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BETWEEN THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE STATE: THE

FAMILY AS AN ONTOLOGICAL REALITY

H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr.*

Abstract: The Enlightenment ideology that lies at the foundations of the


ideology supporting the contemporary state focuses on the individual and
affirms the state as the protector of individual rights, while the family is
regarded only as a creation of individuals recognized by the state. This
presentation explores the philosophical and theological grounds for recognizing
the family as an independent social reality with a moral integrity of its own,
which cannot be reduced to the interests of either the individual or the state.
Keywords: the traditional Christian family, visions of the Family, state, the
contemporary secular culture.

1. The Family in the Ruins of Christendom: An Introduction


The family is a puzzle, the focus of controversy 1. As an
1

* Professor, Rice University (Department of philosophy), Huston, USA; Baylor


College of Medicine, Texas, USA.

Not only Orthodox Christians, as well as other traditional Christians, and


Orthodox Jews find themselves opposed to the Western post-Enlightenment
deconstruction of the traditional family (although the understanding of what
counts as a traditional family diverges), grosso modo, but so, too, do others
such as traditional Confucians. See Xiaoyang Chen and Ruiping Fan, The
family and harmonious medical decision making: Cherishing an appropriate
Confucian moral balance, in Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 35.5
[forward cited: JMPh] (October 2010): 573-586; Ruiping Fan, Confucian
familism and its bioethical implications, in Shui Chuen Lee (ed.), The Family,
Medical Decision-Making, and Biotechnology, Springer, Dordrecht, 2007, p.
15-26; En-Chang Li and Chun-Feng Wen, Should the Confucian family-

Church-State Relationship: from Constantine the Great to post-Maastricht Europe

intermediate social structure between the individual and the state, it


both challenges and supports the state so that the character of
families cannot be a matter of indifference to politicians who,
depending on their ideology, either support or seek to undermine
particular understandings of the family 2. The family is a lightning rod
for disagreements about moral and societal norms, about the
character of morality, about the freedom of individuals to create and
structure human associations, and about the extent to which the
determination model be rejected? A case study, in JMPh 35.5 (October
2010): 587-599; and Mingxu Wang, Ping-Cheung Lo, and Ruiping Fan,
Medical decision making and the family: An examination of controversies, in
JMPh 35.5 (October 2010): 493-498. This exists in concert with mounting
evidence concerning costs associated with the liberal family, in that children
raised with authoritative, even authoritarian parenting styles are more
successful and have less problems with criminality and the use of illicit drugs
(Brian Partridge, Adolescent psychological development, parenting styles, and
pediatric decision making, in JMPh 35.5 (October 2010): 518-525). A major
focus of contemporary disputes regarding the family is connected to arguments
against the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its attempt to set aside
the authority structures of the traditional family (Office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child,
1989, http://www2.ohchr.org/ english/law/crc.htm [Accessed April 5,
2011]). Much of this controversy has focused on disputes in bioethics (Mark J.
Cherry, Parental authority and pediatric bioethical decision making, in JMPh
35.5 (October 2010): 553-572; H. T. Engelhardt, Jr., Beyond the best interests
of children: Four views of the family and of foundational disagreements
regarding pediatric decision making, in JMPh 35.5 (October 2010): 499-517;
Stephen Erickson, The wrong of rights: The moral authority of the family, in
JMPh 35.5 (October 2010): 600-616; Ana Iltis, Toward a coherent account of
pediatric decision making, in JMPh 35.5 (October 2010): 526-552).
2
The state, while announcing a commitment to supporting the family, has often
been the source of severe unanticipated adverse consequences that have
undermined the integrity of the family. One might consider as an example how
the American welfare system has undermined the black family. See K. Sue
Jewell, Survival of the African American Family, Praeger, Santa Barbara, CA,
2003; K. Sue Jewell, Use of social welfare programs and the disintegration of
the black nuclear family, in Western Journal of Black Studies 8.4 (1984):
192-198; Daniel T. Lichter, D. McLaughlin, F. LeClere, G. Kephart, and D.

