It’s always fascinated me how Christian conservatives will rave about what they call “family values” while simultaneously attacking the social structures that seem to actually help families. I can only surmise that these “family values” they talk about are centered more on religious dogma and political narcissism than on practical policy because from my perspective, their campaigns just don’t make any sense.

Having raised a family of my own, I have a pretty good idea of what a family needs and in my opinion, the most important thing for a family is time spent together. It seems to me that if parents spent more time with their children instead of relying on TV to baby sit them, then conservative organizations such as the American Family Association wouldn’t have to worry so much about fighting “bad” TV programs.

I find the antithesis to American conservatism, the European social model, drastically more family-supportive than the dogmatic values coming out of the Bible Belt, simply because it provides parents with the opportunity to spend more time with their families.

Paul Krugman explains this rather well in his article published by the New York Times last year where he points out the difference in priorities between the French and American social-economic systems. Americans will point out that productivity (GDP) is generally higher in America than it is in much more socialist-leaning France, but much of that is because the French social system allows their workers to spend more time with their families. As Krugman points out its a matter of priority.

This sense of priority seems to be common across the entire European Union and it’s slight variations on the social-economic models. In the Nordic model both mothers and fathers are allowed to take an entire year off from work to be with their new born babies and many Scandinavians will alternate where a mother takes off the first year and the father takes the second year providing the child with two years of full-time parenting.* In America, a child will typically get a few weeks and then it’s off to day-care unless the mother is willing to loose her job, like my wife did when she had my son.

Even the workweek is shorter in Europe. In France and Italy companies have to pay overtime once the worker reaches 35 hours for the week. Paid holidays are also more abundant in Europe. According to the OECD’s ranking in average hours worked, Americans worked an average of 1,976 hours in 2003. German and French workers averaged 400 hours less, a difference of ten weeks. That’s 400 hours that can be spent with their families that Americans don’t get.*

In the meantime, American conservatism seems completely disinterested in securing family-time while instead focusing their attention on what the entertainment industry puts on TV. This brings up an interesting note about the difference between the European and American approach to family values. Europeans seems less concerned about the cultural aspects of raising children. They seem to operate on the basis that culture and tradition is a family matter and that it’s more important to provide families with the opportunity to raise their children however they see fit, whereas Christian conservatives in America seem more obsessed with enforcing their religious morals on others. Let’s take a look at the most active champions of so-called “family values” in America…

The American Family Association (www.afa.net)
Founded in 1977 by Rev. Donald Wildmon, an ordained United Methodist minister. According to it’s own website this organization is focusing primarily on the influence of television and other media on our society.

The American Decency Association (www.americandecency.org)
Founded by Bill Johnson, a Christian minister and the former director of the AFA, that is also concerned with media influence and is currently running a campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch for using bare-chested men in their advertising. Lord knows the sight of bare-chested 22-year-old men has utterly destroyed my family. (Rolling my eyes)

The National Legion of Decency
Founded in 1933 as the Catholic Legion of Decency, this organization’s pledge starts with the following passage… “I condemn all indecent and immoral motion pictures, and those that glorify crime or criminals.” This is the organization that spearheaded the censorship attacks on Mae West, who viewed the discussion of sex as a basic human right and was an advocate of gay rights.

The Christian Coalition of America (www.cc.org)
Founded by Rev. Pat Robertson in 1988, this organization draws it’s aim much closer to national politics and is probably the strongest agent for Christian influence in the government. Their official website suggests that they are concerned with family-values but also makes it clear that it’s the Judeo-Christian values, “that made America the greatest country in the world”, that they are referring to.

The Christian Voice (www.christianvoiceonline.com)
Founded in 1978 as the first “Christian Right” political group in America, this organization is dedicated to advancing “the pro-faith and pro-family agenda” I found it impossible to make any distinction in their literature between faith-based” and “pro-family” which leads me to wonder if they think non-Christian families are void of any values at all. Currently, the Christian Voice is preoccupied with the Marriage Protection Amendment to the US Constitution; maybe that answers my question.

It seems that these groups are obsessed with their religious doctrines, which do seem to be threatened by the increasingly open-minded media and perhaps for them this is a genuine concern, but these ancient religious doctrines seem so limited when applied to the issues that confront the modern family, often leaving very serious issues out of focus. For instance, none of these organizations take a primary interest in alcoholism or domestic violence, both of which have severe and direct impact on families all across America that far surpass the effects of media content. It seems that rather than starting with real problems that confront today’s families they start first with religious morals and then make efforts to link what family issues they can to these morals in an effort to justify them.

Outside of these religious groups and their political champions in the government I don’t hear any voices in America expressing concern for the health and welfare of the family unit at all. The forces that otherwise drive America seem far more concerned with economic performance, relying on optimistic views of wealth-building to satisfy questions about the well-being of the family.

It seems to me that while pragmatic concerns about the heath and welfare of the family unit actually influence the social-economic structure in Europe, the American social-economic structure tends to strain the family unit in order to increase economic productivity. As Krugman said, it’s a matter of priority. Maybe the American priority suits the Christian conservatives, that is if their wish is to use broadcast channels to influence the minds of American children while their parents are away working long hours.

* source – Chapter 6 “The European Social Model” from “The United States of Europe” by T.R.Reid.