Thursday, March 19, 2009

VIRTUS: Making the Problem Worse — Part 2 of 2

March 9th, 2009 by Steve Pokorny · Edit Print This Article Print This Article ·ShareThis

Last time we diagnosed some of the main issues of “child-protection” programs like VIRTUS. Today we’re going to discuss the medicine.

Abdicating adult responsibility

The very fact that we feel suspicion and fear are our only allies in the work of protecting children from harm demonstrates a certain hopelessness to combat the root of the problem: a disordered view of human sexuality.

And it’s no wonder. We as a society wallow in a culture of death, where sexual deviancy is rampant and sexual “sins” are celebrated on sitcoms, highlighted by Oprah, and accepted by school districts that throw up their hands and pass out condoms in the face of pre-teen intercourse rates.

It’s often easy to see the problem (if we open our eyes). It’s harder—much harder—to accept our own responsibility for it. The truth is even many “good Christian adults” would find it hard to acknowledge that they’ve been desensitized by the hyper-sexualized themes in our favorite TV shows and popular movies, much less buck the trends by closing our pocketbooks or writing to the stations. Not to mention the numbers in our own camp who battle sexual addictions such as pornography and therefore feel less-than-worthy to take a stand for what they know is right.

So we accommodate the status quo, our complacency allowing society to slide further down the slippery slope. And when the effects of a hypersexualized, limit-free, “nonjudgemental,” gender-confused culture bear fruit in pedophilia, incest, and abuse, we do what? Cry foul and turn all our efforts to protecting children through “safe environment education” that strips them of their innocence?

Is it just me, or is the focus here terribly unbalanced? Instead of focusing on the illness causing the gaping wounds in our culture, partially enabled by our own complacency as adults, we force mere children to help put a Band Aid on the symptoms. Instead of emphasizing the burden of responsibility parents and adults have to create an environment in which children can flourish and develop because their critical needs for healthy touch and affection are met, we emphasize the negative, and subject our little ones to lessons on how to be wary of inappropriate touching from adults. We tell teachers that even innocent hugs are inappropriate. We mandate our diocesan volunteers and workers to cycle through “safe environment training” but allow many of the same to spread teachings (as well as to act openly) in direct opposition to the Church’s teaching on sexuality in classrooms and parishes.

The burden, it seems, falls heavily on the children. Those who need affirming touch and affection for their emotional and psychological growth are deprived of it by adults who, on the whole, prefer sexually explicit entertainment and loose sexual mores over the responsibility and stability of healthy family life.

What happens when these needs of children are not met? What happens to any of us when a particular need is not met in a healthy way? For example, if we skip breakfast and are unable to eat because we are busy all day, when a plate of greasy or otherwise unhealthy food is set before us, our hunger compels us to eat it, despite the diet we originally committed to. Likewise, if these children are deprived of healthy physical affection, they’re going to accept and indeed seek out any physical affection they can get, making them easier prey for abusers—and increasing their chances to become abusers themselves. This does not even mention the amount of children who get into non-marital sexual relations because they have not had a healthy experience of love.

Getting to the Root, Healing the Wound

We cannot afford to let the battle cry of “child protection”—as important as it is—eclipse the need to address the cause of the problem. If the people attending training sessions like the ones put on by VIRTUS come away thinking only of how they can address the symptoms and are oblivious to the disease, it is doing more harm than good. A conversion needs to take place in each heart that leads us to ask not just “How can I protect children?” but “How can I love these children enough to do everything I can, in my own life and in the community around me, to stop this cycle?” And the answer to this question must include

–strengthening traditional family life
–healing sexual wounds
–promoting understanding of the truth of human sexuality
–spreading the message of redemption and hope

Ultimately, any program that will satisfyingly address the root causes of sexual abuse must have its foundations in Theology of the Body. Why? Essential to the message of the Gospel and Theology of the Body is the reality of redemption.

