CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In the comments of a recent post, a discussion arose about Christian divorce rates. One of the commentors insisted that Christian divorce rates were no different than anyone else’s divorce rates. I pointed to the recent, extensive polling data developed by Gallup and Baylor University on the issue, as presented by one of the leading sociologists in the United States, Rodney Stark, in the book What Americans Really Believe.

R. Stark does not provide data on divorce rates by belief, but he informs as to divorce rates correlated with attendance at religious services. “The average person is 50 percent less likely to be divorced or separated if he or she attends religious services at least twice a month.” Stark, Ch. 23, What Americans Really Believe. On the other hand, “[t]he divorce rate among those who never attend religious services is close to double that of weekly church-goers.” Id.

I have heard others refer to a study by The Barna Group showing that "born again" Christians have the same divorce rate as the rest of the country. Here is how one Christian news source describes Barna's study:


The Barna Group found in its latest study that born again Christians who are not evangelical were indistinguishable from the national average on the matter of divorce with 33 percent having married and divorced at least once. Among all born again Christians, which includes evangelicals, the divorce figure is 32 percent, which is statistically identical to the 33 percent figure among non-born again adults, the research group noted.

There are a number of reasons not to take this conclusion at face value. Even Barna's numbers show that "evangalicals" had a divorce rate of 26%, lower than the national average. Moreover, according to Barna, Catholics and social conservatives also have lower rates of divorce, at 28%. There is also data supported in other studies showing that those with higher income and college degrees are less likely to get divorces than those with lower income and no college degrees. Further, "born again" and evangelical Christians were significantly more likely to get married than those with no religion, who are more likely to live together outside of marriage.

In this post, I want to focus on two significant issues I have with how Barna's numbers have been used.

First, Barna compared the divorce rates of Christians with the divorce rate of other Christians. There are many observant mainline denominational Protestants and Catholics who may not embrace the "born again" language Barna used to distinguish "born again" Christians from others. Remember that Stark compared those attending "religious services" with those who do not.

Sociologist and blogger Bradley Wright provides some very helpful insights into Barna's numbers and uses other polling data (GSS and Midlife in the U.S. Study) to add further corrective. Using MIDUS data:

We find the following divorce rates by religious group:
1) Christians reporting a born-again experience: 36%
2) Christians not reporting a born-again experience: 34%
3) Members of other religions: 37%
4) Individuals with no religious beliefs: 52%

As B. Wright explains, what Barna did is compare No. 1 against Nos. 2, 3, and 4. Given the preponderance of Christians in the United States, this means that we have the divorce rates of one set of Christians being matched against the divorce rate of another set of Christians. This tells us little about Christian divorce rates overall. So, what happens if you compare all Christians against the rest of the U.S. population? The Christian divorce rate is 35% and the non-Christian divorce rate is 45%. That is a significant 10 point shift. Accordingly, Christians do not have the same rate of divorce as non-Christians.

Second, comparing R. Stark's conclusions to Barna's conclusions is comparing apples to oranges because Stark measures attendance at religious services rather than merely stated belief. R. Stark is thus using indicia of religious belief other than self reporting, is testing those who are more exposed to Christian teaching and doctrine, and is likely accounting for fervency of belief. As R. Stark points out, this results in an even greater shift in divorce rates, with regular attenders having half the divorce rate as non regular attenders.

B. Wright, using GSS data, reinforces this point. Here is the GSS data (2000-2004) comparing divorce rates by frequency of church attendance:

49% Never attend church
46% Less than once a year
46% About once or twice a year
42% Several times a year
42% About once a month
41% Two or three times a month
31% Nearly every week
27% Every week
28% Several times a week

Although a little older, the GSS data reinforces the Gallup/Baylor data reported by R. Stark. People that go to church more frequently have a much lower rate of divorce. The breaking point appears to be going "nearly every week" or more, with a ten point jump to the next lower level of attending, "two or three times a month."

B. Wright also provides useful GSS data about denominational and racial differences correlated with divorce rates.

Here are the divorce rates among ever-married respondents in the General Social Survey (GSS, 2000-2004)—one of the best known sources of sociological data. “Frequent” is attending church about once a week or more.

58%, non-frequent Black Protestants
54%, non-frequent Evangelicals
51%, no religion (e.g., atheists & agnostics)
48%, ALL NON-CHRISTIANS
48%, non-frequent, other religions
47%, frequent Black Protestants
42%, non-frequent, mainline Protestants
41%, ALL CHRISTIANS
41%, non-frequent Catholics
39%, Jews
38%, frequent other religions
34%, frequent Evangelicals
32%, ALL FREQUENT CHRISTIANS
32%, frequent mainline Protestants
23%, frequent Catholics

Once again we see that the key to a low divorce rate is frequency of church attendance. Unfortunately, there is a high rate of divorce among Black Protestants even if they frequently attend church (though the rate is 10 points lower than for non-frequent Black Protestants). Among likely candidates for explaining this result is higher rates of poverty, a history being discriminated against, and perhaps ill-conceived government assistant programs. What is interesting is that even factoring in a large subgroup with elevated levels of divorce, frequent church attending Christians have one of the lowest divorce rates in the United States. Indeed, their divorce rate is lower than those claiming "No religion" or who infrequently attend religious services.

Conclusion

Christians in the United States, whether describing themselves as "born again" or not, have significantly lower divorce rates than non-Christians in the United States. Those Christians who attend church frequently have even lower divorces rates; among the lowest in the United States.

(Special thanks to B. Wright for his work on this, especially the analysis of Barna's numbers. Check his blog out.).

28 comments:

CallMeIrresponsible said...

If it's a correlation, then that means we don't know if it's the church-going that produces the lack of divorce, or if it's some aspect of the lack of divorce that help produce going to church. Do I have that right?

