Category : Psychology

(PBS Newshour) Read Michael Gerson’s sermon sharing his struggle with depression

It is impossible for anyone but saints to live always on that mountaintop. I suspect that there are people here today – and I include myself – who are stalked by sadness, or stalked by cancer, or stalked by anger. We are afraid of the mortality that is knit into our bones. We experience unearned suffering, or give unreturned love, or cry useless tears. And many of us eventually grow weary of ourselves – tired of our own sour company.

At some point, willed cheerfulness fails. Or we skim along the surface of our lives, afraid of what lies in the depths below. It is a way to cope, but no way to live.

I’d urge anyone with undiagnosed depression to seek out professional help. There is no way to will yourself out of this disease, any more than to will yourself out of tuberculosis.

There are, however, other forms of comfort. Those who hold to the wild hope of a living God can say certain things:

In our right minds – as our most sane and solid selves – we know that the appearance of a universe ruled by cruel chaos is an lie and that the cold void is actually a sheltering sky.

In our right minds, we know that life is not a farce but a pilgrimage – or maybe a farce and a pilgrimage, depending on the day.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Theology

(60 Minutes) The Chibok Girls: Survivors of kidnapping by Boko Haram share their stories

Rebecca: Yes, they say if you didn’t convert to Islam you wouldn’t get home alive. That’s what they say.

Here are some of the girls two years ago right after they were released, alive but looking like concentration camp survivors, haunted and numb. This is Rebecca, skin and bones.

Lesley Stahl: I heard you were eating grass.

Rebecca: Yeah. Some of us eat that. And we are just be patient and live like that. No food. No anything.

Look at them today, in their 20s. They’re healthy and full of spirit at a school created just for them, paid for by the Nigerian government and some donors, where they are making up for lost time.

They’re from Northern Nigeria, where life can be hard and opportunities for women are limited. Now, in their Wi-Fi-equipped dorms, they have smart phones, and lap tops and their own beds.

They go back to Chibok to see their parents twice a year; over Christmas and during the summer.

Read it all (video highly recommended).

Posted in Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Nigeria, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Teens / Youth, Terrorism, Theology, Women, Young Adults

(Globe and Mail) Julia Shaw–Is Evil only in the eye of the beholder?

So, is there really such a thing as evil? Subjectively, yes. You can call sadistic torture or genocide or rape evil. You may mean something very specific and have well-reasoned arguments as to why you have called a particular person or act evil. But as soon as you have a discussion about it with others, you may find that what you think is an undeniable act of evil is not perceived that way by them. Certainly by the time you bring people who have committed the act into the discussion, you are likely to encounter a different perspective. To once again cite Nietzsche, evil is only created in the moment when we perceive something as such. And just as quickly as we can make evil, if our perception shifts, it can disappear.

We make evil when we label something so. Evil exists as a word, as a subjective concept. But I firmly believe there is no person, no group, no behaviour, no thing that is objectively evil. Perhaps evil only really exists in our fears.

You have probably heard the saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Well, the same thing rings true for many contexts – one person’s soldier is another’s insurgent, one person’s sexual liberation is another’s perversion, one person’s dream job is another’s source of all ills. When we learn that evil is in the eye of the beholder, we begin to question the beholder and the society they live in. And when we turn our attention to ourselves, we realize that we sometimes curiously even betray our own sense of morality.
Because of what I consider an insurmountable problem of subjectivity, I think that neither humans nor actions should be labelled evil. Instead, I cannot help but see a complex ecosystem of decisions, cascades of influences, multifaceted social factors. I refuse to summarize all of this into a single hateful word.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Canada, Psychology, Theodicy, Violence

(BBC) Cannabis use in teens linked to depression

Parents should not be complacent about the risks of teenagers using cannabis, experts are warning.

UK and Canada researchers said they had found “robust” evidence showing using the drug in adolescence increased the risk of developing depression in adulthood by 37%.

They said the findings should act as a warning to families who saw cannabis use as part of the growing-up process.

The team added that the developing brain was particularly susceptible.

The researchers – from University of Oxford and Montreal’s McGill University – said cannabis use in the young was an “important public health issue”, particularly given that cannabis available today tends to be much stronger than it was previously.

