Tag Archives: religion

People who believe in hell are allowed to raise children?

First someone with a sociology PhD refers to a social institution existing “since time immemorial.” Now an economist pronounces on the eternal destination of homosexuals. What kind of expert witness operation are they running over there in Michigan?

The economist is Douglas W. Allen, testifying in a case over the challenge to Michigan’s same-sex marriage (let’s call it homogamy) ban. Allen recently conducted a study claiming to show that children of gay and lesbian parents in Canada are less likely to succeed in school; a study that, in my expert opinion, is worthless.

The plaintiff’s lawyer asked, and Allen answered:

Q: Is it accurate that you believe the consequence of engaging in homosexual acts is a separation from God and eternal damnation? … In other words, they’re going to hell?

A: Without repentance, yes.

This is just a repetition of an exchange during Allen’s deposition for the trial:

Q: What are the consequences of the sin of engaging in homosexual acts according to your religious beliefs?

A: The consequences of those sins would be the same as the consequences of any sin which is just a separation from God.

Q: He who is separated from God is condemned according to your religious beliefs; isn’t that correct?

A: Eventually.

Q: Okay. And being condemned means what, Professor?

A: Means eternal separation from God.

Q: In other words, going to hell; isn’t that correct? [an objection about leading the witness] You started to nod your head yes. Is the answer correct?

A: Yes.

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Christian Terboven

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Christian Terboven

A couple of thoughts on this. First, just thank God at how far we have come from the horror of theocratic society (however far that is). This claim by Allen was the news from the day in court. Not because gays and lesbians are actually going to burn in hell, but because someone said so in polite company. Which makes him a despicable person. If there was even the slightest shred of possibility that gays and lesbians would actually spend eternity suffering in some awful way as a result of the kind of sex they had in life, that would be so much worse than anything else at stake in this trial that the mundane legal proceedings would be pointless. What could matter more?

This brings me to the second point: People who believe this stuff are allowed to raise children? And teach it to them? Allen’s polite euphemism — “separation from God” — is the modern Evangelical way of saying “burn in hell.” Nothing could be worse. So if you are unfortunate enough to be raised by such a person, you have to either know that your father is a crazy, malicious liar (which is traumatic for a child to think about its father), or you have to actually believe this horror story of eternal suffering as a result of “any sin” not repented. Holy sh*t. And on his website Allen brags that he’s been teaching Sunday school for decades.

And we’re arguing about the grade point average of students raised by two men or two women? (Which, again, Allen’s study said nothing of value about).

This reminds me of the kerfuffle over Richard Dawkins’ claim that being indoctrinated into believing in hell was as traumatic — or more traumatic — for some Catholic children as it was to suffer “the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse” at the hands of priests. Although being provocative (and it was an off-the-cuff remark, the first time), I don’t believe Dawkins was minimizing sexual abuse when he said that; rather, he was calling out the severe trauma experienced by children who were raised on the literal existence of hell. There is no need to compare one trauma versus another to make either Dawkins or pedophile priests look bad — it’s enough to acknowledge that a lot of children suffer both ways. That’s important, because it means crazy hell-teachers may be harming children even when they’re not raping them (which of course they usually aren’t).

So, sure. Let’s have a whole trial about whether gay and lesbian parents are bad for children. And let’s allow someone like Allen to take the stand as an expert witness. And let’s allow any straight parent (or gay parent, for that matter) to shame their children to bed each night on tales of horror and eternal suffering. But if, after all that, we refuse to let gay and lesbian couples be married parents — that would be disappointing.

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Baloney data detective: Wilcox school shooters edition

Another day, another Brad Wilcox really? moment.

This just in from W. Bradford Wilcox, writing in National Review Online:

Another shooting, another son of divorce. From Adam Lanza, who killed 26 children and adults a year ago at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., to Karl Pierson, who shot a teenage girl and killed himself this past Friday at Arapahoe High in Centennial, Colo., one common and largely unremarked thread tying together most of the school shooters that have struck the nation in the last year is that they came from homes marked by divorce or an absent father. From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s “list of U.S. school attacks” involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.