So many people think that the Catholic Church is simply about setting down more and more oppressive rules and to keep us from all of our fun and freedom. In truth, Christ came to “set our freedom free” (Gal 5:1), where by entering into His paschal mystery, through drawing on our Baptismal graces, we can be set free from the chains of lust and love with His perfect love.

Many people think that this is an impossibility, some crazy ideal (even good, “holy” Catholics). John Paul himself answers this accusation by stating:

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man?” And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. (Veritatis Splendor 103)

In essence, this means that if a person still lusts (which is one of the root causes that drives a person to commit sexual abuse), it is not because Christ doesn’t have the power to take away their lust, but that they need to avail themselves more to His grace and allow Him to continually crucify their fallen desires. Through this gradual process, they can be set free to truly love.

If our bishops really want to end the child sex-abuse crisis once and for all, they need to implement programs that are going to give a holistic approach to sexuality, not ones that create an atmosphere of fear. The programs must provide an adequate anthropology that explains clearly that while we are fallen human beings, “redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel himself called, and “called with efficacy” (TOB 46:4). Sure, this process will take more than a 3-hour Friday night program, but the sacrifice of providing real answers will pay off in the long run. We need child “protection” programs that place Theology of the Body at the core of their pedagogy, so that we can begin to truly build a world that doesn’t simply respect the gift of children, but also the gift of our sexuality.

Without this, we really are just making the problem worse.

Collegiate Sex-Ed

by Ryan T. Anderson
February 03, 2009
Every fall, kids arrive on college campuses and learn that their basic moral intuitions on sexual matters don’t square with the reigning ideas. Thanks to debased campus culture and overreaching on the part of administrators and professors, students are beginning to respond systematically—and they’re having an impact. Here’s how.

No two undergraduate experiences are quite the same. But the undergraduate years are marked by certain commonalities: students are challenged intellectually, socially, and ethically. Long-held beliefs are forced to submit to rational scrutiny. No longer is “that’s just the way we do it” or “that’s just the way I feel about the issue” sufficient. In philosophy classrooms and biology labs, students are expected to slough off the opinions they held in their pre-critical-thinking days and adopt the conclusions of the best arguments. Everything is to be tested, and only the rationally defensible is to be retained.

Most students arrive at college knowing few, if any, of their classmates. Navigating the maze of social expectations and the ensuing climbing of social ladders in a community of strangers, students are forced to ask themselves questions: what type of a person am I; what type do I want to become; and with what type do I want to become friends? For many, this explicit self-examination and social-selection—choosing which finite group of people to befriend from a seemingly limitless pool of possibilities—is a first-time experience. In grade school, junior high, and high school, such choices weren’t quite as necessary—there were certain cliques and people just naturally fell into place. Get to college and you get to reinvent yourself—you have to define yourself one way or another.

No longer living under their parents’ roof, no longer in a supportive school, neighborhood, or church community, students no longer have external supports encouraging them to strive to meet the demands of ethical living—and holding them accountable when they fail. Instead, they find themselves subjected to new forms of pressure: a campus culture that demands conformity as the price of social acceptance, a professoriate that preaches new ethical dogmas, and administrators whose policies recognize no values but legality, liability, and physical health. It’s easy to see how otherwise virtuous students can begin to go astray—and how those already set on a bad path from high school have little hope of reforming themselves.

Yet most students arrive at college completely unaware of the patterns of life that await them. The fact is that many unsuspecting freshmen innocently join sports teams, enter into Greek life, and otherwise expect to lead active social lives, but have little idea of what sexual expectations are awaiting. Once seduced into the campus culture, they find it hard to break free. Even if dissatisfied and unfulfilled, they assume the problem is with them, not the culture. And for those who resist it from the get-go, it’s unclear what the alternative is.

