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Is Modern Morality Working?

The twentieth century saw dramatic changes in moral behavior, especially in the West—principally Europe and the English-speaking world of North America, Australia, and New Zealand. To a great degree, this has been and is the result of Darwinism, the idea that mankind is the product of blind chance and therefore has no lasting or transcendent purpose. As the Apostle Paul put it, “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

The atrocities of the two World Wars also caused people to question how such carnage can happen if a loving God truly exists. Penicillin and the “pill” played a part in freeing people from two of the greatest fears of intimacy outside of marriage: pregnancy and disease. Perceptions changed, but the problems remained. Sexually transmitted disease is ever-present, debilitating, and deadly.

Then there were the intellectuals, the secular evangelists of the new morality: Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters, Virginia Johnson, Edward Brecher, and others who aimed to liberate us from our repressive Victorian past—the other extreme. Regardless of the cause, the effects have been dramatic. Behaviors that were once shameful are now considered normal—even praiseworthy.


In Western culture, there was once at least a nominal consciousness of God, and among many a strong belief in His existence. Both Christians and Jews looked to some degree to Scripture—specifically to the Ten Commandments—as the guiding light for behavior. Those rules tempered human conduct, but during the second half of the twentieth century, belief in God and morality in these nations greatly deteriorated, only to plummet even more rapidly in the first two decades of the twenty-first.

Secular humanism has replaced the Ten Commandments in courts and educational institutions. But is it true that there can be an ethical social order apart from belief in an authoritative God? The problem is that people cannot agree upon what is moral and ethical.

A quick Internet search about adultery proves the point. Michael W. Austin, PhD, wrote in Psychology Today, “In my ethics courses, I discuss issues in family ethics with my students related to marriage and parenthood. We often discuss an essay by contemporary philosopher Richard Wasserstrom, ‘Is Adultery Immoral?’ I believe the answer is clearly yes” (“What’s Wrong With Adultery?,” August 1, 2011). But, in another Psychology Today essay, Clifford N. Lazarus, PhD, wrote, “In other words, there are both healthy and unhealthy reasons for having extramarital relations. Ironically, in some cases, a marriage can be strengthened by an affair” (“Is Everything We Think We Know About Adultery Wrong?,” July 17, 2013).

So, while most of us who are married believe it is morally right for our mates to be faithful to us, not everyone agrees. Both Austin and Lazarus approach the subject through human reason, presenting arguments from both sides of the question, but human reason alone, apart from God, is no more than opinion and philosophy—and now the curriculum of education at all levels.

Thomas Paine published The Age of Reason in three parts between 1794 and 1807. Paine, a deist, believed in a higher power but rejected revealed knowledge as found in the major religions and religious texts, including the Bible. Paine promoted human reason as a substitute for divine revelation.

Isn’t it time to pause and ask whether the direction mankind has chosen is working? What are the facts? Whole books could be written on the subject, but for the space available in this article, let us look at just three aspects of our “new morality.”


Human reason says it is good to test someone prior to marriage—almost as one would test drive an automobile before purchasing it—to determine whether he or she is compatible with you. This is the majority view, according to a 2016 article from National Health Statistics Reports: “In 2011–2013, 60% of women and 67% of men agreed, ‘Living together before marriage may help prevent divorce’” (“Trends in Attitudes About Marriage, Childbearing, and Sexual Behavior: United States, 2002, 2006–2010, and 2011–2013,” March 17, 2016).

This is the opinion of many, but human reason and popular opinion do not always match the facts. As early as 2002, Rutgers University’s David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project, confirmed that when it comes to cohabitation, human reason is flawed:

Many studies have found that those who live together before marriage have less satisfying marriages and a considerably higher chance of eventually breaking up. One reason is that people who cohabit may be more skittish of commitment and more likely to call it quits when problems arise. But in addition, the very act of living together may lead to attitudes that make happy marriages more difficult (“The Top Ten Myths of Marriage,” National Marriage Project).

Jay Teachman of Western Washington University explained the following in a study titled “Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, and the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women”:

One of the most robust predictors of marital dissolution that has appeared in the literature is premarital cohabitation. Beginning with reports by Booth and Johnson (1988) and Bennett, Blanc, and Bloom (1988), virtually all studies of the relationship between premarital cohabitation and divorce have found a positive link (Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2003).

Teachman further emphasized the point while citing five further studies: “One of the most clearly defined correlates of cohabitation is an increased risk of marital dissolution.… Marriages preceded by a spell of cohabitation are as much as 50% more likely to end in divorce at any marital duration than marriages not preceded by cohabitation.”

