Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » They Asked Him Questions, 1947

They Asked Him Questions, 1947

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 30, 2009

Because he’s always good for riling up a discussion – we’ve read his ”Adjustment Problems of the Modern Woman” and his thoughts on the never-married in past posts – here are some questions from a family relations manual written by Harold T. Christensen (1909-2003), a sociologist who contributed his professional expertise to produce many of the church’s family relations material.

Also, because we tend to groan or laugh at his conclusions (and I’ve deliberately picked some bits for this post that I think we might be equally passionate about), I want to be sure we’re laughing at the way our understanding – or at least our way of expressing the issues – has changed, and that we’re not laughing at the author, who had excellent credentials for his day. A Memorial Resolution passed by the faculty of Purdue University upon Christensen’s 2003 death summarizes their respect for the man and his career. (It’s long — skip past it, but know that he was a respected scholar.)

Harold Christensen’s long and full life came to a close at home on August 30 [2003]. He was born in Preston, Idaho and raised in Rexburg, Idaho, the second of seven sons. As a young man, he was a Latter-day Saint missionary in New Zealand for four years. He was educated at Ricks College, Brigham Young University, and the University of Wisconsin.

Harold came to Purdue University in 1947 to establish a department or sociology. At that time the University did not have a separate department but offered a few courses in the Division of Education and Applied Psychology, precursors of the School of Education and the Department of Psychological Sciences. Under Harold’s leadership, course offerings were expanded, faculty members added, degree programs developed, and the department established as an administrative unit in 1953. Today, sociology at Purdue is taught by more than 30 faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

During his tenure at Purdue, Harold served as a visiting scholar at Brigham Young University, the University of Copenhagen, the University of Hawaii, and the University of California at Irvine. A conservative man in his personal life, Harold exerted a liberal influence on campus, exalting intellectual curiosity and reason. Despite the public opposition of a Purdue trustee, Harold brought Alfred Kinsey to campus to lecture on human sexuality. Margaret Mead presented an early feminist critique of American society. As Christensen’s guest, William F. Ogburn spent a semester on campus challenging engineers to think of the social consequences of technological development. As one of the leaders of his generation of sociologists, Harold strove to put the discipline of sociology on scientific footing, developing the record-linkage technique, a method of quantitative analysis that helped overcome some of the limitations of interviews and questionnaires in obtaining valid information for study of such then delicate issues as premarital conception and child spacing. He was also a pioneer in cross-cultural research on marriage and family and one of the first scientists to document the sexual revolution in the U.S. and Scandinavia.

He authored six books and countless professional papers and articles. his edited book, The Handbook of Marriage and the Family (1964), was a monumental effort to draw together the theories and methodologies of the young field. This volume was so successful that it was published in several languages and has been continued in subsequent editions by his colleagues. Harold edited the Journal of Marriage and the Family, then called Marriage and Family Living, from 1957-60. He was an active member of the National Council on Family Relations in its developmental period, serving as its 18th President in 19609. In 1967-69, he was a director of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, and served as its vice president in 1968-69. For his outstanding contributions to the field of marriage and the family, Harold was awarded the third Ernest Watson Burgess Research Award from the National Council on Family Relations in 1967. Purdue University granted him an honorary doctorate in 1993 for his pioneering work in sociology. Harold and Alice, his wife of 68 years, spent the past 27 years in retirement in La Jolla, California where they were both active at the Institute of Continued Learning at the University of California at San Diego. Harold had a profound influence on a generation of students and colleagues. He will be remembered as a gentleman of intelligence and unwavering integrity.

Robert L. Eichhorn
Carolyn C. Perrucci
Robert Perrucci

Now to some questions from the 1947 Sunday School manual, The Latter-day Saint Family:

True or false, men and women are so different that there must always be a “battle of the sexes.”

False. Though admittedly different in some ways, men and women are nevertheless very much alike. They both belong to the same human species, eat the same food, are motivated by the same things, and live generally the same kind of life. Psychological differences may mean that complete understanding of the other will not be possible, but better understanding is both possible and desirable. Male and female are complementary to each other; antagonisms, where they exist, are learned, not natural. There is need for some “unlearning” on the part of many, followed b a “relearning” in the direction of understanding and co-operation.

True or false, men have more ability and talent than do women.

Probably false. It is true that genius has manifest itself more in males and, judged by our standards of success, more men than women have achieved in one way or another. most of our great statesmen, scientists, artists, and literary figures of the past have been men, for example, and among “Who’s Who” listings today there is revealed the same unbalance between the sexes. But it must be remembered, first, that women, because of childbearing and social discrimination, have not had the same opportunity to achieve as have men in a man’s world; and second, that their achievements have been along different lines, in ways that bring little publicity or public recognition. There is, however, some evidence that women follow the means and men the extremes so far as ability goes; certainly this seems to fit the general pattern of behavior (men high in both feeble-mindedness and genius, crime and achievement, etc.), but how much of this is natural and how much cultural no one knows. Certainly we are safe in saying that much of man’s claimed superiority is only assumed, resulting from a masculine ego.

