Value-neutral killing

This is in response to Adam Laats’ post titled “Teaching Kids About Rape” at I Love You But You’re Going to Hell (such a great name for a blog).

Adam is not arguing for or against sex education (though he’s for it), but is just making the point that those who think explicit sex education in public schools nationwide is likely to happen, are clueless.

I want to argue a different point, which is that sex-ed proponents, in arguing for factually explicit, morally neutral sex education, are clueless in another way: In calling their brand of sex-ed “morally neutral”, they have no clue that they are begging the question.

Adam argues that Americans want schools to help keep their kids ignorant; or, if we insist, innocent. I would argue that it’s not ignorance we want for our kids — nor even innocence necessarily, since moral guilt or innocence is a result of a person’s own choices, and not something one person can give another — but morality. We don’t want morally loaded subjects taught to our kids in a way which implies that they are morally indifferent.

Some argue that we can’t impose morality on others in a pluralistic society, so the best we can do is present things factually – and, yes, explicitly – without making moral judgments one way or another. And this is where they beg the question: Is it morally neutral to teach about sex in a morally neutral way?

Suppose the topic wasn’t sex education but death education — how to kill people with your bare hands, say. Or how to kill people in various ways, since you may want some variety. Since we can’t impose morality in a pluralistic society (can we?), the best we can do is present things factually — and yes, explicitly — without making moral judgments one way or another (right?). Therefore why not teach kids exactly where to place their hands around someone’s neck in order to kill him most efficiently, that is, quickly and quietly? Or which type of gun or bullet works best at close range, and which at long range?

We would not be advocating that anyone kill — or not kill — anybody. We would leave morality out of it. We’re entirely morally neutral. We’re just providing factual information so that kids are equipped to make the decision for themselves; and so that if they do decide to kill, they can do it in the safest way possible. If kids are going to kill anyway, there’s no sense in them hurting themselves in the process.

Obviously killing someone cannot be taught in a morally neutral way. Virtually everyone, conservative or liberal, would agree that teaching such a thing, without guidance as to the circumstances in which killing is right or wrong, would be abhorrent.

Why then do liberals insist that “value-neutral” sex education is possible? Obviously it’s because they assume from the start that sex itself is value-neutral. But conservative religious people don’t share that assumption. To them, sex is inextricably bound up with morality. Thus, in the very act of insisting on value-neutrality, liberals are imposing their values on others.

We don’t say that sex is always bad. It’s not that we consider it a taboo subject, not even necessarily for children. But we think it’s bad to treat it as though it has no moral component. If schools don’t want to teach morals, then so be it. But in that case, don’t teach sex at all. From the point of view of a conservative Christian (or Jew or Muslim), teaching value-neutral sex is no better than teaching value-neutral killing.

Comparing Mormon and Catholic divorce rates, ver. 2

[After performing several edits to the original version of this post based on more recent statistics and survey results, and noting the edits in brackets, it started to get confusing. So I am simply duplicating the prior post and changing the data as needed, without noting the changes. Those who are interested in the earlier numbers can refer to the original post.]

I decided to see what I could find out, specifically, about comparative Mormon and Catholic divorce rates. I found various sources with varying conclusions. The sources also calculate the “divorce rate” in different ways. I’m not concerning myself with which way is best (nor yet even understanding all of them) since all I’m interested in are the comparisons.

Here is what I have found:

I had heard repeatedly that Utah, which of course is predominantly Mormon, had the lowest divorce rate of any state. However this table from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that Utah’s divorce rate for 2012 was 3.3 (per 1,000 people), which is equal to or higher than 17 other states and the District of Columbia. [1]

This article from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on the Brigham Young University website, says the following: “Recent U.S. data from the National Survey of Families and Households indicate that about 26 percent of both Latter-day Saints and non-LDS have experienced a divorce (Heaton et al., Table 2).”

