The Briefing 08-12-15

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Study presenting difficulty of parenthood reveals focus of happiness in status, not family

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Question of affordability of having kids unique question of secular worldview

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Indian political controversy over beef trade shows constant influence of theology

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 12, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

 

It’s Wednesday, August 12, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Study presenting difficulty of parenthood reveals focus of happiness in status, not family

From time to time, a major news article appears gaining attention in terms of the headline, but upon reflection what’s most interesting about the story is what’s not addressed in the article at all. That’s the case with a major article that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post. It gained a great deal of attention ranking among the most read articles in the newspaper by last night. The headline of the article,

“It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner.”

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The article is by Ariana Eunjung Cha and she writes,

“Life has its ups and downs, but parenthood is supposed to be among the most joyous. At least that’s what the movies and Target ads tell us.”

She continues,

“In reality, it turns out that having a child can have a pretty strong negative impact on a person’s happiness, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person’s life is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner.”

She goes on to cite the article from the journal Demography. It followed 2,016 Germans who were childless at the time the study began, and the study continued until at least two years after the birth of their first child respondents to the study were asked to rate their happiness from completely dissatisfied, that’s zero to completely satisfied that was 10. The question was how satisfied are you with your life, all things considered? The study then says,

“Although this measure does not capture respondents’ overall experience of having a child, it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child.”

Cha goes on to say,

“The study’s goal was to try to gain insights into a longstanding contradiction in fertility in many developed countries.”

That is the contradiction between how many children people say they want and how many it turns out they actually have. In Germany, that’s the nation studied, most couples say that they want two children and yet she writes the birth rate in the country has remained very low. She describes it as,

“Stubbornly low — 1.5 children per woman — for 40 years.”

The way the study was conducted according to the researchers, having a child turned out to have a very negative impact upon the happiness of the parents. According to the study,

“On average, new parenthood led to a 1.4 unit drop in happiness. That’s considered very severe.”

Now she also says the data shows the larger the loss and well-being, the lower the likelihood of a second baby.

“The effect was especially strong in mothers and fathers who are older than age 30 and with higher education. Surprisingly, gender was not a factor.”

What was a factor, according to the researchers is what they described as,

“The continuous and intense nature of childrearing.” Parents reported exhaustion due to trouble breast-feeding, sleep deprivation, depression, domestic isolation and relationship breakdown.”

As I said, the article in the Washington Post skyrocketed into the most read at its website by late evening yesterday. I went and read the actual report published in the Journal demography. It is indeed very interesting. Here’s one paragraph,

“First, new parents reported being strongly affected by difficulties conceiving and experiences of pregnancy. New mothers reported that their medical conditions, physical pain, and pregnancy nausea conflicted with their desire to work, and new fathers were concerned about medical issues for their partners. Second, the experience of the birth influenced new parents’ desired family size. Long laboring or complications with Cesarean sections shaped parents’ desire not to “go through that again.” Third and most importantly, two-thirds of Newman’s respondents reported that difficulties in the first year after a birth led to downward revisions of plans for additional children. The continuous and intense nature of childrearing in the first year was stressful for most parents, especially for those who had limited knowledge of baby care and social support.”

Now as I said, what’s most interesting in terms of both the major research study and the Washington Post article is not what’s present but what’s missing. There is no consideration here of what appears from a worldview perspective to be the biggest question of all. How in the world are these people defining happiness? How should we define happiness? One of the key issues from a worldview perspective this demonstrates is that how we define our happiness, the expectations we have about our own happiness, these reveal a great deal about our worldview. In fact, a very great deal. What this study demonstrates is not exactly what the headline indicates. As the underlying study makes clear, the researchers are not making the claim that there is a direct causality between having a child in a loss of happiness, they’re saying that it is correlated. There is a huge caveat for admission in the study and to its credit the Washington Post cited the sentence in full. I go back to it again,

“Although this measure does not capture respondents’ overall experience of having a child, it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child.”