Is it important that sweetheart love be experienced by all?

Normally, yes, for the sexes are complementary to each other, and nature likely intended it that way. In the normal development of personality two important changes take place in the love interests of the individual: (1) As he becomes socialized his early self-interest gives way to an interest in others, usually those of his own sex at first; and (2) starting at about the time of puberty and running throughout adolescence there is a fundamental transition to an interest in the opposite sex. If either of these changes is blocked, by physical abnormalities or unwise training, so that love interests remain stuck on either the infant or the childhood level, marriage and family life later on will be seriously interfered with. There are such individuals in society (called narcissists on the self-love level, and homosexuals on the same-sex-interest level,) but they are not normal, and their lot is not usually a happy one. Sweetheart love, leading to both marriage and family, is the natural and desirable thing for all but the few born without a capacity for it. those who by choice deprive themselves of this kind of love only cheat themselves.

Some persons are left without sweetheart love or the opportunity for marriage partly or wholly because of circumstances. they can remain optimistic and useful in two ways: (1) by remembering that life is eternal, and (2) by substituting other worth-while interests and activities for the ones denied them.

Are all of us capable of such love?

Yes, potentially, but some have failed to develop their powers, and others have become much too selfish. There are people who just aren’t big enough for the responsibility that adult love implies; they have failed to grow up emotionally, and like spoiled children, they expect the favors that come from being loved while lacking the capacity to really love others. Their only hope is re-education and re-motivation.

If doubts or fears creep in [during an engagement], should the wedding be called off?

Not unless those misgivings are deep-seated and severe. If courtship and engagement have proceeded successfully up to the point of wedding plans, there will not usually because for breaking up the relationship then. Young people should realize that if their dealings with each other up to this time have been realistic, certain doubts and fears will already have crept in. No one is perfect, and it is normal to recognize this fact. often too, as the time draws near, there is apprehension over the uncertainty of what is not yet experienced, and reluctance to change habits or give up independence. To have love, it is not necessary that ecstasy be blind or that thrills be continual. Nevertheless, if it be that courtship has not been sufficiently discriminating, so that the realization comes late that marriage would be inadvisable, mistakes should then be rectified, even if one is at the altar.

Is it necessary to have a honeymoon?

Not necessary but usually advisable. it is important that the couple’s introduction to marriage take place under favorable circumstances, for blunders then may cause misunderstandings and injuries that will prove difficult to erase. There may be exhaustion, resulting from the exertion and excitement of the wedding that will need quietude and rest to cure. There will most certainly be new adjustments that will have to be worked out, and this can best be done away from the interference of those who know the couple. In privacy, also, newlyweds can have the opportunity of overcoming the self-consciousness that sometimes accompanies this new experience. The date of marriage should be so planned as to make possible a honeymoon. This need not be a trip, but it should provide for both privacy and rest.

True or false, all children in the family should be treated alike.

False. Human nature is so variable that standardization of treatment becomes impracticable, if not impossible. Each child should be given equal consideration and justice, to be sure, but specific measures must be adapted to the personalities and situations that call them forth: there is no place for favoritism in wholesome family life, but there is a place for individual variation in treatment. furthermore, it is not possible to lay down detailed rules of child training that will fit every circumstance at all times; though written discussions, such as this one, may help in the understanding of general principles it must be recognized, nevertheless, that books do not have all of the answers. Reading and study are important, and better parent education is certainly needed today. But, after all is said and done, even the best trained must be prepared for surprises and, to develop into the best parents, must become adaptable to the dictates of variable and changing needs. In one sense, every parent is an artist and every child a unique creation.

True or false, sex should never be discussed around children.

False. Sex should be neither over-emphasized nor under-emphasized, but discussed when needed like anything else, truthfully, simply, and unemotionally. A very common mistake is for parents to adopt a “hush-hush” policy on these matters, making the child feel that there is something wrong or bad about it all and forcing him to satisfy his normal curiosity in the back alley and through the smutty story. Consequently, many grow up with misinformation and morbid points of view, both of which handicap marriage later on.

Sane sex education involves two things: (1) the supplying of correct and adequate information as the child develops; and (2) the shaping of wholesome attitudes concerning this socially and divinely sanctioned phase of life. Both of these things can best be done in the home, and it is with parents that the responsibility rests. Yet they shirk it, all too often. Questions that may seem bad are entirely innocent when asked by children. And children should be neither scolded nor punished for asking them. If questions are answered unemotionally, as with anything else; simply, so as not to confuse or take them beyond their understanding; and truthfully, using correct names, in order to avoid the mistakes that come from ignorance; if these things are done, an understanding will develop between parents and children that will lead them to counsel each other through the years, and many of the causes of marriage failure will thereby be removed.

