Opinion

What the Peter’s Pence furore tells us about Vatican financial reform
Why people were upset by recent reports regarding the collection
Archbishop Paglia’s grave error
The only true accompaniment comes not in order to cooperate in sin, but in order to save us from it
Friday Five 305
by Bill Coffin (@billcoffin) 30 Core Disagreements Couples Encounter Grant Hilary Brenner, Psychology Today Call for Articles: Low-income Families in the 21st Century Deadline: Jan. 7, 2020National Council on Family Relations "I Haven’t Seen a Healthy Version of Marriage": Children of Divorce on the Lasting Impact Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, The Guardian Launching the Navy Family Support Program: A Heartfelt Blend of History and Memoir Ann O'Keefe 2020 Census Will Help Policymakers Prepare for the Incoming Wave of Aging Boomers America Counts Staff, U.S. Census Bureau
The Advent Logic of Class Treason
Johann Baptist Metz died soon after I decided we could be friends. His work initially struck me as anti-theological, an anaesthetized Marxism permitting religion to be more than an opiate but less than a passion. This is asinine, but it took both time and re-reading to see that. I was demanding system and speculation while I should have been listening for a voice crying in the wilderness. As is transparent in his name, he is more John the Baptist than John the Beloved, more interested in disturbing your slumber than in dazzling your sight. If his work is theologically underdetermined, this is intentional. Metz forges categories rather than elaborating them, and this because he wants to establish the fundamental logic governing any theological endeavor and does not enact the endeavor himself. This is why the remnants of his project often crystallize in the form of slogans: “dangerous memory,” “mysticism of open eyes,” “theology after Auschwitz,” “suffering unto God,” etc. That is, no viable Christian mysticism can shield its eyes from the poor, nor can theology evade the specter of Auschwitz, nor exegesis deaden the shock of the memories attested in scripture. Thus, he provides the formal categories which govern a theology grounded in history, while leaving the material content and its explication to others. Perhaps an image will help: imagine Metz in a room full of theologians discussing the mysteries of the Christian faith. While the theologians talk, Metz is the gadfly intruding upon their conversations, asking, for example, if their God offers hope to those who suffer. If so, the analysis may proceed and conversation may continue. Thus, Metz is not a participant so much as an interruption, and it is this quality that renders his work both inchoate and formal. As Matthew Ashley observes in his excellent monograph: “These interruptions are often brilliantly evocative and suggestive; often they are fragmentary and frustrating . . . They briefly, dazzlingly, light up the scene; but by the time one’s eyes have adjusted, the light is gone. One wants more.”[1] Metz’s interventions are therefore often diagnostic in character, intended to illuminate a terrain that had been taken for granted. Then theology can resume with surer footing. Take his critique of bourgeois religion. Metz distinguishes between “messianic” and “bourgeois religion,” the former brimming with apocalyptic tension and open to God’s entrance into and action upon history. The latter is a religion for those “who already possess a future,” whose proclamation of the kingdom is little more than a “ceremonial elevation and transfiguration of a bourgeois future already worked out elsewhere.”[2] For those of us who live relatively secure lives, our futures are often assumed rather than hoped for. Because of the various social and cultural safety nets attendant upon material privilege, the bourgeois subject largely experiences time as a succession of anticipated and foreseeable events.[3] Consequently, bourgeois subjects are almost entirely incapable of imagining a future other than the one immediately present to them, which is another way of saying they barely have a future at all. By failing to preach a messianic gospel, European Catholicism was complicit in the cultivation of bourgeois religion. Because it is eschatologically barren and has no space for God’s entry into history, this faith expects no disruption and is therefore complicit with the “a priori of the market, wherein the market rewards dispositions that make one ready to negotiate.”[4] Vibrant democracy and authentic pluralism are hard-won rather than cheaply bought. But bourgeois society masterfully repackages democratic ideals such as “pluralism” to render its subjects endlessly supple to the forces of commodification and, consequently, subjugation.