Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Article from the Daily Texan student newspaper

New organization aims to promote modesty, chastity, marriage and charity

Published 20 Oct 2011 at 10:41 PM

Editor's note: This is the first in a series looking at distinctive UT student organizations.

A new student organization aims to educate the student body on the ideas of modesty, chastity, marriage and charity, said information sciences graduate student and founder Ryan Haecker. The UT Anscombe Society, which consists of roughly 12 students, was formed this semester following the lead of universities across the country such as the Michigan Institute of Technology and Princeton University. The Anscombe Society is working on a presentation to help explain their values to other students and encourage them to become members and hopes to become an official student organization in the spring semester. The Daily Texan sat down with Haecker to discuss the society’s origins and principles.

The Daily Texan: First, I was hoping you could talk to me about what the Anscombe Society is and what it does?

Ryan Haecker:
It’s named after Elizabeth Anscombe. She was a famous philosopher at Oxford University. The Princeton Anscombe Society, which was the first Anscombe Society, chose Elizabeth Anscombe as the patron of the Anscombe Society and there are Anscombe Societies now on many campuses throughout the United States. My organization is communicating with other Anscombe Societies and we all have a similar aim, to promote modesty, chastity, charity and marriage. Principally what we’re concerned about is the sexual promiscuity that proliferates on college campuses and especially the way in which universities seem to have [ignored] this sort of lifestyle.

DT: Why did you decide to create a chapter here at UT?

What concerned me is that college is a formative period in peoples’ lives. They come here and they learn all sorts of new things and they determine what direction they’d like to follow. I feel like a lot of people see it not so much in educational terms in a formal academic setting but in terms of experiences they can have, and they believe that having a wide variety of experiences is preferable to having a limited number of experiences. If people are meant to act virtuously, and I believe that they should, then I think that they need to restrain themselves. Aristotle describes this sort of restraint as acting moderately and I think that today, excess is praised rather than moderation. I would like to encourage people to act moderately and [with propriety].

DT: What have you seen about the culture of our University that concerned you or prompted you to found the Anscombe Society?

The cultural norms regarding sexual restraint and possibilities of having sexual partners have been radically changed in the past few decades, and one question I think is helpful to ask when there’s a radical change, especially to something so fundamental to living as reproduction, we’re inclined to ask questions about what the benefits are of this lifestyle and whether this lifestyle is beneficient to society as a whole. I don’t really go to parties where people drink a lot of alcohol so I don’t know specifically what they do there but I hear stories.

DT: If you could sum up what you think the UT student body should know about the Anscombe Society, what would you say?

I would say that the Anscombe Society is a non-denominational, student political organization that aims for the advancement of the ideals of chastity, modesty, charity and marriage. We believe that these ideals are integral to a healthy, flourishing and benevolent society and that they’re not partial to any sectarian political or religious creed, but we think they can be rationally demonstrated and universally beneficent to all people.

Printed on Friday, October 21, 2011 as: Anscombe Society promotes chaste values
The Public Square
R.R. Reno
Proponents of same-sex marriage frame their cause in terms of civil rights. There are no significant moral or cultural differences between homosexual couples and heterosexual couples, they presume, and therefore limiting marriage to heterosexual couples amounts to discrimination. Fairness and justice require giving men the right to marry men and women the right to marry women. Q.E.D.

The recent success of the New York legislature in redefining marriage indicates that this way of thinking has traction. As Albert Mohler recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, we find ourselves in a “most awkward cultural moment.” Sex is now largely thought of as a matter of personal choice, and for the most part heterosexual couples couple as they see fit. Words likefornication seem musty and archaic. Established gender roles for men and women are held in suspicion. Almost everyone, even Catholics, regards contraception as a self-evident good. Children are an option, not the self-evident responsibility of adult life. These views make it difficult for many today, including folks in church pews, to see what earlier generations thought crystal clear: that marriage unites a man and a woman.

