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MaternalIt’s been a summer of discontent for conservatives. Gay marriage is now the law of the land. Christian businesses are being fined and driven out of business. The military is preparing to welcome transgender troops. Planned Parenthood is caught on tape admitting they slice up body parts to sell – and America yawns.

Yet liberals are also facing setbacks – particularly on college campuses. Free speech is under assault. Sexual liberty is drowning in a sea of rape accusations. Prison populations grow unabated. U.S. military involvement in the Middle East drags on. Our government spies on us – and America yawns.

So if both liberalism and conservatism are losing, what’s winning?

Maternalism. The Western world’s new moral framework.

Although you’ve never heard the term, maternalism is quickly becoming the developed world’s dominant philosophy. Maternalism is changing how we think, what we value and even how we perceive reality. It is the foundation upon which modern morality rests.

As maternalism rises, it is sweeping away key planks of both the conservative and liberal agendas. It is fracturing political coalitions. It is changing how interpret our laws and how we raise our children.

And maternalism is leading churches to their doom.

Maternalism is replacing paternalism, a philosophy that’s still dominant in much of the world — but is declining rapidly in the West.

Before I go further, let me define these two terms:

Paternalism is rooted in the idea that society exists to impose order – by forcing individuals to conform to social norms. Character is formed through effort and struggle. Paternalism subdues the earth. It’s competitive. It’s all about laws. Molding. Its bottom lines are productivity and practicality. It’s logical.

Maternalism is rooted in the idea that society exists to care for people. Custom must yield to the preferences of individuals. Character is formed through nurture, kindness and affirmation. It’s individualistic. Expressive. Preservationist. Maternalism lives in harmony with the earth. It uplifts the weak. Its bottom lines are love and concern.

Paternalism believes character is formed through struggle. Maternalism believes character is formed through care.

Western societies used to be paternalistic. Governments, schools, churches, businesses and the media and were run by fathers. These men infused public institutions with their paternal values. Consequently, these institutions treated citizens much like many fathers treat their children. Laws were strictly enforced. Order was maintained – even if individual rights were occasionally trampled. Society valued grit, puck, risk-taking and individual effort.

Paternalism built the peaceful, prosperous, law-abiding societies we enjoy today. It’s the foundation of capitalism. Paternal society incubated the modern University, vanquished smallpox and sent a man to the moon.

In paternal societies citizens were expected to conform to societal norms. (Downton Abbey, anyone?) Those who didn’t were punished – sometimes brutally. Here the USA, immigrants and Native Americans were forced to abandon their languages and customs and adapt to American culture. Those who didn’t were called names (Mick, Kike, Dago, etc.). They were discriminated against. If they used their native tongues they were reprimanded or even beaten.

Today we think maternally, so these actions seem barbaric. But to paternal thinkers a racial slur or a slug to the jaw was an act of kindness: When you call an Italian-American a “wop” you are doing him a favor by shaming his old culture and encouraging him to embrace his new American identity.

Maternalism began its rise during the Victorian era. The wives of wealthy industrialists began speaking up for the rights of women and minorities. The process accelerated when women got the vote in the early 1920s. During the 1970s women gained full property rights. Today, women comprise the majority of voters, college students, workers and consumers. Politicians want their votes. Universities want their children. Employers want their allegiance. Merchants want their cash.

Not all women think maternally. Some women are positively Darwinian. But collectively, women are more maternal than men. And as women’s power and wealth have risen in the West, maternal values have become the “right” way of seeing, doing and being. When people and organizations are sensitive and nurturing, society is pleased. When people and organizations are curt and challenging, society becomes outraged.

So what do I think about the rise of maternalism? Overall, it’s been a good thing. On balance, I’d say that life is better under maternalism than under paternalism – especially in an age of prosperity such as the one we currently enjoy.

But I fear we are taking maternalism to the point of ridiculousness. Political correctness, trigger warnings, everyone-gets-a-trophy – so many of our modern foibles are rooted in our collective need to mother one another.

In my next post I’ll explain the maternal-paternal continuum in greater detail. I’ll show you how maternalism is coming to dominate politics, academia, the media and organized religion. We’ll explore the frightening fringes of each philosophy, and I’ll teach you how to identify the new morality when it pops up in the news. Finally, we’ll discuss the reasons maternal thinkers believe they’re better Christians than Christians are.

In part three we’ll talk about maternalism in the church – and how it rots a congregation from within.


David MurrowDavid Murrow is the author of the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. David’s books have sold more than 175,000 copies in 12 languages. He speaks to groups around the world about Christianity’s persistent gender gap. He lives in Alaska with his wife of more than 30 years, professional silk artist Gina Murrow. Learn more about David at his Web site, www.churchformen.com, or join the conversation on his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/churchformen. Don’t forget to share this page by clicking on the links below, or scroll down and leave a comment (right below those annoying ads that pay for this blog). 

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