Children Have a Right To a Mother and a Father? What Does That Even MEAN?!?


Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

A colleague sent me the following question today.

“I’ve heard Pope Francis and others say that children have a right to a mom and dad, but I don’t know what that means in the concrete. I wouldn’t say, for example, that single parents have a responsibility to search for a spouse, or that the mom in Secondhand Lions was necessarily wrong to have her uncles raise her son. If SSM were ever banned again, should the state be empowered to take children from those households and place them with a mom and dad? I can’t see that. Any thoughts on what this right actually entails? What’s its limit and what accounts for that limit?”

I don’t suggest that the following is the ideal answer, but I hope that my comments can at least shed a little light on what the Church means by this idea.

Single parent households, adoptive and foster households (of which I am part), and even the uncles in Secondhand Lions (whose household, let’s face it, really could have used a woman’s touch) are all doing heroic and wonderful things. But,  we recognize that all these households face certain challenges; namely, the challenge of making up for what the children in those environments lost–their connection to their natural mother and father. These household’s ability to succeed at raising a child who can reach his or her full potential is directly dependent upon their ability to approximate what an intact family is, more naturally, capable of doing.

Gay parents, single parents, foster and adoptive households can do a wonderful job raising children–functionally speaking. Their capacity to be loving environments if not the issue.  The problem is that the best of these households will always have to work harder to give their children what they need compared to the best intact natural family household. 

The natural family represents the norm for what a child needs to potentially function at his or her absolute best and, in every other context EXCEPT gay marriage (where it is actually discriminatory to say so) we recognize that a child who’s relationship with his natural mother and father is impeded or eliminated is suffering from an injustice.

In gay marriage, we are forced to deny the child the right to grieve what, in every other context, the child is actually expected to grieve–the impairment or loss of his or her connection to his natural mother and/or father.

When the Church says the child has a right to a mother and father, that does not mean the Church is ignorant of all the ways natural parents screw up their kids. It also does not mean that other types of households can’t raise good kids.  It certainly doesn’t mean that anyone should swoop in and take kids from those households.  That would be horrible!

What it DOES mean is that we should never say it is just to do anything to anyone–especially a child–that would be unjust to do in any other context.

There is certainly much more that can be said about this, but I hope these comments help clarify things at least a little. 

When “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Enough. 3 Keys to Healing Your Hurting Heart

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

We’ve all had times when it was hard to forgive someone for having hurt us or when our attempts to gain someone else’s forgiveness have fallen flat.

Heart Health

Sometimes,  “I’m sorry” isn’t enough because owe have an unforgiving heart. We want to hold on to the pain because it makes us feel self-righteous and superior to the person who hurt us and it gives us a weapon to use against the offender.  “Oh, yeah?  NOW you want to be nice to me? HA! Well, we’ll see about that!”

But what about those times when our hearts really do want to forgive but, despite our best and most sincere efforts to let go of the pain, we continue to be haunted by the hurt?  Should we feel guilty for somehow “refusing” to forgive? Or could something else be going on?

The Divine Longing for Justice

As I argue in Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, sometimes our inability to let go of the anger and hurt that follows an offense isn’t a lack of forgiveness, but a sign of our Divine Longing for Justice.  Our divine longing  for justice was hard-wired into us at the beginning of creation.  It is one of the seven longings that points us to God and, after the Fall, continues to nag at us from deep within so that we can restore the order that we destroyed by sin.

The Divine Longing for Justice helps us attend to the healing of wounds and offenses that we, in our weakness, might just prefer to ignore, but that the Holy Spirit wants us to address so that godly order might be restored and authentic healing can take place.

Satisfying The Divine Longing for Justice

When “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, despite our best efforts to let go of our hurt,  it is usually because one of the three components of an effective apology–of true remorse–is absent.    Researchers tell us that there are three keys to an effective apology.  We don’t need all three components every time someone offends us, but the more serious the offense, the more we will probably need all three keys to unlock the door to total reconciliation and healing.

3 Keys to Healing the Hurting Heart

The three keys are; empathy, objective remorse, restitution.

Empathy–refers to the offender’s willingness to demonstrate that they truly understand how deeply they have hurt us.  An apology consisting of ” “Fine, I’m sorry, are you happy now?”  isn’t an apology at all.  When someone hurts you, not only do you deserve to hear, “I can’t believe I did that to you.  I am so sorry for having hurt you like that.” but unless the offender can make such an expression of empathy, you can be sure that they really don’t understand the seriousness of what they did, which means it will probably happen again.  In these situations, your Divine Longing for Justice will continue to nag you as a way of saying, “The situation isn’t safe.  Don’t let down your guard yet!”