Changed attitudes toward sexual morality provide the clearest example. The one almost universal belief about sexual morality is that it must be “safe” and “responsible.” This means two things: respecting the autonomy and well-being of one’s partner and preventing pregnancy. Nothing men do with men, or women with women, stands in the way of satisfying the first principle, and their interactions positively satisfy the second. The imperative of fairness immediately presents itself. If traditional condemnations no longer apply to guys and gals hooking up, then why should they apply to guys and guys, or gals and gals? If John and Jane can live as they please, perhaps sleeping together in college, then living together for a few years, and then marrying, then why not Joe and James? It is indeed an awkward cultural moment.

The relaxation of sexual mores follows as much from anxiety as from hedonistic exuberance, as much from existential fear as from animal lust. During the twentieth century a cultural consensus emerged that sexual satisfaction is necessary for mental health. Although Sigmund Freud actually endorsed a rational management of sexual repression, his psychoanalytic theory revolved around traumas associated with sexual development, reinforcing (or perhaps resulting from) other cultural trends that emphasized instinctual urges as the defining features of our personalities and regarded their repression as the primary cause of unhappiness and social conflict. Being true to oneself therefore becomes largely a matter of being true to one’s desires, especially one’s sexual desires. Let it all hang out.

This view quite naturally leads one to view moral censure as an attack on humanity. To deny one’s sexual desires is to deny one’s identity. Our desires are part of “who I am” or even “how God made me,” and anything like the traditional demands for sexual self-control means an inner spiritual death. Many religiously observant Americans think this way, or at least feel this way, which is why so few sermons are preached on sexual morality.

Fear of the presumed dangers of sexual repression helps to explain the broad cultural acceptance of the sexual revolution. People today are not libertines. They don’t in fact let it all hang out. Most expect fidelity from their sexual partners, and many seek the permanence and stability of marriage. Parents counsel their children to be sexually prudent, worrying about their emotional vulnerability as well as the health risks they face.

But when it comes to sexual morality, nearly everybody willingly obeys the new great commandment: It is forbidden to forbid. We continue to view traditional sexual disciplines as far more existentially dangerous than contemporary sexual freedoms. We shrink from the old language of sin, impurity, and perversion, fearing that it implicates us in an inhuman regime of soul-destroying repression.

Of course, marriage is not only about sex. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that sex is rarely only about sex. As the Bible reminds us in many places, the urgency of the sexual union of a man and a woman binds them together, taking on the social and religious significance of covenant. Contrary to legal conceits about privacy, our sexual identities and practices have a complex and fundamental public significance, for sexual desire is the most primitive engine of sociality. Not only does sex draw men and women together, encouraging a fundamental, perhaps thefundamental, reconciliation of human differences, sexual union also produces children and plants the seeds of domestic stability.

Marriage seals and protects the social and domestic trajectories of erotic union. Nearly all societies, whatever exceptions they allow for divorce and separation, invest the union with the promise of permanence. Bound together by the force of custom and law, the married couple fulfills in an institutional way the unbending, unquenchable, and all-consuming desire of erotic love. As the Song of Songs puts it: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death.” Moreover, marriage provides the congenial context for children, who embody the promise of the future, both for parents and society as a whole. It is not surprising, therefore, that the male–female bond of marriage is the most primitive social and political institution in human history and remains the foundation of society.

Here again contemporary Western culture has undergone a revolution. We largely think of traditional gender roles as unjust and suspect, leading us to be anxious and ambivalent about the male–female difference. True, our private lives remain highly charged by the difference, as the popularity of books like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus suggests, and just as most people today live relatively modest lives of sexual freedom, by and large they also adopt relatively modest adjustments to traditional gender roles. Yet nearly all of us subordinate our private traditionalism to a powerful public ideology of gender equality in which maleness and femaleness are to have no social, cultural, or political significance.

