Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Mary Eberstadt: why Christians should promote policies that strengthen marriage

Here’s an interesting post about a new book by Mary Eberstadt. The post is written by historian Benjamin Wiker.

Excerpt:

As the West has become increasingly secularized, the loss of faith has coincided with the destruction of the natural family. The sexual revolution, higher and higher rates of divorce, cohabitation, same-sex marriage—all have combined to make life-long man-woman marital unions an increasing rarity.

Clearly, the rejection of God has led to a rejection, or radical redefinition, of the family.

But in her How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt bids her readers to look at things from the other end as well. The “decline of the natural family” in the West is not only the effect of the loss of faith, but the cause as well: “the ongoing deterioration of the natural family has both accompanied and accelerated the deterioration in the West of Christian belief.”

Briefly put, “family decline…helps to power religious decline.”

One affects the other because the two go together, argues Eberstadt, like the spiral ladder of the double helix. The fortunes of family and faith correlate, and causation goes both ways. Across the board, regardless of social status or income, the religious tend to have more children than the secular-minded. And the more children a couple has, the more likely they are to go to church.

But that means, of course, that those who are most secular are least likely to have children, and those who are unmarried and/or have no children are least likely to be religious.

That correlation explains the precipitous decline in the birth rate for the most secularized countries of Europe, but allows us to see it in a new light. It is not just that secularization has led to plummeting birth rates in Europe. Europe’s demographic collapse is actually speeding up its secularization.

This is not a correlation that exists only in recent history. The French Revolution gave the West the first self-consciously secular government at the end of the 1700s, and one of its first revolutionary acts was to liberalize its marriage laws. But what people may not realize, was that France was the first country in Europe to experience a decline in fertility rates within marriage, and an increase in cohabitation and illegitimacy, decades before the French Revolution. In the early 1700s, over a half century before the Revolution, illegitimacy was only at 1%, but by the storming of the Bastille, which ushered in the Revolution, France’s illegitimacy rate had climbed to 20% overall, with a 30% rate in the boiling pot of Paris. The French Revolution’s successful attack on Christianity, and the consequent secularization of France, was, in part, the result of the prior erosion of the family.

We see the same pattern in the UK, argues Eberstadt. “In Britain…the decline in births started a century later [than in France] at the very height of Victorian England,…Bit by bit…the same family trends already established in France—fewer births, more divorces, more out-of-wedlock births—also began reshaping the world of Britain. By our own time, over half of all children in Britain are born to unmarried people, and the fertility rate stands at 1.91 children per woman.” Not surprisingly, Britain’s churches are, like those of France, largely empty.

In the Scandinavian countries, like Sweden, where marriage rates are lowest, and divorce, cohabitation, and single-family households, and out-of-wedlock births are the highest, we find the greatest degree of secularization.

The obvious lesson we must draw, says Eberstadt, is “Vibrant families and vibrant religion go hand in hand.”

America is no exception. On the positive side, the baby boom after World War II brought with it a kind of “boom” in religious practice in the US.

But the negative side of the correlation between family and faith is now more evident. Eberstadt quotes the findings of sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, “The recent history of American religion illuminates what amounts to a sociological law: The fortunes of American religion rise with the fortunes of the intact, married family.”

Now here’s the part that I think is interesting. When you walk into a church, you will find very little, if any, education about the kinds of policies that cause marriages to actually not happen or actually break up.  The trouble is that most pastors are so focused on reading the Bible, and only the Bible, that they have no idea what sorts of policies and incentives cause people to not marry or to not stay married. In order to know that, they would have to be reading outside the Bible, in the scientific literature, and then communicating that knowledge to their flocks to get them to make better decisions and to vote more intelligently.

I think that we need to read more widely in order to know how to reach our goals (promoting marriage, in this case) in a practical way. What can we say to people to show them how to get to marriage? What decisions should they be making now, in order to be ready for marriage later? What policies should we be supporting to nudge people towards marriage? What policies should we be against that make it easier for people to dispense with marriage?

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

Should government get out of the marriage business?

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dina sent me three articles by Jennifer Roback Morse, post on The Public Discourse. The articles answer the charge from social liberals and libertarians that we should “get the government out of marriage”.

Here’s the first article which talks about how government will still be involved in marriage, even if we get rid of the traditional definition of marriage, because of the need for dispute resolution in private marriage contracts. She uses no-fault divorce as an example showing how it was sold as a way to get government out of the divorce business. But by making divorce easier by making it require no reason, it increased the number of disputes and the need for more government to resolve these disputes.

