Notes from Across the Atlantic
Joseph Bottum FAITH Magazine September-October 2010
MERITS OF ABSTINENCE-ONLY ED
'A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine suggests that abstinence-only' education can be effective in delaying sexual activity among sixth- and seventh-grade children. An abstinence-only programme was, in fact, more successful than either "health promotion education" or safe sex-only education. The study involved children who attended an eight-hour intervention programme emphasising that abstinence prevents pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. No "moralistic arguments" were made, and it was not suggested to the children that they abstain from sex until marriage. The study found that the children were 33 per cent more likely to abstain from sexual activity over a two-year period than children who attended interventions stressing the importance of safesex or of maintaining good health generally.
While the study emphasised that the abstinence-only classes "would not be moralistic", there was an underlying assumption in those classes that the children themselves were moral beings - a striking difference between the abstinence-only and safe sex-only interventions. In the abstinence-only program, it was emphasised that "abstinence can foster attainment of future goals". In contrast, the safe sex-only intervention concentrated on education about sexually transmitted diseases and condom use - that is, it focused on the present only. The first programme assumed that children look forward, anticipate and hope. The second assumed that, like the lowest animals, they are aware only of the here and now. These results provide more evidence that children are, indeed, of the species Homosapiens - creatures who are capable of checking natural desires and planning for the future and who are illuminated to some degree, by the light of natural reason, by which they recognise the good and make choices accordingly.
LANGUAGE AS SPURIOUS DEFENCE
A Gallup poll published in May reveals that, for the second year in a row, more Americans identify themselves as "pro-life" (47 percent) than "pro-choice" (45 percent). It's not entirely clear what these results reveal about the American people; the difference in opinion is within the poll's margin of error, and there has been no attendant increase in moral condemnation of abortion to explain the growing popularity of the pro-life label.
Nancy Cohen of The Los Angeles Times, however, believes she has the answer. The adjective pro-life, she laments, just sounds so much more appealing than pro-choice: "Who, after all, could be against life? Between life and choice, life should win every time.... 'Pro-choice' has turned into a tone-deaf rallying cry.... It essentially cedes the moral high ground to the anti-abortion movement."
The solution, Cohen suggests, is a change in nomenclature: The pro-choice movement should market itself as the pro-freedom movement - a euphemism for a euphemism now sullied by the reality it signals. And after pro-freedom, what? The infinity of language as the best hope for preserving the abortion licence?
HOPE FOR CATHOLIC SCRIPTURE SCHOLARS
Gary Anderson's astute essays on biblical topics are familiar to many readers of this journal. They will be pleased to know that the University of Notre Dame has elevated him to the rarified realm of a named chair in the theology department, the newly founded Hesburgh Chair of Catholic Theology. As the old models of biblical study break down, Gary - along with his former colleague at Harvard, Jon Levenson - has been at the forefront of efforts to rethink the relations between the historical-critical project and the living realities of contemporary Christian and Jewish faith. It's a good sign for the future of Catholic theology that a scholar so intellectually gifted - and committed to the theological future of the Catholic Church - has received such an honour.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Remember Richard John Neuhaus' 1971 book In Defense of People? On page 205, you can still find: "Curiously, few of the more ardent crusaders are demographers, and demographers do figure prominently among those who counter the contentions of the crusaders. Paul Erlich, for example, is a biologist, as is Garrett Hardin. John Holdren, Ehrlich associate and super-hawk on population control, is an expert on plasma research." Perhaps that name, John Holdren, sounds familiar. He's now the czar of science for all these United States.