11/26/2010 1:45:54 PM
According to a survey conducted by Austrian research psychologist Tatjana Schnell, an unexpectedly large proportion of Westerners feel that their lives have little meaning, and they don’t really care, reports Miller-McCune. Sampling more than 600 Germans, Schneller’s research found that “35 percent [of the sample] were ‘existentially indifferent,’ those who ‘neither experience their lives as meaningful nor suffer from this lack of meaning,’” and only 10 percent of that group were bothered by their own existential apathy.
Schneller identified variables that did and didn’t correlate. Gender, education level, and employment status don’t seem to be good predictors for indifference, but age does. As reported by Miller-McCune, “the indifferent skewed younger, on average five years younger, than those who found meaning in their lives.” On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone who feels that their life has meaning, look no further than the married couple down the street. The study found that 70 percent of married people find meaning in their lives.
What can replace meaning in an otherwise dispassionate soul? “Surrogates for meaningful commitment abound,” Schneller explains in the study. “They range from material possessions to pleasure seeking, from busy-ness to sexuality.” One famously reflective Westerner knows all about surrogates for meaningful commitment:
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11/24/2010 12:10:23 PM
In a beautiful remembrance of Barry Hannah, who died earlier this year, William Giraldi writing in AGNI tells of a fishing expedition the two shared as an escape to a writers’ conference they were attending. The piece begins with Hannah asking Giraldi if he’d been fishing lately. Giraldi replies,
“Like a Nazarene.” [Hannah] had recently become reinvigorated by Christianity—born again lower case—and gone sober after a lifetime of being a venal Baptist and then nearly dying in an Oxford, Mississippi, hospital from too many maladies: lymphoma, pneumonia, organs napalmed by decades of cigarettes and booze. As a twenty-something sycophant and Hannah fanatic myself, I referenced Christ when I could—my Jesus-happy boyhood on me like a party hat—and even recited for him the religious sonnets of Donne and Hopkins. “Those bards are bent believers,” he said. “Sing more.”
The rest of the essay follows that fishing day trip and the return to the conference the two were escaping for a short time, exploring themes, from love to violence, in Hannah’s work.
It was a footnote near the end, though, that sent me away from the essay searching for a referenced piece Hannah wrote for Paste magazine called “The Maddening Protagonist,” as it seemed like it might give some answers to why the elder writer might have “become reinvigorated by Christianity.”
In a time when the date celebrating Christ’s birthday has been co-opted by marketers and sales folk and used earlier and earlier each year to hock their wares—Christmas songs playing in Macy’s well before Thanksgiving…soon, no doubt, before Halloween and then onto Labor Day!—I figure it’s never too early to give a dose of what that birth and life actually means, or could mean, when not bastardized for bottom lines and by those so called Christians on the right. And that’s exactly what Hannah’s essay does, so I offer bits of it here as a salve against Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the other shopping-named days to come.
To begin, Hannah sets the table for what is about to be served:
Thousands of pastors have memorized the work and pontificated on it without an honest reading. You’d hear more honest confusion and less braying rhetoric from the pulpits if the Bible were actually confronted even by Christian-leaning ministers. You’d get fewer knee-jerk liars from the so-called-Christian Right if they could or would read their own New Testaments. The absence of many millions of sincere Christians and near-Christians from church is less a matter of apostasy than disgust.
Then, on Christ:
You’ll hear much cursing of God in this crawling tangle of hurt and elation we have in life. But I’ve never heard advice to curse Christ and die. Neither have I heard of a “Christ-fearing” town. Christ evokes a gentle and strong silence. For me. For billions.
Poor Mary, the very vessel that put [Jesus] forth, is always wondering and pondering in her heart….How can the Savior and lamb be so cruel as to expect her to understand when he must know she cannot? Mary is thus all of humanity.
And, finally, on the faith itself:
For simple truthful laymen, the Holy Bible is inconsistent to an almost sickening degree, and we mainly just let it pass….Through the ages there seems a redundancy of the outright mad clutching Bibles to their chests and spouting scripture incoherently as they proceed from one asylum to the next….
I ask now who, two millennia from these words and actions [of Christ], can be altogether comfortable and glib in their soul when they believe in the Savior as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man in fragile body, killed through the agency of his fellow man by his own omniscient Father, as a passway to paradise, his father’s kingdom where there are “many mansions”?
It takes one confused and near-absurd fellow mystic to believe, is what.
It would behoove you to combat what will be thrust aggressively upon you this holiday season with Hannah’s exploration of his faith in this essay.
Source: AGNI, Paste
11/18/2010 4:37:48 PM
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.) met earlier this week to elect a new president, Vincent Miller, writing for America, had a message for them: Preach the fullness of the Catholic doctrine, not just those hot-button issues (namely, abortion and same-sex marriage) that grab media attention. “Every Catholic and every American citizen knows the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage,” Miller writes. “The same cannot be said for the rest of Catholic social teaching.”