Here’s the second article which talks about how the government will have to expand to resolve conflicts over decisions about who counts as a parent and who gets parental rights. With traditional marriage, identifying who the parents are is easy. But with private marriage contracts where the parties are not the biological parents, there is a need for the state to step in and assign parental rights.

Here’s the third article which talks about how marriage is necessary in order to defend the needs and rights of the child at a time when they cannot enter into contracts and be parties to legal disputes.

The third article was my favorite, so here is an excerpt from it:

The fact of childhood dependence raises a whole series of questions. How do we get from a position of helpless dependence and complete self-centeredness, to a position of independence and respect for others? Are our views of the child somehow related to the foundations of a free society? And, to ask a question that may sound like heresy to libertarian ears: Do the needs of children place legitimate demands and limitations on the behavior of adults?

I came to the conclusion that a free society needs adults who can control themselves, and who have consciences. A free society needs people who can use their freedom, without bothering other people too much. We need to respect the rights of others, keep our promises, and restrain ourselves from taking advantage of others.

We learn to do these things inside the family, by being in a relationship with our parents. We can see this by looking at attachment- disordered children and failure-to-thrive children from orphanages and foster care. These children have their material needs met, for food, clothing, and medical care. But they are not held, or loved, or looked at. They simply do not develop properly, without mothers and fathers taking personal care of them. Some of them never develop consciences. But a child without a conscience becomes a real problem: this is exactly the type of child who does whatever he can get away with. A free society can’t handle very many people like that, and still function.

In other words I asked, “Do the needs of society place constraints on how we treat children?” But even this analysis still views the child from society’s perspective. It is about time we look at it from the child’s point of view, and ask a different kind of question. What is owed to the child?

Children are entitled to a relationship with both of their parents. They are entitled to know who they are and where they came from. Therefore children have a legitimate interest in the stability of their parents’ union, since that is ordinarily how kids have relationships with both parents. If Mom and Dad are quarreling, or if they live on opposite sides of the country, the child’s connection with one or both of them is seriously impaired.

But children cannot defend their rights themselves. Nor is it adequate to intervene after the fact, after harm already has been done. Children’s relational and identity rights must be protected proactively.

Marriage is society’s institutional structure for protecting these legitimate rights and interests of children.

I recommend taking a look at all three articles and becoming familiar with the arguments in case you have to explain why marriage matters and why we should not change it. I think it is important to read these articles and to be clear that to be a libertarian doctrine does not protect the right of a child to have a relationship with both his or her parents.  Nor does libertarianism promote the idea that parents ought to stick together for their children.

The purpose of marriage is to make adults make careful commitments, and restrain their desires and feelings, so that children will have a stable environment with their biological parents. We do make exceptions, but we should not celebrate exceptions and we should not subsidize exceptions. It’s not fair to children to have to grow up without a mother or father just so that they adults can make poor, emotional decisions and have fun.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: children of divorce are more likely to be violent, take drugs and have underage sex

Dina tweeted this post from the UK Daily Mail. Let’s take a look at the findings, and then I’ll comment on it below.

Excerpt:

Children who encounter family break-up are far more likely to be violent, unhappy and feel unfulfilled throughout their lives, according to an NHS study.

Researchers found that the turmoil endured by youngsters has a crucial influence on nearly every facet of their later life.

A cross-section of 1,500 people were asked if they had faced a range of 11 circumstances, known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), covering abuse, family break-up, being raised with domestic violence and drink or drug addiction.

Coupled with details of their current lives, the research revealed the legacy of broken homes appears to weigh more heavily than any other factor, as among the worst affected group – those with four or more ACEs – two thirds had seen their parents go their separate ways, compared with an average of 24 per cent.

The chances of suffering a difficult childhood leapt for those born after 1971, when the law changed to make divorce easier. This generation was found to be significantly more likely to smoke, drink heavily, take drugs, fight, be mentally ill and have sex underage.

Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust, a campaign group which researches the causes and consequences of family breakdown, said: ‘Casting aside traditional patterns of family life carries a high price tag in terms of the health, education and employment prospects of the next generation.

‘The relaxation of divorce laws  – along with the increasing proportion of births outside marriage – has resulted in a growing number of children lacking the benefit of being raised by both their natural parents in a stable unit.’

The report – a joint venture between Liverpool John Moores University and the NHS – found that 47 per cent of those questioned had been on the end of at least one bad childhood experience, and that adult life became tougher with each one added.

It revealed that those with four or more ACEs were – compared to someone with none – twice as likely to have had sex underage, eat next to no fruit and vegetables, have no qualifications, break a bone or have an extended stay in hospital.