Apart from some religious campuses and religious enclaves on secular campuses, the late teens and early twenties are a bit of a wandering. Sex is to be expected, but with no expectation of commitment, never mind marriage. Those desiring an alternative have no example to look to, no role-models to emulate. Gone are the days of courtship. Gone are the days of dating as an explicit preparation for marriage. Gone are the days of using one’s late adolescence and early adulthood to form the habits, the stable dispositions, the virtues required for healthy male-female relationships—both friendships and marriage. Instead, exploitation looms large. And most marriages fail.

But it only gets worse. Campus officials in lecture halls and administrative offices, rather than challenging debased campus culture, actually aid and abet it. “Abstinence education?” That’s a scientifically disproven method of avoiding pregnancy and disease. A pill and a latex sheath is all you need. “Chastity?” Hardly a virtue, the best moral philosophy and clinical psychology tell us that it’s a vice—an unhealthy attitude of repressing sexual desire, hating one’s body, and viewing sex as dirty. Courtship, dating, marriage, and then sex? All you need are consenting adults (in any number or pairings) to have good sex. And marriage is an outdated ideal anyway.

Most won’t buy that last argument—they still long for a marital relationship, of some sort, at some point. But they don’t know how to get there or what to do now. And anyone entering the secular academy holding anything resembling traditional Judeo-Christian views about sex, marriage, and the human family had better be prepared to meet the challenging questions coming his or her way. Why not pornography and masturbation as an alternative outlet to rape? Why not some pre-marital sex and cohabitation as a means of better getting to know one another, to see if you can live together before the wedding vows, to see if you’re sexually compatible before the wedding night? And even if not as preparation for marriage, why not hook-up just as a sign of temporary affection, and, well, because it’s fun, enjoyable, pleasurable?

Yet it’s not just the hook-up culture. If you think men and women are equal in dignity yet distinct and complementary, bringing unique and special gifts to bear on all aspects of life, expect to be called a sexist. If you think mothering and fathering are different, “parenting” in the abstract doesn’t exist as such, expect to be met with hostility. And if you’re at an Ivy League University and intend on being a mom first and foremost, expect to be told that you’re going to waste your education.

But the worst of all university dogmas to reject is the goodness and worth of the homosexual lifestyle. You think two men or two women can't legitimately enter into a loving and committed relationship? Well, you’re no better than the bigots who opposed interracial marriage. You think a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered and homosexual acts are objectively immoral? Can you say “homophobia”? And good luck if you’re someone who experiences same-sex attractions but doesn’t desire to be gay. You will be labeled as self-loathing.

From liberal dogmas on homosexuality to liberationist agendas on sex, feminism and marriage, from the social pressures put on guys and girls to be sexually active to the resulting pornography, masturbation, alcohol, and body-image problems—college campuses aren’t a pretty sight.

After my own four years as an undergraduate at Princeton, the problem was readily apparent to me, and a potential remedy seemed worth trying: rather than cowering away from the liberal orthodoxy on human sexuality, why don’t we subject it to intense, critical, rational scrutiny, expose it as intellectually wanting, and build a social network to oppose it?

February 2005 saw the launch of a new student group at Princeton, the Elizabeth Anscombe Society, named for the famed Cambridge philosophy professor, star student and successor of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and intellectual defender of traditional sexual ethics. The Anscombe Society set for itself a lofty mission:
We aim to foster an atmosphere where sex is dignified, respectful, and beautiful; where human relationships are affirming and supportive; where motherhood is not put at odds with feminism; and where no one is objectified, instrumentalized, or demeaned. We aim to increase the level of respect among members of the university community who disagree on these issues as we explore our common understandings as well as our differences. Lastly, we hope to provide those students who strive to understand, live, and love their commitment to chastity and ‘traditional’ sexual and familial ethics with the support they need to make their time at Princeton the best it can be.
The students who formed the Anscombe Society were tired of being subjected to a dehumanizing campus culture and hoped to point to an alternative, more excellent way. They were tired of the one-sided presentation of academic arguments related to marriage and family life—biased syllabi inside the classroom and monolithic student groups outside the classroom—and so they hoped to balance the intellectual conversation. Lastly, they were tired of an administration that absurdly claimed to be morally neutral when it came to matters of sexuality while consistently promoting liberal and liberationist sexual policies. They were determined to hold the administration accountable and seek change.

