Sociologist Mark Regnerus explored the topic of conflicting values in an opinion piece for the Washington Post titled, “Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?” Based on sociological research he had conducted on young evangelical Christians, he discovered a tension between the sub-cultural expectation of no sex before marriage versus the normative practice of delayed marriage. He writes:

Sara, a 19-year-old college student from Dallas, equated thinking about marrying her boyfriend with staging a rebellion. Her parents “want my full attention on grades and school because they want me to get a good job,” she told me. Understandable. But our children now sense that marrying young may be not simply foolish but also wrong and socially harmful. And yet today, as ever, marriage wisely entered into remains good for the economy and the community, good for one’s personal well-being, good for wealth creation and, yes, good for the environment, too. We are sending mixed messages.

According to this article on Regnerus, the argument has generated more than a little controversy. Regnerus is a sociologist at the University of Texas and is the author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.

Though this particular conflict is more specific to this group of religious believers, it might make for an interesting class discussion about how values can conflict, especially values that come out of different institutional spheres of our lives. In this case it sounds like there might be tension between basic economic expectations (e.g. get an education, establish yourself in a career, then get married) versus the religious expectations for this group of believers (e.g. abstinence only).

In other words, this conflict might be distantly related to tensions people feel due to the normative expectations between work and home. For example, I feel a constant struggle between my desire to be a good father (e.g. to be involved in my daughter’s lives, to attend school events, to know what’s happening in their classes, to drive them to and fro, simply to talk with them, etc.) and at the same time to be a responsible professor (e.g. to prepare for class, to grade exams, to provide useful feedback on papers, to be on top of committee work, to continue to write and research, to post on my blog, etc.). Part of the beauty of sociology is that it can help us to open our eyes to possible conflicting patterns and practices.

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