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How Society Works

The Pope, America, and the Family

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Pope Francis’s recent visit to the US and to Cuba was focused, repeatedly, on the family. Here are a few excerpts from different speeches:

“It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”
“The family is, forgive me, a factory of hope, of life, of resurrection. God was the one who opened that path.” “We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”
“I leave you with this question, for each one of you to respond to. In my home, do we yell, or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way to recognize our love.”  “Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.  Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work.”
“Family is beautiful, but there’s effort involved, and there are problems. Husbands and wives quarrel, and end up badly, separated. Never let the day end without making peace. Let’s protect the family, because it’s in the family that our future is at play.” 
“In families, children bring headaches. I won’t speak about mother in laws. But in families, there is always a Cross. Always.  Because of the love of God, the Son of God opened up that way. But also in families, after the Cross there is Resurrection.”
“When one doesn’t live as a family, one will strengthen the part that always says: I, me, my, with me, for me. One totally centers around these things and doesn’t know solidarity or fraternity.” 

At the end of the event, it was announced that the next World Meeting of Families would take place in Dublin, Ireland in 2018. It will be the ninth time it has been celebrated since 1994 when Pope John Paul II launched the first event in Rome.

Divorce and Children

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Six-year-old Tiana made headlines this week as she asked her divorced mom and dad to treat each other as friends. In a video posted by her mom, which would go viral, Tiana said, “I don’t want you and my dad to be replaced and meanies again. I want you and my dad to be placed and settled and be friends.” This young girl’s plea to her parents exemplifies how impactful divorce can be on children.

Research has shown that, on average, children in divorced families receive less emotional support, have weaker relationships with their family, and have a weaker ability to handle conflicts, among many other negative repercussions. However, for those children who grow up in an intact-married family structure (raised by a mom and a dad), the benefits for the child are numerous. They are less likely to get into fights, less likely to have gotten drunk, less likely to have had intercourse at age 14 or younger, less likely to have had an unwed pregnancy, and almost four times less likely to have stolen from a store.

To read more about the effects of divorce on children, please read MARRI’s synthesis paper on the topic 

Pew Research on Religion Growth Projections

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Continuing our praise of Pew Research Center’s work on Religion and Public Life, we draw attention to their projections of the growth of different religions around the world between now and 2050.  Christianity does not grow by percentage (though it does in numbers) while the Muslim religion does in both percentage and numbers, with both being rather close by 2050.  If, in the context of overall Muslim growth, militant Islam expands as Christianity remains constant, it is worth pondering how this will affect religious liberty throughout the world. It is also worth noting that Pew Research projects that “Nones” (unaffiliated) will decline worldwide.  A few months ago Pew told us how our own religious affiliation has changed recently in the US: Christianity decreased while “others” increased

Pew Research on Religions Freedom

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The Pew Research Center is a major social science resource for the nation. Its Religion and Public Life sector has produced some very informative and tellingly illustrated reports. Earlier this year they produced Restrictions and Hostilities around the World.  It is worth noting that in this ranking the U.S. does not rank number one in religious freedoms.

Last year, their comparative report on increasing levels of hostility to religious people and their practices illustrates the growing and very large percentage of the world’s population that lives under such conditions.  

Parenthood is Still a Good Thing

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Margolis and Myrskyla’s parenthood study initially gained notoriety from a misleading claim that parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment, and even the death of a partner. To draw this conclusion, researchers compared the dissatisfaction, allegedly due to parenthood, to the dissatisfaction due to divorce, unemployment, and death of a partner of an entirely different sample. This assertion can be refuted with basic logic, biology and research.