This article from the FAIRMormon Blog discusses a survey of Mormons published in 1985 (using, if I understand correctly, data from 1981), which, when compared with the results of previous surveys of non-Mormons, showed that Mormons had a lower divorce rate than Catholics or Protestants, at 14.3% for men and 18.8% for women; compared with 19.8% and 23.1% for Catholics.  [2]

The FAIRMormon article also includes the results of “the 1999 Barna Survey”, which shows Mormons having a divorce rate of 24%, compared with 21% for Catholics.

This blog post includes a graphic of a “2008 Religious Landscape Survey” (“Sources: Pew Research Forum, Barna Research Group”).  The graphic indicates that it was published in The Denver Post. This survey also shows Mormons with a divorce rate of 24%, compared with 21% for Catholics.

The webpage of the Religious Landscape Survey itself doesn’t give divorce rates, but says that 12% of Catholics had a marital status of “divorced or separated”, compared with 7% of Mormons. [3]

This doesn’t include a comparison with Mormons, but I’m including it since it’s pertinent to the general theme: “The Georgetown center reported in late September that a variety of national surveys show ‘Catholics stand out with only 28% of the ever-married having divorced at some point.’ While 28% remains a troubling statistic, the research suggests that this figure compares favorably with the 40% divorce rate for those with no religious affiliation, 39% for Protestants and 35% for those of other religious faiths.” “Divorce Statistics Indicate Catholic Couples Are Less Likely to Break Up“, National Catholic Register (, November 14, 2013. See also, this.

In all, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between overall Catholic and Mormon divorce rates.

In several places (including the FAIRMormon article linked to above) I saw a cited divorce rate of 6% for Mormons who are married in the Temple. Some claim that this figure is misleading since it is based on Church records, which would only show Church divorces, ignoring the possibility that people married in the Temple might simply get a civil divorce, which would not be accounted for in Church records. However I found one article which asserted that the figure did take account of civil divorces. I’m not citing any sources for this either way, because I haven’t found any reference to specific data that it is supposed to be based on. (If anyone has information showing who is right, please share it in the comments.)

Of course the Catholic Church has no equivalent of Temple marriage, by which to directly compare the divorce rates of exceptionally devout Catholics with their Mormon counterparts. There is, however, this survey of 505 Catholic women aged 21-66 who had been instructed in the use of Natural Family Planning (NFP). The survey found that 99.8% had never been divorced; reduced to 97% when counting (for purposes of comparison with data concerning non-NFP-using Catholics) only those aged 21-44. Ninety-nine percent of participants aged 21-44 were married at the time of the survey; the remaining 1% were widowed. [4]

This can’t be compared directly with Mormons married in the Temple. For one thing, Catholics who use NFP are probably a more “elite” group, or in other words a smaller subset, than Temple-married Mormons. Still I think it shows something of what results when Catholics take their faith as seriously as Temple-married Mormons.

One issue regarding all of these statistics, is how to identify who counts as a “Catholic” and who as a “Mormon”. In this regard the Religious Landscape Survey says the following: “In this survey, we rely on respondents’ self-reported religious identity as the measure of religious affiliation. Catholics, for instance, are defined as all respondents who said they are Catholic, regardless of their specific beliefs and whether or not they attend Mass regularly.”  I suspect most random sample surveys do the same.

So the question becomes, whether Catholics or Mormons are more likely to continue identifying themselves as Catholic or Mormon once they have stopped “practicing”. If there is a much larger proportion of people continuing to call themselves Catholic while disregarding Church teaching and hardly ever going to Mass — as I suspect there is — that might skew the Catholic numbers more than the corresponding number of inactive yet self-identifying Mormons skew the Mormon numbers. The 2014 Religious Landscape Study seems to bear this out. It finds that 84% of those who self-identify as Mormons consider their religion “very important”, whereas only 58% of self-identified Catholics say the same.

[1]  Divorce rates by State: 1990, 1995, and 1999-2012; source: CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System.