Around one in nine young adults and teenagers use the drug each year in England and Wales.

Read it all.

Posted in Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Teens / Youth

(Gallup) Americans’ Confidence in Their Finances Keeps Growing

Americans’ optimism about their personal finances has climbed to levels not seen in more than 16 years, with 69% now saying they expect to be financially better off “at this time next year.”

The 69% saying they expect to be better off is only two percentage points below the all-time high of 71%, recorded in March 1998 at a time when the nation’s economic boom was producing strong economic growth combined with the lowest inflation and unemployment rates in decades.

Americans are typically less positive about how their finances have changed over the past year than about where they’re headed, and that remains the case. Fifty percent say they are better off today than they were a year ago. That 50% still represents a post-recession milestone — the first time since 2007 that at least half of the public has said they are financially better off than a year ago….

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Economy, Personal Finance, Psychology

(Unherd) Giles Fraser on the Culture of Choice–Our modern parenting is making monsters

I also suspect that the way we have come to treat children as mini-consumers, little choice-centres, also has something to do with it as well. For nowhere is this choice-inducing anxiety more toxic than in childhood. It used to be that childhood operated under instruction. For the child, life was a series of givens. And this functioned as a sort of emotional security. But now that we are inducting our children into this culture of choice at an ever earlier age, we deprive them of the necessary scaffolding of care, love and support.

It’s a big claim, I know. But it is worth reminding ourselves of an important aspect of our culture of choice: that it absolves people of a responsibility of care towards others. To put it another way, our culture of choice contains this message: I am not responsible for you because you are responsible for you. Are you fat? That’s your choice. Smoke? Your choice. In debt? Your decisions have got you into trouble. It’s all on you.

It is one thing to take this attitude towards adults. But our culture is so saturated with this culture of choice that it has come to apply even to children. I am ashamed to admit that my two year old could operate a remote control almost before he could walk. And instead of presenting him with his tea, I now ask him what he wants. It’s almost as if the poor boy has a menu in hand before he can even read it. Choose, we demand. “What do you want?….”

The reductio ad absurdum of this overblown culture of choice is the case of a man who is currently taking his parents to court because he didn’t choose to be born. Yes, its true. A businessman from Mumbai, Raphael Samuel, 27, is suing his parents because he didn’t ask to be born. Apparently, by conceiving him without his consent, they were infringing his ‘right’ to choose.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Children, Consumer/consumer spending, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Psychology, Theology

(NPR) Interracial Couples And Disability-Friendly Emojis Coming Soon To Smartphones

Disabled individuals will see a wide range of new emojis devoted to them, including wheelchairs, canes, hearings aids, and prosthetic limbs. These emojis were proposed by Apple to better represent individuals with disabilities.

“One in seven people around the world has some form of disability,” Apple wrote in its proposal. “Adding emoji emblematic to users’ life experiences helps foster a diverse culture that is inclusive of disability.” Apple said it developed the proposed emojis in collaboration with the American Council of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf, among other organizations.

A new “people holding hands” emoji will let users mix and match different skin tones and genders, with 171 possible combinations.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology

(NYT) When Religion Leads to Trauma–Some churches “weaponize scripture and religion to do very deep damage on the psyche,” one pastor says.

Brett Higbee, a retired land surveyor who attended the ranch during the late 1970s, said that he was routinely beaten for religious infractions like failing to memorize Bible verses. These experiences made him religion-phobic for years, he said, his pain triggered by entering a church or even hearing Christmas music on the radio.

The gap between religious teachings on compassion and the ways that faith sometimes gets misused inspired Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a psychiatrist, and his colleagues at Duke University to develop “religious cognitive therapy” in 2014. The therapy uses “positive scriptures that focus on forgiveness, God’s love and divine mercy to challenge the dysfunctional thoughts that maintain trauma,” says Dr. Koenig.

The Duke team has developed workbooks that accentuate this positive content for each of the world’s major religions. Clinical trials, published in 2015, showed that religious people who received the therapy had lower rates of depression and reported more positive emotions like gratitude and optimism than those who did not receive it.