[5] If the Marxist patois is disorienting, allow me to translate: shoppers make for docile subjects. Metz thought the European Church made a pact with bourgeois society by injecting an already lethargic citizenry with a comatose theology, one safe for consumption since it challenged no injustice and incited no virtue. He disrupted this truce by reminding us that Christianity is and has always been brutally, urgently dangerous. For Metz, perhaps the greatest sign of the gospel’s danger is its grounding in a divine advent. God discloses his being by entering human history, therefore revealing himself as the one who disrupts, transfigures, and bestows a future upon it. In a little book entitled The Advent of God, he writes: Christian faith involves a continuing effort to keep ourselves open to the coming of God . . . He is Emmanuel, God with us. He breaks in upon us, becomes visible in our horizon, and forms part of our human future. He is ever coming down to us and weaving Himself into our historical pageant.[6] This is the fundamental logic which animates a theology responsible to history: God is the kind of God who takes responsibility for history, who enters, becomes visible and even subject to it in death, while still remaining its Lord. Christianity threatens bourgeois society by calling us not merely to remain open to but even to long for this advent, to cling to the God who enters history so deeply as to die at its hands. Only then are future-less subjects given something worthy to be called a “hope,” a desire for more than what our securities allow us to conceive.  “There is no future that lies safe and secure from God’s coming and impact,” Metz writes, “there is no master lock that will keep Him out. There never was, and never will be.”[7] Thus God’s advent is dangerous for the subject, since it disrupts her futureless, timeless horizon by grounding her in the hazards of history, hazards adopted by Jesus Christ.[8] This entry into history is also a judgment leveled against it: [God] now threatens to appear before us in all the naked splendor of His fiery holiness and divinity . . . With this new appearance he will show up the world for what it really is and then transform it. All our masks and masquerades will fade, and only the poverty of love will abide.[9] God’s advent in Christ is an apocalypse, a disclosure of the divine face who “puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly”(Luke 1:52). This is why the gospel is dangerous for those in power. In the incarnation, God reveals himself as partial to the cries of those who suffer, a partiality sustained through the church. Contrary to the homogenizing universality of bourgeois religion and a global economy, the authentic universality (dare we say catholicity?) of Christian love: Does not consist in a refusal to take sides, but rather in the way it takes sides, that is, without hatred or hostility toward people, even to the foolishness of the cross. Does not the concept of universal Christian love lose all its dynamism and tension under the spell of bourgeois religion?[10] The gospel is universally partial to those who suffer, and their cry commands the conscience of a church awakened to her global responsibility. Here, Metz adjusts Heidegger’s claim that one’s own death opens up the possibility for authenticity by arguing that it is actually the death of the poor and innocent that evokes authentic existence. For Heidegger, Dasein is the being for whom Being is a concern, while Metz sees the human being as the one for whom impoverished being is a concern.[11] Thus Metz provides a moving image of Christian discipleship as a mode of “class treason,” an abandonment of the comforts of power for the poverty of the cross.[12] Obedience to the love of Christ will threaten the accepted idolatries of any age, whatever shape those idols assume: Christian love in periods of nationalistic thinking may well have to incur the suspicion of harming the national honor. In situations of racism it will incur the suspicion of race treason. And in periods when the social contradictions in the world cry out to heaven it will incur the suspicion of class treason for betraying the allegedly necessary interests of the propertied. Did not Jesus himself incur the reproach of treason? Was he not crucified as a traitor?[13] But perhaps I have let Metz’s ardor get the better of my judgment? Do passages such as this confirm my initial suspicions? Has Christianity been turned into a social committee and ceased being a cultus? Perhaps if Metz were articulating the total content of faith per se, but he is not. Rather, he is outlining the formal conditions that make Christian faith not simply true, but believable. What Metz sees with relentless, startling clarity are the political implications of the gospel. Those implications, he believes, are the apologetic ground lending antecedent probability to its other claims.[14] After all, God can be appealed to in bourgeois religion, even upheld as a value and ideal, but the irony of my initial misjudgment is that the only God who can be worshiped is the God who kills and makes alive, whose advent threatens our inane securities, who is not just living, but Lord: The bourgeois religion demands nothing, but it also fails utterly to console. God can indeed still be quoted in it, but no longer really adored. God’s grace does not break in, cast down, or raise up: it simply overarches, as a “value,” our bourgeois identity and becomes in this sense truly “cheap grace,” that very graciousness which we bourgeois preeminently bestow upon ourselves. And so, just as our bourgeois society provides less and less material for dreaming and poetry, our bourgeois religion itself supplies scarcely anything for mysticism and adoration, for resistance and conversion.