[2]  For what it’s worth, the Mormon and non-Mormon data come from different sources, the Mormons having been contacted through Church records; the Mormon responses were then compared with non-Mormon data from prior studies done by different researchers.

[3]  Pew Forum’s 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which “is based on telephone interviews with more than 35,000 Americans from all 50 states. This is the second time the Pew Research Center has conducted a Religious Landscape Study. The first was conducted in 2007, also with a telephone survey of more than 35,000 Americans.”

[4] “Divorce Rate Comparisons Between Couples Using Natural Family Planning & Artificial Birth Control”, by Mercedes Arzú Wilson, Family of the Americas Foundation, Dunkirk, MD (2001).

The irony of political correctness

“A culture of political correctness dominated by progressives depends on their ability to freely offend the sensibilities and beliefs of those with whom they disagree.”

Stephen L. Miller, “South Park Shows How to Defeat the Social-Justice Warriors“,, November 2, 2015.

The beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder debate

I have been going around and around with Andrew at Irresistible (Dis)grace as to whether beauty exists subjectively only, or objectively as well.

I wanted to offer just a brief sketch of how I think beauty may have come about, to illustrate both the subjective and objective aspects of beauty. Since this seemed to be opening a new aspect of the discussion, I thought I would post it here as a new post. Some of the things I say here may not make sense without having read the prior discussion on Andrew’s blog, but unfortunately I don’t have time to edit it for purposes of making it stand on its own.

I said before (in mine and Andrew’s discussion) that God made the world in order to communicate himself to creatures. We traditional Christians believe God is purely immaterial, therefore we material beings have no way of perceiving him directly. Yet God wanted to use material things to communicate himself to us. How to do that?

I don’t know the specifics of how he managed it, but first, he made the creation beautiful. I’m sure Andrew would say, correctly, that this does no good unless there are beings who can “perceive” or “sense” — but my preferred term is “experience” — that beauty. Otherwise no communication is taking place.

Therefore God made beings who are capable of experiencing beauty in creation, who themselves are a part of that very creation. You could say that beauty and persons are like lock and key: Each useless on its own (as far as beauty is concerned), but made for each other.

He didn’t give us constant beauty, and perhaps not universal beauty either, nor a constant level of beauty. This, I suppose, is so that we can appreciate beauty: If everything is beauty and we’re constantly immersed in it without any break, then perhaps we would become oblivious to it, as I imagine fish are oblivious to water, or people are oblivious to gravity most of the time. Thus some things are more beautiful than others, sometimes we’re not in the mood to experience beauty, some people see beauty where others miss it and vice versa, and so on. Therefore when something strikes us as really quite exceptionally beautiful, it can be a transcendent experience, that is, it transcends our ordinary experience and makes us feel uplifted.

What exactly beauty is, though, I don’t think can be accounted for by material explanations. I think the experience of beauty is a spiritual sense of a spiritual reality with which material things are imbued. This may seem like a contradiction, but an analogy might be the intellectual stimulation and appreciation that people get from studying the material world on a deep level. Scientists often describe a sense of wonder and beauty upon learning or discovering some fact, or formulating an equation to account for a phenomenon [see e.g. ].

These scientists are not feeling wonder and awe upon looking at something which appears physically beautiful in a manner appealing to the senses, but rather, upon realizing the existence of some truth, or attaining an understanding of the cause or mechanism of some process.

Why do physical processes stimulate awe and wonder in human scientists? Because physical processes are awesome things, that is, they are so complex, intricate and elegant that they are beyond human powers to fully comprehend, and further, are far beyond what we ourselves are capable of accomplishing. It’s similar to the awe that an amateur piano player or basketballer experiences upon witnessing the skill and ability of a pro — except multiplied by a factor of billions, since a piano player or basketballer might feel that he could potentially reach that level of excellence with enough time and persistence, whereas a human scientist knows that he would never be capable of creating for example a solar system, or a black hole, or a physical force such as gravity or electromagnetism, from scratch.