The best cure for religious trauma may be a deeper dive into the spiritual core of religious teachings, Dr. Koenig says.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) Pamela Paul–Let Children Get Bored Again

People used to accept that much of life was boring. Memoirs of pre-21st-century life are rife with tedium. When not idling in drawing rooms, members of the leisured class took long walks and stared at trees. They went motoring and stared at more trees. Those who had to work had it a lot harder. Agricultural and industrial jobs were often mind-numbing; few people were looking to be fulfilled by paid labor. Children could expect those kinds of futures and they got used to the idea from an early age, left unattended with nothing but bookshelves and tree branches, and later, bad afternoon television.

Only a few short decades ago, during the lost age of underparenting, grown-ups thought a certain amount of boredom was appropriate. And children came to appreciate their empty agendas. In an interview with GQ magazine, Lin-Manuel Miranda credited his unattended afternoons with fostering inspiration. “Because there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom,” he said.

Nowadays, subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty. In a much-read story in The Times, “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting,” Claire Cain Miller cited a recent study that found that regardless of class, income or race, parents believed that “children who were bored after school should be enrolled in extracurricular activities, and that parents who were busy should stop their task and draw with their children if asked.”

Every spare moment is to be optimized, maximized, driven toward a goal.

When not being uberparented, kids today are left to their own devices — their own digital devices, that is….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Psychology

(PA) Why are social media firms facing a crackdown?

Instagram boss Adam Mosseri said he was “deeply moved” by Molly’s story and acknowledged his platform was “not yet where we need to be” on the issues of suicide and self-harm.

Images that encourage the acts are banned, but the boss admitted that Instagram relies on users to report the content before it is purged.

“The bottom line is we do not yet find enough of these images before they’re seen by other people,” Mr Mosseri added.

But he said the Facebook-owned firm would introduce “sensitivity screens” making it harder for users to see images showing cutting.

The issue is not simple though.

He argues a key piece of advice from external experts is that “safe spaces” for young people to discuss their mental health issues online are essential, providing therapeutic benefits.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Suicide, Teens / Youth

(NYT) This Is Your Brain Off Facebook

The world’s most common digital habit is not easy to break, even in a fit of moral outrage over the privacy risks and political divisions Facebook has created, or amid concerns about how the habit might affect emotional health.

Although four in 10 Facebook users say they have taken long breaks from it, the digital platform keeps growing. A recent study found that the average user would have to be paid $1,000 to $2,000 to be pried away for a year.

So what happens if you actually do quit? A new study, the most comprehensive to date, offers a preview.

Expect the consequences to be fairly immediate: More in-person time with friends and family. Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever. A small bump in one’s daily moods and life satisfaction. And, for the average Facebook user, an extra hour a day of downtime.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(CT Women) Jen Michel–Move Over, Sex and Drugs. Ease Is the New Vice.

According to recent research, teens are starting their sex lives a lot later. Despite shifting cultural norms and new sexual freedoms, our youngest and most virile are apparently having less sex—at least for now. Sociologists and social commentators debate whether the trend is temporary and whether it marks a healthy or unhealthy societal shift. But it’s possible that the so-called sex recession offers evidence of a wide, disturbing trend that has nothing to do with sex—one that is particularly endemic to our cultural moment. The trend bears witness to the ways that we’re increasingly finding embodied life “tiresome.” (In Japan, that’s the word many younger Japanese people to describe intercourse: mendokusai.)

Our apparent fatigue with bodily living extends to other areas, as well. Two years ago, in response to declining cereal sales, market researchers went looking for answers to why younger people were opting out of the convenience food that had fed their parents and grandparents. According to The New York Times, researchers found the reason: Breakfast cereal—with the whole bother of bowl and spoon—involved far too much work. “Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.”

The decline in sexual activity and cereal sales hardly seem correlated, but both seem to point to one of the most seductive promises of a technological age: that ours should be an unbothered life. As our lives (at least in the developed world) get easier, we are increasingly formed by the desire for ease. Of all the cautions we raise about technology—its distractions and temptations, its loneliness and superficiality—this promise of unencumbered living is perhaps the most insidious danger and also the one we talk the least about.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Guardian) Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt launches review into how UK can better support Christains under threat

Postcolonial guilt about Britain’s imperial past has held the country back from addressing the deepening persecution of Christians across the world, the foreign secretary has said.

