religion

religion

Foundations of Society

economics, intact family, MARRI, marriage, religion, sexuality 2 comments

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

It is natural to measure the success of agriculture as an industry by its harvest, but a farmer’s harvest is more of the result of good farming, rather than the source of it. In order to understand the cycle of growth and health upon which a farm’s prosperity relies, we must look first to how the farmer sows and even how he prepares to sow.

Just like the farmer, society must invest in its own future by ‘sowing seed.’  At MARRI we attempt to diligently demonstrate the need for people to take care of their future harvest—the health and even the very existence of the coming generations—by sowing and cultivating good seed in the present time.

When the families in our nation delay marriage and reduce the frequency of childbirth, and when communities and leaders are encouraging such behavior, we fail to lay the proper foundations for a successful harvest and a continuation of a healthy, robust society.

We see this happening in other nations—Greece, Italy, Spain, and Japan come to mind—where the decline of demographic health is linked to lessened fertility and marriage. These countries have seen their average family size shrink and their economies sputter for want of young families … the growers of the next crop, the next generation. As the family goes, so goes the economy. Unfortunately, we see evidence that our own nation is headed the same direction:

But the economy is not the only institution that suffers when the sowing (sexuality) goes wrong.

It is the task of MARRI to show the United States how intrinsically interconnected are our fundamental institutions of government, marketplace, education, and religion with what is the most fundamental institution of all—the family.  We believe (and the data illustrates) that the thriving of the three “person-forming institutions”—the family, church and school—is key if the other two (marketplace and government) are to thrive and hold a sustainable and competitive role in the global arena.

So what is the ‘good seed’ we ought to sow? Philosophers through the ages have dealt with this question, most foundationally Plato and Aristotle.  How are we to rightly prepare for a harvest of health and societal growth?  The focus of this blog from here on will be to present the evidence from the social sciences that cast light on the road to strengths and weaknesses.  In particular we will examine the sexual trends, for that is where it all starts (where people start and are brought into existence).  Are they helping or hurting our families, thereby helping or hurting our basic institutions?

We will explore what has become our basic thesis—as all the data of the social sciences mount over the decades—that the main task of society, of individuals, of families, and of communities is to grow the young, intact, married family that worships God weekly.  If that is done, all the problems of society diminish in size and intensity and all its strengths grow.  It is a thesis that the social science data—but not too many social scientists—seem to uphold.  Therein lies the future excitement of this blog: a good public discourse on the fundamentals, and on the predictions and cautions to which the data point.

Religious Practice and Mental Health

depression, mental health, religion, worship 2 comments

By MARRI Intern

          MARRI research maintains that “good mental health is highly correlated to religious participation.”  Strong faith and frequent involvement in spiritual or religious activities are key elements in reducing the risk of depression in an individual’s life.  Numerous studies have previously established this idea that the higher the prevalence of religiosity in an individual’s life the lower the risk of depression.  An example found within this MARRI research observes “adolescents at one public school in Texas who frequently attended religious services and derived great meaning and purpose from religion in their lives had lower levels of depression than their less religious peers.”

Now, an article by Andrew Seaman introduces new research which suggests that there may be a further link between depression, spirituality, and the brain.  This specific study was by a number of researchers from Columbia University who came to the conclusion that the participants who claimed spirituality as a highly important element in their lives had a thicker cortex.  Some participants in this study had a higher risk for depression because of their family history, while the control group did not.  The data seems to suggest that spirituality can act as a sort of protection for the brain and “that religiosity can enhance the brain’s resilience against depression in a very physical way.”  This particular research now indicates that people who are not “spiritually active” may be more prone to depression due to a thinner cortex.  

Exploration in this specific area, like research in most other areas, presents the need for caution in that there is the possibility that “there could be other areas of the brain linked to religion and spirituality. Also, spirituality may be a marker of something else, such as socioeconomic status.”

But as this new study shows, the level of personal importance of religious practice carries dramatic implications for many areas of life.  Additional MARRI data shows that the more frequently an individual engages in religious worship, the more individuals, families, and communities will see the benefits.  When people obey God and “take heed of Him, the more He takes care of them,” and the more He tends to bless them in incredible ways.  

Visit a Church: the Case for Religious Attendance

MARRI, religion, United Kingdom, worship No comments

By MARRI Intern

“Church sets young people right,” a recent article by Paul Wilkinson, highlights data from the UK which suggests just this.  The study, conducted by Mark Littler, “implies that the act of visiting a place of worship may trigger a significant reduction in the likelihood of involvement in certain types of criminal and delinquent behaviour.”  This claim aligns with U.S. Federal data which has shown an obvious benefit to religious practice for both the private and public good.

The Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) affirms the value of religious practice to society in the research synthesis paper “95 Social Science Reasons for Religious Worship and Practice.”  These advantages are specific to the areas of marriage and family, parenting, sexual attitudes and behavior, health, mental health, charitable giving, education, and in regards to divorce as well as addictive behaviors.  Not only is religion associated with many societal benefits, but more specifically, religious attendance is also linked with the decrease in many forms of crime and a decrease in the likelihood of engaging in risky actions.  For example, the MARRI paper emphasizes that regular church attendance among the population of black inner city youth results in a “57 percent decrease in likelihood to deal drugs and a 39 percent decrease in likelihood to commit a crime.” Religious service attendance also tends to lead to positive changes in work and school attendance of young inner-city residents.  It was also found that an increase in religiosity during the college years resulted in 75 percent of those students attaining above average grades.      

While the results of the study in the UK determined that religious practice, attendance, and affiliation are correlated with the greater good of society as a whole, it is suggested that religion is not the only way to bring about these results.  An interesting statement by Littler shows that he believes that “religious practice is just one way of gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioural norms that are at the heart of this relationship; other, more secular activities may equally serve a similar role.”

Is it merely “gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioural norms” that brings about the increase of societal good and the decrease in crime and delinquent behavior?  Perhaps not, as the research that MARRI has conducted specifically indicates that church attendance has been shown to provide these many positive benefits to society. Therefore, maybe worshipping God and learning to live according to His will is the vital element which is key to changing first the individual and then society.

For more information on how religious practice can benefit both individuals and society, visit MARRI.us.

An Ode to Grandparents

children, extended family, family, intact family, religion No comments

By Danielle Lee, MARRI Intern

If working with MARRI Research teaches you one thing, it’s that intact married families (pick your state and find out how the belonging index affects social policy outcomes where you live) are the way to go.  Families led by married parentsand that worship together regularly produce children who have better quality relationships, who perform better in school, and who claim to be happier than those raised in other circumstances.
But with studies focused on relationships within the nuclear family, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the the generations of parents that have come before.  This isn’t a gap in the research; it’s a logical inference that is many times forgotten or left un-pursued.  Grandparents are simply the expansion pack of the intact family.
Oh, the stories my grandparents would tell (and that I tell now)!  Of how they got through Soviet checkpoints at the North Korean border by getting all the young ones to cry loudly, or of how one of our ancestors was a political exile centuries back.  Mom and Dad have taught me how to function as a responsible citizen and bring a unique contribution to my community, whereas Grandma and Grandpa have taught me how I belong in the grander scheme of history.
So, why does this matter?  Bruce Feiler of the New York Times recently exposited the correlation between a child’s knowledge of family narrative and history and his or her ability to cope with physical, emotional, and mental traumas.  Children with knowledgeable awareness of their family narrative coped better with stresses, including the devastation of 9/11.
It’s so much more than a coping mechanism, though.  The great 20th century intellectuals pursued originality so aggressively that some were ready to divorce words from their accepted meanings (via written entreaties, ironically).  They believed that a rejection of and detachment from all they knew would give them untainted space for true originality. Yet one might posit that those intellectuals (particularly, the French) got it all wrong.  True originality (if it exists) and cultural progress stems from familiarity with history—you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going.
Learning about my great-grandfather’s commitment to Korean independence from Japanese occupation offers dimension and depth to my own life ambitions. It brings perspective as to why I’m inexplicably interested and drawn to public policy issues even when my siblings are not.  Meanwhile, goals that seem untenable, if not absurd, are no longer so implausible when you learn that the childhood home of your grandmother (the one who washes the dishes in the dishwasher because they aren’t clean enough) housed the Korean government at one point.
The generations that have come before are not participants in a distant past that have nothing to do with us.  In fact, they have everything to do with our identity and our trajectory.  In a culture that fixates on youth through babies on Facebook (see “Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children” below) or Botox, we can’t keep trying to stop time from passing—or we really won’t get anywhere.  The past is our launching pad.  It grounds us in morality and discipline but also pushes us to do greater things than accomplished before.

Electric Zoo, Family Structure, and Substance Abuse

crime, family, intact family, religion, youth No comments


By MARRI Intern
A week and half before their Labor Day music festival, Electric Zoo posted a notice on their blog encouraging their participant “party animals” to “keep the positive party vibes flowing by looking out for each other.” The post advised against illegal drug use but also outlined common signs of drug abuse and included a map of where to find on-site medical facilities. While many attendees may have followed this recommendation and enjoyed their weekend, a few attendees did not. Electric Zoo was forced to cancelthe third and final day of the event due to two tragic overdoses and a number of hospitalized attendees on the first two days.
Fueling the public’s negative reaction to the Labor Day fatalities is the professional history of the Electric Zoo’s founder. One of the founder’s partner clubs in Chelsea, Twilo, was shut down in 2001 following two fatal MDMA overdoses. The fact that both deaths at this year’s Electric Zoo were also reported as MDMA overdoses has certainly made this tragedy a bitter pill to swallow. But where do we draw the line? Can we put all the responsibility on the clubs which organized and repeatedly turned a blind eye to illegal substance abuse? Surely, we cannot ignore the freedom of choice exercised by club and party attendees to partake in the use of illegal substances.
Who is to blame? Society, the clubs, the victims, their parents? The breakdown of the intact married family has many far-reaching effects, including an increased propensity to engage in wrong and damaging behavior, such as illegal drug use. Recent trends indicate that most twelfth graders believe that the availability of, and access to drugs has become easier and easier. And while we all know that drug abusers can come from every background, MARRI Research indicates that children of divorce have a significantly increased risk of crime, as well as drug use. Additionally, research has shown that the more youth who worship weekly exhibit the least hard drug use.
So perhaps at the end of the day, we are left only with the tasks of mourning the precious lives lost and of determinedly perpetuating a culture of intact families who worship weekly, engender healthy values, and raise children who choose not to turn to substance abuse.

The State of a Woman’s Union

abstinence, Christianity, cohabitation, feminism, intact family, marriage, religion, sexuality, teen pregnancy, women's health No comments

By Lindsay Smith, Intern
 

Dear Florida,

I heard that you are spending $45,000to research women’s sexuality within your borders.  Apparently, this information is quite valuable to you.  I know you are offering gift cards if women will complete surveys on this topic.  Good news, I think I can provide you with some answers to your search – no gift card necessary. 

Abundant research has shown that disruption within a family structure increases the likelihood of sexual debut for children. “Women whose parents separated during childhood are more likely to have an out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy, and men with divorced or separated parents are more likely to father a child with a teenage mother.”  As expected, women from intact-married families have the lowest risk of teenage sexual debut, and fewer partners.  Marriage positively affects not only the children, but also the man and woman in the union.  Since your survey touches on a woman’s emotional well-being in relation to sex, you really should know that married couples find their sexual relationship more satisfying than cohabiters do.”

Based on your survey’s questions, I see you are curious about religious affiliation.  You were wise to ask.  According to MARRI’s publication “The Benefits of Religious Worship,” females who attend religious worship weekly are less likely than their peers to sexually debut as a teen, have a premarital pregnancy, or abort their first pregnancy. The Christian abstinence program “True Love Waits” produces similar effects for its participants.  The American Journal of Sociology’s article “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse” reports that, on average, pledging decreases the risk of sexual debut even for those in a dating relationship. 

Combining regular worship attendance with an always-intact family bolsters these effects.  As seen in diagrams here, hereand here, MARRI research verifies that teens attending weekly worship with an always-intact family are least likely to sexually debut as a teen or have a premarital pregnancy. 

Florida, you mentioned your hope “to design the state’s service offerings, including pamphlets and counseling,” based on the survey’s findings. How about offering marriage counseling to strengthen families?  What if your pamphlets included the benefits of an abstinence pledge? 

Well, I hope this letter has helped.  In case you find the survey a bit superfluous now, it is almost Christmas, and gift cards make great gifts.

Put Your Money Where Your Marriage Is

culture, human capital, marriage, mothers, poverty, religion, teen pregnancy No comments
Lindsay Smith, Intern

“16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Moms,” and countless other reality shows have popularized and perhaps even glamorized the lives of unmarried mothers in our society.   In addition, the trend of popular female celebrities becoming single mothers furthers the attention.  While Hollywood portrays this family structure as desirable and even empowering for women, the true hardships of single motherhood are not always given their just time in the spotlight.  Let me be clear, I applaud single and unwed mothers for choosing life for their babies, a valiant decision in a culture which all but hands them a “get out of motherhood free” card.  No, the solution to the plight of the single mother does not come from abortion, but rather from Marriage. 

The Houston Chronicle recently released an article titled Figures show struggle worsening for single mothers,” which shares the stories and struggles of several single moms straining to make ends meet.  According to the article, “41 percent of households headed by single women with children live in poverty – nearly triple the national poverty rate, according to 2010 census data.”  This percentage alone should seize our attention.  However, combine it with the fact that more than half of single mothers over age twenty rely on public assistance, and these statistics don’t softly whisper for concern.   They deafeningly cry for action – or should I say results.  Many in government have championed action through the years: job training, GED programs, welfare.  These actions seem to only create a treadmill – lots of movement but no upward mobility – and find many of their recipients in the same place year after year.  At the article’s conclusion, Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation summarizes it best: “The welfare state has been about picking up the pieces from non-marital births, and it’s not working. The reality is that you can’t create a substitute father.”
MARRI’s studies confirm Mr. Rector’s assertion.  An intact married family has the highest average income and net worth and experiences less poverty than other family types, all of which carries over to their children’s well-being.  On the reverse side, according to these studies, “A non-intact family background increases by over 50 percent a boy’s odds of ending up in the lowest socioeconomic level.”  Family structure has not only immediate effects but also intergenerational effects on a child’s economic status.  Females who grow up in an intact married family are far less likely to have a non-marital pregnancy than those who were raised in an always single-parent family.  In case anyone is tempted to think this only applies to single mothers, studies also show married men have a higher rate of employment than single men.   Let’s not forget that God’s design was to give Adam both a job and a helper, who was Eve.  Speaking of God’s design, learning about His plan for marriage and family appears to significantly affect this female demographic.  The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Survey reports that “urban mothers who attend church frequently are at least 70 percent more likely to be married when they give birth or to get married within one year of a nonmarital birth than are urban mothers who do not attend church frequently.”
As one of the moms in the Chronicle article poignantly expresses, “Sometimes I think I’m in a big hole and I can’t see the light, but then I know God is big and there’s something big for me.”  And she is right.  Perhaps we should all stop asking people what their temporary aid for single mothers would be, and remind ourselves of God’s unchanging, perfect (and big) plan for the family.

Failing Schools or Failing Families?

education, marriage, religion, social institutions No comments

By: Eileen Gallagher, Intern

On June 20 the Gallup Poll stated that only 29% of Americans have confidence in our public school system, a new low.
Meanwhile Pew Research Center reported that “In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are.”
These two facts appear to be unrelated, but last year The Heritage Foundation published an article on education which pointed out that “In 2009, white public school eighth-graders outscored their black classmates by one standard deviation (equivalent to roughly two and a half years of learning) on the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.”
Meanwhile, “according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, by the age of thirty nearly 81 percent of white women … will marry, but that only 52 percent of black women will marry by that age.”
Are these two facts also unrelated?
Confidence in public schools system is very low, and the marriage rate is also very low. African America students are, academically, far behind white students, and the African American marriage rate is very far behind the white marriage rate. The first rule of statistics is that correlation is not causation. While there may be a correlation between marriage rates and educational outcomes, it does not follow that one causes the other.
The family and the school are both institutions in society, and as such each has a specific role to play in the development of people in a society. Institutions are connected to one another, but each institution must fulfill its individual function for society as a whole to thrive.  The family is the most important institution because it is the first and the most natural. Children spend the first 5  years of their life participating mainly in that institution because all the others, such as education, government, the market, and even religion, have more of an impact later in life. Each family is responsible for the initial formation of a person, and if that formation does not take place, every other institution will struggle to fulfill its role in the formation of the same person. An analogy will make this more clear. Two sculptors are working on a statue. One is more capable of shaping the marble into the figure of a person, but the other sculptor is better at sculpting details. It is necessary for the first sculptor to shape the person well enough so that the second sculptor can begin where he left off. If the first does not shape the head of the statue, how can the second make a nose for the statue? In the same way, if the family does not lay the foundations well, the other institutions will have a very difficult, and perhaps impossible, task.
Social Science proves that an intact family structure is highly correlated with educational outcomes. The Marriage and Religion Research Institute found that children from intact families who worship weekly are more likely to receive a Bachelor’s Degree and to receive A’s in school.
The next Gallup Poll should assess confidence in the family. If families are doing well it is very likely that schools will start succeeding as well.

The Sex Secret You Won’t Find in Cosmo

abstinence, MARRI, marriage, religion, sexuality, women's health No comments

Betsy Huff, Intern
 
Pick up the latest issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (or any issue for that matter) and you are sure to find a cover story on the “hottest new sex secrets.”  In fact, the aim of the publication seems to be to aid women in finding the most possible fulfillment in their sexual experiences and encounters.  There is a shocking, but not so new (in fact some may say ancient) piece of information that may change the way you view religion and sex.  
In February of 1999, U.S.A Today ran a cover story entitled “Revenge of the Church Ladies,” by William R. Mattox Jr., which revealed that some of the most sexually satisfied women in the country are religious women. It is no divine revelation that premature sexual activity has devastating effects on young girls, but a study that reveals in objective terms that religious women experience more frequent sexual responsiveness might come as a surprise.  Gone is the notion of the prudish, Victorian-minded and sexually repressed church woman the Sexual Revolution worked so hard to release! 
The study cites four factors that may contribute to sexual fulfillment in religious women. Sexual inexperience and lack of baggage from past sexual involvements contributes to a satisfactory sex life within marriage. Similarly, this lack of a sexually licentious past is related to less sexual anxiety due to guilt or fear of consequences from sexual promiscuity. Logically, sexual anxiety is a factor that inhibits sexual satisfaction.  Also, marriage in itself creates an environment for human sexuality to flourish.  The commitment and fidelity created by this relational union allows a woman to “let go” and thus experience more sexual responsiveness.  Finally, for religious women sex is more than just a physical act to meet a sensory appetite. The physical act is also spiritual and emotional; it is symbolic of a transcendent truth that the two are really “one flesh.”  
This is just one of many examplesof social science research supporting the way God intended and commanded humans to live. Other examples include evidence from MARRI research that supports the idea of an intact family as the best environment in which to raise happy, healthy, and successful children.  Other social science researchsupports these same ideas. As Dr. Pat Fagan of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute says, “The social sciences, done well, illustrate the way God made man.”

Spirituality and Sexuality: Already on a Campus Near You

abstinence, Christianity, marriage, religion No comments
Julia Polese, Intern
In Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Religion and Romance on America’s College Campuses, Donna Freitas examinesthe interplay between spirituality and sexuality on seven different college campuses across the United States. After conducting hundreds of surveys and face-to-face interviews, she discovered that colleges divided into two categories: evangelical and “spiritual.” The spiritual schools – Catholic, private nonreligious, and public universities – were characterized by a dominant hookup culture and students who considered themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” She noted that while most of the students at these spiritual schools asked sincere questions about truth and a “Higher Power,” they did not believe these questions had anything to do with their sexuality. The evangelical schools presented a different picture. Most students assumed prima facie a picture of their sexuality inextricably linked to marriage and their faith. Their sexual choices were also spiritual (and religious) choices, and chastity was the overwhelming norm and ideal at evangelical colleges.
 
Some students interviewed realized that there must be something off about the hookup culture: many women reported feeling disappointed when a one-night stand did not turn into something more, some men wondered about the effects their choices would have when their decided that it was time to “be in love” and settle down. Freitas’ book is important because it reveals a significant season of habit-formation for many, if not most, young people today. MARRI’s research shows how important the interaction between religiosity and marriage is in sustaining an organized society. If a majority of college students spend four years divorcing questions of their sexuality’s effect on their souls, they form habits of compartmentalization that follow them for the rest of their lives. In Mapping America, MARRI shows how family structure and religious attendance positively affect myriad aspects of life. The integration of marriage and relationship choices and religion and spirituality is of utmost importance, and it is to college students’ detriment if they do not learn to do this in a real way in the most formative years of their lives.