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Malleable Human Nature: The Black Hole of Culture

child well-being, children, culture No comments

A most remarkable essay has just been released, Three Necessary Societies  by Russell Hittinger of the University of Tulsa.  It will likely be referred to repeatedly in years to come as people unwrap its implications.  Among many other issues, Hittinger draws attention to the frightening prospect of the simultaneous serious weakening of all three of the necessary societies needed by man: the family, the church and the polity (civil society, including government).

Hittinger underlines the cause of this simultaneous weakening in the now-deep-seated anthropological assumption that man’s nature is malleable. This assumption shapes the ethos of our day.  It is no wonder then that culture should evaporate.  If culture is a people’s way of acting together to help each other through life, particularly through the important tasks and through the tough periods, the wise practice of those who came before us make little sense if we can shape our nature and our trials and tasks into whatever form we like.   If we can remake marriage, the sacraments, our sexuality, our obligations, our most sacred relationships, even our God who needs guidance on how to do these well.

The implication for families is that cultural support will become very small, and very local.  It will exist only where others we associate with hold to a view of human nature as a given, a nature with potential strengths that need to be cultivated and predicable fault-lines to be guarded against.

In the anthropology of malleable human nature taboos make no sense.  There is no “massively forbidden” act, there are no fundamentally destructive practices, such as abortion or sexual perversions.  Of course if the child is not the ultimate purpose of sexual intercourse anything is permissible.

Set against this is the fact that family life is fragile, as our age has taught us.  There are attitudes and acts to be guarded against if one is to have a strong family.  It was a great comfort for our great grand-parents when the culture did a lot of the guarding and said a lot of the “no”s.  It is the burden of modern parents that they have to do all the explaining, repeatedly, to teenage children tempted by the license of modernity.

One fall-out of the evaporation of culture is that parents are left, more and more, to their own devices in raising children.  They have less support around them.  Culture operates on many different levels in supporting parents: it contains deliberate overt acts, and others that are “just the way it is always done”, still others that are preconscious and subconscious.  Taboos are powerful unconscious cognitive mechanisms that forbid, normally something people are unaware of and beyond consciousness.

Given the erosion of taboos, one of the first tasks of young newly married families is to find other young families with whom they want their children to grow up and the schools likely to have the children they would not mind their own children marrying.  Once married, how quickly the child becomes the center of action for the young married couple and that child’s own remote, future romance and marriage begins to shape the parents’ thinking.

In the absence of an operating guiding culture the newborn child forces parents to begin the construction of culture for themselves.  The child is at the heart of culture, the purpose of culture.  All eyes are on the child for he and she are the future, even the everlasting future, “For of such (little children) is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Pat Fagan, PhD

Director of MARRI at The Catholic University of America

Growing the Culture Locally

children, culture, immigration, religion No comments

At the core of culture is the child, wrapped in a family and embedded in a community of faith:  Faith, Family and the Child (the future of the world).

My guess is that for the next hundred years or even longer economies will churn a lot as the ever-deeper breakthroughs in physics and biology get harnessed in new technologies, “the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one” (Schumpeter, 1942).    As a particular source of income dries up many people will likely have to migrate in search of new income.  That migration will upset the stable relationships that make cultural patterns possible.

Migrants feel intensely the need for a welcoming community.  Where are they most likely to find it?  In places where people of their own faith, race, and language live.  And when they cannot find such religious and ethnic compatibility they will seek community among those who share their view of life, who share their faith and who worship as they do. It is there they expect to find those who will welcome them, treat them kindly and make them feel at home despite obvious differences.

These also are the folk they will trust to educate their children: good people who share their values and beliefs.

Such religious locales are the hothouses that grow nurturing micro cultures.  And as the world churns and migrants flow because of war or economics such new micro cultures will continue to sprout and grow into vibrant new communities.  In the United States we are used to seeing this happen in our major cities as this pattern repeats itself again and again with each new wave of immigrants.

However it is now happening across the globe wherever more affluence and work act as magnets to those fleeing violence or poverty.  Thus, even as economies churn, cultures also churn.

And most of us and our children are going to be displaced in some way by the churning of the emerging economic orders.  Migration in the US has always been, not only for new members from the outside, but also within the country, frequently by those whose ancestors came generations ago.  We are a migratory people, increasingly so.