Jeremy Hunt was speaking at the launch of an independent review into how the government defends the rights of persecuted Christians. The review, which will be led by the bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, will study the scale, causes and geography of persecution and what more the UK may be able to do to raise the profile of the issue in its diplomatic network.

Hunt, a committed Christian, said: “We wanted to do this not just because freedom of worship is a fundamental human right, but because also freedom of worship is the invisible line between open societies and closed societies.”

He added he wanted “to banish any hesitation to look into this issue without fear or favour that may exist because of our imperial history, because of the concerns that some people might have in linking the activities of missionaries in the 19th century to misguided imperialism”.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Other Churches, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Sunday [London] Times) Niall Ferguson–Feeling beats truth in our indignant ‘emocracy’

We no longer live in a democracy. We live in an “emocracy”, where emotions rather than majorities rule and feelings matter more than reason. The stronger your feelings — the better you are at working yourself into a fit of indignation — the more influence you have. And never use words where emojis will do.

There was a time when appeals to emotion over facts were regarded as the preserve of the populist right. But truthiness — the quality of being ideologically convenient, though not actually true — is now bipartisan. Last week on the CBS show 60 Minutes, host Anderson Cooper confronted the 29-year-old congresswoman and social media sensation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with some of her many factual errors. Her reply was that of a true emocrat: “I think,” she replied, “there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

A good illustration of what Ocasio-Cortez means by morally right was her claim, in an interview on Monday, that “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change”. Another was her assertion that “a vast majority of the country doesn’t make a living wage”.

She may be young, female, Hispanic, good-looking and left wing — in every way the anti-Trump — but Alexandria Occasionally-Correct shares with the president a genius for the crucial tool of emocratic politics: social media, where moral truthiness always travels faster than the boring old dry-as-dust vérité.

Read it all (subscription needed).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Psychology

(Sunday [London] Times) Revealed: how Big Tech pushes teens like Molly Russell to suicide

Thirty families have accused technology giants of abetting their children’s suicides in the wake of the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, as the health secretary told social media sites to take responsibility for their effect on young lives.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Molly’s father, Ian, criticised the online scrapbook site Pinterest, as well as Instagram, for hosting disturbing content that he believes played a part in his daughter’s death.

“The more I looked [into Molly’s online accounts], the more there was that chill horror that I was getting a glimpse into something that had such profound effects on my lovely daughter,” he said. “Pinterest has a huge amount to answer for.”

Papyrus, a charity that works to prevent youth suicides, said it had been contacted by 30 families in the past week. Parents said they suspected social media had played a part in their children’s suicides.

A Sunday Times investigation found numerous graphic images of self-harm on Pinterest that could be viewed by children as young as 13.

Read it all (subscription needed).

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Science & Technology, Suicide, Teens / Youth

(WSJ) Erica Komisar–Masculinity Isn’t a Sickness: A denial of biology in the American Psychological Association’s new report on men and boys

The truth is that masculine traits such as aggression, competitiveness and protective vigilance not only can be positive, but also have a biological basis. Boys and men produce far more testosterone, which is associated biologically and behaviorally with increased aggression and competitiveness. They also produce more vasopressin, a hormone originating in the brain that makes men aggressively protective of their loved ones.

The same goes for feminine traits such as nurturing and emotional sensitivity. Women produce more oxytocin when they nurture their children than men, and the hormone affects men and women differently. Oxytocin makes women more sensitive and empathic, while men become more playfully, tactually stimulating with their children, encouraging resilience. These differences between men and women complement each other, allowing a couple to nurture and challenge their offspring.

Modern society is also too often derisive toward women who embrace their biological tendencies, labeling them abnormal or unhealthy. Women who choose to stay home with their children can feel harshly judged, contributing to postpartum conflict, anxiety and depression.

What’s unhealthy isn’t masculinity or femininity but the demeaning of masculine men and feminine women. The first of the new APA guidelines urges psychologists “to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms,” as if biology had nothing to do with it. Another guideline explicitly scoffs at “binary notions of gender identity as tied to biology.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Men, Psychology, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) Thomas Edsall–The Fight Over Men Is Shaping Our Political Future

Last week, however, the American Psychological Association entered the fray with the release of its long-planned “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.”

