America’s Religion of Hedonism

By Gary L. Welton Published on October 4, 2018

While visiting a breathtaking butterfly exhibit in the south, we saw two large rare butterflies, apparently mating. The interpreter, however, indicated that at this stage of their late adult lives, they were no longer fertile. One observer in our group asked, “Then why are they mating?” The interpreter replied, “Just for fun, I guess, just like the students at the local university.”

Sexual Shenanigans

If there was any secret to the level of sexual shenanigans happening in our colleges and universities, the recent stories coming from Yale fraternity parties since the 1980s have removed all doubt. Our elite college and universities have a long history of being institutions of hedonistic binging.

For an annual fee of only $50,000 (or $60,000 at some colleges), you can get a ticket to wild parties that combine sex, alcohol and recreational drugs. Some students manage to get an education at the same time, but far too many sneak through with inflated grades or become part of the collective dropout rate at American colleges.

The practice of religion appears to predict greater life satisfaction than the practice of engaging in wanton binging bashes of sex, alcohol and drugs.

The sex binging in our culture (often with questionable levels of mutual consent) has become so pervasive that managers, news professionals and celebrities are resigning (or being imprisoned) on a daily basis. The drug habits have become so universal that many companies have ceased employment drug testing, not being able to find enough applicants who can pass the tests. The evening news has become so graphic that Tom Wolfe’s novel I Am Charlotte Simmons feels like the normal American experience.

Dare I suggest that our culture has become a hedonistic environment in which we are more concerned about the worship of pleasure than we are in worshipping God, in contributing to the common good or in investing in our future employability.

Unsurprising Research Results

By contrast, there are still some adults who seek to invest in the next generation, wanting to know the best strategies for rearing a child who will become a positive contributing member of society. Research recently published by Ying Chen and Tyler VanderWeele suggest that attending church on a weekly basis is associated with greater life satisfaction, stronger character, lower probabilities of marijuana use, later sexual initiation and fewer lifetime sexual partners. In addition to measuring church attendance, they also measured prayer and meditation behaviors, which yielded similar results.

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This research project, conducted under the Department of Epidemiology and the Human Flourishing Program, both at Harvard University, measured thousands of children first as young teens and then with 8-14 years of follow-up data. The longitudinal design included statistical controls for sociodemographic characteristics, maternal health and preexisting differences on the outcome variables of interest.

If the results were surprising, we would demand that the research be replicated by other researchers. In fact, however, the results are consistent with many other studies conducted over the last several decades.

Obviously, we don’t go to church primarily for the sake of promised health benefits. Nevertheless, the findings are compelling. Life satisfaction is higher for those who sit and listen to sermons about pleasing and obeying God than for those who do not attend church. The practice of religion appears to predict greater life satisfaction than the practice of engaging in wanton binging bashes of sex, alcohol and drugs.

Higher Life Satisfaction

The students in my classes, at this small Christian college in Grove City, Pennsylvania, deal with all the same temptations that surround college students across the country. Nevertheless, there is a different culture here in which there is less social pressure to engage in the self-defeating binge behaviors. The data suggest that students attending here are more likely to actively engage in and benefit from a rigorous academic program than students who live for the three-day weekend binges.

We all ought to be burdened about the stories coming out about our public figures. We are now living in a culture with a broad consensus of worshipping hedonism. There is, however, another way to live, another way to rear our children, and this faith-based alternative predicts a higher life satisfaction. You (and your children) need to be in church this week.


Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.

Originally published by the Center for Vision and Values. Reprinted with permission.

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  • rick dean

    “the recent stories coming from Yale fraternity parties since the 1980s have removed all doubt.”

    I grew up in a collage town and can assure you the those frat parties have been going on long before the ’80″s.

    The fact that you singled out the “Yale fraternity parties” speaks volumes.

    • Andy6M

      He’s drawing connection to current events…your issue with that is…?

      • rick dean

        My issue is with the incompleteness, and incorrect phrasing of his statement. For it to be correct and complete it would need to read as follows:

        The recent stories “about” Yale fraternity parties since the 1980’s, as told by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford,……..

        When the author mentions “sexual shenanigans”, “recent stories” and “Yale Fraternity parties since the 1980’s” all in the same sentence, who comes to mind? And in what context? And, lest we forget the purpose of the article (as we read through the “fill”), he reminds us once again “We all ought to be burdened about the stories coming out about our public figures.” Perhaps we should be more concerned with truth, and especially Truth, than stories.

        I have no doubt that “sexual shenanigans” took place at “Yale fraternity parties”. However, the current events have tied, and branded, Brett Kavanaugh to those events. With absolutely no proof that he EVER attended one of those parties.

        • Andy6M

          Ok. I wonder if the author was to respond to our discussion if he might say that while he had Kavanaugh/Ford in mind as he wrote, that he was meaning to write more generally about things. Kavanaugh/Ford may have spurred him to write, though he may have a larger context in mind.

          As I read through the fill he seems to be saying that as a culture we need to be rethinking our current “no holds barred” attitude (he uses the terms bingeing and wantoness) toward sex.

          As I mentioned in another comment here, I guess we’re each reading different things between the lines.

  • Athena771

    So let me get this straight, the author of this article compares butterfiles mating with college frat parties and hedonistic behavior in humans.

    First of all human beings have always been hedonistic to some degree, their is nothing new under the sun.

    2nd what exactly is wrong with having sex for fun? the author implies that sex should only be for reproduction and if one is too old to reproduce one should not have sex?

    So does that mean married couples that are no longer of chiildbearing age should not have sex? I mean they are having sex for the pleasure right not to have babies?

    I think the hatred of sex without babies is showing in this article (hence the mention of the butterflies mating)?

    • Andy6M

      He used the butterflies as a segue, nothing more. His concern about sex is a matter of context. Sex is for pleasure and reproduction. One of the problems with our culture’s view of sex is that it’s believed sexual activity can happen for pleasure only without due consideration of the responsibilities that come with it, whether the potential results were intended or not. You don’t have to want to have a baby every time you have sex, but every time you have sex a baby could be the result, so take that possibility seriously and “use responsibly”.

      • Athena771

        No the author used butterflies that were NOT fertile as an example, which in turn he is saying that sex for fun is wrong.

        So women in menopause should not have sex for fun because they cannot reproduce?

        If he had not used the example of butterflies that cannot reproduce, i would agree with you, but he didn’t. So he is attacking sex for fun or pleasure only.

        • Andy6M

          Ok, I see how you’re making that connection, but I think you’re reading too much into it. To me he is not saying that you can’t ever have sex just for pleasure (thank goodness for our menopausal friends), but rather that he has great concern about the binging/wantonness of our current culture. He’s advocating for sex in its proper marital context, which actually proves to be the best for long term happiness and contentment (he sites evidence for that contention).

          I guess we’re both reading between the lines differently.

          • Athena771

            I just tired of all the articles bashing sex for pleasure that keep popping up, that is all.

  • James

    For what it’s worth, by all indicators, college now is far more tame than it was 35 years ago.

    • rick dean

      Only because students have been taught and conditioned since grade school to believe and follow the party line.

      Try inviting a conservative, or anyone who does not regurgitate leftist rhetoric, to speak on campus and see how tame they are.

      Aside from that yes, college is far more tame today. Far more debased as well.

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