The Origin and Destiny of Marriage and FamilyRABBI DANIEL LAPIN
If the American family were an airplane, the Federal Aviation Administration would long since have grounded it due to the large number that have crashed.
These are really the only three possible explanations for recurrent failure of almost any system. One, an original design flaw; two, a hostile environment; and three, deprivation of a necessary condition.
I hope you are not yet tiring of the aircraft metaphor because it can still serve us usefully.
We need to examine the countless well-documented family failures in exactly the way the FAA would examine a series of airplane failures. They would seek to pin the calamities on one or more of these reasons. They would probe and analyze until they identified an original design flaw. If none was found, they might conclude that these airplanes had been flown in stormy and inclement weather, in other words, a hostile environment. They might also conclude that at the time of these accidents, the aircraft lacked a necessary condition, such as fuel or pilot skill.
Similarly, we will now investigate which of those three possible problems are contributing to our lamentable record of family failure.
One possibility is original design flaw. Perhaps there is a basic problem with the whole conception of the traditional family, especially as it relates to modern society. Obviously, I do not believe this is correct. To prove my contention, let us engage in what Albert Einstein called a “gedanke” (thought) experiment. Let us go back to the dawn of human history. How did marriage and the family come about? Do we imagine that a stone age woman came to a stone age man with the idea that he would give up other women, as well as male camaraderie, to devote his life to supporting and sustaining her? Somehow, I doubt it. On a purely naturalistic level, there is no logical reason for the family to have “evolved”. Similarly, the seven-day week. Somehow, however, virtually every known human society has a seven-day week.
I propose that constructs such as marriage and the traditional family, as well as the seven-day week, are not products of unaided human reason but are evidence of revealed wisdom. The seven-day week represents the collective human memory of the seven days of creation. The traditional family represents a gift from God for the purpose of civilizing human society. By definition, therefore, there can be no design flaw.
Perhaps, the, families are failing because they are subject today to myriad outside pressures and attacks that the design was not meant to withstand. Just like our airplane example, in which an unprotected civilian aircraft is made to suffer a barrage of missiles, perhaps the traditional family is simple not designed to withstand the tenor of modern society, with its quickness of pace, competitiveness, rapidly increasing scientific knowledge, and case of communication. We hear this argument all the time, and although it sounds profound, I believe it is deeply flawed.
Why? First of all, the traditional family's special role is precisely as an institution making human civilization possible in a hostile environment. It is nothing special for something to thrive in a benign environment, and marriage and families would have no special place in human consciousness were that to be its only claim to importance. The reason we do put this institution on such a pedestal is precisely because, throughout history fealty to marriage and family has allowed human society to thrive amidst unimaginable hostility and even degradation. Those who claim “modern pressures” inevitably doom marriage and family to failure would do well to study ancient and medieval society and decide whether modern society indeed has more or less “pressures.” There are even stories of black families remaining strong even while suffering the degradation of slavery. The tenor of modern society, with its wonderful scientific advances making life more pleasant for all, if anything is an environment more conducive to stable marriages and families than ancient and medieval times. We cannot lay blame for the failure of families on the “pressures” of modern society.
Our last possibility, to go back to the airplane metaphor, is that we have run out of fuel. I submit that this is the correct answer for the failure of so many marriages and families. What do I mean by fuel? In the context of the family, I am referring to the Judeo-Christian moral consensus which has powered families for millennia. It has powered them to thrive amidst the “gravity” of our flawed nature. When this necessary “fuel” is no longer present, just like our airplane, families crash and burn, as would be expected.
What is my proof? Well, I call upon you to look at where the strongest and most stable families exist. Are they in the places which have dismissed the relevance of the Judeo-Christian moral tradition, places such as the secular university campus or, in general (without denigrating all inhabitants), cosmopolitan and secularized cities like New York? No. The strongest and most stable families exist precisely where Judeo-Christian morals are taken most seriously, the environments of strong churches and synagogues. This connection between strong families and strong religious life is so obvious as to have already made its way from academic journals to the popular press.
Thus we see that the origin of marriage and the traditional family does not lie in human reason or logic but in Divine revelation. They represent God's gift to us. The destiny of the family, like our airplane, depends on how seriously we take our task of supplying the necessary fuel. Accompanied by a strong religious life, families will soar, and nothing will be able to break them. However, if we continue to ignore or denigrate our great Judeo-Christian heritage, they will inevitably crash and fail.
Lapin, Rabbi Daniel. “The Origin and Destiny of Marriage and Family.” 2nd Pan American Conference on Family and Education Toronto, Ontario May, 1996.
Published with permission of the author, Rabbi Daniel Lapin.
Copyright © 1996 Rabbi
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