|Patrick F. Fagan, Ph. D., Senior Fellow and Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI)|
Based on the speech at
the round table discussion
“Family: Origins and Future of Civilizations”
took place within the framework of
World Public Forum
“Dialogue of Civilizations”
(Oktober 7—11, 2010, Greece, Rhodes)
With global communications accessible even to the poor, with more universal forms of education reaching around the world regardless of economic status (though there is so much more to be done), with new technologies disrupting patterns of agriculture and manufacture, and with migration bringing people half way around the globe from villages in their underdeveloped homelands to new homes in developed countries, with working class and poorer families in these richer countries experiencing massive family disruption, with bio technologies depressing birthrates below replacement, much disruption is a given in the global social landscape.
However, underneath all this change, disruption, and even chaos, there are fundamental needs and tasks that are universal across time, geography and culture, and that are also present at the personal, the marital, familial, communal, and national levels. These tasks, present from top to bottom in society, and present across all societies, give us all a functional framework within which to think and act in positive, organized, flexible, and culturally sensitive ways.
I posit that every individual has five indispensable tasks in life which correspond with the five basic institutions that every society needs to functioning well.
These five tasks or institutions are family, religion (church, synagogue, mosque, or temple), school (education in all its myriad forms), marketplace (earning the material goods needed for conducting the five tasks), and government (protection against crime), symbolized in Figure 1. Though all are built on relationships, two of them are built on more instrumental dimensions (government and marketplace), while the other three (family, church and school – especially in its early years) are more intensely personal in their relationships.
Other large institutions are present in society--health care and entertainment, to name but two. But neither these, nor others that could be named, are fundamental or indispensable. Were they to disappear society would not collapse, nor cease to function.
In fact, we can track these fundamentals across all societies, and times. And in the lifespan of the individual we will see them in operation, especially from early adulthood onwards. This simultaneity can be seen in the major buildings in which we gather throught out the day, week or year, to accomplish the major tasks of our life and society ( Figure 2).
In earliest history, these institutions were often fused, such as the political within the religious, or the religious within the political, or education within the family.
The history of the institutions is different in each culture, but, over time, has generally progressed towards greater independence for each institution,. At times there can be a regression or a flight to re-fusion, either because of an overreach of power (by an unwelcome powerful government dominating a conquered people’s schools— governments usurpation of education is a constant threat and a frequent reality).
Sometimes the re-fusion is an expression of independence, as in home-schooling today in the United States where many parents have sought ways to obtain a good, even better, education for their children than that provided by the institution in its more accepted though troubled public form.
The Five Fundamental Institutions are precisely that: fundamental and irreplaceable, and hence interdependent. Remove and one and society as a whole will weaken (and the functioning of the other four institutions will be diminished).
Should family, fail society would disappear (as is happening in many “advanced” societies today).
Should religion, disappear moral chaos will ensue. It is in religion that the work of the transcendentals and the universals tend to be worked out by individuals in the constant repetitive work of worship and prayer. (Individuals, families and communities could, theoretically, organize around philosophical considerations, but they don’t. They do organize and work around religious beliefs and communal relationship with their deity.
Furthermore, the moral codes that emanate from different religious beliefs tend to converge and to illustrate the universal nature of the path to happiness and peace (see C.S. Lewis’s important essay on “The Illustrations of the Tao”).
Thus, we can conclude that each institution is dependent on the institution of religion to grapple with the issues of transcendence, with the questions of universals and of morality. And there are major societal benefits that ensue. For instance religious practice is highly correlated with educational attainment (See Figure 3 and literature overview ).
The fundamental nature of education is readily apparent: Should education fail, then the wisdom and skills of one generation are not passed on to the next. Furthermore, higher education attainment is the transmission belt of higher cultural and technological attainments.
Without learning, institutions default to lesser or even primitive levels of operation (Sometimes this insight is used by conquering nations to subjugate conquered peoples). With increased learning all institutions function at higher and higher levels.
We all have seen in recent years the detrimental effects across all institutions when either the marketplace weakens or when government collapses. Each has swift effects on each other and on the family, church, and school.
The less the marketplace functions well the less other institutions benefit.
Each institution is dependent on government for the ordered peace that gives protection of persons and property and enforcement of laws that make peaceful order possible in all the institutions
A grasp of these fundamentals make the national and international discourse easier, for they create a frame of reference that is both universal and functional.
Not only do the basic institutions operate at the societal level, they operate at the individual level. They are embodied in the mature person in a life of family, worship, study, work, and citizenship. The person capable of living out all five roles lives a full human life, and, universally,is a valued member of society. It would be an honorable epitaph for any man to say of him that he lived his family life, his religious life, his pursuit of learning, his earning his bread and his citizenship well.
Underlying the operation of the Five Fundamental Institutions are five very different capacities of man, capacities that when harnessed in community are the institutions: sexuality (family); reflection (religion); learning (school); work (marketplace) and force (government).
When these all are used well (in the service of the person and others), both the individual and society thrive.