  1. Simple logic is proof enough to discredit this assertion: Parents are always eager to talk and brag about their kids, but rarely does that kind of joy and praise come from someone who just lost a parent or has recently become unemployed.
  2. Biology and social science also substantiate this logic. During childbirth women release a package of hormones associated with euphoria—oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline and noradrenaline, and prolactin. Oxytocin and prolactin are also released during breastfeeding.
  3. Other studies have found that overall parents (especially fathers) report relatively higher levels of happiness, positive emotion, and meaning in life than nonparents. Dr. Arthur Stone, author of a study on parental happiness published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, put it this way: “[Parents] have higher highs. They have more joy in their lives, but also they have more stress and negative emotions as well.” All in all, Stone and colleagues assert that it is a matter of choice: people who want kids will derive more joy out of parenthood, and those who desire to remain childless will derive happiness from that. 

Margolis and Myrskyla’s study is limited in scope and should be appreciated only at face value. The researchers found that life satisfaction increases leading up to and in the year after first birth, that satisfaction decreases from the baseline level after the first year of birth, and that those who have a second birth gained more in life satisfaction around the time of the first birth than those who do not bear more children.

Margolis and Myrskyla are correct that these findings lend insight into the low fertility rates afflicting many countries. The fertility crisis is a consequence of a growing abhorrence for anything that requires self-sacrifice, even if it could produce long term joy. It is far more likely that the true cause of this shortage in births is the rise in non-intact families and decrease in religious practice.

Children raised in non-intact families face parental rejection, which can make giving to others more difficult. These children are also less likely to want to have children of their own. Religious practice on the other hand, improves fertility rates. Religious worship contributes to a sense of selflessness: religious people contribute more to charity and are more likely to volunteer their time. Not surprisingly, very religious women are also more likely to want more kids and to have more kids. 

Overall, parenthood is a rewarding, joy-filled adventure if the parents are willing to share their life. Although a couple’s first birth can, and frequently does, bring unanticipated stress and marital discord, it also concurrently brings much happiness. Future research should control for and then highlight the benefits of religious worship and intact families, and the likely dangers of self-centeredness. A revival of the intact married family that worships weekly is an essential, natural solution for the fertility crisis. It will make parents happier, children more abundant, and countries richer.

Religious Influence of Parents on Children

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Parents’ religious practice benefits not only their children’s faith but also their well-being. This has become increasingly apparent over the last decade as research on religious practice has increased.  David Briggs of the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) illustrates five benefits of religious belief and worship on parents and teens:

The family that worships together supports one another: Youth who go to church with their parents appear more likely to experience higher psychological well-being throughout adolescence. The study analyzed data on 5,739 young people from the 1992–2006 waves of the Child and Young Adult Sample of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Building social skills and parental trust: Adolescents who converted from no religion to affiliating with a religious group were more likely to have higher social skills than those who left their faith. The study of 209 adolescents and their primary caregivers also found youth who held on to their faith scored higher than those who gave it up on measures of parental communication and trust as well as social competence.

Developing healthy relationships offline: College students who reported high levels of religious belief and practice were more likely to form strong relationships with peers and less likely to search online for porn or watch pornographic movies.

Finding ecstasy in all the right places: Young men who believe in God and practice their faith were less likely to abuse alcohol, smoke or take illegal drugs, according to a study analyzing data from a sample of 5,387 Swiss men approximately 20 years old. Being affiliated with a religion also predicted healthier choices in most cases.

Developing compassion amid privilege: Even young people fortunate enough to have all their material needs met can find resources to overcome the psychological malaise often associated with affluent teens, according to a new study.

Well-off adolescents who were highly religious and spiritual at age 18 were likely to hold on to a strong spiritual and religious life at age 24. This in turn was associated with fewer signs of depression, higher life satisfaction and greater compassion for others.

