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Where are you headed?: Family



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The world looks more and more like a giant jigsaw puzzle. No one appears to be in possession of even most of the pieces, and what the whole picture might be, seems even more elusive. Alfred North Whitehead expressed the need for a key to the puzzle in this way: "We need the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, within the passing flux of things. We need that life of the spirit entered in the hope of high adventure. We need the energising force of love. Without religious vision, human vision is but a flash of occasional enjoyment lighting up a mass of pain and misery."

To solve the puzzle, we need to hold the big picture in mind while we concentrate on fitting the small pieces together. Back in 1968, Theodore Roszak warned: "We can now recognise that the fate of the soul is the fate of the social order: that if the spirit within us withers, so too will all the world we build about us. Literally so."

Many academics have profound concern over the state of mesmerised lethargy which binds the great mass of people in the West. As someone has observed: "If a frog is placed in hot water, it will make frantic efforts to escape. It is said, however, that if the animal is put into cold water, which is then slowly heated, it may.... be boiled to death without so much as a struggle."

Some individuals and organisations have helped to focus our attention on vital pieces of the puzzle. One major contributor to public awareness has been the United Nations. The International Year of Indigenous Peoples not only highlighted the diversity of tribal peoples, it encouraged us to see the value of their insights and the dire consequences of their loss. It has not only exposed the injustices experienced by these people, it has demanded our commitment.

1994 is the UN Year of the Family. The juxtaposition may be extraordinarily apt. Billy Diamond, an elder of the Canadian Cree people, poignantly makes the connection between land, tribe, values and family: "When I look around here, I see my father... our history is in this place. I cannot forget the past. I am rich because of the past. That's the way we look at things. I don't think we walk here on earth because of our generation. We walk because of our children and our grandchildren. When I look at my grand-daughter, I see her future and I want her to have the things I had. I want her also to remember her great-grandfather. I tell my children, "Don't forget your greatgrandfather. Even though he's gone, learn about him, try to understand him." Once we break down as a family, once our family values begin to break down and once our traditional values begin to break down, our tribe will begin to fall apart. It's very important to keep the family together."

In this, the Year of the Family, I for one am tired of the smarmy, quasi-Christian way the revisionists have re-written the historic nature and significance of the heterosexual bonds of marriage and lifelong commitment. It is one thing to affirm the significance of family; but this year we must challenge the general secular embargo against any serious definition of what it is. We should continue to be inclusive, gracious, forgiving and open to suffering and alienation, but we must affirm holiness and all but universal values. This is a strategic opportunity for concerned people to join the debate about something which arguably has a greater impact than anything else on human survival.

These are a few of the smouldering issues which must be fanned into the flame of enlightening creative conflict:

* Our commitment to resolving conflicts in families.

* The dysfunctional nature of the alternatives to family life offered by welfare.

* Our slowness, unequivocally, to repent of and decry all violation of women and children, the aged and the mentally and emotionally impaired.

* The dark side of spiritless capitalism and the primary role of economics in the disintegration of family and tribal values.

* The widespread conspiracy of silence concerning verbal, psychological and even physical violence committed by women against children and even men.

* The widespread betrayal of women and children by sexually abusive clergy and church lay leaders.

* The devastating effect of single-parent, blended family situations on many children.

* The monumental shift in the development of children's values from the socialising effect of the family to the powerful amoral influence of the designer-label advertising world.

* The significance (from a purely anthropological point of view) of religion as the primary cement of society.

* The effect of violence in the media on a child's social and moral development.

* The emerging evidence of role model deprivation in single-parent families as a primary cause of escalating youth-gang cultures.

The International Year of the Family will be over all too soon. I fear that again the community of faith will face defeat by default- the match of life lost because we just didn't turn up to compete in the courts of social, moral and political responsibilities.

Remember the frog. If we do not seize the opportunity, we may yet be boiled alive in the heat of individualism and conflict between genders and generations, without even attempting to escape the seething cauldron of secular humanism.

John Smith,
Executive Director, Care & Communication Concern
President, God's Squad Motorcycle Club

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:19:51 (EEST).
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