A Presentation given at the 1981 conference of Urantia Brotherhood Snowmass, Colorado
I prefer the title of this talk being the revitalization and transformation within the family instead of the revitalization and transformation of the family because it places the emphasis and responsibility of improvement on the family itself. I believe that for any transformation to take place the initiative has to come from within--not as the result of outside forces. In order to adequately understand how we can revitalize and transform the family we need to understand first just what family is -- assess its function and value. Along with this we need to take a look at the current sickness that's plaguing the family and discuss the possible causes. Note that I refer to it as a sickness because that's exactly what I believe it to be--not a demise. Family is in a state of transition and we need to redefine it -- come to understand it in the light of a new era -- and answer to the challenge and responsibility required to fulfill its function in today's world.
Family, what is it? Dr. Charles Stinnette at the Graduate Seminary of Philips University in Oklahoma defines family in the following way, "It is a world of persons, a cosmos of meanings and common understanding which provides a center for unity and conflict, for meeting and withdrawal, for the shaping of identity and for the birth and nurture of our essential humanness.
The mode in which family is a whole, and yet provides for diversity is the heartbeat of healthy living. Further, the family is a social organism which is propelled, not alone by physiological function, but most importantly by inter-personal events. Here is the foundational cornerstone for adequately understanding the family."
In reinforcement of that statement, The Urantia Book describes the universe as a huge growing arena that is set up in such a way that it unerringly activates our individual growth--resulting mainly from the interaction of other beings--through the socialization process. We start small at first (we couldn't handle anything bigger) and gradually work our way up to larger and more diverse associations. Thus the smaller manageable unit-the family--is the primary social medium in our lives through which we grow and extend the learning it facilitates. On page 1776 we read, "Marriage, with its manifold relations, is best designed to draw forth those precious impulses and those higher motives which are indispensable to the development of a strong character." (*1776:1)
Growth requires encounters with people. Evidently we wouldn't grow much on our own, if at all, so we need the stimulation of continually bumping up against other people. And characteristically growth doesn't occur without conflict. And families, due to their intense degree of intimacy, provide the necessary rich soil. Contrary to how many of us feel and think, we're not here to simply get along smoothly, we're here to grow vigorously and deeply. That's God's chief objective in having us here and that doesn't occur in environmental ease (as The Urantia Book so aptly puts it). In fact The Urantia Book describes the partnership between man and woman as basically antagonistic--a pairing of opposites both complemental and necessary. It's symbolic of nature's way to capitalize on differences --to utilize and benefit from the union of diversity.
Also found in The URANTIA Book: "The enforced associations of family life stabilize personality and stimulate its growth through the compulsion of necessitous adjustment to other and diverse personalities." (*942:2)
Ironically, though, in view of all this importance and along with being the oldest and most prevalent institution in our lives, family remains a most grossly undervalued institution.
Parenting is the most important job on this planet and yet it is the least prepared for and the least appreciated profession of all. Even so, family is the most influential institution in our lives--shaping us and as a consequence, in turn, shaping through us the society in which we live. The family is our primary learning institution, where we learn about life, about the universe, and about the very nature of God. To the point: "The family is the fundamental unit of fraternity in which parents and children learn those lessons of patience, altruism, tolerance, and forbearance which are so essential to the realization of brotherhood among all men." (*841:8)
It is frightening, however, that although family is essential for the over-all benefit of individuals and society, we are witnessing what appears to be a general tide of family disintegration and with it a great deal of society's moral fiber. Why is this happening? There are many opinions but usually they only scratch the surface. For the problems of the family are not exclusive to the family but rather symptomatic of an all-pervasive cultural problem.
The single most important influence on our contemporary culture -our lives--has been the dawning of industrialization with all of its consequent effects upon every aspect of life, from science and technology through economics, education, politics, and religion. We have time to focus on only a few key factors. It has been through the advances of science and technology that the basic function of the family has been altered in its very nature, and so its stability shattered. Not only has technology provided us with the inventions making it possible to travel farther and therefore extending our sense of personal territory, but it has also given us less reason to stay and work together.