Benefits of freedom of religious expression in the workplace

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In a collaborative study with five professors from five different universities (Simon Fraser University, University of Maryland, University of Hawaii and Michigan State University), doctoral student Sooyeol Kim found that employees who openly discuss their religious beliefs at work are often happier and have higher job satisfaction than those employees who do not:
… employees who valued religion as a core part of their lives were more likely to disclose their religion in the workplace. Employees who felt pressure to assimilate in the workplace were less likely to disclose their religious identity, Kim said.
But most significantly, the researchers found that the employees who disclosed their religion in the workplace had several positive outcomes, including higher job satisfaction and higher perceived well-being.
“Disclosing your religion can be beneficial for employees and individual well-being,” Kim said. “When you try to hide your identity, you have to pretend or you have to lie to others, which can be stressful and negatively impact how you build relationships with co-workers.”

U.S. Military: Amongst Religious Hostility Suicide Rates Soar

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Over the last decade, the Armed Forces have become increasingly hostile to religious liberty and also have a record suicide rate. Restoring religious liberty and encouraging religious practice would significantly improve the mental well-being of our nation’s soldiers, as religious practice delivers fundamental benefits to mental well-being.
Threats to religious liberty in the Armed Forces have amplified in recent years. In June 2011 Christian prayer was banned at military funerals, and in September the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center declared, “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” The prayer and Bible bans were eventually reversed but other religious liberty violations have continued to emerge.  In 2012 the Army censored Catholic chaplains, and the Pennsylvania Army Reserve training document labeled Evangelical Christians and Catholics as “extremists.” In 2013 the Army ordered soldiers to remove crosses and steeples from a chapel in Afghanistan, and an Air Force officer was forced to remove a Bible from his desk because it “‘[might]’ appear that he was condoning a particular religion.” These are only “the tip of the iceberg”. Last Thanksgiving an Army chaplain was punished for telling his suicide-prevention class how his faith helped him counter depression, and this past May a Marine was sentenced to bad-conduct discharge for displaying three Bible verses at her work-station.
During this time of increased religious censorship, suicide rates amongst deployed soldiers and those who have never fought grew. In the last three years of World War II, the Army peaked at 10 suicides per 100,000 soldiers; between 1975 and 1986 the Army averaged 13 suicides per 100,000 soldiers; in 2011 the Army reported 23 suicides per 100,000 soldiers—more than twice the number of suicides during the World War II era. These suicides reflect a poignant truth: American soldiers struggling with mental difficulties are not adequately taken care of. 
Religious liberty is a requisite to ensuring that our service men and women are mentally healthy. MARRI research shows that religious worship is correlated with greater happiness, a greater sense of purpose in life, and a positive morale. More frequent religious attendance predicts less distress among adults, and membership in a religious community enhances coping skills. A review of more than 100 studies found that religious participation is associated with a reduced risk for depression, and 87 percent of studies surveyed concluded that religious practice correlates with a reduced incidence of suicide.

As hostility to religious practice grows in the military grows, depression and suicide rates are simultaneously reaching new heights. No secular course or counseling session can offer the consolation that religious practice provides. Furthermore it is free. If military commanders sincerely desire to improve the mental well-being of our country’s soldiers, they will not only allow our armed forces to freely worship God, but will even encourage it. 

Kids Count…Marriage Counts.

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) recently released its 2015 edition of Kids Count. This important annual study examines how the well-being of children changed between 2008 and 2013 in four areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. To get a fuller picture of child well-being, MARRI believes one must include family structure.

  • Kids Count 2015 shows numerous improvements in child well-being over the last five years, especially in education (reading and math proficiency) and health (declines in teen drug abuse and teen deaths). While these improvements are welcome news, the report also reported several declines.The portion of children in poverty and of children whose parents lack secure employment increased by 4% between 2008 and 2013. 
  • The proportion of children living in single-parent homes increased from 32% in 2008 to 35% in 2013.
  • In 2013, 34% of children in single-parent families were living in poverty verses 11% of children from married families.

For children, the first aspect of well-being is their family and whether it is intact or not.  Nothing shapes a child’s destiny as does her family. MARRI research has shown that children raised in single-parent families, as opposed to intact married families, are less likely to receive a high school degree. Likewise, children who experience parental divorce or separation are more likely to have health problems than those in intact married families. Those who grow up in non-intact married families are much more likely to be divorced or separated as adults than those who grew up in intact married families. And children from married, two parent families experience greater economic well-being than children raised in any other family structure, as the AECF report previously cited demonstrates.