That Wikipedia “list of U.S. school attacks” includes (as of this moment) all of nine school attacks in the last year from Sandy Hook to the present. Oddly, this does include the Tsarnaev brothers, who after allegedly blowing up the Boston Marathon also allegedly shot a security officer at MIT — apparently enough to get them on the Wikipedia list of school attacks. And yes, their parents did divorce — after they were 18 years old. Also on the list, one shooting that resulted from a fight between two acquaintances (parents’ marital status unknown); and a guy with serious mental health problems whose mother, who had schizophrenia, apparently was never married to his father. And in the latest shooting, in Arapahoe, the perpetrator’s parents were divorced.

What a minute, though. I know it’s crazy to nitpick something this ridiculous, but: why “school” shooters, instead of rampage killers in general? Could it be because recent rampage killers James HolmesJared Lee Loughner, and Jiverly Wong – the three worst rampage killers in the U.S. since April 2009 — and Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, all had married parents? Maybe divorce makes people shoot up schools specifically. Interesting!

Wait another minute.

That Arapahoe guy was described as a “dedicated, bright student from a religious family that attends Bible study meetings.” The Tsarnaevs also “turned to religion with mounting fervor” before becoming school shooters. The shooter who attacked Santa Monica College earlier this year reportedly attended Sunday school as a child. Of course, Newton shooter Adam Lanza attended Catholic school at the church where the family were parishioners. Excluding one shooting in which no one was killed except the perpetrator, and the one that was really just a school fight, that’s 4 out of 7 with a religious connection. Of course, since I haven’t ruled out a religious background in the others, that puts the link somewhere between 4/7 and 7/7, or “up to 100%.”

religion-shootings

I won’t jump to conclusions from such sketchy data — who do you think I am, Brad Wilcox? — but I think we have enough data now to at least raise the hypothesis that religion causes divorce and school shootings (but not rampage killings in general).

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Regnerus delivers deceptive dialogue to delighted devotees

Not rehashing the whole thing, just a brief field report.

regnerus-10-4-2013

Grainy hidden-camera footage of shadowy propagandist.

I happened to hear Mark Regnerus deliver a lecture yesterday, titled, “Children and Sociology under Fire: Conducting Research on Same-Sex Parenting.”

The talk was sponsored by something called the Pontifical Studies John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America, but you might know it as the Mark Regnerus fan club. In the talk, he presented his paper from last year (read all about it under the Regnerus tag) to a fawning audience of, let’s just say, mostly White Catholics.

I went to see how he would present it (very boringly), what he might say about the controversy (nothing substantive), and whether there would be any pushback (if anyone objected, they did so silently).

I came away with three observations about his presentation (these were all apparent in the paper — as Andrew Perrin, Neal Caren and I wrote — but seeing him present it showed how they work on a receptive audience).

First, he crudely manipulated his audience’s ignorance of research methods. He first described in some detail the “standard set of controls” he used to test the relationship between having a father or mother who ever (reportedly) had a same-sex romantic relationship and his many negative outcome variables. And then he proceeded to present bivariate relationships as if they were the results of those tests. He didn’t say they were adjusted, but everyone thought the results he showed were controlling for everything.

For example, to gasps from the crowd, he revealed that 17 percent of “intact bio family” kids had ever received welfare growing up, compared with 70 percent for those whose mother (reportedly) ever had a same-sex romantic relationship. If you don’t realize that this is mostly just a comparison between stable married-couple families and single-mother families, that might seem like a shockingly large effect.

Second, Regnerus pitched his audience the simplistic version of “reduced kinship” theory from the paper, in which people caring for children naturally care less about them if they are not biologically related. This was quite self-evident to the audience, so he didn’t dwell on it. Then he arranged his unadjusted means more or less from best to worst, left to right, from “intact bio” on the left, to adopted, widowed, divorced, separated, single-mother-divorced, single-mother-never-married, and finally “mother lesbian relationship” on the right.

“As you move left to right,” he explained with regard to one variable, “you see the challenges facing these young adults increase.” With another variable he said, “If you graph this, you sort of see a big surge as you get to reduced kinship.”

What you actually get as you move along that row, of course, is not reduced kinship (after all, adopted were just next to “intact bio” on the left side), but rather increasingly female-headed. But the writing on the slide was small, the groups were poorly defined, and the “reduced kinship” narrative was pertinent.

Finally, Regnerus made a few explicit statements about how his study was not intended to show causality (and insisted that he intended it to have no impact on public policy, that he only wrote a brief against marriage equality because he was sure other brief-writers would misrepresent the true science regarding same-sex parents). But he tipped his hand grotesquely, making an argument I don’t remember tucked away in the original paper.

