Habits of the Heart

The government doesn't often make cheery pronouncements, but here's some much needed good news from Washington. The most recent numbers [which are for 1994] from the National Center for Health Statistics, a government agency, show a continuing decline in births to teenagers. In fact, this is the lowest birth rate among teens in the sixty years since such records have been kept. Birth rates for teens aged 15 to 19 have dropped 20 percent since 1991. All around us we see signs of continuing moral decay, but these figures are astounding. So what accounts for this dramatic turnaround? Government analysts were quick to credit government sex-education programs. But in the past these programs have had no real positive impact -- much less a change of this magnitude. And abstinence programs, however well-intentioned, lack the support and prominence to explain this dramatic shift. And sure, the strong economy and the attendant postponing of childbearing by people who want to work may have something to do with the shift -- as does the fear of contracting AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. But such an extraordinary decline has to be the result of something much more than these factors. I believe it is a change in what Tocqueville called the "habits of the heart." We're finally seeing a reaction to the moral wasteland of the Sixties' counterculture of free love and cheap drugs. When the sexual revolution burst onto the scene -- and it was really Marxist in origin -- many thought the "liberation" it brought was wonderful. (Unfortunately, as I've argued in my book, HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE?, liberating us from transcendent moral standards only imprisons us to moral decay and social disorder -- a tyranny all the more oppressive than Marxism.) The Sixties' generation preached a lifestyle that was simply unsustainable -- it didn't work. Moral decay led logically to social chaos and gave us widespread disease, addiction, broken homes, and kids having babies they can't care for. But people can't live with chaos. That's why today's young people and their parents are looking for a better way to live. The moral desolation of the sexual revolution caused Boomers to start wanting to teach their kids traditional values. A Wall Street Journal poll shows that 33 percent of liberals and 84 percent of conservatives today favor restoring traditional family values. The Boomers don't want their kids to make the same mistakes they made. And they want something better. That's where the church comes in. We need to make the case for a biblical worldview that provides this generation -- and every generation -- with the most rational, reasonable way to live. Now, these statistics are great news, but we mustn't become complacent about teen pregnancy. America's teen birth-rate is still 4 to 5 times higher than that of Europe or Japan. But we're on the right track. Not only is the birth rate down, abortions are declining, as well. And more teenagers are abstaining from sex altogether. You see, when people discover the price they have to pay for so-called "liberation," they come back to traditional values. Young people today aren't any less interested in happiness than they used to be. And they're certainly not prudish. They simply have seen that moral rebellion doesn't give them the answers they're looking for. It's the church's job to point them in the direction of the One who does. The really good news is that He is waiting for them.


Chuck Colson



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