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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. 

Kids Count…Marriage Counts.

children, economic well-being, education, family, Health No comments

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.

Pope Francis Affirms the Value of Traditional Marriage

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Anyone questioning Pope Francis’ stance on the value of traditional marriage can put all doubts to rest. In the ongoing International Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman, Pope Francis reiterated what amounts to a public doctrine on marriage: “The family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living.”

The family unit, bound by the union of a husband and his wife, is no simplistic element. It is an exceptional unification that conjoins the complementary but diverse gifts of a man and woman. “Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma,” Pope Francis said. “Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.”

However, as MARRI research confirms, commitment to marriage is slowly fading. “Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly” Pope Francis said. It is indisputably true that marriage is fundamental for a prosperous society. Marriage promotes education, builds wealth, supports health, decreases crime, reduces poverty, and discourages government dependency.

But the benefits of marriage transcend the material. As Francis said, “The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation.” The intact married family, and all of its associated benefits, are necessary for every child to freely grow to their fullest potential. The married intact family is, in essence, a fundamental human right for every child. 

Pope Francis’ public doctrine on marriage—though sideswiped by the mainstream media—is no trivial declaration. It is a logical examination of the social science outcomes of marriage, and a commonsense reaction that some politicians have failed to recognize.

Radical Feminists and Fathers

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“Why are we here today?” she asked.
“To make revolution,” they answered.
“What kind of revolution?” she replied.
“The Cultural Revolution,” they chanted.
“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” she demanded.
“By destroying the American family!” they answered.
“How do we destroy the family?” she came back.
“By destroying the American Patriarch,” they cried exuberantly.
“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?” she replied.
“By taking away his power!”
“How do we do that?”
“By destroying monogamy!” they shouted.
“How can we destroy monogamy?”
“By promoting promiscuity, eroticism, prostitution and homosexuality!” they resounded.
Disconcerting? Yes. Unordinary? Not at all. Mallory Millet recallsthis exchange as a typical chanting ritual among her sister, Kate Millet, and similarly minded feminist activists. The breakdown of the family following the sexual revolution was no coincidence; it was its very goal.
Feminists have largely succeeded in debilitating and eradicating fatherhood. Today, 1 in 3 children in the United States live in a fatherless home, and by age 17 only 46 percent are living with both their mother and father. This fatherless family is the root cause of the majority of social ills. Children deprived of a father are robbed of physical, emotional, intellectual, and economic benefits throughout their lifetime.
For example, children without a father are less likely to have stable relationships. Studies show that adolescents who live without their father are more likely to engage in greater and earlier sexual activity, are more likely to become pregnant as a teenager, and are more likely to have a child outside of marriage. Boys that are close with their fathers have better attitudes about intimacy and the prospect of their own married lives than boys who do not feel close to their fathers. A girl whose father leaves before she is five years old is eight times more likely to have an adolescent pregnancy than a girl whose father remains in her home.
This trend extends into other deviant behaviors. Boys and girls who live without their fathers are less likely to be able to delay gratification, have poor impulse control over anger and sexual gratification, and have a weaker sense of right and wrong. Correspondingly, children who live without their fathers are, on average, more likely to choose deviant peers, have trouble getting along with other children, be at higher risk for peer problems, and be more aggressive.
The importance of a father to children is also evident in school. Children who live without their fathers are more likely to have decreased school performance, and children who do not live with their father are more likely to experience behavioral problems at school. Furthermore, 71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
Children also reap great economic benefits from having a father at home. Intact married families have the largest annual income of all family structures with children under 18. In contrast, children raised in single-mother families, intact cohabiting families, and (biological father or mother) cohabiting stepfamilies are significantly more likely than children from married families to receive most forms of welfare, including TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid.
Every child has a fundamental right to a married mother and father. However, radical feminists have forced their neo-Marxist ideology into society’s most vulnerable and far-reaching unit: the family.  They have ripped children apart from their fathers and persecuted women who remain faithful to their husbands. The repercussions of replacing the devout father with the welfare state are rapidly compounding, and are hurling society into a bottomless pit. What is the appropriate  response today: Why are we here today?  To make revolution. What kind of revolution? The Cultural Revolution. And how do we make Cultural Revolution? By rebuilding the American patriarchal family! By reuniting fathers with their spouses and their children!