A correlation does not necessarily demand causation. But its the first step. I think it likely there is causation here. Probably for a number of reasons, including that church-going reflects and encourages strength of commitment to Church doctrine, church-goers have their religious beliefs reinforced by teaching and preaching on moral issues, most churches offer seminars and counseling encouraging marriage and marriage skills (such as communication).

CallMeIrresponsible said...

Is there any evidence (beyond the hypotheses that Lyman mentions) that going to church causes fewer divorces?

Actually, I think the evidence suggests that 1) adhering to Christian faith causes people to obtain fewer divorces, and 2) regular attendance at church services causes people to obtain fewer divorces.

And I actually do not think this is exclusive to Christianity. I suspect that regular attendance at, say Temple, also results in fewer divorces.

What is crystal clear is that claims that Christians have the same divorce rates as the national average are wrong.

It seems presumptively likely that regular participation in an activity that persistently teaches the following ideas (regardless of whether the ideas are true or false, of course), would, by proportion, lead to less divorce generally speaking:


1.) men and women are not only reactive slabs of chemicals.

2.) sex should involve actions and not only reactions (thus emphasizing personal responsibility).

3.) any sexual activity which denies or usurps or otherwise violates the personhood of one or both persons is wrong.

4.) sex affects people as people and so should be done with charity.

5.) sex is a procreative action, and not only a toy or game for our own amusement. (i.e. it has a value, even naturally speaking, greater than mere amusement.)

6.) sex is sanctioned by an ethical authority higher than ourselves.

7.) sex is something we should enjoy and (even more importantly) something we should ensure our partner enjoys.

8.) sex between rational entities should be something supernatural and even magical, not merely natural. (Which, as a corollary, means sex should be more carefully used as a potentially dangerous power, even beyond its potentially dangerous natural power.)

9.) sex should be an enacted symbol for many things which are far more important to persons than sex is. (e.g., loyalty, charity, the self-sacrificing care of persons for one another, the importance of authority self-sacrificially giving for those under authority.)

10.) the fair-togetherness of interpersonal cooperation is of ultimate importance as the foundation for reality. (Consequently, breaches of fair-togetherness between persons involves acting against that which is most fundamentally true and important in reality--from which can be expected inconvenient consequences, to say the least. {s})

11.) derivative creatures (such as ourselves) are not the ultimate standard of morality. (Consequently, it is wrong for us to simply invent new permissions or licenses for our own convenience, regardless of whether we ever are 'caught' and stopped by a greater power, human or otherwise, before we die).

12.) children have an inherent and inalienable right to the most stable home environment possible in which to grow, where faithful, self-sacrificial and caring cooperation between their authoritative figures is stressed.


I don't doubt that insofar as people proportionately accept these ideas as true, those people will (for better or for worse) be less liable to divorce--or, for that matter, to engage in sex without what amounts to a faithful marriage commitment to one another. (I qualify 'for better or for worse', because where one partner accepts such ideas and the other does not, it might be rather more hellish for the one who accepts those ideas than if he or she did not in proportion accept those ideas. By which I mean that the precepts could be abused, as I suppose everyone here is aware of in principle if not from experience.)

I fully expect that a faithfully committed couple will be found to have some significant amount of shared and disciplined belief in these ideas, even if not in all of them.

Obviously a naturalistic atheist would have to reject at least a few of them in principle, for example; but that doesn't mean it is impossible for a couple of naturalistic atheists to have a faithful and loving marriage to each other. Possibly moreso than a couple who nominally agrees with all these precepts but in practice tends to set them aside for their own mere convenience.

Consequently, I fully expect that where naturalistic atheists (for example) regularly participate in activities that teach and reinforce the important truth of such ideas, the divorce rate among that group should, as a sociological generalization, be less than among other naturalistic atheists by proportion.

And my same expectation would hold for believers of other ideologies.

JRP

Nice comment, JP.

It brings to mind this apt cartoon:

http://www.xkcd.com/552/

CallMeIrresponsible said...

Layman, is there evidence *that* church-going causes fewer divorces (as distinct from evidence of a correlation that might suggest that)? Jason's points are presumptions, not evidence.

I'm perfectly fine with the whole idea, but I think that we need to be careful about evidence, correlations, presumptions, etc., and not confuse them.

Want a good marriage? Go to church?

Given the fact that a fair percentage of christian churches are strongly against divorce except in the case of adultery what we may be seeing in this statistical difference is not "good marriages" but marriages that continue despite terrible abuse.


Individuals with no religious beliefs: 52%
The Christian divorce rate is 35%....


If the difference being made so much of in the comparison of nonbelievers vs churchgoers represents nonbelievers not being prone to stay in abusive marriages then its the religious side rather than the nonreligious side with the problem.

Certainly this question needs to be addressed before divorce rates are pointed to as a way christianity, or religion in general, is socially beneficial.

CallMeIrresponsible said...

1.) men and women are not only reactive slabs of chemicals.

Except when I go to Best Buy.

2.) sex should involve actions and not only reactions (thus emphasizing personal responsibility).

Isn't it a whole bunch of actions/reactions? Back and forth?

3.) any sexual activity which denies or usurps or otherwise violates the personhood of one or both persons is wrong.

Except when the other agrees freely to this.

4.) sex affects people as people and so should be done with charity.

So why don't I get more response when I beg?

5.) sex is a procreative action, and not only a toy or game for our own amusement. (i.e. it has a value, even naturally speaking, greater than mere amusement.)

Except when birth control is used.

6.) sex is sanctioned by an ethical authority higher than ourselves.

>Not so much.

7.) sex is something we should enjoy and (even more importantly) something we should ensure our partner enjoys.

