Thursday, March 13, 2008

STDs in 1/4 of American teen girls: Scientistic ideology blinds to the truth

We are told that 1/4 of American teenaged girls likely have some form of an STD; and then come the predictable and inadequate proposals of solution(s). What might you guess could save future girls from this fate? Our secularist culture has only one string on its guitar: (from today's New York Times)
“'High S.T.D. infection rates among young women, particularly young African-American women, are clear signs that we must continue developing ways to reach those most at risk,' said Dr. John M. Douglas Jr., who directs the centers’ division of S.T.D. prevention.
"The president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards, said the new findings 'emphasize the need for real comprehensive sex education.'
“'The national policy of promoting abstinence-only programs is a $1.5 billion failure,” Ms. Richards said, “and teenage girls are paying the real price.'”

How rich!

Yes, reach those most at risk. Yes, truly comprehensive sex education. But guess what PPF's notion of comprehensiveness manages to omit: yes, the transcendent ethical component of human sexuality that nearly all humans admit to knowing (even when they violate such norms routinely).

PPF swipes at abstinence education, as if the $1.5 billion spent (if true) failed. Well, not exactly, when that amount is (1) a pittance compared to everything else done under the veneer of sex ed; and (2) when whatever is done to urge youths to abstain from sex outside of marriage happens in combat-like conditions. That is, the abstinence message, when voiced, is preceded, threaded through, and followed by stronger voices that undermine it. It's like being given a grant to teach virtue in Madame Reno's brothel. Abstinence education is continously attacked and marginalized with the hopes of the likes of PPF that it will go away.

We've known for millennia that effective communication requires credibility -- both of the message itself and of the messengers. I don't trust PPF to make any kind of case for abstinence; their "non-profit" profit from operating abortuaries would nosedive. They ooze "conflict of interests" when it comes to advocating abstinence. And when credible communicators offer their message in our public schools today, it's like they're standing on the brothel's front porch. No wonder it's less effective than we'd like. Abstinence education will be quite effective when the messengers truly believe the abstinence message and speak it into a context of similar belief. Ideas do have consequences, and chief among such consequential ideas are those deeply, sincerely held beliefs. And failure to live up to such beliefs is evidence not against their truth but instead of the real moral conflict in which all of us live. But in our post-Enlightenment world, such deeply held beliefs about morality and ethics are poo-pooed as merely subjective values, about as close to knowledge as your preference for chocolate over vanilla ice cream.

What we face is the strength in their prime of some of the bastard children of the Enlightenment. That 17th-and-18th-centuries revolution in western thought had the effect (not intended by all who produced it) of devaluing and ultimately dismissing the moral sense common to all human beings remotely normal. It pushed common sense out of the throne room of knowledge, and crowned only the following with the Culture's Seal of Approval:

  • that which is self-evident to all, publicly (such as the law of non-contradiction, whether or not someone can state it; but not the contents of your or my conscience, since we do disagree, sometimes to often, about that);
  • that which is deduced from such self-evidence by moves of logic that we can't doubt (e.g., the classic syllogism: All men are mortals; Socrates is a man; therefore, S. is mortal -- no one can imagine doubting the conclusion or the reasoning);
  • and that which is verified empirically, that is, laboratory-style.
Notice what is left out: our perhaps most important pre-philosophical intuitions about right and wrong and reality itself, the stuff we used to refer to -- and expect everyone else to acknowledge -- as "common sense." What is left out is the pre-philosophical knowledge of God, which tradition and Scripture claim to be universal. What is left out -- or at least hedged about quite a bit -- is this ineradicable sense that we ought to do and seek the good and not do and avoid the wrong and the evil; and that we should nourish and not suppress this strong compulsion toward good and be willing to discipline our appetites as needed to help us proceed on this path; and that we should use all the powers of reason and observation and all means of extending knowledge to likewise help us on this path. And so forth.

But in the Enlightenment world that continues to grip our cultural authorities (the learned societies, king of which is anything "scientific"), anything that has to do with ethics or religion is, by ideological stipulation, incapable of being classified as "knowledge," usually being allowed to survive in polite company under the patronizing, condescending notion of "one's private beliefs and values," which are fine to have and hold -- privately -- but which should never intrude into the world of real knowledge. With this comes the dualisms of Secular (where the truly important stuff happens) vs. Sacred (which is the realm of private delight and guilt but banished from the Realm of Knowledge). Also comes the ideology of secularist education: that just the correct knowledge will produce the right affections and behaviors; or, worse, the correct knowledge plus the momentarily correct social affections and behaviors will condition those immersed in this witches' brew to think, feel, and act in conformity with the authorized social norms, regardless of whether those norms are true or truly good.

So, PPF's comprehensive sex ed will not take seriously, if at all, what the vast majority of human beings worldwide know and have known: that the human sexual act ought to be reserved to marriage (even if polygamous). The scientistic ideology born of the Great Moral Darkening (aka Enlightenment) denies that people know any such thing. If it mentions abstinence until marriage, it won't assert with confidence, "this is how you and all of us should behave," but it will mumble something smarmy like "get in touch with your values and decide what's right for you and your partner," which constitutes the wholesale abdication of adults from their most important role: that of confidently guiding the young into maturity. We've been doing this culturally at least since the 60's, since those lame university administrators (and faculty -- of which I am one today) capitulated to the petulant, insufficiently spanked hoodlums posing as college students and let "the inmates run the asylum" and replace the curriculum fashioned by those who were in a position to know better than their juniors with the smorgasbord approach to learning that presumes that students already know what they need to learn and will choose the right course for their education without anyone's having to say "you must study x and y."

See J. Budziszewski's What We Can't Not Know: A Guide and Michael Wittmer's "God Exists" for more thoughts along these lines. And weep for the children we have abandoned and continue to abandon, even as we ply them with iPods and You Tube and watch more and more of them reach their twenties with bodies (and souls) already as spent as those we used to think populated only sailors' ports of call.