Tag: Abstinence be faithful use a condom

Rick Perry and The Moral Question

This has been floating around for a week. I saw it when I lived in Texas. It’s Ricky Perry fumbling for an answer to a question on abstinence-only education (as opposed to the ABC approach taken by most reputable programs: Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom). The questioner points out the massive failure of the abstinence-only approach: kids are no less likely to have sex but are less likely to use protection. Perry … can’t answer.

I’m tempted to say this means Perry is stupid, but even the smartest of the moral conservatives fumble this question. Why? I think this critique, if you ignore the snide tone, gets close:

Liberals may think that conservatives support abstinence education because they believe it will reduce teen pregnancy, when the truth is that stopping teen pregnancy is at best a minor consideration for conservatives. If there’s going to be any discussion of sex in school at all, they believe it ought to express the categorical moral position that sex is vile and dirty and sinful, until you do it with your spouse, at which point it becomes beautiful and godly (you’ll forgive a bit of caricature). The fact that abstinence-only education is far less effective at reducing teen pregnancy than comprehensive sex-ed isn’t something they’re pleased about, but it doesn’t change their conviction about the moral value that ought to be expressed.

I have frequently found myself at loggerheads on culture issues in which I’m arguing a practical perspective and my opponents are arguing a moral one. Drug warriors, for example, will sometimes concede that there would be less violence and civil liberties violations if the War on Drugs were ended. But they don’t think the government should be permitting drug use; that it should take a stand against vile and self-destructive behavior. Pro-lifers aren’t ignorant of the back alleys; but they can not have the government allowing fetuses to be destroyed. They see the back alleys as a different issue. Even the immigration issue breaks down this way. For all the “jobs Americans won’t take” rhetoric, there are a lot of people who think that lawbreaking should not be encouraged.

Now before liberals get too high up on their “you can’t legislate morality” high horse, let’s remember that liberals do this too. “The rich should pay their fair share” is a moral question, not a practical one, despite numerous attempts to make it so. “Everyone should have health insurance” is a moral judgement as is “everyone should have a quality education” or “the government should make sure everyone has food and shelter”. These may have practical aspects; I may even agree with them on some level. But they are fundamentally moral questions, no matter how much the Left tries to pretend that, for example, national health insurance will spur the economy. We can’t pretend the moral element only exists when sex is involved.

Moral conflicts are, almost by definition, emotional and contentious. It’s difficult to find points of compromise. That is why I tend to favor letting the issues be resolved somewhere other than the national stage. That libertarian viewpoint places me opposite of both the culture conservatives and the economic liberals. But I see it as simply practical.