As you might remember, in the results there are more negative outcomes for the children of “mother lesbian relationship” than for the “father gay relationship” children. This is logical since you’re talking about female-headed versus male-headed families. In the paper Regnerus wrote:

While I have so far noted several distinctions between IBFs and GFs—respondents who said their father had a gay relationship—there are simply fewer statistically-significant distinctions to note between IBFs and GFs than between IBFs and LMs, which may or may not be due in part to the smaller sample of respondents with gay fathers in the NFSS, and the much smaller likelihood of having lived with their gay father while he was in a same-sex relationship (emphasis added).

I don’t think I noticed that at the time. Or maybe I discounted it because of the “may or may not be due in part to” language. But now he’s quite a bit more sure. He told the Catholic audience:

There are fewer differences when we look at adult children of fathers who had a gay relationship. I don’t encourage you to read too much into this, except to say that there are fewer cases of them. Those for whom this was true were less likely, of course, to have lived with their father [and his partner]. Plenty of people did not live with their dads, so it would be not surprising to see they have fewer distinctions. Plenty of them did not live with this person.

It came up again in the Q&A, when David Crawford asked:

Q: “… adverse outcome that we’re finding also more centered in the lesbian mothers rather than the gay father relations. I also found that to be interesting. Is that a question of the children tending to spend more time with the mothers and being exposed to whatever causes…”

A [interrupting]: “That would be my best guess.”

So, although he would never dream of making causal claims, his “best guess” for why children living with their mothers rather than their fathers had tougher childhoods is because they spent more time with a lesbian in the household (a very small amount of time, compared to almost none for the children of suspected-gay dads). As Crawford put it, “being exposed to whatever causes…” Or, although he would never dream of making causal claims, his “best guess” for the pattern he sees is that one group was more exposed to the treatment effect he was ostensibly not testing.

As for the whole subject of the hostile reaction from academia, that just boiled down to a few moments of saying that social scientists are all liberals, that the truth can’t come out because real scientists are afraid to touch controversial subjects, and that he’s suffered unbearably as a result of his devotion to the truth. The applause was strident.

Anyway, I also discovered that attempting to sketch him gets harder the more times you try.

regnerus-sketch

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Right-wing family watch: New kid paydirt edition

academic-god-dollar

The new kid in the right-wing foundation sandbox is the Institute for Family Studies. They are “dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, and advancing the well-being of children, through research and public education.”

IFStudies gives off a distinct Brad Wilcox essence. That’s not just because its mailing address is the same as that of the Ridge Foundation (which you’d have to describe as “shadowy”), whose 1099 filings list Wilcox as its president. It’s also that one of Ridge’s directors was one Ernest “Skip” Burzumato, who is the managing director of IFStudies, program director at Wilcox’s National Marriage Project, and an adjunct professor of sociology at Bridgewater College. (Aside: at Ridge, Wilcox in 2011 paid himself $35,000 — a little more than Ridge got from the Bradley Foundation “to support the National Marriage Project.”)

All this is not to be confused with last month’s new kid, the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, which is “keenly interested in documenting those practices, habits, and structures that make for greater sources of family stability as well as provide persons with the greatest opportunity of flourishing emotionally, socially, and economically.” This looks like a donation destination for Mark Regnerus’s foundation money now that his University of Texas credibility has been poisoned.

Or last year’s revamped kid, David Blankenhorn’s Institute for American Values, whose “current priorities are marriage, thrift, and public conversation… [the] primary determinants of the health of civil society.” (The “Director of Thrift” at IAV, Barbara Whitehead, is paid a modest $110,000 per year.)

It’s too early to see (from the outside) whether there has been a significant redirection of the money stream for right-wing family research or just some shuffling around, career-enhancement, and cocktail-party money.

Follow your nose

If you don’t mind flipping through hundreds of pages of PDFs, you can find bits of money trails from the charitable foundation tax forms these folks file, some of which are searchable here. These make it clear that a few thousand dollars for a website, an accountant, and an “entertainment” budget line for Wilcox is not the issue.

The overarching project is large-scale tax evasion and media manipulation in the service of political and religious ideology. As the foundations launder their political contributions through tax-exempt “charities” like these, they build a legitimate facade for disseminating their message to gullible (or culpable) media, and bolstering the careers of their ideological foot-soldiers.

