A Family of One

Nathan Richardson

In a previous post, The Building Block of Societies, I asked the question, “What is the basic unit of society?” I then reviewed three possible answers, two from worldly philosophies, and one from modern prophets. Individualism (a common feature of secularism) would answer, “The individual,” but that view tends to encourage selfishness and a decline in people recognizing and fulfilling their duties to one another. Totalitarianism (a common feature of communism) would answer, “The state,” but that tends to result in a government that mows over the needs of people in order to preserve the organization. The proclamation on the family answers, “The family.” I believe that is a divinely inspired answer. However, that does not mean we always fully understand the answer or how to apply it to improving our societies.

Objections and Concerns

One attentive reader brought up an immediately apparent concern: “You point out the fallacy of treating “the State” as an individual entity … , then cite the family as somehow different? How does one go about preserving “the Family”, without aiding the individuals within it? And how does the government put “the Family” before individuals without dictating individual behavior or jeopardizing civil rights?” Another group put the matter this way:

America was founded on the belief that respect for individuals, apart from family and other associations, is paramount to a just and virtuous society. In recent decades, this belief has given way to a “more civil,” group-centered, “soft communism” doctrine that places individuals on unequal grounds before the law. … “Family Impact Statement on Legislation” [and] the recently-passed Constitutional Amendment 3 … [are] examples of this degradation.

I expect those objections and anticipate them mainly because they occurred to me, too. If we say that the family is the fundamental unit of society, how is that different from saying groups are more important than individuals? What about people who don’t have a family? Take the most clear-cut example: an orphan with no siblings, no spouse, no children, and no plans to ever marry or have offspring. Are there some rights that he should not have, while members of a family should?

These are good questions. I don’t know all the answers to them, but I think studying and discussing the restored gospel is a good place to start. I do have a few thoughts to share.

Church Membership Records

Perhaps the answer involves the fact that the family is an organization created and designated by God, while the state is a man-made organization. Alternately, perhaps the difference lies in the fact that family ties are an inevitable bond that is inherent in being human, while state ties are not—from the moment you enter this world, you are someone’s son or daughter, but you are not necessarily a citizen of anywhere. Or perhaps the answer also involves an interesting point that James E. Faust made about Church organization:

We are getting close to the correct answer here. … In large measure the Church exists to strengthen families. I wish to define family very broadly. In the Church we have traditional families and single-parent families. Furthermore, each single member is considered to be, in a sense, a Church family.2

Elder Faust brings up an insightful point. It’s interesting to note that Church membership records are structured by families. And an unmarried adult is considered a family of one. It is anticipated (but not required, of course) that such individuals will eventually expand that family-of-one to include more people through covenant-making. But it was a family unit the whole time.3 To someone like myself, who only got married four months ago, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, that designation meant a lot to me. It heightened my sense of purpose to know I was forming a home and family long before I ever got married.

I think that there is an important principle behind statements like these. It is better to consider the family as the fundamental unit of society, not the individual. And any apparent problems with that designation can be resolved if we really understand what it means to be a family. Part of that resolution lies in understanding that an individual can be considered a family of one, and thus is not inherently denied the status derived from being in a family.

And naturally, the previous paragraph raises an immediate question, which is probably going through your head right now. I hope to address it and find the beginnings of an answer in my next post.


1. “Why the Individual is the Fundamental Unit of a Just Society,” AccountabilityUtah.org.
2. James E. Faust, “Where Is the Church?” BYU devotional, 1 Mar. 2005, speeches.byu.edu.
3. Similarly, Sheri Dew pointed out that parenthood begins before childbirth: “While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity.” Sheri L. Dew, “Are We Not All Mothers?,” Ensign, Nov 2001, p. 96.


  1. Good point because it allows a familial respect to exist outside of any particular structure. Sort of like the difference between a “house” and a “home” as a secular vs. an emotional state of being. It’s tough to support the nuclear family makeup from a policy perspective (because secular law can’t really prop up something that depends on personal character and respect), and I’m sure that this is something you’d agree with. But the proper frame of mind and desire to build a proper family can exist regardless of one’s current family situation.

    We all had no idea that you were 30 before, Nathan :).

  2. Congrats on getting married, Nathan! I’m new to the blogging world and I find this site just fascinating. The family of one things seems pretty interesting and I’m sure, if you consider the family to be eternal, a family of one could really refer to just one person and that persons eternal family, which could come along in the future – even in the next life!

    Anyway, fascinating stuff, guys. Keep it up!

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