If God is dead, all things are permitted.
—Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov
There is a father absence crisis in society, observes the National Fatherhood Initiative. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.3 million children, 1 in 4, live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home,” it reports. This is generating a cascade of social ills: poverty, depression, drug abuse, social maladjustment, school dropout and criminal behaviour. An assessment by the academic journal PubMedCentral supports these findings, citing as well an effect on adult mental health. “The psychological harms of father absence experienced during childhood,” the authors write, “persist throughout the life course.” The study makes it clear that this is not only an American phenomenon. It is a societal curse across the national board and is especially notable in developed nations where, comparatively speaking, missed opportunities abound for personal growth and economic advancement.
The Fatherhood Project has accumulated the essential data on the problem of fatherless households, relying on studies in Psychology Today and on the 2007 UNICEF report on the well-being of children in economically advantaged nations. Children in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, UNICEF finds, “rank extremely low in regard to social and emotional well-being.” The data show that children who feel a closeness to their father are “twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75% less likely to have a teen birth [and] 80% less likely to spend time in jail.”
A number of reasons have been proposed to account for the current fatherhood crisis. In the U.S., mid-1960s President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the highly interventionist Economic Opportunity Act led to an explosion of out-of-wedlock households. “When the War on Poverty began in 1964,” observes The Sentinel-Record, “only 7 percent of children were born to unmarried women. Now, that figure is closer to 60 percent.”
While the social ills have not been as extreme in Canada – or at least not as apparent – federal and provincial government policies have created equally grotesque behavioural incentives and the overall trend, although slower than in the U.S., has been sadly in the same direction. As this C2C Journal story discussed, the majority of Canadians no longer consider marriage particularly important, with only 65 percent of Canadian couples being married and 28 percent of households headed by a single parent as of 2016. Other research, the article noted, has found that marital status – in particular, being divorced or never-married – are two of the top predictors of mortality in adults, while married couples, the article noted, “enjoy longer lives, less stress, better sex and happier children.” The last being particularly on point here. Stable families with married parents are good for children.
As The Heritage Foundation comments regarding the collapse of marriage, “More than two-thirds of all poor families with children in the U.S. are headed by single parents.” The overwhelming majority of these are women. R. Claire Friend, writing in the L.A. Times’ Daily Pilot, does not mince words. “This single piece of public policy has…turned traditional America into a culture of fatherlessness.”
Kate Millett, whose 1969 Sexual Politics was considered the bible of the women’s movement, despised the traditional family because of its primary role in “the socialization of the young.” The very characteristic that normal folk through the ages have considered the family’s most laudatory role was, to her, an evil to be extinguished. Like other feminists, Millett advocated a new arrangement in order that socialization and even reproduction itself could take place outside the family to achieve revolutionary and utopian goals. As Belinda Brown writes in The Conservative Woman, “Feminists set out to destroy marriage, to rip men out of families, to render men impotent, to set men and women apart.” Feminism has gone a long way to quite literally unman the cultures where it flourishes.
Feminism is but one manifestation of the secular Left’s war against Judeo-Christian Western civilization. In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx famously declared that “religion is the opiate of the people” and that “the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth.” God in his mind was a human artifact and had to be dethroned from what was nothing less than a monarchical delusion. Moreover, Marx regarded marriage and the presumably godlike authority of the breadwinning husband as an opiate equally addictive. In the Communist Manifesto and The German Ideology, he defined marriage as legalized prostitution and a form of female slavery.
Similarly, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Marx’s collaborator and patron Friedrich Engels made the left’s ultraist agenda absolutely clear, referring to “the pairing family and inoculated monogamy” as a community of “leaden ennui” that had to be dismantled. These doctrines were later embraced and vigorously put in practice by a feminist sorority asserting its cultural dominance. But here we have to go back a little further – beyond government policy and modern leftism – to discern where this doctrinal parti pris ultimately comes from.