The A.P.A. guidelines argue that the socialization of males to adhere to components of “traditional masculinity such as emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness” leads to the disproportion of males involved in “aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict” as well as “substance abuse, incarceration, and early mortality….”

From a more academic vantage point, Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, replied to my inquiry with a detailed critique of the A.P.A. guidelines.

“The report is blinkered by two dogmas. One is the doctrine of the blank slate” that rejects biological and genetic factors, Pinker wrote, adding that

The word “testosterone” appears nowhere in the report, and the possibility that men and women’s personalities differ for biological reasons is unsayable and unthinkable.

The other dogma, Pinker argued,

is that repressing emotions is bad and expressing them is good — a folk theory with roots in romanticism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Hollywood, but which is contradicted by a large literature showing that people with greater self-control, particularly those who repress anger rather than “venting,” lead healthier lives: they get better grades, have fewer eating disorders, drink less, have fewer psychosomatic aches and pains, are less depressed, anxious, phobic, and paranoid, have higher self-esteem, are more conscientious, have better relationships with their families, have more stable friendships, are less likely to have sex they regretted, are less likely to imagine themselves cheating in a monogamous relationship.

In Pinker’s view, the A.P.A. guidelines fail to recognize that

a huge and centuries-long change in Western history, starting from the Middle Ages, was a “Civilizing Process” in which the ideal of manhood changed from a macho willingness to retaliate violently to an insult to the ability to exert self-control, dignity, reserve, and duty. It’s the culture of the gentleman, the man of dignity and quiet strength, the mensch. The romantic 1960s ethic of self-expression and escape from inhibitions weakened that ethic, and the A.P.A. report seems to be trying to administer the coup de grâce.

Pinker suggested rather that

One could argue that what today’s men need is more encouragement to enhance one side of the masculine virtues — the dignity, responsibility, self-control, and self-reliance — while inhibiting others, such as machismo, violence, and drive for dominance.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Men, Politics in General, Psychology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture:How not to do social change.

In this small story, we see something of the maladies that shape our brutal cultural moment. You see how zealotry is often fueled by people working out their psychological wounds. You see that when denunciation is done through social media, you can destroy people without even knowing them. There’s no personal connection that allows apology and forgiveness.

You also see how once you adopt a binary tribal mentality — us/them, punk/non-punk, victim/abuser — you’ve immediately depersonalized everything. You’ve reduced complex human beings to simple good versus evil. You’ve eliminated any sense of proportion. Suddenly there’s no distinction between R. Kelly and a high school girl sending a mean emoji.

The podcast gives a glimpse of how cycles of abuse get passed down, one to another. It shows what it’s like to live amid a terrifying call-out culture, a vengeful game of moral one-upsmanship in which social annihilation can come any second.

I’m older, so all sorts of historical alarm bells were going off — the way students denounced and effectively murdered their elders for incorrect thought during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and in Stalin’s Russia.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) The Morality of Selfism–The Gospel of Saint You

You probably want to be a good person. But you may also be completely self-absorbed. So you may be thinking, “There is no way I can be good if I’m also a narcissist. Isn’t being good all about caring about other people?”

But how wrong you are!

We live in a culture of selfism — a culture that puts tremendous emphasis on self, on self-care and self-display. And one of the things we’ve discovered is that you can be a very good person while thinking only about yourself!

Back in the old days people thought morality was about living up to some external standard of moral excellence. Abraham Lincoln tried to live a life of honesty and courage. Mother Teresa tried to live up to a standard of selfless love.

But now we know this is actually harmful! In the first place, when people hold up external standards of moral excellence, they often make you feel judged. These people make you feel sad because you may not live up to this standard. It’s very cruel of them to make you feel troubled in this way!

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Psychology, Religion & Culture, Secularism

Amy Welbourn–Some Reflections on the Attractions of the Prosperity Gospel

All heresies are, essentially, an imbalance – the heightening of one aspect of truth over all others.

It seems to me that the fundamental error of any “Prosperity Gospel” lies in the elevation of the truth that yes, we find authentic peace and true joy when our wills and choices are aligned with God’s will. That’s the truth we find in the very beginning of Scripture: Adam and Eve at peace in the Garden, and then at war with each other, God, nature and themselves outside of it.