But only when procreative? See # 5 above.

8.) sex between rational entities should be something supernatural and even magical, not merely natural. (Which, as a corollary, means sex should be more carefully used as a potentially dangerous power, even beyond its potentially dangerous natural power.)

I'm rarely that good.

9.) sex should be an enacted symbol for many things which are far more important to persons than sex is. (e.g., loyalty, charity, the self-sacrificing care of persons for one another, the importance of authority self-sacrificially giving for those under authority.)

Huh?

10.) the fair-togetherness of interpersonal cooperation is of ultimate importance as the foundation for reality. (Consequently, breaches of fair-togetherness between persons involves acting against that which is most fundamentally true and important in reality--from which can be expected inconvenient consequences, to say the least. {s})

Tell that to my car mechanic.

11.) derivative creatures (such as ourselves) are not the ultimate standard of morality. (Consequently, it is wrong for us to simply invent new permissions or licenses for our own convenience, regardless of whether we ever are 'caught' and stopped by a greater power, human or otherwise, before we die).

Huh?

12.) children have an inherent and inalienable right to the most stable home environment possible in which to grow, where faithful, self-sacrificial and caring cooperation between their authoritative figures is stressed.

You're not talking about sex anymore.

I remember Vox Day writing about this in "The Irrational Atheist".
Also, I listened to several researches in demographics and they all agree that non-religious people marry less often, divorce more often, have less children, etc.


9.) sex should be an enacted symbol for many things which are far more important to persons than sex is. (e.g., loyalty, charity, the self-sacrificing care of persons for one another, the importance of authority self-sacrificially giving for those under authority.)

----Huh?


There's a whole world of ugliness suggested by that little quote.

I suspect he means the wife should do it whether she's in the mood or not.

The ole wifely duty thing.

CallMeIrresponsible said...

What I meant by that huh? is that it's not clear to me why sex has to be (every time, for everyone, for all time) an enacted symbol.

David: {{Certainly this question needs to be addressed before divorce rates are pointed to as a way christianity, or religion in general, is socially beneficial.}}

Which is why I was careful to mention, after my precept list, that it is possible to apply at least some (or all?) of these precepts in an abusive manner.

And I agree, from a statistical standpoint it would be necessary to factor in cases of staying in abusive marriages--as well as assessing whether staying in an abusive marriage is less socially beneficial than not. (Not to say ethically pernicious in some meaningful fashion that ought to be rectified. Since, as our Irresponsible respondent points out, we need to be careful about evidence, correlations, presumptions, etc., and not confuse them. {s} Fwiw, I’m in favor of ending marriages where one or both parties insist on being abusive; I’m even in favor of ending them with terminal prejudice to the insistently abusive parties, on a case by case basis. But sociology per se has no venue for judging such things one way or another; only for reporting trends of belief and practice.)


{{I suspect he means the wife should do it whether she's in the mood or not.}}

Then you haven't read me carefully enough. In the context of that "little quote", your example would only apply where the wife has authority over the husband. Where the husband has authority over the wife, he would be obligated to self-sacrificially withhold himself if sex with her would be a problem for her in any way.

The whole world of ugliness you're talking about is certainly very real; but it tends to run on the notion that the greatest authority is the authority to be served, not the authority to serve. It wouldn't think that the precept of "the importance of authority self-sacrificially giving for those under authority" was very convenient, and would tend to deny or ignore it.

(Ironically, sometimes it gets ignored by people who oppose that world of ugliness, too. {s})

JRP

Irresp,

{{Layman, is there evidence *that* church-going causes fewer divorces (as distinct from evidence of a correlation that might suggest that)? Jason's points are presumptions, not evidence.}}

As you noted, the correlation might be working the other way: people who, for whatever reason, choose not to divorce, may be tending for related reasons to attend church regularly.

Either way, however, the bridge of rationale would likely be similar. People who don’t divorce and go to church for consequential reasons will be doing so because church offers something that fits their reasons for not divorcing. But then, if church offers something that fits their reasons for not divorcing, church will be offering something that could also tend to lead people not already otherwise committed to marriage, not to divorce. The rationale influence might be asymmetrical, I suppose, but that doesn’t seem likely a priori. My initial expectation would be that the rationale works either way.


{{Except when I go to Best Buy.}}

Where splurge impulse spending can result in stressing a marriage, helping lead to divorce. (Woot, score! {g})

The more serious answer, is that if men and women are only reactive slabs of chemicals, then issues of ‘personal responsibility’ later are at best illusory.

Also, if men and women are only reactive slabs of chemicals, then by syllogism you are only a reactive slab of chemicals; and if you merely react to stimulus and nothing more, then there is no point for any of the rest of us here to even try having a rational discourse with you. {s} At best, that would be an illusion, too; like getting the Chaos Space Marines to react to me according to their pre-programmed parameters in a skirmish of Dawn of War.

I mean, if you want us to treat you as though you are nothing more than an unconsciously reacting internet spambot, let us know, so we can promptly delete your ‘comments’ from the list and save space. If you want us to treat you as being a responsible thinker instead, with whom we can (at least in principle) have a rational conversation... then maybe you should have us call you “responsible” instead of “ir-responsible”. {s}


{{Isn't it a whole bunch of actions/reactions? Back and forth?}}

I would certainly hope so; but it could also be only reactions and counterreactions, back and forth. If only the latter, then there is no personal responsibility to speak of, anymore than there is among any set of merely reacting chemicals in principle.


{{Except when the other agrees freely to this.}}

If one partner freely agrees to have their personhood violated and usurped and denied, then to that extent and by tautology there is no marriage occurring between persons. Rendering the question of divorce rather moot. (What importance is there in whether someone ‘divorces’ a sex doll or a vibrator or whatever?--which is what the volunteering person in your example is effectively volunteering to only be.)

