As members of the Grihastha Vision team, my wife and I recently attended a conference for marital educators and therapists in Orlando Florida. At one keynote address, research was presented from Joseph Unwin PhD (1895-1936) an anthologist and anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, who over the course of seven years studied 80 past civilizations. His intent was to prove that marriage had no relevance to society and was in fact harmful. It was not to be. He was 30 years ahead of his time; the sexual revolution would have to wait for Timothy Leary, feminism and the hippie generation. In the process of his research Unwin experienced a 180 degree paradigm shift. (1) The evidence he uncovered revealed that the decline of civilizations was preceded by an undermining of the institution of marriage. Where the traditions of marriage were strong, he found high levels of creative energy and a quest for the higher philosophical truths of life. Where those family values eroded, cultures became self-indulgent, society degraded and the civilization would lose the moral fiber necessary to defend itself. He was forced by the evidence to conclude that only marriage with fidelity, would lead to the cultural prosperity of a society. Without it, within three generations that civilization would be lost. In Bhagavada Gita (2) Arjuna expresses to Krsna his concern, before the great battle at Kuruksetra, about the loss of many lives causing a decline of family traditions and the degradation that could ensue. For me the meaning and significance of those verses became magnified 100 times by hearing Unwin’s conclusions. In the last 50 years, we have seen divorce rates sky rocket.
Currently in the “developed” counties about 50% of first marriages end in divorce, 60-67% of second marriages and 73-74% of third marriages end in the same way. Common law relationships are becoming common and there is a recent trend known as open marriages where spouses are open to having “recreational sex” with other partners. On top of all this we see modern media portraying marriage in a negative manner and out of wedlock affairs as exciting and glorious. We are witnessing a slow motion collapse of our civilization.
Flying back from Orlando to Canada I thought about how my wife and I had been spending way too many hours in airports around the world in the last 6 years. Today the atmosphere in airports is one of paranoia and suspicion; continual warnings about unattended luggage, announcements about orange or red defense levels, security checks, pat downs, and bag searches. (Of course, you never know I might have nail clippers or more that three ounces of toothpaste in that carry on.) And then there’s the interrogation by armed immigration officers in bullet proof vests. Annoying? Yes!!! Necessary? Maybe. Is terrorism a threat? Definitely it is a menace of sorts. But it appears that Unwin’s research reveals to us a much greater danger, that of the undermining of cultural values, or social fabric, which has been shown to precipitate the demise of nations.
This parallels what Srila Prabhupada had said about ISKCON, that it could not be destroyed from without, only from within. Wow! What if Homeland Security caught on to this? Imagine yourself coming up to a new heightened security check for married couples. A Homeland Security Agent, with a pleasant smile, wearing tilak, asks how your japa was today. She is armed with a tray of fresh milk maha burphie and promises to give you a piece if you answer the first six questions correctly.
- Do you value marriage?
- Do you value fidelity?
- Do you spend quality time with your spouse?
- Do you laugh together? • Do you have affectionate exchanges?
- Do you share your dreams and aspirations with each other?
If you answer yes to these questions may proceed. If you answered no to any of the above she slightly furrows her brow and with, genuine concern asks a few more questions to screen out potential national security threats:
- Do you have repeated arguments with no resolution?
- Do you have little or no fun together?
- Do you ignore or avoid problems (or each other)?
- Does one or both of you act selfishly?
- Have you experienced a general breakdown in communications?
- Do you experience resentment in your marriage?
- Are your communications marked by criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, etc?
- Is there any physical confrontation?
- Has one or both of you discussed or threatened to separate or divorce?
If you answer yes to any of these questions she sends you to Guantanamo Bay…just kidding. With a look of compassion she gives you firm encouragement to understand the value in the well being of your marriage; to yourself (3), your children(4), grandchildren(5), community/country(6) and Srila Prabhupada’s mission(7). She encourages you to seek mentorship(8) to help you live your values, acquire skills for a Krsna conscious married life and to negotiate with your spouse the complexities of the world we live in.
Back to reality. This cultural implosion of western civilization has undoubtedly begun. The important question is will the International Society for Krsna Consciousness be consumed by the demise of the civilization it was supposed to save? That we have divorce rates equal to or higher than the secular world should be setting off alarms and putting temples on a state of red alert. Srila Prabhupada left us with the task of establishing Varnasrama. The foundational building blocks of a well balanced society are the individual households. If those foundational blocks are crumbing due to the willful or negligent deterioration of marriages, the social structure will collapse as Arjuna warned and Joseph Unwin’s research indicated. ISKCON and the world are at an important historical junction. It is important that we all clearly understand our individual responsibilities in determining its outcome.
(1) In his address “Sexual Regulations and Cultural Behaviour,” on 27 March 1935 to the British Psychological Society, Unwin said this: “The evidence was such as to demand a complete revision of my personal philosophy; for the relationship between the factors seemed to be so close, that, if we know what sexual regulations a society has adopted, we can prophesy accurately the pattern of its cultural behaviour… Now it is an extraordinary fact that in the past sexual opportunity has only been reduced to a minimum by the fortuitous adoption of an institution I call absolute monogamy. This type of marriage has been adopted by different societies, in different places, and at different times. Thousands of years and thousands of miles separate the events; and there is no apparent connection between them. In human records, there is no case of an absolutely monogamous society failing to display great [cultural] energy. If, during or just after a period of [cultural] expansion, a society modifies its sexual regulations, and a new generation is born into a less rigorous [monogamous] tradition, its energy decreases… If it comes into contact with a more vigorous society, it is deprived of its sovereignty, and possibly conquered in its turn. It seems to follow that we can make a society behave in any manner we like if we are permitted to give it such sexual regulations as will produce the behaviour we desire. The results should begin to emerge in the third generation. (Later printed by Oxford University Press).
(2) Bg 1.42 “By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated.”
(3)“Many links between marriage and better health in children and adults have been documented in hundreds of quantitative studies covering different time periods and different countries.” Ribar, David. ‘What Do Social Scientists Know about the Benefits of Marriage?’, A Review of Quantitative Methodologies. Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services., Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families p.1
(4)“Increasing marital stability to the same level as 1980 is associated with a decline of nearly one half million children suspended from school…about two hundred thousand fewer children engaging in delinquency or violence, a quarter of million children receiving therapy,…80,000 fewer children thinking about suicide and about 28,000 fewer children attempting suicide”. Paul R Amato. “The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive Social, and Emotional Well Being of the Next Generation” Future of children 2005; volume 15 n2 pages 75-96
(5)“Generations impacted by one divorce………a lower level of educational attainment and a greater likelihood of marital discord… even if the grandparents divorce occurred before the birth of the grandchild.” Amato, Paul R. and Jacob Cheadle. ‘The Long Reach of Divorce and Child Well Being Across Three Generations’ , Journal of Marriage and Family, V 67 n 1, February 2003 pp. 191-206
(6)“Each year, family fragmentation costs American taxpayers at least $112 billion dollars. These costs are recurring- that is they are incurred each and every year- meaning that the decline of marriage costs the American taxpayers more than one trillion dollars over a decade…. Reducing these costs is a legitimate concern of government policymakers and legislators.” ‘The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing,’ Institute for American Values, 2008 pp20
(7)“We require so many householders to set the example for others, how in Krsna Consciousness we can live peacefully and sanely, even in married life.” Srila Prabhupada, letter, 12/9/68 (8)“Preliminary research shows that marriage education workshops can make a real difference in helping couples say together and in encouraging unmarried couples who are living together to form a more lasting bond… Expanding such servicers…should be something everybody can agree on.” Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, New York: Three Rivers Press