The way that a “Prosperity Gospel” twists this truth is when it encourages us to uncritically identify the fruits of a right relationship with God with anything temporal.

It instrumentalizes the spiritual life.

So now, look beyond the easy targets of health-and-wealth. Survey the contemporary popular spiritual landscape, Catholic and otherwise. If there’s a current self-help trend out there, are spiritual gurus close behind, baptizing it?

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology

(WSJ) The Loneliest Generation: Americans, More Than Ever, Are Aging Alone

Danny Miner, a 66-year-old retired chemical plant supervisor, spends most days alone in his Tooele, Utah, apartment, with “Gunsmoke” reruns to keep him company and a phone that rarely rings.

Old age wasn’t supposed to feel this lonely. Mr. Miner married five times, each bride bringing the promise of lifelong companionship. Three unions ended in divorce. Two wives died. Now his legs ache and his balance is faulty, and he’s stopped going to church or meeting friends at the Marine Corps League, a group for former Marines. “I get a little depressed from time to time,” he says.

Baby boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history, and the resulting loneliness is a looming public health threat. About one in 11 Americans age 50 and older lacks a spouse, partner or living child, census figures and other research show. That amounts to about eight million people in the U.S. without close kin, the main source of companionship in old age, and their share of the population is projected to grow.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Theology

Must-not-Miss Story from NPR’s Only a Game–Shirley Wang: My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley

When Charles Barkley’s mother, Charcey Glenn, passed away in June 2015, Barkley’s hometown of Leeds, Alabama, came to the funeral to pay respects. But there was also an unexpected guest.

Barkley’s friends couldn’t quite place him. He wasn’t a basketball player, he wasn’t a sports figure and he wasn’t from Barkley’s hometown. Here’s what I can tell you about him: he wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone’s suburban dad. More specifically, he was my dad.

“You know, it was obviously a very difficult time,” Barkley told me recently. “And the next thing I know, he shows up. Everybody’s, like, ‘Who’s the Asian dude over there?’ I just started laughing. I said, ‘That’s my boy, Lin.’ They’re, like, ‘How do you know him?’ I said, ‘It’s a long story.’ ”

Read or listen to it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Sports

Do not Take yourself Too Seriously Department–Virtual Reality Church!

Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Church of England) Guidance for gender transition services published

New guidance for parishes planning services to help transgender people mark their transition has been published by the Church of England.

The pastoral guidance, which will be incorporated into Common Worship*, encourages clergy to be “creative and sensitive” in using liturgy to enable people to mark a major transition in their lives.

It formally commends the incorporation of the existing rite for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith into services which mark gender transition.

It details how elements including water and oil can be incorporated into the service and, crucially, makes clear that trans people should be addressed publicly by their chosen name.

As part of the service they could also be presented with gifts, such as a Bible inscribed in their chosen name, or a certificate.

It is important, the guidance adds, that the occasion should have a distinct “celebratory character”.

Read it all and make sure to follow the link and read the full text of the guidance itself.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Theology

(1st Things) Helen Andrews-Shame Storm

After a lifetime of impeccably correct opinions, Ian Buruma found himself on the wrong side of the liberal consensus in September 2018, when he was forced to resign as editor of the New York Review of Books for having commissioned a piece called “Reflections from a Hashtag” from the disgraced Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. One does not get to be editor of the NYRB without having filament-like sensitivity to the boundaries of acceptable opinion. Buruma’s virtuosic handling in 2007 of the controversy over his New York Times Magazine profile of Tariq Ramadan, in which he wrote indulgently of his subject’s radical Islamic views—and scathingly of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s secularist opposition to them—was a model of politically correct equipoise. If Buruma was caught flat-footed this time, it must be the times that have changed.

Unlike Leon Wieseltier, Lorin Stein, ­Garrison Keillor, John Hockenberry, Ryan Lizza, Glenn Thrush, or any of the other editors and journalists who have lost their jobs in the last twelve months due to the movement known as #MeToo, Buruma was not accused of any sexual misconduct. His crime was to give space in his magazine to a man who had been accused (but not, in any of four court cases, convicted) of sexual harassment and non-consensual roughness during sex. Buruma told Slate in an interview five days before his resignation, “I think nobody has quite figured out what should happen in cases like his, where you have been legally acquitted but you are still judged as undesirable in public opinion, and how far that should go, how long that should last.”