The point is that where people are taught that treating other persons as mere things for their own convenience is wrong, then those people will have more rationale for not going on to treat those same persons as mere things for their own convenience in other ways (such as divorcing them for sake of their own convenience and pleasure.)


{{So why don't I get more response when I beg?}}

Dunno. Are you insisting that you only be treated as a vibrator, or that your partner only be treated as a sex doll? I could see that being a problem. {shrug}{s}


{{Except when birth control is used.}}

Hm... which of those groups in the list had the least divorce? Oh, yeah, the group that most promotes the idea that disposable sex (including via birth control )is a sin.

I’m personally in favor of responsible birth control; but I’d be unrealistic not to acknowledge, that promoting the idea that sex can easily have fewer important consequences will, without counterbalancing factors, trend more toward casual instead of committed sexual relationships. (As a side observation, Catholic authorities believe Roman Catholic Christians tend to use birth control as much as anyone else; so I’m rather heartened by seeing that the divorce rate is still vastly lower among the RCC. The doctrinal teaching that irresponsible sex is a sin, including in birth control, would not likely be a factor against this result, even if the population doesn’t pay much attention to the sanction against contraceptives in practice.)


{{>Not so much.}}

You mean you think that the idea that sex is promoted by an authority recognized to be higher than ourselves, will not, in combination with related ideas, tend to reinforce committed marriage?

Admittedly, it depends on the kind of sex being promoted by an authority recognized to be higher than ourselves. (The Romans discovered that temple prostitution somehow had this unexpected tendency to result in choppy marriage relationships, for example.)


{{But only when procreative? See # 5 above.}}

#5 didn’t read “only when procreative”. It did read “not only a toy or game for our own amusement”. Nor does not-only-for-our-own-amusement even remotely exclude importance-that-our-partner-is-amused. Helping each other be conjugally satisfied would, other things being equal, tend more toward solidifying a relationship than otherwise.

(Doing so in a way that denies or usurps the personhood of one or both parties, on the other hand, would tend to offset this. Doing so in an attitude that the sexual union was only a game for amusement, would similarly tend, other things being equal, toward building a casual attitude toward the union instead of a committed attitude.)


{{Huh?}}

This one’s harder to exemplify (though it’s easier if you consider various things to be more important to persons, as persons, than sex is. {s}) To give one out of many possible different examples in a non-Christian context (though Christians can operate in a very similar context, too): if a branch of Wicca teaches its followers that a faithful union between the Sky-Father and the Earth-Mother is important for reality as a whole, and that relations between a husband and wife are (at least potentially, or even better ideally) an enactment of this union on a smaller scale, then (other things being equal) this would tend toward fostering committment in the marriage relationship and against divorce, for the people who accept this belief.

There are various merely secular ways for this to apply, as well; but even then the relationship is being promoted as, in effect, a mystical symbol for something more important to the people involved. If the robustly atheistic Soviet Union (to pull an example out of the hat) promoted marriage as being an enacted symbol of class solidarity, or something of that sort, then other things being equal that promotion would tend more toward marriage committment and against divorce and adultery. For a husband to betray one’s wife, or vice versa, could in that situation be interpreted as tendencies toward betrayal of the State and the drive toward World Communism.


{{Tell that to my car mechanic.}}

Actually, he gets told that every Sunday at church--depending on how ‘orthodox’ his church is and how important its leaders think such things are to try to teach. And depending on how often your mechanic attends church, of course. {g} (Nor is he likely to get this idea from anywhere else than an orthodox Christian church of some kind. Although the aforementioned theoretical Wiccan example would come close.) He probably isn’t told in technical language like that. And whether he puts it into practice in his relationships with you (or with his sexual partner, to be more topically pertinent), is not necessarily guaranteed (to say the least).


{{Huh?}}

People who are taught that they themselves are the final source of morality for themselves, will tend (other things being equal) to selfishly gratify their whims and treat themselves as being justified to do so (their main concern being caught by entities with more power who disagree with their preferred actions)--which, in turn, doesn’t lend itself toward cooperative marriage efforts. (Although such an attitude can lend itself very well toward abusive marriage relationships.) Moreover, such people will tend (where feasible) to resist and resent and work against any laws which happen to contravene their own whims; for example, laws against prostitution or other casual sex situations, laws requiring responsibility for spouses and children, laws against treating spouses as only being tools for personal convenience, and so forth.


{{You're not talking about sex anymore.}}

Last I heard, children are a result of sex (some very rare special case exceptions aside. {s})

But I also wanted to open up lines of thought that would tend to promote committed marriage and discourage divorce, without being directly related to sexual relationships. (Thus concept #10 has nothing necessarily to do with sex at all. Whereas children still typically do have something to do with sex.) This is one such commonly recognized and promoted concept, so I thought I should mention it.

Most of the precepts have applications far beyond sex; but since (as a historical matter, as well as a practical matter) marriage has been typically instituted for the direction of responsible sexual relationships (and their results--like, for example, children), that’s the context in which I phrased most of the precepts.

JRP

Another issue that needs to be discussed in tandem with such data as was brought up in this post is the statistics indicating that areas with the highest levels of religiosity seem to consistently have higher divorce rates, abortion rates, sex crime and other indicators of social dysfunction.

I certainly don't think its a direct one-to-one causal relationship. But its something that needs addressing. I suspect, on all these issues, that there are a variety of factors involved. We need to avoid simplistic scenarios---things are rarely like that in the real world.