In the tax years 2009-2011 the Templeton Foundation gave the Institute for American Values more than $3 million, and the Bradley Foundation gave it $2.2 million. About half a million (per year) went to the Blankenhorns and Elizabeth Marquardt. A little went to Brad Wilcox’s National Marriage Project, and to the BA-boosted research team of David and Amber Lapp (all of whom appear on the roster of the new IFStudies). Templeton is a big funder of Christian Smith, the Notre Dame religion sociologist who was Mark Regnerus’s advisor at UNC, and who now sits with Regnerus on the letterhead of the Austin Institute. (Bradley, at $500k+, and too a lesser extent Templeton also support the Witherspoon Institute, which served as Wilcox’s vehicle for launching what became the Regnerus study).

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Fundamentally opposed to science?

Conservative religious fundamentalists really don’t trust the scientific establishment.

In the discussion of academia’s liberalism, we should also consider the public’s mistrust of science, especially the conservative and fundamentalist public. Why would people who don’t trust science become scientists?

Last year Gordon Gauchat reported in American Sociological Review that Americans’ trust in the scientific community was holding steady except for political conservatives and those who attend church regularly, and that the trend was not explained by the lower education levels of conservatives or religious people (in fact, educated conservatives expressed the lowest levels of trust in science). His conclusion was that the trend showed the politicization of science, which is not the way modernity is supposed to go.

In response, Darren Sherkat blogged that Gauchat underestimated the importance of religion in explaining conservatives’ opposition to science because he only used the General Social Survey’s measure of the frequency of religious attendance instead of a measure of beliefs. And he provided a chart from the GSS showing that religious fundamentalists had lower trust in science whether they were Republicans or not. Sherkat wrote:

Any social scientist who studies politics, religion, and science should know that the reason why Republicans are at war against science is to court the vote of fundamentalist Christian simpletons who are opposed to science and reason. … What drives Republican opposition to science is that more Republicans are fundamentalists who believe that the Bible is the literal word of god.

You got your fundamentalism in my conservatism

As I look at it, conservatism and fundamentalism are both at fault. My take on the trends shows that, in addition to the growing divide between politically conservative fundamentalists and politically liberal non-fundamentalists, liberal fundamentalists have grown more trusting of science, while conservative non-fundamentalists have grown less trusting.

I used the GSS from 1974 through the latest 2012 survey. To highlight the polarization I show only those who are “extremely liberal,” “liberal,” “conservative,” or “extremely conservative,” leaving out those who are “slightly” liberal or conservative, or moderate. So this is not the whole population (I’ll return to that below).

The question was:

I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them? … Scientific community.

It’s as close as we get to a question about science itself. For fundamentalism, GSS asked whether the respondent’s religion was fundamentalist, moderate, or liberal. I dichotomized it to fundamentalists versus everyone else (including people with no religion).*

These are the people expressing a great deal of confidence in the scientific community:

confidence-in-scienceThese trends are heavily smoothed (down to four decades), because the numbers bounce around a lot from year to year, as the samples are only between 60 and 220 in each cell in the individual years. To do a simple test of the trends, I ran a regression using time and interactions between time and politics-fundamentlism dummy variables, with controls for age and sex (old people and men hate science more than regular people, net of religion and politics).

The regression confirms what the graph shows: significant declines in trust among conservatives whether fundamentalist or not, and an increase in trust among liberal fundamentalists. The trend for liberal non-fundamentalists was flat. (Details on request.)

I left out of that analysis the people who were slightly conservative, moderate, or slightly liberal. That’s a shrinking majority of the population, which breaks down like this from the 1970s to the last decade (click to enlarge):

confidence-in-science-popsSo the bad news for science is that the increasingly anti-science groups are increasing in the population: conservative fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. The big green majority is not growing more or less anti-science (even when you break it down by fundamentalism), but it’s also shrinking. The liberal fundamentalists are getting more into science, but also vanishing.

Just wait till they find out (some) sociology is part of the “scientific community.”

Note: This is a blog-post, not peer-reviewed research. I might be wrong.

* Skerkat instead uses a question about how to interpret the Bible instead of the fundamentalism question (literal word of God, inspired word of God, book of fables). 95% of the people who described themselves as having a “fundamentalist” describe the Bible as either the literal or the inspired word of God.

