One clear lesson of history is that government, if it is not balanced and held in check, will expand and grow at the expense of individual freedom and independence.
Faith and family are the only two forces strong enough to accomplish this balance and restraint. The greatest institution — of the sovereignty of God — and the most basic institution — of family — are the only elements powerful enough to stop government from excesses and from sucking away individual agency.
Faith is a force from the heavens above, the belief that God’s word is more important than man’s.
Family is a force from the grass roots below, the belief that the fundamental unit of society is what makes up and controls all larger institutions.
When faith and family weaken, the middle institution of government swells — partly because of its inherent thirst for power, and partly to try to do the social jobs that family and religion are no longer doing.
The problem, of course, is that government, when compared to family or to religion, is horribly expensive and inefficient at handling social problems of welfare, justice and moral training.
And the more government grows, the more it oppresses and removes our powers of choice.
Going back to the Roman empire, the decline of family solidarity and of religious faith has precipitated not only growing decadence but also expanding government and the steady loss of individual freedom. And as government grows, it tends to become jealous of its powers and creates programs and policies that are increasingly secular and that are either anti-family or without regard for family.
This is why communist and socialist governments, and all totalitarian regimes, try to eliminate religion and undermine families. Churches and synagogues are marginalized and eventually banned; and families are unfairly taxed or depleted. The norms and personal priorities in such societies begin to shift away from responsibility and family focus and toward materialism and self-focus. People begin to abandon parenthood and family ideals in favor of more personal comfort and “freedom.”
In suppressive, collectivist nations, government grows to where people’s entire lives are completely controlled. Communes replace families and nationalism replaces faith. Even in “free” countries, the secular, materialistic abandonment of faith and family creates a “cult of the individual,” where selfish options are valued more than commitment and sacrifice — and where we hear much about individual rights and individual freedom and being true to yourself but little about family rights and religious freedom.
And this creates weaker rather than stronger people. David Brooks of the New York Times put it this way: “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”
In this country, we seem to have a lot of things backwards. We think that poverty and crime and drugs and bad public policy are destroying families. We even hear that a natural, traditional family is now a luxury that only the rich or highly educated can afford.
In fact, it is the decline of families and of faith that is creating poverty, crime, abuse, addiction and bad politics. Solid family life, far from being a luxury, is the only way to survive and to help society survive.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."