By Rhett Burns
The Atlantic recently published an essay chronicling the childless American city, noting that New York City has shrunk for the first time in four decades in a non-recession year. The cost of living, particularly housing, has priced families out of the city. In their absence, American cities have become “entertainment machines” for wealthy, workaholic whites without children, “an Epcot theme park for childless affluence, where the rich can act like kids without having to actually see any.”
It’s not just that cities are chasing families with children out of city centers, but the trend is national. America’s birthrate sits at a historic low (1.7), well below the replacement rate (2.1) needed to secure a stable national population.
What does this trend mean? While it is difficult to predict the future, this could mean chaos for the short term. Social welfare systems may go bust as there will not be enough workers to support an aging population. This national crisis could give way to increased economic-driven mass migration. This should be distinguished from healthy immigration, whereby newcomers assimilate into a common American way of life. Unfortunately, having abandoned our common God, we no longer have a common way of life to assimilate into. As such, unfettered multiculturalism could balkanize our population, worsening current divisions.
One of those divisions is the growing chasm between our rural and urban populations. Childless urbanites, recognizing they will have no one but the state to care for them, and missing the natural duties of kinship to care for others, are far more likely to double-down on dumb and vote socialist. Google Venezuela or read a history book to see how that utopia turns out.
Is the future so bleak? Is the future of the American city childless, as the title of The Atlantic essay suggests? I think that would be short-sighted.
The future is familial.
One of the encouraging things amidst our many cultural confusions is the fact that craziness cannot go on forever. It is untenable and must end. So, when the cult of individual autonomy has run its course and done its damage, walking atop the heap of ashes will be a father with his son in tow, ready to build.
Families cut with the grain of reality. In the beginning, God gave Eve to Adam in marriage and bid them be fruitful. Every civilization since has been built upon the marriage of a man to a woman and the children they bear—or, in some cases, the children they adopt or foster. Modern careerists with a life curated for Instagram are outliers and will prove unable to reduce the basic building block of society down to the authentic and actualized self. Societies are comprised of households, and families are a natural good. Eventually, as grace restores nature, the family will win the day.
I used the word crisis above to describe the bust of our social welfare system because that is how it will be seen by a nation dependent upon it. Yet it will not be a crisis, but a reckoning, a barnyard of chickens coming home to roost. The state was never meant to bear that burden. Such a bust will also be an opportunity to self-correct. In the wake of a collapsing welfare state, the traditional household will become a necessary economic shelter. Large and extended families will be economically advantaged because they can count on a larger number of people who want to provide for them, not only out of duty, but also out of love.
Families will also become a necessary relational shelter in a fractured nation. In his new book, In Search of the Common Good, Jake Meador notes how many people are attempting to find in their workplace the significance, relationships, and identity once found in the household. This, too, is untenable. Transfers, promotions, demotions, layoffs—the modern corporation knows nothing of the permanence of covenant marriage or the bonds between parent and child. Surely no one thinks a CEO will have the same loyalty to his employees as a grandfather has for his scads of grandkids. A shared life in a shared place within the shared bonds of familial love across generations will prove to be a powerful and attractive witness to a lonely nation gutted by sexual deviance and divided by unassimilated multicultural migration.
If our current trajectory is unsustainable, and the future is familial, what does that mean for the church today? For starters, if the future is familial, then it belongs to fathers. Therefore, we should build young men up to become faithful fathers. At the very least, this means we must stop telling them lies about attraction, marriage, masculinity, and leadership. Most of what passes as conventional wisdom on these subjects is emasculated drivel meant to please the women who buy most books, but does nothing to help develop men. Instead, I would point young men to C.R. Wiley’s Man of the House, Aaron Renn’s newsletter, The Masculinist, or to the resource It’s Good to Be a Man for practical help on developing the masculine virtues.
We should also stop subsidizing our current confusions by using such language as “the gift of singleness”—celibacy, yes, but not singleness. It may be a clever marketing scheme to attract upwardly mobile, childless millennials, but it is not a concept found in Scripture. We should also stop conflating the church and the natural family as if the former may be substituted for the latter. While there is some overlap, and family works as a metaphor to describe the church, these are two separate spheres that God has ordained for different, yet complementary, functions.
Instead, we should fortify the family, encouraging marriage and childrearing. We should celebrate it when young men and women take up the responsibility to build a house and life together, and we should urge more to do the same. We should cast a vision of the militancy of marriage and family as we aim to take the world for King Jesus. Godly children really are arrows, meant to be sharpened and shot, to do damage to the schemes of the devil and the enemies of God.