Author archives: Julia Kiewit

Which Community?”

by Julia Kiewit

April 11, 2013

A fundamental clash of worldviews lies behind Ms. Harris-Perry’s controversial statement that children are the responsibility of the whole community. Conor Friedersdorf’s article in The Atlantic does an excellent job highlighting the impracticability of her proposal because

[…] children are raised by individuals, not diffuse collectives. Mother and father are in fact responsible for getting baby her shots, strapping her into the car seat, childproofing the house, noticing her allergic reaction to peanuts, and enrolling her in primary school. If they fail to do these things, or to find someone who’ll do them on their behalf, baby suffers … The fact that most parents feel this responsibility deep within them is literally indispensable to our civilization. Kids whose parents don’t feel or ignore it are often seriously disadvantaged (emphasis added).

But aside from the practical aspect of child-responsibility lies the fundamental question of society’s order: who, or what, is responsible for the individual and the family? Does individual liberty and a moral conscience make adults responsible for their choices and parents responsible for their children? Or is the government the organizing principle of society, taking the place of choice, and mom and dad?

While I am not assuming that Ms. Harris-Perry desires to promote anything other than the best interests of children by her statement, the worldview behind what she said is destructive to marriages, families, and thus the very children she wants helped. In “The Activists Game Plan against Religion Life and the Family: The UN, the Courts, and Transnationalist Ideology,” Pat Fagan and Bill Saunders compare the views of cultural Marxists with those of traditional society and observe:

Influential intellectual roots of anti-family and anti-religious efforts can be found in the writings of Karl Marx’s collaborator, the German philosopher Friedrich Engels. Engels, in his vision of state ownership as the means of production and the ultimate triumph of the proletariat, was keenly aware that two institutions would stand in the way of his communist vision: the family and organized religion. He understood that in order for the international communist vision to come to fruition, the natural primacy of family and religion in society must be undermined (emphasis added).

One thing that Marx and Engels understood was that in a society of personal responsibility and strong families, communism would not be able to flourish. To advance their ideology, family and religion must be undermined. Any idea that transfers responsibility from parents and gives it to the “community”—not the community as embodied by one’s church, school, and neighbors, but the “community” as enforced by national regulation and sustained by government services—does just that. Fagan and Saunders continue that “Cultural Marxists”

[…] try to undermine the family and religion through more subtle means than Lenin used. This is accomplished in an interrelated process: simultaneously, the power of the state is increased while that of the individual and his community is decreased, and laws pertaining to family and religion are undermined. Thus the traditional supports of society-family and religion-are crowded out by government.

When parents’ responsibility is diminished, whether through tragic neglect or government interference (see Mr. Friedersdorf’s article and a family’s encounter with child protective services), something will fill that void. Legitimate inability on the part of parents may be a time when suggest a family needs help. But the idea that, by default, children belong to the community is another insidious way of stating that there is no such thing as personal, and thus familial, responsibility. This subverts the God-ordained family and the very foundation of republican government.

World Family Map maps the world of the family

by Julia Kiewit

February 28, 2013

While there are many societal differences between the U.S. and Canada, the need for strong families to maintain society is one area in which researchers in the two countries can agree. The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada this year has launched a new annual study of family well-being around the world. The World Family Map 2013 looks at the family as the core institution of society and examines four indicators of family well-being: family structure, family socioeconomics, family process, and family culture, as well as how family structures relate to children’s educational attainments. The report includes data on these categories in different countries representing all regions of the globe.

Much of the data revealed in this report supports the research published by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute. For example, data published by MARRI highlights the association between living in an intact, married family and higher GPAs in school.

And this same sort of data is found in the “World Family Map.” An article by the Toronto Sun reports that

A new, international report makes the claim that Canadian children score higher on literacy tests and are less likely to repeat a grade if — wait for it — raised by two parents.

According to the World Family Map Project, released last week, “children living with two parents had higher reading literacy scores and were less likely to repeat a grade compared to those living with either one parent or neither parent in all three North American countries included in the report.”