Passing the Half Emptier Mark

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Marriage was once seen as a permanent bond intended to promote monogamous love, spousal devotion, and childrearing. Today, however, many view marriage, or rather its deliberate avoidance, as a means of defying tradition, asserting feminist ideologies, and/ or avoiding commitment. Perhaps most alarming, the mainstream public is supportive but ignorant of the consequences of this shift. 
A Pew Study released Wednesday reveals that 50 percent of adults believe that society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children, whereas only 46 percent believe society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority. However, social science data suggests otherwise. In marriage are contained the five basic institutions—the basic tasks—of society: family, church, school, marketplace and government. MARRI research has emphasized the multitude of benefits the intact, married family confers on children as they learn to value and perform these five fundamental tasks. A few of these advantages are highlighted below.
Family
Families with either biological or adoptive parents present have the highest quality of parent-child relationships,perhaps because marriage enhances an adult’s ability to parent. Married people are more likely to give and receive support with their parents and are more likely to consider their parents as means for possible support in case of an emergency.
Furthermore, those who marry experience increased commitment and stability. Men raised in married families have more open, affectionate, and cooperative relationships with the women to whom they are attracted than do those from divorced families. Correspondingly, married mothers report more love and intimacy in their romantic/spousal relationships than cohabiting or single mothers.
Church
A larger fraction of adults who grew up in an intact married family than from non-intact family structures attend religious services at least monthly. Those from married families are less likely to see religion decline in importance in their lives, less likely to begin attending church less frequently, and less likely to disassociate themselves from their religious affiliation.
School       
Children of married parents are more engaged in school than children from all other family structures. Individuals from intact families completed, on average, more years of schooling and were more likely to graduate from high school and college than were their peers raised in non-intact families. High school students in intact families have GPAs 11 percent higher than those from divorced families.
Marketplace
Intact married families have the largest annual incomeand  the highest net worth of all families with children (widowed families excepted).  Married couples file less than half of all income-tax returns, but pay nearly three-quarters of all income taxes. Marriage increases the income of single African-American women by 81 percent and single white women by 45 percent; African-American men also see an increase in income after marriage.
Government
Crime. Adolescents from intact families are less delinquent and commit fewer violent acts of delinquency. Likewise, a lower fraction of adults and youths raised in intact families are picked up by police than those from non-intact families.
Violence and Abuse. Marriage is associated with lower rates of domestic violence and abuse, in comparison to cohabitation.Correspondingly, Children in intact married families suffer less child abuse than children from any other family structure. Compared to teenagers from intact families, teenagers from divorced families are more verbally aggressive and violent toward their romantic partners.
Health. Married men and women are also more likely to have health insurance. A lower fraction of married than widowed, divorced or separated, never-married, or cohabiting persons have fair to poor health.  Married people are least likely to have mental disorders, and have higher levels of emotional and psychological well-being than those who are single, divorced, or cohabiting.
This data indicates that, contrary to popular opinion, society will not be “just as well off” if marriage and childrearing is neglected or even rejected. Marriage is the foundational relationship for all of society, and a prerequisite for a prosperous nation.
Thinking otherwise, half of Americans are out of touch with reality.
(For full citations, please see the MARRI’s synthesis paper “164 Reasons to Marry”)

The Comparative Health and Sickness of America’s Racial and Ethnic Groups

child well-being, children, family, generations, MARRI, marriage No comments


The National Center for Family and Marriage Research  at Bowling Green State University has just issued a research report on the rates of “first marriage” across different racial/ethnic groups. Interestingly, the ranking of those rates closely parallels the cross-racial/ethnic ranking of the Index of Family Belonging (the fraction of 15- to 17-year-olds who have grown up in an intact married family, which has not changed measurably in the last 3 years) published by The Marriage and Religion Research Institute.