To achieve these ends, the Anscombe Society followed a three-pronged approach.

First and foremost, as a group at an academic institution and as heirs of Anscombe’s legacy, the Anscombe Society was about ideas—the give and take of reasons, the making and countering of arguments. Too often the academy has its own orthodoxy on issues of sexuality, and the prevailing orthodoxies are treated as immune from challenge. In classrooms, administrative offices, student groups, and student publications, an unquestionable dogma had been established. The Anscombe Society, through guest lecturers, newspaper op-eds, and discussion groups, provided serious and respectful academic responses and counter-arguments. The scholars they brought to campus to give public lectures made the intellectual case for a traditional conception of human sexuality and the human family from a multi- and inter-disciplinary perspective that drew on outstanding scholarly works of philosophy, theology, ethics, biology, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, economics, and sociology. They created an academic database on their website with the best articles from these same disciplines.

Now, the practical reality on most college campuses is that the main attacks on traditional sexual morality come from the constant onslaught of same-sex marriage advocates and feminists. Just from the need to play defense, these became central issues of response. For a student arriving on campus with basically sound intuitions about these issues—that there’s something to the fact that we come as male and female, something about our sexual differentiation that matters, and something about male and female forming husbands and wives to become fathers and mothers that mattered—but who couldn’t articulate a robust response to the campus LGBT and feminist groups or their ethics and politics professors, the Anscombe Society offered much-needed intellectual support. These students aren’t bigots. These students aren’t misogynists. But those are the charges you’d get if you voiced traditional thoughts on these issues on many elite secular college campuses today.

As the defense of traditional marriage was made, it quickly became apparent that the argument only runs as a conclusion from the underlying principle—virtue—of chastity. And so the Anscombe Society quickly began shifting from just a response to same-sex marriage and anti-feminine feminism to a whole-hearted proposal of chaste relationships as the most fulfilling. The Anscombe Society was committed to presenting the fullness of truth when it came to the intellectual case for the human family. (With one notable exception, the group abstained from taking a position on the issue of contraception.) Intellectual arguments—that was the first prong.

Second, but equally important given the social realities on college campuses, the Anscombe Society set out to form a supportive community. If you’re one of the few who is personally committed to living a chaste life, you can often feel quite alone on a college campus. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as if everyone is having sex all the time. But it changes the way you approach considering even the possibility of dating at college if you think that all of your potential suitors will eventually get to the point where they’re expecting sexual favors from you. As a result, many chaste students just withdraw. Part of it is that they simply don’t know who the other like-minded students are; part of it is that they think their ideals are outdated on campus, so they never speak up about them—and other like-minded students do the same. And so they never know how many of them are really out there. The Anscombe Society wanted to bring this closeted community out into the open—to get people to meet and know each other, and to provide alternative social activities for those students who didn’t quite enjoy the usual weekend scene of drunken debauchery. One of the best ideas they had was holding a reception for students sponsored by the faculty who affirmed the virtue of chastity and traditional marriage. Robert George, a professor in Princeton’s Politics department, took the lead in hosting the event. The first year there were eight faculty co-hosts. This past year, just four years later, there were just under twenty—even among the professoriate they don’t know how many of them are out there.

The third task was to provide assistance to those students who needed help in meeting the ethical goals they had set for themselves. This proved to be too ambitious, demanding, and technical for a mere student group. Addictions to pornography, body-image problems, same-sex attractions, usually require professional assistance. Not surprisingly, that’s why Princeton has an LGBT Center, a Women’s Center, and various other special centers with full-time staff people to meet the needs of students. Nothing like that exists for students taking the other side of the moral divide on these questions. At Princeton, the Anscombe Society is negotiating establishment of such a center right now.