For the world to be a welcoming place for families with children (the families that give us the future) places of worship will be the hub around which the necessary cultural patterns will emerge.

Places of worship will need to be deliberate in their “full family service” if they are to be the community magnet their new members need them to be.  Many Evangelical churches have blazed the trail in taking care of this need.    Catholic families have the same needs.  And in filling them the Church is building, parish by parish, congregation by congregation, the strands of the new culture, the patterns of support and celebration from the cradle to the grave.  Nunc coepi.

The Global Culture Each Child Needs

children, culture, religion, romance No comments

Culture is a living organism, of interconnected relationships with universal strands.[1]  Culture is a people’s way of guiding themselves through life, from conception to death and through all the critical milestones on the way to life on “the other side”.

A people distill their experience into the wise ways of elegantly celebrating these milestones — of relating with each other in definite protocols in dress, in speech, in ways of expressing joys or sorrows.  In being with each other, ways of supporting each other every step of the way.   That is culture.

And high culture is when we, from all levels of wealth and education, put music and art and poetry and drama and song and dance to these steps through life.

How much of culture would vanish if we left out romance (courtship through marriage), how much poetry, song, dance, opera, novels, drama and art.   Imagine these arts with no expression of romance.

The most exciting part of culture is the celebration of romance, from the first moment of interest in “the other” through the high drama of the ups and downs of coming closer and closer in affection, leading eventually to betrothal and marriage.   The whole community looks on and hopes — or fears.

But behind all the excitement and drama of romance — eventually — lies the baby, the new life.   The purpose of it all.  This is the quieter but stronger joy, that transforms the beautiful young woman into the strong young mother who now has a fierce purpose in life,  a purpose that also transforms her husband, the young man moving from ‘carefreedom’ to steady worker and strong protector. And with each birth together they grow in strength and love — if all is going as it should.  If they love. If they live for the other.

Thus at the center of culture — of all the weaves of its tapestry — lies the baby.  But also lies prayer, for — as all with common sense or the experience of life we all know — the help of God is needed to rise to such love (and the data illustrate it so).

However, it is a mistake to see ourselves as guardians of old cultures, though we love them and bring much of them forward with us, especially the more intimate and the deeply family forms within them.   Rather, because we live in a very new and very different world, we are called to create our new ways of guiding and supporting each other — particularly in the more public, “high-art” and “low-art” forms — that express the drama of romance to the birth of the child and all the steps that child negotiates on its journey to its own romance with the one to whom it is going to give its heart for the rest of its life… and on to death, when that child finally goes home to God Who has watched over each of its steps — from that first moment of its creation when He and two other children of His, male and female, co-created this new wonderful being: their child.

We are all called to build these new cultures— the long dance of love and service to others around us but most of all service to the one to whom we have given our heart and to the children we together have called into existence for all eternity.   We are the builders of a new culture that, interwoven with strands of modernity, will span the globe.   For all these milestones through life need a similar guidance, universally, if they are to be successfully negotiated: fidelity, purity and chastity of heart, marriage, birth, motherhood and fatherhood, introduction of the child to God and the transcendental (to which they take to like ducks to water in the very early years when it should therefore begin), wisdom from parents and grandparents about life, love, hard work, friendship, loyalty to family, friends and community, enjoyment of festivities, time for family and friends, and, as preparation for the last journey to the next life, a richness in belonging selflessly to those close by.  All these are universals.  All peoples need their own wise ways of shepherding their offspring through life, thus giving the world variety in culture because of tradition, habitat, and religious beliefs.

Protecting each other’s different ways of negotiating these steps through life is a universal and global need.  Honoring and permitting the differences is needed in a global community.  This culture building is a new twist on a task as ancient as man, and as widespread as the dispersion of mankind through history.

All over the world, in all these cultures, the same melody can be heard, sung by every child, sung to all of us but most intimately to its father and mother:  I need you both to love each other — in marriage — for without your married love I cannot become the person I am meant to be; without your marriage I cannot fully become myself.  You owe this to me.  It is my right.  On it I am helplessly dependent.   It is not only your gift to me.  It is a justice — an inalienable right — a universal right you owe me and as I cry out for it, I cry out for justice.  With all the other children of the world.

It is time to articulate this universal right of the child.  It is the core strand of the weave of every culture, of all the cultures we are called to build anew for our children and grandchildren on into the centuries ahead.