Wonder and awe, like beauty, are spiritual reactions, in the sense that they are only experienced by beings with minds. And I think it stands to reason that things which inspire awe in a mind, themselves come from a mind. This is why they inspire awe in us: Because we can relate to them; we can ponder the mental capacity that would be required to create such a thing and when we do, we realize that it’s far beyond us. We can barely understand it, let alone invent such a thing ourselves. We relate to it on the level of intelligence, and therefore conclude that it has its origin in an intelligence. At least a lot of us do, and I would argue that that’s a reasonable inference.

And so beauty moves our spirits in such a way that we infer that beauty must have its origin in spirit. We are able to create things of beauty, but only by using things that we find around us, and largely by imitating or rearranging things which already exist: colors, shapes and sounds. When we think of how hard we must work to create a work of beauty, first to attain the skill and then to accomplish the actual work, we’re amazed and astounded to see how nature creates beauty so effortlessly and abundantly; and we realize that our own ability to create beauty only arises from nature itself. And so again we feel awe: That there is apparently a creative force, as we are creative forces, which achieves great beauty as a matter of course, which we can only do with much time and great effort; and thus infer that there is something like us, but infinitely far beyond us. At least, some people draw this conclusion; quite a lot of people, actually; and again I would argue that it’s reasonable to do so.

So in this sense, I think Andrew and I agree: That beauty must come from a subject and be appreciated by a subject, or it wouldn’t exist at all. It may not make sense to think of beauty existing in objective, material things apart from any subject, but if you think of objective, material things as the very “work product” of a subject, who himself contains beauty and in fact is the origin of beauty; and who, in addition, makes intelligent beings “in his image”; and then designs the objective, material things to possess qualities which are perceptible to the beings made in his image; and furthermore designs the beings made in his image to be able to perceive the qualities in the objective, material things by which he intends to communicate himself to them; I think we at least have a coherent picture of how it can be the case, that beauty can be a quality of objects as well as subjects.

To put it in perhaps a simpler but cruder way: If God wants people to experience X, he can make them sensitive to stimulus X, and then proceed to surround them with things which themselves contain stimulus X (I don’t mean “stimulus” literally, this is just an analogy); as in fact we might say that God wants us to experience intellectual awe, and therefore makes us capable of intellectual awe, and then surrounds us with things that are intellectually awesome.

If someone is a materialist, his materialism might prevent him from finding this a coherent account: If beauty is not measurable or detectable by instruments, in other words is incapable of being accounted for by the physical sciences, then he may for that reason conclude that it can’t exist anywhere except in a mind (which Andrew does conclude). Or to put it the other way around: If someone can’t believe in the objective existence of beauty since it can’t be accounted for physically, and therefore believes it can only exist subjectively, that may be an indication that he is a materialist.

One explanation for why liberals demand an ever vaster and more intrusive state

“Liberals are preselected for the incapacity to grasp the fact that certain evils might be necessarily concomitant upon certain goods. Liberals are by and large atheists and agnostics. Those who are religious are generally deists, which is to say atheists who believe in one very powerful alien. The reason they adopt this inexcusably stupid [Romans 1:20] position … is because they cannot see how evil is compatible with an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent entity. St Thomas dismisses this objection extremely casually in ST Ia,2,3 obj 1 and reply:

“‘Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

“‘Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.’

“The reason certain people cannot grasp this is because they do not understand that evil is privation and that God is subsistent being itself. As St Thomas says in Ia, 25, 6 ‘God can make something else better than each thing made by Him.’ Consequently, there will always be an infinitude of better possible worlds than any universe God has actually created. It is therefore pointless to complain that God has not made the best of all possible worlds as there is no such thing. God in His literally infinite wisdom makes use of our necessary finitude and imperfection to achieve good for us. As atheists and agnostics are unable or rather unwilling to accept this, they imagine therefore that anyone who can remedy any evil must do so, and if they do not do so they are themselves evil.

