Archive for the ‘Notes to a Friend’ Category.

Hard as Nails

This particular morning, on my drive into work I had contemplated committing suicide. I was thinking that I would finish my final shift and then come home and just end all the pain, anger, hurt, and hatred that I had built up by ending my life. I prayed to God. I asked him to take the hurt, to show me a sign that all would be okay.

I made it to work, clocked in, and started my day. As lunchtime came around, and a line started to form at the door, I looked out at this huge bus that said “You’re Amazing” on it. I thought in my head, “Aw man, we got a bus! Wonder what team they are and where they are from …”

What I didn’t realize was that they were a part of God’s team, and that they had made it to my job just to give me the sign that I so desperately needed. I called the next customer to my register and three men came up. The first thing out of one of the gentleman’s mouth was, “Hello, I just want to let you know that you’re amazing, and God has a specific plan and purpose for you.”

The day God sent me a bus of missionaries to save me from suicide

Hard as Nails Missionaries (HANM)

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Behavioral Poverty

More than 50 years of social-sciences evidence demonstrates that behavior is highly predictive of many important life outcomes. Children who are temperamental, fussy, and aggressive often cause their parents to withdraw affection and to limit supervision, which leads to further bad behavior later on, along with subsequent struggles and frustration. Adolescents who verbally accost or threaten their schoolteachers are more likely to be suspended or expelled, as well as to spend less time studying, working on homework, and attending classes. And adults who engage in crime are the same ones who not only frequently end up in jail and prison, of course, but also remain voluntarily unemployed, and often find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder. Behavior is predictive from one setting to the next, and consequences snowball. The body of research linking bad behavior to negative and cumulative consequences is remarkably robust, extends across countries, and has been replicated across academic disciplines with diverse samples, methodologies, and analytical techniques. These findings provide the basis for a range of policies and cultural narratives that could, if embraced, help people avoid many of life’s costly pitfalls.

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Behavioral poverty is reflected in the attitudes, values, and beliefs that justify entitlement thinking, the spurning of personal responsibility, and the rejection of traditional social mechanisms of advancement. It is characterized by high self-indulgence, low self-regulation, exploitation of others, and limited motivation and effort. It can be correlated with a range of antisocial, immoral, and imprudent behaviors, including substance abuse, gambling, insolvency, poor health habits, and crime.

While behavioral poverty’s causes are likely complex—involving the interplay between parents, genes, and culture—understanding its consequences is not complex: they are depressingly predictable. Because behavioral poverty can emerge early in life and remain stable over time, it’s not uncommon to see behaviorally poor children perform badly at school, compile arrest records as juveniles, and transition into adulthood with few or any skills outside those valued on the street. Few who work in the juvenile-justice system, for example, are surprised to find out that former clients get arrested as adults, or involved with drugs, or pregnant with no means of support.

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The ingredients to living a meaningful life involve self-restraint, tenacity, and personal responsibility.

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Behavioral poverty is perhaps most vividly illustrated in the lives of drug addicts. Here, adult responsibilities and even basic human needs, such as eating and sleeping, are subordinated to the compulsive ingestion of alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or a mixture of these substances. We’ve interviewed offenders who reported staying mostly awake for ten to 20 days while on a binge. When drugs are not available, the addicts usually resort to crime. Drug offenders commit offenses at rates several times higher than their non-drug-using peers. Much of the incidence of crime, particularly burglary and theft, is tied to drug use.

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[M]any criminal offenders have no desire to engage in conventional, productive adult conduct. In our experience as criminal-justice practitioners, researchers, and clinicians, thousands of offenders have told us as much. All the rigors and responsibilities of adulthood—from paying rent and utilities to maintaining relationships—are fulfilled, free of charge, by the criminal-justice system. Conventional adults are horrified by the idea of imprisonment, but many offenders view jail as a refuge from the demands of life.

Behavior Matters: Why some people spend their lives in poverty and social dysfunction,” by Matt DeLisi and John Paul Wright, City Journal, Summer 2019

 



Angus Deaton: Measuring and understanding behavior, welfare, and poverty

 

We’ve known for a long time that unstable family life related to divorce, missing fathers, and communities with large numbers of single-mother households can be bad for kids. Deaths of despair are a red-flag warning that that these disruptions are similarly hard on adults. Though only 32% of the population, unmarried and divorced men account for a stunning 71% of opioid deaths. Emile Durkheim, one of the godfathers of sociology, found a link between suicide and family breakup over a century ago; the same link remains today. Divorce increases the risk of alcoholism for both men and women; so does checking “single” for marital status on government documents.

These numbers shed some light on why deaths of despair are concentrated among those with lower incomes. Higher income folks are more likely to marry and to stay married. They have closer, more sustained relationships with their children, relatives, and in-laws. In recent years, despite its one-time reputation as stalwart family traditionalists, the white working-class has diverged from its more affluent counterpart. As of 1980, about three quarters of white working-class adults were married; that was very similar to the 79% of high-income adults. By 2017, however, the working-class number had fallen to only 52%.

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It’s also true that many singles and divorced people, though unmarried, are not alone. Unmarried couples today frequently live together, sharing a roof, a bed, and meals. But these cohabiting arrangements tend to be short-lived and are often just a pitstop in a series of transitory, quasi-monogamous relationships. Fathers who split up with cohabiting partners are far more likely to visit erratically or disappear entirely from their children’s lives. Moreover, cohabiting couples’ ties to their significant others’ families and friends remain looser than do those of married couples.

The upshot of all of this is a growing subculture of loosely bound or even isolated adults. No wonder so many of them lapse into despair. Humans have always depended on close kin to love and care for them, especially when times are tough. The dismantling of kin networks is proving to be especially hard on the weak, ill, and elderly.

A nation dying in despair, and family breakdown is part of the problem,” by Kay Hymowitz, September 26, 2019

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“every human being has a soul fashioned in God’s image”

More concretely, you don’t get white supremacy if you believe that every human being has a soul fashioned in God’s image. Neither do you get far-left racial and ethnic identitarianism. Both are symptoms of a metaphysical deficit. It’s very easy to start dividing people up into tribal categories; after all, humans vary massively in just about every imaginable quality. It’s really something of a miracle that we ever came up with a notion of common humanity at all! We have the Judeo-Christian heritage to thank for this in the West. This is something secular people ought to consider before making glib criticisms of traditional religion.

France’s Master Of ‘Materialist Horror’

With no belief that “every human being has a soul fashioned in God’s image”, i.e., God, the result is tyranny and statolatry.

 



I Shall Not Want Audrey Assad Lyrics

 

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

― G.K. Chesterton

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Inflammation and Body Weight

Inflammation plays a critical role in determining how we digest food, and it’s only now starting to reveal itself.

it is becoming clear that some people’s guts are simply more efficient than others’ at extracting calories from food. When two people eat the same 3,000-calorie pizza, for example, their bodies absorb different amounts of energy. And those calorie-converting abilities can change over a person’s lifetime with age and other variables.

The question is, why? And is it possible to make changes, if a person wanted to?

If so, the solution will involve the trillions of microbes in our intestines and how they work in concert with another variable that’s just beginning to get attention. The immune system determines levels of inflammation in the gut that are constantly shaping the way we digest food—how many calories get absorbed, and how many nutrients simply pass through.

The relationship between microbes and weight gain has long been overlooked in humans, but people have known about similar effects in animals for decades.

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In 2006, Jeffrey Gordon, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, reported that the microbiomes of obese mice had something in common: Compared with their lean counterparts, the heavier mice had fewer Bacteroides and more Firmicutes species in their guts. What’s more, biochemical analyses showed that this ratio made the microbes better at “energy harvest”—essentially, extracting calories from food and passing it into the body. That is, even when mice ate the same amount and type of food, the bacterial populations meant that some developed metabolic problems, while others didn’t. Similar bacterial patterns have since been confirmed in obese humans.

What’s more, Gordon found, the microbiome associated with obesity is transferable. In 2013, his lab took gut bacteria from pairs of human twins in which only one twin was obese, then fed the samples to mice. The mice given bacteria from the obese humans quickly gained weight. The others did not.

The Fundamental Link Between Body Weight and the Immune System

 


Lora Hooper (UT Southwestern) 1: Mammalian gut microbiota: Mammals and their symbiotic gut microbes

 

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The Art of Dying

Ars Moriendi, or “The Art of Dying,” was an immensely popular and influential medieval text aimed at equipping the faithful for death and dying. It appeared by order of the Council of Constance sometime between 1414 and 1418, and although its author is anonymous, some scholars speculate that it was a Dominican friar.

It is no surprise that the Church would focus on death-related themes at this time: one of the central pastoral preoccupations of the late medieval Church was preparing souls for death, which included saving them from damnation and shortening their stay in purgatory. To suppose that this focus on death was primarily driven by the effects of the bubonic plague is probably an oversimplification; it seems, rather, to be a foundational characteristic of medieval piety, resulting from a flourishing belief in the reality of life after death and the salvific efficacy of the sacraments. Hence, securing the ministrations of a priest in the final hours of death was a chief concern. But the impact of the bubonic plague, including the loss of clergy who would assist the dying, heightened the need for additional forms of guidance—thus arose the Ars Moriendi, a standard for deathbed pastoral practice intended for the use of dying persons and their loved ones assisting them.

The span of centuries notwithstanding, some modern-day bioethicists have looked to the medieval Ars Moriendi for inspiration in discussing contemporary approaches to death and dying. They recognize that patients nearing the end of life today often are overwhelmed by the complexity of health care and miss the opportunity to prepare well for death. A modern-day Ars Moriendi, then, would serve as a corrective to the prevailing over-medicalized, technologically driven death. Whereas bioethicists generally have sought to use the medieval text as inspiration for an approach that accommodates a wide variety of belief systems, religious and secular, it seems vital that the expressed religious intent be preserved in such a work; in fact, certain insights from the medieval text may provide a helpful addition to contemporary pastoral approaches at the end of life.

Just a cursory look at the medieval Ars Moriendi may suffice to draw out some of these insights. As the text emphasizes, dying persons are commonly faced with temptations that threaten to rob them of salvation, including the temptation against faith, the temptation of despair, and the temptation of pride that leads to complacency. When faced with these temptations, such persons must realize the importance of dying in the faith of Christ and in union with the Church to attain salvation, which is true happiness. This includes the reception of the sacraments, repeated professions of faith, self-examinations, and prayer.

For sure, the sacraments are the primary means by which the faithful can attain salvation; nevertheless, one can resist the graces offered in the sacraments, and so these other practices are important to help dispose one to receive the sacraments efficaciously. In this way, simply ensuring the visitation of a priest and the reception of the sacraments does not suffice. While efforts must be made to console dying persons that death itself is not to be feared, in light of Christ’s salvific act, it is better to stir them from complacency than to allow them to drift away from God for the sake of comfort.

These insights from the medieval Ars Moriendi may be key in reclaiming an art of dying for the twenty-first century. They give cause for concern that the typical approach for Catholics nearing the end of life today presumes that the reception of the sacraments all but guarantees salvation; typically, little emphasis is placed on the need for regular self-examination, professions of faith, and overcoming common temptations against the love of God. Instead, the focus is on consoling the dying person and loved ones, not necessarily for the sake of overcoming fear of death to remove a barrier to salvation, but out of deference to social sensibilities. Based on these concerns, it seems we truly are in need of a modern-day Ars Moriendi. The medieval text makes clear that the reality of judgment after death and hope for the salvation of souls should take priority over everything else, including attempts to better navigate the complexities and limitations of medical management at the end of life.

This piece was originally written by Br. Columba Thomas, O.P.

Reclaiming an Art of Dying for the Twenty-First Century,” by Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph, Word on Fire, July 9, 2019

Also see
Memento mori
Readaeer Life Size Replica Realistic Human Skull Head Bone Model
– “The Christian Art of Dying: Learning from Jesus,” by Allen Verhey
– “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” by Atul Gawande

 


Insights – The Necessity of Thinking About Death – Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

 

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Two Thumbs up for the Trades

Our cars, the roads on which we drive, our houses and apartments, offices and restaurants, every chair, every shelf, every implement from our toothbrushes to our favorite coffee mugs: all of these things are the work of human hands. Some of these goods are the product of assembly lines, some the consequence of men and women of the trades who bring an array of skills to their tasks.

All of these people have an intelligence often hidden by the title of their occupation. A man in his early thirties I met only once worked in the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina. He spoke with the accent native to the hills where he lived and looked nondescript. During our conversation, however, he revealed he had bought a house at the age of seventeen – an uncle helped him with the financing – fixed it up, rented it out, and now owned upwards of twenty such houses. This same man was fascinated by the history of the American West, and used his summer vacations to visit such historic places as the Alamo and the Little Bighorn National Monument.

