put new barriers between some modern Western people and the likelihood of their belief in God.

First, insofar as it contributes to broken, scattered, and atomistic homes, the revolution makes it harder just to tell the Christian story itself — because it’s a story saturated throughout with familial images and ideas.

How, for instance, do you explain the idea of God as a loving, benevolent Father to someone whose experience of men in the home is a series of Mom’s boyfriends? How do you get across what’s so theologically central, say, about Mary’s absolute acceptance of her role in the divine plan of birth to secular men and women living in a post-abortion age who think that every birth is negotiable? How do you explain what’s so miraculous about the idea of God coming into the world as a baby — in fact, how do you explain what’s so miraculous about babies, period — to an adult who has never even held one?

Those are just a few examples of how the way we live today might make it harder for some people to grasp some of the basics of the Christian religion — or as believers would say, to hear the voice of God.

LOPEZ: “Many sophisticated people do not believe that the churches have any authority whatsoever to dictate constraints on individual freedom.” That’s the case, isn’t it, even for some self-identified religious believers, who may attend services and accept much of the teaching

EBERSTADT: Christianity is full of hard teachings, as the disciples themselves were the first to complain. And people have always rebelled against religious teachings of all kinds. Otherwise, preachers and prophets would be out of a job.

But surely resistance to Christianity in this age has a lot to do with one phenomenon, the Sexual Revolution — even more than is widely understood, more even than anyone has yet mapped.

My hope is just to try and clarify what’s happening. Pace the new atheists and the condescending secular piety according to which secularization is just the logical result of humanity growing up, what’s keeping many Western people out of church today isn’t Philosophy 101. They’re not lying awake at night mulling transubstantiation or the problem of theodicy, say, and then checking “none of the above” on a Pew survey. No, what’s helping to drive secularization for many people is something a lot less cerebral: the widespread desire to keep biting that apple of the Sexual Revolution — which traditional Christianity wants to put out of their reach. It’s a head-on collision, for sure.