'Adherence to moral principles fosters traditional family life'

GENEVA, Switzerland — Worshipping God and adhering to religious precepts not only fosters spirituality, it also boosts political stability and economic strength. That's the consensus of experts who addressed sessions of the World Congress of Families II, which concluded here on Nov. 17.

They agreed that adherence to moral principles found in the scriptures of the world's major religions — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — fosters traditional family life and, thus, society, while practices traditionally disdained as immoral have the opposite effect in real and measurable economic and political terms.

"People are slowly coming to the realization that nothing else is working," said Patrick Fagan, William FitzGerald Fellow in Family and Culture Issues at the Heritage Foundation. "We've had a lot of great society experiments, spent billions of dollars and things are just getting worse. In a common sense way, the guy on the street says, 'That figures.' "

Aside from crime, drugs and violence — which no democratic political constituency advocates — the moral and ethical challenges presented by the growing acceptance of distorted or redefined male/female roles, encouragement of sexual promiscuity and promotion of fertility reduction have long-term economic and social consequences.

Three of the most-discussed challenges at the World Congress were:

Depopulation. "The U.N. Population Fund admitted in its 1999 State of World Population report that global population is on the decrease, and is declining far more rapidly than expected," according to Gwendolyn Landolt, spokeswoman for REAL Women of Canada.

In Third World nations, U.N.-backed abortion, contraception and sterilization programs are taking their toll on the birth rate, according to congress speakers.

"With the emphasis on 'reproductive health' (abortion and sterilization) and birth control, no one is interested in training midwives anymore," said Margaret Ogola, a pediatrician and executive director of the Family Life Counseling Association of Kenya. "Prenatal health problems and infant mortality are soaring as a result, from about 120 [deaths] per 1,000 births 10 years ago to 500 per 1,000 in some areas."

While medical supplies, educational tools and farm efficiency techniques would help foster family life, U.N.-backed agencies are focused on funding contraception programs instead, she said.

Combined with the growing legalization of abortion, economic disincentives and a rising divorce rate in Western nations, such challenges have been instrumental in shrinking the birthrate to sub-replacement levels on roughly half of the planet, according to Harvard researcher Nicholas Eberstadt.

The median age by the year 2040 could be 42, compared to age 26 today, he noted.

Economic upheaval. Maria Sophia Aguirre, associate professor of economics at the Catholic University of America, said a continued decline in the birthrate could turn what was a growing economy upside down.

"Several elements of the economy degenerate if they are not ordered toward the family. . . . What is the point of saving or investing beyond retirement without family? What moderation in consumption and spending would there be if there were no family? . . . An economy based on profit and selfish individualism could be successful for a period of time, but it will not last, among other things because it will not produce enough population, without which no economy is possible."

The number of Americans who hold two or more jobs is up 65 percent since 1980, according to Jean Bethke Elshtain, professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The average American worker spends 163 hours a year more working than in 1980. "That's a whole month stolen from family, friends, church and community."

Children's rights. Michael Farris, attorney and president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, told the following account:

In Oak Harbor, Wash., a blended family struggled with the mother's 13-year-old son, who didn't want to attend church with his family. He was content to go to church on Sunday morning, but the family also attended on Sunday and Wednesday nights. After a government social worker told him he could get legal protection from the state if he was having a conflict with his parents, he sued. A superior court judge decided that "once a week was enough for children to attend church, and he ordered the boy to remain in foster care."

The ruling finds precedent in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, Mr. Farris said. The treaty, which was signed by President Clinton, would become legally enforceable in the United States if two-thirds of the Senate were to ratify it.

So sweeping are the provisions in the treaty that it generates "a powerful state paternalism," according to Akira Morita, professor of law at Tokyo University. Use of strong language that proponents said was designed to protect children "bears a close resemblance to an order by which the state could seize any one of its subjects. . . . Aren't we now confronting the paradox of a new brand of totalitarian state paternalism prepared in the name of autonomy and rights?"

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