 

 

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What victory looks like, or not

Two columns in today’s NYTimes on what victory looks like, or not.

Maureen Dowd is outraged that Chief Justice John Roberts thinks the gays have already won. She points out that homosexuality is still not a protected category federally (that is, you can legally fire someone because they’re ugly, gay, or underperforming; but not because they’re Black, female, or disabled). It was an outrageous moment in the oral arguments when Roberts told Edie Windsor’s lawyer that “political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.”

This was not idle mean-spiritedness, however. Roberts is arguing against the crucial point that policies against gays and lesbians should be considered under “heightened scrutiny” by the law because they are a systematically oppressed “class.” Here is the exchange (at p. 106 of the transcript):

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You don’t doubt that the lobby supporting the enactment of same sex-marriage laws in different States is politically powerful, do you?

MS. KAPLAN: With respect to that category, that categorization of the term for purposes of heightened scrutiny, I would, Your Honor. I don’t -

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Really?

MS. KAPLAN: Yes.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.

Besides deciding on marriage equality, the Supreme Court has a chance to establish heightened scrutiny as the principle protecting people from persecution on the basis of sexual orientation. Roberts raises the possibility that the electoral shift on this issue — which is just one aspect of anti-gay oppression, after all — makes that unnecessary.

Ross Douthat, writing on the same page, might agree.

Douthat goes actually further, arguing that the victory of gay marriage actually is destroying the “older marital ideal,” just as its defenders feared. My jaw actually dropped a little when I read this:

Yet for an argument that has persuaded so few, the conservative view has actually had decent predictive power. As the cause of gay marriage has pressed forward, the social link between marriage and childbearing has indeed weakened faster than before. As the public’s shift on the issue has accelerated, so has marriage’s overall decline.

Of course he adds: “Correlations do not, of course, establish causation.” But you can’t unring that bell.

Not only are the gays doing the victory dance over the corpse of traditional marriage, but them and their liberal allies are actually persecuting religion.

A more honest, less triumphalist case for gay marriage would be willing to concede that, yes, there might be some social costs to redefining marriage. It would simply argue that those costs are too diffuse and hard to quantify to outweigh the immediate benefits of recognizing gay couples’ love and commitment.

Such honesty would make social liberals more magnanimous in what looks increasingly like victory, and less likely to hound and harass religious institutions that still want to elevate and defend the older marital ideal.

I guess we might need special protection for the beleaguered religious minority who are just trying to live their lives in traditional peace. Maybe they could use some of the billions of dollars they save from their tax-exempt status to inform us about the benefits of this older marriage ideal, or use their political clout to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from welfare to promoting marriage among the poor.

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All opposed? (to family change)

Over on his Iranian Redneck blog, Darren Sherkat has an interesting series of posts on religion and attitudes toward same-sex marriage, using new data from the 2012 General Social Survey (fundamentalism, denominations, young Republicans 2x, race, and the 2004-2012 trend) — all extensions of his academic work on the subject (2x). All of this shows that, in addition to political conservatism, religious fundamentalists and people in sectarian Christian denominations are (or were) driving opposition to marriage rights.

But same-sex marriage (homogamy) is only one aspect of growing family diversity. I was reminded of a survey the Pew Research Center did with Time in 2010, called “The Changing American Family,” which asked a question I like:

These days there seems to be a growing variety in the types of family arrangements that people live in. Overall, do you think this is a good thing, a bad thing, or don’t you think it makes a difference?

I’m not sure what to make of the people who think it’s “good” versus those who think it makes “no difference.” But the people who think family diversity is a “bad thing” — 28% of the population — might be the definition of family conservatives. So who are they (or, who were they in 2010)? Think of them as the sky-is-falling set.

Couple looking up

The good people at Pew offer a data download, which (once you get it out of SPSS format) is pretty easy to use. Using religion, political affiliation, education, race/ethnicity, and some other demographic variables, I made a simple regression model that explained 19% of the variance in “bad thing” attitude. Rather than show the regression table, here are the bivariate relationships between “bad thing” and those characteristics (I also labeled the blocks with how much of the variance they independently explained).

bad-thingAs with Sherkat’s findings for same-sex marriage, the most important predictors of opposition to family diversity are religion and political affiliation – but religion is by far the strongest. For example, people who don’t think family diversity is bad were about 3-times more likely to never attend religious services. The absolute majority – 54% of people who chose “bad thing” – described themselves as born again Christians, and a quarter of them attend church more than once per week. The counter-stereotypical findings are:

  • Latinos are less likely to oppose family diversity than anyone else.
  • Those with high school education or less are the least likely to say “bad thing.” (In the multivariate model, college graduates also choose “bad thing” less, making the some-college crowd the most conservative.)

