Volume 30, Issue 1/2, 2018
The American Experiment: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
D. Eric Schansberg
Family, Religion and the American Republic
Indications are that the success of the American experiment is fading. Perceived declines in family and religion are of particular concern as key aspects of civil society. But family and religion are difficult to measure, and it is challenging to have clarity about our own times and the past. The 1950s are commonly seen as the end of a long run of success for religion and family in America. Yet marriage and family have consistently gone through cycles of growth and decline. Thus, post-World War II religion was more “civil religion” than Christianity. To gain perspective on the past and envision the future, this essay revisits two classic books: Carle Zimmerman’s 1947 study of the family and Will Herberg’s 1955 study of religion. Zimmerman describes a decline in family structure that seems to fit the last 50 years. But other literature indicates that we may be at the trough of a cycle in family structure. How much does family structure matter to society, and what is the future of the family in America? Herberg describes religion as largely a way of “belonging”--more cultural than religious. How do cultural and “religious” dimensions contribute to the health of a society? Without vibrant religious faith and strong families, can we keep the republic?