Fr. John Peck: Why Sexual Morality May be Far More Important than You Ever Thought

Why Sexual Morality May be Far More Important than You Ever Thought by Kirk Durston over at Fr. John Peck website is somewhat of a review or condensation/distillation of the book Sex and Culture. That book is a six hundred page summary of research by social anthropologist J.D. Unwin.

One winter afternoon I was relaxing with a half-dozen fellow graduate philosophy students discussing theories of law and punishment. About an hour into the discussion, it occurred to me that some moral laws are necessary because, although they might limit pleasure and enjoyment in the short term, they actually minimize suffering and maximize human fulfillment in the long term.

A few days ago I finished studying Sex and Culture for the second time. It is a remarkable book summarizing a lifetime of research by Oxford social anthropologist J.D. Unwin.[1] The 600+ page book is, in Unwin’s words, only a “summary” of his research—seven volumes would be required to lay it all out.[2] His writings suggest he was a rationalist, believing that science is our ultimate tool of inquiry (it appears he was not a religious man). As I went through what he found, I was repeatedly reminded of the thought I had as a philosophy student: some moral laws may be designed to minimize human suffering and maximize human flourishing long term.

Unwin examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures. What makes the book especially interesting is that we in the West underwent a sexual revolution in the late 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s and are now in a position to test the conclusions he arrived at more than 40 years earlier…

I have prepared a 26-page collection of quotes from his book that summarize his findings; but even that would leave you with a significant under-appreciation of the rigour and fascinating details revealed in data from 86 cultures. Here are a few of his most significant findings:

  1. Effect of sexual constraints: Increased sexual constraints, either pre or post-nuptial, always led to increased flourishing of a culture. Conversely, increased sexual freedom always led to the collapse of a culture three generations later.
  2. Single most influential factor: Surprisingly, the data revealed that the single most important correlation with the flourishing of a culture was whether pre-nuptial chastity was required or not. It had a very significant effect either way…

Unwin found that when strict prenuptial chastity was abandoned, absolute monogamy, deism, and rational thinking disappeared within three generations of the change in sexual freedom…

For the first part of the 1900’s, mainstream Western culture was rationalist and experienced enormous technological advances — from horse-and-buggy to cars; from hot air balloons to supersonic flight and spacecraft landing people on the moon; from slide rules to computers. Unwin’s three main predictions — the abandonment of rationalism, deism, and absolute monogamy — are all well underway, which makes the ultimate prediction appear to be credible … the collapse of Western civilization in the third generation, somewhere in the last third of this century…

Click here to read the entire article at Fr. John Peck.