Shock! Horror! Purity is possible

This week, several Australian Catholic schools cancelled talks by Jason Evert, an American speaker who specialises in presentations preparing young people for loving commitment in relationships and sexual responsibility. There were protests and a petition against his message. Outrage included this letter of complaint penned by girls from one of the schools.

“We unquestionably do not need a middle-aged man who doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to contraception for her own safety and freedom speaking to an audience of young girls.”

Thousands of signatures were collected. And plenty of media coverage was enlisted to pressure the schools.

Polarising inflammatory indignation is a bully tactic. It is the same approach used by opponents of Harrison Butker’s graduation speech, and by critics of Archbishop Porteous’s letter to Catholic schools in Tasmania.

The diocesan education organisation handled the issue well. They did not overreact to the protests; they were mild and conciliatory; they insisted from the start that they were seeking to partner with parents and their actions demonstrated this. They provided alternatives so that students could opt in.

Evert ended up speaking to larger audiences as a result of the outcry. All’s well that ends well.

Almost.

Moral education

There is one major unresolved aspect of this issue: the need for parents and schools to be united. This must fester if it is not resolved

Unity is one of the golden rules of education. To run our own lives we need convictions, and convictions are learned from the convictions of one’s parents and mentors. Those convictions are essentially ideals and religious beliefs, with a great deal of common ground in the middle.

It is obvious that parents need to strive to be united in passing on ideals and beliefs, for their own sake and for the sake of their children. Homer wrote almost 3000 years ago, “There is nothing better in this world than that man and woman be of one mind”.

This principle also extends to the relationship between parents and schools. In fact, if schools and parents do not share the same ideals and beliefs, they must part company. Schools don’t have the right to impart a moral agenda different from that of the parents. Therefore, schools need to be transparent about their values, and parents need to opt in or opt out. If parents do not want Catholic teaching, their enrolment choices must follow. This is their privilege.

We are seeing the tragedy of parents who do not know what is good for their children. We all need to do our homework, and walk the walk, not just parrot slogans. This is not just in the realm of religious beliefs.

The very task of education is to form young people to think for themselves: a carefully curated process in which the young are protected from great dangers while they grow in autonomy. Even Aristotle wrote about the danger of slipping into habits before deep convictions and ideals take root. Effectively, we deny young people the capacity to run their own lives when we allow them to be sexualised. And this is happening before our eyes, perhaps in most families in the West. Not a happy thought.

Here is an excerpt from what an Anglican school principal in NSW wrote to parents last November:

The sexualisation of our youth through mainstream and social media is a deeply disconcerting trend that we cannot ignore. Our young people find themselves bombarded with sexual imagery and ideals that foster unrealistic expectations, fuel insecurities, and drive them prematurely into the realm of adult themes for which they may not yet be emotionally prepared. As educators and parents, we must confront the undeniable challenges that arise from the sexualisation of our youth in the media. These challenges, though uncomfortable to address, are of paramount importance.

Parents need all the assistance they can get to avoid their kids falling into harmful behaviours, with all the psychological scarring in tow. Evert is on the money. He is one of the most inspiring champions of purity in the English-speaking world, and he is an incredibly effective communicator with teens.

Important message

Over a decade ago on one of his first trips to Sydney, Jason Evert spoke at my school. It was a sensational presentation — hard-hitting, funny, and thought-provoking. It was just the thing kids need in a society where there is so much pressure on them to conform, to please, to impress, to become sexually active. The student and parent feedback was outstanding.

His focus is positive: upbeat, joyful and truth-laden. Teens in Australia today are well informed about the negatives: sexting, STDs, online predators, relationship boundaries, necessity of consent, etc., etc. Negatives are demotivating and Evert understands that well. His website is brimming with resources, advice, and research that are incredibly useful for parents and kids.

His work is cutting-edge. He recently released Male, Female, Other? A Catholic guide to understanding gender. The Google reviews are overwhelmingly positive, for example:

Jason Evert has written yet another book on human sexuality filled with truth yet said with compassion and understanding. It does quote Catholic doctrine while being solidly founded on research and studies by doctors and experts in the fields of medicine, psychology, endocrinology, psychiatry and sociology.

Very importantly, there is a sincere effort to hear the voices of persons identifying as trans, trans and gender ideology advocates, “transitioners” and detransistioners. Two of my favorite quotes from the book: “If you love someone whose first language is not your own, you’d try your best to learn his/her language” and “you are not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be loved.”

The great task of parenting is to teach young people to love. “It is precisely in the family – a communion of persons among whom reigns a free disinterested and generous love – more than anywhere else, that one learns to love. The family is a true school of love” (Alvaro del Portillo).

We human beings are fulfilled by giving ourselves in loving relationships. Parents give their children the best head start when they teach them that life is for others, training them not to be self-indulgent, and educating them to put others first. And they need to ensure that the other voices in their children’s lives are consistent with this message.

In the early days of Australia’s colonial era, Caroline Chisholm would go down to meet the ships to rescue girls from promiscuity and prostitution. Now we are denying many children the teaching needed to help them make effective choices in this space. We see parents setting up their children for all the unhappiness that accrues from sexual self-indulgence. Much is at stake.


Here’s the $64,000 question: is purity possible in 2024 for young people?


AUTHOR

Dr Andy Mullins teaches formation of character at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney and runs a small university project in Carlton. Formerly he was headmaster of Redfield and Wollemi Colleges in Sydney. He is the author of Parenting for Character, Parenting for Faith, and Parenting for Character Applied, a workbook for parents. His doctorate investigated the neurobiology of virtue.

EDITORS NOTE: This Mercator column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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