Saturday, February 25, 2012

Religious Freedom and Misleading Numbers

I've discussed how statistics can both create a more honest objective look at a situation, but also be misused if they are taken out of context.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about dissent on contraception among Catholics related to the recent Obama administration ruling regarding requiring employers to cover it on their health-care plans, and the subsequent "accommodation" (how gracious of the government to humor us with one! ::rollseyes::) requiring the insurance companies to provide it directly to plan-holding employees who want it.

The accommodation, of course, allegedly takes the employer out of it by requiring insurance companies to directly provide contraception for "free" to any employees already holding a plan. Except the problem I (and the bishops) see with this, is that this notion of the insurance company dealing "directly" with plan-holders and saying that takes the employer out of the equation is mere sleight-of-hand; if only plan-holding employees get the "free" contraception from the insurer, and if the employer paid for that plan in the first place, then (wherever the funds come from; I tend to believe "segregated funds" in general is a rather silly concept) the employer giving them a plan is still like giving them a virtual entitlement to contraception. It's just facetious and a linguistic game to claim "You pay for the ribs, the salad bar is free," in a restaurant unless the salad bar is free for anyone in the world, even those who don't buy anything, not merely those who buy an entree.

For example, I'd certainly feel uncomfortable and like my conscience was violated if I had to give employees a gift-certificate to Planned Parenthood, even if it could be argued "They might not use it on an abortion, they might just get a pap smear!" Even if it was billed specifically as a "certificate for a pap smear" only, if I was being forced to distribute them during some sort of promotion where Planned Parenthood was giving out a free abortion with every pap smear, I obviously would not feel comfortable giving out certificates for the pap smears, exactly because of the "bonus" they would, in the context of that situation, imply and to which they would create an entitlement; in that case, the certificate for a pap smear is equivalent to a certificate for an abortion. I mean, similarly, is the government going to start accepting the argument that prostitutes give the sex for free and that you're only paying them to leave afterwards?!

No, the fact is, unlike money that can buy anything, and which furthermore creates no specific right to be sold any particular product if no one wants to sell it to you, this accommodation still requires employers to provide employees with something that creates an entitlement to something they find objectionable. The accommodation really does seem, then, like an accounting trick. The only way for it to work would be if insurance companies were required to provide the free contraception to anyone, whether they held a plan or not.

Now, when it comes to statistics about dissent, for some reason, the liberals seem to think that if a large number of one's co-religionists support something, that makes it okay to force those who don't to be complicit in it. I guess that means that if most members of a church support or allow for war, we can say that the conscientious objection of a pacifist among them isn't valid?? This notion of the State getting to determine what does and doesn't violate our conscience is very dangerous.

It's true that the Catholics providing insurance to employees in this system (as they already do in several States) might only constitute remote material cooperation and, especially under duress, not be a sin. But it's not for the government to make that analysis. If we say we're against a policy, we don't need to provide any "explanation." I mean, what if a religion centered around an oracle who said things were wrong or right in an entirely arbitrary manner? They'd still have a right to their religious freedom; it is very dangerous to act like conscience-claims need to be justified to the State or like there has to be some sort of proof of internal consistency.

Religious freedom should be sacrosanct as long as no one else's rights are violated (and I think claiming a positive right to have someone else pay so that you can get your jollies is just absurd, and certainly it shouldn't trump conscience claims). This isn't "about" contraception, then. I think there must be a general conscience clause allowing employers (whether their business is religion-related or not) to not provide for things they to which they object, whether this is Jehovah's Witnesses objecting to blood transfusions, or Christian Scientists objecting to medical care period. Frankly, I already think the notion is odd of speaking in terms of positive rights to be provided anything other than ones due wages by an employer when one doesn't even have a "right" to be hired in the first place! Why not have people buy their own insurance with their wages?

However, liberals seem to think that a religious position being unpopular means that popular demand for meaningless sex can trump the objections of those who don't want to provide the means for it. Even though this should have nothing to do with the religious liberty question, I have seen many times in the past month the statistic that 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used contraception (as if that somehow trumps the conscience rights of the 2% who haven't?)