Significantly, these findings had not been expected, making the conclusions of Teachman and his team even more credible. “Early investigators expressed surprise at this result because it had sometimes been theorized that premarital cohabitation would act as a screening device, allowing couples to choose a mate with whom they could form a successful marriage.”


Unplanned pregnancies are common within marriage. How many of us may ourselves have been an “accident”? In a marriage, a mother and a father are available to love and care for a child, even when it is unplanned. But a child coming into the world outside of a stable parental relationship is in a very different situation.

According to Time, in an article by Amy Sullivan titled “Behind the Boom in Adult Single Motherhood,” the group with the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies among single women is not teens, as many suppose, but single women in their twenties. Seven of ten pregnancies among these twenty-somethings were unplanned, which creates a problem. Many women choose to abort their problem, but abortion is not always as simple as people believe. Abortion, for many, creates long-lasting, unanticipated psychological issues. Then there are those who choose to give birth. This is commendable given the circumstances and limited choices, but what, if any, are the consequences for both mother and child? Quoting Ms. Sullivan, “Study after study has shown that babies born to unmarried mothers are at higher risk of ending up in poverty, and that the mothers themselves face educational and economic hurdles.”

And what about the three-in-ten single women in their twenties who actually plan to have a child out of wedlock? Many excuses are given as to why so many are choosing babies before commitment. One is that today’s men are often not prepared financially to support a family. Is this reasoning valid? Advice columnist Emily Yoffe, who writes under the name of “Prudence” for Slate, wrote the following in response to this argument:

Scholar Kay Hymowitz… turns the argument around and says it’s not that harsh economic conditions lead to women having children without fathers, but that the decision to have children without fathers leads to harsh, and self-perpetuating, economic conditions. She explains that having the belief that a solid marriage is central to one’s life—that it precedes starting a family—encourages women and men to make important choices based on self-discipline and deliberation. This is a formula “needed for upward mobility, qualities all the more important in a tough new knowledge economy” (“… And Baby Makes Two,”, March 20, 2008).

Ms. Yoffe’s article describes the single parent scene in America as a “national catastrophe.” While she promotes the importance of marriage and family, readers have responded with a variety of excuses: “Having a child will be stressful and life altering enough. Parents need to work on their relationship on their time schedule.” “I feel that a baby is its own blessing. Have that blessing before you get married.” “How dare you imply that an unexpected pregnancy should lead to marriage?”

Note that all these responses are based on emotions, not facts. When Ms. Yoffe was accused of being “simply out of touch with modern culture,” she responded:

That may be. But it also means that modern culture is out of touch with the needs of children. Some researchers identify out-of-wedlock births as the chief cause for the increasing stratification and inequality of American life, the first step that casts children into an ever more rigid caste system. Studies have found that children born to single mothers are vastly more likely to be poor, have behavioral and psychological problems, drop out of high school, and themselves go on to have out-of-wedlock children.

The problem with human reason is that emotions and agendas get in the way of rational thinking. And even when emotions and agendas are not present, rational human reasoning is not always the best solution (Proverbs 14:1216:25). Sadly, children are sometimes conceived for all the wrong reasons. The result is not good for children. Quoting from Ms. Sullivan again, “Women are also vulnerable to the misconception that a pregnancy—even unintended—can cement a relationship and bring a couple closer together. In fact, all of the statistics show that babies stress relationships; more couples end up splitting… than marrying.”

In today’s postmodern world, facts do not seem to matter. We now live in a time when the forces of emotion, personal opinion, and self-expression prevail. But truth is not fluid. Either something is true and can be backed by facts, or it is untrue and cannot.

For 10 years, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study at Princeton University has followed the families of 5,000 children, three-quarters born to unwed parents. According to the research, most of these parents, both women and men, said they wanted to get married—and to each other. But they somehow feel this mutual decision is beyond their power to make. And by not making it, the forces of inertia start pulling them apart. Five years after their children’s births, only 16 percent of the couples had married, and 60 percent had split (“… And Baby Makes Two”).

Moral choices do matter. They matter to marriages and to children—and historians and social workers know that the breakup of families has a disastrous effect on the fabric of nations.


