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The heart of the matter

By Charlotte SaikowskiChief editorial writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 25, 1980

"Have You Hugged Your Kid Today?" read the yellow bumper sticker on the back of a sassy blue Honda. The sticker is a fast-selling item in many communities across the country."We've been bombarded with orders from parents and kids alike," said an official of the local youth commission in Needham, Mass. "We borrowed the idea from Chicago. With so many parents working these days, we thought it'd be a good idea to remind people about their families."

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In a way, the bumper sticker is symbolic. For, in vividly simple form, it makes a point expressed in more sophisticated language by social scientist: namely, that however much families may look to outside sources -- industry, government, community institutions -- to help them cope with today's problems, solutions must basically come from within the family itself.

What makes for a "good" family?

There are as many answers as families. But some thoughtful analysts agree that successful ingredients include a strong commitment to the marriage and to the bringing up of children not only to have a sense of selfworth but of moral responsibility to the larger society. Robert Coles, the well-known Harvard child specialist, commented in an interview with U.S. News & World Report earlier this year:

"Family life has become, for a lot of people, a matter of materialism: How much does this family own, and how much can it hold on to? People are living very comfortably in the sense that they have several cars and an air-conditioning unit and a television; yet they are tearing one another's souls apart. Marrying and divorcing and marrying and divorcing. What does that say about our ethical life?"

Strongly critical of modern-day child rearing, Dr. Coles stated:

"Sensitive children see this [unethical] behavior in their parents and turn away from their roots. they drug themselves or knock themselves out with liquor or run away. They are running away from neglect and abuse by parents who are so wrapped up in their own personal trajectories that they don't offer their children some moral and spiritual vision to hold on to and to try to live up to."

Says a prominent university sociologist: "Society is trying to live without the Ten commandments. It's a great experiment but it's not working. We're operating with a large fund of desacralized values and it's therefore hard to restore the family."

This is not, however, an easy time to talk about morality, even less so Judeo-Christian morality.

With the mass media virtually ignoring most American's deeply held religious views and conveying the idea of moral pluralism, with the intellectual community by and large silent, with many Christian churches unwilling or unable to provide strong religious leadership, the subject of religioin and morality has been relegated to the background. It is given only passing, if any, mention in most discussions about the family and how to strengthen it.Yet the vast majority of Americans believe religion plays a positive role in their family life and a sizable segment (40 percent) believes family life has been harmed by a decline in religious and moral values.

In the view of Christian thinkers, it will take a reinvigoration of the nation's moral and spiritual life to reverse the widespread acceptance of sexual freedom and its devastating impact on marital life. Most needed, it is felt, is a renewed understanding of what marriage in a Judeo-Christian context is all about, a concept which has become obscured in the easygoing climate of modern society.

"Marriage has to do with one's whole understanding of the meaning of one's life," says the Rev. Elizabeth Achtemeier, author of the popular book "The Committed Marriage," "The only way you can understand yourself is not as a biological or a psychological being but as the creature of a sovereign creator. A lasting, faithful marriage cannot be constructed outside of that concept."

"Does a couple stay together only as long as both shall love?" Dr. Achtemeier asks rhetorically, replying: "That's nonsense. The only way a marriage can work is if two human beings have a total commitment to one another and in the context of their relationship to their creator and His will."