So in other words, the researchers tried to go at this indirectly because they didn’t believe the parents would be honest about evaluating their happiness over against having a child. But that also means that the study doesn’t directly answer the question that it raises. Declining birth rates are a matter of concern more about that in just a moment, but the most important thing to note here is the link between worldview and the experience of expecting and having and raising a child. In asking questions about happiness, it turns out this is the kind of question that reveals a great deal more than the researchers may have understood or acknowledged. For instance, you’ll note that the Washington Post and the very opening of the study notes the fact that there is a particular loss of happiness, according to the respondents, among parents who have become parents with their first child after they are in their 20s and those who have higher education. That also is correlated with higher income. That leads to something really revealing that is indicated in this study. They describe part of the loss of happiness as being derived from what they define as,

“The stress of higher status.”

They’re actually citing a study there done in 2000. This stress of higher status means that those who have more education, those who are further along in terms of the lifespan. Remember, they said those who are in their 30s and above and those who have a higher income, they are likely to have developed an understanding of happiness that is very different than those who are defined differently, those with less education, those with less status, less income and younger on the age spectrum. This is very revealing when you think about where this puts us in terms of modern Western societies. We are watching the development of the delay of adulthood, of the delay of marriage and of the delay of childbearing and as it turns out they are very indicative as reflected in this study of just how happy parents consider themselves to be once they actually become parents with their first child. We should note that the very issues that led to lower happiness are related, according to the testimony of these very parents to a change in their lifestyle and of their work context, and of the stresses that come from having a child. It’s also extremely revealing that the researchers in Germany on the study indicated that another factor is that many of these parents becoming parents discover that a baby was other than they thought the baby would be in terms of demands and attention.

The researchers went on, explicitly to document the fact that a part of the unhappiness reported by these parents has to do with the fact that they were surprised by the actual experience of a child and the researchers indicate that this was particularly acute amongst these parents becoming parents for the first time who previous to parenthood actually had very little contact with an infant whatsoever. On the very last page of the scientific paper is an astounding sentence I read it,

“Many other factors may also be important determinants of the well-being pattern—for example, sibship size or birth order (because having had younger siblings may help anticipate the challenges of parenthood).”

That’s a fairly explosive sentence because explicitly it says that new parents who did not have younger brothers and sisters are more likely not to know much about what a baby actually is going to demand and what its demands are going to represent in terms of a change in lifestyle. That is a hugely important issue that tells us a great deal about how the worldview of the world around us is changed, especially in terms of Western nations. As family size has become smaller people have fewer brothers and sisters, and by definition more children are only children, fewer children have the opportunity once they become adults to fall back on the experience they had watching younger brothers and sisters as babies. This becomes something of a circular pattern according to the study, those who had fewer siblings turnout also to have fewer babies and again from a Christian biblical worldview perspective, that’s something we can understand that tells us a great deal about how the world around us is reflecting this fundamental change in worldview that now comes down to if and when people get married, how they have children, how many children they have and whether or not they consider themselves happy once they’ve had a child.

The big issue here, of course, from an historical perspective is the fact that human beings have had families they’ve had children and they have found joy in having children long before this issue of a status anxiety really became even possible at least for most people but now with rising incomes and with the rise of a vast wealthy middle-class and an aspirational class in Western countries, we have people who are more and more defining their happiness in terms of their vocation and job, in terms of their social standing and education, in terms of their adult entertainments, in terms of their adult lifestyles, in terms of the kind of happiness that is defined by what you see advertised so much on the television demonstrated in Hollywood’s entertainment products and also just reflected in how people demand to be happy on their own terms. This is a stunning reversal of the pattern of history and it is a stunning revelation in terms of worldview.

The biblical worldview tells us that children are to be received with joy as divine gifts and furthermore the biblical worldview demonstrates that we are to find our happiness in fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. Let’s just state the obvious, in the very first chapter of Scripture we are told as human beings that one of our responsibilities is to go forth and multiply and fill the earth and by definition, in fulfilling that divine vocation to find our joy and our happiness. By the way, the word happiness itself is a fairly modern concern. Happiness is not something that is treated very thoroughly in Scripture. Scripture instead deals with joy. Joy is a very different thing than happiness. As the New Testament makes abundantly clear, joy is to be found as the apostle Paul said, regardless of our circumstances, because we are first of all filled with joy because of the salvation that is been brought to us by the father through the son, and then we are also to find joy in fulfilling the vocation for which we were made as image bearers of God, given the responsibility to create and to welcome by means of reproduction new image bearers in terms of the human family and in particular in our own family.