In this just love lies life.  Outside it lies death.  We are called to life — always, everywhere, forever.

[1] Slightly adapted from a speech given at The World Congress of Families, in Budapest, May 27, 2017

The Emerging Culture That Will Last

children, culture No comments

Culture is a society’s way of joyfully guiding itself into the future, a future made most visible in its ever-repeating cycle of celebrations.

When you cut to the quick on that future the child emerges.  Looked at differently, our culture is our way of collectively guiding ourselves to guide our children along certain paths, as elegantly as we can, to ensure as good a future as we can for them.

Why the emphasis on elegance?  Because culture is a common enjoyment.  It is “beauty for everyone”.

Culture is a people giving themselves a little bit of heaven while here on earth: enjoying the beauty we have created for ourselves as a people.  Thus special days are celebrated as beautifully as we can: birthdays, weddings especially — a high point of culture, as are all the key steps leading up to it: the patterns of romance and of engagement.  So too are a peoples big festivals honoring its history as a people and so too are its big religious holidays made to be enjoyed (even the somber ones).

Thus we can also admire and vicariously enjoy other peoples’ cultures: the Italians as they celebrate in their very Italian way all sorts of feast days; Indians of India with very different religious feast days and holidays; Chinese in their ways, Japanese in theirs.  And so it goes on, all around the world.

There are common elements in all cultures: birth, marriage, death and funerals, courtship, birthdays, high religious feast days. They exist all over the globe for all peoples in all places.  Life has the same common “critical tasks” no matter what nation or people we are.

For us in the US the question today is “What do we celebrate together now?”  With birth a suspect thing (thanks to abortion and out of wedlock births), with romance dying (given contraception and the hookup culture), with weddings only for some and far fewer, and with the afterlife non-existent for an increasing number, lots of the reasons for elegant celebration or mourning are gone.  The building of elegance around these milestones in the life can no longer be a common project for present America.  We do not have a culture war. Instead, through shared embarrassment, we have a culture starvation.

Some of our states have even eliminated death as a stage – it has now become a choice!   But who can celebrate an assisted suicide.  Can anyone envisage great art being inspired by such?  A new Mozart Requiem that brings us deep within ourselves even as it brings us up to the heavens?  For suicide?

We are a people who no longer have a common project of shepherding the child onto a life path that leads to the “good life” (or a “good enough” life) and finally into the afterlife.  We no longer have such a common project to which to commit.  Hence we can have no culture.

But the American that will survive will build its own new culture and it will come, it can only come, from those who love bringing new life into existence, for without the baby there is no cycle to repeat.

Out of the ashes of present post-modernity will spring the new American culture – probably already well underway but not visible through the mainstream media whose energies are fixated elsewhere.  Our new America will be one with ways of moving through the stages of life with the elegance that “Joe the construction worker and his wife Jane” are quite capable of expressing when they get together with their families and friends at community celebrations.

I predict that the dominant color in the new patterns being woven into the cultural fabric of the new America, the one that not only lasts but thrives, will be  the celebration of new life, and in the tapestry of this culture the thread of the Fatherhood of God will be visible.  We will find an American way to do this.  We will be a people who celebrate four beings, the new baby, the couple who co-created this new life, and God the creator.  This is the culture that will emerge, likely already is emerging.  The logic of reality makes it so.

We have lots to look forward to. Culture spotting will be the new enjoyment.

The Universal Right of the Child to the Marriage of His Parents

children, culture, family, marriage, rights of children 2 comments

No topic has more power to transform the male-female debate, the chastity debate, the abortion debate, the divorce debate and the feminist debate than the right of the child to the marriage of his (or her) parents.

Every child has this right from the moment of conception.  The child did not ask to come into existence but was brought into existence by the action of two people, a male and a female.[1]

Without his parents’ married love and commitment the child is not going to thrive the way he should.  He is not going to reach his “ordinary” potential.  It is a pretty clear cut case of a one-way obligation.  The child is not obligated to his father and mother — at this stage of his existence.

The adults (sexually mature: as in capable of transmitting life) are the ones with obligations towards the child, towards this new person they have most seriously affected — for the rest of his existence.

However this obligation cannot be enforced by law because the marriage of the father and the mother has to be entered into freely.  It is invalid if forced. So how do we ensure this right of the child?