[15] A bourgeois god can be quoted but not adored. Let the theologian scrutinize the eternal procession of the Word from the Father, the union of natures in Christ, the hidden alchemy whereby the risen Lord identifies his martyrs with his very self (“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4), the operations of grace in the motions of the will, and the thousand other questions our faith elicits. Let the discourse continue, but Metz will simply interrupt now and then, asking: is this God merely a value, or our very life and adoration? And what are the signs that such adoration exists? Metz is interested in these signs, in the categories that transfigure the content of the faith into a veritable witness. We might say that Metz discerns the channels whereby speculative theology becomes martyrology. Apart from the latter, the former is but straw.[16] Of course, Christ forever dignified straw by making it his first bed, so this is not to say that we speculate in vain. This is only to say that Advent, the entrance of God into history, is the event grounding, sanctifying, and commanding our theology, not the reverse. Salvation is the continual assimilation of this advent into our lives, an assimilation which blossoms into sanctification, partiality to the poor, an open-eyed mysticism sparked by the dangerous memories of scripture. There is something beautifully fitting (conveniens, the Scholastics would say) that Johann Baptist Metz died on December 2, the beginning of Advent. Like his namesake, he made the coming of God—and all the dizzying, glorious, sometimes frightful but always merciful implications of this fact—his life’s work. For Metz, the God of Christians is the consuming fire who enters history (Hebrews 12:29). And if this is indeed the case, if the Lord of seas and skies, at whose voice empires collapse, shadows flee, whose love the stars all praise together (Job 38:7), has become an infant laid in straw . . . could Christianity be anything other than dangerous? [1] J. Matthew Ashley, Interruptions: Mysticism, Politics, and Theology i the Work of Johann Baptist Metz, (Notre Dame, IN: UNDP, 1998), 29. [2] J.B. Metz, “Messianic or Bourgeois Religion?” in idem., The Emergent Church (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1981), 1. [3] Of course, Metz would grant that bourgeois subjects experience tragedy: the unforeseen death of a family member, a chronic illness, etc. His point is simply that we attempt, through technocratic means, to create as safe and predictable a future as possible, one wherein tragedy is only an emotional, and not a material, concern. [4] J.B. Metz, “Pluralism and Democracy: Religion and Politics on Modernity’s Ground,” in idem., A Passion for God: The Mystical-Political Dimension of Christianity (New York: Paulist Press, 1998), 148. [5] “Only at first glance does the inclusive language of this bourgeois-liberal theology and religion...disguise the fact that it is simply an integral element in the unquestioning self-stabilization of our society. In this sense it is nothing but the political religion of the bourgeois. In its total moralization of the contradictions in society...it declares the conditions in society to be ‘natural’ and in this sense ‘unchangeable.’ In doing this, such a theology removes from sight the sacrifices our prosperity demands from others.” J.B. Metz, “Christianity and Politics: Beyond Bourgeois Religion,” in The Emergent Church, 74. [6] J.B. Metz, The Advent of God (New York: Newman Press, 1970), 8. [7] Ibid., 20. [8] Metz elsewhere makes the interesting comment that perhaps one of modernity’s greatest signs of ennui is that we are actually horrified by the prospect of eternity, by an endless, metronomic march of the same perpetuating its own banalities. See J.B. Metz, “God: Against the Myth of the Eternity of Time,” in The End of Time? The Provocation of Talking about God (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 26-46. [9] Ibid., 14. [10] “Messianic or Bourgeois Religion?” 4. [11] Cf. Metz’s Poverty of Spirit, (New York: Paulist Press, 1968). For more on Metz’s engagement with Heidegger, see Ashley’s excellent treatment in Interruptions, 154-156. [12] “Messianic or Bourgeois Religion?” 14-15. Also see Herbert McCabe’s crucial essay “The Class Struggle and Christian Love,” in God Matters (London and New York: Continuum, 1987), 182-198. [13] “Messianic or Bourgeois Religion?” 15. [14] I borrow the phrase “antecedent probability” from John Henry Newman. [15] J.B. Metz, “Transforming a Dependent People: Toward a Basic-Community Church,” in idem. The Emergent Church, 88. [16] It is worth noting that Karl Rahner, Metz’s teacher, is reported to have said that, of all the criticisms of his work, Metz’s is the only one he really takes seriously. I imagine Rahner had trouble finding his speculative rival, but in Metz he encountered something greater, namely, the challenge for speculation to bloom into witness.