To state the obvious, most people throughout human history haven’t had too much time, luxury or for that matter, the economic ability to decide that they’re going to live their lives in terms of how they would define their own happiness. They understood that as human beings we have a job to do, we have a vocation to fulfill and the other obvious thing that is not really reflected in the study is that over time parents, almost all parents indicate that they are extremely happy, not to mention joyous in the experience of having been parents and having been the parents specifically of their children. Once again, I remind you this article that appeared on the website of the Washington Post yesterday shot to the very top of the most read articles before the day ended. That raises an interesting question, what did most readers find to be the most compelling issue? Is it happiness or is it having babies? Either way you look at it this article is incredibly revealing.

Question of affordability of having kids unique question of secular worldview

So also was another article that appeared in the Washington Post. This one appeared on August 7 is by Jonnelle Marte, the headline,

“A millennial couple asks: Can we afford to have a baby?”

She writes after six years of marriage,

“After six years of marriage, Saro and Lerna Shirinian would love to have a baby.

They have steady jobs, a two-bedroom house in Los Angeles and plenty of family nearby to help out. But between nearly $20,000 in credit card debt, $140,000 in student loans and the $320,000 left on the mortgage, they can’t see a way to make it happen right now. “We’re just trying to figure out if we’re on the right path,” Saro says. “Based on our financial status, is having a family and growing a possibility, or is it too scary right now?”

The couple identified as being 34 and 35 years old. They’re described as,

“Like many young couples struggling with debt.”

They are trying to decide whether or not they can now afford to have a baby. Remember they’re aged 34 and 35. Still the couple, according to the article would like to free up room in the budget to spend on diapers and daycare. They would also like to start a college fund so the kids won’t need to incur the kind of debt that they have.

“With a combined household income of about $112,000, the Shirinians can pay the bills – but there is not much left over to build savings or to make extra debt payments.”

Here’s where their money is going right now according the article,

“Their combined student loan payments, which total about $1,200 a month, take up about 16 percent of their take-home pay. The couple is also paying $600 a month to lease two cars, about $230 on gas and another $200 a month for auto insurance. Credit card payments add up to $600 a month. They spend $140 on utilities, $130 on cable and $165 a month for their cellphone bills. Together they spend $500 a month on entertainment, $500 on groceries and home supplies and $285 for short-term disability coverage and supplemental health insurance.”

Now, just think about that budget – here’s a couple making $112,000 a year. They are already in terms of the mortgage settled with about $300,000, indeed, more than that, they’re also spending $500 a month on entertainment, they’re spending a great deal of money in terms of their two cars and all that goes with that, and yet the big question is can they afford to have a baby? Once again, this flies in the face of human history. Most couples haven’t had anywhere near the income reflected in this article, of course they haven’t had the debt either, but the debt and the expenses reflected in this article also reflect that kind of social status that has now utterly changed the way so many people in modern Western societies look at what they are supposed to receive out of life. The very lifestyle or status that this couple has achieved is the very explanation for why they’re now wondering whether or not they can afford a baby now. Now we also need to note that the very idea of affording a baby in this context is something that most generations of human beings regardless of where they have lived have not really taken into consideration. According to the article, they pay $70 a month for a gardener, remember they’re also paying $130 for cable and it turns out that those expenses are privileged before they get to the issue of whether or not they can afford to have a child. Now the big point from a worldview perspective is what this really reflects and also the fact that the Washington Post ran this article indicating by the headline that this is an experience that is generalized to the entire millennial generation. We need to note the Millennials are not the first to reflect this massive change of expectations in status and lifestyle, not to mention once again, our definition of happiness that has marked recent centuries, in particular recent decades in terms of most people living in Western countries.