Moreover, because of the widespread acceptance of contraception (backed up by abortion), the male–female difference has precious little biological significance either. Nearly all contemporary men and women want to have children in the usual way. Nonetheless, most of us—the vast majority—tacitly presume that most sexual unions, whether casual or permanent, are appropriately sterile: the assumption behind the notion of “responsible sex.” Children are products of our wills (“planned parenthood”). They are private choices within an encompassing culture of choice, a way of thinking that, once again, makes it difficult to identify a real difference between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples.

Thus, along with a fear that sexual repression is harmful, we have cultural assumptions about gender and reproduction that make it very difficult to articulate persuasive public reasons to resist same-sex marriage. If the woman can wear the pants in the family, then why can’t a man wear skirts, as it were? If women are to be encouraged to be active, independent agents in the public sphere and in family life—strong grooms of our older imaginations—then why can’t a man be the bride? If we are elevating choice and asserting the primacy of the affective over procreative aspects of the sexual unions of men and women, then why can’t gays and lesbians marry? Don’t they make choices and have affections just like the rest of us?

A successful, long-term defense of traditional marriage will require a renewal of our moral and social imaginations. We must continue to fight to preserve marriage in the courtrooms, legislatures, and polling booths. But these are largely holding actions. Until sexual discipline comes to seem humanizing rather than alienating, most Americans will find traditional sexual mores off-putting, and even those who endorse traditional norms will continue to downplay them in the public square—and in the pulpit. In a far more complicated way, the same holds for gender roles, childbearing, and child rearing. Until our common culture reaffirms the essential and inevitably social significance of the difference between men and women, as well as the role of fertility in sex and marriage, Americans will fail to grasp the skull-thumping obviousness of male–female union as the essential feature of marriage.

Proponents of same-sex marriage like to pronounce it “inevitable.” Their confidence is based on the progressive conceit that modernity always and everywhere weakens and dissolves the power of traditional norms and practices. But this is not true. During the nineteenth century the social influence of Christianity in America grew dramatically. Victorian England saw a profound remoralization of society. And the diffusion of modern economic systems, science, and technology throughout the globe in recent decades has not led to the diminishment of religious passions, as so many predicted, but instead their increase. History is not a ratchet that turns in only one direction.

When it comes to sexual mores, perhaps the ratchet is beginning to turn our way. Comparative data from the General Social Surveys in the 1970s and 2000s suggest that significantly more well-educated people twenty-five to sixty years old now think premarital sex is always wrong (an uptick from 15 percent to 21 percent over the intervening two decades, as compared to a somewhat greater but declining percentage among less-educated cohorts). College groups that champion chastity, like the Anscombe Society at Princeton, would have been unimaginable a couple of decades ago. Now they get a sympathetic hearing and enjoy surprisingly large memberships. Many urban black pastors have become outspoken proponents of sexual discipline.

At the same time a renewed Catholic priesthood and religious orders send an increasingly clear message: It’s not the case that sexual discipline damages and diminishes the self. On the contrary, it can provide a basis for self-possession and self-command that is capable of self-abandonment for the sake of a supernatural end that fulfills rather than negates our humanity.

Most people I know, whatever their religious or moral views, whatever life they are now living, desire in some small way the same self-possession. Of course, this impulse rarely leads to an affirmation of traditional sexual morality. Nonetheless, they want their sexual desires to be disciplined for the sake of love, or fidelity, or the duties of parenthood, or some other good that they hope will order and elevate their instinctual impulses. Thus my guarded optimism: They need only to be shown the way.

I am more optimistic about the male–female difference. It runs very deep in human nature, and therefore in human society. The most reasonable supposition, one supported by biological and social sciences, is that our present anxiety and ambivalence about gender roles will resolve itself into more-stable patterns of male–female difference. A renewed confidence in the reality of the male–female difference—its promise and its agony—will help us see once again the profound social and spiritual significance of the marital union of a man and a woman.

