For college presidents and their students, decadence is the societal context in which the grand task of education now takes place:
- a widespread disregard of traditional sexual moral teachings,
- a falloff in marriage,
- an exodus from the churches,
- a rise in cohabitation
- 50% of first births out of wedlock,
- a million abortions a year,
- universal cohabitation before marriages,
- epidemics of STDs,
- sex trafficking,
- homosexual ‘marriages’ and LGBTQ.
As always on matters sexual the stakes are extraordinarily high: choices made today shape adult and children’s lives forever and change their communities. The passions in play, lust and anger, are very powerful. Given these conditions what is a good college leader to do? How to tackle the issues of chastity and marriage?
- First, lay the groundwork (see below) on the relationship between freedom and the Commandments and the thriving of their students over a lifetime.
- Second, establish the relationship between mastery of one’s sexual capacities and the greatness of the institution of marriage (the sexual in its fullest expression) — all in the service of the children they will bring into existence.
A major purpose of an education is to cultivate the long view of life. The dean of a business school has a relatively easy time getting a business student to see himself as the head of a thriving business 20 years from now. The college president has a much more daunting task in helping students envision their personal lives 15 and 20 ahead: their future family and how their choices on sex and marriage will help or harm their children as nothing else will. These children will embody the choices they make. The greater the president the more compelling he will make his case.
Freedom and the Ten Commandments
When college presidents speak, they teach and the loftier the issue, the more inevitable the moment of confronting or dodging the issue of God. Assuming they are rational they will, at minimum, permit that everything in creation comes from God and is good and positive. Soon enough this leads to the question of why God chooses to be so negative in most of His Commandments?
Pope John Paul II’s answer applies. He describes the commandments as a behavioral floor below which we may not go, because below this floor we yield our freedom, and, as it were, put ourselves in prison. We harm others when we break the commandments, but we harm ourselves even more by corrupting ourselves. Any analysis of history, ancient or recent, shows that going ‘below the floor’ leads to disaster: lying, cheating, stealing, rape, murder, affairs, backbiting, betrayals, overindulgence and addictions, the passions unbridled (lust, anger, envy, overindulgence, laziness, conformity).
Above the floor, by contrast, lies the wide-open space we are made for, freedom the way the Creator ordained it, with the right and capacity to do any good within our reach. Above the floor every individual, every couple, every family, community and nation thrive. Long term flourishing is found only there. It does not take religious faith to see that, just honesty.
The simple image below applies to students at Harvard as much as to students at any community college. It summarizes the dynamics of the floor of the forbidden vs the open sky of the positive available to us.
Sex within the Commandments
Even non-Christians will agree that Christ began a sexual revolution. He changed the “Old Law” and forbade divorce; He raised the bar on adultery by pointing out that a man commits adultery in his heart by looking at a woman lustfully. Every man knows what He meant, and every wife or girlfriend, betrayed by the way her man looks at another woman, knows it too — all women know it, across all cultures, all religions and no religion. It became a universal once it was made authoritatively clear by Christ.
As Christianity spread His family-sexual revolution spread — unnoticed because it was not Christianity’s goal but its fruit. And Western civilization thrived on it, and now wilts in retreat.
To slip ‘below the floor’, though easy, if not quickly reversed, leads to immense and intense suffering for all involved, and spreading, wrecks the local community. Sex is extraordinarily powerful above or below ‘the floor’, for good or for ill.
The data of the social sciences continuously illustrate (and cannot but illustrate) the way God made man and how he thrives. Thriving demands a minimal greatness in the relationships between men and women on matters sexual.
Confidence in God
For young believers at college, as they figure out how to thrive in a decadent society, the issue is likely one of not yet trusting God and His commandments on matters sexual: many suspect that everything related to sex is better and easier and more enjoyable outside God’s way. Their conclusions will depend on whether they (and their teachers) take the long or the short view. Most older folks who have ‘seen it all’ and have their own long-term view, are more likely to agree that Christ’s sexual revolution enables human thriving.
Back to Harvard and the social sciences. The data continuously support the case for confidence in God’s way. For instance, college students should hear that the data repeatedly illustrate that those who were virginal at marriage and who worship God weekly enjoy the sexual intercourse the most. Furthermore, those who have the self-mastery to practice natural family planning have superior outcomes in intercourse, communications in marriage and in success in raising their children. These data are little known (most social scientists are embarrassed by them) yet, if God’s way is best, they are most appropriate. But to accept them you need the long-term view.
For the good of the child, the future of society.
Patrick F Fagan, Ph.D.
President, Marriage and Religion Research Institute
February 14 (Valentine’s Day), 2020 ©