I go back to that extremely telling phrase from that study and demography,

“The stress of higher status.”

But even more profoundly and fundamentally it points to the stress upon a worldview, a worldview that is now breaking down in terms of the secular worldview, because those who are now operating by this worldview are by these studies and by many others less likely actually to have babies. What in terms of worldview could be more revealing than that?

Indian political controversy over beef trade shows constant influence of theology

Next we come back to the reminder that worldview always matters, theology always matters and from a Christian worldview perspective we understand that even secular worldviews have deep inescapable theological questions and theological assumptions at their very core. Consider that when you look at a recent article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It has to do with cows in India. As the Wall Street Journal reports,

“Across India, the status of the cow—an animal deeply revered in Hinduism—is emerging as a divisive issue. Conservatives emboldened by the rise of Mr. Modi’s BJP [that’s the current prime minister], which has Hindu nationalist roots, are seeking stricter limits on beef eating. The western state of Maharashtra this year expanded its ban on cow slaughtering to add bulls and bullocks to the list. The BJP-governed state of Haryana recently imposed stricter punishments to protect the cow.”

Well, we asked the question, why? The article has already indicated that the cow is considered to be a sacred creature according to Hinduism. And India as a predominantly Hindu state now faces the fact that cows have become a very divisive political issue, and therein lies a story and therein is a demonstration of the power of worldview and the persistence of theology, in this case the theology of Hinduism, which has a very special role for the cow. To make a long story short in terms of this article, the BJP the current ruling party, the Hindu nationalist party in terms of its founding is moving to push legislation nationwide that would eliminate the consumption and sale of cattle, of beef. According to Hinduism, the cow is a sacred creature understood according to the principle of Dharma to represent a maternal symbol of giving. But we need to remember that no less the Mahatma Gandhi had said,

“I worship the cow and I shall defend its worship against the whole world.”

He also said,

“The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection.”

We live in a supposedly secularizing world and in many ways it is, but our secular world is nowhere near as secular as it likes to think itself to be. Here you have one of most influential secular newspapers in the world, the Wall Street Journal. Writing an article about a nation that is supposedly politically secular, that is now considering due to theological impulses the sale and consumption of cattle since the cow is a revered figure. Whether or not the cow was actually worshipped, well there are Hindu experts that differ on whether its worship or recognition of a special sacred status. But as Gandhi made very clear, he representing a great many Hindus openly defended the worship of the cow. The central point for our concern here once again, is worldview and the fact that this demonstrates how central theology is even when people think theology is something that is merely antiquated and dismissed in the past. They also may want to say, well this is just India, that’s not representative of the larger secular West, but of course as you look closer at this story it just demonstrates the profound and inescapable fact that theology is behind the headlines whether you see it or not or whether you want to see it or not, of course, from a Christian biblical worldview there’s another major issue here and that is the theological distinction between polytheistic Hinduism and monotheistic biblical Christianity.

Christianity affirms that God made the creatures and he made the creatures for his glory, but the Bible doesn’t hold up the creatures themselves as being sacred, much less as objects to be worshiped. One of the things we need to remember is that in the Old Testament, the worship of Baal, symbolized often by a bull was one of the central issues that Israel was told they were to understand is idolatry, idolatry to be rejected not to be embraced. The confusion of the creator and the creature is one the persistent theological temptations, not only of our times as reflected in this article, but of all times as reflected in the Scriptures. It turns out, as we discovered in these headlines that how you view a baby is incredibly revealing of your worldview, to a lesser extent, but an important extent, the next news story also demonstrates that the way you look at a cow also demonstrates your worldview. Do you see a creature to be respected, to be enjoyed, to be appreciated as reflecting God’s glory, but also to be used in terms of the purposes for which God gave it to humanity? Let me remind you of Genesis 9 that makes very clear that we are given those animals to eat not to mention the fact that in the New Testament we are told to call no animal unclean in terms of that very purpose. But as we see worldview is always fundamental and fundamental to worldview is always theology, even in our increasingly proudly, arrogantly secular age, a story like this appears demonstrating profoundly that theology is always there and that theology always matters.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing