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Religion is destroying the nuclear family!

It’s not gays that are corrupting traditional family values, it’s god. The latest survey shows that members of Bible-believing churches are more likely to divorce than atheists are.

There are a number of explanations. Here’s one.

Secular couples tend to see both marriage and divorce as personal choices. Overall, a lower percent get married, which means that those who do may be particularly committed or well-suited to partnership. They are likely to be older if/when they do formally tie the knot. They have fewer babies, and their babies are more likely to be planned. Parenting, like other household responsibilities, is more likely to be egalitarian rather than based on the traditional model of “male headship.” Each of these factors could play a role in the divorce rate.

I also think there’s a difference between the sexes in traditional marriage, too: for women, it’s an obligation to live a life of service; for men, it’s a privilege to obtain a cheap servant who is required to give you cheap sex. That kind of differential can easily fracture what ought to be a partnership.

I’m relieved to see, though, that the article doesn’t imply that it’s something intrinsic to being an atheist, stating that it’s more like what slice of the socioeconomic pie you’re likely to get if you’re an atheist vs. a Christian, and it also suggests that the way to reduce divorce rates overall isn’t to get everyone to become an atheist, but to build a better social safety net and encourage more equality. Which also leads to more atheism, by the way, which is why the people suffering most under an unfair system will oppose changes to make it better.

I’m still going to deplore how all those religious organizations with “Family” prominently planted in their name are ironically poisoning the American family that they worship.

Comments

  1. Ogvorbis: Apologies Available for All! says

    I can back this one up through personal anecdotes.

    Wife and I, both atheists, married (wait, Boy is 23, so . . .) 24 years.

    Friend at word (secular Jew) and his wife (lapsed Catholic), married 17 years.

    Woman across the street, Independent Baptist church, now working on her third divorce (and every husband but the first was married at least once).

    Her neighbor, extremely Catholic, now getting a divorce after 15 years.

    And the scary thing is, I can keep right on going with this. My parents, atheist/agnostic Unitarians, married 53 years. Wife’s parents, secular Christians, 53 years.

    Yet I, and my wife, and my parents, and her parents, and my friend from work, are the ones destroying the family because we don’t want a theocracy. Bleah.

    Oh, one more: A couple I know from New York, after living together for 31 years, finally got married last year. Because they finally could get married. Because that is what they wanted, not what they thought god(s) demanded.

  2. dianne says

    Religious people usually believe sex outside of marriage is wrong. So they get married to get sex. Unsurprisingly, this works out poorly quite often. The 24/7 BDSM they feel obliged to play probably doesn’t help either.

  3. Sastra says

    When these statistics first came out a lot of explanations for the disparity were advanced. I remember one in particular (probably because it meshed with what I had personally seen in friends who were very religious or ‘spiritual.’) And this was a tendency for people who believed in Destiny, Fate, or Signs to stick with relationships which were obviously “meant to be.” Even when reason and evidence would lead in another direction.

    It does make some intuitive sense. If your world view is one where “everything happens for a reason,” “there is one special soul mate for every person,” and “God will show you who he has picked if you’re just receptive to His message” then it is damn easy to conclude that the first person you happen to have fallen in love with must be the ONE. You prayed about it — and God sent His answer through the usual method (you Just Know.) And now have you an obligation to stick with this person, come hell or high water, and marry them.

    Believe. Have faith. Look back and calculate all of the extraordinary coincidences which had to happen for God to bring you two together. Trust that God knew what He was doing.

    Couple this with a community which is continuously swapping stories of people with serious problems who are reformed by religion — religion expressed through the love of the believers — and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Sure, he has a temper and drinks. Yes, she shows little responsibility and lies. But all this will melt away if Christ is at the center of your marriage and home. Born Again means you will have a totally new life and sins can just melt away under the impact of God’s power to transform the soul.

    Uh huh.

    There’s a lot of plausibility behind the hypothesis that magical thinking and a belief that your partner was selected for you by God is going to lead to marriages which shouldn’t have taken place in the first place. The happy glow of a Christ-centered marriage is eventually going to fade away when you start to figure out that yeah, those little slaps during courtship weren’t God’s test of your belief in the power of faith. They were red flags.

    Red flags that someone who is approaching relationships rationally would notice. I think atheists would be less likely to assume that men or women are going to be placed in their path For a Reason. And they’d be less likely to be in love with the idea of starting a marriage with the idea that people will reform than would someone steeped in a Born Again culture.