Predictably, a group like this starting at an Ivy League university made waves. At first it was treated as a novelty. Then some people were threatened by the existence of the group; others were shocked that Princeton would allow a group that held “homophobic” and “anti-woman” views. But within the first couple of months the media started paying attention. Reports began to run in the New York Times, on Jay Leno, and in various social conservative publications and TV shows. The most unusual thing reporters noted about the group was that it wasn’t religious—the students thought reason was on their side.

Along with the media attention came interest from students at other campuses who wanted to start up similar groups. We readily assisted them. Over time it became clear that this assistance couldn’t continue on an informal level, and we organized a 501c3 non-profit group to help provide material support for the groups, and two years ago we hired a full-time employee to launch a national organization called the Love and Fidelity Network that would begin planting similar groups on university campuses in order to create a national network. This fall the Love and Fidelity Network held their first annual conference. A hundred students from twenty schools—including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Cornell—attended. America’s leading scholars on these issues made presentations.

All of that said, there are important lessons to be learned about starting an Anscombe Society. There are pitfalls and mistakes to avoid, based on how similar groups at other campuses have been launched or what a previous model looked like prior to the advent of Anscombe at Princeton.
1. Avoid anything that is too touchy-feely, too cutsey, too first-person personal, confessional, or self-referential. This is to be a serious group of serious ideas.

2. Avoid anything resembling chastity pledges, vows, or rings.

3. Do not sacrifice integrity to numbers. Softening your positions on various controversial issues in an attempt to drive up membership numbers defeats the entire purpose of a group like this. The goal isn’t to be popular; the goal is to provide a robust account of the more excellent way.

4. Be religion-friendly but do not be founded on religious premises or arguments. The purpose of a group like the Anscombe Society is to explain how traditional conceptions of the family and the role of sex within the family are more humanly fulfilling. Focusing on the human sciences—philosophy, sociology, psychology, medicine, biology, law, economics, political theory, etc.—should suffice.

5. Remember the doctrine of the mean: the virtuous positions lies between two vices on either extreme. As such, don’t overreact. Don’t respond to campus culture by going too far in the other direction and returning us to aspects of a previous age that have rightly been left behind. Consider three examples:

a. Sticking with the above: you don’t need to be secularist or anti-religion. There are good theological reasons for the traditional family—and you can include theological reasons as one among many. For example, a panel on religious reasons from across the traditions (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.) would be effective.

b. Speaking truth in love on the issue of homosexuality is very difficult. There is the temptation to water-down the truth or to express it in a non-loving way. Anti-gay bigotry is real. It is to be avoided.

c. Forcing women back into the home, barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen is not the proper response to the Ivy League professor who looks at you incredulously when you tell her that the most important thing in your life is the desire to be a good mom. Finding creative ways to merge your vocation as mother and vocation as scholar, lawyer, doctor, etc. is the way to go. Modern work schedules and professional life were largely formed around gender arrangements from a time long-ago, and they need not be retained. This is the work for the new feminism.

6. Preaching to the choir is not the same as intellectual engagement with campus culture. There is a time and a place for building up the base and equipping the students with basically sound dispositions with solid argumentation. There is also a need to be provocative and shake other students out of their complacent acceptance of liberal dogma. Finding ways to do this and to meet people where they are is key. The goal is securing intellectual and moral conversion.

7. The focus should be on marriage, not chastity. If people ask, “what’s the Anscombe Society all about,” the answer they should get is: “promoting stable and healthy marriages.” Chastity is the virtue that fosters this—both before and during, both inside and outside of marriage. Emphasize the end goal—the good—that you seek to promote.
The future for groups like these is bright. In response to debased campus culture coupled with overreaching on the part of administrators and professors, students are beginning to respond systematically—and they’re having an impact. I don’t foresee the basic situation changing in the near-term. We’ll continue to have basically decent kids come to college with basically sound intuitions, and then they’ll be bombarded with alternative messages. The need is to equip them with arguments to know that their basic gut instinct about Adam and Steve is correct; that wanting to have a family and be a mom and be educated is OK. The need is to create alternative environments to counter the cultural pressures that can lead passion to override reason, to form communities of virtue.

