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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/

The Demographics of How “Godly” Are Our Religious Beliefs?

Tags: , , , child well-being, culture, family, MARRI, marriage, Pat Fagan, Pew Research, religion, Uncategorized No comments

Pew’s new report is a landmark study in the sociology of religion, which “—sorts Americans into seven groups based on the religious and spiritual beliefs they share, how actively they practice their faith, the value they place on their religion, and the other sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.” [1]

What are the seven types or groups? And how many are in each group?

If you want to know where you land within the seven types, go here.  For a quick overview of the difference between the types on major outcomes go here.  Here is one comparison (frequency of worship:

Keep the following relationship in mind (from MARRI’s own Mapping America) as you study the Pew report on matters family and marriage:

The chart above gives some idea of the link between frequency of religious practice and the importance given to marriage.  I note this as a reference point to keep in mind as you study the details below.

What is the relationship between Pew’s seven types and the typical identification by denomination?

As I am Roman Catholic, naturally, I paid attention to how represented Roman Catholics are “Sunday Stalwarts” (13%).  [By the way it is very easy to misread this chart: it is not the percent of Roman Catholics who are Sunday Stalwarts but the percent of Sunday Stalwarts who are Roman Catholic).  But still, for Catholics it is a poor showing indeed, for a religion which puts so much emphasis on the Mass (as the act of Redemption, and the obligation of weekly worship of God by this means).  Compared to Evangelicals they are weak in worship, even if, by the nature of being an Evangelical, one self-selects into a devout group, whereas being Catholic has (in ordinary life) as much to so with what one was born into as it has to what you intend do about it.  The biggest showing for “Catholics” is among the Diversely Devout — a strange title for you if you are “Catholic” because devout usually means a high level of faithfulness but not in this case! However, for the Pew typology the Diversely part fits it fits by Catholic norms even as the Devout part fits by Pew Typology norms.  But Pew acknowledges the shortcomings of its “clustering” techniques.  Even given my concerns the data is very helpful. 

What is the relationship between the seven types and family behaviors?

As expected: There is a decrease in impact with a decrease in worship:

What is the relationship between marriage and the seven types?

Given that the next chart does not control for age it is not all that helpful.  The biggest issue in “marriage” is the intactness of the biological parents’ marriage between their mid-30’s and their early 50’s, that phase of family life when their marriage has the greatest influence on their children’s future. From the Pew data below,  we cannot tell. 

It would be nice to figure out where the 7 types tend to fall in the different strata of family structures below. (From the MARRI collection of 5 thousand charts on family structure from the 1940’s to the present).

The most disturbing finding:

For the future of our nation, the most disturbing finding for me is the following:

From this we see a disturbing polarization outside of the Sunday Stalwarts (who have some balance on the issue).  I would be among those who would say (with a major caveat) that it is not necessary to believe in God to have good values and to be moral. I have met many such people.  My caveat: it is much easier to be moral and have good values if one practices believes in God enough to worship him in community.   I don’t trust the ‘God and Country’ type nor the ‘Diversely Devout’ to build the bridges necessary for a functioning polis or political community, which at bottom is a discourse on political morality.  And clearly the remaining groups in the Typology see no contribution from religion to morality.  Now that is dangerous! The more the Sunday Stalwarts shrink as a percent of the nation, the more polarized and the fewer bridge builders we will have, leaving more and more of the country polarized.  Reason and philosophy will have no place in matters moral!

For the “wonks”: Notes on Motivation and Method from the Pew Report

“Pew Research Center’s religious typology is not meant to replace conventional religious affiliations, but rather to offer a new and complementary lens with which to glean new insights into religion and public life in the U.S.” [2]

“The typology groups were created using cluster analysis, a statistical technique that identified homogeneous groups of respondents based on their answers to 16 questions about their religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, the value they place on their religion, and the other sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.” [3]

“In some ways, cluster analysis is as much art as science. The groups that emerge will depend on both the number of groups that researchers specify and the questions that they choose to include in the analysis. What’s more, there is no “correct” cluster solution or any single criteria for deciding which solution is best. Researchers must weigh a number of factors: whether it’s clear why people are grouped together, whether the groups are different enough from each other to be analytically useful, and whether the groups are consistent with what researchers already know about the subject.” [4]

“In preparing this report, researchers tested several possible solutions – ranging from five to eight groups – and experimented with including larger and smaller numbers of questions.” [5]

“Researchers ultimately settled on the 16-question, seven-category cluster solution summarized in this report because it has several strengths. First, the solution divides respondents into a relatively small number of groups that are distinct from one another, large enough to permit statistical analysis, and substantively meaningful. Second, all the survey questions that went into the algorithm are measures of religious or spiritual characteristics, making this truly a religious typology.” [6] [1-6] From the Report.