12th International Simposium of Science, Theology and Arts

character of reality is socio-historically constructed 3. These general


areas of disagreements are reflected in disputes about what values
and right-making conditions should give the family its structure,
about which persons are ideally or necessarily constitutive of the
family, as well as about the ontological reality of the family. The
family is in particular controversial because of recent attempts to
recognize at law homosexual marriages and homosexual civil
unions, as well as because of the de facto marginalization of the
traditional family as more children are born outside of marriage and
fewer children live with both of their biological parents 4.
Landry, Race and the retreat from marriage: A shortage of marriageable men,
in American Sociological Review 57 (1992): 781-799.
3
On the one hand, there has been a tendency to make it easier for married
couples to divorce. As the data show, the impact of divorce on the children
involved is considerable. See Larry L. Bumpass and James A. Sweet,
Cohabitation, marriage and union stability: preliminary findings from NSFH2,
Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
1995; Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk, Harvard
University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1997; and Nicholas H. Wolfinger, Beyond
the intergenerational transmission of divorce, in Journal of Family Issues
21.8 (2000): 1061-1086. On the other hand, it has become socially easier, in
particular more societally accepted, to live together and reproduce without
benefit of clergy. The result has been a substantive change in public sexual
mores. See Ailsa Burns and Cath Scott, Mother-Headed Families and Why
They Have Increased, Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, Hillsdale, NJ, 1994;
Abbie K. Frost and Bilge Pakiz, The effects of marital disruption on
adolescents: Time as a dynamic, in American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 60
(1990): 544-555; Maggie Gallagher, The Abolition of Marriage: How we
Destroy Lasting Love, Regnery Publishing, Washington, DC, 1996; David B.
Larson, James P. Sawyers, and Susan S. Larson, The Costly Consequences of
Divorce, National Institute for Healthcare Research, Rockville, MD, 1995; Paul
A. Nakonezny, Robert D. Schull, and Joseph Lee Rodgers, The effect of nofault divorce law on the divorce rate across the 50 states and its relation to
income, education and religiosity, in Journal of Marriage and the Family 57
(1995): 477-488; and Linda J. Waite et al., The Ties That Bind: Perspectives on
Marriage and Cohabitation, Aldine Transaction, Piscataway, NJ, 2000.
4
In 1980, the percentage of children born outside marriage was 1% in Japan,
4% in Italy, 12% in Germany, 4% in the Netherlands, 18% in the United States,

Church-State Relationship: from Constantine the Great to post-Maastricht Europe

An adequate account of the family requires taking a position


about what is at stake in these disputes. Towards this end, this essay
locates the family within the geography of contemporary cultural
conflicts between (1) traditional Christianity, a term in this essay
used in a fashion materially equivalent to Orthodox Christianity, and
(2) the contemporary dominant secular Western culture, which I
characterize as a culture framed around an atheist methodological
postulate5.
This paper explores the collision of these perspectives with a
focus on the family, so as better to appreciate what is involved in
protecting the traditional Christian family in a post-Christian, posttraditional culture.
2. Incompatible Views of Reality and Morality, Incompatible
Visions of the Family
The family in the contemporary post-Christian culture of
Western Europe and the Americas brings with it controversies
concerning (1) the normativity of heterosexuality, (2) the proper
relation of husbands and wives, (3) the compatibility of the family
with robust egalitarian goals, and more crucially (4) the ontological
status of the family. These disputes bear on how to define the public
forum, the public space, and all public institutions, because societies
in the Americas and in Europe are divided in their understandings of
and 12% in the United Kingdom. By 2007, the percentage of children born
outside marriage had risen to 2% in Japan, 21% in Italy, 30% in Germany, 40%
in the Netherlands, 40% in the United States, and 44% in the U K.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-05-13-unmarriedbirths_N.htm#
(accessed April 5, 2011). In the USA in 2007, the percentage of children born to
blacks outside marriage was 72%, to hispanics 51%, to whites (non-hispanic)
28%, and to asians 17%. See National Center for Health Statistics,
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_12.pdf, p. 6 (accessed April
7, 2011).
5
Societies and/or cultures framed in terms of an atheist methodological
postulate, such that law, public policy, and public discourse are articulated as if
God did not exist, have become prominent in the West in the 20th century.