Last spring a billboard went up near my apartment. It featured the Beatles in their youthful splendor: healthy, bearded, smiling, and free. I marveled at their enduring allure, which I continue to feel, reminding me that, in spite of my moral and theological convictions, I too participate in the main currents of our era, the ones that now bring us same-sex marriage. Yet the engaging image of the Fab Four brought me up short. This photo of youth and freedom and new possibilities was taken nearly fifty years ago.

Culture never stands still. The promises that so engage the imagination of one generation are quite often broken for the next, especially if they are promises humanity and human society cannot meet. The end of sexual repression was one of those false promises. The same holds for the androgyny implied in absolute gender equality and the sterile, futureless freedom that comes from a contraceptive mentality.

That’s not to say that we’ll simply go back to older views. The sexual revolution of the twentieth century will necessarily influence our future, as will women’s liberation and the pill. But these influential movements and innovations are unlikely to inspire the future. On the contrary, as the wreckage of the American family among the poor—and not just the poor—makes evident, as well as the increasingly vocal dissatisfaction of single professional women without husbands, they have brought various forms of personal unhappiness and social dysfunction that we’ll very likely be struggling to overcome.

Here in New York, in the same Park Avenue apartments and swanky suburban homes where the old bourgeois consensus first collapsed more than half a century ago, one of the coveted luxuries of wealth is a large family with a stay-at-home mom. Does this mean a restoration of traditional sexual and marital norms? Hardly. But it does suggest a change of sentiment, perhaps the beginnings of the collapse of the now silver-haired bohemian consensus. Therein lies an evangelical opportunity.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Student-Run Group Targets 'Hook-Up' Culture at Ivy League Schools


Published February 14, 2011
| FoxNews.com
A mandatory orientation session at Princeton University each year features a play called "Sex on a Saturday Night." It's a piece of student theater designed to teach naive freshman about the dangers of STDs, date rape, drugs and alcohol.‪

But in years past, as one observer remarked, the lesson came as a serious punch line to an otherwise comical presentation, rife with examples of various forms of sexual encounters -- none of which illustrated commitment in long-term relationships.‪

Welcome to what some are calling the hook-up culture, permeating just about every college campus in the country. It's a default mode of impulsive sexuality with few, if any, responsibilities.‪ It's this type of lifestyle the Love and Fidelity Network is targeting this Valentine's Day with half-page ads in the campus newspapers of 18 mainly Ivy League colleges and universities, including Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton.‪

"We're working for a better reality of sex and relationship experience,"‪ said Cassandra Hough, director of Love and Fidelity Network. Love & Fidelity Network is the spin-off of the Anscombe Society at Princeton, an organization created in 2005 by a group of students, including a couple of Rhodes scholars, to build a counter force to the hook-up culture. It lobbied to have a more romantically devoted character added to the “Sex on a Saturday Night” skit.‪

"There's an impression that chastity and abstinence, is just a list of no's," said Hough. "But we're embracing sexuality, human relationships and authentic intimacy."‪ The ads, co-sponsored by the Let's Strengthen Marriage organization, will run in connection with National Marriage Week, which ends on Valentine's Day. There are two different ads. One shows a heart-shaped puzzle with a few pieces missing. The caption reads: "There's more to sex and relationships than campus culture suggests. We're filling in the missing pieces. Join us."‪

The other ad features a man holding a cardboard-shaped heart with the words "Will work for love," on it. The caption is the same about “campus culture” except the tag line is, "And we're doing something about it."‪ Hough said she believes her organization is tapping into the heartfelt desires of young people today who want meaningful relationships. 

She's actually echoing a just-released poll of 13- to 18-year-olds by One Hope,‪ which reported that 82 percent of them believed God intended marriage to last a lifetime.‪ But there's a big problem said Hough. "Young people growing up in a divorce culture have no understanding of how good marriages work."‪ They're inundated, she says, with sexual content in movies, magazines, and on TV like MTV's explicit show "Skins."Then there’s the ever-present peer pressure on campuses to be carefree and casual in their attitudes about sex.‪

Hough said the culture, to some degree, is enabled by college administrations. In 2009, students at Princeton were encouraged to attend something called Safe Sex Jeopardy, an event modeled after the long-running TV game show. The students were quizzed on their knowledge of things like anal intercourse, flavored condoms, sex toys and sado-masochism.‪

“The goal of the program is to provide students with accurate information to help them make whatever sexual decisions they choose to make in the healthiest way possible,” said Princeton spokesperson Emily Aronson.