This is not a scientific study, but an illustrative exploration. I don’t know enough about the data collection to know how well these data could withstand peer review, or whether this could be done with a more rigorous dataset such as the General Social Survey. But I like the question, so figured I’d share the results.

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Data visualizations: Is U.S. society becoming more diverse?

Trying to summarize a few historical trends for the last half century (because what else is there to do?), I thought of framing them in terms of diversity.

Diversity is often an unsatisfying concept, used to describe hierarchical inequality as mere difference. But inequality is a form of diversity — a kind of difference. And further, not all social diversity is inequality. When people belong to categories and the categories are not ranked hierarchically (or you’re not interested in the ranking for whatever reason), the concept of diversity is useful.

There are various ways of constructing a diversity index, but I use the one sometimes called the Blau index, which is easy to calculate and has a nice interpretation: the probability that two randomly selected individuals are from different groups.

Example: Religion

Take religion. According to the 2001 census of India, this was the religious breakdown of the population:

RELIGION Number Proportion
Hindus 827,578,868 .805
Muslims 138,188,240 .134
Christians 24,080,016 .023
Sikhs 19,215,730 .019
Buddhists 7,955,207 .008
Jains 4,225,053 .004
Others 6,639,626 .006
Religion not stated 727,588 .001
Sum of squared proportions .667
Diversity .333

Diversity is calculated by summing the squares of the proportions in each category, and subtracting the sum from 1. So in India in 2001, if you picked two people at random, you had a 1/3 chance of getting people with different religions (as measured by the census).

Is .33 a lot of religious diversity? Not really, it turns out. I was surprised to read on the cover of this book by a Harvard professor that the United States is “the world’s most religiously diverse nation.” When I flipped through the book, though, I was disappointed to see it doesn’t actually talk much about other countries, and does not seem to offer the systematic comparison necessary to make such a claim.

With our diversity index, it’s not hard to compare religious diversity across 52 countries using data from World Values Survey, with this result:

wvs-religious-diversityThe U.S. is quite diverse — .66 — but a number of countries rank higher.

Of course, the categories are important in this endeavor. For example, Turkey and Morocco are both 99% “Muslim.” So is Iraq, but in Iraq that population is divided between people who identify as Muslim, Shia and Sunni, so Iraq is much more diverse. You get the same effect by dividing up the Christians in the U.S., for example.

Increasing U.S. diversity

Anyway, back to describing the last half century in the U.S. On four important measures I’ve got easy-to-identify increasing diversity. What do you think of these (with apologies for the default Microsoft color schemes):

religious-diversityrace-ethnic-diversity

household-diversity

age-at-marriage-men-60-11a

The last one is a little tricky. It’s common to report that the median age at marriage has increased since the 1950s (having fallen before the 1950s). But I realized it’s not just the average increasing, but the dispersion: More people marrying at different ages. So the experience of marriage is not just shifting rightward on the age distribution, but spreading out. Here’s another view of the same data:

age-at-marriage-men-60-11b

These are corrected (5/11/2013) from the first version of this post. I have now calculated these using the this report from the National Center for Health Statistics for 1960, and comparing it with the 2011 American Community Survey for those married in the previous year.

I have complained before that using the 1950s or thereabouts as a benchmark is misleading because it was an unusual period, marked by high conformity, especially with regard to family matters. But it is still the case that since then diversity on a number of important measures has increased. Over the period of several generations, in important ways the people we randomly encounter are more likely to be different from ourselves (and each other).

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How can we save the church from divorce?

Unable to stop gay marriage, successfully promote straight marriage, or prevent divorce, the religious right is adopting a defensive posture. Maggie Gallagher has canceled her syndicated column. And the Institute for American Values has decided that, if it can’t save the family, it may as well try to save the church. (Or, as they call it now, in some weird nod toward diversity, “the churches.”)

A new pamphlet, by Elizabeth Marquardt, Amy Zeittlow, and Charles Stokes, spells out the problem of divorce — for the churches. It’s called, “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?”

