I’m calling this part 1.5 because its not part 2 yet but I’ve left part 1 sitting too long with no follow up because of an extremely busy work and personal week. I guess I could consider it risky to post this because it lays out some of my lines of inquiry, and leaves them undeveloped and someone can come along and scoop one or more up and run with it on their own blog. There would be at least two problems with that. One, my lines of inquiry are not novel or more clever than the bloggers who have covered this subject matter far longer and with more panache than me, and, if they do scoop it up and run, we all benefit….I benefit because as I mentioned before this topic is rooted into my personal metamorphosis into the Christian red pill paradigm. Its safe to say the genesis of me figuring certain things out (even if I’m wrong) can be found in this line of inquiry. Ok…enough.
In apparent contradiction we have A. the Barna study showing conservative Christians are more or equally likely to divorce than the general population and B. the assertion by Glenn Stanton and others, based on cobbling together parts of various surveys to prove that no, we serious believers are hunky dory with less divorce risk then the average John Q. Public.
Others have made the excellent point that even if Stanton is correct, why should we tout the Christian divorce rate that he claims as a feature and benefit of the faith? Yes a broken clock is correct twice a day….yippee! Buy broken clocks! The other good point already made was, why are we even making smug comparisons in the first place regardless the exact data? These are both important. But I am fundamentally bothered by the data itself. I reject it in fact. I need to explain why.
I am not rejecting the data in an either/or sense. I’m not saying that the Christian divorce rate indeed is the same or worse than everyone else. What I am saying is that they have yet to measure it. They accumulated lots of numbers, controlled for the obvious things where possible, and came to their conclusions seemingly without standing back and looking for potential qualitative contradictions, the sort of things that spawn the old Groucho grumble “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”.
One of the books cited,“The Cultural Contradictions of Mainline Family Ideology and Practice, in American Religions and the Family “, discusses various trends in metrics representative of what they call familism, from the 1950’s until the present day. They determine that every religious subset, except Catholicism, has moved away from what they call traditional familism towards what they term progressive familism. They include empirical representations (which I will post in part 2) of surveys and studies on things like stay at home versus working mothers, egalitarian beliefs about scripture and faith, and whether or not sexual relations outside marriage are ok. All of these things are significantly tilted towards progressive familism in every subset including the lauded serious believers. Here is the problem…all of those things also correlate strongly with the tendency TO divorce.
Finally, they show the tabulated responses to the question “do you think getting a divorce should be more difficult?” from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The active protestants, Stanton’s good guys, went from 60% in the 70’s to 68% in the 80’s to 64% in the 90’s. In other words, less people thought divorce should be harder to get in the 90’s then did in the 80’s. These responses and their pattern are similar across serious believers, so called believers, and all Americans, as categories.
In defense of the writers, they report stats, they do not so much mull them over and pontificate about needed further inquiry due to appearances of conflicting tendencies emerging. Once I buy the book this evening I will unpack that further and then chase the interrelationships I hint at.
The other book referenced in Stanton’s article is “Bradley R.E. Wright, “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites …and Other Lies You’ve Been Told”. The author of that book is the one to take a snap shot of the church, and tabulate the likelihood of an individual in attendance to have been divorced. This data is wide open for refutation. I found another writer who has studied divorcees as a demographic and how they fare after divorce. That writer shows that more than 70% of them exhibit behaviors that I am saying would make them far less likely to be in church, regularly or even occasionally. This dashes the authors attempt to assign cause and effect based on his snapshot of the church. There are simply too many reasons for the composition of the church at a given time to have a certain percentage of divorced people to be able to extrapolate anything useful about church and its impact on likelihood of divorce.
Finally I have lots of questions that I need to answer through other research. Because this is getting long for an interim piece, here are some of my notes Ive made this week, cut and pasted as written.
Notes for Blog
In the Bible belt more people go to church….what about the percentage of “serious believers” vs all attenders in the Bible belt vs. states that are not Bible belt?
What about the overall divorce rate in Bible belt states vs non Bible belt states? Why are Bible belt states so bad? Age of getting married they say….. but……marrying later usually means more sex partners and pair bonding issues….so?????
Ok, so we have a snapshot of people in a church. Of that snap shot X attend regularly, Y less so, and Z rarely. Of that given snapshot we have new attenders, mid time attenders and long term attenders. Is someone who has been a Christian for 6 months and will respond YEA! I attend every day….is that a committed believer? Of those who divorce, how many stay in church? How many stay in the same church? How many are absent from church for a while, and how many are , if recently (past year) divorced willing to even take such a survey as they will be depressed? One survey was about the attenders and if they had ever divorced or not and that group was carved into spotty attenders and regular attenders. OF COURSE divorced people are more likely to be spotty attenders, and especially men.
An interesting question would be to go thru the singles groups at church and ask about divorce vs attendance. Or go to people are are single, not necessarily in the singles group, and ask if they have been divorced. Women who have been divorced are going to be there more than men.
Surprising is one thing, divorced women will be more likely to attend church than divorced men, as the church is more likely to have alienated men.
I’m biting off way more than I likely will be able to digest, even if it gets chewed, but I am going to stay on this until I get some coherent theory that I can support to a satisfactory degree. And on second thought, I’d welcome anyone picking up and running with any of these questions and how they relate to the issue at hand….if you “feel led”….of course.