Objective Remorse–refers to the offender’s understanding that you had an objective right to expect more from them.  That is, you aren’t hurt because “you can’t take a joke,” or because “you are so sensitive,” or because “you are so demanding.”  Rather, you are hurt because you had a right to expect more from the person, that anyone would have expected more from them, and they let you down.  “I am so sorry. A husband should never treat a wife the way I  treated you.  You are absolutely right and I promise I won’t do it again.”  Without objective remorse, your Divine Longing for Justice won’t allow you to let go of your fear and pain because it recognized that the person isn’t truly sorry, but rather is blaming you for the audacity of actually expecting them to behave appropriately!

Restitution–is the offender’s willingness to make things right.  Sometimes restitution is material in that they will repair or replace they thing they broke or took from you.  More often, restitution requires a willingness to sit down with you and outline their plan for handling similar situations differently in the future.  Other times it will require them to admit that they don’t have what it takes to promise they won’t do it again, and agree to get the help they need–professionally or otherwise–to learn the skills that are lacking.  Either way, without some plan of restitution, your Divine Longing for Justice will not allow you to let go of the pain, because the wound is still raw and without restitution, it could become infected and lead to bitterness and deeper resentment over time.

Letting Go

The desire to let go of our pain after an offense and move on is noble and godly, but when the pain lingers despite our best efforts to forgive, we need to pause and ask God, “What are you telling me still needs to occur for true reconciliation to take place?”  and look at which of the 3 keys to reconciliation is missing.  God doesn’t want to heal us by half measures.  He desires true, authentic, and total healing for both us and our relationships and he gives us the Divine Longing for Justice to see that this healing and wholeness and take place.

If you need more help finding reconciliation after an offense, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how our Catholic telecounseling practice can help you find true healing after the hurt.

Fix Your Fussy Eater in 3 Easy Steps

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

Lisa and I get a lot of calls from listeners to More2Life Radio who are being driven crazy by their little fussy eaters.  It’s an emotional issue for parents.  The good news is that when parents can remain calm and supportive over time, most children do more than grow out of it. This latest study offers three, simple practical steps that can give parents a sane guide for dealing with this vexing issue.

Introducing the ‘three Rs’ — Repetition, Role Modelling and Rewards — at meal times could help parents to get their children to eat, and even like, new vegetables, according to new research from Aston and Loughborough Universities. By repeatedly exposing a child to a certain food (‘repetition’), eating it first and show them how tasty it is (‘role modelling’) and praising them for trying it (‘rewards’), a parent can help positively change their child’s attitude to the food.The study found that introducing the ‘three Rs’ dramatically increased children’s liking and consumption of vegetables that they previously disliked.

A total of 115 children aged between two and four took part in the research. They were placed in four separate groups and given the same vegetable to taste every day for 14 days. Each group was exposed to a different combination of ‘food intervention’ techniques — repeated exposure; role modelling and repeated exposure; rewards and repeated exposure or the ‘three Rs’: role modelling, repeated exposure and rewards. The amount of vegetable consumed by each child was measured at study’s conclusion.

At the end of the study, the group of children introduced to the ‘three Rs’ or ‘two Rs’ (rewards and repeated exposure) showed significant increases in the amount of vegetable they would eat and in their liking for the previously disliked vegetable. Children exposed to the ‘three R’s ate an average of 4g of the vegetable, compared to 0.6g before the start of the investigation.  READ THE REST OF THE STUDY HERE.

For more ideas on how to manage your kids tricky behaviors, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids and Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood.


What Did YOUR Pastor Say About Gay Marriage in Church Today?

I’m interested in the experience of Catholic across the country.  Did you pastor address the SCOTUS decision in favor of gay marriage? If so, what did he say?   If not, how do you feel about your pastor’s silence?

In my parish, in Steubenville, Ohio neither my pastor, nor my deacon–who preached the homily and is a faithful theology professor–said anything about marriage.  There were no comments in the homily.  There were no petitions about it during the prayers of the faithful. There was no brief discussion after communion. There was no letter from our bishop.   Nothing.  It was like it never happened.

