Red Sex

(This is an excerpt from my 2011 book Premarital Sex in America…)

Martin was a 19-year-old from Virginia when our research team spoke with him for the second time. He had tried college but had dropped out after a year. It just wasn’t for him. Instead, he settled comfortably back into his working-class roots, becoming an electrician. By ignoring the popular narrative that said he needed a college education to successfully navigate life, Martin had found his niche. And a girlfriend. Not terribly religious and yet very culturally conservative, Martin is one face of “red” America.

Although sexually experienced with a previous girlfriend, Martin wasn’t having sex at age 19 because he was dating Bethany, the 15-year-old daughter of a police officer. Indeed, sex with her would’ve been against the law, and he was well aware of that. But the two were hardly unsexual. Martin said they did “everything but,” a common revelation. A vocal opponent of homosexual behavior, Martin is more conservative about others’ sexual decisions than his own. Although he believes the Bible says that sex before marriage is wrong, he adds, “A lot of it, I think, has to do with society to a certain extent.” While it’s not exactly clear what he means by that, we suspect it’s a way of claiming that sex is normal relationship behavior today, regardless of what might have been acceptable in the past. Like many conservatives, he offers a nod to the standard while excusing his diversion from it: “I’ll tell you, I believe in it. But I’m not perfect. . . . I mean nobody is. But I’ll be the first person to tell you I’m not.”

While premarital sex has largely dropped off the map of salient issues among many conservatives, marriage has not [Read more...]

How Best to Help the World’s Poor?

What is the most cost-effective means of helping the World’s poor? Economist Bruce Wydick surveyed a group of developmental economists about 10 popular strategies. Of the ten, the economists deemed donating farm animals, drinking fair trade coffee, and giving poor kids laptop computers as the least effective interventions.

What was most effective? Programs that provide clean water to rural villages, and programs that provide medicine for deworming people. He cites a study that found that “regular de-worming treatment in worm-infested areas of the developing world can reduce school absenteeism by 25 percent at a cost of only 50 cents per year per child.”  Wow!

Read more in the February issue of Christianity Today.

Do Secular Colleges Destroy Young Christians’ Faith?

I recently received an e-mail asking about the impact of secular vs. Christian colleges on Christian’s faith. Specifically, the person asking the question had been told that the data are “irrefutable:  secular colleges have a tremendously detrimental effect on the faith of college students” and he wanted to know if this is true.

My first thought is that this is a difficult question to answer because of selection issues. That is, if students in Christian colleges have more Christian beliefs, actions, and affiliation, is it because a) Christian colleges promoted their faith while secular colleges hinder faith or b) the students who go to Christian colleges are more devout in the first place.

What do you think? Do you know of any studies that have looked at this?

Christianity and Attributions

I’m just finishing Martin Seligman’s fascinating book Learned Optimism. Seligman, a psychologist at Penn, makes the case that how we explain the world has a big impact on us—especially when we’re explaining the causes of difficult or unpleasant events.

One way of explaining things is what Seligman refers to as a pessimistic attributional style. Here, when something bad happens, we explain it as a permanent event that is due to our own actions and that will affect every part of our lives. In contrast, an optimistic attributional style explains bad things as temporary, due to causes outside of us, and affecting only part of our lives.

For example, suppose that you’re driving in traffic and another driver cuts you off and makes an angry, obscene gesture at you. A pessimistic explanation might go something like this: “I’m a bad driver who must have done something stupid to upset the other driver so much. I always do stupid things.” An optimistic explanation might say “Oh, it’s Steve Bell. Hi Steve! [Read more...]

Demographic Change: Casualties or Opportunities?

By Richard Flory

At the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, we’ve been talking a lot lately about how different communities in the Los Angeles area have undergone significant demographic change, shifting in the last 20 years from predominantly African American to predominantly Latino communities. In fact, there remains only one predominantly African American community in south Los Angeles, while all the others now have majority Latino populations. This change presents many challenges and problems, not the least of which is the fact that there are now dozens—perhaps hundreds (and I’m not being dramatic in this)—of Black churches situated in those formerly African American neighborhoods. Which means that most of these congregations have been transformed from churches where most of their members lived in the surrounding neighborhoods and walked to church on Sunday (indeed many of these churches have very small, or no parking lots—in L.A.!), but who now live as far away as the Palmdale to the north, or Riverside and San Bernardino to the east.

The problem that these churches face is whether can they figure out a way to survive, let alone thrive, when their members are now in many cases former members, worshipping closer to where they currently live. Thus these churches are left with the dilemma of exactly who it is that they should serve, their few remaining long-time members, maybe attract a few more commuting members, or reach out to their Latino neighbors in their ministry and outreach programs. These churches have long ago paid off their mortgages, but they are now empty shells most days of the week, and on Sundays, most are barely one-quarter to one-half full. Several churches we have heard of have only a few remaining seniors, who are too old and lacking in resources to move out of the area, and are left to worship together as they, and perhaps their church, approach the inevitable end.

Yet this isn’t a new problem. [Read more...]