The researchers go on: “This pattern is found even after accounting for the higher levels of poverty and lower levels of parental education among single-parent families.”

The author of the article goes one step further to point out that government would do well to pay attention to this research:

Now this is awkward. Governments can pour money into education, but if children are not coming from stable homes, it’s like throwing money into the cold, Canadian wind. There is no quick government fix for family breakdown. But neither should politicians go to great lengths to avoid this research.”

Here at MARRI and the Family Research Council, we couldn’t agree more.

As goes California…”

by Julia Kiewit

January 15, 2013

A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the challenges that will be facing California, due to

Declining migration and falling birthrates [that] have led to a drop in the number of children in California just as baby boomers reach retirement, creating an economic and demographic challenge for the nation’s most populous state.

California hasn’t always faced demographic challenge. The article continues:

In 1970, six years after the end of the baby boom, children made up more than one-third of California’s population. By 2030, they will account for just one-fifth, according to projections by lead author Dowell Myers, a USC demographer. “We have a massive replacement problem statewide,” Mr. Myers said in an interview.

Demographic decline is a subject the Marriage and Religion Research Institute has analyzed in detail. In his work on the decline of economic growth and population change, Dr. Henry Potrykus looks at the slowdown of GDP growth due to declining numbers of high-human capital wage earners, and he predicts that the U.S. economy will continue to see growth ebb over the coming years. “This slowdown,” Dr. Potrykus says, “is amplified by the retiring of a generation with significant human capital (the baby boom) and its replacement by a generation inadequate in population size to continue the expected and required growth of the macroeconomy.” In other words, the U.S. population will not be able to replace its retirees with an equivalent number of skilled adult workers, due in part to low birth rates.

As the Wall Street Journal Article notes,

[California’s] birthrate fell to 1.94 children per woman in 2010, below the replacement level of 2.1 children, according to the study.California’s rate is lower than the overallU.S.rate of 2.06 children in 2012, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

This population trend is a significant problem nationally when close to two million people will retire each year for the next 20 years, according to Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.”

As goes California, so goes the nation. 

Nursing Conscience

by Julia Kiewit

December 17, 2012

We were all shocked…All these years I’ve been a nurse, I was never told to help kill children,” said Fe Esperanza Racpan Vinoya, a veteran nurse of the ER and ICU at the Same Day Surgery Unit at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), in Newark. Fe and 11 other nurses stood up to hospital managers and administrators, refusing to help perform abortions, even though they were afraid of losing their jobs.

I knew we were going to lose our jobs,” says Lorna, who, at one point, amid the flurry of discussions with the managers, was asked to provide a patient with a bedpan. Retrieving it, she found an aborted baby inside. Horrified and sobbing, she called for help, telling the manager who responded, “I don’t know what to do with this. I can’t do this.” She soon found herself in the office of the vice president of nursing, where she was accused of refusing to help patients and threatened with termination. She wasn’t the only one called in.

Our jobs were hanging by a string,” Beryl says. “We were like, ‘All right. If they’re going to fire all 12 of us, fine. But this is against what we believe God wants us to do.’ We didn’t come into this profession to do [abortions]. We told them we weren’t comfortable with it and didn’t feel they should force us. And if that meant our jobs, well… God was going to provide.”

Read the rest of their story here, how Alliance Defending Freedom helped the nurses with their case, and how they ultimately were able to keep their jobs and clear consciences. 

Better a Meal of Vegetables Where There is Love

by Julia Kiewit

November 28, 2012

Holiday season is upon us. Salvation Army ringers with their donation kettles stand outside our stores and entice generous holiday shoppers to think about those who are less fortunate. Charitable actions occur around this country every day in myriad different ways. But, at least for residents of New York City this holiday season, charity will no longer look like food donations.

In March of this year, Mayor Bloomberg banned food donations to the city’s shelters that serve New York City’s large homeless population. This ban has gotten attention again, after New York City resources have been stretched thin by the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy.