Remarkably, Asians (whose Index of Family Belonging MARRI shows to be 65 percent) enter marriage at a rate of 6.2 percent (62 per thousand adults) each year. Whites have an Index of 54 percent, while they have a (first) marriage-entry rate of 51 per thousand adults. Hispanics have an Index of Family Belonging of 41 percent and an entry rate into first marriage of 40 per thousand native-born Hispanic adults (though the entry into first marriage among immigrant Hispanics is 60 per thousand immigrant adult Hispanics, illustrating that immigrant Hispanics are stronger on marriage and family than acculturated Hispanics). Black Americans have an Index of Family Belonging of 17 percent and an entry rate into first marriage of 20 per thousand adult Black Americans.

Overall, the United States presently has an Index of Family Belonging of 46 percent and an entry rate into first marriage of 45 per thousand adult Americans.

Thus, the proportion of children who grow up in an intact married family parallels the rate of entry into first marriage. That the ranking of the cross-racial/ethnic (childhood) family intactness and marriage entry rates resemble one another makes sense. It is interesting that the rate of entry into first marriage is markedly higher amongst immigrant Hispanics than among native-born Hispanics. This pattern of greater marital and family strength repeats itself across a number of measures on Hispanic Americans, indicating that America’s cultural influence is not always a blessing for immigrants, though clearly its material blessings are.

Because the marriage relationship is foundational to the future strength of the child when he or she becomes an adult, these data indicate that the next generation of Asian Americans may be our strongest racial/ethnic group and that they may continue to outpace other racial/ethnic groups. Sadly, it is likely that African American children (and, later, adults) will continue to fall further and further behind those from all other racial/ethnic groups.

Marriage has a massive and permanent effect on children. No other institution has a comparable influence on the life and wellbeing of a child. The implications of the decline of marriage in America have been clear for some time, as a different Bowling Green reportillustrates, and this means America may weaken into the future, as well, across myriad critical outcomes that spending alone cannot change. Such compensatory hopes are the basis of the welfare state. But the first human welfare is a married mother and father who stay so to raise their children in strength.

Marriage: Its Constant and Increasingly Important Contribution to the Economy

child well-being, children, divorce, economics, fathers, intact family, marriage, men 2 comments

Not until the withdrawal from marriage of the last fifty years has the West been able to see so clearly its powerful contribution to all aspects of society including the economy.

Gary Becker’s work brought the family back into economics (where it had been the foundational unit of economics in the beginning, as laid out by the common sense of Aristotle). Becker’s vein of research has gained more traction and has influenced the work of many other Nobel Laureates, including Robert Lucas (1995): macro growth theory of expectations; James Heckman (2000): econometric theory of samples; and George Akerlof (2001): Keynesian market economics. 

Marriage makes men different. And if it does not, their marriages either end or are unhappy. 

Among the economic differences that marriage makes in men, two stand out: they work harder (married men are more productive, and an area’s minor dependency ratio is strongly associated with employment among adult men aged 25 to 54), and thus earn more (their incomes increase 26 percent). 

Conversely, divorce has a major negative impact, reducing the income of the child-raising household by 30 percent or more while driving down the growth rate of the economy by one sixth every year for the last 20 years. This latter happens because divorced men, on average, decrease their productivity enormously.

In education, the precondition for a good wage in the modern economy, marriage is a key ingredient to the productivity of children in their learning. The early home environment lays down a foundation that has an extremely powerful effect later in life. Children born into a married family have a tremendous educational advantage, which is evidenced by graduation rates right through to the college level.

Married families are much more economically efficient households, a characteristic that is not measured in GDP accounting. What is invisible here is the real resource efficiency of a major section of the economy (the home economy). Many married home economies do much better internally because of this totally neglected aspect of productivity.

As the poor and the working class (even into the middle class quintile 3) withdraw from marriage, the productivity of the U.S. declines and the burden on the welfare system increases. Furthermore, the success of the social and welfare policies developed over the last decades greatly depend on the health of marriage. Failing to recognize this dependence, U.S. welfare policies continue to fail to lift people out of poverty (even as the economy grows and world markets massively expand).

Marriage is increasingly the dividing line between those who can learn, who can work in an information economy, who save, who own their own homes, who live happier lives, and who live healthier and longer.

Until now, marriage has been the hidden ingredient of a vibrant economy.

The new myth: divorce is not too bad for children

child well-being, children, Christianity, divorce, intact family, MARRI, marriage No comments

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director, Marriage and Religion Research Institute

Here is a question for the two authors of the Scientific American’s recent article on the not-so-bad effects of divorce.

Why is it that in all measures of outcomes at the national level children of divorce as a group do significantly worse than children of intact married families?  If divorce has so little effect why do these big effects constantly appear, in virtually every measure measured?  Even remarriage does not wipe out most of them, and even intensifies some of them … at the group level.  
 
On every outcome measured children of divorce as a group do worse, significantly worse.   That is a generalization but one that holds.  For a fairly recent overview and synthesis of the findings see The Effects of Divorce on Children.

Not all children suffer all the possible bad effects and different children suffer to different degrees, even within the same family.  This provides some consolation to parents who divorce, but little to those who did not want divorce yet had to endure it.

As a former therapist who helped some awful marriages turn around I know how helpless the spouse is who wants to make the marriage work while the other spouse just wants out.   When both, even in awful and abusive marriages, want to make it work, such marriages can be made whole again.  But when one spouse in a relatively decent marriage wants out there is nothing that can be done.  Spouse and therapist are helpless (though there are things a good therapist can try with the willing spouse to get the other to change her mind — more women want out than do men— but such is a long shot and both know it).  

None of the literature reviewed talked about the sexual difficulties of children of divorce: out of wedlock births (but many protest that is OK too),  early sexual involvement (but other protest that is OK too),  cohabitation before marriage (but many protest that is OK too), and their own much higher rates of divorce after they marry (but that brings us back full circle).

The article seems more like a justification and rationalization of the radical individualism involved in the breakup of a marriage. More than half of American parents split whether in divorce, after cohabitation or by not coming together at all.  By age 17 fifty four percent of American children have parents who have rejected each other.  This intimate family experience of the deepest of rejections has lasting effects, some overt and easily measured by sociologists, others much more subtle but happiness-robbing and visible only in therapy or experienced only by spouses of children of divorce.

Western Civilization was built on stable marriage, a phenomenon Christianity gave the West and with it all the treasures and strengths of stable family life.  Not all Christians lived Christ’s way but many did and they shaped law, society, expectations in myriad ways to give societies that stability with all its benefits.   But modern man, including most modern Americans, even American Christians, find Christianity too hard and are leaving it or the harder parts behind. They are free to choose but they are not free to choose the consequences:  more instability in family, more chaos in society, and less developed human beings overall.
 
Christians have to learn to live with these burdens that others place on society as a whole and thus on them as well.  Early Christians lived in societies rife with these burdens.

We are going into a new phase in history that will not be as happy, nor as easy as it was half a century ago.   Welcome to suffering,  and to the self-justification of those who don’t want to make their marriages work when they get “bad”.  The only way to turn this around is for Christians to live marriage and family life as they are called to live it.  Eventually others will say again “See how they love one another”.  Then they will want back in.  Freedom works both ways: leaving and coming back.

The People-Forming Institutions: Preparing the Soil

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By: Patrick Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
      Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern

Although there are five basic institutions in society, only three of them are what I call “person-forming”.  The marketplace and government function to protect individuals and to provide for goods and services, but they do not function to directly form the individual.  It is the family, the church, and the school that shape character, instill moral principles (which are universal and timeless), and which develop the person as a whole.  Thus these three institutions serve society in this, the most foundational and critical of its long range tasks.  They each play a direct role in the formation of a person as he moves toward adulthood—additionally, the marketplace and government rely on the primacy of these three person-forming institutions in order to have people capable of serving in their economic and citizen roles.