We do it by culture — by the cult (cultivation) of moral responsibility for sexual acts.  This new person is the main (most serious) consequence of sexual activity.  Sexual intercourse is designed to produce children.  Nature pushes that way with extraordinary force.  It is extraordinarily serious.  The onus on the “actors” is heavy and long-term.

Living cultures get that point across.  That is why they shepherd sexual intercourse into marriage.

Every child has the right to the marriage of its parents —even if the parents do not give it or withdraw it.  The right still stays.  The violation of this right does not take away the right but only makes it clearer than ever.  It is in its absence that we see the effects of its withdrawal: children don’t reach their potential – for learning and earning, for living longer, for being happy, for marrying in adulthood, even for having and raising their own children.

So where do we start to get this right restored to its proper place in society?

One obvious place to start is in the churches.

Can Christian churches teach this?

Would your pastor be willing to say so from the pulpit?  If not why not?

Have you ever heard of such a sermon?

What would its effects be – after the commotion died down and folk accepted the obvious?

Teen chastity would soar.  Abortions would plummet.  Marriage would increase.  Divorce would plummet – at least in the churches. And with all these changes a host of other great changes would follow.

I suspect nothing would have the impact on shaping the culture than a restoration of respect for this fundamental, universal right of every child.

Would you bring it up with friends and see what they say?  What are the obstacles to getting adults to assent to this, first privately and then more publicly among their friends and colleagues?

Let me know what you think and what you find out. Comment below or email me directly at pat.fagan.marri@gmail.com

 

[1] A different essay could explore the rights of the child brought into existence by modern technologies and teams.

 

The Right of Children to the Marriage of their Parents

children, marriage, parents, rights of children 3 comments

The right of children to the marriage of their parents is foundational to religious practice and to strong cultures.

This much-neglected right of children is critical to the future of nations.  It is a natural right, not a politically conferred right. It arises from the order of nature. It rests on justice, for without their parents’ marriage children are condemned by them to a lesser life. Parents are also condemning themselves, at minimum, to lifelong guilt.

When acculturated the effect of this life is to increase chastity and marriage among young people, reduce (almost eliminate) out of wedlock births, reduce abortion rates massively, and similarly reduce divorce rates among parents.

Aside from the love of God I can think of no other phenomenon that can deliver such powerful consequences.  The child draws our better natures forth from within us.  In every aspect of our lives, the child can transform our potential into reality.   The child even causes adults to turn (or return) to God.

But this right now gets universal silent treatment.  In public discourse, it is absent. In rights discourse, it is absent.  In the classrooms of universities, law schools, high schools, middle schools and even of seminaries it is absent.  Most debilitating of all, it is absent in churches, synagogues and mosques.

But we all need it. Every baby born needs it to thrive.  Every teenager needs it to help motivate sexual control; every dating couple needs it so that they can freely cross the winning line of marriage; every married couple tempted by divorce needs it, so that they repair their marriage and grow in the strength needed to be lifelong spouses.  Children make adults of their parents.  They draw them out of themselves and on to heights of virtue they would not attempt without their children.

The nation’s future needs it because in its absence it is growing citizens without chests.

It is a right that cannot be enforced by government directly, for marriage must be freely chosen.  Therefore the institutions of religion, family and education must be to the fore in teaching and thus “enforcing” this right.

Slowly and steadily, the nations with such a culture will survive and thrive. Those without it will wilt, be overcome and disappear.

It is powerful in its consequences. It is foundational natural law, and reminds me my high school headmaster’s favorite quote: “The wheels of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small.” Or as Richard Feynman put it:  “Nature cannot be fooled.”

 

Quantitative Social Sciences: In the Service of the Good, the True and (Maybe) the Beautiful

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The social sciences, well done, cannot but illustrate the way God made man, or the way man is designed by nature.  ‘Well done’ means methodologically well done: well informed by statistical, mathematical and logic sciences.

While man is free to choose he is not free to choose the consequences; they are built into the choices made.  The social sciences can observe his choice (e.g. the choice to abort, or to marry, or to finish high school) and the consequences that flow from these choices.  In this they illustrate some aspects of natural law in action (moral law in action) by making the connection between choice and consequences.

Longitudinal surveys (where the same people are tracked over time) are the most valuable for good social science.  In them one can observe the choice and measure the pathway the person set in motion and the consequences that ensue over time, even over a life time if the survey continues long enough.

Of course, over time myriad factors modify such pathways.   Sometimes new choices are choices that deliberately reverse pathways: by overcoming an addiction; by divorcing; even by remarrying the person they divorced!

What these instances illustrate is the difficulty of ‘PROVING’ causation, in the layman’s understanding of X choice caused Y outcome.   Rather than supporting a determinist view of man, the social sciences support a “modifiable” view of man.  For most of us this comports with our commonsense knowledge of ourselves: we can change, but only gradually in most instances.  And quick changes most often evaporate rather quickly too.  Desirable changes are growth in virtue, which happens slowly and only with repeated acts, repeated over long periods.  Bad habits can form much more quickly as many addicts can attest.

The social sciences are social – to state the obvious, but an obvious truth forgotten most of the time by most of us, especially we Americans and those who hew to a radical individualism.  Man is deeply relational and needs the support of those around him to keep doing what he does.  If we change our social environment (those we relate to) we can change our behavior more easily.  Thus to become holy some choose the company of others determined to achieve the same and enter a monastery, or deliberately choose a spouse who is intent on the same goal.

But children, the most socially dependent of all of us, do not get to choose their own company, their parents, their siblings, nor the neighborhood they live in.  So it is rare for them to rise above the average behavior of their surroundings. It is possible but it is rare. How rare: check out the bell curve.  Most are in the middle, very few at the extremes.

Being deeply relational we are most easily influenced when we are young. Hence parents’ concern to choose good schools, especially schools where the behavior of the other children comports with what they would like to see in their own.  Good teachers in poor neighborhoods are thus some of the most valuable people in a nation: the ones who help those parents who are trying to give their children a leg up. They are the unsung heroes of the social infrastructure.

Good parents are careful to seeks and choose modifiers of their children’s’ behavior (or more precisely), they choose the environment (the social relationships) that will shape their children’s’ behavior.

Thus good parents (along with good teachers) are the “investors” in the future. They are the ones who work to have their children surpass them, to rise further in the next generation, not only in education and income (a common desire of parents) but in virtue and strength, in love, chastity and fidelity. That is how the social infrastructure is built and rebuilt.

Thus the social sciences, in their own way, inform us about the moral dimension of man’s behavior: about good and bad behaviors (though that language is too strong, too politically incorrect for the majority of social scientists; desirable / undesirable, functional / dysfunctional are more acceptable labels).  But no matter the labels, the social sciences tend to flush out those conditions in which man thrives or wilts and the pathways thereto.

Thus they are in the service of the good and the true.  It would be nice to say they are in the service of the beautiful but even for those who love the social sciences that may be a bit of a stretch, for the beauty of good people is hard to see behind the numbers and graphs of the social sciences.  Maybe such capacities will emerge in the future, but for now readers of the social sciences will have to do with merely the true and the good.

Do We Have a Black Woman Nobel Laureate in One of Our Inner Cities?

children, fathers, marriage, mothers No comments

Children are deeply relational beings–and depending on how that dimension is fulfilled for them by their parents they become competent human beings–or not.  Nurturing relationships early on makes “being a human being” a happy experience for them.  A mother, in the very close, comforting and warm nurturance of breast feeding, the foundational experience on entering a world that it is a good and nice place to be in.  This anchors a child in reality.  If a child is cursed with this early experience being a harsh one that child will retreat into life-long psychosis or milder forms of damaging self-defense from a harsh world.

Plenty of belonging leads to plenty of thriving.  A good culture, and a good nation devotes massive energy to ensuring plenty of belonging for its children: it is the sine qua non of its continued thriving as a culture and as a nation.

The core of such a culture is the marriage vow “till death us do part”, that vow by which fathers and mothers have bound themselves in perpetual belonging so that the children who will come have total reassurance as to whom and to where they belong.  That vow gives everyone a norm and a structure around which to build a highly functional society.  It absence indicates a body without a spine.

The other end of the spectrum which has belonging on one end is rejection. The norm and the “structure” around which rejection is built is sex outside of, or before, the marriage vow.   Its results are a national and cultural wilting instead of a thriving.  Rejection comes in many forms but for the building or, in this case, the deconstruction of society, rejection deep within the family is the natural and most common consequence of sex outside of marriage: out of wedlock births where most parents eventually end up rejecting each other; cohabitation with similar results for a large portion; and of course infidelity within marriage.  Abortion also is most frequently the product of out of wedlock sex (roughly 80%).