So the first thing to note about this article is that it is good because it identifies a factor that causes divorce to be more frequent. That factor is no-fault divorce laws. These laws are supported by egalitarian feminists and by trial lawyer associations – both liberal constituencies. So, the article is indirectly identifying a solution to the problem. Roll back no-fault divorce laws, and you’ll have fewer divorces. People will think more carefully about who they marry. People will think more carefully about preparing for marriage.

So who opposes the repeal of no-fault divorce laws? Well… the same people who passed no-fault divorce laws in the first place – feminists and trial lawyers. So it’s very important that we understand that the solution to the epidemic of divorce is not to turn to men and blame men. The solution is to repeal no-fault divorce laws that make it easy and profitable for one party in a marriage (the woman, in 70% of cases) to initiate unilateral divorce.  If the problem is divorce, then the solution is making divorce unprofitable from the spouses. We should also stop giving assistance to single women who have children, because that is another incentive to women to dispense with their husbands as providers and leaders in the home. Let’s face it. Single mother welfare is an incentive for women to kick men out of the home. They are paid if they do it, and not paid if they don’t. So again, the solution to divorce is not “man up”, it’s stop paying women who divorce their husbands. Leave it to private charities and churches to help those women.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mary Eberstadt: why Christians should promote policies that strengthen marriage

Here’s an interesting post about a new book by Mary Eberstadt. The post is written by historian Benjamin Wiker.

Excerpt:

As the West has become increasingly secularized, the loss of faith has coincided with the destruction of the natural family. The sexual revolution, higher and higher rates of divorce, cohabitation, same-sex marriage—all have combined to make life-long man-woman marital unions an increasing rarity.

Clearly, the rejection of God has led to a rejection, or radical redefinition, of the family.

But in her How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt bids her readers to look at things from the other end as well. The “decline of the natural family” in the West is not only the effect of the loss of faith, but the cause as well: “the ongoing deterioration of the natural family has both accompanied and accelerated the deterioration in the West of Christian belief.”

Briefly put, “family decline…helps to power religious decline.”

One affects the other because the two go together, argues Eberstadt, like the spiral ladder of the double helix. The fortunes of family and faith correlate, and causation goes both ways. Across the board, regardless of social status or income, the religious tend to have more children than the secular-minded. And the more children a couple has, the more likely they are to go to church.

But that means, of course, that those who are most secular are least likely to have children, and those who are unmarried and/or have no children are least likely to be religious.

That correlation explains the precipitous decline in the birth rate for the most secularized countries of Europe, but allows us to see it in a new light. It is not just that secularization has led to plummeting birth rates in Europe. Europe’s demographic collapse is actually speeding up its secularization.

This is not a correlation that exists only in recent history. The French Revolution gave the West the first self-consciously secular government at the end of the 1700s, and one of its first revolutionary acts was to liberalize its marriage laws. But what people may not realize, was that France was the first country in Europe to experience a decline in fertility rates within marriage, and an increase in cohabitation and illegitimacy, decades before the French Revolution. In the early 1700s, over a half century before the Revolution, illegitimacy was only at 1%, but by the storming of the Bastille, which ushered in the Revolution, France’s illegitimacy rate had climbed to 20% overall, with a 30% rate in the boiling pot of Paris. The French Revolution’s successful attack on Christianity, and the consequent secularization of France, was, in part, the result of the prior erosion of the family.

We see the same pattern in the UK, argues Eberstadt. “In Britain…the decline in births started a century later [than in France] at the very height of Victorian England,…Bit by bit…the same family trends already established in France—fewer births, more divorces, more out-of-wedlock births—also began reshaping the world of Britain. By our own time, over half of all children in Britain are born to unmarried people, and the fertility rate stands at 1.91 children per woman.” Not surprisingly, Britain’s churches are, like those of France, largely empty.

In the Scandinavian countries, like Sweden, where marriage rates are lowest, and divorce, cohabitation, and single-family households, and out-of-wedlock births are the highest, we find the greatest degree of secularization.

The obvious lesson we must draw, says Eberstadt, is “Vibrant families and vibrant religion go hand in hand.”

America is no exception. On the positive side, the baby boom after World War II brought with it a kind of “boom” in religious practice in the US.

But the negative side of the correlation between family and faith is now more evident. Eberstadt quotes the findings of sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, “The recent history of American religion illuminates what amounts to a sociological law: The fortunes of American religion rise with the fortunes of the intact, married family.”