Families had largely been cohesive because they were functional and necessary for society, controlled in turn by social norms and mores. But the functions that held families together and gave them meaning are no longer pertinent in today's culture--science and technology have largely taken care of that, cutting families free from their original or traditional working responsibilities. We, as families, are not in the same symbiotic relationship with society we once were.
All this new-found freedom is of little comfort because we're losing our sense of significance, and instead of society depending upon families any more we find families and their members hopelessly dependent upon society's larger, less personal institutions. As the family has become less and less necessary for the physical well-being of the society the individual suffers. Probably the most disastrous effect industrialization has had on the individual is this diminishing sense of significance--it's one of our greatest human needs--if we don't have that, we have little reason for existing.
Although society has largely controlled the individual, it is nonetheless an invention of the individual--an extension of self-perpetuation. Society is a tool devised by the individual to assure survival; institutions were devised to fulfill certain specialized functions. In the past, all institutions, including the family, were engaged in common reciprocal serving --the family served the other institutions and the institutions, in turn, served the family. This interdependence, this healthy symbiosis, has been broken as other institutions have loomed ever larger, resulting in the family becoming irrelevant as well as powerless. Since much of the family's function has been replaced an unhealthy imbalance has been created. Rather than the individual being a necessary part of a viable institution any more (whether that be a family or a small business in the community) his chief means of contributing has been reduced to that of a consumer. He has become depersonalized as institutions have grown into depersonalized giants--his own particular selfhood and personal skills unimportant.
However, industrialization itself is not the culprit. Rather we are victims of ourselves, in how we handle the new advances. For example, one invention that has radically changed the face of the family day-to-day lifestyle is the television set. It has been blamed vehemently for interfering or replacing intimately shared family activities. Howard Steing, Clinical Professor of Medical Psychiatric Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, considers the use of the TV a symbolic expression of American culture. He maintains that TV is as much a person in the household as any real person--a person that captures our attention so totally that it obliterates reality going on around us. This is no accident, for he asserts that we actually engage TV to replace close personal contact, to escape from the commitments and sorrows existing with real associations. TV is the optimum and ideal friend, filling the void, giving us a sense of living and personal contact, willingly giving all and asking nothing in return. He maintains that in the sense that TV actually isolates us from real contact--separating us from real socialization--it's an addiction every bit as harmful as alcoholism or drug abuse.
Since TV has become a cultural norm it offers one the luxury of having the ultimate sanctioned distraction. These norms make self-indulgence--rights without responsibility--convenient and justifiable. Sadly, the irony of it all is that TV both fills the emptiness and serves to perpetuate it; it is symptomatic of the very isolation we use it to overcome, and so symbolic of a vast range of depersonalizing influences. "TV, though," he goes on to say "doesn't create or destroy relationships--it is not the villain--it is a matter instead of how the television is used in the relationships." Instead of disrupting family intimacy, for instance, it can be used as a means for family sharing -- used as an extension or means of socializing." He notes: "Long before TV existed, there was plenty of generational segmentation, role specialization, fragmentation, and compartmentalization in the American family; TV simply was placed in the service of these tendencies, further disrupting inter-personal ties that were already fractured."
Looking more deeply, then, the problem has little to do with actual by-products of industrialization but rather its associated values. In an essay written by Dr. Peter Kountz and Rev. Douglas Peterson, entitled, Marriage, Career and Disintegration of the American Dream, the point is made: "The work/career component is the greatest danger to the American way of life--not liberation or the failure of the church to provide adequate moral guidance. With technology came a new set of values; speed and efficiency came to be valued as work was moved from home to the office and factory in order to bring workers and materials together in the most efficient way. . Because of its astonishing growth and development through technology, contemporary American society has come to value progress and upward mobility as well as efficiency, productivity, and technical expertise. Americans have in this way become almost exclusively committed to the values of the technological, work-oriented American Dream -- (ironically though) it is precisely the American Dream that continues to confuse and frustrate 20th century American culture and its primary institutions. It is a lure enticing us into the belief that its attainment will bring joy and pleasure. Like the fish that takes the bait, our frenzied pursuit of the lure turns into bitter disappointment, mistrust and frustration." And they make clear the effect this pursuit has on the stability of the family: "The value of family staying and playing together has been shattered by the dozens of individual interests that scatter the family members to the four corners of their community."