But meeting this challenge will not be easy. Survey data on the next generation shows views on the family and sexuality that are quite at odds with the vision of Elizabeth Anscombe. To persuade this generation of the truths Anscombe defended, we’ll need a new generation of scholars, from all the academic disciplines, willing to turn their scholarship toward defending the human family and the principles of morality that protect it and the virtues that sustain it. Given our academic setting, it’s fair to encourage all students, especially graduate students, to consider devoting their research to these issues. And professors shouldn’t be afraid to speak out. Elizabeth Anscombe certainly wasn’t.

Ryan T. Anderson is editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good. This essay is adapted from a paper presented at the annual conference of the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

Copyright 2009 the Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Explicit lyrics linked to sex among teens: scientists
Mar 4
Can listening to sexually aggressive lyrics prompt teenagers to have sex at an earlier age?

That's the issue raised by a new study, and it could unleash a fierce debate over whether a teen's music player is potentially risky and -- if so -- what should or can be done about it.

In an unusual piece of research, investigators at the University of Pittsburgh graded the sexual aggressiveness of lyrics, using songs by popular artists on the US Billboard chart.

The lyrics were graded from the least to the most sexually degrading.

They then asked 711 students aged 15 to 16 at three local high schools about their music preferences and their sexual behaviour.

Overall, 31 percent of the teens had had intercourse.

But the rate was only 20.6 percent among those who had been least exposed to sexually degrading lyrics but 44.6 percent among those highly exposed to the most degrading lyrics.

The study's lead author, Brian Primack, said music by itself was not the direct spark for sex but helped mould perception and was thus "likely to be a factor" in sexual development.

"These lyrics frequently portray aggressive males subduing submissive females, which may lead adolescents to incorporate this 'script' for sexual experience into their world view," he told AFP.

The study took social factors, educational attainment and ethnicity into account.

"Non-degrading" lyrics described sex in a non-specific way and as a mutually consensual act, while "degrading" lyrics described sexual acts as a purely physical, graphic and dominant act.

"Lyrics describing degrading sex tend to portray sex as expected, direct and uncomplicated," said the paper, which appeared last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Such descriptions may offer scripts that adolescents feel compelled to play out, whether they are cast in the role of either the female or the male partner."

Steven Martino, author of a study published in 2000 that also made the same association between music and sexual behaviour, said the findings were a wakeup call.

"The need [is] for parents to be aware so that they can place limits and criticise and understand what their children are listening to," said Martino, a behavioural scientist in Pittsburgh with the Rand Corporation.

More than 750,000 American teenagers become pregnant each year, giving the United States one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the rich world, according to figures quoted in the study. Nearly a quarter of all female teenagers in the United States have a sexually-transmitted disease.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, lyrics by Prince on his album "Purple Rain" prompted wives of senior politicians in Washington, led by Tipper Gore, to set up the Parents Music Resource Center.

They pushed for the music industry to develop guidelines and a rating system for lyrics, similar to the ratings for movies. The system was criticised by many as unworkable and counter-productive, making it more daring for teens to buy songs they deemed taboo.

"Government needs to help parents to regulate the industry," said Helen Ward, president of the Kids First Parents Association of Canada.

Today's technology means it is "physically impossible" for parents to monitor what their children listened to or watched on their MP3, she said.

But Raymond MacDonald, a specialist in music psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, described it as "a perennial debate that cropped up with artists like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Sex Pistols and Elvis Presley before that."

"Do we really need a solution to the problem?", he asked.

MacDonald said that even if every generation rehashes the discussion differently, there's an important difference today: age lines have blurred and now everyone is listening to everything.

"Maybe we should do a study to see if the music has as a bad influence on grandparents," he said wryly.

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