National Catholic Register

Commentary

Data Show Religion Keeps Homes Intact

BY Patrick Fagan

February 28-March 6, 1999 Issue | Posted 2/28/99 at 1:00 PM

 

Most Americans know that something is deeply amiss in our society, thus demonstrating that they have an intuitive grasp of the natural order and what ignoring it portends for our nation's future.

The way God has created every creature establishes a natural law governing each one. The creature's capacities, potentials, structures, and functions are the clues to a law that governs its growth and wellbeing. Just as a machine has a way of operating based on its nature, so too do the actions of man illustrate the natural law governing him. If one drives and maintains a car properly, it will run well for an extraordinarily long time. Man too thrives when he lives according to the natural law.

However, if something goes wrong, e.g., a car's gears start to make a grinding noise, then we may conclude that the nature of the car is being violated.

American society is giving signals analogous to the grinding of those gears. It is not operating according to its nature. The signals are most visible in what is happening to our children, and in the data on how we are treating them.

THE PROBLEM

To get a clear picture of what is happening, keep in mind that the birth rate has been dropping steadily during the last five decades. During these same years the outof-wedlock birth rate has risen steadily, and a “divorce revolution” has taken place. When we bring these three major changes into focus together, a disturbing picture emerges. In 1950 for every hundred children born in this country, 12 entered a broken family — 4 by being born out of wedlock, and 8 through the divorce of their parents. This “rejection” ratio rose steadily until by 1993, the last year for accurate divorce statistics, for every hundred children born in this country, 33 were being born out of wedlock and another 25 were suffering the divorce of their parents.

This burden has many negative effects on children. Not every child is affected in each way, but as a group their risks are increased. For newborns, the risk of perinatal death or disease increases. (In public health the level of education is a good general proxy measure for the level of health. But not in this case. A child born to a college educated single mother is at greater risk of perinatal illness or death than a child born to grade school drop-out married parents). Children of broken families are at greater risk for lower verbal IQ; lower school attainment across all income levels; and lower job and income attainment as adults. They will have more behavioral and emotional problems, more anxieties, and more depression. They will commit more crimes, be more drug and alcohol addicted, get involved more often and earlier in sex outside of marriage, have more children out of wedlock, cohabit more, and divorce more.

The alienation of their adult parents translates into a heavy burden for them. The offspring of this creature called man do not thrive with parents who are separated or alienated. One eminent psychiatrist put a sharp edge on it: a dead father, he said, raises his children better than an absent father. Rejection between parents is withering and permanent; separation by death from a loved parent is gradually transformed into healing and fond memories.

Sociology points towards two main disturbances to the divinely given natural order that can undermine marriage. The most obvious disturbance is the pandemic of sex outside marriage. The second disturbance is the decrease in the worship of God.

The first disturbance — sex outside of marriage — quickly gives rise to out-of-wedlock births, and to abortions. Over 80% of abortions are procured by single women. Abortion is the ultimate contraceptive, and is used mainly because the unmarried mother is not yet equipped to handle a baby.

The second disturbance is the decline of the regular worship of God. On any particular weekend about 40% of Americans attend church, synagogue, or mosque. That number includes those who go to church once per month or less. About 28% go to church weekly. That this regular worship is part of the natural order for man, can be known not just by revelation — which is given outside the workings of natural law, though not contrary to it — but by the natural fruits of regular worship of God. The fruits of regular worship are the flip side of the deficits that arise from broken family lives, as enumerated above.

THE SOLUTION

All other things being equal, those who worship God regularly have better physical health, do better at school, go further in education, attain higher income, and have less psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems. (One Harvard don found that the biggest predictor that a child will make it out of inner city poverty is that his or her family attends church regularly.) Married people who go to church regularly have more stable marriages. If their marriages get into trouble, they are more likely to repair the difficulties if one of the two goes to church, and even more likely if both go to church regularly.

The worship of God is the great preserver and repairer. Or better put: God is the great preserver and repairer. His operations and good works can be seen even without the eyes of faith, even without revelation — by sociology.

From the literature on the development of criminals and alcoholics there are indications that there is a natural phase of psychological growth when a young teenager is primed to go deeper into issues about the divine. The young adolescent probes and queries, sometimes in a straightforward style, sometimes in a more defensive way. If his questions are not honestly handled he may walk away from religion. If there is a rebuff or an evasive response to serious, though frequently well disguised questions, then the risk is high that he will be alienated from God. On the other hand, if the person is given a good response, it is likely that he or she will go deeper. In short, adolescence is a critical time in a person's growth in relationship with God.

When marriage and regular church worship come together children also thrive the most economically. For instance, those who grow up in married families that go to church weekly have the highest income in comparison to comparable groups. Those from broken families who never go to church have the lowest incomes. A similar pattern holds for the incidence of teen sexual behavior. Furthermore, not only do children thrive when their married parents worship God, the parents do too.

Research data also shows that married men and women live longer. Men and women who go to church regularly live longer.

Studies show married people are happier than single people, and not surprisingly, they are happier than the divorced or separated. The recently separated are the most unhappy of all.

These findings of the social sciences point to the great impact of two things we can learn about from natural law: the right treatment of God and the right treatment of our spouse and children. Human happiness and well being are strongly linked to worship and marriage — to giving God his due and to giving one's spouse and offspring their due. Human happiness is linked to Sunday worship and to a family life of affection and commitment, with the sexual act ordered to the good, of the children first — for they are its most serious consequence — and then of the adults.

Today America groans under the weight of its social fracturing, under the culture of rejection and alienation, most visibly in its family life. While this nation has reached a level of economic success unmatched in human history it has simultaneously reached a level of alienation in family life perhaps also unmatched in recorded history. While we have developed the potential of the natural physical order and the potential of our economy, we have at the same time undone the natural order of family, affection, and marriage which is the garden where children grow strong.

THE BATTLE

Two major visions of man compete to explain human nature and behavior: a view based on a divinely given natural law and a view based on materialism. All major religions, whether they use or agree with the term or not, subscribe to a natural law view, a divinely given natural law view, of man. The materialist view, on the other hand, is embodied in various degrees in Marxism, socialism, libertarianism, and scientism. In the United States these two philosophies of man compete for the minds and hearts of the nation, and by all indices the materialist has been winning the day for some time.

But an unexpected monkey wrench has been thrown into the materialist camp. It is beginning to run up against certain results of sociological research that are hard for it to take, especially since the results come from a discipline it formerly regarded as an ally.

While economics brings good news about how our marketplace thrives and how our GNP grows, sociology brings the bad news that all this material wealth is not resulting in greater human happiness. And worse still, sociology is pointing to the presence or absence of marriage and worship as underlying reasons for alienation or belonging, growth or decay, and healing or fracturing.

Because many American fathers and mothers cannot now endure each other enough to raise their children together, there will be continuing, severe, and mounting natural consequences. These consequences can be reversed if society returns to putting first things first — especially by returning to the worship of God.

Patrick Fagan is a fellow of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.