Thursday, December 20, 2007

Letters to a teenage skeptic, #5

This is a continuation of Letters to a teenage skeptic, #1 , #2, and #3 and #4.


My beloved Son,

I'd like to discuss what we talked about last week, this goal of living life to its fullest potential. This, in my view, is equivalent to the need to live a life of virtue and avoid vice in order to attain true happiness for yourself and for those around you. You claimed that your mother and I were being "irrational" in our discussion with you last week. I'm writing to you so that you can read and re-read the argument to see if it is indeed rational, and to respond to any of the points you believe to be irrational.

Last week, you agreed with the need to live a virtuous life. I'd like to discuss this further, by expanding upon what is meant by living a virtuous life. Then I'd like to discuss one particular virtue that modern society seems to have difficulty with, that of chastity.

Virtue is "conformity to a standard of right, a particular moral excellence" (Merriam-Webster). Vice is "moral depravity or corruption, a moral fault or failing" (Merriam-Webster). Virtue leads to happiness, vice leads to unhappiness. Ancient philosophers well before the advent of Christ, such as Plato and Aristotle, assert the virtue or excellence of a thing causes that thing both to be itself in good condition and to perform its function well. Therefore, a virtuous person is one whose moral excellence causes them to be in good condition and performing well. The same could be said of a virtuous society. The laws that govern personal behavior and those that govern society ought to then promote virtue and penalize vice. The ancient philosophers describe virtue as the "mean" or moderate amount which lies between excess and deficiency. Aristotle wrote, "a master in any art avoids what is too much and what is too little, and seeks for the mean and chooses it." (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, II, 6-7). This is how I understand virtue. Do you have the same understanding? If not, please explain.

Philosophers dating back to ancient times have described what are called the cardinal virtues. These are the four principal virtues upon which all moral virtues depend. Moral virtues are those excellent qualities that guide how mankind ought to act toward mankind. There are many moral virtues, but all the moral virtues have these common qualities: being well judged (wisdom), submitting to the common good (justice), being restrained with measure (temperance), and having firmness (courage). Thus, the four principal or cardinal virtues are: Wisdom, Justice, Temperance, and Courage. In addition to these, we also have theological virtues which guide how mankind ought to act toward God. They are: Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Now, I'd like to discuss the virtue of temperance.

Aristotle wrote, "The temperate man craves for the things he ought, as he ought, as when
he ought; and when he ought" (ibid., III, 12). The specific craving that I'd like to discuss is that of sex, as modern society seems to have a skewed perspective of sexuality, distorting into what can only be called pornography or licentiousness. The moral virtue of temperance with regard to sex is called "chastity."

You said last week that you believe you have a lot of self-control, and as an example you said that there have been many times in which you have had the opportunity to have sex, but have instead chosen not to have sex. This is an example of temperance, called chastity. On those occasions, you certainly lived virtuously, choosing chastity in the face of temptation. This is the virtuous behavior we are talking about. Just because men crave something, that doesn't mean that we ought to give in to that craving. Doing so contrary to virtue is detrimental to man's true happiness.

Pornography is an example of vice, not virtue. "Trafficking in persons" is the second biggest trafficking crime, second only to trafficking in illicit drugs. Many women are forced or coerced into porn. Pornography is a six billion dollar per year industry, bringing in more money annually then all three major network television stations combined. It is a serious vice which has caused serious damage to many lives.

When men indulge their cravings by viewing pornography, it results from a lack of self control. It also tends toward and increased lack of self-control in future acts. It is known to lead to criminal behavior.

For instance, there have been military members who have been dishonorably discharged from the service because they could not master their cravings with regard to viewing pornography using government computers. They knew the computers were monitored and knew they would get into serious trouble, but they chose to give in to their temptation. They got caught, they got punished, they were booted out of the military. This is an example of what is clearly a vice, and its detrimental affect on men and women. It harms the military and it harms the families of those fired because of it. These men showed a distinct lack of self control. Would you say that one who knew they would get into trouble for viewing porn on the computer, yet chose to do so anyway had good self-control?

Let me give you an hypothetical example. Let's say a married man had sex with his secretary at work on two separate occasions. He knew that if his wife found out about it, she would likely divorce him. He at least knew that it would do serious harm to the emotional stability of his family. Although he knew this before hand, he gave into his cravings anyway. His wife found out about it. He responded to his wife by saying, "There have been many other times when I could have had sex with her and many other women, but I didn't. I think I have good self control." How do you think the wife would respond to such a defense? Is the man living a virtuous life? He no doubt remained chaste on those occasions that he did not commit adultery but could have. However, he failed to live in accord with virtue at least twice, didn't he? How many times can a man commit adultery before it hurts his wife? Do you think the wife would agree that he had good self control?

The need to live a virtuous life is a continuous need, right? It only takes one act of adultery to break one's marital vow, right? It likewise only takes one time to contract a sexually transmitted disease and pass it on to your wife, right? It also only takes one act of adultery to impregnate a mistress. Was the man above prepared to live with the consequence of the vice of his adultery? Despite his readiness to accept the consequences, didn't his choice also have an effect on his wife, his family? Don't they have a say as to whether they are to be subjected to such consequences? Did he have a right to choose adultery, given that his choice did not merely affect him, but had a communal or societal effect as well?