No matter which way society goes on matters sexual there are high costs for the two different pathways.

The costs of the pathway of traditional intact marriage are high for the individual requiring chastity (see last week blog); requiring that one pushes through the difficulties of marriage, no matter the burden; requiring fidelity (and in the process, requiring continued personal struggle and growth towards an even greater maturity lasting all the way their sixties and beyond – to the end).  The demands on the individual are high — but the benefits for them, their children and society are enormous.  The price of their struggle is more than well repaid.

The pathway of rejection does not make these demands on the individual; it is premised on avoiding them, on personal autonomy and “free choice”.  But it does demand a price:  the aborting of children (and America has, in the last 75 years, aborted the equivalent of one sixth of its present population); divorce and all its attendant consequences on adults and on children; out of wedlock births and all of its consequences , which for our inner cities, are now compounding through the fourth and even fifth generation.  For society at large the price is high in more school failure and drop out; more crime and addictions, more ill health and disease; shorter lifespan; much higher health costs; much higher education costs; much higher policing and criminal justice system costs; more poverty and less income; less savings; harsher old-age; more loneliness and suicide.   Even though the individuals who choose this pathway pay their own heavy price in the longer term, the premise of this culture is “I will make my choice – others can pay for the consequences.”  At its core this sexual pathway is anti-community, anti-child, anti-marriage and ultimately anti-cultural and, ironically, destructive of the individual who chooses that route.

A macro cost/benefit comparison between the two pathways leads quickly to a “slam dunk” winner.

Because these two different pathways demand very different cultures and, ultimately, very different political orders, we pay another price: civil strife and a growing gap between those who hold to the first pathway and those to the second.

Trying to make these two pathways work together causes one to daydream about solutions such as political geographies that permit one culture to work and pay for its way and the other to work and pay for its way.

But in such solutions one pathway would have to give up its foundational premise “I make my choice, the state (meaning everyone else, all the taxpayers) can pay for it.”  If the rejection pathway had its own political order and geographic community structures they would have to shoulder their own costs, and five minutes reflection by anyone, liberal or conservative, shows that is not possible for they would be bankrupt within a generation – in twenty five years or less.

But within that dilemma lies the seed of reform: achieve more and more ways of making folk of the second pathway aware of the cost to themselves and their children.   I bet that most single parent grandmothers in the inner city wish their grandchildren could take the “belonging till death us do part” pathway, the pathway of faithful marriage, even if they cannot see the way for that to happen.

It is from such grandmothers that the seeds of a “belonging America” can sprout.  On these issues no one has more authority, for they have the authority of suffering and pain, the authority of the victimhood of their grandchildren – should they learn how to harness it.  Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan of Belfast started the healing in Northern Ireland by harnessing similar suffering among mothers.  Is there a Betty Williams in one of our inner cities who could say for marriage in America what Williams, in her Nobel Laureate speech, said for peace in Northern Ireland:

“A deep sense of frustration at the mindless stupidity of the continuing violence was already evident before the tragic events of that sunny afternoon of August 10, 1976. But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode, and create the possibility of a real peace movement. As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought represents life needlessly wasted, a mother’s labor spurned.”

Can the price that our American children are paying, particularly our inner-city poor children are paying, draw forth that brilliant Black grandmother hidden somewhere in one of our cities?  That grandmother has a moral authority no one else can aspire to … and hundreds of thousands will follow should she give proper voice and they can begin the end to our American stupidity.

The Three Love Diet

children, love, marriage No comments

There is a very simple fact that social scientists have neglected to make clear to the country: Only a fraction of our children are fully nurtured, relationally, because of the breakdown in family structure over the last fifty years: Children in single parent homes get a one-love diet while children in always-intact married families get a three-love diet.

Only one adult love is present in the single parent family while three adult loves are present in the always intact married family (the love of mother, the love of father and the love between mother and father). The love between mother and father is especially powerful. It makes a big difference in their lives and to the social infrastructure of the county. One set of adults can bear a lot more weight and traffic than the other. For instance: just one of the many critical tasks is the modeling of living in a world of male and female where both cooperate on serious and significant tasks. The child raised in the single parent family has less chance of learning that. These are uncomfortable facts, but facts nonetheless. And they have huge consequences.