Kids Count concludes, “With the right investments, we can provide all families and children with the opportunity to reach their full potential and, in the process, strengthen both our economy and our nation.” MARRI suggests that the most needed investment, for every child, is an always-intact married family.

Round Three, the Corruption Continues: Academia and Abortion

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The academic corruption MARRI previously described is not limited to same-sex marriage data: it is also present in abortion research. Studies repeatedly show that abortion inflicts mental and physical damage upon a sizeable proportion of women. Nevertheless, the American Psychological Association (APA) and similar professional organizations have refused to acknowledge this research, instead opting to cherry pick studies that support their pro-abortion policy agenda. Such an agenda is expected of Planned Parenthood; however, social science organizations are expected to serve the nation through a dispassionate search for the truth, letting the data do the talking.

The academy’s resistant response to David Fergusson’s research on the effects of abortion on mental health shows the distorting effects of abandoning scientific charter. Fergusson, who followed women over a 30-year period and controlled for over 30 variables, found that abortion can increase the risk of mental disorders. Fergusson, himself “pro-choice,” was already a much published and eminent researcher by the time of his first foray into the abortion field. He commented, “We went to four journals, which is very unusual for us – we normally get accepted the first time… I’m pro-choice but I’ve produced results which, if anything, favor a pro-life viewpoint… It’s obvious I’m not acting out of any agenda except to do reasonable science about a difficult problem.”  He is a true scientist.

In 2008, in an attempt to dismiss a significant number of studies confirming abortion’s link to mental disorders, the American Psychological Association assembled a “Special Task Force” of pro-abortion researchers to evaluate the evidence. To reach their pre-determined conclusion, researchers violated many scientific standards. When questioned, lead author of the Task Force was unwilling to release the data for re-analysis because “It would be very difficult to pull this information together.” Despite these shortcomings, academia holds the APA report as the gold standard of research in this field.

Similar biases have marginalized research on the effect of abortion on physical health. For instance, advances in molecular breast biology and epidemiological studies have repeatedly found a link between abortion and breast cancer. After reviewing and synthesizing the existing research in this field, MARRI concluded that induced abortion is an independent risk factor for breast cancer.  Still the National Cancer Institute refuses to acknowledge this clear evidence.

These professional organizations are expected to be “guardians of scientific standards,” and claim to be so. But by deliberately pursuing the academically corrupt practice of cherry picking data, they become agenda-driven organizations that conceal the truth about how women and their unborn babies are affected.

For example, the academy’s failure to publish research evenhandedly on abortion has made it much easier for Planned Parenthood to use women for their own monetary gain. Recently, the Center for Medical Progress released a video in which senior physicians of Planned Parenthood admit to performing abortions in the manner that most efficiently delivers the most profitable tissue/ organs, which are later sold. While haggling prices with potential tissue buyers, Dr. Mary Gatter, President of the Medical Directors’ Council of Planned Parenthood, laughed, “I want a Lamborghini!” It seems many directors of abortion centers treat the women coming to them as business opportunities for the extraction of the fetal body parts that they carry within them, rather than as vulnerable human beings. Needless to say, providing women with the best research-based information on the mental and physical risks associated with abortion would jeopardize Planned Parenthood’s access to these body parts.

Planned Parenthood has no incentive to tell women the truth about the risks of abortion, while academic organizations like the APA refuse to acknowledge robust social science data revealing these risks. They are both complicit in a collusion of silence. Compassionate care for women involves fully informing them about the procedures they undergo and the effects of those procedures; dispassionate social science begins with an objective evaluation of data and subsequent reporting of robust research. At this stage, sadly, the APA cannot be trusted to abide by these basic expectations. That is an abortion of the role of the social sciences.