The reason for this ban was not prompted by instances of food poisoning or culinary foul play, but rather because Mayor Bloomberg says that the City can’t properly assess salt, fiber and fat content in the donated food, so they don’t know if the homeless are getting optimal levels of nutrition.

No exceptions to the strict ban are given, not even for donation centers with a healthy track record such as Ohab Zedek, an Upper West Side Orthodox congregation which has donated freshly cooked, nutrient rich foods left over from synagogue events for over ten years, a practice common among houses of worship in the city.

Leaving aside the question of whether we really need the government to require labeling to assess the content of our foods, we face the following question: should government regulation not only discourage, but in fact prohibit individual (or collective) charity?

What is especially offensive is the subtext here: that only the government is able to adequately know and then provide for the needs within a community. But who is closer to the needs of the homeless in a city? Is it possible that someone sitting behind a desk issuing food regulations can better know their needs than an individual who wants to help—and indeed walks past the homeless on the street every day?

This policy by Mayor Bloomberg is another brush stroke in the picture being painted of a world in which people are not even permitted to take responsibility for their food choices, either in how they give, or in what they take (see, ban on super size sodas). And as with many government policies, it may be the poor that will be hurt by the very policies that are intended to help.

When charitable actions are banned, how much interaction between the homeless and the other residents of New York City will occur? If people are not allowed to give, they have less incentive to pay attention to those in need. And the homeless will no longer have the chance to feel known and cared about by specific individuals or groups. As government over-regulates, it squelches the desire to give. It, additionally, removes the opportunity to love one’s less fortunate neighbor. Even if the government steps in and takes up the slack so an absence of food may be filled, that doesn’t solve the whole problem because government cannot love. When you replace human charity and altruism with rules, society becomes even more fragmented and government dependent.

Of course this isn’t the end of the world. There are other forms of charity that haven’t yet been banned. But it is another step taken by the government protectors that hinder something as basic as human relationship and fellowship.Turkeyon an unlabeled plate, with green beans with a sodium content has not been measured, but has been handed out with love… well, it sounds pretty good to me.

Abortion and Religion in Ireland

by Julia Kiewit

November 27, 2012

Recently, Savita Halapannavaran, an Indian woman residing in Ireland, suffered a miscarriage and died in a public hospital. Her parents claimed that the hospitals refusal to give her an abortion (while her baby still had a heartbeat) lead to her death, even though Halappanavars autopsy has revealed that she died of blood poisoning and E. coli ESBL, an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacterium.

Accusations continued to fly and the womans husband said the fault lay with Ireland being a Catholic country. Likewise, news outlets and blogs rushed to report that religion was to blame for the womans death. The womans father has appealed directly to the Irish Prime Minister to change the countrys legislation on abortion. But should this really be viewed as an issue of Irish legality? A 1992 ruling by the Irish Supreme Court said that abortion was legal when a womans life was at stake. Whats going on here?

The National Catholic Register reports:

Instead of jumping to the conclusions that Halappanavar needed an abortion and that Ireland needs to legalize the killing of the youngest of its kind, the reasonable approach would be to get to the bottom of what Halappanavars condition was and examine how it was or was not responded to, Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, wrote Nov. 20.

E. coli ESBL [official cause of the mothers death] has recently spread throughout theU.K., causing urinary-tract infections that can develop into blood poisoning. The presence of E. coli ESBL is particularly problematic if Halappanavar was given antibiotics to fight an infection that was resistant to those very antibiotics, Gray said.

As happens so often, all the facts surrounding this case may not be public, or fully known, but the hospital and the governments Health Service Executive are investigating.

And Gray continues:

We have yet to hear from the hospital and the medical professionals involved as to what precisely happened, but with this report of her dying from E. coli ESBL, one wonders how killing Halappanavars baby, Prasa, would have killed the E. coli.

This is an undeniably tragic situation, but also very complicated. We must ask the question whywith the science of this mothers condition uncertainwas religion the first thing to be blamed?

Better Bystanders or Moral Courage?

by Julia Kiewit

November 16, 2012

Bon Jovis 19-year-old daughter made the headlines Wednesday because of her hospitalization after overdosing on heroin at her upstate New York college. Stephanies incident serves as a public face for close to half of the nations full-time college students that abuse drugs or drink alcohol on binges at least once a month.

Where do these habits come from? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that regarding drinking, many students come to college with established drinking habits and the college environment simply exacerbates the problem.

Thomas Vander Ven, associate professor of sociology at Ohio University, author of Getting Wasted, (a book exploring the topic of college drinking) suggested in an interview that some of the why of college drinking can be contributed to

the structural position that these young people are in. Theyre 18- to 22-year-olds. Theyre away from the supervision of their parents, many of them for the first time, and thats an important time in life to search for identity. And for my informants alcohol was a vehicle for hooking up and meeting people and having romantic and sexual interactions. Its sort of a perfect storm to produce this high-risk behavior.

While prior drinking habits and the absence of parents certainly explains some of the motivation behind the college drinking and drug use, it cant be the whole story when we also have data from the National Center on Addiction and Substance abuse that shows about 17 percent of American high school students are also drinking, smoking or using drugs. Where do the habits come from at that age?

Vander Ven suggests that the way to remediate the college drinking culture is to educate and train students to be better bystanders, because the bystanders will know when something is wrong. But if that is the best solution this author and professor can come up with, then the battle against college drinking is doomed to failure.

No amount of better bystanders will instill the necessary virtue into individuals that enables them to make confident decisions and stand up to any societal pressure. This is a kind of moral courage that comes from formation that happens, among other places, in the family.

Research from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute shows that while only 8 percent of youth who come from intact married families and attend church each week are likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana as a minor, this number increases to 18 percent among youth who do not live in an intact married family and never attend church. This effect holds into adulthood as well, for only 24.7 percent of adults in always intact marriages who attend religious services weekly drink too much alcohol, compared to 52.1 percent of adults who do not attend church and are not in an intact marriage.

While the life and formation of each person is far from formulaic, there is much to be said for the protective nature of the family, and the wisdom of Proverbs which admonishes that we Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

The Devil is in the (Demographic) Details

by Julia Kiewit

August 5, 2011

Despite critiques of the U.N.s world population predictions, a recent Wall Street Journal article by Jonathan Last could have gone even further in pointing out how bleak the developed worlds demographic picture is.

This past May, the U.N. released its latest report on world demographics, saying that Italy, Poland, and the European Continent as a whole, have rosy demographic futures. Last correctly takes issue with these predictions saying that in order for the world to actually achieve the U.N.s projected numbers, one big assumption had to be made, that starting tomorrow, every country in the world with fertility below the replacement rate of 2.1 will increase its fertility. And this rise will continue unabated, year after year, until every First World country has a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) near replacement.

Mr. Last reasons that this projection is dubious, in part because the U.N.s model was based on data taken from a small group of mostly Scandinavian countries that have recovered (sort of) from sub replacement fertility. Last highlights Sweden, saying that its story is a complicated one, involving pro-natalist policies, culture and not a little luck, though somehow, the U.N. now assumes that all low-fertility, industrialized countries from Russia to Italy to South Korea will follow this same pattern.

While Last does highlight the dubious nature of the U.N.s projections, he has not gone far enough in emphasizing exactly how incorrect they are. His suspicion was correct that other countries will not necessarily follow Scandinavias supposed trend. Though it (reportedly) experienced positive fertility results, even if Swedens success were based on culture and policies, these are not universal. However, the fact of the matter is that any projection made based off the success of these countries will be incorrect.