My son-in-law is a contractor, a skilled builder and maker of furniture. He is a bright man, quick on the uptake, who has read many of the great books and will soon be teaching Euclidian geometry in a private school. Many of his friends, both those who graduated from college and those who never attended, also work in the trades, and display an equal array of gifts aside from their jobs. Another woman in town, a homeschooling mom and a teacher in a local co-op, declined to college and instead became an auto mechanic.

Many young people, I suspect, labor under the expectations of others regarding their choice of a career. Bill’s parents encourage him to study medicine… but he loved his Scouting experiences and dreams of joining the U.S. Forest Service. Sally’s parents hope she’ll go into accounting and join the family business… but she imagines herself as a paramedic whirling around in an ambulance and saving lives.

In The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, a book that should be read by young people everywhere, Charles Murray offers excellent advice on choosing a vocation. “Instead of trying to choose among specific careers,” he advises, “think first about the things you especially enjoy.” He then offers a sample list of such possibilities, such items as “You enjoy being outdoors,” “You enjoy solving puzzles,” “You enjoy security and predictability,” and “You enjoy risks.” Murray concludes with this injunction: “Once you have identified what things you instinctively enjoy, then start thinking about a career.”

The key to the “pursuit of happiness” in our work does indeed lie in discovering what we enjoy and then looking for ways to match those pursuits to a vocation.

Two Thumbs up for the Trades,” by Jeff Minick

 


Mike Rowe opens up on career, confesses “lost wonder” for skilled trades

 

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Back Row America

Had I asked people in my hometown why they were still there, I would have received the answer I heard in neighborhoods from Cairo to Amarillo to rural Ohio. They would have looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Because it is my home.”

When communities and towns are destroyed, partly because of the front row’s policies of globalization, the front row solution is, “Well, just move.” What matters is growth at all costs—even if it is brutal—and that requires everyone, always, to be economic migrants. The front row likes to say that the U.S. is a country of migrants, where people have always moved for jobs. It has been done before—the Dust Bowl, the northern migration of African Americans. But those migrations were responses to failure, not signs of success.

Back Row America, by Chris Arnade

 




America’s forgotten communities — interview with Chris Arnade | VIEWPOINT

 

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What Anti-Semites and Pro-Abortionists Have in Common

One of the problems with modern politics is that everything is expressed in terms of right and left, and everyone seems to have forgotten about right and wrong. Thus, for instance, white supremacists are considered to be on the far right, whereas Antifa activists are considered to be on the far left. You’d think, therefore, that they couldn’t be further apart in terms of their respective beliefs. And yet if love of one’s neighbor is considered good and hatred of one’s neighbor is considered bad, the white supremacists and the Antifa activists are both equally bad. They are full of hatred for those whom they consider to be their enemies and are not averse to using violence to get their way.

Looking at the lessons of the past, which the white supremacists and Antifa activists seem intent on ignoring, we might think of Hitlerite Nazis as being on the far right and Stalinist communists as being on the far left. And yet both sets of extremists ruled their respective peoples with an iron fist and incarcerated millions of dissidents in concentrations camps. If one is a victim of political tyranny, it matters little if the jackboot that crushes you is on the left foot or the right foot. It is, therefore, not about right and left but about right and wrong.
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No, it’s not about right and left, whatever that really means. It’s about right and wrong. Those who kill innocent people, refusing to see them as human persons, are wrong, whether they are anti-Semites or pro-abortionists. We should all be sickened by the contempt for human life shown by the man who gunned down worshippers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, but we should be equally sickened by those who kill babies in abortion mills in every city across the nation.

What Anti-Semites and Pro-Abortionists Have in Common,” by Joseph Pearce

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Statolatry and Illiberal Politics

Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strikes. Unlike any humans before us, we take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes, where they cannot remind us of our own fate in our daily lives. And if you pressed, say, the liberal elites to explain what they really believe in — and you have to look at what they do most fervently — you discover, in John Gray’s mordant view of Mill, that they do, in fact, have “an orthodoxy — the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

But the banality of the god of progress, the idea that the best life is writing explainers for Vox in order to make the world a better place, never quite slakes the thirst for something deeper. Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.

So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.

America’s New Religions

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Self-government

Self-government requires that the self be governed. Any pagan philosopher could tell you that. All the American founders agreed: liberty without virtue is but license, and license enslaves. You can hope to run away from a vicious master. You can never run away from yourself.

Anthony Esolen

 


Restoring Christian Culture—Dr. Anthony Esolen

 

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