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Tag Divorce

Tag Divorce

When “Sacred and Sexual” Are a Toxic Mix

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In my thirty years of dealing with data on marriage and worship I have never come across anything like what I discuss today:  the interface between worship and sexuality for teenage boys and girls whose parents have divorced or remarried.  On all other outcomes measured,  the more people worship, the greater their benefits and the lower their deficits, but not here.

For a teenage boy, the removal of his father from his home through divorce, has volcanic effects on his relationships with girls if he worships God weekly.  For a girl it is not so much the removal of her father that has the worst effect on her  but the replacement of her father by another man if she worships God weekly.  These two related upheavals viciously subvert the effects of their worship of God, because the more they worship God, the more they violate Him — by violating others — in that dimension at  the heart of life, the sexual.  No wonder God really hates divorce.[1]

From the US federal data system, (the largest national data system in the world) we know that those who worship God weekly do best on every outcome, and those who worship Him least (“couple of times a year” or “never” ) do worst on all outcomes.  This holds for both adults and for children and therefore for the population in general.

You can view a sampler of the Mapping America results, or the whole demographic collection, but for brevity sake a few examples of the general pattern of effects follow.  That pattern is  invariable: the worship of God is  correlated with good effects while  decreasing worship correlates with bad effects.

But for the hapless teenage sons and daughters of divorced or remarried parents life is different.  (Hapless in that they had no control over what the “fleeing or expelling” parent did and are the passive recipients of the experience of divorce handed them by a parent or both parents.) 

For boys here is the chart from Add Health Wave II, using the largest sample of teenagers  of any federal survey (14,738 sample size).   When the full sample is looked at from the major categories of worship and family structure the results follow the normal pattern:

However, with boys who worship weekly in father-absent divorced families we get the very opposite:

The more they worship God the more they sexually violate girls.   For girls who worship weekly, it is not divorce, but remarriage that looms large in violations:

Comparing boys and girls side by highlights the disturbed psyches of male and female teenagers:

The “sexual intercourse with the opposite sex” is much greater for boys than for girls.  The effects of these trysts are powerful: their future marriages are much more likely to break up within five years, as the following chart shows:

Nowhere in the social sciences have I seen outcomes like these.  In this sole instance, the most frequent worship of God is correlated with an increase in a serious evil by Christian standards, keeping in mind that the majority of these weekly worshipping teenagers being Christian. 

 Had all these teenagers been granted their fundamental human right — to the marriage of their biological parents[1] — the violation of girls would be  much less.  The loss of chastity for girls would have been enormously reduced just by the normal human strengths that are conferred (socially constructed in today’s parlance) when the local community is composed of intact families that worship God weekly. From the chart immediately above it is reasonable to conclude that for from intact marriages where the family worships weekly, trysts above the red line would likely not have happened.  And with only one sexual partner (the average in this data for those in intact marriage families that worship God weekly), should they have gone on to marry each other (not uncommon in the 1950’s and earlier) their marriages would most likely have endured – because they would have been monogamous! 

Combining the two charts immediately above, we get some idea of the intergenerational impact of divorce on society, through its impact on the sexual behavior of the boys and girls affected.  Furthermore, the damage is intergenerational. It goes on and one.  The grandchildren of the divorced parents are much more likely to be subjected to the same experience over and over…though by then many families will have stopped worshipping God (divorce dumbs down the rate and type of worship that the family engages in[2]).   Given present family structures (see chart immediately below[3]), it is no wonder we live in a era of sexual chaos.  And it is not the teenagers’ fault.

What is it about divorce that seems to make the worship of God toxic? From myriad studies we know that the father’s role is paramount in the formation of sexual integrity in his sons and daughters.  But when he takes his sexuality outside the marriage, and especially when it is disrupts altogether through divorce  “all hell breaks loose” in the sexual core of his children. Surprisingly, the more frequently they worship God the greater that “hell” is.

A Freudian perspective helps makes sense. Though the boy may not be aware of it,  tension mounts within him when he goes to worship God the Father while his earthly father has abandoned him.  He seeks release by copying his earthly  father: leaving one woman to bed the next —  again and again. The more he comes to God his Father, the more women he will bed. Where else in human behavior does the keeping of one commandment increase the breaking of another?  What evil dynamic is in play?  Anger at God turned into exploitation of women?  Insights into that dark world fail me here.

The toxic mix of the father’s (or mother’s) shattering of marriage — the most sacred and sexual of earthly covenants— on his children, coupled with his children’s weekly journey to God the Father, yields a witches brew.   There is a real need to solve this mystery — depth psychologists working closely with pastors who have a special heart for these wounded teenage boys and girls.