As a military member, I'm bound to obey the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Under the UCMJ, which are the laws which govern the conduct of military members, adultery is a crime [fornication has also been considered a criminal offense under Article 134 of the UCMJ]. Why would the federal government concern themselves with such conduct? Because such acts have in fact had detrimental affects upon the good order and conduct within the military society. People have been known to commit other crimes such as murder and extortion as a result of such acts.

Furthermore, the medical effects of illicit sexual conduct have proven detrimental to all societies, not just the military society. The second leading cause of death among women is cancer, and the sexually transmitted virus called HPV causes over 99 percent of all cervical cancer, which kills more women than HIV/AIDS. As you know, transmission of HPV is not prevented by condom use. The majority of sexually active women have been infected with one or more types of genital HPV. [1]
It is 46% likely that a teenage girl will acquire HPV from her first sexual relationship [2]. A man with HPV can transmit it to a woman, and a woman with HPV can transmit it to their child during pregnancy, which can result (and has resulted) in birth defects. Birth-control pills interfere with a woman's immune system, making her more likely to contract certain sexually transmitted diseases [3]. The birth control pill increases a woman's chance of having breast cancer, cervical cancer, and liver cancer [4]. The world thinks it can have sex without consequences, but that is not reality.

Moreover, being tested doesn't guarantee diseases are not present. Why? Because sexually transmitted viruses are known to be present for some time before they can be detected. There is no such thing as "safe sex." Sex always has consequences. Always. Furthermore, it is a fact of human society that a child being born out of wedlock increases by a very high percentage the probability that that child will end up in prison, on welfare, illiterate, and on drugs. [5]. Divorce also harms society. It's important to note that when a guy is married as a virgin, his divorce rate is 63 percent lower than a non-virgin. For girls, it's 76 percent lower [6]. The younger a girl is when she becomes sexually active, the more likely she is to experience multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases, out of wedlock pregnancies, depression, abortion, and poverty. [7] Our modern society seems to present illicit sexual misconduct as "normal" and "healthy." However, the facts state otherwise. The practice of fornication, adultery, or illicit sexual misconduct of all kinds is not a virtue, but a vice.

With all the problems associated with living an unchaste life, don't societies have a right to protect themselves from those who act contrary to virtue?

Illicit sexual conduct such as fornication and adultery affect not only the persons involved, but have a harmful affect upon society as a whole. Consequently, the need to live in accord with the virtue of chastity (temperance) is good for the persons directly involved, as well as the members of society who are also always harmed by their lack of virtue. It's not just a "religion thing." It is irrational for individual and for society as a whole to live contrary to the virtue of chastity, as it ruins lives. You know many people who have had their lives seriously harmed because either they or someone close to them acted contrary to the virtue of chastity. Sometimes these effects have been fatal (resulting in death). The consequences of illicit sexual conduct do not have to be limited to medical infections or result in pregnancy to be harmful. A faulty understanding of the right purpose of sex and acting upon that erroneous understanding invariable has a detrimental effect upon one's psychological well-being, which has a detrimental affect on future personal relationships, often resulting in a lack of dignity with which one tends to view the opposite sex.

What if I think I'm already "married" since I'm convinced I'm truly in a life-long committed relationship, although I'm not publically and legally (or sacramentally) married? Does that make a difference? Is it still "fornication" if we really are committed to one another? I understand how one can be absolutely convinced that they will be with the woman they love forever and ever. When I was a teenager, I too had such conviction. My girlfriend and I were determined to be together forever. We both expressed as much. What happened? She broke up with me after a year. The teenage version of "forever" often does not last very long. Indeed, judging by the divorce rates, the adult version of "forever" doesn't last long either, which is a source of great harm to society. What if I had decided that since I was "committed" to my teenage girlfriend in my heart, that it was not a sin to have sex with her? What if I had gotten her pregnant in that year, our child would have been one of the many children born outside of wedlock, with all the harmful effect that has on a child and upon society, right?

Your mother too was engaged to another before she met me. She no doubt thought he was "the one" that she would be with forever and ever. Yet, lucky for me (and you, and your sister), they didn't get married. It happens. That's why marriage, by law, is not merely about our private opinions about how long are relationship will last. It is instead a public and binding convenant having the force of law which, for important reasons, children are not competent to enter into. Why? Because children, even young men like yourself, do not have the maturity to enter into such serious life-long contracts. Teenagers, for one, lack perspective that an adult gains through experience. They also have a diminished capacity to think rationally, as their brains do not reach maturity until their mid-20s. Society knows this, as you will also know this when you are a father to one or more teenagers. Consequently, society has the right to make sure, through societal laws, that only those minimally capable of entering into life-long contract are allowed to legally do so. This is not irrational, but a very sound conclusion based upon reason, experience, and the detrimental effects of increased teen pregnancy and divorce.

It seems reasonable, then, that one should not have sex until they are married and are prepared to have children. It also seems reasonable that one should defer marriage until they are ready for the consequences of sex, that is, having children.