When not fulfilled, individuals, families and societies suffer: sexuality abused or neglected leads to massive suffering (abortion, rape, divorce, out of wedlock births, poverty, sexual abuse, sterility and depopulation). Reflection abused leads to ideologies and intolerance, leading in turn to discrimination, violence, even wars. Learning abused leads to ignorance on one extreme and exploitation of the ignorant on the other.
The abuse of honesty in the marketplace leads to cheating, corruption, bribery, exploitation, especially of the poor or those caught in dire need ending in the modern forms of slavery or near-slavery. The abuse of justice by government can lead to massive cruelties against those who should be protected by government.
That these capacities be well formed within a framework of the transcendentals is one of the ongoing tasks of religion. Or, stated more concretely, the whole of society has a deep investment in the cultivation of the virtues or strengths associated with the tasks that are the institutions. Among these strengths it is worth considering the “sine-qua-non” virtues for each task: that strength, without which the task is not possible.
On reflection these will be seen to be chastity, piety, “perseverance in learning until confident of how to learn”, honesty in dealing with others, and strict justice in the use of force with others, especially regarding their persons and property.
The cultivation of these primary (functionally primary) virtues will assume myriad expressions in different cultures, but they will be recognizable across cultures, peoples and societies. When these virtues are present in an individual, no matter his creed, color, or culture, they are immediately recognized by others with gratitude for the attainment they bring the individual and the peace they also bring to others. Thus these virtues (the habit of capacities well harnessed) are honored across time and space.
Though conceptually coherent as presented above, there are elements that are certain elements that are in contention in modernity, especially that those concerning marriage and religious life are critical to a well functioning society.
However this contention is easily buttressed by the data, and can be illustrated by the impact of both combined on education as illustrated in Figure 3 and 5.
This interdependence has even further ramifications for we know that education has much to do with lifetime earnings (Figure 6).
The macro economic implications can be glanced in the savings and capital for investment that is highly tied to marriage, something even the economists have yet to discover. (Figures 7 and 8).
Few acknowledge the impact of religious practice on the issue of crime (the containment of which is one of governments main tasks), though on reflection few would doubt it.
The proxy, fighting in the last year, in Figure 9 gives us some impression of its positive impact.
Running away from home (Figure 10 for United Kingdom data) and incarceration of youth (Figure 11 for US data) both attest to the large influence of different family structures on crime.
Thus, we can begin to illustrate how government (in its tasks on crime and taxes, derived from income) is significantly dependent on family and religion. We have shown how education and income are similarly dependent.
For the individual, all five tasks, adequately undertaken and integrated in his life yield a better harnessing of sexuality in stable marriages, of the transcendentals in religion of learning in the schools, of work in the marketplace, of the capacity to govern himself/ herself together in marriage and in family life.
This latter is the secure basis of modern consensual government. (Figures 12 and 13).
The socialization capacity of parents and the family has been undisputed from of old (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) and is still undisputed. However, the superior socialization role of married parents is more disputed by the influential classes today (but not in the data).
The family as an organization is the smallest society and incorporates all five of the basic tasks needed to make its work complete and family life sustainable. In that way it is different from all the other basic institutions. It is a society unto itself.
Within the family, all five tasks are pursued: the affectional-sexual-procreative; attending to the transcendental-religious learning; procuring material needs; and ordering life for the common good. Figure 14
Because the family is the first school of learning the other basic tasks the other institutions are highly dependent on it: The better the child or young member emerging from the family the more the other institutions can accomplish their work: they will have the actors needed to perform. Stated in modern economics term, they will have the required human and social capital. c
All this introduction to the tasks emanates from the cooperation between father and mother and thus this dyad can be isolated as the most fundamental in society . Everything else is strengthened or weakened by its strength or weakness.
The natural socialization process in the early years is provided by cooperation first between father, mother, and secondly among family, church and school.
When all three (family, church, and school) are in co-operation the yield is greatest, as this chart on educational Grade Point Average for the United States illustrates. (Figures 16) And both marketplace and government benefit.
For all three to co-operate, the individuals involved must have already developed the five universal capacities/strengths/virtues (as mentioned above).
Different cultures all have different ways of inculcating these strengths. Within different families there exist more differentiations of style within those cultures. But in all these, the same strengths are inculcated whenever the family or community is flourishing.
Though traditions, and now social science, attest to the necessity of these capacities, intergenerational neglect or personal neglect over a lifetime constantly create or perpetuate deficits in individuals, families, communities, and nations.
In our day the sexual revolution in normative sexual behavior (in media, in social practice, in education, and facilitated by bio-technologies) has diminished sexual-family strengths. The US, for instance, slid from a Belonging Index of about 90 percent in 1950 (90 percent of children reached adulthood having grown up in an intact family) to a Belonging Index of 45 percent in 2008. Many Western European countries may have still lower Indices of Belonging (see Figure 17)
Delving further into the capacity building needed for stable marriage the case can be made (from the data, see Figure 18) that chastity is the key strength to develop. Should that be granted (and for stability of marriage it is hard to refute) then the cultivation of chastity becomes a key strength to be developed— and given the role of stable marriage it can easily be contested that it is even the most foundational strength to be developed.