I suspect, for example, that staying in abusive relationships is one of the factors involved in lower divorce rates among churchgoers. I also think it reflects a social network that places a high value on commitment to marriage as another cause. I suspect further that there are probably a lot of other factors involved that haven't been suggested by anyone so far.

Ultimately, on such complex questions we need to be very cautious in drawing conclusions---if we value the truth we must be evidence-driven rather than ideology-driven.


People who are taught that they themselves are the final source of morality for themselves....



What people do you have in mind?

The statement suggests an individual who is taught that they should follow whatever moral code they prefer for whatever reason they prefer.

And I can't think of anyone I've ever meet who was taught anything of the sort.

But perhaps you mean people who are taught that morality is something humans invented for the sake of human welfare. I know many who hold any opinion that sounds something like that. But I don't think it leads to the sort of selfishness you suggest. Quite the contrary. Human welfare is a whole different kettle of fish from individual whim.

CallMeIrresponsible said...

Jason, thanks for continuing the humor of some of my replies to your list. I included some serious responses more out of completeness' sake, and less for wanting to follow up on every one of those issues seriously. So forgive me if my reply isn't complete.

I don't think that sex as sex (that is, not as exemplar of anything else), between consenting adults, is wrong beyond what one's god might tell them. It would be as strange as saying that eating, just for the sake of satisfying one's appetite, is wrong. If you want to make sex more than itself, that's fine, and I do that, too, but to limit sex to only that would surely take some god to command it, because it makes little sense otherwise.

There's an excluded middle between religious morality and "those who are taught that they themselves are the final source of morality for themselves." Evolutionary science would say that it is not the individual who determines their morality, but the group as well as the enculturation that happens to an individual.

Not getting a divorce does not necessarily imply that you have a happy marriage.

I suspect that people who get divorced are more likely to have had a bad marriage than people who do not divorce.

But I concede that simply being married does not guarantee a good marriage.

David,

It is interesting how on one hand you want to be very cautious but otherwise seem quite willing to put forward ideas such as that the reason the divorce rate is lower among Christians is they are trapped in abusive relationships. Then you say we must investigate "higher divorce rates, abortion rates, sex crime and other indicators of social dysfunction" in "areas" with the highest religiosity. Why do we need to investigate the connection if you are so dismissal of correlations as an indication of causation? Especially when we've seen that the higher the religiousity of the person the lower the divorce rate. Are we now to suppose that the Christian commitment to marriage results in higher divorce rates for the non-Christians in the same area?

Perhaps we might consider factors such as race or socio-economic status that we have already seen are very relevant to divorce rates. For example, due in large part no doubt to the history of racism in this country, the black U.S. population has much higher divorce rates than other American groups. Blacks also tend to live in those "areas" of high religiousity to which you refer. Although church attendance seems to lower divorce rates among black Christians it remains very high.

You seem mighty, conveniently picky about which way you shine your skepticism.

David,

It’s true that arbiters of social order, who also believe morality is a human invention, will tend (in order to keep social order) to teach that morality, although only a human invention, is invented to keep social order. (Or “for human welfare”, to put it another way.)

There can be a big difference between what is taught, and what is learned from the teaching, however. Even in the exemplified case, one practical point is that if someone tries to invent a ‘morality’ for themselves that goes against the morality held by the people currently in power (which after all was only invented by some other humans, too), then the main thing is not to get caught by the stronger invented morality enforcers. It isn’t as though one can cogently argue that it is objectively the right thing to do, to obey a merely invented morality. (Safe, maybe. Right? That’s a concept invented and propagated by the guys currently in power.)


It’s possible you’re thinking instead of people having discovered a morality, and then inventing ways to help people learn, understand and work with that discovery. We might have discovered, for example, that human welfare is a wholly different thing than individual whim (which would also have to mean that it is a wholly different thing than any group of individual whims in agreement with each other). That would be rather different from people merely inventing a morality.

But, neither is such discovery of morality what kids in college are often taught by deconstructionistic minded professors; nor what they often hear from popular culture.

(Granted, popular culture also teaches, somewhat loosely, that morality is not merely a human invention but something to be discovered that ought to be agreed to and acted on. Even the people promoting the idea of merely invented morality often turn around and call this notion generally into play, when it seems more expedient to do so. Be that as it may.)

To recall the precept I was commenting on for Irresp’s sake: “derivative creatures (such as ourselves) are not the ultimate standard of morality. (Consequently, it is wrong for us to simply invent new permissions or licenses for our own convenience, regardless of whether we ever are 'caught' and stopped by a greater power, human or otherwise, before we die).”

Insofar as you are agreeing that there is something wholly (or, let us say, substantially) different from and superior to human whim that we ought to be acting in congruence with (since if it was wholly different it would be too alien for us to act in congruence with it), then you are in fact agreeing with this precept. That you are doing so from a standpoint of some type of secular humanism (I suppose), is beside the point; I wasn’t trying to exclude non-theistic worldviews from successful competency in promoting faithful marriage and discouraging divorce.

JRP

Irresp,

{{I don't think that sex as sex (that is, not as exemplar of anything else), between consenting adults, is wrong beyond what one's god might tell them.}}

So... for example, you don’t think sex between consenting adults is wrong if one or both (or more? {g}) of those adults has promised another person to be monogamously faithful to that person? (Regardless of whether any of those persons do or do not have a god who might tell them such a thing is wrong; so leaving that out of the account either way.)

What about if one or more of the consenting adults agrees to be degraded and/or enslaved by the other one?

Actually, I think you already answered that one. {lopsided g} And yet, oddly, I was the one tagged by David as advocating nothing being wrong with, to give a relatively mild example of the “world of ugliness” he disagrees with in that vein, a wife being required subserviently to do it whether she’s in the mood or not, out of duty--presumably a duty she nevertheless agrees with and consents to and believes in. David sees something seriously (ethically?) wrong with the wife consenting to that. Do you? (And if not, would you explain to David why you believe there is nothing wrong with that?)