12th International Simposium of Science, Theology and Arts

morality, the human condition, and the character of reality 6. This is


the case because all Western societies are under secular pressure
from the now-dominant post-Christian, post-traditional, secular
culture to remove the vestiges of Christendom and establish secular
social-democratic polities compassing societies shaped in the image
and likeness of the moral and political commitments to liberty and
equality that arose out of the Western Enlightenment and the French
Revolution, as well as from the consequences of the cultural death of
metaphysics and of God that followed 7. This watershed division
separates those understandings that are traditionally Christian from
those of the emerging laicist, post-traditional, and post-metaphysical
culture and its paradigmatic image of the proper character of polities
and their societies. Disagreements regarding the family are an
epiphany of this division. In the post-Christian, post-Enlightenment
societies of the West, the family is among the most divisive of human
associations, because how one understands the family determines the
side on which one places oneself in the battles of the culture wars.
Again, these controversies concern which moral norms,
understandings of the human condition, and account of the character
of reality should shape such institutions as the family. []
In the fallen world after Eden, being a male or a female in a
rightly-ordered fashion is an accomplishment, often a precarious
accomplishment, as is sustaining appropriate heterosexual
relationships and monogamous marriages. Absent an appropriate
theological understanding, and given the engagement of an atheistic
methodological postulate, the diversity of socio-biological forms
becomes a consideration in arguments against the call by Orthodox
Christianity to men and women to form appropriate and stable family
units. In contrast, in light of the theological insights of the Orthodox
6

James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars, Basic Books, New York, 1992.
H. T. Engelhardt, Jr., Kant, Hegel, and Habermas: Reflections on 'Glauben
und Wissen', in The Review of Metaphysics 63.4 (2010): 871-903;
Engelhardt, Moral obligation after the death of God: Critical reflections on
concerns from Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, and Elizabeth Anscombe, in
Social Philosophy and Policy 27.2 (2010): 317-340.
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Church-State Relationship: from Constantine the Great to post-Maastricht Europe

Church, this struggle confirms the consequences of the Fall and the
need for ascetic struggle and repentance. The traditional Christian
theological appreciation of the family also identifies the normative
perspective from which one should understand what it is to be a male
and a female, what constitutes an appropriate family unit, and what
count as deficient cases of a family unit. 8 The reference point of the
Orthodox Christian theological understanding is in part the unmarred
realization of what it is to be a man and a woman bound in a
heterosexual relationship as this was established in Eden and in part
what God has blessed after the Fall. Given the failure of many to
recognize the theological facts of the matter, the family is an
occasion for incompatible understandings of the human situation.
The paradigmatic understanding of the family is that of the
union of Adam and Eve as husband and wife, as father and mother. It
is God Who declares that it is not good for the man to be alone
(Gen 2:18), and for this reason God made a helper suitable for him
(Gen 2:18). This role of the woman as his wife, as the mother of his
children and as his helpmate in the struggle to salvation, is affirmed
not only in Genesis but by Christ Himself, Who underscores a
gender-essentialism when He quotes Genesis, At the beginning the
Creator 'made them male and female' (Matt 19:4). St. Paul
explicates the now quite politically incorrect doctrine that the head
of the woman is man (I Cor 11:3). For Adam was formed first, then
Eve (I Tim 2:13). St. Paul notes that this order existed even before
the Fall, in that man is the image and the glory of God; but the
woman is the glory of man, for man did not come from woman, but
woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman,
but woman for the sake of man (I Cor 11:8-9). This traditional
Christian account of the ontological relation of man and woman and
the order of authority within the family is radically at odds with the
moral and political commitments that emerged in the shadow of the
8

A widow raising her children is an example of a deficient case of a family the husband and father is absent through no fault of the family. A unmarried
woman raising children without benefit of marriage constitutes an even more
deficient example of a family.

12th International Simposium of Science, Theology and Arts

Enlightenment and under the force of the culture that was shaped by
the French Revolution with its cardinal moral affirmation of human
equality, individual autonomy, and the cardinal value of individual
liberty, thereby accenting individuals as the ultimate sources of moral
and political authority. As a consequence, the secular cultural
perspective regards the Christian account as improperly heterosexist,
patriarchal, adversely gender-essentialist, and inegalitarian. []
The second account can be characterized as the liberal
understanding, in being committed to a particular socio-democratic
affirmation of liberty and equality born of the Enlightenment and the
French Revolution. It requires those establishing a family to create
their family framework in a fashion that does not undercut a
particular construal of liberty and equality born of the Enlightenment
and the French Revolution.
The third approach is that of traditional Christianity, which
directs men and women in a broken, indeed fallen world toward
salvation. It recognizes both the socio-biological and the theological
facts of the matters. It appreciates that we find ourselves outside of
Eden. It also recognizes that elements of this less-than-ideal state of
affairs have in fact received God's blessing. One might consider, for
example, that Orthodox Christianity recognizes that the
commandments given to Noah allowed him and his sons to cease
being vegetarians (Gen 9:8-10). Now, after Eden and after Noah and
before the Restoration, the eating of meat, the drinking of wine, and
sexuality within marriage are affirmed, as is noted in Canon 51 of the
85 Canons of the Holy and Renowned Apostles. This account, while
locating the socio-biological character of the human condition in the
broken character of the fallen world, recognizes that within that
fallenness persons are called to form families and orient their
families to God and His promises of redemption and restoration.
3.
Why the Traditional Christian and Contemporary
Secular Visions of the Family are so at Odds
The post-traditional, post-Christian, secular moral and