Why are the institutions of family, church, and school able to form an individual while the institutions of marketplace and government are not?  The answer profoundly impacts our national discussion about policies and their implications.  Even more importantly, as we delve deeply into this question, we can see more clearly what it means to be human.

There is something foundational to human life that the institutions of marketplace and government simply cannot provide: it is the intimate relational formation of a person.  People’s deepest need is relational—love, care, affection, and personalized guidance.  In the family, a child finds the nurturing intimacy he needs.  In the church, he finds the relational intimacy with the divine that speaks to his soul’s questions.  In the school, through good relationships with his teachers, he learns how to understand the world in which he will soon act.  The marketplace and the government are the institutions through which he can later exercise who he has become through the shaping of his family, church, and school.  When it comes to directly forming who he is, however, marketplace and government have significantly less direct impact—though, in their proper context, laws can teach a great deal, and services from the dark side of the economy can corrupt (e.g. pornography).

As we will explore in future blog postings, the consequences are grave if we misunderstand the distinct nature of the person-forming institutions.  To return to our farming analogy: it is ignorant and futile for a farmer to expect abundant crops and sustainable returns without first preparing the soil for harvest, planting good seeds, and caring for the land.  Failure to do so results in stunted crop growth and insufficient income for the farmer.

Similarly, we must protect the “three sacred spaces” of family, church and school to permit the harmonizing of the person-forming tasks:  the family, where the child most deeply develops as a relating and belonging person; the church, where he orients himself to life and its big issues; and the school, where he learns about the world around him and how to make sense of it.  As the farming analogy shows, a child’s future productivity and stability depend on the person-forming institutions’ foundational actions.  Giving improper weight to the instrumental institutions—or disconnecting the person-forming ones from each other—will lead to societal destabilization (indeed, this is already happening).  When families are treasured and intact, when those families worship God weekly, and when schools aid the work of parents in teaching children according to their worldviews: children from such families thrive, and a society made of these families grows in well-being.  Such is the task of each generation—of all societies, across the globe.  These are universal truths.

Life: a Matter of Convenience?

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By Avery Pettway, Intern

       Though pro-life advocates can rejoice that the crux of the debate is no longer the question of when life begins, we continue on in an often frustrating conversation with pro-choice commentators. With the life of the fetus scientifically confirmed, choice advocates have become more fixated on nuances and thought patterns that can emotionally inflame the public while distracting from the reality of what abortion is. Amanda Marcotte’s recent article in Slate, “AUL’s ‘Life List’ Crowns the ‘All Star’ States That Attack Women’s Rights Best,” harps on what she claims is the safety imbalance between “extremely low-complication abortions” and the “condition known as child birth that usually requires hospitalization and much more invasive medical interventions.” Indeed, it is difficult at some level to foresee arguments such as this one because of their unfounded logical assumptions, but nevertheless, we must combat them with reason and research.

        For starters, Marcotte’s assertion that “child birth is 14 times more dangerous than legal abortion” is false according to the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pregnancy and childbirth may be laborious and intense, but it is a natural process of the life cycle supported and strengthened by modern technology—abortion, on the other hand, is far from a natural process and should be regarded skeptically because of how it surreptitiously invades the bodies of women and children.
       
        Even more troubling than inaccurate information, however, is Marcotte’s underlying claim that our basis for judging whether to encourage child birth or abortion is which one is physically less taxing on the woman. If we were to carry out Marcotte’s claim to its logical end, choosing the apparent ease of abortion over time and energy-intensive pregnancies, our society would be in demographic and economic (not just moral) disaster. MARRI research reveals the disturbing extent to which our abortion policy harms our population stability and economic growth. Marcotte’s argument that abortion is less physically dangerous and less expensive than pregnancy quickly breaks down under the study’s finding that “the overall social and economic burdens of the changes created through legalizing abortion eclipse any claimed benefits of the practice…the act undermines the economy, causes disease, and warps society’s most important relationship [of marriage].” When pro-choice advocates are numb to moral accusation, perhaps well-founded portents such as MARRI’s research will strike a new chord with them.