Some will object, with good reasons, that the single parent family can produce strong adults–and many do. But, on average, the children of single parent families do not become as strong as adults as do the children of married parents (even as single parents often give heroically of all the love they have). This is tough for many to take and in academia many still deny it. It is a sad and strange phenomenon but many social science professors are quite anti-scientific; they deny or avoid the disquieting data as a form of short-sighted ‘kindness’.

On average the single-love diet cannot deliver what the three-love diet does.   How do we as a society move from the single love diet to the three love diet for all children? The answer: restoration of a culture based on – bear with me — chastity. Without a culture of chastity society does not get a culture of strong marriages. Folk may laugh but there is no alternative and savvy parents, single or married, work hard to transmit this to their children for everybody’s sake—for the young folk’s own future, the future of the grandchildren, and for a more peaceful old age future for the grandparents.

What makes it possible for an adolescent to come up with such a resolve? How do we grow such young people? Parents cultivate it be they married or single by telling the truth about the relationship between chastity and life-long love between a man and a woman. And the data show that teenagers (deep down) welcome their parents when they raise these issues.

Single parents have a tougher task here, and it is therefore one of the most critical projects for our society. There is a need for a movement among single parents, a movement to raise chaste children, chaste teenagers so that they will have the happiness of being at the wedding of their children, and their grandchildren. Such a movement needs alongside it a solidarity movement of everyone else to cheer them on and help them. This is the infrastructure work we need most if we are to have future citizens who can take over running a country.

It is amazing how sex, children, marriage, chastity and the future are all intertwined. It is time for all families to link together to pull this off for the next generation. Everything else in society is connected to this. Everything.

Confusing Research on the Impact of Religion on Children’s Altruism

children, religion, social science 1 comment

A recent study by Jean Decety of the University of Chicago and his collagues sets up an experiment based on sticker-sharing and fake pushing among religious and non-religious children to arrive at a pretty hefty conclusion: “[The findings] call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that the secularization of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness—in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

One might say that this conclusion is laughable, but the media reaction was disturbing. The web was bombarded with headlines claiming “Religious Kids Tend to Be Mean and Selfish Little Jerks,” “Religion Makes Children More Selfish,” and “Religious Children are Meaner than Their Secular Counterparts.” But despite these claims, rigorous social science has shown that religious practice delivers incomparable benefits to society. It is normal and healthy for academics to disagree on the impact of religious practice on different aspects of life. Over the long haul, this helps to clarify reality. However, it is an entirely different pursuit, and not an intellectually honest one, for researchers to intend to knock down religious beliefs and practice. Decety et al. may be doing the latter; their future research will tell. In this study, their handling of the known literature on religious practice and their poor method raises concern that, rather than seeking to add clarity to knowledge, they are only adding confusion.

Past research has repeatedly confirmed the overwhelmingly positive impact that frequent religious practice has on societal outcomes. The Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) has shown that 44 percent of adults who attended religious services monthly or more as an adolescent have volunteered in charitable activities within the past year, whereas 33 percent of those who attended monthly or never volunteered. Arthur Brooks, then a researcher at Syracuse University and now president of the American Enterprise Institute, conducted the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) that drew almost 30,000 observations from fifty U.S. communities, and used rigorous regression to control for political beliefs, income, education level, gender, age, race, marital status, and area of residence. Brooks found that, when all controls are applied, religious people are 23 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to donate money, and 26 percent more likely to volunteer. On average, a religious person gives $1,388 more than a secular person, and volunteers on 6.5 more occasions.

Moreover, Brooks points out that “Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as religious ones.” Religious people are 7 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 percent more likely to help the poor or elderly, 26 percent more likely to volunteer in school/ youth programs, and 10 percent more likely to give to charitable causes.

Just last year a major German-Swiss study investigating issues similar to Decety’s summarized:

The question of whether religiosity is linked to prosocial behavior is currently hotly debated in psychology. This research contributes to this debate by showing that the nature of individuals’ religious orientations and their relationships to prosociality depend on their country’s social enforcement of religiosity. Our analyses of data from more than 70 countries indicate that in countries with no social pressure to follow a religion, religious individuals are more likely to endorse an intrinsic religious orientation (Study 1), engage in charity work (Study 2), disapprove of lying in their own interests (Study 3), and are less likely to engage in fraudulent behaviors (Study 4) compared with non-religious individuals. Ironically, in secular contexts, religious individuals are also more likely to condemn certain moral choices than non-religious individuals (Study 2). These effects of religiosity substantially weaken (and ultimately disappear) with increasing national levels of social enforcement of religiosity.

