Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
November 28, 2001
New book explores conflict between religion, family
Biblical religion and family values are often competitors vying for influence on a child's upbringing, a new book by a University of Guelph professor concludes.
"Many religious people talk about 'family values' and how we have to go back to what the Bible says," said philosophy professor Jay Newman. "When I go back to the Bible, I find its relation to the family is complicated and often a source of conflict." Newman looks at the kinship between the two as institutions in Biblical Religion and Family Values: A Problem in the Philosophy of Culture. Despite continuing debate in the media over family values and religion, the deeper philosophical issues underpinning it have received "sparse attention," he said.
So Newman turned to the Bible and to the writings of Jewish and Christian thinkers on the matter. He also analyzed hundreds of key Biblical texts that refer to the family and explored the "cultures" of religion and family from a philosophical standpoint. "After surveying the vast canon of Biblical texts on the subject of the family, I was able to conclude that the relationship between Biblical religion - Judaism and Christianity - and the family was exceedingly complex. But they are not natural allies."
For example, the tension is clear in the Book of Genesis, which repeatedly focuses on conflict between commitment to God and to one's own family unit. "It was hard for the family to succeed," Newman said. Adam was pitted against Eve, Cain against Abel and Noah against Ham. Genesis is a series of stories describing "the frailty of the family institution - the concern that the family unit will siphon off the enthusiasm that people have for religion, for larger social units, for God. There is rivalry between the family and God," Newman said.
Early Christians believed that people who pursued family life were parting from an authentic commitment to Jesus and God, he said. In Matthew 10:37, for example, Jesus says: "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
"The divided loyalties that arise between commitment to religion and to family help prevent individuals from becoming overly devoted to one or the other," Newman said. "Parents and religious leaders share influence over the individual. They sometimes work together. Individuality is made possible by these divided loyalties."
Newman, a Guelph professor for 30 years and the author of 10 books, added that conflict between Biblical religion and the family are "obscured by most of the people who nowadays use family values as a way of promoting their agenda."
Prof. Jay Newman
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