In the past, functional, economic, and social reasons provided the necessary cement that held families together, giving them meaning and justifying their existence. But today these reasons are no longer relevant and consequently family is floundering. It has been set free from its original purpose and is presently at a loss.
Today mores, values, and ethics are all designed for the maintenance and perpetuation of the industrial complex. Industrial survival is society's primary concern, leaving the individual and family expendable. So the active values in our times are personally disabling. They encourage uniformity rather than individuality, dependency rather than self-maintenance or self-motivation. Corporate institutions have values other than human values. In our increasingly depersonalized society, market values or profits come before people. We have become victims of our own Frankenstein monster.
In order to offset this direction the family must once again become a viable contributor; a balance needs to be restored so that family is serving society again and in a way that only family can. The positive side of industrialization is that in many parts of the world basic survival needs are largely being taken care of by industry, leaving the family free to contribute in a new way. The stage is now set for a higher evolutionary contribution, therefore family is at a point where it has the opportunity to find deeper reasons for existing--to be as functional as yesterday's family was to an earlier era.
But the problem and solution are a matter of values and presently we lack a viable value system -- what value systems we do have are either hopelessly out-moded, irrelevant, or corrupt. We are presently experiencing moral confusion. The fast pace of a radically changing world has given us little time to adjust and redefine our purpose. Consequently, we're at a point in history where we've gained freedom and don't know what to do with it; we've been socially regulated for so long that we don't know what to do on our own responsibly. Many of the standard moral codes have broken down.
Margaret Mead in Culture and Commitment, explains that we are suffering a crisis of faith--we have lost faith in religion, political ideology, and in science, and are therefore deprived of every kind of security. She maintains that this is a world-wide problem because of what she calls the electronic network--that combined with air travel connects everyone together finally--leaving no one in cultural isolation. Everyone is now exposed to other beliefs, other norms, and mores. We are no longer limited by our small cultural scope. Our old standards and values are undermined by the awareness of other standards and values --we don't just believe blindly anymore.
Freedom with Responsibility
Today we need a new ethic. We need an ethic centered around human values again, one to counter the dehumanizing values of an industrial era--values we've adopted that interrupt genuine human relating. An ethic, though, that moves forward to basics, not back, because it's a new world today and we need values based on a design suitable for today's world. Our boundaries have extended beyond our families, our communities, our cities, and even our nations. Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos, points out the importance of adopting a global perspective today, that is, "of broadening the circle of those we love... to include the whole human community." We need to become a world community based on a stance of cooperative unity dedicated to the over-all benefit of all humanity. For instance, Virginia Satir, in her book Peoplemaking, suggests that we use power with a different aim in mind. She writes, "I need to use my power for my growth and your growth. This kind of use of power doesn't exclude human values; it enhances them." We need an ethic that enables and frees people to themselves and one another--utilizing skills for the benefit of all society--of all the world. An ethic both respectful of the needs for personal freedom while at the same time affirming each individual's responsibility to the whole.
Eric Hoffer, the well known longshoreman philosopher, understands the nature of this new ethic needed today: "As things are now, it may well be the survival of the species will depend upon the capacity to foster a boundless capacity for compassion." Family, because of its close intimate associations, is the primary institution to embody this new ethic. The family is the most competent institution capable of activating a capacity for intimacy and sensitivity which in turn provides for the rounded development of character and personality. Only family generates intimately-caring individuals; it's the only institution looking out for truly individual concerns.
Ultimately it's the family that's capable of freeing people to themselves, one another, and to God. In effect, other institutions are depersonalized. It's the only institution that can create love. To quote my husband, "institutions cannot love--only people love." The family institution is the sole exception, for when it functions as it should it alone fosters deep intimate, personal love!