{{It would be as strange as saying that eating, just for the sake of satisfying one's appetite, is wrong.}}

Either this is a category error comparison, or else you’re trying to say that consenting sex between adult persons is ethically equivalent to one person eating... something that isn’t a person? Something that is a person? Something, regardless of whether it is a person or not?

My point is that sex between consenting persons is, or at least could be, an enacted interpersonal relationship. But the other action, by your description, has nothing to do with enacting a relationship between persons (and might involve severe violations of one person by another person). It would be strange to say that eating simply for the sake of satisfying one’s appetite is wrong, but that’s because what we eat isn’t supposed to be itself a person. To use another person for our own mere sexual gratification is frequently understood to be rape; and there are times when it’s still considered to be rape even when the other person effectively consented to it. (Consent is not normally a defense for statutory rape; and the ethical presumption, even when on a case-by-case basis the presumption may be incorrect, is that one person is taking advantage of the other person in such a case, for the first person’s own selfish gratification.)

Possibly there is a better comparison for analogy, though, as to what you actually meant.


{{If you want to make sex more than itself, that's fine, and I do that, too, but to limit sex to only that [itself?] would surely take some god to command it, because it makes little sense otherwise.}}

Well, at least you think it makes little sense to consider sex to only be sex. {s} If you consider sex to be more than only sex, however, then that difference will have some kind of consequential implications.

Be that here or there--I can’t tell whether you’re agreeing or disagreeing with my suggestion that people who consider sex between persons to be representative of something more important to persons than sex, are thereby more likely to be encouraged (in combination with some other agreements) to have a faithful relationship to one another vs. choosing divorce (or the non-married equivalent of divorce), than if those people only considered sex to be sex and nothing more.

Admittedly, the latter situation could still involve regular attendance to a particular prostitute, for example. Is that the kind of thing that would be normally considered congruent with a committed marriage relationship, though?


{{Evolutionary science would say that it is not the individual who determines their morality, but the group as well as the enculturation that happens to an individual.}}

The group is a group of individuals determining their morality for themselves (and not only for themselves but for other people, insofar as they have the power and intention to do so), in this scenario. This is no excluded middle to my comment; and it doesn’t have anything necessarily to do with evolutionary science, since that could happen just as easily in the absence of biological evolutionary development.

Evolutionary science per se, would say that it is neither the individual nor the group of individuals who determine their morality for themselves, but that their ideas of morality are irrational reactions (being perhaps rationalized post hoc, but that is beside the point) to micro and macroenvironmental stimuli; predominately microenvionmental genetic characteristics that, depending on how well they help the individual (and not especially the group) successfully breed (including survival to breed), are proportionately more likely to spread through successive generations of future individuals of the species, resulting in effective repetition of those breeding results. Macroenvironmental stimuli provides an environment for those characteristics to operate within, with more or less success; a change in the environment that results in better or less successful breeding, will have a proportionate affect on the spread of the individual’s genetic characteristics. Including the impulses that the individual may or may not rationalize after the fact as having something to do with ‘morality’. (To the extent that evolutionary science deals with the non-moral automatic reactions and counterreactions of cytosine and other proteins to local and larger-scale environmental stimuli, however, the behaviors are at best an illusion of morality. A highly complex set of totally non-moral non-rational behaviors, is still only a highly complex set of totally non-moral non-rational behaviors.)

This is admittedly something rather different than what I was talking about in the quote you referenced. I didn’t bother mentioning it because at the time I was talking about various rational actions of persons (inventing and applying a morality vs. discovering and applying a morality), and not about ir-or-non-rational reactions of persons to their environment.

However, if someone discovering this process then promotes this process as an ideal greater or more fundamental than humanity (which humanity didn’t, consequently, simply invent); they could perhaps use that to help encourage human fidelity in marriage and also to discourage break-ups (in various ways). I’m not entirely sure how the proponent of evolution-as-moral-standard would go about this--some species are naturally fairly monogamous, but humans clearly aren’t naturally very monogamous--but something might be achieved along this line.

At which point the precept you were asking me to comment on would still be applied to: just as I said to David a few minutes ago. {s} We would in that case be talking about acting in congruence with a discovered (and also thoroughly non-rational) standard of (avowedly non-moral) morality. Instead of only inventing our morality for ourselves (as a group of individuals or as single individuals).


JRP


(Incidentally, Section Four of that list of SttH chapters near the bottom of the main links on the main page, features a number of chapters with appreciative as well as critical evaluation of non-theistic moral theory categories; including a whole chapter of appreciation for criticism against the category theism-based morality. Chps 30, 31 and 31-1/2 -- because I wanted to give more appreciative credence to a particular secular theory I had accidentally short-shrifted when I composed the argument.)

CallMeIrresponsible said...

Jason, it might take me a while before I time to respond to your last post.

Well, we were married in a church, but haven't had much to do with it in the twenty five years since and seem to be doing just fine, thanks...;-)

CallMeIrresponsible said...

ME:I don't think that sex as sex (that is, not as exemplar of anything else), between consenting adults, is wrong beyond what one's god might tell them.}}

JSAON:So... for example, you don’t think sex between consenting adults is wrong if one or both (or more? {g}) of those adults has promised another person to be monogamously faithful to that person?