Adult Religious Attendance by Adolescent Religious Attendance

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Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai provided the statistics for this chart.

Adults who frequently attended religious services as adolescents are more likely to attend religious services frequently as adults.

Description: According to the General Social Surveys (GSS), 59.3 percent of adults who worshiped at least monthly as adolescents now worship at least monthly as adults. In contrast, 36.1 percent of adults who worshiped less than monthly as adolescents now worship monthly or more frequently as adults.[1]

Related Insights from Other Studies

Several other studies both corroborate and contradict the direction of these findings. Marjorie Gunnoe of Calvin College and Kristin Moore of Child Trends reported that church attendance during childhood was a significant predictor of religiosity in young adulthood.[2]

Michael McCullough of the University of Miami and colleagues also found a correlation between religious upbringing and “religiousness in early to mid-adulthood.”[3]

Jeffrey Arnett of the University of Maryland and Lene Jensen of the Catholic University of America, however, found “little relationship between childhood religious socialization and religious beliefs in emerging adulthood.” They conclude, based on Arnett’s earlier research, that “young people view it as both their right and responsibility to form their beliefs and values independently of their parents.”[4]

Despite Arnett and Jensen’s findings, the GSS data seem to indicate that parental and family patterns of religious attendance in childhood have a significant correlation with adult practice.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] The statistics in this chart draw on data from the General Social Surveys, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 per year. No survey was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS was conducted only in even-numbered years, with two samples per survey, totaling approximately 3,000 respondents. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe and Kristin A. Moore, “Predictors of Religiosity among Youth Aged 17-22: A Longitudinal Study of the National Survey of Children,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41 (2002): 613-22.

[3] Michael E. McCullough, Jo-Ann Tsang, and Sharon Brion, “Personality Traits in Adolescence as Predictors of Religiousness in Early Adulthood: Findings from the Terman Longitudinal Study,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 29 (2003): 980-91.

[4] Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and Lene Arnett Jensen, “A Congregation of One: Individualized Religious Beliefs among Emerging Adults,” Journal of Adolescent Research 17 (2002): 451-67.

Adult Religious Attendance by Religious Attendance and Family Structure in Adolescence

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Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai provided the statistics for this chart.

Adults who attended religious services at least monthly as adolescents and grew up in an intact family are significantly more likely to attend religious services monthly or more frequently as adults than are those who attended less frequently and whose family of origin was non-intact.

Additionally, those who attended religious services at least monthly as adolescents were substantially more likely to attend religious services as adults, regardless of whether they came from an intact or non-intact family. In other words, with regard to adult religious worship, frequent worship in adolescence significantly mitigates the negative effects of growing up in a non-intact family.

Description: According to the General Social Surveys (GSS),

60 percent of adults who grew up attending religious services at least monthly and lived in an intact family (i.e., lived with two biological parents) attend religious services once a month or more as adults;
49 percent of adults who grew up in a non-intact family but attended religious services at least monthly also attend religious services at least monthly as adults;
37 percent of adults who lived in a non-intact family and attended religious services less than monthly attend religious services at least monthly as adults;
35 percent of adults who grew up in an intact family but worshiped less than monthly as adolescents attend religious services at least monthly as adults.[1]

Related Insights from Other Studies

Several other studies add insight to these findings. Scott Myers of the Pennsylvania State University reported that “parents’ religiosity is the primary influence on the religiosity of their adult offspring” and that adults “raised in households characterized by high marital happiness and with both biological parents present are more likely to resemble their parents in religious beliefs.”[2]

Darren Sherkat of Vanderbilt University also found that childhood religious participation along with strong parental religious participation helps sustain religious adherence in adults and counteracts secularizing influences.[3]

As the evidence shows, children who grow up in intact families that attend religious services frequently are more likely to worship frequently as adults.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] The statistics in this chart draw on data from the General Social Surveys, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 per year. No survey was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS was conducted only in even-numbered years, with two samples per survey, totaling approximately 3,000 respondents. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Scott M. Myers, “An Interactive Model of Religiosity Inheritance: The Importance of Family Context,” American Sociological Review 61 (1996): 858-66.

[3] Darren E. Sherkat, “Counterculture or Continuity? Competing Influences on Baby Boomers’ Religious Orientations and Participation,” Social Forces 76 (1998): 1087-1115.

Adult Religious Attendance by Family Structure in Adolescence

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Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai provided the statistics for this chart.

Adults who grew up in an intact family during adolescence are more likely to attend religious services at least monthly than are those who did not.