David Smilde and Matthew May determined in 2010 that social science is increasingly studying religion’s effects rather than its causes — asking whether religion helps or hurts rather than what makes people religious. But churches are institutions, with bills to pay, zeal to project and ideological missions to fulfill. They have to worry about the bottom line. And divorce is hurting it.

Amanda Marcotte commented at Slate:

To read this paper, you’d think non-believing children of divorce are the walking wounded, barely able to make it through the day. Words like “schism,” “rupture,” and “alienated” abound, and the study’s authors warn that even having an amicable divorce leaves your child in danger of blowing off church, which we are meant to believe is a very dire fate indeed.

church4sale

But more than concern for children, the document is animated by concern for the churches:

We have learned that when children of divorce reach adulthood, compared to those who grew up in intact families, they feel less religious on the whole and are less likely to be involved in the regular practice of a faith.

The main question is, how can we keep this structural change in family life from harming the churches:

The health and future of congregations depends upon understanding, reaching out to, and nurturing as potential leaders those who have come of age in an era of dramatic social changes in family structure. The suffering felt by children of divorce may actually offer a pathway toward healing and growth, not only for themselves but for the churches.

On helpful suggestion is to take advantage of people, especially children, when they are vulnerable:

Those who have experienced brokenness in their families of origin may have had early experiences of the imperfection and frailty of human beings. They may be open to the idea of a God who loves unconditionally, a community in which to seek meaning, or a practice that engages them with more universal truths.

This can be difficult, however, because divorced parents may be turned off by the churches (especially churches that threaten them with hell-fire for getting divorced, and now are coming after their children), and thus not even bring their children to the churches anymore.

When parents do not involve their children in an active life of faith, churches seem bewildered about how to reach them.

Besides reminding parents that giving children access to the internet is risky, this might lead some parents to say, “Good! How about this: leave my kids alone unless you have my permission to ‘reach them.””

I think the churches should consider that, if the children of divorced parents are feeling some pain, the churches themselves might not be completely blameless for that. After all, many children of Christian parents are raised to believe that:

…when a child is conceived the child is a one-flesh union of his or her parents that cannot break in two. Theologically [in Christianity], then, children whose parents divorce experience brokenness because the parental unity that they embody has been ruptured.

Not surprisingly, such children may feel torn by divorce.

And of course that can happen regardless of the parents’ religions. But here’s a suggestion: don’t teach children that they are the “one-flesh union” of their parents’ marriage. Rather, find a way to explain to children that they are the biological creation of two separately living organism which, upon achieving physical independence, has its own existence that survives its parents’ breakup. Maybe we could address the emotional challenges better if we weren’t standing in the pool of blood created by the rupture of the child’s tender body.

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Moral rules, ruling morals (race, class and gender edition)

One of the common beefs atheists have with theists (especially Judeo-Christians) is when the latter say the former don’t have a moral compass by virtue of their nonbelief in god. But then the first thing religious people do is pick and choose which religious moral dicta they want to follow, and reinterpret the rest, according to their cultural sensibilities (or genetic predispositions) — in other words doing just what the atheists do in the first place.

This is true even of the more orthodox religious movements, the process is just a lot slower. Since I picked on the Pope and his crowd recently, here’s an example from my own, Judaism.

According to a guide from the orthodox Jewish Chabad website, every day, a person (man?) should recite the following, thanking God for (in this order):

Not making me a gentile (שֶׁלֹּא עָשַֹֿנִי גּוֹי)
Not making me a slave (שֶׁלֹּא עָשַֹֿנִי עָֿבֶד)
Not making me a woman (שֶׁלֹּא עָשַֹֿנִי אִשָּׁה)

You can see the Hebrew, with translations, here (or look under weekday prayers).

Quick aside

It’s great to have an authoritative ancient source for the correct order for the inequality trinity, “Race, Class and Gender,” which has bedeviled American academics for several decades. In Biblical terms, this ordering makes perfect sense, representing distances from privilege in the eyes of god — in a nested hierarchy, from the most-fortunate (Jewish man), to the pretty fortunate (Jewish woman), the unfortunate (slave) and finally the likely-annihilated (non-Jews,  when born in the wrong place and the wrong time, e.g., Joshua 6:21, or just in general, as in the orthodox Passover prayer: “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the Lord”).