Now here’s the part that I think is interesting. When you walk into a church, you will find very little, if any, education about the kinds of policies that cause marriages to actually not happen or actually break up.  The trouble is that most pastors are so focused on reading the Bible, and only the Bible, that they have no idea what sorts of policies and incentives cause people to not marry or to not stay married. In order to know that, they would have to be reading outside the Bible, in the scientific literature, and then communicating that knowledge to their flocks to get them to make better decisions and to vote more intelligently.

I think that we need to read more widely in order to know how to reach our goals (promoting marriage, in this case) in a practical way. What can we say to people to show them how to get to marriage? What decisions should they be making now, in order to be ready for marriage later? What policies should we be supporting to nudge people towards marriage? What policies should we be against that make it easier for people to dispense with marriage?

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

Mark Regnerus: will same-sex marriage hurt the institution of marriage?

From the Public Discourse.

Introduction:

Lots of changes in marriage have, and will continue to, come about. What should we expect next? That’s the question Liza Mundy pursues in her cover story in this month’s Atlantic Monthly. “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss” explores the ways in which same-sex marriages may very well school those of us who have already entered—or someday will enter—the hallowed and embattled institution. Mundy is confident that such unions “could help haul matrimony more fully into the 21st century,” and that real influence is possible. This is in stark contrast to the politically tailored message that same-sex marriage will change nothing.

“What if same-sex marriage does change marriage, but primarily for the better,” she wonders aloud. How would this work? By giving us “another image of what marriage can be,” she asserts. What sort of image? According to Mundy, it’s the cardinal virtue of equality, or egalitarianism. Sameness and fairness.

Before we prematurely declare this image worth mirroring, consider for a few moments the side effects Mundy identifies on the way to the egalitarian utopia she praises. Three in particular stand out.

He continues by going over the three issues, but this one is the one that everyone needs to know:

Mundy first explores the instability—or “dynamism,” if you’re an optimist—of lesbian relationships. Don’t want a divorce, Mundy asks? “Don’t marry a woman,” she warns. University of British Columbia economist Marina Adshade concurs. The author of a new book—Dollars and Sex—on the fascinating economics of relationships, Adshade notes the dismal science around breaking up in Britain, where “62% of civil union dissolutions (i.e., divorces) in the UK are between women despite the fact that lesbian relationships only represent 44 percent of civil partnerships in that country.” The greater instability, she reasons, is simply about gender differences in relationship preferences, and nothing more. I tend to agree.

The elevated breakup rate among lesbian couples has been an open secret for a long while. Even NYU sociologist Judith Stacey—no fan of marriage in general—noted it back in 2000 in small, nonrandom studies of upper-middle-class, educated white lesbian parents, demographic factors historically associated with stability rather than dissolution. Stacey and her colleague Tim Biblarz attributed the instability to, among other things, the participants’ “high standards of equality.” In Mundy’s words, “women are just picky, and when you have two women, you have double the pickiness.”

Writing in Slate last year, June Thomas highlights this predilection toward shorter, intense relationships, and wonders whether the marital shoe actually fits:

I’ve noticed that my visceral anti-marriage animus is particularly strong when I hear twentysomething lesbians talking about their wives and fiancees. Are they really going to mate for life, like swans in sensible shoes? That seems attractive at 35, but at 25 it’s positively Amish. Worst of all, it threatens the continued evolution of a talent perfected over the millennia as our relationships have gone unrecognized by church and state: a gift for breaking up. Lesbians tend to bond intensely and often.

The pattern is evident in the Netherlands as well as Norway and Sweden, where Mundy notes that the risk of breakups for female partnerships more than doubles that found in male unions. The actual study she cites estimates that in Sweden 30 percent of female marriages are likely to end in divorce within six years of formation, compared with 20 percent for male marriages and 13 percent for heterosexual ones. The study’s authors suggested that lesbian couples may be more “sociodemographically homogamous” than other couples, a fancy term for “too similar,” and speculate that this may be conducive to a high level of dynamism, but perhaps not to the kind of inertia that has long been a hallmark of marital stability.

Using nationally representative data on American relationships, Stanford demographer Michael Rosenfeld reported at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association that lesbian couples report higher relationship satisfaction alongside higher break-up rates. The greater comparative instability among lesbian couples persists even after a lengthy series of control variables is included, including the presence of children.

Did you know that lesbian relationships are far more unstable than straight relationships? Children raised in such relationships would already be raised without a father, and without being able to observe the interaction of a man and a woman in marriage. But they are not likely to have even the stability of having their mother and the other woman raising the child. Lest you think that the birth mother would get custody, be aware that judges are assigning parental rights to the non-maternal woman in these cases. Is that fair to the child?

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

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