How is the Church responding to this historic crisis in your neck of the woods?

Comment, as  always, are on moderation.  It can take up to 24 hours for me to get time to go through them so be patient.  EVERY respectful comment about the topic–regardless of the side you are on–WILL be posted as soon as I get to it.

Gay Marriage: Getting the Conversation Right is More Important than Ever


Today, SCOTUS ruled 5-4 in favor of Gay marriage.  It is a devastating blow, not only to the Marriage Reality Movement but to the Christian understanding of reality itself.  For the secular culture, physical reality no longer matters.  The only thing that counts is a person’s feelings about him or herself and the world he lives in.   Facts don’t matter.  Matter doesn’t matter.  Only opinion and emotion.

In light of this historic decision, it is more important than ever to understand–and be able to articulate–why Roman Catholic do not, and cannot ever support gay marriage.

The discussion about gay marriage is a terrifically sensitive topic and for the faithful Catholic, it’s incredibly easy to discuss it poorly.  It is simply too easy to be cast in the role of angry, finger-waving, “hater” whose moral sensitivity meter is wound too tight and whose sole mission in life is to be an obstacle to the erstwhile happiness of people who supposedly love each other.  Now, with SCOTUS on the side of gay marriage, the situation is even worse.  Those who oppose gay marriage are officially bigots as far as the world is concerned.  Faithful Roman Catholics are now as righteous as the KKK in the eyes of secular culture.

It would be easy for us to console ourselves when we lose these conversations by reminding ourselves that we are blessed when persecuted for holiness sake (c.f., Matt 5:10) but we must do more.  Despite this decision, we must be prepared to evangelize and to proclaim the truth regardless of the cost.  The consequences of not making our case well are just too great to society, the Catholic vision of love and sex, and the protection of the family as the basic unit of society in any meaningful way.


Arguments that are rooted in religious/moral language (i.e., “God disapproves of this”), or the language of disgust (“gay marriage is unnatural” or “homosexual acts are distasteful”), even though they can be compelling for those who are already convinced of the rightness of the traditional view of things,  are easily overcome by the opposition.  For instance, how many of you have been shut up with simplistic responses like; “Your God might disapprove, but the God I know is a God of love and HE would NEVER stand in the way of our happiness.”  or “How DARE you say our love is disgusting.  You’re just a bumpkin, or worse, a bigot.  Why should we listen to you much less let you lead the way?  We’ve let ignorance lead for too long….”    Had you led with a better argument, you wouldn’t have been so easy to dispatch.

The thing is,  traditional Christians have much better arguments on our side than these; arguments that stand up to both logic and emotion.  To NOT use these argument to advance the cause of traditional marriage is to do our side a real disservice and to hand the victory to the opposition.  The marriage debate is not ours to win.  It’s our to lose.


To begin, I really encourage friends of traditional marriage to arm themselves with Bill May’s little, but powerful, booklet, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right.   It offers what I really have seen are the best, can’t-lose strategies for defending the nature of marriage.

His point (and although it’s too much to get into in a a blog post, his argument is  absolutely correct from the point of both history and social science) is that marriage is the only institution in existence that guarantees the rights of children to to be united with their mother and father.  Period.  For the 4000 years marriage has existed as a social and legal institution (beginning with Hammurabi) marriage has been understood as the institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and any children born from their union.  No other social structure does that.

Additionally, the reason heterosexual marriage has enjoyed pride-of-place in society for 4000 years is not because of the bigotry or prejudice of the ancient pagan society that first gave marriage legal and social status.  If anything, ancient Babylon was even MORE tolerant of alternative arrangements than our contemporary society is.

Instead, heterosexual marriage was given priority over other relationship types common to the time (hook-ups with temple prostitutes, cohabiting, same-sex unions) because it, much more than any other relationship type, yielded several observable benefits that were necessary for the creation of an orderly society.   Let’s look at five.

1. Marriage unites children to their mother and father.    This is the most important benefit.  Even compared to cohabiting couples, marriage comes out ahead.  About 30% of cohabiting couples give up their children.  It is virtually unheard of for married couples to give up their children.   Further, only children born in a marriage have a legal right to know who their mother and father are and to be raised by that mother and father.  Any social movement that undermines this fact does violence to the dignity of children (and I’ll explain in a minute how gay marriage undermines this right).

