Are you getting tired of all the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth from the religious right about the moral decline of America? Rick Santorum claims that “Satan has his sights on the United States of America”. Newt Gingrich says “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have.” Even Mitt Romney blames our moral decay on Obama’s “secular agenda”. But whether they blame it on Obama, abortion, or gays, they all agree that our country is in deep moral doodoo.
Or is it?
According to a report in The Economist, America is actually doing pretty good from a moral standpoint.
Violent crime, homicides, and property crime are way down (the murder rate has been cut in half since 1991). How about a hot button issues for the religious right, like abortion? Well, abortion has declined since the last turn of the century. The divorce rate is the lowest it has been since the early 70s. Teenage pregnancy is way down. Even infidelity is down.
Both negative and positive indicators are doing well. Except for a decline during the recession, charitable giving is up. The high school graduation rate is the highest it has been in more than two decades.
If you need to find an indicator of moral decay, interestingly you need to look at things like religious affiliation, which has decreased significantly. The number of people attending church regularly has also declined. Is it a coincidence that these measures are going the opposite direction of other indicators of morality?
I do have to admit that the number of out-of-wedlock births has increased dramatically in America. After all, Rick Santorum points this out frequently during his campaign speeches. And he is also correct when he says that children of unwed mothers in America tend to have more problems (with health, school, and income).
There’s just one problem with that statistic — out-of-wedlock births are increasing in most of the developed world. For example, over 50% of babies born in Iceland and Sweden are born to unwed mothers. But in those countries — which have strong social support systems — children born to unwed mothers do just as well as children born into a traditional nuclear family. So the problem might be something else about the US, not just being born out of wedlock.
So the only measures that show moral decline are out-of-wedlock motherhood, church attendance and religious affiliation. (Well plus the fact that we elected a Muslim, foreign-born black man as president.) On the other hand, things like crime, divorce, abortion, teen pregnancy, and infidelity are down, while charitable giving and graduation rates are up.
Far be it from me to expect the religious right to hold a belief that is based on facts, or even on reality. But if they want to blame the morality of our nation on Obama, then it is only fair that they give him credit for all the good things too.