ME: You're forgetting where we came from (sex as an exacted symbol). The point of all this had nothing to do with imposing another condition on consensual sex (like a pledge of monogamy) to then question consensual sex. All I'm doing is positing *one* scenario of consensual sex that does not include having sex be an "enacted symbol." I'm merely disagreeing with you when you claim that sex is properly (and therefore *always*) an enacted symbol (if I understand you correctly). I merely have to posit *one* example of sex that is otherwise acceptable but not an enacted symbol, and I've done that with the example of consensual sex *absent* the pledge of monogamy.
=========
JASON: What about if one or more of the consenting adults agrees to be degraded and/or enslaved by the other one?

ME: See above, replace monogamy with degradation.
=======
ME: It would be as strange as saying that eating, just for the sake of satisfying one's appetite, is wrong.

JASON: Either this is a category error comparison, or . . . .

ME: Or you're taking aspects of the elements of my analogy that aren't part of my use of the analogy, which is a common fallacy. Any proper analogy can seem absurd by taking certain aspects of the elements of the analogy and showing their absurdity.
========
JASON: My point is that sex between consenting persons is, or at least could be, an enacted interpersonal relationship.

ME: So would you agree that sex outside of being an enacted symbol *could* be appropriate and valued and not open to condemnation, given proper conditions (or, more accurately, the lack of conditions such as a pledge of monogamy, etc.)?
=======
JASON: but that’s because what we eat isn’t supposed to be itself a person.

ME: I will refrain from a response appropriate for junior high school. : )
==========
ME: If you want to make sex more than itself, that's fine, and I do that, too, but to limit sex to only that [itself?] would surely take some god to command it, because it makes little sense otherwise.}}

JASON: Well, at least you think it makes little sense to consider sex to only be sex. {s} If you consider sex to be more than only sex, however, then that difference will have some kind of consequential implications.

ME: You're missing the conditional nature of what I said, you're talking in absolutes ("sex [is] . . . ."). Sometimes sex is A, sometimes, B, and sometimes C. That's all I'm saying (which means sex as sex is sometimes OK), and it seems that it is in contrast to your position, which is that sex must always be an enacted symbol in order to be valuable, appropriate, moral, etc.
=======
ME: Evolutionary science would say that it is not the individual who determines their morality, but the group as well as the enculturation that happens to an individual.

JASON:
The group is a group of individuals . . . .

ME: Let's save the evolution discussion for after we resolve everything above.

CallMeIrresponsible said...

Oops, by "conditional" I meant "relative."

Irresp,

Sorry for the delay; I’ve been busy elsewhere. I appreciate the quality of the conversation, btw. {bow!}


{{You're forgetting where we came from (sex as an exacted symbol). The point of all this had nothing to do with imposing another condition on consensual sex (like a pledge of monogamy) to then question consensual sex.}}

Actually, the point of all this was a consideration of what kind of ideas would promote “good marriage”. Setting aside the question of a “good” marriage for the moment and concentrating on something statistically more observable, namely divorce (which would tend to indicate some kind of failure of the marriage per se, even though staying married doesn’t in itself indicate a “good” marriage), I had mentioned that believing sex to be an enacted symbol for many things which are far more important to persons than sex is (of which I chose a selection of concepts, not immediately religious in character, which various people throughout history have taught as being more important to humans than sex is), would tend to lead to less divorce.

When you answered “huh” to that, I replied with some other (specifically not-Christian) examples of the principle application.

When you replied, “I don't think that sex as sex (that is, not as exemplar of anything else), between consenting adults, is wrong beyond what one's god might tell them”, I supposed that you were answering in regard to this.

Although perhaps you were answering in regard to an earlier principle, when I had written that believing sex is sanctioned by an ethical authority higher than ourselves, would tend to lead to less divorce. Your reply to that was the obscure “Not so much”, so I asked for clarification whether you meant that you think that the idea that sex is promoted by an authority recognized to be higher than ourselves, will not, in combination with related ideas, tend to reinforce committed marriage? (After which I admitted that it depends on the kind of sex being promoted by an authority recognized to be higher than ourselves. Temple prostitution doesn’t typically help make for stable marriages, for example.)

If this is what you were answering about, then I’m confused why you would bother to answer; since that principle wasn’t primarily about the forbidding of sex but the positive approval of sex.

If you were answering in regard to the idea of sex standing for something more important than ourselves (which seems more likely), then once again I’m confused about why you would bother answering this way; since that principle wasn’t primarily about the forbidding of sex but the positive approval of sex.

But, since either way I supposed you were answering in regard to the previous topic somehow, which was about reducing divorce (for example, how believing that sex is an enacted symbol of things more important to humans than sex is, such as fidelity between persons, would tend to reduce divorce); then I understood your comment to be in relation to the topic of what would help tend to reduce divorce, whether in agreement or in challenge of a proposed notion along that line.

Trying to topically synch up your answer with the prior discussion, then, I asked whether your answer meant that you don’t think sex between consenting adults is wrong if one or more of those adults has promised another person to be monogamously faithful to that person?

i.e., I supposed, apparently wrongly, that you were addressing princple #9: “sex should be an enacted symbol for many things which are far more important to persons than sex is. (e.g., LOYALTY, charity, the self-sacrificing care of persons for one another, the importance of authority self-sacrificially giving for those under authority.”) I took your negative rebuttal (“I don't think that sex as sex (that is, not as exemplar of anything else), between consenting adults, is wrong beyond what one's god might tell them.”) to be some kind of counter-example attempt to the principle.

So, I tested it by applying one of those things-typically-taught-and-believed-to-be-more-important-than-sex: loyalty.

{{All I'm doing is positing *one* scenario of consensual sex that does not include having sex be an "enacted symbol."}}

So, I was at least correct about your answer having something to do with principle #9. {g}

You have posited one scenario of consensual sex that does not include having sex be an enacted symbol; for example, not being an enacted symbol of loyalty between persons. And you have said that you don’t think that sex which does not include being an enacted symbol of anything (such as for example loyalty between persons) is wrong.