2. Children raised by married mothers and fathers fare significantly better.   Children born to a married mother and father do better on all academic, social, psychological, spiritual, and interpersonal measures.  All the data supports this.  Again, any social movement that undermines this fact does violence to the dignity of children (and, again,  I’ll explain in a minute how gay marriage undermines this right).

3.  No other relationship-type protects the financial and social security of women like marriage.  Marriage is the best poverty-prevention program we know.  The middle-class does not exist without marriage.   Married women are more financially and socially secure than women in any other relationship type (including lesbian relationships).  This is true even of college-educated women (Although this group is most likely to be secure without marriage, only 37% of women have a college degree).

4.  Marriage socializes men.  In addition to the fact that married men are exponentially more willing to claim and raise their own children, married men are significantly less likely to commit violent crime than unmarried men.  For example, according to the DOJ,  65% of crimes against women are committed by unmarried men.  Only 9% of married men have commited a violent crime against a woman.  This ratio holds up across the board for crime statistics.

5.  Marriage secures sustainable fertility rates. Even though the gap has narrowed somewhat, married couples still have more children than unmarried couples.  De-population is the most serious social problem facing the West.  As marriage rates have decreased, societies are not producing enough children to support their social infrastructure.    Marriage sees to the success of future generations.

So what does any of this have to do with gay marriage?

Remember, the only reason heterosexual marriage has enjoyed special legal and social status for 4000 years is the benefits it gives to society which are not limited to the above.  Gay marriage does not grant any benefits to society and in fact, undermines several of these social benefits  For example:

~Gay marriage makes it discriminatory to say that ANY child has a right to a mother and father.  This is the most serious problem.  Homosexual couples may have children through adoption or assisted reproduction, but they can not provide both parents.  But if gay marriage is about getting society to recognize that homosexual families are “just as good as” heterosexual families, this requires denying that any children–not just children of gay parents–have a right to a mother and father or need a mother and father.  This flies in the face of all available data. Every child who is denied a mother and/or a father feels the lack.  Gay marriage would require society, and mental health professionals, to tell all children that their natural longing for two, opposite-sex parents is disordered.

~Same-Sex marriage does not provide the same level of security for the partners or children raised in those households.  Homosexual relationships do not appear to be as stable as heterosexual relationships even where gay marriage is legal. Therefore, children raised in homosexual households are, statistically, at great financial and social risk. This is not the most important concern, but it is legitimate.

~Same-Sex marriage does not socialize partners to the same degree. The incidence of intimate partner violence is higher for both lesbian and gay couples than it is for married, heterosexual couples. This increases the risk of instability for children in gay and lesbian households.  This is also not the most important concern, but it is legitimate.


1. The push for homosexual marriage asks society to give benefits to a relationship-type that does not grant any benefits to society in return and, in fact, undermines many of the benefits society might otherwise count on from marriage.  This makes it harder to not justify extending similar benefits to cohabiting couples or any other household arrangement.

2. Likewise, homosexual marriage also undermines marriage rates for heterosexuals.  Marriage is “more expensive” (in terms of the effort and commitment it requires) than other relationship types.  Because of this, the more society promotes other marriage-like relationships as equivalent to marriage, the less attractive marriage becomes especially among the poor and those without a college degree (the very people who benefit from marriage the most).  We’re already seeing this.  As cohabitation becomes more socially acceptable, marriage rates have decreased for these most vulnerable groups.  Since it is extremely difficult to be in the middle class without being married, the lower marriage rates among the poor or lesser-educated means that these groups are becoming trapped in the under-class.

In short, the best case against same-sex marriage has nothing to do with religion, morality, bigotry, or disgust.  It has everything to do with protecting the rights of children to have a mother and father and to be united to their mother and father and the need to insist that it is unjust to extend benefits to a relationship-type that convey no benefits to society in return.

Homosexual persons do not deserve to be treated with scorn, disrespect, or bigotry.  They are persons deserving of our love and respect just like anyone else.  But extending love and respect to our homosexual brothers and sisters does not extend to redefining marriage so that it socially and practically meaningless.

It is true that most couples are completely ignorant of the social and public dimension of marriage.  Most couples just think of marriage as  a public recognition of a private, emotional commitment, but most couples’ ignorance of the facts doesn’t negate the facts.  Society cannot afford to extend benefits to anyone or anything that does not work for the good of society.  People must be free to make their own choices about who they live with, but society can only afford to encourage those relationships and institutions that  demonstrably work for it’s good.

