December 12, 2007


The Euro-American religious divide (Roger Cohen, December 12, 2007, IHT)

Romney's speech and the rapid emergence of the anti-Darwin Baptist minister Mike Huckabee as a rival Republican candidate suggest how distant the American zeitgeist is from the European.

At a time when growing numbers of Americans identify themselves as "born again" evangelicals, and creationism is no joke, Romney's speech essentially pitted the faithful against the faithless while attempting to merge Mormonism into mainstream Christianity. Where Kennedy said he believed in a "president whose religious views are his own private affair," Romney pledged not to "separate us from our religious heritage."

"Religiosity now seems at least as important for public office as leadership qualities," said Karl Kaiser, a German political scientist. "The entrance condition for the American presidential race is being religious. If you're not, you have no chance, which troubles Europeans."

Of course, the religious heritage of which Romney spoke is profound. The Puritans' vision of "a city upon a hill" in America serving as a beacon to humanity was based on a "covenant" with God. As the Bill of Rights was formulated, George Washington issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation alluding to "that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be."

But if religion informed America's formation, its distancing from the political sphere was decisive to the republic's resilience. Indeed, the devastating European experience of religious war and intolerance played an important role in the founders' thinking. Seen against this backdrop, Romney's speech and the society it reflects is far more troubling than Europe's empty cathedrals.

Romney allows no place in the United States for atheists, who do not merit a mention.

It's not, of course, a matter of there being no room in America for atheists, just no room at the top. After all, why would we elect a leader who rejects the Founding principles of the Republic?:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. [...]

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

America is just barren ground for the politics of secularism and demoralization, Teen drug use drops from a peak in 1990s (Associated Press, December 12, 2007)
The proportion of 8th graders reporting use of an illicit drug at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey was 24 percent in 1996. It now has fallen to 13 percent — a drop of nearly half.

Among 10th graders, the rates dropped from 39 percent to 28 percent between 1997 and 2007. Twelfth graders saw a decline from a peak of 42 percent in 1997 to 36 percent this year.

"The cumulative declines since recent peak levels of drug involvement in the mid-1990s are quite substantial especially among the youngest students," said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study, which was financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It surveyed 50,000 teens.

The drugs most responsible for this year's decline in illicit drug use are marijuana and various stimulants, including amphetamines, methamphetamine and crystal methamphetamine.

"The most encouraging statistic relates to the use of methamphetamine, which has plummeted by an impressive 64 percent since 2001," President Bush said.

Crime, Drugs, Welfare—and Other Good News
(Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, December 2007, Commentary)
[A] strange thing happened on the way to Gomorrah. Just when it seemed as if the storm clouds were about to burst, they began to part. As if at once, things began to turn around. And now, a decade-and-a-half after these well-founded and unrelievedly dire warnings, improvements are visible in the vast majority of social indicators; in some areas, like crime and welfare, the progress has the dimensions of a sea-change. That this has happened should be a source of great encouragement; why it happened, and what we can learn from it, is a subject of no less importance.

In a number of key categories, the amount of ground gained or regained since the early 1990’s is truly stunning. Crime, especially, has plummeted. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the rates of both violent crime and property crime fell significantly between 1993 and 2005, reaching their lowest levels since 1973 (the first year for which such data are available). More recent figures from the FBI, which measures crime differently from the NCVS, show an unfortunate uptick in violent crime in the last two years—particularly in cities like Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Even so, however, the overall rate remains far below that of the mid-1990’s.

Teenage drug use, which moved relentlessly upward throughout the 1990’s, declined thereafter by an impressive 23 percent, and for a number of specific drugs it has fallen still lower. Thus, the use of ecstasy and LSD has dropped by over 50 percent, of methamphetamine by almost as much, and of steroids by over 20 percent.

Then there is welfare. Since the high-water mark of 1994, the national welfare caseload has declined by over 60 percent. Virtually every state in the union has reduced its caseload by at least a third, and some have achieved reductions of over 90 percent. Not only have the numbers of people on welfare plunged, but, in the wake of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger have all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers have risen.

Abortion, too, is down. After reaching a high of over 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the U.S. has dropped to fewer than 1.3 million, a level not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized the practice. The divorce rate, meanwhile, is now at its lowest level since 1970.

Educational scores are up. Earlier this year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders continue to improve steadily in math, and that fourth-grade reading achievement is similarly on the rise. Other findings show both fourth- and twelfth-graders scoring significantly higher in the field of U.S. history. Black and Hispanic students are also making broad gains, though significant gaps with whites persist. The high-school dropout rate, under 10 percent, is at a 30-year low, and the mean SAT score was 8 points higher in 2005 than in 1993, the year Bennett published his Index.

More generally, we are seeing important progress in critical areas of youth behavior. Since 1991 (a peak year), the birth rate for teenagers aged fifteen to nineteen has decreased by 35 percent. The number of high-school students who have reported ever having sexual intercourse has declined by more than 10 percent. Teen use of alcohol has also fallen sharply since 1996—anywhere from 10 to 35 percent, depending on the grade in school—and binge drinking has dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded. The same is true of teens reporting that they smoke cigarettes daily.

John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has summarized these across-the-board findings in one succinct sentence: “We have a broad set of behaviors by young people that are going in a healthy direction."

To be sure, we have not reached anything like nirvana. [...]

The progress we have witnessed over the last 15 years is impressive, undeniable, and beyond what most people thought possible. There was, it is fair to say, essentially no one in the early 1990’s who predicted it. How, then, did it happen?

Obviously, no single explanation will suffice. Instead, long-overdue changes in government policy appear to have combined with a more or less simultaneous shift in public attitudes, with each sustaining and feeding the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 12, 2007 12:09 PM

I don't know how significant is might be to these statistics, but sinus/cold/flu OTC drugs are now kept behind the counter at the pharmacy even at the large box stores making it more difficult for young chemists to convert them into altering drugs.

Posted by: erp at December 12, 2007 2:20 PM

I've got a buddy who's got a French cousin. She happened to be in town last weekend. She said "What ees this Mormons?" Of course, about all she already knew about it was: Polygamy!! It was a fun conversation.

Posted by: Twn at December 12, 2007 4:14 PM

The cultural corrections written of above are, i maintain, the predictable consequence of the fading of the corrosive effect of Vietnam-era draft resistance.

In those days, millions aped counter-cultural ideas as a pretend-rectification of their own cowardice and slacking. Those people are still with us, and we still hear some of their shameful rationalizations echoed in "Anti-war" and so-called "progressive" thought.

Antinomian narcissism, spawned in draft-dodging, hangs on in the idea that one may disobey any law with which one simply disagrees.

Now the younger know nothing of the bases of the counter-culture, for all that they may be slightly corrupted by its residuals.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 13, 2007 5:10 AM

Good to see Lou concede the argument about what not winning the Cold War did to us.

Posted by: oj at December 13, 2007 7:25 AM