I'm convinced that the main problem of the family today (and therefore our culture) is simply that the family doesn't appreciate itself--its importance--and fails to notice the enormity of its influence. According to The Urantia Book, the family is far from being insignificant; it earns the lone distinction, in fact, of being ". . man's supreme evolutionary acquirement and civilization's only hope of survival." (*943:2) Ironically, on the very institution that is least understood and appreciated rests to a very large extent the solution to the manifold problems that plague the world today. The family and its capacity for growth and change is the ultimate educator in society and finally the universe. Families are the teaching centers of real education and models for all social structures. It is the family from which we learn or don't learn individual responsibility, cooperation, love and caring, fairness, justice, compassion, forgiveness, and grace. It is from the family that we learn how to regard and finally treat our fellow man. As found in The Urantia Book, the family is absolutely essential for revealing the true character of God.
"The relationship of child and parent is fundamental to the essential concept of the Universal Father. ." (*516:3)
Jesus regarded the family so highly, in fact, that "the family occupied the very center of Jesus' philosophy of life--here and hereafter." (*1581:1) Jesus never under-estimated the value of family--he saw family as representative of the highest levels of existence --referring even to the kingdom as a divine family. Jesus said: ". . (the) Father has directed the creation of male and female, and it is the divine will that men and women should find their highest service and consequent joy in the establishment of homes for the reception and training of children, in the creation of whom these parents become copartners with the Makers of heaven and earth." (*1839:5) By what he said and how he lived Jesus elevated the union between man and woman and the subsequent family to a level far exceeding its status of that era and even today's era. He gave meaning to the statement that, "The family is man's greatest purely human achievement... " (*939:3)
Families are not only educational institutions for the members that comprise them but also educators of society. Families are essential as carriers of culture and instruments of change. In The Urantia Book it's emphasized how all-important this function is: "Society itself is the aggregated structure of family units. Individuals are very temporary as planetary factors--only families are continuing agencies in social evolution. The family is the channel through which the river of culture and knowledge flows from one generation to another." (*931:2) Family is basic for passing on the cultural torch, giving continuity to social evolutionary patterns. Families are the carriers of society, without which society would stagnate. In The Urantia Book it reads, "Almost everything of lasting value in civilization has its roots in the family." (*765:5)
Dr. Charles Stinnette highlights and summarizes this all-important function of family: "(Family), it is both a conservator and mediator of human value and a prophetic center which translates a cry of distress into a summons for help and change. The family is destroyed from within whenever it ignores either of these mandates. Its function as a center for prophetic change gives meaning and import to its function as the nurturing center of civilization."
Yes, far from being insignificant, the family's responsibility is indispensable. How, then, do we proceed in this vital reconstruction? Family building is at an all time low --it's becoming less and less an attractive venture for people. In their combined book Here's to the Family, Betty and Joel Wells analyze the dilemma this way: "The husband and wife who enter into familyhood--that is, have children--are offered little by way of preparatory education or professional training for what is surely one of the most complex and challenging jobs in the world. Nor are they offered the same sort of support which surrounding institutions used to provide. To get married, stay married, run a household, raise healthy, well-adjusted children to the point of incipient maturity is not the easy, automatic, natural thing it was once supposed to be. In fact, not very many people, when you take the population at large, are able to do it. Yet when they are successful, there's no Nobel or Pulitzer prize awarded; no cover story in Time to celebrate the achievement in the face of odds that grow longer each year."
Parenting, no doubt, is a thankless task today. Family is no longer regarded with unquestioned respect -- no longer considered the pace-setter and upholder of right but, instead, is blamed for everything--blamed for the ills of both the individual and society. For that matter, Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, forecasted a world where family would be entirely obliterated due to its supposed negative and immoral influence on people. We are understandably apprehensive about entering parenthood any more. Thanks to psychology we've been made aware of the risks. We are conscientious about parenting now in a new way--having been made aware of the damage parents can inflict. We truly want to do the right thing, our intentions are right but we find ourselves so overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of diverse viewpoints on child-rearing that we end up numb by the sheer confusion and ineffective by the inevitable guilt!
