Religion Today

Friday, May 16, 2014

What Strengthens a Marriage, Religion or Education?


May 14, 2014 — Americans like marriage. At this moment, about 55 percent of Americans are married, and fewer than 10 percent of Americans over 60 have never been married. Marriage provides love, companionship and a stable home life, with or without children. Most religions place a high value on getting married and remaining married.
Remaining married is hard. Just ask the citizens of Cheyenne, Wyo. In 2010, Cheyenne had the second highest divorce rate of any city in the United States, just behind Las Vegas, according to a report published by Men’s Health magazine. In Wyoming, one in five divorces took place in Cheyenne during the five-year period ending in 2009. The magazine’s 2014 report indicates Cheyenne’s rank has eased a bit, falling to fourth place, with Las Vegas dropping to eighth.
Reporting by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Men’s Health point to economic stress on the family as a significant cause of divorce. When job loss or financial instability is added to other marital stresses, it often tips the scale and leads to the divorce court.
So, what strengthens a marriage? The emphasis placed by religions on strong marriages and families would suggest that religion -- in the United States, that overwhelmingly refers to Christianity -- provides the best support. Well, not always. According to a 1999 Barna Research Group report, many Christian denominations have poor divorce rates.
While 25 percent of American adults have been divorced at least once, 29 percent of Baptists have divorced. For Christians in non-denominational churches (read “born-again”), that rate rises to 34 percent. By contrast, mainline Protestants are average at 25 percent, while Mormons are just under at 24 percent and Catholics somewhat lower at 21 percent.
If the high divorce rate among Baptists and non-denominational churches strikes you as a mistake, it is not. A look at divorce rates by state in 2009 (U.S. Census Bureau figures) shows that the highest divorce rates are concentrated in the American South -- from Oklahoma to Georgia, from Louisiana to Kentucky -- where these forms of Christianity are predominant.
This result is highly ironic, as well as controversial, because Baptists and other born-again Christians prominently emphasize marriage and family. But even the often-repeated observation that Jesus forbade divorce does not enable these Bible-believing Christians to divorce less frequently than other Americans.
It seems that religion cannot be depended on to keep a marriage intact. So, what does?
It turns out that education is the best support for a long-lasting marriage. According to a study of marriages during the five years ending in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control found that women in a first marriage had a 78 percent probability of remaining married for 20 years if they had a bachelor’s degree. If they had less education, the likelihood did not even reach 50 percent.
The results were only slightly less pronounced for men. Those with bachelor’s degrees had a 65 percent probability of remaining married for 20 years, while those with less education had a 54 percent probability or below.
In a different approach to this question, a Pew analysis of 2008 data indicates that 62 percent of women with college degrees were married at age 30, while only 60 percent of those without degrees were wedded. And of women aged 35-39, women without college degrees were 55 percent more likely to have divorced than those with college degrees (2.9 percent vs. 1.6 percent).
This study about education and the success of marriage cuts across all religions and denominations, and even applies to atheists. But the important observation is this: If you are religious and want to fulfill your religion’s or denomination’s expectation of a lifelong marriage, you will increase your chances if you pursue higher education and get a bachelor’s degree.

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Christian Opposition to Evolution in the United States

Wyoming’s controversy over the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 instruction is not surprising. Opposition to evolution is not new but stems from a widespread theological hostility to evolution within evangelical Christianity. In recent decades, that antagonism has been expressed politically. Legislatures in nearly every state have passed laws addressing the teaching of evolution in schools.

This evangelical political activity has had no effect on evolution as the foundation of modern biology, geology and other sciences. Indeed, it has gone almost unnoticed by the scientific community. Modern medicine continues to be founded upon evolutionary biology, and everyone who seeks medical assistance trusts evolution whenever he or she visits a doctor -- even for a flu shot.
The place where anti-evolution activity has had the most impact is within the evangelical community itself. In particular, it has changed the interpretation of Genesis’s account of creation, and thereby altered the perception of God’s role.
When the Fundamentalist movement in the early 20th century decided to combat evolution, there was a broad range of beliefs about how to understand the way “God created the heaven and the earth” in six days. Today, the only accepted meaning in evangelical circles is that a day for God at creation was a 24-hour period, creation took only six of these days, and that creation took place just over 6,000 years ago, as argued by Bishop Ussher. How did this change come about?
When Charles Darwin published “The Origin of the Species” in 1859, the work became a symbol of scientific change. In England, it became a touchstone in a heated public debate between biblical views of creation and evolution.
In 19th century America, Darwin and evolution were comparatively uncontroversial. American Christians at the time largely accepted scientific change and usually believed it explained details of God’s creation rather than attacked biblically based beliefs.
Even during the rise of Fundamentalism’s opposition to evolution in the early 1900s, much of that attitude remained. William Jennings Bryan -- who was a fervent evolution opponent, an ardent Fundamentalist and a three-time presidential candidate -- expressed a common belief when he testified at the 1925 Scopes trial over the teaching of evolution.
Citing Genesis 2:4, where the word “day” refers to the entire time of creation, he indicated that “day” did not necessarily mean a “24-hour day.” In the trial’s transcripts Bryan further stated, “It would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6 million years or in 600 million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.” 
The problem was that Bryan’s statement reflected 19th-century religious views that enabled a fit between evolution and belief in Genesis 1. If a day can be a “period,” then the biblical account of creation can speak of geological periods of millions of years. Despite his opposition to evolution, Bryan’s widely reported statement actually revealed compatibility between the two views.
It was not until several decades later that John Whitcomb and Henry Morris presented an alternative approach in their 1961 book, “The Genesis Flood.” One innovation was to introduce the Seventh Day Adventist belief in a six-day creation of 24 hours each as the obvious understanding of Genesis 1.
They further argued that the petrified bones and shells in the geological strata were put there during Noah’s flood.
Whitcomb’s and Morris’s insistence on their interpretation as the sole way to understand Genesis 1 was controversial at first because it did not allow for past evangelical beliefs. But its adoption was boosted by the newly formed Creation Research Society.
The Creation Research Society was founded by leaders representing the wide range of evangelical perspectives on Genesis’s creation story. By the 1970s, however, all who did not support the idea of a 24-hour day had been removed, and the society worked tirelessly to promote belief in the six-day, 24-hour creation and the 6,000-year-old Earth.
Today, decades after Whitcomb’s and Morris’s book introduced belief in a creation of six 24-hour days, evangelicalism has adopted it wholesale. Those still adhering to the old approach of each day of creation being a long “period” are seen as compromising with modern science, even though their view is older than the concept of evolution itself. Truly, anti-evolutionism has wrought a change within evangelicalism.
Note: Thanks to the “Backstory” podcast of Nov. 1, 2011, and to R.L. Numbers, “The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design,” Harvard University Press, 2006.

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