Description: According to the General Social Surveys (GSS), 52 percent of adults who grew up in an intact family as adolescents (i.e., lived with both biological parents) now attend religious services at least monthly, compared to 42 percent of adults who grew up in a non-intact family.[1]

Related Insights from Other Studies

Though little additional research has correlated family structure in adolescence with adult religious attendance, several other studies indicate the value of family structure in transferring religious beliefs and practices from one generation to the next. Scott Myers of the Pennsylvania State University reported that adults “raised in households characterized by high marital happiness and with both biological parents present are more likely to resemble their parents in religious beliefs.”[2]

Reed Larson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleagues also found that children whose parents had divorced spent less time in religious activities in the three years following the divorce.[3]

As these available data indicate, adolescent family structure has a significant effect on religious practice, both in adolescence and adulthood.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] The statistics in this chart draw on data from the General Social Surveys, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 per year. No survey was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS was conducted only in even-numbered years, with two samples per survey, totaling approximately 3,000 respondents. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Scott M. Myers, “An Interactive Model of Religiosity Inheritance: The Importance of Family Context,” American Sociological Review 61 (1996): 858-66.

[3] Reed Larson, Jodi Dworkin, and Sally Gillman, “Facilitating Adolescents’ Constructive Use of Time in One-Parent Families,” Applied Developmental Science 5 (2001): 143-57.

“Heavy Drinking” by Current Religious Attendance and Number of Extramarital Sexual Partners

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Heavy drinking, multiple sexual partners and avoidance of worship tend to go together: the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youthshows that adults who have had no extramarital sexual partners in the previous year and currently worship at least weekly are less likely to be heavy drinkers.

Number of extramarital sexual partners: Only 9 percent of adults who have no extramarital sexual partners (are chaste) were heavy drinkers, compared with 17 percent of adults who have one extramarital sexual partner. These adults are followed by 21 percent of adults who have 2 extramarital sexual partners, 31 percent who have three extramarital sexual partners, and 41 percent of adults who have four or more extramarital sexual partners.

Current religious attendance: Only 9 percent of adults who attend weekly religious services are heavy drinkers, compared with 19 percent of adults who attend church at least monthly. Among adults who attend church less than once a month, 25 percent are heavy drinkers, followed by adults who have no religious attendance (26 percent).

Current religious attendance and number of extramarital sexual partners combined: Only 4 percent of chaste adults who worship weekly were heavy drinkers, followed by 14 percent of individuals who never attend church, but have no extramarital sexual partners. Thirty-two percent of adults who attend church but are promiscuous are heavy drinkers, followed by adults who are not chaste and who never attend church (44 percent).

Related Insight from Other Studies
Other studies show relationships between sexual activity and drinking. A 1990 random digit-dial telephone survey done of 16- to 19-year-olds in Massachusetts found that 64 percent of teenagers who reported having sexual intercourse did so after drinking and 15 percent did so after other drug use. Forty-nine percent of teenagers were more likely to have sex if they and their partner had been drinking.[1]

Additionally, another study found that drinking at an early age was associated with alcohol and sexual risks through mid-adolescence; early drinkers were more likely to report later alcohol problems, as well as multiple sexual partners and being drunk or high during sexual intercourse. Among females, early drinking was also related to sexual initiation and recent sexual intercourse.[2]

Religious practice also affects alcohol use. One study found that among college students those, who were from “Gentile” religious traditions (as opposed to “Jewish” religious traditions), those who were not strongly attached to a particular faith, and those who had parents who were alcohol abusers were more likely to abuse alcohol. This same study found that parental religious affiliation influenced the alcohol choices made by their children, with greater parental religiosity leading to less alcohol abuse by the children.[3] Another study of college students also found that students with no religious affiliation drank significantly more and more frequently, got drunk more, drank more for celebration purposes, and had greater perceived drinking norms.[4]

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. and Scott Talkington, Ph.D.

Pat Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at Family Research Council.

Scott Talkington has been Research Director for the National Association of Scholars and Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University School of Public Policy since 1998.

[1]Lee Strunin and Ralph Hingson, “Alcohol, Drugs, and Adolescent Sexual Behavior,” Substance Use & Misuse 27, no. 2 (1992): 129-146.

[2] Ann Stueve and Lydia N. O’Donnell, “Early Alcohol Initiation and Subsequent Sexual and Alcohol Risk Behaviors Among Urban Youths,” American Journal of Public Health 95, no. 5 (May 2005): 887-893.

[3] H. Wesley Perkins, “Parental Religion and Alcohol Use Problems as Intergenerational Predictors of Problem Drinking among College Youth,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 26, no. 3 (September 1987): 340-357.

[4]Julie A. Patock-Peckham, Geoffrey T. Hutchinson, Jeewon Cheong, and Craig T. Nagoshi, Effect of religion and religiosity on alcohol use in a college student sample, Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence 49, no. 2 (January 1998): 81ý”88.