The following quotations come from modern leaders in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Confucian traditions. Here's the big question: Who said what?
* "The family is the basic social unit in society, and marriage is the fundamental institution."
* "The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life."
* It is "the family, more than any other unit in society, which constitutes a solid base for national life."
* "Throughout the centuries, the family has always occupied the central place as the primary social-religious institution."
For the curious, the answers are Muslim author Abdel Rahib Omran, the authors of the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chinese scholar Chang Chi'i-Yun and Jewish sociologist Benjamin Schlesinger. The point of this exercise is to note that the world's major religions have for centuries maintained a remarkably degree of harmony when it comes to the role of the family.
Like it or not, religion remains a powerful force in world affairs. So it wasn't a surprise when traditional definitions of controversial terms such as "marriage" and "family" drew a hearty "Amen!" in a survey done in preparation for the second World Congress of Families, which meets Nov. 14-17 in Geneva. The Wirthlin Worldwide survey recorded the opinions of 2,900 adults in 19 countries in five regions - the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin American and the Middle East and Africa.
"Religion and family are the opposite sides of the same coin," said Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Ill. "Religion and family life feed off each other everywhere. When the level of religious faith declines in a culture, then that culture's views of marriage and family life begin to change, as well. The obvious example is Europe."
Researchers found that 84 percent of those polled worldwide agreed that, "marriage is one man and one woman." Meanwhile, nearly eight in 10 respondents worldwide (78 percent) agreed that, "A family created through lawful marriage is the fundamental unit of society." However, only 54 percent of Europeans agreed with that statement. On a related issue, 86 percent of those polled agreed that, "All things being equal, it is better for children to be raised in a household that has a married mother and father." Only 66 percent of Europeans agreed.
Meanwhile, 39 percent of those polled worldwide gave the strongest possible affirmation when asked to rank the importance of religious faith in their lives. It was 16 percent in Europe.
When asked how often they attend worship services and other religious events, 36 percent of global respondents said, "Once a week or more." In Europe it was 13 percent. And what about those who never darken the door of a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or shrine? Ten percent of those polled worldwide said they never attend religious meetings of any kind. In Europe, that number was 26 percent.
The rising secular tide in Europe is more than a statistic. European educators, artists and politicians have historically played pivotal roles in shaping world opinion, especially at the United Nations and in elite U.S. cultural institutions such as Hollywood and the Ivy League. In response, conservative religious leaders in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have begun forming interfaith coalitions focusing on social issues -- including breakthrough efforts between Muslims and Christians.
Conservative activists who gather next week in Switzerland will disagree on many political, cultural and religious issues, said Carlson. But they will have at least one uniting goal: to find definitions of politically charged words such as "marriage" and "family" that transcend the particulars of their cultures and these changing times.
"To be human is to be familial. That is the critical point we want to make," he said. "You can believe that we were created that way or you can refuse to believe that we were created that way. But anyone who studies marriage and family has to face this question and it is an essentially religious question."