Focusing on Sweden, the story of their fertility rates must be nuanced to differentiate between the fertility of nationals and the fertility of foreigners (immigrants). According to the Vienna Institute of Demographics, from 1986-2008, the increase in the total fertility rate of Swedens nationals went from 1.76 to 1.85, a difference that is statistically insignificant, and is actually because the dip to 1.76 in 1986 was a TFR underestimate! The total fertility rate of foreigners ranged from 2.24 (1986) to 2.55 (2008)a range that is above both the replacement level, as well as the level of Swedish nationals. Any increase in Swedish fertility levels must be understood with this division in mind, with the result that Sweden would not experience population increases of its young for any reason other than immigration. This casts the U.N.s model into question, as immigration is not a true account for the increase in a countrys fertility. Furthermore, immigration depends strongly on (relative) economic factors, something that varies between countries and is difficult to predict.

Additionally, we all know that Rome was not built in a dayit takes around 20 years before our newborns are ready to enter society as adults, and cultures change about as fast. Why then should the U.N. anticipate that Italy, Poland, Japan or any country would change over night? There is no reason to suspect that we will see a drastic positive change in the fertility habits of individuals and thus, nations any time soon. On the contrary, anti-natal trends are alive and well in the West, cultures are spawning no-kids-allowed movements: Malaysia airlines banned babies from many of their first-class cabins; McDains Restaurant, in Pennsylvania no longer allows children under 6 to dine; Double Windsor bar in New York bans babies after 5 p.m.; a Central Florida homeowners association is considering a ban on children from playing outside, and the examples continue. All of this is strong indication that the trend were seeing, and one modeled by more serious demographers than those at the U.N., is here to stay.

We are still slouching into a demographic crisis, and Last is right to highlight economic concerns that will spin off from low fertility rates.

Twos company, threes a crowd … and fours an environmental disaster!

by Julia Kiewit

July 22, 2011

One would think that if anyones genes need reproducing, David and Victoria Beckham would have approval. But even in our success-obsessed culture today, the achievement and beauty of Mr. and Mrs. Beckham is not enough to get them off the hook among those who believe that ones family size should be a debate for the whole world to weigh in on.

Recently, an article in the UK Guardian criticized the Beckhams after the birth of their fourth child, Harper Seven, calling them environmentally irresponsible. Simon Ross, chief executive of the UK based Optimum Population Trust was critical of the couple: We need to change the incentives to make the environmental case that one or two children are fine but three or four are just being selfish … The Beckhams, and others likeLondon mayor Boris Johnson [who also has four children], are very bad role models with their large families. He went on to argue, as do many who are concerned with the worlds population, that with 7 billion people in the world and counting, there cannot be more people on this Earth than can be fed.”

Mr. Ross, like others with concerns about overpopulation and the worlds food supply, fail to take a few things into account. When Thomas Malthus predicted in the 1800s that the population would overtake the food supply, he failed to also predict the impact of the Industrial Revolution, along with many subsequent technological innovations that allow crops to be grown faster and in harsher climates than he could have possibly imagined.

The concern about resource depletion isn’t a proven science, and studies show that human capital and labor productivity are what actually drive the increases and reductions of resources. What’s more, worries about overpopulation disregard the principle that life is inherently good. Even if humans and the environment existed adversarially (though I believe that they don’t), human life is still an unqualified good. The choice for life shouldn’t be made on the basis of environmental concerns, though all our decisions about consumption should certainly be with prudence. And empirically speaking, if there’s a crisis in our world today, it’s underpopulation. Most countries in Europe, for example, are seeing birth rates drop below replacement levels (looked at Russia lately?), though immigration will contribute some stability to these nations numbers.

While we must certainly care for the environment, the answer is not that families or developed nations are to blame. Even if developed nations use a larger proportion of the earths natural resources, the technology coming out of these countries allows many people in the developing world to be fed, and affords a greater quality of life to everyone around the globe. The earths resources are not a pie whose portion for everyone at the party shrinks as new guests arrive. Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute, argues that because each person has unique value, more people means more for all of us more economic production, more potential for artistic and scientific achievement, more innovation. And speaking of innovation, two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, we are still not running out of food.

