Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 81 (March 1998): 61-62.
A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval. By Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth. Harvard University Press. 319 pp. $35.
The view of most family scholars and professionals—and probably also of most adult Americans under the age of forty-five—is that parental unhappiness is worse for children than parental divorce: better for parents to part rather than expose their children to ongoing marital conflict and distress. Amato and Booth fundamentally challenge this notion. A Generation at Risk analyzes longitudinal child outcome data from a large national sample of families, seeking especially to isolate the independent effects of divorce on children from the effects of preexisting marital conflict. Amato and Booth conclude that only 25 to 33 percent of parental divorces today end up being better for the children than if the parents had stayed together. By contrast, about 70 percent of divorces represent the termination of low-conflict marriages that, whatever their shortcomings, are distinctly better for children than the reality of divorce. Moreover, Booth and Amato estimate that, as divorce becomes more socially acceptable, an even higher proportion of future divorces will involve precisely those low-conflict situations in which divorce is worse for children than the continuation of marriage. This reasoning leads the authors to what today must be considered a remarkable conclusion. For that 70 percent of marriages-in-trouble that are not fraught with conflict, "future generations would be well served if parents remained together until children are grown." And again: "Spending one-third of one’s life living in a marriage that is less than satisfactory in order to benefit children—children that parents elected to bring into the world—is not an unreasonable expectation." This from two left-of-center social scientists, some of whose earlier writings have clearly suggested that one-parent homes are not especially harmful for children. It has been ten years since Norval Glenn of the University of Texas first observed that leading family scholars were becoming less likely to view current family trends as benign or even beneficial, and more likely to view them as socially harmful. A decade later, the shift among the family scholars gathers momentum.
— David Blankenhorn
Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman’s Story. By Mark Andrew Ritchie. Island Lake Press. 271 pp. $14.95.
In the fall of 1997 Chief Shoefoot, a leading elder of a Yanomamo tribe in the Venezuelan rainforest, visited numerous American colleges and universities propounding a message not a few anthropologists and their student underlings were loath to hear: namely, that since a majority of the members of his village have embraced Yai Pada, the God of the Bible (literally, the Great Spirit), and turned away from the vengeful spirits traditionally served by the Yanomamo, they have enjoyed peace and relative prosperity—goods all too seldom enjoyed among the rainforest’s "fierce people" who have not yet abandoned their old religious ways. This book recounts the conversion of Shoefoot’s village. It is also a polemic against academics given to clucking that the likes of poor Shoefoot, who speaks through an interpreter, has been duped by highly educated Westerners. At one meeting in Northern California the chief was forthright when challenged. "I wish more servants of Yai Pada would come to my village and that the anthropologists would stay away," he said. "The anthropologists just make things worse." And in one moment of exasperation Shoefoot observed that nosy social scientists who discourage young Yanomamo from giving up their culture of revenge could someday find themselves at a spear’s sharp end. Young people considering missionary work and students of the social sciences would do well to read Spirit of the Rainforest. All royalties from sales go to the Yanomamo.
— Preston Jones
The Beast Reawakens. By Martin A. Lee. Little, Brown. 546 pp. $24.95.
Just when you thought it was safe to say hello to the Baptist granny a few doors down, Martin A. Lee, contributor to the Nation, Village Voice, and San Francisco Chronicle, makes this chilling announcement: "While U.S. neo-Nazis and the religous right [differ] in crucial respects, they [see] eye-to-eye in their opposition to gun control, abortion, homosexuality, nonwhite immigration, and other shared concerns." Pretty scary, huh? Writing in the New York Times, Joshua Rubenstein notes that this book, which aims to recount the rise of neo-fascism since the Second World War, provides a "vivid survey of fascist resurgence." Vivid is one word for it, especially when Lee, an award-winning creative writer, connects dots lesser observers of contemporary America might have overlooked—like the Christian Coalition’s "sympathy" for David Duke, for example. Then there’s Pat Robertson’s "paranoid ideology" to worry about. You probably weren’t aware of the link between "Robertson’s Christian soldiers" who in the 1996 federal elections sought to "take over the system from within" and militias who simultaneously "picked up their guns." (Robertson’s support for Israel has "little to do with sincere affection for Jews," surmises Lee, who cites an article published in Freedom Writer rather than Robertson’s own work.) All this evil has been "nourished by the odiferous compost of conspiracy theory," of course. Which reminds one—did he say odiferous?—that the only people more tedious than right-wing conspiracy theorists are their left-wing counterparts.
The Arrogance of the Modern: Historical Theology Held in Contempt. By David W. Hall. Calvin Institute (Oak Ridge, TN). 308 pp. $21.95.
The author takes no prisoners in this free-wheeling polemic laced with considerable wit, and all in the service of vibrant orthodoxy in the Calvinist tradition.
The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty. Edited by Lawrence M. Mead. Brookings. 355 pp. $42.95 cloth, $18.95 paper.
The title might suggest a polemic against recent welfare reforms, but this book is anything but. Mead, whose work has appeared in this journal, joins ten other public policy experts in arguing that the term "paternalism" should be rehabilitated, that the radically dependent poor desperately need programs that are unabashed in "imposing values" if they are to straighten out their lives. Contributors include Chester E. Finn and James Q. Wilson. A controversial and bracing book that makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of what we owe the poor.
Judaism and Modern Man: An Interpretation of Jewish Religion. By Will Herberg. Jewish Lights. 313 pp. $18.95 paper.
Reprint of a classic work of modern theology, first published in 1951. Herberg, a former Communist and atheist, turned to God and became a devastating critic of contemporary political ideologies, which he described as latter-day forms of idolatry. Readers familiar with the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr will find here a pervasive Niebuhrian influence; Herberg, in fact, studied under Niebuhr and this work is in many ways a translation of Niebuhr’s Protestant neoorthodoxy and political realism into Jewish terms. Though Herberg’s religious existentialism never really connects with Jewish law and practice as it is lived and understood within the Jewish community, Judaism and Modern Man has nonetheless been instrumental in helping many Jews return to both God and Jewish law, as Rabbi Neil Gillman indicates in a new introduction for this edition. It remains a work of interest to all people of faith.