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Cleaning Up the Mess: Learning From the Soviets

Recently, my colleague Eric Metaxas told Breakpoint listeners about an extraordinary example of Christian forgiveness taken from Orlando Figes’ The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin’s Russia.

There’s a lot more we can learn from Figes’ book as well. For example, we can learn the folly of trying to redefine the family to suit our ideological purposes.

According to Figes, for many Bolsheviks, the “fundamental goal” of the revolution was the creation of a “new kind of human being” who only lived for the “common good.” Of course, the “common good” was defined as “service to the [Communist] Party and its cause.”

Creating this “new human being” required “blowing up the shell of private life” that was the source of competing loyalties and obligations. This conviction put the family in the Bolsheviks' crosshairs. For them, it was an “article of faith” that the traditional family — or the “bourgeois” family as they called it — was the “stronghold” of “religion, superstition, ignorance, and prejudice.”

So the Bolsheviks did everything in their power to undermine it, starting with “[removing] the influence of the Church in marriage and divorce.” They re-wrote the law to make divorce easy and gave cohabiting couples the same rights as married ones. Abortion was readily available.

The result was a “huge increase in casual marriage and the highest rate of divorce in the world.” Sexual morals were loosened and familial and communal ties were weakened. The “birth rate declined disastrously,” which left the USSR short both of laborers and soldiers. Child abandonment became a “mass phenomenon.” The Communist Party was then left trying to clean up after the mess that its war on the traditional family had created.

Well, less than 20 years after declaring war on the family, the party did an abrupt about-face. Suddenly marriage was promoted as “glamorous” and wedding rings, which had been banned as “Christian relics,” became available. Divorce laws were tightened and abortion was outlawed. The “good” Stalinist was expected to be “monogamous” and “devoted to his family.” And some comrades were expelled from the Communist Party for being bad fathers or husbands.

Obviously, the Communists weren’t acting out of a newfound respect for tradition, much less religion. Theirs was a pragmatic response to hard-learned experience. Creating good Soviet citizens, they found, required strong families.

Reading about the USSR’s reversal on the family, it’s difficult not to draw parallels with our own time. Now, let me state this up front: comparing Stalinist Russia with contemporary America and the rest of the West is ridiculous. In virtually every way that matters, they’re diametrically opposed.

But that said, today we ourselves are in the midst of a kind of social experiment involving the traditional family. And while the goals are different, the elements of that experiment resemble the one Figes described. “No-fault” divorce has given the U.S. the highest divorce rate of any Western society. Increasingly, cohabiting couples are treated the same as married ones. While child abandonment is rare, increasing numbers of children are born out of wedlock, all but abandoned by their fathers. And of course, selective abortion due to disability or gender is common practice.

The personal and social costs of this experimentation are well-documented, but they’re also ignored or at least downplayed. Why? Ideology. In this instance, it’s an ideology whose “article of faith” teaches that personal freedom and autonomy are the highest goods. Any appeal to the common good or to the traditional family’s role in promoting the common good is regarded as an imposition and, even worse, as “bigotry.”

But that won’t stop the troubles we’re creating for ourselves. We can only hope that an about-face is in our not-too-distant future. Then we can all roll up our sleeves and begin cleaning up the mess.

You see this belief in the traditional family is not just a tenet of our religion. It’s reality rooted in the way God made the world.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: April 5, 2013

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