Every other year, Yale University has what’s called Sex Week. It’s ostensibly a student-run health awareness program designed to spark dialogue. But it has been criticized for its raw sexual content and the involvement of its corporate sponsor, Pure Romance, a company that sells adult sex toys.‪
Hough and others argue such programs teach students to detach sex from love, making it difficult for them to form lasting relationships.

David Lapp, from the Institute for American Values, said he found young adults woefully uninformed about marriage. For example, a study he and a research partner conducted with a group of 20- to 34-year-olds in Ohio found most felt living together before marriage was a must.

But Lapp said research actually shows “it either doesn’t help the marriage or it actually hurts it.”‪
Hough said young people, particularly those at academically intense institutions like Princeton, know they must be highly disciplined to be successful in their chosen field. Love, she said, takes the same effort.‪

“They’re willing to commit to professions, but when it comes to relationships and marital stability, there’s a disconnect between good habits and preparations.”‪Every other year, Yale University has what’s called Sex Week. It’s ostensibly a student-run health awareness program designed to spark dialogue. But it has been criticized for its raw sexual content and the involvement of its corporate sponsor, Pure Romance, a company that sells adult sex toys.‬‪

Hough and others argue such programs teach students to detach sex from love, making it difficult for them to form lasting relationships.

David Lapp, from the Institute for American Values, said he found young adults woefully uninformed about marriage. For example, a study he and a research partner conducted with a group of 20- to 34-year-olds in Ohio found most felt living together before marriage was a must.

But Lapp said research actually shows “it either doesn’t help the marriage or it actually hurts it.”‬‪
Hough said young people, particularly those at academically intense institutions like Princeton, know they must be highly disciplined to be successful in their chosen field. Love, she said, takes the same effort.‬‪
“They’re willing to commit to professions, but when it comes to relationships and marital stability, there’s a disconnect between good habits and preparations.”‬‪

Monday, 9 January 2012

Taking Back the Campus

A new organization that offers college students an alternative to the hook-up culture has been created. The Love and Fidelity Network (LFN) is based on the simple principle that marriage, family, and sexual integrity – defined as “sexual fidelity to your future spouse,” or what was once called chastity – are good and worth protecting.

The network began at Princeton University in 2007, when undergraduate Cassandra DeBenedetto founded a club with two unusual aims: to support and organize students who wanted to opt out of the hook-up culture and to educate the rest of campus about their choice. She called it the Anscombe Society, after Catholic British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. Harvard undergraduates soon started a similar group called the True Love Revolution, and as more groups sprang up, a national network slowly began to form. After her graduation, Cassandra DeBenedetto (now Cassandra Hough) made the network an official organization. She hired two other young women, Ashley Crouch of the University of Dallas and Shirene Urry of Brigham Young University, to help her run it.

LFN has grown quickly. Its fourth annual conference recently had some 270 attendees at Princeton University for a conversation about “Sexuality, Integrity and the University.” Most participants were college students from over forty different universities, including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Georgetown, the University of Virginia, and Columbia. A few even traveled from the Sorbonne and two Australian universities.

What drew this dedicated and intellectual crowd together for the conference? “It’s a one-stop shop for really intelligent students to encounter the best arguments on these topics and the best scholars that are leading this movement,” said Crouch, the director for programs and outreach.

