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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 215

Mary Eberstadt on God, Religion, Politics, and Sex, based on her books How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization and Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

Correction to Mary Eberstadt’s bio mentioned 15 seconds into the video: Mary Eberstadt holds the Panula Chair in Christian Culture at the Catholic Information Center, and is a senior research fellow with the Faith and Reason Institute.

How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization (book cover) Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics (book cover)

In this conversation on two of the hottest social and cultural issues of our day — the decline of religion and the rise of identity politics, Mary Eberstadt presents her alternative theory for the “secularization thesis” (that religious decline was followed by the decline of the family), arguing instead that the undermining of the family has undermined Christianity itself. Drawing on sociology, history, demography, theology, literature, and many other sources, Eberstadt shows that family decline and religious decline have gone hand in hand in the Western world in a way that has not been understood before — that they are “the double helix of society, each dependent on the strength of the other for successful reproduction.” Eberstadt argues that there are enormous social, economic, civic, and other costs attendant on declines of both family and faith, and Dr. Shermer presents counter examples to show that America’s extreme religiosity has been a burden on its social health and that the decline of religion is a good thing.

In the second part of the conversation Eberstadt and Shermer discuss her previous book on identity politics and how identitarians track and expose the ideologically impure, as people face the consequences of their rancor: a litany of “isms” run amok across all levels of cultural life; the free marketplace of ideas muted by agendas shouted through megaphones; and a spirit of general goodwill warped into a state of perpetual outrage. This rise of identity politics, she argues, is a direct result of the fallout of the sexual revolution, especially the collapse and shrinkage of the family. Eberstadt argues that from time immemorial humans have forged their identities within the structure of kinship. The extended family, in a real sense, is the first tribe and first teacher. But with its unprecedented decline across a variety of measures, generations of people have been set adrift and can no longer answer the question Who am I? with reference to primordial ties. Desperate for solidarity and connection, they claim membership in politicized groups whose displays of frantic irrationalism amount to primal screams for familial and communal loss.

Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She has written widely for magazines and newspapers, among them First Things, Policy Review, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, and Commentary. Her previous books include Home-Alone America, Adam and Eve After the Pill, and the satire The Loser Letters.

Shermer and Eberstadt discuss:

  • the decline of religion,
  • the decline of the traditional family,
  • the nuclear family versus larger extended families and communities,
  • the secularization thesis (that religions decline due to the secularization of societies),
  • comparing Europe and America in religiosity and family structures,
  • Gen Z and the spike in depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation,
  • identity politics,
  • Joe Henrich’s WEIRD theory of how modern family structures developed after the Catholic Church banned cousin marriages,
  • empirical truths, religious truths, and political truths,
  • abortion,
  • why abstinence-only programs don’t reduce unwanted pregnancies,
  • If religion is so important for societal health, why does America — by far the most religious industrialized democracy in the world — fall so far behind other such countries in societal health measures like suicides, homicides, crime rates, incarceration rates, abortions, teen births, STD rates, life expectancy, divorce, alcohol consumption, corruption indices, income inequality, poverty, and life satisfaction?

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

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