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August 7, 2007

by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar When students go back to school, will they practice for divorce or prepare for marriage? That’s the question I asked myself as I read the recent Pew Center Report on the Generation Gap.  The report shows that young Americans are fed up with the divorce culture. Unfortunately, many of those same young people are embarking on a lifestyle that is setting them up for marital failure: cohabiting in their co-ed dorms.

The table entitled, “Views About Divorce, by Gender, Race and Age,” illustrates the younger generation’s tougher line on divorce than their elders. In response to the question, “Should (divorce) be avoided except in an extreme situation, or (is divorce) preferable to maintaining an unhappy marriage?” only 30% of Baby Boomers and 32% of those over 65 thought divorce should be avoided except in an extreme situation. These two generations institutionalized the Divorce Revolution. The immediate post WWII generation implemented no-fault divorce. The Boomers practiced it with a vengeance.

Their children, and their younger siblings are not so enthused. Nearly half of the youngest generation surveyed, those between the ages of 18 and 29, believe divorce should be a last resort.  The next older generation, born between 1958 and 1977, are Baby Boomer kid siblings and first offspring. Forty-two percent of this group think divorce should be avoided.

In my experience giving speeches on campuses, I have been stunned by how many students are sick of divorce. They’ll tell me about their parents’ four divorces.  Or they’ll tell me how horrid it was when their mom kicked their dad out of the house. One young man described his humiliation watching his mom’s parade of boyfriends.  Even students who disagree with me about things like gay “marriage,” admit I’m right about the problems of children of unmarried parents.  These young men and women want lifelong marriage for themselves, and for their children.

Unfortunately, some of their other views will not serve them well in their ambitions for life-long married love. The same Pew report showed them to be tolerant of cohabitation. The trend toward cohabitation is partly due to fear of divorce: people view cohabitation as a safe alternative to marriage and as a test-drive for marriage. Unfortunately, neither of these perceptions is accurate.  Cohabiting does not protect a person from the pain that breaking up so often causes. And, cohabiting couples are more, not less likely to divorce, if they ultimately do marry.

Many cohabiting couples don’t exactly “decide” on their status: they make a series of non-decisions. One sleep-over leads to another, with a few possessions being moved in each time. People tell themselves they are having a “test drive,” sitting back rationally deciding whether this relationship is really right for them.  But their bodies have a different agenda.

People attach to each other through the sexual act. For women, the physiology of attachment takes place through a hormone called oxytocin, which we release when we are making love or nursing a baby.  This hormone tells us to relax and connect to the person we’re with, whether it is the nursing infant who is radically dependent on us, or the partner who could become the father of a child.  This attachment hormone is our body’s way of trying to create a family.

Although men famously do not attach to their partners as easily as women do, men do nonetheless bond. The cohabiting couple may believe they are testing out their relationship. But in fact, their bodies are creating an “involuntary chemical commitment,” whether they are really a good match for each other or not.

This is one reason why cohabitation is so often disappointing. If the couple breaks up, as they are statistically more likely to do than married couples, the pain of the breakup can be just as intense as if they were married. And if they do get married, they may not be as well matched as they think they are.  They may wake up one morning and wonder who the heck they are in bed with.  They may feel themselves to be in an “arranged marriage:” arranged by a couple of kids buzzing with hormones on the brain, rather than by adult parents. Their bodies have connected, in spite of their belief that they are hedging their bets.   

Preparing for marriage or for divorce?  The young want life-long married love. They deserve accurate information from us: cohabiting in the dorm rooms is a set-up for marital failure.

Responses to Why We Squirm in Church:

As a relative newcomer “to the source,” I am enjoying the fresh insights and perspectives you offer as well as the interesting responses from readers. Part of my “mid-life crisis” as a longtime minister and follower of Christ has been a renewed appreciation for the need to be regularly stretched and challenged in my faith – both the underlying assumptions as well as the practical expressions. Your responses to scientific atheism as well feel-good spirituality have been entertaining and beneficial in recent months. Thanks for your “ministry” and the excellence with which you pursue it. - Curt Grice

"Onfray wants to move beyond this to what he calls "atheistic atheism," which requires the wholesale invention of new values that have never existed before." Isn't it interesting that even though the devil has no idea what kind of values to replace God's with, he still wants them gone. This certainly proves that there is a standard that objectively exists. God created good and evil and evil is merely the absence of good. Evil can't, in and of itself, be anything. Even though it really wants to be God if it ever got there it wouldn't have anything left to stand on. God invented everything, including this morality that Onfray wants to deny completely. The only thing he can replace it with is a perversion of God's original blueprint, nothing more. - David Csinsi

I read your last e-mail concerning “Why We Squirm in Church” at first with a tinge of horror and disbelief that someone like Michel Onfray could be so virulently opposed to Christian beliefs. Then I remembered a basic Biblical truth that I sometimes ignore. Eugene Peterson, in his book on Christian discipleship called “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” (ironically, he took the title for the book from a line of Nietzsche’s), finishes the Epilogue of his wonderful book with a couple of paragraphs which brought things home for me. Peterson imagines that Nietzsche has stopped by to visit him in his library. In this imaginary scene, Nietzsche is pleased to see that Peterson has used one of his more famous lines as the title of a book. I’ll let Peterson tell the rest in his words: “Then he takes the book off the shelf and looks through it. His face furrows in an angry frown. The old atheist was convinced that Christians, by promoting the weak and ineffectual Jesus to keep the weakest, spiritually diseased, morally unfit and inferior parts of the population alive and reproducing, were a malign influence on civilization, and would be the ruin of us all. He thought he’d delivered a death blow, and now he finds us still at it. I love imagining him standing there angry and appalled, beard smoking, astonished that these weak, inadequate, ineffectual and unfit Christians are alive still, and still reproducing.” That for me sums up the situation with today’s atheists. Today they are here, and tomorrow they are gone. In the meantime, God continues to build His Kingdom on this earth through the faith of ordinary believers. Michel Onfray (and Dawkins and Hitchens) should consider that truth, and tremble. - Bob Fulton

Dear Dinesh, The fatal flaw, as I have said before, in your position on atheism, and the position of Michael Onfray, among many others, is that you tie the concept of atheism to the human being. You cannot forsake the connection you make between God and man. It fact there is no connection between God and man except to legitimize and sanctify the teachings of Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, and the many others, God is the explanation for existence. The explanation for existence has nothing to do with man on planet Earth in the relative nano-second in time of existence of man on Earth. God, as you see "him" can be of great value and comfort. I understand why most people from the dawn of time have needed God as you see "him." So be it. Existence exists. There is an explanation for existence. The human being is not the explanation for existence. Respectfully yours, - Norman Henry

Dear Dr. D'Souza, What many people do not seem to understand is that atheism, as discussed in this article, is just another form of religious fanaticism; no different than the Inquisition, or current Islamic fundamentalism. I refer you to the excellent little book, "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer for insight into the thought processes that create mass movements (actually, I'm sure you've read it). Fanaticism, in most any form, contains the seeds of violence and destruction, both physical and cultural. Indeed, you need look no farther than the actions of some "fans" at sporting events to see this. Sincerely, - Harry A. Madden

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IWF/Pinsky Conference Re-Cap
Why Not Take Her for a Test Drive?
The False Promise
Church of England Faces Opposition After Approving Cohabitation Rights
Research looks at cohabitation’s negative effects
Message to our daughters/Message to our sons
Sociological Reasons Not to Live Together
As Marriage / Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Concerned about Social Impact
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  Jennifer Roback Morse
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. brings a unique voice to discussions of love, marriage and the family. A committed career woman before having children, she earned a doctorate in economics, and spent fifteen years teaching at Yale University and George Mason University. The devastating experience of infertility changed her life and her research program, for the better! In 1991, she and her husband adopted a two year old Romanian boy, and gave birth to a baby girl. She left her full-time university teaching post in 1996 to move with her family to California. She was a Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. She is now a part-time Research Fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, and writes and speaks about love, marriage and the family. Until August 2006, Dr. Morse and her husband were foster parents for San Diego County, where they now reside.
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