A growing number of college students are disillusioned with the hook-up culture and the dearth of dating, Crouch said. “In America and throughout the world, there’s a real hunger for more formation on these topics,” she said, referring to the LFN core principles of marriage, family and sexual integrity. “The decline of dating and romance on college campuses has left many students feeling a sense of loss. Young adults feel a lot of confusion with a lack of guidelines. LFN offers a research-based, academic perspective on why it’s okay to hope for a happy marriage and stable, intact family.” For a group of students whose countercultural ideas often leave them feeling isolated on campus, the conference is a chance for them to be “surrounded by hundreds of other young adults who are willing to courageously take a stand and pursue those same goals.”

The conference featured a roster of well-known researchers on marriage and family issues. Helen Alvare of George Mason University School of Law discussed the competing views of the human person held by those who support and those who oppose cohabitation. Those who oppose normalizing cohabitation, she said, give arguments that correspond to the best science about what makes human beings happy. She also said “marriage plays a vital role in learning to love the non-kin other, learning that the nature of love is giving.” By contrast, “cohabiting takes. Its primary modes include ignoring, delaying, or refusing commitment.”

Frank Fincham of Florida State University gave practical advice on building healthy relationships. An expert on the psychology of forgiveness, Fincham encouraged his listeners to always say, “I will try to forgive you,” after a disagreement rather than, “I forgive you,” because his research has shown forgiveness is not an instantaneous act.
LFN tries to base its instruction on facts. Alvare cited studies showing that cohabitation is the second biggest indicator of marital failure, while Robert Lerman of American University used his research to show that stable marriages and families benefit the economy. The speakers gave an impressive barrage of statistics to back up their claim that sexual integrity is a healthier way of life.

“The scholarly research that’s been done on these issues offers a very cohesive set of findings,” said Crouch. “The importance of a stable, intact marriage and family and the importance of sexual integrity – these arguments are not heard in the public square but the data and research support them.” One imaginative exception was a speech by Anthony Esolen of Providence College called “The Person as a Gift,” which used Shakespeare’s As You Like It to celebrate the romance and beauty of marriage

Much of the conference focused on outreach and grassroots activism, tactics typically associated with the left and now being appropriated for a more conservative cause. Students could choose from workshops like Wall Street Journal writer Bill McGurn’s on spreading “The Good Word on Marriage” or a session called “From Dorm Room to Classroom: Effectively Responding to Critiques from Friends, Peers, and Professors.” McGurn warned his audience, “Don’t expect your article or blog post to change someone’s life. People are not won by argument but persuaded by example.” Since so many of the students attending the conference find themselves in the minority on their campuses, however, learning to explain and defend their position is crucial. “One thing students ask for often,” Crouch said, “is more education and training on how they can communicate this message to their peers and the wider campus community.”

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the majority of students attending the conference come from religious backgrounds. “A lot of the faith traditions have a strong set of principles and values that they convey to young adults,” Crouch explained, “so they have a preexisting set of values that they will seek to uphold when they enter the university.” One of the most popular conference sessions was an interfaith panel held Saturday night with representatives from four faiths: Jewish doctor Miriam Grossman, Mormon professor Thomas Holman, Muslim author Asma Uddin, and Evangelical Christian professor John Van Epp.

The various religions share an emphasis on chastity, modesty, and faithfulness to one’s spouse, the speakers said, but the way they express these things greatly differ, from the Jewish prohibition on touching unrelated people of the opposite sex to the Muslim practice of veiling women. “Many students initially get interested in these issues because of their religious beliefs,” Crouch said. But the topics the conference raises aren’t just for people of faith. “Even if students approach the issues from a particular religious lens, they have a lot of interest in reaching out to other students. They want to approach these issues through academia and from an interfaith perspective.”

Professor Donna Freitas of Hofstra University moderated the interfaith discussion and her introductory comments helped reveal why LFN is growing in popularity. On college campuses, she said, “everyone wants to date, but nobody is doing it. It’s the norm to dissent from the hook-up culture, but not to tell anyone about it.” At the LFN conference, students finally have a chance to talk about it, in the company of hundreds of like-minded young people, and to take that message back to their campuses.

Theresa Civantos is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.