I hate to define an argument in terms of a single guy (except, of course, for the "Pete Morelli Memorial 'Act Common to the Game of Football" Explanation For Why I Can't Handle an Indy Loss"). But I see Hellmut Lotz making this argument around the bloggernacle a lot lately and I just thought I'd offer my view on it. I actually think his point is something that we have to consider. Too often, we see the family as the be-all, end-all of society, which is a bit misleading.
Quoting Hellmut from a recent BCC thread
"Confusing self-interest for altruism it is not surprising that the Proclamation would lead to these problems. Parenting is selfless in a metabolic sense. We have less when we take care of our children. In a genetic sense, however, parenting is a self-interested activity.
By contrast, in the Sermon of the Mount the savior teaches that we are no better than the heathens if we only love our own. The standard for the Lord’s people is to love their enemies (Matthew 7, Leviticus 3).
If we had stuck to the words of the Savior then we would have been spared the entanglement in hateful and vain struggles against vulnerable minorities under the banner of family values.
The familiy values agenda is a selfish agenda. Its fruits reflect that. "
I both agree and disagree with his position. First, the reasons/areas in which I agree:
1) I don't like the "we like the family, so the Church is true" or "we are the only ones defending the traditional family" claims. There are tons of people, especially in the religious world, that defend the family as staunchly as does the Church.
2) A corollary of number one, the family is important to most people. While I cannot speak in an informed way about non-Western contexts, the family is hugely important in the West almost regardless of denomination/religious preference. There might be more divorces and other negative developments in Western societies, but most people still love their kids. Hellmut is right to argue that loving our children is not a specific reason to single the Church out for praise.
3) In a political sense, the "family values" and "individual responsibility" arguments tend to undercut a need for social conscience. This does not have to be true, but the rhetoric has been blended in ways that are uncomfortable to me.
However, there are lots of compelling reasons that I stop well short of where Hellmut ends up:
1) It is theoretically possible for family values and social responsibility to trade off. However, I don't think it can be demonstrated that this is a necessary relationship. For example, Church members both support their families and pay tithing and fast offerings. While these funds mostly stay within the Church, they do demonstrate loyalty to a unit outside of the family.
2) Rephrasing number one, it is not clear that less emphasis on the family would immediately lead to a greater social conscience. It might, but it also might lead to a society in which we don't even love those that ought to love us.
3) I think this argument conflates the "family values agenda" (which I reject above) and emphasis on the family. The family values agenda doesn't have to be supported by those that take a broad view of their responsibilities to their families. You can still vote Democrat and take care of your kids.
4) Self-interest is not necessarily a bad thing if it leads to good ends. I promise, I'm not having an affair with Ayn Rand. What I am saying, though, is similar to what another commenter noted on the BCC thread: if taking care of your kids is selfish, then the term "selfish" loses all meaning. Even if it is selfish to take care of your family, kids are still being fed, sent to college, loved, etc.
5) As a pretty liberal guy, I agree that the family values agenda is harmful in tons of ways. But what's the alternative? If I want to fashion an alternative, I've got to work within the confines of possibility. Right or wrong (and I think right), Americans are at least conceptually wedded to the idea of "family values" and, more generally, on the importance of some sort of family relationship. I believe it better to dial down Hellmut's rhetoric a bit and say "hey, I support the family too. But we need to look beyond the family to see that there are some societal needs that the family, no matter how perfect, simply cannot meet." This is especially true in circumstances where someone does not have a family at all.
Hellmut, I hope I don't come across as picking on you (especially given the fact that I agree with a lot of what you're saying). What I do wonder is whether the family rhetoric in the Church is actually causing tradeoffs in our interests that might be harmful, especially where women are concerned.