To complicate matters further, parental authority is increasingly being undercut today by the intervention of other institutions. We hear today of the rising apathy among parents, that increasingly parents are shirking their responsibility. I believe there are such instances but I also believe strongly that most parents are interested, extremely interested, in their children and if anything, they feel at a loss--they doubt their own competence as parents. I feel parents have to like themselves again and, therefore, like their role. "Parent" has become a four letter word in our society and that has to change. Furthermore, no one is more fitting for the job.
Other institutions only know a portion of the child's over-all needs. It's the parents who must take their rightful place again as the chief experts in the raising of their children. In The Urantia Book we read: "...any attempt to shift parental responsibility to state or church will prove suicidal to the welfare and advancement of civilization." (*941:8) Moreover, on a neighboring planet, as a positive example, children are under full control of their parents.
What this means is that today, parents need to retrieve their full responsibility and authority once again, responsibility mainly as teachers. In The Urantia Book we find that teaching and child-rearing are in fact inseparable. Education today, unfortunately, is regarded as only occurring in certain specified places and by certain specified people. Actually, though, learning is no more a consequence of organized education than religion is a consequence of organized religion. Learning is a part of life--it is life, in fact.
Family is the arena for personal and interpersonal development. Family is a combination of elements that we require to grow. Even Jesus had to experience being both child and parent in family. We read: "No surviving mortal, midwayer, or seraphim may ascend to Paradise, attain the Father, and be mustered into the Corps of the Finality without having passed through that sublime experience of achieving parental relationship to an evolving child of the worlds or some other experience analogous and equivalent thereto. The relationship of child and parent is fundamental to the essential concept of the Universal Father and his universe children.
Therefore does such an experience become indispensable to the experiential training of all ascenders." (*516:3) We need the opportunity to parent, not just for our children's sake but for ours as well. We need the addition that children bring to an intimate association.
It's common in our society to exclude children from our adult lives, to see them as a becoming, a "future," as Maria Montessori puts it, and therefore we segregate ourselves from them.
Children, though, provide us with a necessary balance, something we wouldn't have otherwise. Children are not merely a becoming, but part of our very essential and necessary socialization process. Maria Montessori further points out that by cutting ourselves off from children as we do, we are consequently severing ourselves from a necessary part of ourselves and ultimately our society. We are only functioning and growing at half our potential capacity. She explains it as follows, "There is in us, finally, a peculiar emptiness, a blindness we have built into our spirit and our civilization. Something like a blind spot in the depths of the eye, this blind spot is in the depths of life." Dave, my husband, once said, "Children are incredibly precious because of their relative rarity in the total ascension career--but in our society they are largely cast aside. They should be our teachers; as God learns from us, so we learn from our children."
There's a beautiful book entitled: Whole Child Whole Parent, written by Polly Berends. Here is what she has to say about the education of parenthood: "It's an existential fact that most of us need our children. There are few people walking this earth who learn the arts of motherliness and fatherliness without children, and they are very wise. But most of us benefit from the big push our children give us toward the discovery of these qualities-- qualities which are absolutely necessary to our fulfillment and of more lasting value than most of the lessons of childhood. We learn them for the sake of our children, but they benefit us most of all. Once we have learned to be truly motherly and fatherly (we need of course, to become both) we will always be much happier.
The gain is not the having of children; it is the discovery of love and how to be loving. The foundation of love is the knowledge of goodness. The qualities of this love are receptivity, patience, innocence, humility, trust, gratitude, generosity, understanding, and the desire to be good for goodness' sake." The most moving insight was when I read the following statement: "Parenthood is just the world's most intensive course in love."
Not only do we disclose the true nature of our Father's love to our children as is so aptly pointed out in The Urantia Book but it's within the family that we learn love. We really don't understand the full nature of love until we've had the opportunity to parent.
