Just behind many of our day-to-day political quarrels lies a deeper and still scarcely examined cause. Secularization is altering the United States, as it has already altered Europe, and the reasons for this cultural sea-change are still poorly understood. In her book, How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt comes up with a fascinating new answer to the puzzle: the decline of the Western family is driving our loss of faith.
(I should note that Mary and I are both senior fellows at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.)
Amazingly, while secularization theorists have lavished attention on factors like urbanization, economic development, and war, almost no-one has systematically considered family decline as a driving force behind secularization. Eberstadt fills this gap, with startling results. It turns out that many of the enduring puzzles of secularization theory–America’s exceptional religiosity, the particular appeal of religion to women, and the upsurge of secularization in the 1960s–begin to make sense when we focus on family as a factor.
This is that rare book that will appeal to the broad reading public, while also shaping the scholarly literature for years to come. Have a look at the amazon page and you’ll see well-deserved praise from Francis Fukuyama, Mary Ann Glendon, Michael Novak, Roger Scruton, Rodney Stark, George Weigel, and W. Bradford Wilcox. Eberstadt, of course, is well-known to many Corner readers as the author of Home-Alone America and The Loser Letters (first serialized here at NRO). Important as these contributions are, How the West Really Lost God is clearly Eberstadt’s masterwork.
The book is more than a creative take on the causes of secularization. Eberstadt will make you see you own faith (or lack thereof) with new eyes. Her thoughts on exactly how and why experiences like parenthood, the fear of death, and the ordinary sacrifices of daily life turn us toward (or away) from faith are a revelation (in every sense). How the West Really Lost God is penetrating and accessible cultural analysis, not a handbook for believers. But if you are a believer, it will deepen your understanding of your faith. If you have any interest at all in the fortunes of religion in the world, or in how and why it takes hold of a soul, you will love this book.