Catholic Families in Crisis: New Study Finds Catholic Homes Are Spiritually Bankrupt.

The Church teaches that family life is the basic unit of society and that as the family goes, so goes the Church.  If that’s true, then we should all buckle our seatbelts, because we’re in for a bumpy ride.

I am honored to serve on the board of Holy Cross Family Ministries, the organization that carries on the legacy of Servant of God, Fr. Patrick “the family that prays together, stays together” Peyton, CSC. and promotes both family prayer and family well-being throughout the world. HCFM recently sponsored a first-of-its-kind study through the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown on spiritual health of the Catholic family  The results paint a sobering picture.

Every Family is an “Irregular Family”

At the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family, there was much talk of the need for new approaches for engaging “irregular families.”  Certainly, such families require special assistance, but at the time, I asserted that I felt this approach, though rooted in good intentions, was both naive and misguided because it presumed that all the other Catholic families were somehow “regular” and doing just fine.  This latest study provides a disturbing look at how dire the situation for so-called “regular” Catholic families truly is.  In truth, only a tiny minority of Catholic families–including regular Church-going  families–appear to be confident in their ability to make their Catholic faith come alive at home.

I’ll be sharing different results from this study over the next few days, but to give you a sense of the State of the Catholic Family allow me to offer a few glimpses at the results of the data.

Mass Attendance

Only 22% of Catholic families attend mass weekly.

Only 18% of Catholic families with an infant attend mass weekly.

Larger families do a slightly better job with mass attendance but still, only  33% of families with 3 or more children attend mass every week.

Religious Education

68% of Catholic parents do not have their children enrolled in any type of religious education.  Only 8% enroll their children in Catholic grade schools, 3% in Catholic high schools, and 21% have children in some type of parish-based religious education (i.e., “CCD”).

When faith education is considered in light of Mass attendance, 42 percent of weekly Mass attenders having a child enrolled in parish-based religious education (though NOT Catholic school) compared to 27 percent of monthly attenders.   But, of course, that means that almost 60% of the most committed families (weekly mass attenders) do not have their children involved in religious ed of any kind.

Many people believe that cost is a serious impediment to enrolling kids in Catholic schools.  This would not appear to be the case insofar as only 14% of families in the upper middle class income bracket ($85,000+/yr) send their children to Catholic school.

Family Prayer

About 36% of Catholic parents say they pray daily but if it is true that the family that “prays together stays together” then Catholic families are in serious trouble.

Only 17% of Catholic parents who pray on their own also pray as a family.  An additional 7% of Catholic parents say that they don’t pray on their own, but will join in if their family is praying.

While about 50% of Catholic families eat dinner together daily, only 13% of Catholic families say they pray before meals every day.


What Does It All Mean?  WAKE UP, CHURCH!

There is much more to the study, and as I mentioned above, I’ll be sharing more over the next few days.  In fact, I’ll be sharing more over the next few months as CARA/HCFM publishes three more reports based on the data they’ve collected.  In the meantime, what this all means is that we, as a Church need to wake up.  It means, that the kids are NOT all right.  It means that Catholic family life is NOT OK.  Most importantly, it means that we, as a Church, need to stop assuming that the families in the pews have been equipped to live and proclaim the gospel and that whatever other ministry we may do, we need to allocate resources to shoring up our own spiritual house, because it is falling down around our ears.

What Can We Do?

In light of this study, every single one of us needs to commit to living out the 5 Marks of the Catholic Family .  We can respond to this crisis of faith in the Catholic family, but only if we learn to start bearing a full and vigorous witness to the Catholic difference in our own lives.  What are you waiting for?  God has great plans for you!  It is time to be up and building!

To learn more about living out the fullness of the Catholic vision of family life, check out the following resources from the Pastoral Solutions Institute…

Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids (COMING AUGUST 2015!–Sophia Institute Press–PRE-ORDER NOW!!!)  Raising faithful kids is a possible mission for Catholic families.  This book exposes the latest research on what it takes to pass the faith onto your children.  Discover how to make your faith the source of the warmth and love in your home.  Celebrate uncommon closeness to Christ and your kids.  Get more out of your prayer life and the sacraments.  Learn how to give your kids a “discipleship heart.”  Let grace COME ALIVE in your family!

Parenting With Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids–Discover faithful ways to respond effectively to the challenges of each age and stage of your child’s life and create they close, loving, joyful family God wants for you!

Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 3 Years of Parenthood–Parenthood should be a celebration!  Discover how find a healthy balance that enables you to meet your needs, baby’s need, and maintain your marriage as well.  This book can help you enjoy your new addition to the fullest!

Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Children--You CAN raise moral kids in an immoral world.  Be Not Afraid!  This book shows you, step-by-step how to respond to difficult questions, overcome challenges, and build character in your kids that enables them to make godly choices in every part of their lives–even when you’re NOT breathing down their necks!

Pope Francis on Marriage, “Marital Wounds Hurt Children.”


Pope Francis made some powerful observations about the importance of working to create strong marriages.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters: We know well that every family on occasion suffers moments when one family member offends another. Through our words, actions, or omissions, instead of expressing love for our spouse or children, we can sometimes diminish or demean that love. Hiding these hurts only deepens such wounds, leading to anger and friction between loved ones. If these wounds are particularly deep, they can even lead a spouse to search for understanding elsewhere, to the detriment of the family, especially children. Being one flesh, any wounds that spouses suffer are shared by their children, born of their flesh. When we remember how Jesus warned adults not to scandalize little ones (cf. Mt 18:6), we better understand the vital responsibility to maintain and protect the bond of marriage which is the foundation of the human family. We thank God that although these wounds may lead some to separation, even then many men and women remain true to their conjugal bond, sustained by faith and by love for their children. For those who enter into so-called irregular situations, we must reflect on how best to help and accompany them in their lives. Let us ask the Lord for a strong faith to see with his eyes the reality of family life, and for a deep love to approach all families with his merciful heart.”

Good Marriage: The Heart of the New Evangelization

What a wonderful reminder Pope Francis gives us of the importance of working on our marriage and family lives.  Christians often feel selfish about working on their marriage.  It feels self-serving or too insular.  But the truth is marriage is an extremely part of God’s plan for saving the world!  Marriage and family life gives the world a witness of God’s love in the flesh.  For the modern person, words are a poor means of evangelization.  People have heard it all.  “I love you”, “I’ll always be here”, “You can count on me” are promises that are too easy to make and easier, still, to break in the modern world.  One of the reasons Pope St. John Paul the Great emphasized marriage and family life in both his Theology of the Body and the New Evangelization is that solid, passionate, loving, joyful marriages and families are the best way to show the world that Catholicism has something true, good and beautiful to offer the world.  When we work on our marriages and strengthen our families, far from being self-indulgent or inward-looking, we are giving God the tools by which he can show the world an icon of his transformative love.

In additional to our Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice for couples, families and individuals, here are some of the resources The Pastoral Solutions Institute offers to help couples live out the kind of joyful, passionate, grace-filled marriages that God wants for each of his children.

For Better…FOREVER! The Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage—  Examines marriage from Honeymoon to Happily Ever After and offers couples of every age skills they can use to live For Better…FOREVER!

The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples— Discover the nine traits that distinguish the happiest couples of all, the 7% of first-and-forever marriages that report uncommon satisfaction and stability.

Just Married:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage–God wants your marriage to be the Greatest Love Story Ever Told!  Discover how to build the kind of foundation for your marriage that will continue to nourish your relationship for years to come!

When Divorce is NOT and Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love— Research reveals 8 habits that separates marriage masters from marriage disasters.  Discover how to transform your relationship–even if you’re the only one working on it!

Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving— Explore the secrets of celebrating a more passionate, sensual, soulful marital sexuality.  Discover practical steps for resolving differences and experience even more joyful, marital intimacy!

Good Without God? (Part 1 in My Patheos Head-to-Head Debate with John Mark Reynolds of Eidos Blog.)

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

This article is Part 1 in my Patheos Head to Head Debate with John Mark Reynolds of Eidos blog. The question: is a deity necessary for morality?

“Is a deity necessary for morality?”  At the risk of sounding Clintonesque, it really depends on how you define “morality.”  Even so, the answer is by and large, “no.”  To explain, I want to first look at why many Christians struggle with the idea that one can be moral without God but then I’ll reveal why it’s possible–at least to a reasonable extent.

The Moral Christian: Not (Mainly) About “Getting Along”

As I note in my book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, Christians tend to think that people can’t be moral without God because, for Christians, (SURPRISE!) morality isn’t primarily concerned with regulating our relationship with ourselves, our community, and creation.  These are essential, but secondary, considerations.