A perspective of love is basic, any method (for instance in child-rearing) is secondary and inconsequential to love; if you don't have love, any method in the world won't work, and by the same token, if you do have the love any method in the world will work. This was the wonder behind Jesus as parent; it wasn't his technique per se -- his technique was love-based, love-expressed. In addition we read, " . .the entire religious experience of such a child is largely dependent on whether fear or love has dominated the parent-child relationship." (*1013:6)
The ultimate goal of parenting should be to free the individual to himself and to God; to allow him to teach himself, actually, to learn from life like we all do, through the instrument of experience; to formulate his own truth. Polly Berends added a dimension to the well-used quote by Jesus: "...except you become as a little child you shall never enter the kingdom." She goes on, "He wasn't talking about cute or little or helpless or ignorant: he was talking about the child's most outstanding ability, the ability to learn." It's the child's wide-eyed and open receptivity to the ongoing and ever-revealing truth that makes him a virtual sponge for truth. It's this condition of always questioning that characterizes the child so well.
I read somewhere that adults are collaborators in life with children--not experts--but fellow learners, because learning occurs always, everywhere and with everybody. Our role has to do with "...assisting the child to win the battle of life." (*941:7) Everyone in a household as equal participant, working in collaboration with one another, each empowered with his own personality and sense of responsibility is what true freedom is all about --it's the way of the universe. Jesus' family was so designed. It is true with the Father's family.
In asking ourselves how best to parent, we need only look to God as our model parent. In his silent leading he offers himself as a patiently gentle guide striking a perfect balance of involvement. Always is God present but never overwhelmingly so. And by never imposing his will he sets and nurtures the conditions for the development of true inner discipline.
In conclusion, even though this is a time of great insecurity for the individual and the family, I see this as a magnificent opportunity for all humankind. One way to view it is to see ourselves being weaned from an outer social control, to an inner greater control.
This current narcissitic period we're witnessing is not only understandable but maybe even necessary before we discover something else. It's like being weaned from the bottle and resorting to our thumb for awhile. We're in a period of self-discovery--of finding our separateness. After all, that's where God ultimately finds us--alone--he relates to individuals, not groups as such. The challenge now is greater than ever before and that's really what's scary about it; the control is no longer out there--it's up to us now--we have to find the answers and direction within ourselves.
And what does this say about family? People as single individuals functioning autonomously, acting out of personal decisions motivated by choice, are far more cohesive and advantageous for the good of the group than the old family group based on necessity alone and controlled by society. Our families and therefore society is many times more solid and effective when people are committed to each other out of choice and governed by their own set of values born out of a personal relationship to God. This is what the age offers us. The Urantia Book is a book of this new age--a vision of the idea of God-control.
"Families and societies are small and large versions of one another. Put together all the current existing families and you have society," says Virginia Satir in her book Peoplemaking. Because of this fact any changes occurring in the family have a direct influence on society. Families today have the opportunity of revitalizing with a new significance by transforming into small model communities, communities of individuals committed to growth. What a marvelous and different world we would have if everyone in it were committed to growth -- People choosing to be together--embracing involvement with one another again but for higher reasons--based on the principles of dynamic growth.
Families are being called forth to be in the business of building the kingdom right here on earth. To develop and improve human quality and to act as spawning grounds by which the world learns the essential values of the kingdom. On page 1777 we read: "And thus, if you can build up such trustworthy and effective small units of human association, when these are assembled in the aggregate, the world will behold a great and glorified social structure, the civilization of mortal maturity. Such a race might begin to realize something of your Master's ideal of 'peace on earth and good will among men.' While such a society would not be perfect or entirely free from evil, it would at least approach the stabilization of maturity." (*1777:2)
And finally, family is not an end in itself but a pattern, a fundamental pattern of human relating that needs to be realized increasingly right up through the planetary family towards universe family. Families are tiny microcosms of human relationships reflected on all universe levels--on page 369 we read of it being a reflection of the very universe structure itself. Family as pattern is the only institution that covers the entire range of evolutionary reality even to Paradise--the trinity for instance being the primary family. Its feet are in the earth but its head is in Paradise--no other institution can claim that!
A Service of The Urantia Book Fellowship