    Is this really a good explanation for the higher divorce rate among the Born Again? My guess is that no, it’s probably not as large a factor as economics and age and some of the other things mentioned in the article. But I sure wouldn’t be surprised if it had some impact.

  4. says

    What Sastra said. Also: If you’re secularly-minded (which includes a lot of moderate believers) and you run into problems, you’re likely to frame them in terms of specific behaviours due to specific causes, and possibly seek competent help to work those out. The fanatically religious may see it as a demonic attack, or some violation of God’s order for marriage, and respond by praying harder or anointing their door-frames with holy water or something.

  5. carlie says

    I agree with everything so far. There’s also the fact that religious groups tend to be on the extreme end of the “men and women are different” way of looking at things, so any incompatibilities the partners see in each other get waved away as “all women are like that” or “all men are like that” rather than being a mismatch just between these two particular people (and that there might be someone who is a closer match to them out there somewhere).

  6. loopyj says

    With socially conservative religious/political groups, you can pretty much reliably replace ‘Family’ in their names with ‘Patriarchy’:

    Focus on the Patriarchy

    The Patriarchy Research Council

    American Patriarchy Association

  7. The Beautiful Void says

    @2 dianne: Hey, don’t associate us tolerant, consent-believing BDSMers with religious folks (even if there is a substantial overlap.) We may be perverts but at least we don’t brainwash our children into joining us in our perversions.

    @4 loopyj: Best. Idea. Ever.

    On-track:
    I note that these statistics don’t appear to control for differing income, education and the rural/urban divide; I’d be interested to see what happens if we controlled for it. In particular, I would be extremely interested to see a breakdown for single-income and double-income families. My gut instinct is that you’d get more religious people in the single-income camp and more secular people with double incomes, so seeing how the divorce rate intersects with these factors would be fascinating.

  8. doubtthat says

    Well shiiiiiiit. As a divorce attorney I’m going to have to start evangelizing, then.

    At least now I’ll be on the team that spends less time harassing women online…

    …sad that the last sentence is an defensible position in the West.

  9. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I also think there’s a difference between the sexes in traditional marriage, too: for women, it’s an obligation to live a life of service; for men, it’s a privilege to obtain a cheap servant who is required to give you cheap sex. That kind of differential can easily fracture what ought to be a partnership.

    While this is maybe more likely to be true for traditional (= religiously ordained?) rather than secular marriages, what you’ve written is hardly characteristic of the majority of people I know in traditional marriages. It comes off as a glib overgeneralization.

  10. unclefrogy says

    I think the association of sex in marriage only has a very strong a influence on divorce in the religious people.
    I would also suggest that that attitude probably plays a large part in the marriage and divorce of the less religious also.
    There is ample evidence that we are at the least very conflicted about sex, sexual relationships and relationships generally for it to be just one simple explanation for divorce rates.
    uncle frogy

  11. anchor says

    Sastra pins the mindset beautifully: as in most every other walk of life, the abrogation of personal responsibility to that god-thing not only pushes decisions on people but gives them a means of absolving themselves whenever things go wrong, as they inevitably will. loopyj adds an important element of the complex: the unquestioned allegiance to patriarchy, which is what its ultimately all about. Another insidious aspect of the destruction of family is the horrible consequences to the children of parents who are bound to stay married on threat of personal everlasting hellfire even though they are viciously incompatible.

  12. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Seconding Antiochus Epiphanes.

    I wouldn’t read traditional marriage as necessarily being religious, so I guess that’s an American thing again. When I hear about traditional marriage, without religion being explicitly mentioned, I assume adhering to gender roles in marriage.

  13. BeyondUnderstanding says

    @Beatrice (#12) & Antiochus Epiphanes (#9)

    I guess it depends on how you define traditional marriage. As you said Beatrice, I also assume it’s adhering to traditional gender roles within a marriage. Which, in essence, is exactly what PZ said.

    for women, it’s an obligation to live a life of service; for men, it’s a privilege to obtain a cheap servant who is required to give you cheap sex.

    In other words, if we define traditional marriage as: husband = breadwinner & wife = stay-at-home-mom/house-wife, in that faux 1950′s Leave It To Beaver kind of sense, then it’s safe to assume most overtly religious married couples fit (or aspire to fit to) that definition.

  14. Sastra says

    Beatrice #12 wrote:

    When I hear about traditional marriage, without religion being explicitly mentioned, I assume adhering to gender roles in marriage.

    Yes, the term “traditional marriage” is ambiguous. Does it refer to the division of labor of breadwinner/homemaker? Or does it refer to the mindset: the husband is the head of the house and the woman his helpmeet — often supplemented with the man making more money than his wife because she’s really all about taking care of the family.

    I’m in a ‘traditional marriage’ if you define it the first way. But it’s simply a division of labor and/or roles chosen by mutual consent for mutual convenience. Money vs. time. We don’t think it reflects on some Higher Truth about men and women and the way marriage ought to be. And we certainly don’t assume there’s now an inherent hierarchy of power because whoever earns the paycheck must be the BOSS.

    From what I’ve seen the religious ideal of the ‘traditional family’ is that the Mom works part-time but does all the chores AND home schools. Dad is the BOSS.

    And God is the BOSS of him.

  15. cuervodecuero says

    I thought religious marriages were breaking down in divorce because Satan ruled the law courts and had set divorce as an easy peasy legal option, thus allowing weak sinners to to collapse under the temptation of getting out of the ‘hell’ of a bad marriage instead of being yoked eternally as Gawds demand in the wedding vows?

    I mean, when there’s no escape from an ordained burden of husband and wife bondage, people try harder to work at making the bondage liveable…right?

  16. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Hm, my “adhering to gender roles” is ambiguous too, since people can take that to different levels.

  17. Sastra says

    I remember years ago when a very polite Christian came into Pharyngula and tried to argue against gay marriage by explaining that marriage and marriage laws were designed to protect the stay-at-home mother and/or homemaker. So it wouldn’t apply to homosexuals.

    I asked him to consider two hypothetical marriages: a male-female couple with no kids, both of whom worked vs. a gay couple with adopted children where one stays home to do all the housework and take care of the kids and the other one earns the paycheck. Which is the more “real” marriage? Which one should the State sanction and encourage?

    If he says the first one is then he needs to drop this argument about the homemaker — it’s just a ruse. But if it’s the second then he needs to drop his argument against gay marriage and focus on his real issue.

    I said he was polite because he admitted that this was a good point he hadn’t thought of, so never mind and thanks.

  18. says

    I think there’s something else at work:
    To people who think that divorce is OK, the option of divorce is not only a valid way out, it is also a kinf od Damokles’ Sword hanging over the marriage: Relationships can go Wahoonie-shaped, there is no guarantee, it’s not necessarily for life so they put in the effort to make it fucking work.
    If you take it as a given, for granted, it’s easy to stop working on it.

  19. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    In other words, if we define traditional marriage as: husband = breadwinner & wife = stay-at-home-mom/house-wife, in that faux 1950′s Leave It To Beaver kind of sense, then it’s safe to assume most overtly religious married couples fit (or aspire to fit to) that definition.

    But even if we accept this as true (which I don’t*), PZs description of traditional marriage

    …for women, it’s an obligation to live a life of service; for men, it’s a privilege to obtain a cheap servant who is required to give you cheap sex.

    doesn’t seem apt. Or no more apt than for secular arrangements.
     

    *Just based on my own experience, anyway.

  20. qwerty says

    One thing I have noticed while watching shows like 48 Hours is that sometimes people who think that divorce isn’t an option often murder their spouses when the marriage goes sour or to avoid the stigma of a divorce within their congregation.

  21. Hatchetfish says

    And the headline over at the wiki that must not be named, once Andy sees this. “New Study Confirms Atheists Live Sad Lonely Single Lives – Lower percentage marry.”

  22. carlie says

    To people who think that divorce is OK, the option of divorce is not only a valid way out, it is also a kinf od Damokles’ Sword hanging over the marriage: Relationships can go Wahoonie-shaped, there is no guarantee, it’s not necessarily for life so they put in the effort to make it fucking work.
    If you take it as a given, for granted, it’s easy to stop working on it.

    It goes the other way too, though. If you don’t believe divorce is an option, then you have to figure out how to make it work in order to live with it.

  23. says

    Giliell at 19 and carlie at 23, I agree with both of you and would like to add that there may be differences in how ‘making it work’ is approached. Like praying to God about it vs talking to your partner, using your religious leader for guidance vs a trained professional counselor. Also, if the woman is not seen as equal to the man, she may have little power to ‘make it work’, and will be expected to make the sacrifice.

  24. dianne says

    @7: It’s the 24/7, subtextual, and no safe word aspects that bother me. Healthy perverts are healthy. Religious people pretending that they’re doing it because god said to do it that way and that they get nothing out of it are…not.

  25. says

    carlie
    That’s true, too.
    Yet from personal experience it seems to me that people who believe in “happily ever after”, not even necessarily religiously motivated, think that once they’re done with their vows everything is fine. And then they become unhappy, especially when things change, like babies coming.