Sunday, June 04, 2006

Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty

I once wrote the following, apropos abstinence education.

A few weeks ago, in a comment thread at Catallarchy, I made this observation:

Less teen sex = less disease + fewer unwanted children + fewer early (and often unhappy) marriages

Parents who want to protect their children therefore try to teach them to eschew sex because of its potential consequences. Abstinence -- by definition -- works better than prophylaxis and contraception.

That evoked a response in a later comment thread that I had "list[ed] only the harm caused by sex and not the benefit." Well, there were plenty of hedonistic voices arguing the benefit side. What was needed was someone to argue the cost side, and that's what I did. Moreover, my point -- which seems to have been missed in all the shouting -- was about the responsibility of parents to teach their children about the cost side.

The usual argument goes like this: Kids will do it anyway. Well, kids are less likely to do it "anyway" if they're brought up to believe that they shouldn't do it "anyway." And the bringing-up isn't done in public schools, it's done in the home by parents who teach their children not only about sex but also about responsible (i.e., moral) behavior.

The critics of abstinence education focus on the results of studies (e.g., here and here) about the sexual practices of groups of public-school students. They conclude that abstinence education in public schools is ineffective and perhaps even counterproductive in its effects on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But such studies aren't above criticism; see this, from The Heritage Foundation, for instance. Moreover, what those studies don't tell us is what happens to teens who are predisposed (by their parents) to eschew sex. Here's one bit of relevant information (from a research paper published by The Heritage Foundation):

[T]aking a virginity pledge in associated with a substantial decline in STD rates in young adult years. Across a broad array of analysis, virginity pledging was found to be a better predictor of STD reduction than was condom use. Individuals who took a virginity pledge in adolescence are some 25 percent less likely to have an STD as young adults, when compared with non-pledgers who are identical in race, gender, and family background.

More tellingly, there's this, from the National Institutes of Health:

Teens -- particularly girls -- with strong religious views are less likely to have sex than are less religious teens, largely because their religious views lead them to view the consequences of having sex negatively. According to a recent analysis of the NICHD-funded Add Health Survey, religion reduces the likelihood of adolescents engaging in early sex by shaping their attitudes and beliefs about sexual activity . . . .

Sexual intercourse places teens at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy. The information provided by the study may prove important for health researchers and planners devising programs that help prevent teens from engaging in sexual activity.

Hmm . . . isn't that what I said at the outset?

I now turn to this story about a letter published in the British Medical Journal (available only by subscription):

A letter by Australian bioethicist Dr. Amin Abboud published in the July 30 edition of the British Medical Journal notes that "A regression analysis done on the HIV situation in Africa indicates that the greater the percentage of Catholics in any country, the lower the level of HIV."

Dr. Abboud's letter comes in response to an article published in the journal's June 4 issue which wonders if newly elected Pope Benedict XVI will alter the Church's teaching on condoms in light of the burgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic. Abboud asserts that "On the basis of statistical evidence it would seem detrimental to the HIV situation in Africa if he did authorise such a change."

"On the basis of data from the World Health Organization," reports Abboud, "in Swaziland where 42.6% have HIV, only 5% of the population is Catholic. In Botswana, where 37% of the adult population is HIV infected, only 4% of the population is Catholic. In South Africa, 22% of the population is HIV infected, and only 6% is Catholic. In Uganda, with 43% of the population Catholic, the proportion of HIV infected adults is 4%." . . .

Abboud concludes his letter stating, "The causes of the HIV crisis in Africa need to be found elsewhere. The solutions must go beyond latex. If anything, the holistic approach to sexuality that Catholicism advocates, based on the evidence at hand, seems to save lives. I would welcome an editorial on that or, as a minimum, some evidence based advice on HIV."

It all boils down to personal responsibility, which is taught by parents (especially those who bring up their children in a traditional religion) and undermined by government programs. I thought libertarianism was all about personal responsibility, but for many libertarians it seems to be all about hedonism.

Now there's more evidence for my position.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that a male's first age for sexual intercourse depends very much on whether he was raised in a two-parent or one-parent household. Specifically, Table 14 of the report indicates that a male who comes from a dual-parent household experiences first intercourse at age 17.0, as against age 15.8 for a male who comes from a single-parent household.

Moreover, religion -- but not just any old religion -- makes a difference. Catholics and other non-Protestants (largely Jewish, I assume) experience first intercourse later than males whose religious backgrounds are "none," fundamentalist Protestant, or "other" Protestant.*

Parenting, religion, and culture do make a difference in the way children are raised and in how they behave -- as children, and then as adults. Two parents raising a family within a deep-rooted, Western religion (e.g., Catholicism and Judaism) do a better job of teaching respect for life, liberty, and property.

Related posts:
I Missed This One
A Century of Progress?
Feminist Balderdash
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Religion and Personal Responsibility
The Consequences and Causes of Abstinence
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Consider the Children
Marriage and Children
Same-Sex Marriage
"Equal Protection" and Homosexual Marriage
Equal Time: The Sequel
The End of Women's "Liberation" and the Return of Patriarcy?

* It is unsurprising that males from fundamentalist Protestant backgrounds lead the pack in "getting there first," given that the same is true of males whose mothers have relatively little education and who gave birth relatively early. That is to say, there is a cultural divide that includes -- on one side of the divide -- "rednecks" of all races. As Thomas Sowell writes here,

[d]isparities between Southern whites and Northern whites extended across the board from rates of violence to rates of illegitimacy.

. . . The people who settled in the South came from different regions of Britain than the people who settled in the North--and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here--that is, before they had ever seen a black slave.

The culture of the people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. That culture had its own way of talking, not only in the pronunciation of particular words but also in a loud, dramatic style of oratory with vivid imagery, repetitive phrases and repetitive cadences.

Although that style originated on the other side of the Atlantic in centuries past, it became for generations the style of both religious oratory and political oratory among Southern whites and among Southern blacks--not only in the South but in the Northern ghettos in which Southern blacks settled. It was a style used by Southern white politicians in the era of Jim Crow and later by black civil rights leaders fighting Jim Crow. Martin Luther King's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was a classic example of that style.

While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.

Fundamentalist Protestantism is strongly (though not exclusively) associated with "redneck" culture. It bears a strong inverse relationship to socio-economic status, and -- for a lot of its adherents -- it is more about escapism than morality.