Archive for December, 2008

Abstinence

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Matt 1:18-20

The Joseph story is sometimes lost in our joy about Christmas. He was quite a guy because he was willing to accept Mary’s claim that she was a virgin even though she was obviously pregnant. He was willing to put aside all that he had been taught about how a devout Jewish man should respond in these circumstances and deal with the public ridicule he certainly experienced because the woman he planned to marry was pregnant.

There is a lot that we can learn from that story about how we deal with the whole subject of sex education today.

An interesting study was recently published by Pediatrics journal. It examined how effective abstinence-only sex education programs are. What it found is that those who participated in those programs, as indicated by their willingness to pledge to retain their virginity until marriage, ultimately do engage in pre-marital sex at more or less the same rate as the rest of the population.

That in itself wouldn’t be all that disturbing, but the study also examined the use of contraceptives. It discovered that those who pledged virginity, once they did become sexually active, were 12% less likely to use contraceptives compared to the general population.

One explanation for this difference is that abstinence-only programs either deliberately or inadvertently create negative associations with contraceptives.

The only difference that the study found is that those who had participated in the abstinence programs did tend to delay their first sexual contact longer than the rest of the population. Some who have analyzed the data suggest there is a greater correlation for this delay with the conservative families these people came from (restricted/controlled contact with the opposite sex, same sex schooling, conservative colleges, etc.) than their participation in a particular type of sex education course. 

Ultimately, though, what this study states is the obvious.  The natural drives to procreate that lead young people to explore and experiment with their sexuality are very strong.

What it also says loud and clear is that the money poured into abstinence-only education programs over the past eight years has not had the desired effect. In fact, the “standard” sex education programs which don’t attempt to place a value judgement on pre-marital sex, but simply educate teenagers about how to responsibly manage their sexuality, appear to be more effective in encouraging young men and women to use contraceptives.

What I’m interested in finding out is whether this makes any difference to those conservative Christians who pushed for abstinence-only programs.

My sense is that it won’t because they will view this as a moral choice rather than an attempt to reduce unwanted pregnancies. It is about pregnancy being an appropriate consequence for pre-marital sex. It is the hubris which suggests that parents can protect not only their own children, but the children of less pious parents, from bad choices by imposing a particular set of religious values.

Jesus spent a lot of time criticizing a similar pride of the conservative Jewish aristocracy.

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

It is the humility of the publican that leads to the recognition that God directs the lives of all of His children, not us. At the end of the day, it is our responsibility as parents to provide our children with ALL the information that they need to become responsible adults. They are the ones who ultimately make the choices about their own sexuality, just as they make choices about the values they are going to use to guide their lives. God is looking for our children to choose Him on their own terms and not as the result of a choices we or any other set of parents have already made. 

We have the great privilege to guide.  They have the responsibility to choose.

 

Peeping

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?” Isa 8:19

There were a couple of interesting things coming together in the last few weeks that seem to have a common thread. The thread is that some people find an idea so compelling that they become blind to any facts which undermine their position.

One is the ongoing Pro-Life opposition to the Obama election. The second is a report regarding the death penalty. The third is the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a suit challenging President-Elect Obama’s citizenship.

One of the dominant themes of Senator McCain’s campaign was that you can’t trust President-Elect Obama. That point of view appealed to Pro-Lifers, Racists, Libertarians, Liberal-haters, Gay-haters, Free-Marketers, Isolationists, and many who legitimately questioned Senator Obama’s experience. McCain may have succeeded in sowing seeds of doubt regarding Obama, but he failed to convince a majority of voters that he was a better choice.

Of the whole spectrum of Obama opponents, the Pro-Lifers seemed most shocked by outcome. Many refuse to accept the election.  Some predict the God will swiftly and decisively punish our country and all those who voted for Obama.

What is fascinating about this position is that, in practical terms, the past eight years of Pro-Life governance did not substantially restrict abortion rights in this country. It is also highly likely given the financial crisis that we are facing, that the next four to eight years won’t see substantial relaxation of abortion restrictions either. So the operative question is what motivates this reaction?

A group advocating changes in our death penalty laws released a report indicating that it now costs more to execute a prisoner than it does to incarcerate them for life. The rest of the report documents that far fewer capital cases are being brought in the courts because states recognize that it is both expensive to prosecute these cases and many convictions end up getting overturned as new evidence becomes available. So the operative question is why do we still have a death penalty?

The Supreme Court recently refused to take up a case claiming that Obama didn’t meet the constitutional citizenship requirements to be President. There is a second case of a similar nature also making its way to the Supreme Court. It will also likely also be rejected. The mainstream media including nonpartisan fact finding organizations have repudiated all of the claims surrounding this controversy. So the operative question is why does this controversy continue to flourish on the Internet even though it has no substance in fact?

The answer to all of the questions appears to be a conspiracy culture described in a Salon article on the citizenship controversy.

“There’s no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody’s mind,” says Michael Shermer, who is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, and who holds an undergraduate and a master’s degree in psychology. “The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it … Once you’re committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind.”

Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant. People who believe in a conspiracy theory “develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence,” Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates who studies such theories, says. “As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy.” 

 

Let’s examine each of these in the light of this evaluation.

The citizen conspirators are a classic example that requires little additional explanation. When confronted with Obama’s birth announcement in a HI newspaper, the citizen conspirators respond that the announcement doesn’t say where Obama was born, and even if it did, Obama’s parents could have lied, or Obama’s grandparents could have lied, to cover up the fact that he was born somewhere else. I’ve also read some who have suggested that Obama’s real purpose of returning to HI late in his campaign was to tie up the loose ends around this birth certificate cover-up rather than visit his dying grandmother. The reality is that a mountain of simple evidence supports the same simple conclusion that the Supreme Court action reflected. Obama was born in Hawaii and as a result, is a US citizen qualified to be elected President.

Those who support the death penalty have a similar myopia. They are fixated on punishment rather than practicality. As a result, they are willing to spend more money to kill someone rather than imprison them for life. And they are willing to run the fairly high risk that they may be killing an innocent man in order to make sure that they kill the guilty. At the end of the day it makes no difference that the death penalty may no longer be pursued by states attorneys. All that is important is that it is on the books and available for use when the public outrage demands it.

Finally, there is an aspect of this that is even reflected in the Pro-Life movement. That aspect is revealed when you talk with Pro-Lifers about the issue of reducing abortions. You would think on the surface, that this is something Pro-Lifers would welcome regardless of where it comes from. Even if I don’t agree with the premise that life begins at conception, if I’m willing to agree that abortion is bad social policy, shouldn’t that represent common ground?

What I’ve discovered is that, at least for some, the Pro-Life position has nothing to do with the number of abortions that are performed in this country and everything to do with eliminating abortion as choice. It is all about imposing a particular morality rather than addressing a social need. In the case of Barak Obama, this is manifested in the view that it doesn’t matter what Barak Obama does or doesn’t do to reduce the number of abortions in this country. As long as he persists in his view that a woman should have a right to choose an abortion, he is supporting a sinful act, is unqualified for the office, and those who support him are unqualified to call themselves Christians.

So just like the citizenship conspirators and the death penalty advocates, there is an aspect of irrationality in some Pro-lifers. It doesn’t matter that the number abortions in this country is going down at a fairly constant rate regardless of administration. It doesn’t matter that the best years of abortion reduction have occurred during the years when income for the poor rose. It doesn’t matter that good education and easy access to contraception have a direct affect on the birthrate among teenagers.  All that matters is morality.

This is very similar to the conversations with the citizenship conspirators.  They claim that they don’t oppose Obama politically.  All that matters is the constitution.  Or the death penalty advocates.  For them all that matters is justice.

For all three groups, the world easily divides into believers and non believers and what’s worse, they don’t listen to anything a non-believer has to say. That’s because they prefer the peep and mutter of familiar spirits to any truth that may upset their world view.

I don’t know how a democracy effectively handles sections of the electorate who refuse to engage in a rational discussion. The last election proved that these groups are in the minority. Hopefully this minority will recognize that the issues which affect our suvival affect them too, and are far more serious and in need of their attention than those issues which seem to have them mesmerized. 

Reason Together

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isa 1:18

We are entering a very interesting time in American politics and culture.

We are clearly in one of the most serious crises in the last fifty years. We are fighting two wars. Our economy is teetering on the brink of collapse. Our environment is close to the point of no return as global temperatures rise. We remain in the cross hairs of a loose coalition of international terrorists. China, India, and Russia are all challenging us economically, militarily, and scientifically for world leadership.

So what do we choose to do?

We elect a young inexperienced liberal African American politician.

How can this make sense in this time of greatest need?

How can we trust someone who is solidly Pro-Choice?

How can we trust someone who is clearly liberal (or maybe even socialist) to the point of being willing to “associate” with folks like Bill Ayers, Rev. Wright, and Saul Alinsky?

Or isn’t even an American citizen?

How can we trust someone who learned his politics Chicago-style at the feet of Emil Jones?

How can we trust someone who represents all we fear – uppity disrespectful black folks?

How could God do this to us?

There are people all across this country right now asking all of these questions and worse.

Here are some of the explanations that I’ve heard and read.

It must have been the media.

It must have been the unions.

It must have been those young voters who are so easily misled.

It must have been those black folks who couldn’t see beyond race.

It must have been all that money from questionable sources that Obama spent on his campaign.

It must have been McCain.

It must have been Palin.

It must have been Bush.

It must have been the economy.

It is remarkable that people who claimed that President Bush had a mandate and a mission from God, now reject President-Elect Obama who received more votes than President Bush ever did.

The bottom line is that the voting public has rejected the politics of division. They have rejected the politics of bigotry. They have rejected the politics of character assassination.

The problem, though, is that the scorched earth campaign run by the Republicans has left a lot of people with very distorted views.

It will be interesting to see how President-Elect Obama deals with the skepticism and outright hostility towards his presidency that currently exists in this country.

Hopefully it is an opportunity, like the silted stream, to stir up all of the buried issues and bring them to the surface.  It looks muddy now, but that is only so that the mud can be washed away leaving a clean stream where a polluted one had been.

We have to find a way to reason together as a one country and one people again.  That isn’t to say that we give up our ideals, but rather agree that the survival of our country should be a goal we can all rally around.