Interestingly, chastity is held in universal esteem in all functioning cultures, and its violation is often severely punished. Given its foundational nature and its impact on society as a whole, one can begin to understand (even if not empathize with) the force of such punishments. The foundations are being violated.
Though few deny that family is the main building block of society, few today would assert a corollary: that chastity is the most foundational of capacities, or strengths, or virtues.
Though universally upheld across cultures (in different cultural ways and forms), this particular strength (dimension of personality and of socialization) is at the core of international disagreement and cultural tensions. Its role, function, and fruit calls out for further scientific investigation, with continued attention to the results until that time when either the new norm is vindicated in the data, or the old norm is given its place in the goals and ideals of global development.
Social regression cycles are evident with the family disruption that migration causes. Many families work quickly to repair these disruptions, but many fail. This is a universal phenomenon, visible in the Irish Famine migrations of the 1840’s, which led to the Gangs of New York in the 1850’s before the reforms instigated by Archbishop John Hughes yielded their fruit in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
However, social regression cycles are also evident outside of migration. Biotechnology shock has much to do with the decline of the American black family, with its attendant rates of welfare dependence, addiction, crime, incarceration, and school dropout, as Nobel Laureate, George Ackerloff delineates in his 1998 study , attests to the existence of problems beyond poverty or discrimination. During the period of increase in the above outcomes, there was an increase in real income and a decrease in discrimination.
Marital breakdown and a change in sexual norms are among the most likely causes.
Belonging engenders stability. Most important is the foundational belonging of fathers to mothers and mothers to fathers; it is more powerfully stabilizing than their belonging to their children without belonging to each other.
The transition out of one form of belonging and into another is quite disruptive for children and adults, and tracking the effects of these transitions yields typical S-curves of cycles of regressions, as Francis Fukuyama laid bare in his 2000 book “The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of the Social Order”.
Thus, the stability of the fundamental dyad of fathers and mothers is of paramount importance to the stability of society, and the practice of religious beliefs in worship and prayer has much to do with engendering this form of dyadic stability…the stability of the family. 
Conversely, the inability of the basic dyad (the marriage) to self govern is the breakdown of government at the most basic level. This breakdown multiplied millions of times will result in difficulty at the macro/societal level to achieve stable government. Crime and injustice will be higher precisely because of this familial regression.
The antidote is more belonging – a belonging magnanimously given by those who already belong, but who enclose the rejected or marginalized within their orbit of their giving and living. This form of giving is the force of repair, improvement and forward motion.
This is the exertion (ex-ertia) needed as antidote to the inertia (in-ertia) of regression cycles.
Exclusion / Inclusion… family
Religious practice … basic task : down
education and attainment … Reading and math … boys vs girls in US
Income … up but poverty relative also
One could not conceive of a nation that would not want the five institutions functioning well. Some nations think they can survive without the religious institution, but the long-term evidence is not on their side). (See Figure 19 on religious practice and fertility rates across nations).
The complexity of social and individual striving for five strong institutions can be simplified to raising children such that as adults they will have developed the five fundamental capacities of chastity, piety, pursuit of understanding, honesty, and justice. These fundamentally needed-strengths yield an international framework for the good of the individual and of nations, societies, and cultures.
Though the capacity-building and the fundamental tasks and institutions are given as universals, the beauty of it all is that these may be attained with many different tonalities and intriguing differences: such is the wonderful contribution of cultures. In each culture the patterns of capacity-functioning differ though the same basic tasks are performed (courtship, worship, learning and teaching, modes of doing business transactions and governing of the family and society).
Thus, each member of a strong family may carry forward the strong (functional) traditions of his family, and families may rightly husband the cultural differences of their people and communities. This makes the performance of a basic task uniquely theirs.
These five fundamentals, being universal in nature, create a unique transnational and transcultural framework within which to conduct a dialogue on how to foster cooperation (on the fundamentals) and respect (on their unique cultural expression).
Meanwhile, they simplify the quest (somewhat) for the parameters of the functioning society and the universal ideals of the good man or woman, and along the way, as they are exposed to other cultures people may adopt from these other ways of performing a fundamental task.
But the unity of dialogue on task performance can be maintained across cultures, geography and time, if the foundational nature of these five tasks in the individual’s life and in societies is found to be true and is upheld in discourse
Thus, no matter the starting point, all may pursue the good life for themselves and especially for their children, and each man’s standing as a good man may be equal with all, no matter his level of income or education.
Though there be great diversity across peoples there remains the potential for great unity of vision regarding the good man, and the good society, within a diversity of cultures.
1 Patrick F Fagan: Religious Practice and Educational Attainment (2010) http://www.frc.org/researchsynthesis/religious-practice-and-educational-attainment
2 Akerlof, G.A. (1998) Men without Children, The Economic Journal, Vol. 108, pp 287-309,
3 Ellison, C. G., Burdette, A. M. and Bradford Wilcox, W. (2010), The Couple That Prays Together: Race and Ethnicity, Religion, and Relationship Quality Among Working-Age Adults. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72: 963–975.