Very well: you may now proceed to explain how sex between consenting adults which has no relation at all to loyalty (for example) relates to my comment about which ideas (where believed and acted on) could be expected to help reduce divorce rates. Do you think the idea that there’s nothing wrong with sex between consenting adults merely as sex (and not as exemplar of anything more important to persons than sex such as, for example, loyalty between persons), tends to reduce divorce rates, when acted on? If so, do you expect it tends to reduce divorce rates as much as the idea that enacted sex should be a symbol of something more important to humans than sex is? More than this idea? I’m trying to figure out why you’re offering it as a contravention to principle #9.


{{I'm merely disagreeing with you when you claim that sex is properly (and therefore *always*) an enacted symbol (if I understand you correctly).}}

A rather different topic than what I was discussing, though! I wasn’t arguing or even claiming that sex is properly (and therefore always should be) an enacted symbol for something more important to people than sex is. I was observing, or at least suggesting, that when people believe this, it tends to reduce divorce rates.


{{See above, replace monogamy with degradation.}}

Did you explain to David somewhere why consensual degradation and enslavement of persons isn’t wrong? I seem to have missed that.


{{Or [in regard to sex purely for appetite’s sake being as unproblematic as eating merely for the sake of satisfying one’s appetite] you're taking aspects of the elements of my analogy that aren't part of my use of the analogy, which is a common fallacy. Any proper analogy can seem absurd by taking certain aspects of the elements of the analogy and showing their absurdity.}}

I think I explained quite concisely where I was having the problem with your analogy: the reason it would be strange to say that eating just for the sake of eating is wrong, is because in doing so we aren’t satisfying our appetites in disregard (or violation) of the personhood of the object of our appetites.

It’s obviously true that you weren’t bothering to consider eating as an example of non-personal interactions. i.e., you clearly weren’t bothering to use that impersonality in your analogy. The problem is that the reason exploitating non-persons for our appetites isn’t wrong, is because they aren’t persons.

Since you just as clearly reject the notion that exploiting persons for mere appetite’s sake is no more strange to call wrong than exploiting non-persons for mere appetite’s sake, then I call category error on your analogy. You’re welcome to try another one.

Alternately, you’re welcome to explain why appealing to the exploitation of non-persons only for sake of appetite is a proper analogy to sex between persons for sake of mere appetite. If you answer that the persons are consenting to be exploited for sake of mere appetite, as though they are not persons, then I answer that such consent still has no connection to an example where the whole reason nothing is wrong with the action is because no person exists to be exploited for mere appetite.


{{So would you agree that sex outside of being an enacted symbol [for at least one thing more important to humans than sex is, per principle #9] *could* be appropriate and valued and not open to condemnation, given proper conditions (or, more accurately, the lack of conditions such as a pledge of monogamy, etc.)?}}

If one of those proper conditions is “nothing is more important in principle to humans, including ethically, than only appeasing their sexual appetite”, then obviously my answer would be “yes”. Otherwise the sex would be at least potentially open to condemnation by appeal to the higher importance, on the ground that the sex is enacting against that higher importance.

Whereas if the people are enacting it in conjunction with that higher importance, then the sex will be a symbol of that higher importance, whether the people involved in the sex realize it or not. Your continual appeal to consensual agreement between the persons, for example, points toward something being more important to the persons having the sex than the mere fulfillment of appetite.

Meanwhile, do you believe that sex outside of being an enacted symbol of anything more important to humans than sex is (like loyalty, for example), is just as (or more) likely to reduce divorce as sex which is an enacted symbol of anything more important to humans than sex is (like loyalty, for example)? Since that was the original topic of my comment, after all. {wry g}


{{You're missing the conditional nature of what I said, you're talking in absolutes ("sex [is] . . . ."). Sometimes sex is A, sometimes, B, and sometimes C. That's all I'm saying (which means sex as sex is sometimes OK)}}

Sometimes sex absolutely as sex is okay?

In point of fact you do include conditionals. Consequently, I can hardly be missing the conditional nature of what you said when I replied “at least you think it makes little sense to consider sex to only be sex.”

Unless you meant that it makes little sense to limit sex to being only more than itself. Which sometimes you do seem to be trying to say: that sometimes it’s okay for sex to only be sex and nothing more than sex.

But then when I try testing out some examples of sex being only sex and nothing more than sex, to see if you approve of them... you don’t. Which is great, but then so much for trying to claim that sometimes it’s okay for sex to only be sex and nothing more than sex. Even your constant appeal to consensual approval between persons is not a situation of only-sex-and-nothing-more-than-sex.


{{Let's save the evolution discussion for after we resolve everything above.}}

Well, the biological process I detailed certainly would be an example of sex only being sex and nothing more than sex with no higher meaning in view. {g} But, as you wish.


{{Oops, by "conditional" I meant "relative."}}

As it happens, “conditional” has more than a little importance in what you said, too.

But, very well. If all you’re saying is sometimes sex is A, B or C, then to put it bluntly you’re saying something more when you try to claim that this means sometimes sex is okay. Unless you meant that sometimes sex is okay and sometimes it isn’t okay and sometimes... um... C. (or whatever.) Which would be an interesting way to reply to my observation that at least you think it makes little sense to consider sex to only be sex!

But, be that as it may. Sometimes sex is OK, and other times sex is B. I certainly don’t disagree with that. {g} I will suppose you didn’t mean to actually analogize this with the topic to which you were replying (so that OK and B would correspond to sex sometimes having meaning more than merely itself and sometimes not--or vice versa perhaps?)

Considering the relativity of OK and B, then: relative to what? Merely to each other? Or to an idea of something believed to be more important to humans than mere sex is?

JRP

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