There is a third factor of overarching significance which likely clarifies the cultural and civilizational malaise we are experiencing, and for which there may be no evident and certainly no immediate solution. The vast and catastrophic social effects of fatherlessness arise from an even vaster scourge of which the current affliction is merely a cameo expression. This is the eschatological patricide that has gradually but inexorably befallen the West, the death of the biblical God. The precise moment of the tragic execution cannot be forensically determined; incorporeal lividity is measured in centuries. The scholarly consensus taps the heliocentric revolution of the 16th Century and the Enlightenment of the 18-19th centuries as the historically etiological moments.
God the Father was no longer considered necessary. Copernicus displaced Earth from the center of the divine Creation and Darwin substituted the jungle for the Garden. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in The Gay Science, articulating one of the most shattering of theo-philosophical statements, Gott is tot, “God is dead.” He meant something other than the fabrications of the clergy but the basic and accepted truth of religion itself – that is, in Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard’s terms from Either/Or, the truth of Christianity, not the constructions of Christendom. As a result, the moral structure governing the civilization of the Christian West, which depended on divine law and heavenly warrant, was dismissed as obsolete, if not nonexistent.
Marx regarded marriage and the presumably godlike authority of the breadwinning husband as an opiate equally addictive to religion. In the ‘Communist Manifesto’ and ‘The German Ideology’, he defined marriage as legalized prostitution and a form of female slavery.
For Nietzsche this was, as we say, both a good thing and a bad thing: a good thing since, once bereft of the divine claim upon his conduct, man was free to create his own values and meaning, to become the Übermensch, the “Overman,” who rejoices in a new dawn and whose “spirit now wills his own will,” as he put it in Thus Spake Zarathustra; a bad thing because men are weak, desiring comfort, caution and security above all, settling into a hedonistic and philistine life, unable or unwilling to struggle for the heights, thus becoming that “most contemptible thing – the last man,” whose will is “a will to nothingness.”
The idea of the Overman is the origin of the 20th century philosophy of existentialism, in which man assumes priority over the divine and becomes responsible for creating his own “transvaluation of values” in a disenfranchised world. We see its literary sources in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (though here redemption ensues), André Gide’s Lafcadio’s Adventures (aka The Vatican Cellars), and Albert Camus’ The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus with their dual themes of motiveless violence and personal autonomy. Each theme reveals the primacy of pure will in a world empty of spiritual consequences. Man makes his own morality and becomes his own father in a world without communal reciprocity or spiritual transcendence.
Consequences of a fatherless childhood: Statistically much higher chances of aimless, self-indulgent and self-destructive behaviour in young adulthood. (Source of all images: Shutterstock)
Of course, Nietzsche did not presume to mean that God was actually dead, but that the idea of God had begun to leech from the Western psyche, leaving only sporadic traces: “There may still be caves for thousands of years where his shadow will be revealed.” This amounted only to the tenebrous remnant of faith. Our situation was increasingly precarious. “For some time now our whole European civilization has been moving as toward a catastrophe,” toward nihilism and anomie, he prophesied in Twilight of the Idols. A master of void detection, Nietzsche feared that man might not be capable of enacting a “transvaluation of all values” and that the latter option of acedia (listlessness or torpor) and rootlessness would prevail.
The children have grown up in a single-parent household, minus the guiding influence of a stern and loving father. In consequence, they have become wayward, uncontrolled, incapable of governing their impulses, and grandly self-infatuated. Devoid of a supervening moral code, they roam a world largely empty of meaning and purpose, their own lack of humility and spiritual governance further sucking it dry.
The curse of fatherlessness has percolated down to the domestic household in which the mother has acquired pre-eminence. Nature has triumphed over God, Pachamama over Jehovah. The father languishes in a state of bankruptcy and institutional disdain now that, in the psyche of the West, the androcentric universe has been abolished and replaced by a matricentric social cosmos. Obviously, peace and harmony were never guaranteed under any parental dispensation. The fallen realm could never be what the early Christians called a praetum felicitatis, a blessed and fruitful haven of peace immune to the ravages of a dark and unhouseled world. The world was always, so to speak, a crepuscular dimension. But from the perspective of faith and tradition, there were patches of sunlight rather than only caves of Nietzschean shadows.
We might say that once God the Father had impregnated Mother Nature, He was no longer needed. The mother was sufficient to care for her children, with the father displaced and consigned to a tenement somewhere in the shambles of an anarchic and nihilistic civilizational barrio.