Too true, as Buruma found out to his cost. No one has yet figured out what rules should govern the new frontiers of public shaming that the Internet has opened. New rules are obviously required. Shame is now both global and permanent, to a degree ­unprecedented in human history. No more moving to the next town to escape your bad name. However far you go and however long you wait, your disgrace is only ever a Google search away. Getting a humiliating story into the papers used to require convincing an editor to run it, which meant passing their standards of newsworthiness and corroborating evidence. Those gatekeepers are now gone. Most attempts so far to devise new rules have taken ideology as their starting point: Shaming is okay as long as it’s directed at men by women, the powerless against the powerful. But that doesn’t address what to do afterward, if someone is found to have been wrongfully shamed, or when someone rightfully shamed wants to put his life back together.

In the essay that got Buruma fired, Ghomeshi claims to have been a pioneer in online shaming. “There are lots of guys more hated than me now. But I was the guy everyone hated first.” Actually, a better candidate for original victim is Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted to her 170 Twitter followers before getting on a plane to Cape Town, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” It was during the Christmas holidays when news is always slow, so a Gawker post about the tweet quickly went viral. People around the world were soon enjoying the suspense of knowing Sacco was on a plane with no Internet access and no way to know that she had become an object of global ridicule. That was in December 2013, almost a year before the Ghomeshi story broke.

And before that, in the Precambrian era of online shaming, there was me….

The more online shame cycles you observe, the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window, but the pretext is almost always a lie.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

One Nigerian’s path of Perseverance to the NFL

The Carolina Panthers defensive end had a “long and hard” road to the NFL. Born in Nigeria, he was trafficked as a child and left on the streets of London. After picking up football just four years ago, he made an impressive NFL debut with the Panthers.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Nigeria, Psychology, Sports

(MB) David Zahl–The De-sexing Of The American Teenager

In a nutshell, despite the fact that our culture has never been more open about and encouraging of sexual expression–almost to a compulsory extent–American teenagers and young adults are having considerably less sex than they used to. From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate plummeted to a third of its modern high. Wowza.

As someone who’s spent the better part of 20 years working with teenagers and college students, I’ve seen too much damage to see these developments as anything but a net positive. And that’s independent of any theological or even personal parenting concerns. (Just watch Mid90s). And yet, as Julian reports, the decline signals something troubling as well, not only a corresponding rise in anxiety and loneliness but a de-prioritizing–or forced retreat from–intimacy and love itself, with all the unhappiness that accompanies otherforms of disembodiment. What gives? Julian asked around:

Over the course of my research, I was told the sex recession might be a consequence of the hookup culture, of crushing economic pressures, of surging anxiety rates, of psychological frailty, of widespread antidepressant use, of streaming television, of environmental estrogens leaked by plastics, of dropping testosterone levels, of digital porn, of dating apps, of option paralysis, of helicopter parents, of careerism, of smartphones, of the news cycle, of information overload generally, of sleep deprivation, of obesity. Name a modern blight, and someone, somewhere, is ready to blame it for messing with the modern libido.

Sounds about right to me, though I might underline the porn aspect and add schizophrenic attitudes about sex itself to the list. And who knows how much of a chicken-vs-egg dimension there is here–probably quite a bit. But one thing all of the researchers she consults do agree on is that the decline in physical intimacy has to do with a decrease in romantic relationships among teenagers. That is, despite the (largely unfounded) alarmism about hookup culture and dating apps, the real issue is that young people no longer couple off in the same way. The less relationships, the less sex. To wit, I for one was unaware that the highest reported rate of teen pregnancy occurred in 1957, when anxiety over the WWII-induced male shortage led to an increase in serious teenage relationships. Compare that with today:

In 1995, the large longitudinal study known as “Add Health” found that 66 percent of 17-year-old men and 74 percent of 17-year-old women had experienced “a special romantic relationship” in the past 18 months. In 2014, when the Pew Research Center asked 17-year-olds whether they had “ever dated, hooked up with or otherwise had a romantic relationship with another person”—seemingly a broader category than the earlier one—only 46 percent said yes.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Psychology, Sexuality, Sociology, Teens / Youth

