As anyone who has fought in the culture wars (that is, fighting over moral values, life, and rights) can attest, debating with the progressive Left has become nearly impossible. Regardless of how well conservatives support their argument or how clear they are in their logic, they will inevitably be labeled an ignorant bigot. Their argument for tradition, freedom, or even rationality will immediately run afoul with some oppressed group, causing the debate to degenerate into accusations of hate.
This outcome has led many conservatives to stop trying. Either they will argue over less personal and consequential subjects, find an echo chamber with like minds, or retreat from the public square altogether. And if they don’t do this themselves, society’s elites will gladly cancel them.
Fortunately, in the recent book Them Before Us, Katy Faust and Stacy Manning keep up the good fight and offer an invaluable resource to those defending family life and refuting the destructive ideologies of the secular Left. Like all good apologists, they not only defend their subject effectively, but they also provide important insights for a general audience. If nothing else, the reader will learn why the family unit is so important and why civilizations decline when they ignore this truth.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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As the title indicates, and as Faust (the main writer of the book) explains from the outset, the key is to reframe the issues of marriage and children. She does not seek to condemn or question various lifestyles or sexual values, but to defend the rights of children: “We are on a mission to advance social policies that encourage adults to actively respect the rights of children rather than expecting children to sacrifice their fundamental rights for the sake of adult desires.” At its core, her argument is pro-child, but this position happens to put her at odds with alternative parenting arrangements that progressives wholeheartedly endorse.
This is because children ultimately do best with their biological parents in a stable home. Such is the main claim that Faust will prove and illustrate: “To thrive outside the womb, children require three nutrients in their socioemotional diet: their father’s love, their mother’s love, and stability.” When one of those variables (father, mother, stability) are removed from the equation, the children suffer significant disadvantages throughout their lives.
The first third of the book is devoted to proving this fact directly. In addition to common sense, Faust gathers a host of studies and testimonies that show exactly how and why children do best in a conventional domestic arrangement. Children without their biological parents lose their biological identity, often leading to crippling emotional turmoil; children without a mother or father are denied a crucial component in their upbringing and understanding of the world; and children in unstable households suffer from chronic stress and various forms of abuse.
Of course, the usual rebuttal to this reality is pointing out the exceptions. All people can think of an example of a child thriving in non-ideal circumstances. After all, this has become the norm in today’s world.
Except, as Faust points out, exceptions only prove the rule. For every spelling bee champion who was raised by a lesbian couple, there are a hundred disturbed troublemakers wanting to know where their father went. Furthermore, many of those supposed exceptions have their own struggles but keep silent out of consideration for their guardian. Thus, even the spelling bee champion longs for a male role model but doesn’t want to hurt his mother and her partner, so he pretends all is well.
After establishing the ideal household setup for children—curiously, a setup upon which nearly all cultures and religions in history find agreement—Faust devotes the next half of the book to addressing the alternative configurations. One by one, she shows the many problems that arise when one piece of the equation is missing in divorce, same-sex parenting, donor conception, surrogacy, and adoption. Again, her focus in this discussion is on the children, not the adults who make these choices.
Even in the best cases, the children have to make do without their biological parent, a mother and father, or a stable home. In the worst cases, and Faust mentions a few truly horrific stories, children are exploited, abused, aborted, or even murdered in cold blood. No matter what the situation is, it soon becomes evident that children always suffer when adults’ desires trump children’s needs.
But what if adults’ desires and children’s needs align, as with adoption? To her great credit, Faust stays consistent with her argument and admits to the deficiencies of adoption near the end of the book. This is not an easy case to make, especially when it clashes with the predominant narrative about parenting: “Our culture tends to view adoption as a simple matter: loving parents plus abandoned child equals problem solved! If only it were so uncomplicated.”
Faust explains that even with the best adoptive parents, children who lose their biological parents experience a “primal wound” that remains with them. Consequently, the most adoptive parents can do is to partially mend that wound and understand that it can never go away completely.
Problems come up when adoptive parents ignore this wound and pressure their adopted children into silence. Or worse, the adoptive parents turn out to be the ones who inflict the wound in the first place, like those who resort to donated embryos or surrogacy. However, in too many cases, adoption is conflated with these other methods of having a child, prompting Faust to speak at some length about the difference. In a nutshell: “Adoption mends a wound. Third-party reproduction inflicts a wound.”
In her final chapter, Faust reviews her main points and invites all people to join her effort to advocate for children’s rights. Quite understandably, she is not content to make a nice argument and leave it at that. She is an activist intent on battling what amounts to one of the greatest injustices of today.
And in this respect, Faust and Manning’s book succeeds. It is clear, logical, very well sourced (a particular challenge with such a politicized issue), and quite readable. Some might find the writers’ humor incongruent with the subject matter, but for such heavy subject matter, levity is essential—and even then, many readers may want to have some tissues at hand.
Faust’s own story is also essential to the success of her book. As the child of a divorced lesbian mother, an employee for an adoption agency, and an adoptive mother herself, Faust is intimately familiar with the issues she discusses. This allows her to be surprisingly objective yet compassionate when discussing the failings of adults and resulting challenges for children. She is eloquent and authentic without being insensitive or unreasonable.
Perhaps the only real fault of the book is that it comes too late, after so much of the damage has been done. If only writers like Faust and Manning could have warned people of the dangers posed to so many children when marriage, parenthood, and the home were radically redefined to accommodate alternative lifestyles and corrupted ideologies, then so many children would have been spared.
However, lamenting what could have been is as unrealistic as it is unhelpful. It is a fact of the human condition that each generation must relearn fundamental truths—often the hard way. Faust and Manning do their part in helping people learn from society’s mistakes. And, because they do this after the fact, they have evidence and experience on their side, which will help them ultimately win the battle.
For those looking to right the wrongs of the world, Them Before Us gets to the heart of the matter and points to the way forward. It shows that in order to save the world, one must start by saving the children.
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