Once the concept of fatherhood was discredited, once the father was transformed into a pariah, in heaven and then on earth, the disintegration of even relative order, in the individual spirit as well as the domestic milieu, followed in the West. Our civilization would be at war with itself. As Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote in The Spirit of Liturgy, we are living in a culture that has lost its “vital principle,” that is, the binding element of sustainable relationships under God. Rather, the curse of dispossession and fratricidal conflict was foreordained. Life in a fatherless household and a derelict social world reproduces in little the experience of life in a Fatherless universe, a declension inexorably “evolving” over the centuries.
In his great essay Psychology & Religion, Carl Jung developed the notion he called the “Law of Correspondence,” predicated on the legendary Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus with its famous maxim, “As above, so below.” That is, as in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm. Jung believed in the fundamental unity of ordinary life, dream life and spiritual life under the arc of history – what he termed the mysterium coniunctionis.
Sons of preacher-men: Friedrich Nietzsche’s (left) prediction that the destruction of the divine Father figure would leave mankind listless and rootless was later echoed in Carl Jung’s (right) interpretation of the ancient Hermetic maxim, “As above, so below.”
Of course, Jung (like Nietzsche, a pastor’s son) was a quasi-mystical psychiatrist/magus who thought of himself as a healer of souls rather than a theologian or professional historian, but the Law of Correspondence is not without foundation, not only from an occult but a historical standpoint – as Nietzsche also understood. What happens in the historical orbit around a theological centre also happens in the individual soul. The esoteric maxim “As above, so below,” expressing the idea that the human world is related to the divine or celestial regions, would apply in the domestic domain as well. When the Creating Father is deposed from his seat, so in the course of time is the terrestrial father evicted from his hearth. And the children are adrift in time, without heritage and endowment.
As we have seen, public policy and gender ideology are not the whole story, not by a long shot. The larger story has to do with the idea of the logos (Greek: reason), the Stoic belief in a spiritual principle permeating the whole of reality, reinterpreted centuries later in the Gospel of John as “the Word” – a theme popularly explored today by Jordan Peterson in his lectures and works. In the Hebrew Torah, the logos is consistent with the notion of “the Law” (torah or mitzvah in Hebrew, nomos in Greek).
However we look at it, whether as logos, nomos, torah or mitzvah, the idea is the same: the teaching of a parent, involving the attributes of discipline, strength and encouragement, the estate of the caring and lawgiving Father. It is the deep intuition of a transcendent and didactic authority that has gone missing in the life of the West, leading to the exile of the father and the dispossession of the children, and to a debilitating condition of moral equivalence and amoral relativism.
We may very likely find ourselves living in the grim time foretold by Nietzsche. ‘The earth has become small,’ he wrote, ‘and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.
In the words of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, “If God is rejected as Father, there must no longer be paternity even in the natural order, because natural fatherhood is a mirror of divine paternity.” Put differently, if our civilization does not awaken to its vital and conceptual origins in first principles, by which I don’t mean the Big Bang but a higher, governing, encompassing and life-giving power, however mysterious, however negotiated in the major faiths that underpin the Judeo-Christian civilization of the West, there can be no pulling back from the precipice before us. For a religious temperament like Viganó, and for many in the Western theological and philosophical tradition, there can be no father without the Father, and without the father the process of cultural continuance is undermined and eventually broken.
Catholic Jungians? Both Pope Benedict XVI (left) and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó (right) have lamented how a Fatherless universe is soon reflected in fatherless families and households.
It stands to reason, then, that the earthly father will not be reinstated to his position of customary authority in the home until the spirit of the West is reunited with the supervening Creative principle – should it descend once again into history. Failing which, we may very likely find ourselves living in the grim time foretold by Nietzsche. “The earth has become small,” he wrote, “and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.”
Nietzsche was right, in more ways than he could have known.
David Solway’s most recent volume of poetry, The Herb Garden, appeared in 2018 with Guernica Editions. His manifesto, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, was released by Shomron Press in 2016. He has produced two CDs of original songs: Blood Guitar and Other Tales (2014) and Partial to Cain (2019) on which he is accompanied by his pianist wife Janice Fiamengo. His latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London.