Let us look a bit more closely at the Decety study. Here are some of the primary mistakes in it:

1.  The reputation of religion now rests on stickers and bumping. Essentially, researchers assessed the altruism of religious and non-religious children by the children’s willingness to share stickers. Each child was presented thirty stickers and told to choose his/ her ten favorite. Next, researchers told the child that there weren’t enough stickers for all the children, and asked the child to anonymously place any stickers he/ she would be willing to share in an envelope. Christian children placed an average of 3.33 stickers, Muslims placed 3.20, and non-religious children placed 4.09.

Next, researchers measured how judgmental religious and non-religious children are by showing each child a series of dynamic scenarios in which one person is pushing or bumping another person (either purposefully or accidently), and assessing the child’s reactions. Muslim children labeled the interpersonal harm as meaner than did Christian children, and Christian children judged the actions to be meaner than non-religious children. Muslim children gave harsher ratings of punishment for the pushers, while there was no significant difference in punishment ratings between Christian and non-religious children.

The response that comes to mind: Give me a break.  That this rather simple study be flaunted to the lay public as proof of the impact of religion is an insult to the academy and to the profession of journalism. 

2. They use an unrepresentative sample. Lead researcher Jean Decety assessed 1,170 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years from six countries to represent the actions of religious children across the world. In the sample, 23.9 percent identified as Christian, 43 percent as Muslim, 27.6 percent as not religious, and 5.2 percent as either Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, or other (0.3 percent are unaccounted for). There are a number of problems with this sample that the authors do not address.

First: Children were selected from Chicago (United States), Toronto (Canada), Amman (Jordan), Izmir and Istanbul (Turkey), Cape Town (South Africa), and Guangzhou (China). It is peculiar, to say that least, that, in a study assessing how religious sentiments are manifested in behavior, researchers include countries that do not allow the free practice of religion. That alone skews and invalidates the results, as the German-Swiss study shows.

Second: The child samples seem to be opportunity samples (or snowball samples). The co-authors are all psychologists, and therefore accustomed to extrapolating from numbers not nationally representative, much less globally representative. The children seem to be from the cities where the different co-authors work.  That is far from nationally random and far from representative.

Third: The breakdown of religions in the sample does not reflect the world’s breakdown of religions. In the study, 23.9 percent are Christian and 43 percent are Muslim; in actuality, 31.4 percent of the world is Christian and 23.2 percent is Muslim.

Four: The sample consists of children ages 5 to 12 years old—a period of major developmental change for children, including significant changes in notions of justice. For academics, experiments help clarify the psychological aspects of altruistic behavior of children in mid-childhood. Only after years of research that control for an increasing number of variables will these experiments yield insights. 

Five:  The study broadly concludes that religion is bad for altruism.  If that conclusion were granted, an even bigger challenge remains for the authors: What is it about religious practice that, in the years between childhood and adulthood, flips the results so that suddenly religion encourages prosociality (as it does for adults)? From academics hostile to religion (and hostility to religion is overrepresented in academia) the response can be anticipated: Religion has nothing to do with people being good. This very argument seems to be the objective of Roy Sablosky’s “Does Religion Foster Generosity?

3. The measures used seem far removed from reality. These researchers determined that generosity in our world is best understood by sticker-sharing and contrived acts of meanness. However, that fails the common-sense credulity test.  The professors need to come up with more realistic experiments.

Professor Luke Galen of the University of Nebraska has spearheaded much of the research debate on these issues, especially in his 2012 publication, “Does Religious Belief Promote Prosociality? A Critical Examination.” The conclusion of the abstract states:  “These factors necessitate a revision of the religious pro-sociality hypothesis and suggest that future research should incorporate more stringent controls in order to reach less ambiguous conclusions.”   

Galen is correct. Religious practice and teachings have an intricate impact on the everyday functioning of society, and should be further investigated. Religion has nothing to fear and everything to gain when the social sciences tease out the variables in play.