Few Americans citizens or politicians, including Catholics, are aware of the church’s teaching that government is necessary to serve the common good; the importance of solidarity with all of the vulnerable, not just the ones we consider innocent or worthy; and, most importantly at this hour, the fact that subsidiarity cuts both ways, limiting government intervention and demanding it when necessary.
Miller argues that the U.S.C.C.B.’s response to the recent U.S. midterm elections—a response that said the Bishops’ agenda was “unchanged”—is insufficient, pointing out that it has not historically been Democrats that have been against programs the assist the poor. Indeed those on the far right, such as Glen Beck, put Catholic teaching “under fire”:
Taking an “even-handed” tone is possible only if the U.S.C.C.B. washes its hands of what has actually happened.
And it has happened with their cooperation. Many bishops have cultivated a “prophetic” style of engagement on life issues and marriage. On these matters, they do not hesitate to confront policies and politicians at odds with the teaching of the Church. Politicians are named. Communion is denied. U.S.C.C.B. bulletin inserts and postcard campaigns are distributed.
Other epochal moral concerns—rising poverty and wealth inequality, the shifting of the tax burden to the middle class, the details of providing universal health care coverage, forthright advocacy of dismantling government domestic policy and social safety networks—are passed over as matters of prudential concern left to politicians. They are effectively ignored.
Unfortunately it seems that Miller’s memo wasn’t delivered to the U.S.C.C.B., which has elected Timothy M. Dolan as its new president. By all accounts Dolan will be a leader in the culture wars, focusing on same-sex marriage and abortion. The election left one observer criticizing it as “evidence of a rising ‘Catholic Tea Party’ among conservative church leaders.”
Here’s hoping that Miller’s message gets through to the U.S.C.C.B., because as he concludes, “The American public and the next generation of the church desperately needs to hear the fullness of the church’s social doctrine.” Better late than never.
And to those who will undoubtedly argue that the church’s teachings should simply be left out of politics, well, that argument ignores the place and time we are currently living in—one needs look no further than the recent healthcare debate to see the influence the U.S.C.C.B. has on public policy. If that influence is going to be there, we can only hope that it takes into account Miller’s version of the Catholic doctrine, rather than a version that focuses solely on one issue.
11/5/2010 4:32:47 PM
Bill Nye is enjoying a cultural rebirth on the scale of Red Scare-paranoia or feistier-than-meets-the-eye Golden Girl Betty White. And, what’s more, Nye recently took home the 2010 Humanist of the Year Award, granted to him by the American Humanist Association, for (among other things) educating children about dinosaurs, genetically modified food, and quicksand. It’s no wonder—being The Science Guy and all—that Nye is one of the world’s most outspoken, bow tie-clad boosters of the pursuit of knowledge.
In the acceptance speech for his Humanist award (reprinted in the November-December issue of The Humanist), Nye talks about how, when he was young, scientists lacked a solid explanation for the disappearance of the dinosaurs. His curiosity about their abrupt extinction was his scientific awakening, and he’s been questioning the way things work ever since:
I often wonder what else it is that we’re just completely missing that will integrate all sorts of our current scientific ideas. But we don’t have to know the whole answer right now. What I like to call the PB&J—the passion, beauty, and joy—is in the pursuit of it, right? That’s what we love about science. It is, absolutely, to me, the best idea humans have had. Science. I’ll even say science is the best idea we’ve had so far. It could change, right? Got a better idea? Bring it on.
“But then, my friends, with our brains we can imagine all of this,” concluded Nye. “It is with our brains that we can know our place in the universe. We can know our place in space, and that does not suck. That is worthy of respect. That is what’s so great. That is what’s so wonderful about humans.”
Unflappable faith in Science-as-an-institution, like Nye’s, is the topic Tikkun recently devoted an entire issue of its magazine to criticizing. "Scientism is the belief that nothing is real and nothing can be known in the world except that which can be observed and measured," writes Tikkun’s editor Michael Lerner in his essay “A Spiritual Approach to Evolution.”
A person who adopts a scientistic perspective believes that science can in principle answer every question that can be answered. Any claim about the world that cannot be validated, at least in principle, or at least falsified on the basis of empirical data or measurement is dismissed as meaningless.
Although he generally supports science, Lerner takes issue with scientism for its wholesale, potentially hypocritical dismissal of spiritual interpretations of the Universe’s inner-workings. Scientism, Lerner writes,
is a belief system that has no more scientific foundation than any other religious system. Consider its central religious belief: “That which is real and can be known is that which can be verified or falsified by empirical observation.” The claim sounds tough-minded and rational, but what scientific experiment could you perform to prove that it is either true or false? The fact is that there is no such test. By its own criterion, scientism is as meaningless as any other metaphysical claim.
The November-December issue of Tikkun has many other thought-provoking essays on the uncomfortable intersection of spirituality and science.
Sources: The Humanist, Tikkun
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