Even though 2008 sounds like ancient history to many people, little has changed since this shocking headline appeared in newspapers across America: “CDC: At Least 1 in 4 Teenage Girls Has Sexually Transmitted Disease” (Associated Press, March 11, 2008). The article went on to clarify, “At least one in four teenage girls nationwide has a sexually transmitted disease, or more than 3 million teens, according to the first study of its kind in this age group. A virus that causes cervical cancer is by far the most common sexually transmitted infection in teen girls aged 14 to 19…. Among girls who admitted ever having sex, the rate was 40 percent.”

Matters have not gotten better since that report. A 2016 Center for Community Practice press release reported, “STDs Increase Across the Country for the Third Year.” But rather than encouraging young women to avoid these scourges altogether, here is what the vaunted CDC counsels: “All sexually active women younger than 25 years should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year. Women 25 years and older with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners or a sex partner who has an STD should also be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year” (“Which STD Tests Should I Get?,”, July 22, 2021).

STDs are not harmless infections. They can cause sterility, chronic pain, cervical cancer, and life-threatening ectopic pregnancies. They can necessitate lifelong and sickening drug-cocktail treatments, and even lead to death. And how stressful to be in the position where you have to tell the person you want to spend the rest of your life with that you have an incurable STD.

The CDC does mention options to avoid STDs, but they are presented as just that: options, including abstinence, reducing the number of partners, mutual monogamy, vaccination, latex barriers—no encouragement to choose the “options” commanded by our Creator. Only mutual abstinence followed by monogamous marriage guarantees protection from these dangerous diseases.

Missing are the invisible laws that govern our most intimate relationships. The sexual revolution—the not-so-new “new morality”—took off in the 1960s. No, it’s not that nobody acted as alley cats prior to this time. Far from it—but the ’60s saw a dramatic change in Western attitudes. Wendy Shalit quotes Edward M. Brecher postulating in 1969, “Here, I think, is a task for sex research: an objective inquiry into the short-term and long-term effects on men, women, and children of emancipation from sexual repression, from feelings of sexual shame and guilt” (A Return to Modesty, 1999, p. 26).

Ms. Shalit responds, “So welcome, Mr. Brecher, to the world of postmodern sexual morality. In some respects it has turned out more horrifying than even the ‘inhibited’ might have imagined…. The question, I guess, then becomes, Is our guerrilla etiquette [today’s hook-up practices] as good as the older rules?” (pp. 26–27).

What are these “older rules”? Thomas Paine was not the first to exalt reason over revelation, but when one takes an honest look at the facts of the “new” morality, it is evident that our choice of human reason over revelation has led to failure. Our hook-up culture with no boundaries is not good for marriage, for children, or for our health.


Long before Thomas Paine, our Creator gave His instructions to the first man and the first woman. The One who designed us knew all about chemistry, biology, anatomy, and emotions. He gave laws that produce good results when we obey them, but breaking them brings pain, sorrow, and death. God gave our first parents a choice. They could accept revealed knowledge that would enlighten them regarding these invisible laws, or they could trust themselves to determine right and wrong. As students of the Bible know, they chose poorly. They put their trust in their five senses and in their ability to reason for themselves, and their descendants have been doing the same ever since. But the evidence is clear: Broken hearts, broken families, broken and confused children, and broken bodies result from ignoring the laws of our Creator.

The God of the Bible is no prude when it comes to intimate relationships. The very first chapter of His revelation to mankind shows that we were designed for intimacy. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:27–28).

After creating male and female, God created the union that we call marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The next verse tells us that they were naked and not ashamed—but that was about to change. It was after they listened to the adversary that shame entered and they hid themselves from God (Genesis 3:9–10). Where did their shame come from? The answer is found with the question God put before them: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Genesis 3:11).

Ever since, the adversary we speak of as Satan or the devil has been working to undermine the most intimate relationship between men and women. Yet, who is it that mankind blames? The very Creator of that intimacy.

Intimacy within marriage—between a biological man and a biological woman—is righteous and healthy. Marriage is to be honored; sexual activity outside of that relationship is not. “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). The foundation of biblical law is love as expressed by the Ten Commandments, one of which is “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14Deuteronomy 5:18).

Today, few care about saving intimacy for marriage. People “hook up” and unhook at will. Marriage has become an afterthought, a one-day event to “say yes to the dress.” Yet God inspired the scriptural admonition to avoid all sexual conduct outside of godly marriage, counseling us to run in the other direction when tempted. “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

No, God is not against intimacy; He is all for it in the right context. But when we reason around that context and engage in sex before marriage, outside of marriage, or with someone of the same sex, the results are pain, heartache, and suffering. Isn’t it time to open our eyes and look at the facts?