Yesterday you researched for me how much it would cost to live on your own as man and wife, with one child. Your estimates were a somewhat low in some areas. Nonetheless, using even your estimates, you cannot afford to have a family at age 15, can you? Your estimated expenses far exceeded your likely income. Who would pick up the difference? Your parents? State welfare? If one were see things rationally, it would be imprudent for them to get married and have child at age 15 if they could not meet the responsibilities which resulted from such a decision, correct? Would it be just to impose such burdens upon one's parents merely to indulge a sexual craving? Isn't there a way one can truly love someone, showing them affection without having sex with them? Clearly, if such a decision to get married at age 15 is imprudent, then engaging in the martial act of sexual intercourse when one cannot afford the consequences of such an act is equally irrational.
I'd like for you to take some time to think about what I've written above. Are my conclusions irrational? If so please explain.

Love and God bless,


Addendum:  My son went through a rough period with regard to doubts about God, and our duty toward God and to society.  His lack of belief manifested itself in some defiant behavior which, unfortunately resulted in serious consequences.  Although he endured much suffering throughout about a 2-year-period, he soon realized that at least some of what I've been saying to him was true.

Before my first letter to my skeptical teenager which I posted Jan 2007, I wrote the following in a theology forum (Nov 2006), to help explain the nature of suffering:
I do have a son and my son will suffer, some of that suffering I could stop, but I don't. Why? Even if I could stop all of his suffering, I wouldn't because that would not be in accord with his greater good, him living to his fullest potential. Suffering brings character and from a supernatural viewpoint, holiness. Because I am not a Divine father, I am certainly tempted to take away any cross that he must carry, because I don't always know the reason for the suffering or see the greater good at the other end of that suffering. Yet, even though I am an imperfect father, I do understand that I need to reject my temptation to take away every suffering of his, because these are the crosses he must carry for his greater good. It is through these crosses that he is given the opportunity to become a child of God in a more perfect way. To take that away from him through misplaced intervention would be a greater evil.

For example, I know the girlfriend my teenager has will make him suffer. She already has, and there's undoubtedly more suffering to come.... (and I will suffer too).  Nonetheless...He will grow from the suffering he is about to endure. That he suffers is not the proof of his love for me, but is instead, like Job, a test of his faithfulness to God. If he should suffer with faithful endurance, it will be meritorious, thereby rewarding in the long term. It is foolish and erroneous to think that only the wicked suffer, and it would be incorrect of me to attempt to keep my son from the potential meritorious cross that he must carry.
Thanks be to God my son decided that his prodigal period wasn't what it was cracked up to be.

By the grace of God, my young "Augustine" was confirmed on Pentacost Sunday, 2009.

[1] Centers for Disease Control, Division of STD Prevention, "Prevention of Genital HPV Infection and Sequelae: Report of an External Consultants' Meeting," 7.

[2] Collins, et al., "High incidence of cervical human papillomavirus infection in women during their first sexual relationship," BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology 109:1 (January, 2002): 96-98.

[3] Baeten, et al.,
"Hormonal contraception and risk of sexually transmitted disease acquisition: results from a prospective study," American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 185:2 (August, 2001): 380-385; Ley, et al., "Determinants of Genital Human Papillomavirus Infection in Young Women," Journal of the National Cancer Institute 83:14 (July, 1991): 997-1003; Prakash, et al., "Oral contraceptive use induces upregulation of the CCR5 chemokine receptor on CD4(+) T cells in the cervical epithelium of healthy women," Journal of Reproductive Immunology 54 (March, 2002): 117-131; Wang, et al., "Risk of HIV infection in oral contraceptive pill users: a meta-analysis," Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 21:1 (May, 1999): 51-58; Lavreys, et al., "Hormonal contraception and risk of HIV-1 acquisition: results from a 10-year prospective study," AIDS 18:4 (March, 2004): 695-697.

[4] Chris Kahlenborn, MD, et al.,
"Oral Contraceptive Use as a Risk Factor for Premenopausal Breast Cancer: A Meta-analysis," Mayo Clinic Proceedings 81:10 (October, 2006): 1290-1302; Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, "Breast cancer and hormonal contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of individual data on 53,297 women with breast cancer and 100,239 women without breast cancer from 54 epidemiological studies," Lancet 347 (June, 1996): 1713-1727; World Health Organization, "IARC Monographs Programme Finds Combined Estrogen-Progestogen Contraceptives and Menopausal Therapy are Carcinogenic to Humans," International Agency for Research on Cancer, Press Release 167 (July 29, 2005); Smith, et al., "Cervical cancer and use of hormonal contraceptives: A systematic review," Lancet 361 (2003):1159–1167; La Vecchia, "Oral contraceptives and cancer," Minerva Ginecologica 58:3 (June, 2006): 209-214.

[5] William F. Buckley, Jr., National Review, "Zounds! Enforcing the law in Idaho! - fornication," August 12, 1996).

[6] Edward O. Laumann, et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 503.

[7] Heritage Foundation, "The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Parners Among Women: A Book of Charts."