Church-State Relationship: from Constantine the Great to post-Maastricht Europe

ontological view that has become dominant in Western Europe and


the Americas through the influence of the Enlightenment and the
French Revolution is not just set over against the traditional Christian
account of the family because of a disparity of moral norms, but
more fundamentally because the two positions are separated due to
their radically different foundations: one is anchored in the will of
God, while the other is after God and post-metaphysical. The
traditional Christian understanding of the family is that the family is
grounded in the will of God. The secular moral vision frames the
family totally within the horizon of the finite and the immanent. The
point is that the latter's account of the family is not simply posttraditional, but even more crucially it is post-metaphysical. Given the
severance of the dominant secular account from any perspective
grounded in God or in being, this contemporary, dominant, secular,
moral account is post-patriarchal, post-heterosexist, and posttraditional, (1) because it does not accept claims regarding the
metaphysical rootedness of traditional accounts, (2) because it does
not accept any normative canons apart from the framework of the
socio-historically conditioned, and (3) because of the framing
centrality of its commitments to individually grounded accounts of
liberty and equality9.
9

After God, and after metaphysics, the liberal commitment to freedom and
equality simply hangs in the air within the domain of the finite and the
immanent, a point clearly recognized by Richard Rorty (1931-2007). On the
one hand, as Rorty asserts, following his restatement of G.W.F. Hegel (17701831) and Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990), We can keep the notion of
'morality' just insofar as we can cease to think of morality as the voice of the
divine part of ourselves... (Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, p. 59). On the other hand, Rorty
recognizes that Our insistence on contingency, and our consequent opposition
to ideas like essence, nature and foundation, makes it impossible for us to
retain the notion that some actions and attitudes are naturally inhuman. For
this insistence implies that what counts as being a decent human being is
relative to historical circumstance, a matter of transient consensus about what
attitudes are normal and what practices are just or unjust (Rorty, op. cit., p.
189).

12th International Simposium of Science, Theology and Arts

The family within the liberal account of the family, which


account is meant to deconstruct the traditional Christian vision of the
family, is constituted out of the will of whatever men and women
wish to join together in mutual emotional and financial support,
sexual activity, and the raising of children, as long as they enter into
agreement according to liberal norms for authentic autonomy and
affirmation of equality. Having no anchor in being, much less an
anchor in God, this emerging liberal secular account of the family
derives its structure and moral standing from the will of individuals
who, after the death of God in the dominant culture, appear to be the
only individuals in authority. In this context, the family becomes the
creation of those persons who, affirming liberty and equality, decide
to join together as mutual helpmates, sexual partners, and of the
parents of children.
The consequences of this deflation are wide-ranging for how
the traditional Christian family will be regarded within the secular
cultures now beginning dominant in Western Europe and the United
States.
1. The assertion of the normativity of traditional Christian
families becomes an affront to secular morality. It is regarded
by secular fundamentalist states as the intrusion of a private
morality into the secularized public space 10.
2. The assertion of the normativity of traditional Christian
families becomes as well a form of hate speech, in that it by
implication judges non-traditional families as morally
deficient. The assertion of the normativity of the traditional
family is thus regarded as intolerant in not recognizing that,
after the deflation of traditional morality, the assertion of the
10

The term secular fundamentalist state is used to identify polities that in a


totalizing fashion establish a laicist ideology analogously to the ways in which
religious fundamentalist states establish a religion (H. T. Engelhardt, Jr.,
Political authority in the face of moral pluralism: Further reflections on the
non-fundamentalist state, in Notizie di Politeia 26.97 (2010): 91-99;
Engelhardt, Religion, bioethics, and the secular state: Beyond religious and
secular fundamentalism, in Notizie di Politeia 26.97 (2010): 59-79).

