Seana Sugrue, in the Meaning of Marriage essay that I wrote about yesterday, also makes this interesting claim:
"the tenets of religious faith are primarily transmitted through conjugal society."
She brings this up to further her argument that if marriage comes to be defined and controlled by the state, not only will the family lose freedom, but religion will be undermined, too.
What interests me today, though, is the claim itself that faith is primarily transmitted through the family. I can see this for the rich way of life that is Catholicism, which Sugrue, an Ave Maria University professor, represents. I can see it being doubly true for Judaism. Islam works pretty well as a family-taught faith. And all the Eastern religions, as everyday religious practices, are primarily taught in families, since they are not really congregational religions at all.
The exception is Protestantism. Over time, all Protestant denominations tend to become family traditions. The everyday practice of the faith at home makes a huge difference in what the children will actually do and believe. And the family that prays together is more likely to stay together. But the more sectarian the Prots, the more the faith is transmitted in the church (or parachurch). Faiths which are based on adult converts are not primarily transmitted in conjugal society – not to the adults, and not very successfully to their children.
Now, this may be a weakness of Protestantism – something that some Catholics I know have always suspected about the "sects." On the other hand, Protestantism made the modern world, and fits into the modern world so well, because it is at heart an individually chosen or re-chosen faith. The priesthood of all believers undermines the religious significance of the family just as state control of marriage does. This creates a sociological weakness for Protestant culture, which is always in danger of dying off when it stops evangelizing. But the priesthood of all believers – not of all marriages of believers, or of all families of believers – is at the heart of the culture-shaping power of Protestantism to change lives.