Fall 2014

Human Wellbeing, the Natural Family, and Natural Law

Allan Carlson

"In the end, it is family structure that matters."

It is not uncommon in America today, especially among academics, to accuse Christians and others identified as “conservative” of suppressing and ignoring the lessons of modern science. The accusations most often involve issues of biological evolution and global warming. In fact, much clearer examples of politicized science, where the empirical evidence is bent and distorted to accommodate ideological needs, can be found among these critics themselves when the subject is the effect of family structure on human health and wellbeing.

An increasingly widespread assumption today is that family structure should not matter relative to good health: all family types are equal; if and when certain family forms appear actually to cause physical harm, ranging from diminished lives to premature death, the response immediately called for is that of crafting new “policy interventions” where state resources and programs attempt to ameliorate the effects of living outside a natural family.

The present article argues, on the contrary, that the actual lesson taught by the biological and social sciences is simple and clear. The path to good health is largely determined by certain behaviors:

  • Have the good fortune to grow up in a home with both of your natural parents, who are married;
  • Have the good fortune to have numerous siblings;
  • Attend religious services weekly, throughout your life;
  • Remain sexually chaste until marriage;
  • Marry at a relatively young age;
  • Remain married and faithful to your spouse throughout your life;
  • Have and raise children of your own;
  • (For women) Breastfeed your children for extended periods;
  • (For women again) Focus your labor first on the home, with outside paid work considered secondary;
  • Do not smoke tobacco, nor use illicit drugs, nor drink alcohol to excess.

This list should sound familiar, for it also represents the common lessons about personal behavior taught by Christian social ethicists over the centuries.

The negative lessons regarding human health, as taught by the sciences, are equally clear. To the degree that such matters are within an individual’s power of choice, avoid: single parenthood, childlessness, divorce, the “one child” family, the life of the adult singleton, unmarried cohabitation, step or blended families, infant formula, alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, secularism, sexual experimentation, and non-marital sexuality.

This list too should sound familiar, for it is also a kind of summary of the dominant social trends of our age. Behaviors that ought to be avoided are not only growing in frequency, they are also commonly defended, or even celebrated as part of a new paradigm of “morality.” All the same, the staggering “health crisis” in contemporary America can be largely explained by a shift in family structure over the last fifty years, from a reasonably strong normative natural family order (excepting the cult of the cigarette) found as late as the mid 1960s to the social and moral chaos of 2014.



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