Rather, for a Christian, being moral is really about conversion and transformation; that is,  conforming my inner longings and outward actions to the divine order so that I can fulfill my ultimate destiny in Christ. Christianity believes in God -given, objective, constant, immutable, moral laws by which the universe is governed.  We call this, Natural Law, “the law written on human hearts and minds” (Heb 10:16).  Christians believe we must learn to conform to these laws, not out of slavish devotion to a taskmaster God, but out of the belief that following the Natural Law leads to both earthly and eternal fulfillment. Christians often struggle to conceive of a morality without God because, for us,  the actual goal of the moral life is not just getting along with others, but ultimately,  becoming “divine” (c.f., 2Ptr 1:4) ourselves. (As  St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “The son of God became man so that men might become gods.”)   People can’t achieve divinization (aka, deification/theosis) by practicing an earth-bound morality that is interested merely in going along to get along.

Theory vs. Reality

That said, believing in an objective morality that leads to divinization is one thing.  Actually making moral decisions according to this process is another.  In fact, research shows that most people–theists or no–rely on more mundane modes moral reasoning that, practically-speaking, have little, if anything to do with God.  Most moral decision making–even for theists–is almost universally non-theistic.

Morality without God:  2 Approaches.

Psychologists who study moral development note at least two general, non-theistic approaches to moral reasoning; emotionally-based morality and socially-based morality.

Emotionally-Based Morality (e.g., “Eww…Gross!” & “Tit for Tat” Morality)  —For people who have a more reaction-based morality, anything that seems disgusting,  strange, threatening to my development, or hindering of my goals is considered morally “bad” while things that seem palatable,  familiar, encouraging of my development, and supportive of my goals is considered morally “good.” Developmental psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg, called this,  “Pre-conventional morality.”  At its root, it is childish (literally), selfish, and narcissistic, but it still enables people to be at least basically pro-social, because it benefits them to do so.

Socially-Based Morality (e.g, “Coffee Klatch” & “Legal Eagle Morality”)  —Those who display more socially-based morality are willing to sacrifice what their reactions tell them is good or bad based on what their social circle (friends and family) consider “good” or what the law says is “right.”  Kohlberg considered this “conventional” morality because this person considers social conventions (e.g., social mores and laws) to be at least as important, if not more so, than his or her own personal feelings.

While social morality is a somewhat more reliable moral guide than reaction-based morality, it too, can change on a dime and tends to be somewhat rootless.  You can see what might be called “coffee klatch morality” reflected in a person’s instantaneous reversal of her opinion on the morality of, say,  abortion or gay marriage because she suddenly discovers that her best friend had an abortion or her cousin is gay.  Similarly, a good example of “legal eagle morality” might be when a community that previously opposed gambling suddenly polls more favorably toward it once an ordinance allowing a casino to open in town is passed.  In either case, the morality of the thing, itself, hasn’t changed, but the view of whether supporting it or opposing such an act is “sociable” or “lawful” has changed.  People want to be considered agreeable or lawful,  so they adjust their opinions to correspond with the circles in which they run.

Mercy Me

These are, by far, the most common approaches to moral decision making for all people–theists and non-theists–and neither has anything to do with God except that, perhaps God, in his mercy, recognizing that many people will struggle to find him, gives humanity a way to at least somewhat peaceably get along without him in the meantime.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are certainly more complicated approaches to moral reasoning that may, arguably require belief in God.  But that isn’t the question I was asked to debate.  Based on the data, the fact is, people can be at least basically moral without having any sense of a deity at all because the vast majority of moral decisions are rooted not in our sense of transcendence, but in our reactive and social consciousness.

This week’s question was inspired by Patheos Atheist blogger Peter Mosley’s story on Theism’s Morality Glitch.

5 Secrets of Lifelong, Joyful Marriage–Revealed!


My book, The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples looks at the habits uncommonly happy couples practice to keep their marriages going strong and growing stronger day by day.  In a new study, gerontologist, Karl Pillemer,  has taken a similar approach, asking long-time happily married couples what makes their relationships work well.  His research uncovered common advice for couples walking down the aisle or decades into marriage. To capture the voice of lived experience, the study included a random national survey of nearly 400 Americans age 65 and older, asking how to find a compatible partner and other advice on love and relationships. In subsequent in-person interviews with more than 300 long-wedded individuals — those in unions of 30, 40, 50, or more years — the study captured more insights for overcoming common marriage troubles. The team of researchers interviewed divorced individuals, too, asking how others might avoid marital breakups.  You can read the whole article here, but the following represent the 5 highlights from Pillemer’s study.