“As this is the pretext for their rejection of the Creator they must apply the same idiotic principle to the state. If there is any ill that the state could remedy and it does not, then the state must be responsible for that ill and will it to be. The idea that the attempt to remedy some ill by the state might occasion a greater ill or even that permitting some ill might occasion a good greater than that opposed by the evil tolerated must be rejected by the atheist and agnostic because otherwise they would have to surrender their beloved ‘problem of evil’ and expose themselves to the logic of theism. This is why atheists, agnostics and deists must demand an ever vaster an[d] more intrusive state intruding into every recess of human existence and when this state worsens every ill it seeks to remedy then some enemy must be identified ‘climate change’, ‘religion’ or ‘the forces or conservatism’, ‘human nature’ or hilariously ‘intolerance’ which may be blamed for the failure of their beloved Leviathan (and punished accordingly). For the only alternative is repentance and belief and this is a prospect that may not be contemplated even for a moment.”

Aelianus, “Refugees, Condoms, Atheists and Liberals“, Laodicea blog, October 24, 2015.

The tendency of liberal education, or why we need Ex corde Ecclesiae

“[S]uch Institutions [Catholic colleges not under the Church’s supervision and authority] may become hostile to Revealed Truth, in consequence of the circumstances of their teaching as well as of their end. They are employed in the pursuit of Liberal Knowledge, and Liberal Knowledge has a special tendency, not necessary or rightful, but a tendency in fact, when cultivated by beings such as we are, to impress us with a mere philosophical theory of life and conduct, in the place of Revelation. … Truth has two attributes—beauty and power; and while Useful Knowledge is the possession of truth as powerful, Liberal Knowledge is the apprehension of it as beautiful. Pursue it, either as beauty or as power, to its furthest extent and its true limit, and you are led by either road to the Eternal and Infinite, to the intimations of conscience and the announcements of the Church. Satisfy yourself with what is only visibly or intelligibly excellent, as you are likely to do, and you will make present utility and natural beauty the practical test of truth, and the sufficient object of the intellect. It is not that you will at once reject Catholicism, but you will measure and proportion it by an earthly standard. You will throw its highest and most momentous disclosures into the background, you will deny its principles, explain away its doctrines, re-arrange its precepts, and make light of its practices, even while you profess it. Knowledge, viewed as Knowledge, exerts a subtle influence in throwing us back on ourselves, and making us our own centre, and our minds the measure of all things. This then is the tendency of that Liberal Education, of which a University is the school, viz., to view Revealed Religion from an aspect of its own,—to fuse and recast it, to tune it, as it were, to a different key, and to reset its harmonies,—to circumscribe it by a circle which unwarrantably amputates here, and unduly developes there; and all under the notion, conscious or unconscious, that the human intellect, self-educated and self-supported, is more true and perfect in its ideas and judgments than that of Prophets and Apostles, to whom the sights and sounds of Heaven were immediately conveyed. A sense of propriety, order, consistency, and completeness gives birth to a rebellious stirring against miracle and mystery, against the severe and the terrible.”

John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University (1852), Discourse 9, “Duties of the Church towards Knowledge”.

Hiding the hard teachings

“There are many in the Church today who wonder and worry themselves over the slow exodus of her youths and the weakening of her power to attract those outside her doors. Then, acting in a way like Rehobo′am, these worriers chase the counsel of the young (or at least their culture) and seek to hide the hard teachings while showing only what might be popular. If we would but ‘learn from our ancestors in faith,’ the truth of the situation is plain to see: the word of God is rare in these days. The people do not find anything they need in the Church because they do not know their crimes and so cannot know they need forgiveness. They have been distracted by the shining idols put up in sin, in places far from God, and ever fewer ‘people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord,’ (1 Kings 12:27-29).”*

Dxfc, “Humanity: A History of Bad Habits,” Finding Myself Catholic blog, October 19, 2015.

*”After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.”