This Biblical ordering fits with current academic usage, as shown here: the frequency of the following phrases in the JSTOR academic database:

raceclassgender

Rules to live by

But back to the point. Each day orthodox Jewish men thank god they are who they are – or rather, they’re not who they’re not. This strikes some as old fashioned, especially the woman part (if you weren’t happy about being Jewish you wouldn’t be saying the rest of the prayers either; and being thankful for not being a slave just seems like common sense). But why be thankful for not being a woman?

Tzvi Freeman, head of Chabad’s “Ask the Rabbi Team” offers a commentary:

Why is our world this way? This is not just another injustice. It is a stage in humanity’s development, a reflection of the state of the general human consciousness: We — both men and women — are stuck within the perception of the masculine role as superior and the feminine as inferior. Our behavior only reflects our perception.

In other words, men are thankful they’re not women because women are subordinate, which is an injustice. Why doesn’t god fix this injustice – or even allow modern Jews to alter their daily prayers (and other practices) in the hope of moving their perceptions and the reality they reflect? Patience.

As with the general scheme of the cosmos, so with man and woman and the human consciousness. The history of humankind can be seen this way: A transition from male to female values, from authority to dialogue, from dominance to persuasion, from control to nurture. But we’re not there yet.* And the best evidence is that we do not have the power, according to Halachah [Jewish law], to change this blessing.

This is charmingly circular: when it’s ready to be changed, we will have the power to change it. What is that power? The emergence of a new Jewish governing body “greater in wisdom and in number” to change the old law. In practical terms, we’re back to infallibility. In response, Rabbi On the Beach Eliyahu Fink joked: “The biggest innovation in the history of orthodox Judaism is that there is no innovation in orthodox Judaism.” Of course there is lots of debate about rules, including over which rules are subject to debate. Whether this aspect of the liturgy should be off limits is itself debated.

Chabad’s type of explanation is not satisfactory, even to some orthodox folks such as Fink:

There are several apologist explanations for the blessing. They all basically say something along the lines of women are really on a higher level than men, they don’t need to do as many commandments, they can if they want, but they don’t have to, men need the commandments to lift men out of the abyss, the blessing recognizes that men are appreciative for having those commandment to elevate them and thanks God for that opportunity. It is not insulting to women because it is not about who is better, it is about appreciating having more commandments.

The idea of making a change now – within orthodoxy – bubbled up last fall, when a rabbi named Yosef Kanefsky, who leads a big orthodox traditional Jewish community in Los Angeles, suggested making the “unusual halachik [legal] maneuver” of affirmatively thanking god for being Jewish, and then omitting the remaining thank-yous.

The kerfuffle over his original post led him to take it down, replaced by a more moderate one in which he wrote:

I believe fervently that Orthodoxy has yet to grapple fully or satisfactorily with the dignity of womankind. We know and understand, like no generation before us has known and understood, that women are men’s intellectual and spiritual equals. Our society has accordingly decided to treat both genders with equal dignity, and has opened all professional, political and communal endeavors to both genders equally. I believe that our community however, falls short of this goal in many ways. We are, of course, committed to operating within the framework and rules of halacha. But it is not hard to construct a halachik universe in which women’s physical space in shul [synagogue] and intellectual space in day schools and Study Halls are not lesser, but equal. It is not hard to imagine a halachik universe in which virtually all positions of leadership are available to all. And we must create a halachik universe in which the extortion of women by their ex-husbands as the Bet Din stands helplessly by, is simply unfathomable.**  It’s not halacha’s fault that we are lagging. It’s our fault.

The cached versions of Kanefsky’s synagogue’s mission says “orthodox,” but now it says, “We’re traditional, but innovative, and deeply committed to strengthening the bonds of understanding among the different movements within the Jewish community.” I’m intrigued that B’Nai David-Judea doesn’t use “orthodox” in their mission statement anymore. Was Kanefsky’s kerfuffle part of a schism?

Kanefsky says “we are, of course, committed” to following laws with which he clearly does not morally agree. I’m sure I’ve lost some of the nuance of this debate, having jumped in several thousand years late. But what I like about the story I am confident about: It shows how people in tradition-based religions sometimes do hard work to live by traditional rules according to their morals, while believing — or insisting — that their morals come from those rules.

*Wait a minute: did Freeman just describe a future history that foresees The End of Men?

**This refers to the law requiring husbands to give permission for their wives to divorce them.

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