Church-State Relationship: from Constantine the Great to post-Maastricht Europe

canons of traditional Christian morality by implication


regards other choices as immoral.
3. The persistent affirmation of the traditional Christian
family is regarded as an affront against right-ordered
understandings of liberty because the liberal account of
individual choice is constrained by a positive view of free
choice that is in fundamental tension with the patriarchal,
heterosexist, monogamous account of the family, which
traditional Christianity affirms.
Again, it is important to note that this cultural collision is
foundational, in that the traditional Christian account of the family is
anchored in being, or more precisely, in that personal Being who is
beyond being, namely, God. The normative view of the traditional
Christian family is incompatible with those of the dominant liberal
secular ideology. []
4.

The Conflicts Will not Abate

In the absence of God, and cut loose from a perspective


grounded in being that is independent of social relations, such that
the appropriate character of the family is regarded as grounded in the
will of individual humans and the phenomenal reality shaped by the
socio-historical force of the choices of individuals, persons are left
with confronting each other as the sole sources of secular morality
and authority. Each affirms the freedom and equality of the other, and
endows the other with a dignity derived from the authority conveying
autonomy of individuals that establishes the legitimacy of social
relations into which consenting persons enter, including the social
relations gathered under the rubric family. In contrast, traditional
Christians will recognize that they are embedded in the family as an
ontological structure created and anointed by God, which is
encountered as a given structured by norms and relationships
independent of human agreement and which is as a consequence
beyond alteration by the will of man, so that the structure of the
family is in this sense non-negotiable. The conflict is foundational.

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12th International Simposium of Science, Theology and Arts

A post-Christian, post-modern, post-traditional, postmetaphysical understanding of the family is at the core of the nowdominant secular moral ideology of the European Union and of the
Americas. It seeks to set aside the traditional Christian view of the
family out of an immanentized secular commitment to mutual
toleration, the mutual recognition of human dignity, the realization of
social justice, and the recognition of human rights to autonomy - all
radically set within the rise of the finite and the immanent. It seeks to
deprivilege the previous centrality of the traditional Christian vision
of the family, which is now construed by the secular culture as
involving the illegitimate intrusion of a private morality into the
secular public space, the illicit assertion of the normativity of private
life-style choices, and the illiberal affirmation of a patriarchal,
heterosexist vision of family structures. In response to the remnants
of traditional Christianity, the secular culture calls traditional
Christians to realize an aggioramento with the new day marked by
the dawn of a secular vision that omits the recognition not only of
Christ, but of God. This shift in ontological focus is embraced as a
matter of toleration and the pursuit of peace. It is connected with the
immanent secular aspiration to achieve peace, by eschewing
reference to any concerns beyond those immanent desires and
concerns that can without difficulty be placed within the horizon of
the finite. Such eschewal of the transcendent, along with its
affirmation of the fully animal dimension of man, would herald, to
echo Francis Fukuyama, the end of history and the end of perpetual
peace.11 The Christian commitment to a patriarchal, heterosexist, and
gender-essential vision of the family challenges the hope of cultural
11

Francis Fukuyama was crucially influenced through Allan Bloom (19301992) by Alexandre Kojve's (1902-1968) view that he developed after trips to
America in the 1940s and 1950s, namely, that immersion in a consumer society
supported by a welfare safety net would allow mankind to step back from
ideological struggles. (Alexandre Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel,
ed. Allan Bloom, trans. James H. Nichols, Jr., Basic Books, New York, 1969, p.
161). As Fukuyama puts it, The end... (Francis Fukuyama, The End of
History and the Last Man, Free Press, New York, 1992, p. 311).

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Church-State Relationship: from Constantine the Great to post-Maastricht Europe

peace and supports the persistence of the culture wars 12.


References:
A se vedea documentul (see the
TEHNOREDACTARE ISSTA 2013!!!

doc.)

NORME

ENGELHARDT JR., H. TRISTRAM : PhD Professor, Department of Philosophy, Rice


University, Huston, USA; Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, USA. Important
work/last work: The foundations of Christian Bioethics, Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers,
Lisse, 2000. Contact: htengelh@rice.edu

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Christ warns those who would wrongly think that the presence of traditional
Christianity would before the final Restoration wipe out conflicts and bring
peace: Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not
come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matt 10:34)

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