(Aeon) Christian Jarrett–The bad news on human nature, in 10 findings from psychology

We are blinkered and dogmatic. If people were rational and open-minded, then the straightforward way to correct someone’s false beliefs would be to present them with some relevant facts. However a classic study from 1979 showed the futility of this approach – participants who believed strongly for or against the death penalty completely ignored facts that undermined their position, actually doubling-down on their initial view. This seems to occur in part because we see opposing facts as undermining our sense of identity. It doesn’t help that many of us are overconfident about how much we understand things and that, when we believe our opinions are superior to others, this deters us from seeking out further relevant knowledge.

We would rather electrocute ourselves than spend time in our own thoughts. This was demonstrated in a controversial 2014 study in which 67 per cent of male participants and 25 per cent of female participants opted to give themselves unpleasant electric shocks rather than spend 15 minutes in peaceful contemplation.

We are vain and overconfident. Our irrationality and dogmatism might not be so bad were they married to some humility and self-insight, but most of us walk about with inflated views of our abilities and qualities, such as our driving skills, intelligence and attractiveness – a phenomenon that’s been dubbed the Lake Wobegon Effect after the fictional town where ‘all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average’. Ironically, the least skilled among us are the most prone to overconfidence (the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect). This vain self-enhancement seems to be most extreme and irrational in the case of our morality, such as in how principled and fair we think we are. In fact, even jailed criminals think they are kinder, more trustworthy and honest than the average member of the public.

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Posted in Anthropology, Psychology

(Arda) David Briggs–Faithful man walking: Science finds multiple benefits of religion for justice system

Several studies of religion and mental health have shown religious beliefs and practices and positive relationships with a divine being can be powerful resources helping people cope with major challenges such as illness and unemployment.

More recent research also suggests faith may help individuals deal with intense, lasting anger.

Scholars in the developing field of religion and criminal justice are finding evidence that suggests practical ways faith may turn lives around even in the depths of prison.

One of those new findings: Organized religion matters.

A study of 571 prisoners in Oregon found those who identified as religious and spiritual were less likely to reoffend in the 13 years after an initial 2004 survey than spiritual but not religious inmates. More frequent service attendance and the greater likelihood of spending time in private thought and prayer partially explained the differences.

The results highlight the importance of ensuring support for persons in prison in the process of making meaning, in addition to supporting the work of prisonchaplains and religious volunteers,” researchers reported in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(KQED) Changing How Educators See Negative Experiences in the Classroom

After class was over, we sat down to discuss my observations. The first thing she said was, “Oh no, what a horrible day. I am so exhausted. Sorry you had to watch that.” I was flabbergasted because I didn’t really think it was that bad at all. “Jane, I was actually about to tell you what a wonderful class you have.” She was shocked. “Really? What do you mean? Carl and Joey were constantly bickering and bothering the other students. It was really getting on my nerves.” I told her that I thought their behavior was pretty normal for that age and that I noticed so many wonderful learning moments that their disruptions seemed minor. I also explained the negative attribution bias.

She was astonished to learn that she had focused so much on the few challenging students that she had missed out on celebrating the many joyful learning moments that had occurred. I offered a practice to help her change this habit. “Each day, after your class is over, write down all the good things that happened that day. You can even include your students in this process by putting up a paper on the wall and inviting everyone to write good things that happen each day. At the end of the day, look at the list with the class and review them.”

She took to this suggestion with relish and created a whole bulletin board devoted to this activity. At the top she put “GOOD THINGS HAPPEN” in large, colorful letters. Students were invited to write and draw about good things that happened on small pieces of paper that were posted each day. To her surprise, the first day there were 15 good things posted and more than half of them had been written by the students. Furthermore, Carl and Joey got excited about this activity and wanted to be part of making good things happen. Jane realized that this was an opportunity for encouraging their pro-social behavior. She began catching them when they were doing the right thing, rather than being constantly alert to their tendencies to get in trouble. Reinforcing their positive behavior with recognition made a big difference, and soon they were as engaged as the rest of her students….

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Posted in Children, Education, Psychology