1. Learn to communicate: “For a good marriage, the elders overwhelmingly tell us to ‘talk, talk, talk.’ They believe most marital problems can be solved through open communication, and conversely many whose marriages dissolved blamed lack of communication.”

2. Get to know your partner very well before marrying: “Many of the elders I surveyed married very young; despite that fact, they recommend the opposite. They strongly advise younger people to wait to marry until they have gotten to know their partner well and have a number of shared experiences. An important part of this advice is a lesson that was endorsed in very strong terms: Never get married expecting to be able to change your partner.”

3. Treat marriage as an unbreakable, lifelong commitment: “Rather than seeing marriage as a voluntary partnership that lasts only as long as the passion does, the elders propose a mindset in which it is a profound commitment to be respected, even if things go sour over the short term. Many struggled through dry and unhappy periods and found ways to resolve them — giving them the reward of a fulfilling, intact marriage in later life.”

4. Learn to work as a team: “The elders urge us to apply what we have learned from our lifelong experiences in teams — in sports, in work, in the military — to marriage. Concretely, this viewpoint involves seeing problems as collective to the couple, rather than the domain of one partner. Any difficulty, illness, or setback experienced by one member of the couple is the other partner’s responsibility.”

5. Chose a partner who is very similar to you: “Marriage is difficult at times for everyone, the elders assert, but it’s much easier with someone who shares your interests, background and orientation. The most critical need for similarity is in core values regarding potentially contentious issues like child-rearing, how money should be spent and religion.”

For help developing these skills, check out The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples, For Better…FOREVER!  The Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, and When Divorce is NOT An Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.


Appalling New Sleep Training Technique Say’s “Don’t Feed Your Baby.”

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Two pediatrician brothers claim they have developed a “new” method of getting babies to sleep.  And, incidentally, I put “new” in quotes because their method is scary-similar to the method recommended by Babywise authors Gary and Marie Ezzo which was eventually condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics because it caused failure to thrive and dehydration in babies.  How many ways can I say that this is a terrible, horrible, no-good parenting idea?  (Click here to read the FoxNews article)

Everything Old is New Again.


Well everything old is new again and Drs. Jassey and Jassey argue that children shouldn’t eat more often than every four hours (which is nonsense) so if they want to eat more frequently (which most do), then they will wake up through the night also wanting to eat (Well, ok…).  So, what’s the logical solution?  The good doctors’ answer is to refuse to feed your baby more frequently than four hours apart.   That’s right.  Just don’t feed your kid so darn often.  This supposedly “trains” the baby’s “hunger receptors to acclimate to a specific feeding schedule.”  WHAT UTTER QUACKERY!

The “explanation” for why this method works is complete wishful thinking.  I know of no evidence to suggest that the Jassey bros.’ theory actually constitutes the method of action for their technique.  Where is their proof that hunger receptors in baby’s can be trained by this method?  I defy them to produce any evidence to backup this wishful thinking.   Heck, I don’t even need proof.  Show me a peer-reviewed study that shows brain imaging that basically substantiates this claim.   I’ll happily wait while you look, but I won’t hold my breath.

Learned Helplessness Redux.

More likely, the baby simply develops learned helplessness.  As with the Cry It Out method for “sleep-training, evidence would suggest that this new sleep training “method” of food-spacing teaches baby’s that crying doesn’t work to get their needs met. Therefore the baby just learns to stop trying to communicate to mom and dad.  While there is no evidence I know of to support the Jassey’s claims of being able to reset a baby’s hunger receptors, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that cry it out methods for sleep and, now, feeding, induce learned helplessness in infants, which puts children at high risk for future depression and other mental health problems.

You CAN Get the Sleep You Need WITHOUT Depriving Your Child!

I understand the desperation that motivates parents to try these techniques.  Parenting infants is hard work and sleep-deprivation makes doing that work so much harder. But there is good news!  There are sensitive and effective ways to get your baby to sleep AND get the rest you need.  Here are a number of great tips to get you started.    For more ideas on how to get your baby to sleep and meet your sleep needs as well WITHOUT having to force your baby to both go to bed hungry and cry it out to boot, check out Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood