Requiem for the Nuclear Family

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

(The recent Supreme Court’s decision brings into question far more than the issue of the right or wrong of gay marriage. It brings into question the very manner in which our nation evaluates moral and ethical issues.)

In the 1840s, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian and political thinker, in his “Democracy in America” observed:

Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.

Tocqueville’s observation is clearly seen in President Washington’s farewell address to the nation when he stated:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Bringing further clarity to Washington’s declaration, in 1952, President Dwight Eisenhower considering the Founding Fathers of our nation stated:

“All men are endowed by their Creator.” In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men created equal.

What is the Judeo-Christian concept which it appears that Tocqueville, Washington and Eisenhower saw as the bedrock upon which American democracy stands? The Jewish Conservative columnist Dennis Prager, defines it this way:

The concept of Judeo-Christian values does not rest on a claim that the two religions are identical. It promotes the concept there is a shared intersection of values based on the Hebrew Bible (“Torah”), brought into our culture by the founding generations of Biblically oriented Protestants, that is fundamental to American history, cultural identity, and institutions.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24, is one of the first values stated in the Bible. It is this Biblical prescription which is the foundational building block of our American society – the nuclear family. As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “A family group that consists only of father, mother and children.”

Discussion concerning this valued foundational social structure has gained new importance of late in addressing the upheaval in the inner-city where, in the eyes of most observers, the social evils so prevalent in crippling the young, are, in many ways, attributable to the decline of the nuclear family. Raised without this stabilizing factor in their lives, young people, are bereft of the parameters taught by the Judeo-Christian ethic – discipline, moral principle, the work ethic, respect and responsibility for one’s fellow human being, to enumerate but a few. The result is a chaotic life without direction and purpose, providing little of lasting meaning, joy and even mundane success for the individual and society as a whole. Of particular concern is the phenomenon of the absentee father so much a part of this issue. The question being posed by many is how does society support the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage and its consequent result of a successful nuclear family?

Paradoxically, at the same time support for the nuclear family as the building block of society has taken on new importance especially with regard to confronting the problems of the inner-city, the United States Supreme Court has redefined marriage. “The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them,” Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion.

As I have written in the past, there was no necessity to redefine marriage, to address the claim of equal rights for those who live a lifestyle outside the framework of the nuclear family. The Sacred institution of marriage could have been left to the collective church, and instead, the government could have instituted life partnerships which would represent a commitment on many levels between two individuals wishing to share their lives be they friends, brother and sister, mother and daughter. The rejection of the Judeo-Christian standard as our society’s yardstick for ethics and morals begs the question – what will be the standard utilized in the future in this country to determine moral and ethical behavior?