What is more unsustainable than the current rate of population growth is the increasing numbers of people who do not grow up in stable, married families. Dr. Henry Potrykus, of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, recently released “Our Fiscal Crisis,” detailing the relationship between the future ofAmericas economy and the proportion of intact, married families. It is impossible for a country to remain strong when fewer than half of its citizens grow up in homes that do not offer the stability that marriage provides. This holds true for any nation, not just theU.S., and the negative effects of broken homes are well-documented.

David and Victoria Beckham have remained committed to one another in marriage, thus demonstrating what is right about families inBritain. To the Beckhams I say, Congratulations! The begetting and raising of human life in the context of marriage is one of the greatest adventures in the world. You are setting a good example for the world to follow.

Whats in a Name?

by Julia Kiewit

January 25, 2011

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban announced the birth of their second child, Faith Margaret, this past Monday, thanking everyone for their support, especially Faiths gestational carrier. While Nicole and Keith were simply using the vernacular of the fertility industry, referring to their childs birth mother as a gestational carrier betrays an underlying cultural attitude fostered by technological developments in this field.

With advances in the field of assisted reproductive technologies [ART], a surrogate mother can carry a baby conceived with her egg and a donors sperm. Now there are also gestational carriers: a woman who carries a couples fertilized embryo to term, but is not herself the babys genetic mother.

Ethics within the field of ART are, admittedly, complex, but the shift from surrogate mothers to gestational carriers, while subtle, is significant. In the past, the words birth mother or surrogate mother and adoptive mother have been used to describe the situation in which a baby born biologically to one mother was given to another family. But as technology evolves, so does its vocabulary.

Regardless of the technical intent behind gestational carrier, the term is, at its root, dehumanizing. The phrase reduces a woman to a function, instead of a person in a relationship. No longer does her title represent who she is a woman, a mother bearing a child in her body she is her function, a gestational carrier.

Thanks in part to technology, our society makes distinctions between function and identity. Men can be sperm donors without being known as the father of the baby. We have children who are biologically one mans, but socially anothers. This calls into question the very nature of relationships. Not all fathers always act like fathers, and children may look up to another man as a father figure, but for most of human history, fatherhood was tied to biology, except in cases of adoption. This is no longer the case. Technology is changing what it means to be a parent: the creation and raising of a child can involve a sperm donor, an egg donor, a gestational carrier, or surrogate mother, and the couple that the child eventually lives with and calls Mommy and Daddy. And this technology defines people by what they do, instead of who they are. While calling someone a mother certainly does not describe the totality of who that woman is, at least the title of mother is defining her relationally, humanizing her, for the ability to have relationships is uniquely human.

Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, notes that the use of ART is turning baby-making into a consumerist activity. Pregnancy has been reduced to a bits and pieces brokered industry: sperm from a handsome Scandinavian stud, eggs from a beautiful Ivy League graduate, a womb-for-rent from a poor woman in India trying to provide food and education for her children, and brokers in the middle setting up the legal transactions to build a better baby the 21st-century way. Individuals are applying their bodies to bringing new life into the world through a segmented, fractured process,turning children into things to be designed and purchased. The Scandinavian man and the Ivy League woman are now means to an end. Lahl argues that children are not products to be made, but with the rise of medical tourism, that is what they are becoming.

Technology brings with it as many questions as answers. In the process of advancing our physical capabilities, it (in this case) blurs the bright line of relationships. I will not make a moral judgment on all blurry lines; not all things unclear must be rejected as wrong. But how we speak about things matters for words frame how we see the world. In this case, it is important to remember that people are fundamentally ends, not means thereto. Before helping ourselves to the vast array of opportunities technology offers, it is imperative that we ask hard questions and consider the ethical implications of each. When people are defined by their functions and not their relationships, are we seeing an age in which technology helps the body while harming the soul?

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