What if the husband and wife want to do different things [in matters of recreation]?

There is nothing wrong with separate activity for the mates so long as their major interests and programs are lived through together. Actually, as indicated in an earlier lesson, both husband and wife are entitled to personality protection, which means privacy and a separateness of interest and activity. Both should be willing to give the other a little rope, figuratively speaking, realizing that constructive activities while apart frequently rejuvenate the person and make the marriage stronger because of it. A good marriage does require rather constant contact, however, and the sharing of both ideas and activities. Most of what married people do they should do together, for experience has demonstrated that successful marriage is based upon common habits. Married mates should plan their work so that they can generally be free for leisure activity at the same time. When they disagree on what is to be done, cooperation should ever guide their adjustment. it doesn’t hurt either mate to yield to the desires of the other occasionally, although this practice should not be one-sided, and it should involve good sportsmanship rather than the grumbling attitude that goes with a feeling of “recreational martyrdom.”

Is divorce ever justified?

Yes, but it is not to be resorted to at the first sign of trouble. If mistakes have been made, they might as well be recognized and rectified, in favor of a new start. The first and most important step toward the solution of difficulties should be a reconciliation of feelings and a readjustment of the relationships themselves. If this fails, however, after a long and honest effort, there is no point in perpetuating a “living hell” by forcing the marriage to stay formally intact long after love and harmony are gone. Though divorce is unfortunate, the real evil is that which produces it: though it should be used only as a last resort, it should nevertheless be retained as a safety valve, as a way out when there isn o other. Infidelity, for example, when carried far and without repentance, leaves one with little choice but divorce.

What is the best way of handling family finances?

There are many methods of controlling the family purse, but we shall have space here to mention only three. In the first method, the husband handles all of the money and gives it out to family members upon request or as he sees fit. There is little to be said in favor of this method.

In the second, the wife has an allowance. This has much more to be said for it than the first, for it gives the wife some of the freedom and responsibility she deserves, and it usually requires some degree of budgeting. But on the other hand, it also leads to misunderstandings and conflicts: the wife may somewhat selfishly scrimp on the food she buys in order to have more for her personal share or the husband may unjust accuse the wife of poor management.

The third method is that of setting up a joint banking account to which husband and wife have equally free access after the more or less regular and fixed monthly expenses are taken care of. This system is becoming more common among the young people of today. It avoids the somewhat questionable assumption of the first two methods – the assumption that the husband will spend money more wisely than the wife – and it thereby closely approaches the goal of complete equality in money matters. it has much to be said in its favor, and for those who are responsible enough to make it work, it is probably the most satisfactory arrangement of all; but it calls for moderation, self-restraint, and mutual confidence.



  1. Honestly, this was a lot better than I expected after reading your intro…
    I think a lot of his advice is sound–his recommendations to have a honeymoon, talk to your kids about sex, have a joint bank account, etc. And I appreciate his acknowledgment that it’s basically impossible to treat children exactly alike.
    This made me laugh though:
    “True or false, men have more ability or talent than do women.
    Probably false.”

    Comment by Asphodel — November 30, 2009 @ 8:25 am

  2. I’m glad, Asphodel — I kinda felt that we had been unfair to HTC in the past because I picked out a couple of topics where the thinking has changed greatly since his day. I hoped to show him in a little better light this time, while still having some fun.

    And that’s probably true. 😉

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 30, 2009 @ 8:37 am

  3. Both of my grandfathers controlled the family finances (whether method one or two, I do not know), but the next couple of generations have really shifted over to the third method.

    I wonder why the change?

    Comment by Researcher — November 30, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  4. I agree with Asphodel. I expected something different. But Christensen’s responses are dispassionate and well-reasoned, and I think most all of his conclusions are sound.

    On a different note, I’m as happy with Christensen’s responses as I am with the fact that the Church (that institution of narrow-minded and backward ideas — wink wink) used this broad-minded sociologist as a resource.


    Comment by Hunter — November 30, 2009 @ 10:26 am

  5. “Sane sex education.”

    I had to do a double take to recognize that it was an “n” not an “m.” Had it been an “m” he would have been much more controversial in his day.

    Comment by GILGAMESH — November 30, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  6. “recreational martyrdom” that’s a great phrase I’ll have to remember.

    Comment by Clark — November 30, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  7. I was a doctoral student in the Purdue University Sociology Department from 1972-1975 in the last few years that Harold Christensen was there. While I did not take any courses from him he was in my ward and I knew him quite well. A great man who strove to integrate the spiritual and intellectual.

    Comment by John Willis — November 30, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

  8. I actually really liked this… his advice on divorce is as pertinent, compassionate and accurate today as it as then.

    Comment by Tracy M — November 30, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  9. Interesting to read. I, too, was expecting that it might be a little more controversial.

    Comment by m&m — December 5, 2009 @ 1:11 am