[1] Malachi 2:16 

[2] See Fagan, P and Suanders, W:  The Universal, Inalienable Right of the Child to the Marriage of His Biological Parents,  BYU Journal of Public Law, Vol 32, Issue #2, 2018.  (Just released, not yet available online.  Online journal site:  https://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/jpl/all_issues.html)

[3] See Fagan, P.  and Rector, R  “The Effects of Divorce on America”, (2004), The Heritage Foundation (summary).  Full article available at   https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/fagan-divorce.htm

[4] You can derive this chart and 5,000 other charts  by using the tool box / dashboard at http://marri.us/decomp-family/

Family Disruption and Child Wellbeing

Tags: , , , , child well-being, children, depression, divorce, family, intact family, MARRI, marriage, Pat Fagan, social policy, youth No comments

The most comprehensive overview of the effects of divorce on children until then was a 2012 synthesis paper I wrote with Aaron Churchill. For this blog I composed a short review of the more recent literature on divorce using the National Institute of Health’s Library and database. The simplified results confirm and extend the findings of the 2012 paper:

Parental disruption of the family leads to increased levels and diverse forms of depression (very noticeably in China) and anxiety, earlier death and serious illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, increased rates of cancer and stroke, and other somatic symptoms, such as atopic dermatitis. Ironically, the divorce of parents also decreases the likelihood of taking the medicine needed to treat personal illness and increases additional poor health behaviors (smoking, alcohol use [including early drinking], and unhealthy eating [obesity]). These effects, especially depression, persist into adulthood for offspring of divorced parents. For children who are already depressed (linked likely to family unhappiness) depression deepens with the divorce of parents and episodes of serious depression become more frequent and sometimes morph into bipolar depression.

When parents divorce, a child’s world is shattered. For some children it is a slow disintegration. For others it is cataclysmic in its suddenness.  The depth of the wounds is much the same, though the variety of wounds is myriad and, though patterns abound, each wound is unique and idiosyncratic in its effects on the mind, heart and soul of each child, even when a grown adult.

With divorce, the very center of the child’s universe has imploded. Yes, the child has to pick up the pieces and get on with life,  but they are pieces, a poor substitute for a wonderful whole. If the marriage of parents is the rich soil in which children thrive, then divorce leads them to a perpetual depletion diet.  The rich nutrition of love and unity is bleached out of their food. Different events — a visit to a friend’s home, a scene in a movie, a line in a song — reminds them all the time that they no longer eat steak every day but rather a thinner soup that they just have to get used to. No matter how much divorced parents try they cannot deny their rejection of each other, nor the wounds that rejection causes: They have made their child’s universe crooked. Granted in many cases it is one parent who did the shattering.  Given the effects on his or her children such a person has become evil by doing so great an evil. Hard words?  Just read the effects above in the italicized paragraph again (and they are only partial; for the full list read the full paper).

As laws have shifted away from protecting citizens from harm, by forbidding evils and punishing wrongs, legislators have turned instead to “policy making”. This shift really took off with the sexual revolution and the divorce revolution. The more they aided and abetted the storm (passing no-fault divorce laws), the more effort they have to put into minimizing the damage: This is much of “social policy.”

It is disheartening to read research articles on the effects of divorce on children. The vast majority of studies encourage social policy to reduce the damage done to children by divorce.  Virtually nowhere is there a push for efforts to save couples from divorce, to rebuilding broken marriages or even (especially) those on the rocks. The mantra instead is one of conflict reduction… It is better that the children live in a home with less turmoil.  No one talks of a rebuilt home, a rebuilt marriage.

I know a man who is one of the great healers of “bad marriages”.  He may be  the greatest.  At one time he was working in a family court (a divorce court) in a large Mid-Western city. After he had demonstrated his skill by resolving  some awful relationships the judges gave him access to those waiting for their day in the divorce court. Soon, about half the divorce-seeking couples were going away HAPPILY reconciled. But that cut into the incomes of their divorce lawyers. In response, the divorce lawyers’ lobby got rid of him by having the legislature threaten to significantly cut the family-court’s budget. There is a special place in hell for the lawyers who pulled that off, and also for those behind the no-fault divorce revolution (read Jane Anderson’s 2014 on the effects of divorce if you think that too strong).

Next week I will delve into the effects (visible in the Add Health data) of divorce on boys. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the social science literature: The divorce of parents plus the worship of God turns boys into sexual predators.  

After this delving into the dark side, I feel like a good shower and a good drink, or something even better to revive the heart.