Marriage and family are the necessary foundations of the road towards a sound ecology and away from environmental degradation, contends Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Laudato Si.
Quick verification test: What major nation is the most abusive of the environment and of children? China, by far on both counts.
In Laudato Si Pope Francis indicates that only by protecting the family, the first environment every child encounters, will society experience effectual progress:
I would stress the great importance of the family, which is “the place in which life—the gift of God—can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.” In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enables us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings. (Paragraph 213)
Pope Francis contends that man’s hardened heart, and the society it has produced, has profoundly damaged the environment. While Francis grapples with ecological issues, he primarily laments the decrepit human environment wrought with selfishness, insensitivity, self-gratification, and irreligiosity. As MARRI research has found on so many non-environmental issues such as the economy and health, environmental reform must first address the foundation of all human interaction, the family, “the basic cell of society,” (paragraph 157).
In society today, premarital sex, divorce, and cohabitation have massively depleted our human ecology. In the United States, only 46% of 15- to 17-year-olds have been raised by their married biological parents, and only 17% of black 15- to 17-year-olds have always lived with their married mother and father. At a vulnerable age when children should learn forgiveness, self-control, and love of neighbor, they instead experience rejection from their very own parents.
Although the majority of single and divorced parents selflessly dedicate their lives to ensuring that their children are guided by love of God, love of God’s law, and love of God’s creation, the average child raised in a broken family is deprived of the gifts of life in some way. Slowly but increasingly, recent generations have been made “wound-bearers” by their parents and have to fend for themselves in ways not meant for children. They are being hardened to life and to their surroundings.
But there is hope. A revival of the intact married family will imbue children with the love and care that all children ought to receive in order to reflect it back onto their environment. MARRI data shows that children raised in intact families are more social, exhibit less aggression, and practice better self-control than those in non-intact families, all necessary for salvaging the biological environment.