But, more immediately, I want to know where the hell this 98% number is coming from for contraception. Saying 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used it could be wildly misleading. First, that doesn't take into account that more Catholic women may not be sexually active. It says nothing one way or another about the pool of Catholic women who have either embraced a life of celibacy, or who are waiting chastely until marriage. Secondly, it doesn't divide between married women and non-married. Of course people who are already fornicating are going to use it! But it's not like they're good examples of Catholic morality anyway.

Furthermore I would add that just because you've done something, doesn't mean you think it's okay. I'd bet that 99.9% of Catholic men have masturbated...that doesn't mean we all agree with the morality of it. No one claimed holding a moral teaching as an ideal means living up to it perfectly (and is it really that hard for people to mention one more thing in confession??)

And actually, when it comes to theoretical agreement on orthodoxy, I think one finds the numbers are much less dire, though still troubling. This article from a few years ago indeed suggests that 88% (still less than 98%) of all self-identified Catholics disagree on contraception, but among weekly churchgoers (the group who might be seen as "otherwise good Catholics," and who still represent 44% of the total sample of Catholics, though this proportion can be misleading itself) a full 45% support the Church's traditional teaching. And I think that's the group who really matters; if you're not even following the Precepts of the Church...well, there are bigger fish to fry than whether you are orthodox about contraception, homosexuality, or women priests!

Of course, only 45% orthodoxy among even practicing Catholics isn't great, but it's certainly not so wildly dismal as the liberal agitators want you to believe with their extremely misleading 98%-dissent-on-contraception idea. "Everyone else is doing it" or "everybody else thinks so" is already a stupid reason for doing something or believing in something; appeal to popularity is not a valid argument. But when furthermore you have to lie about the actual popularity in order to convince yourself of the already faulty appeal...that's just laughably self-justifying.

Update! This article explains the ridiculously narrow criteria used for getting that "98%" figure:

The figure comes from an April 2011 Guttmacher Institute report based on the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth. Twenty-five percent of the respondents to the survey self-identified as Catholics, but 40 percent of those said they never attended Mass or attended less frequently than once a month.

The survey looked at women between the ages of 15 and 44 and asked about contraceptive use only among those who had had sex in the three months prior to the survey and were not pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant. Ninety percent of those women -- and 98 percent of the Catholic respondents -- said they had used some form of contraception at least once in their lives.

The survey did not ask the women about their current contraceptive usage.
So of the already biased crowd of women of fertile age having sex but not pregnant or trying to get pregnant, 98% of the "Catholics" (even though 40 percent were not practicing) had used contraception at least once in their lives, but said nothing about whether they currently did or whether they currently thought it was moral (another point: I'm pretty sure many people get more conservative about sexual morality once they get married or hit menopause themselves; it's easier to look at the theoretical questions objectively when they are no longer "personal" and past experience can be dismissed as youthful indiscretions.) So...big deal. This really proves nothing, and certainly doesn't form some sort of justification for the insurance mandate.

1 comment:

A Sinner said...

I pointed this out on another thread discussing who was and wasn't included in this "statistic":

"Excluding prepubescent and post-menopausal women may indeed make sense, but excluding women who are open to getting pregnant, or who are not sexually active...doesn't make sense, because those may be, by definition, the women who are following Church teaching.

In other words, if you're a Catholic, you're really not supposed to be BOTH sexually active AND un-open to pregnancy (NFP aside). Excluding sexually inactive women, and women open to getting pregnant...stacks the deck right there, because under Catholic morality, you're generally supposed to be one of the two: either sexually inactive, or open to pregnancy. What do you think following Catholic morality would mean otherwise?

From what the statistics here seem to indicate, about half of fertile-aged Catholic women are not sexually active, and half of those who are...are open to pregnancy. Of the group who are sexually active but NOT open to pregnancy...of course THAT demographic is using a lot of contraceptives. Yes, it would be nice if they learned NFP instead, that is an option, but generally if you're both sexually active AND not open to pregnancy, you're already likely to be someone who disregards church teaching."