The Consumer's Regress
There’s a website called “Black Friday Death Count” which is exactly what it calls itself. Since 2006, there has been almost one death per year on average in the frenzied rush to acquire discounted electronics and toys. The images of crowds, masses of indistinguishable faces pressing themselves against locked glass double-doors, has become in our imaginations a kind of synecdoche for the wildest excesses of consumerism. But really, it is an outlier. The most efficient forms of consumption do not ask you to raise your blood pressure or plan your attack. In fact, it helps if you almost forget what you are doing. Being a real Black Friday warrior requires planning ahead. Scope sales, arrive early, and at the very least orient yourself well-enough to plan a straight shot sprint towards the items you want. You have to know where you are and where you are going. But the inner nature of the most efficient consumerism works against this frenzy. It helps, in fact, if you are a little lost.  And it is easy to become lost in a shopping mall. Or more specifically, to lose yourself there. You can always consult the multi-colored map kiosk with its abstract shapes and exhaustive list of names if you are looking for a specific store. But I mean that it is not difficult to start to purposelessly wander. Your sense of being situated in specific time and space deteriorates under the harsh glare of the overhead lights reflecting off of the minimalist columns and almost wet-looking white tile floor. They are consumer-friendly Klieg lights, drawing out your grazing instinct and devouring your shadow. Floating from one store to another, you will eventually pass through the central atrium (every American mall has one), where, standing among plastic potted ferns and glass elevator shafts, you will look up and see a vast opaque skylight. The only suggestion of an outside world. And even then, you cannot quite tell what it is like out there. It could be any time of day. Any weather. You have been disembodied, as it were. Temporarily removed from the vagaries of the corporeal world and transformed into pure consumer. Of course, you drift off to another store before these notions fully suggest themselves to you. It may or may not come as a surprise to learn that this experience is by design. It even has an appellation, the Gruen Effect, named after the Austrian immigrant Victor Gruen who fled the Nazis in 1938 to settle in America, where he developed the first suburban shopping malls. He was, as one book title attests, the “Architect of an American Dream”. As M. Jeffery Hardwick writes in Mall Maker, “Dubbed the Gruen Transfer or Gruen Effect, the theory holds that shoppers will be so bedazzled by a store’s surroundings that they will be drawn—unconsciously, continuously—to shop.” A video made by Business Insider defines it as “the moment a consumer is no longer shopping for a specific purpose, but instead shopping as an activity.” The Gruen Effect is meant to draw out compulsion, inducing a consumerist fugue state. In the introduction to his book, Hardwick quotes from a 1997 conference in Minneapolis, near the site of Gruen’s first indoor suburban mall, where a journalist breathlessly summarizes the effect as “the removal of those impediments to the consumer impulse”, where it seems as if “the guards won’t let you stop, even for a moment, the process of having fun.” There are many “impediments to the consumer impulse” to be removed, of course. The mall itself has to be comfortable, heated or air-conditioned and giving the impression of near sterility. And it helps if there’s a sense of abundance. Scarcity forces one to consider material necessity. But most importantly, the mall needs to be sealed off from the rest of the world. There should not be any worries about the weather outside or politics or the environment. No profound moral or spiritual quandaries to hang you up. Even the fulfillment of your most basic physical needs become flattened into only superficially distinguishable consumer choices: Panda Express stir fry. Pacific Sun board shorts. Bath and Body Works scented candles. A sex toy from Spencer’s. But most importantly, the factor which defines the Gruen Effect as much or even more than the cultivation of compulsion, is the eradication of moment to moment time and the establishment of a sort of synthetic sense of eternity. The creation of a comfortable stasis or an illusion of escape from the vagaries of the embodied world. Which is to say, the world itself. This is the secret heart of the shopping mall’s utopian aspirations: to become an ersatz eternity. To mimic, in vulgar ambulations, the contours of a timelessness reserved in reality only for heaven. Of course, the mall’s simulacrum of heaven is a shoddy imagining. David Bryne sang that “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens,” but that of course is only meant to imply that heaven is static, boring. Even such a respectable critic of the Church as Terry Eagleton knows enough to avoid categorizing heaven as a second, more boring life. He writes that, The Christian idea of heaven involves not immortality in the sense of life without end, but the transcendence of time itself. This is why it is not a question of an “afterlife,” in the sense of an infinite stretch of time in the wake of one’s death. Besides, “afterlife” or “survival” also suggests a placid continuity with the present, which for Christianity is not the best way of trying to grasp the cataclysmic event of the transformation of the flesh. “Transformation of the flesh” is key here to understanding where these more banal notions of a heavenly eternity go wrong. Christianity recognizes the person as an embodied self, not a mind that happens to be temporarily imprisoned in flesh. Or, in the case of the shopping mall, an inchoate consumption drive meant to be stage-managed by marketers. As Josef Pieper wrote in Death and Immortality, “It was finally expressed by Aristotle . . . that it is not the soul which is the ‘real man,’ but the existential configuration, the unity of soul and body.” A notion which Aquinas interpreted as the soul not possessing “the perfection of its own nature except in union with the body.” The Gruen Effect is a movement away from the recognition of the embodied self, a physical thing that not only moves chronologically through time but recovers a sense of actual eternity only through the mediation of memory and duration. In The Scent of Time, Byung-Chul Han writes that “Truth is itself a temporal phenomenon.” The ultimate truth of our own death unspools along the contour of temporality. In fragmented moments we’re allowed a glimpse of our own denouement and, one hopes, potential salvation. Han again writes: Empty duration is a non-articulated, directionless time without any meaningful before or after, remembrance or expectation. In the face of time’s infinity, a short human life is nothing. Death is an external power which ends life at non-time. Death would cease to be a power were it a conclusion that follows from life and as the result of a lifetime. Only such a conclusion would make it possible to live one’s life to the end on its own terms and, and to die at the right time. Only temporal forms of conclusion create duration—meaningful and fulfilled time—against a bad infinity. What else is the Gruen Effect but the creation of a “bad infinity”? Even more than blocking out the external elements, the duration-less experience is meant to block out the truth of death through the simulation of eternity. As the shopping mall experiences its own physical death in America, the “bad infinity” of the Gruen Effect has become digitized. It is, of course, the experience of being online, or what anachronistically was once called “surfing the web.” There is as much or more Utopian hope in the promise of becoming an uploaded consciousness as there ever was in being a pure consumer denuded of the vagaries of the physical world. Think here of “San Junipero”, the lone episode of the show Black Mirror to unironically interpret the use of high technology to “positive” ends: the consciousnesses of two lovers are uploaded to a simulation of a city which perpetually exists in 1987 and, it is insinuated, live happily ever after. The song “Heaven is a Place on Earth” plays—on the nose, but appropriate. But what anemic imagination would conceive of eternity as simply one night in 1987 forever? Or, at least for as long as the servers which create the illusion are functional? Han again writes that “there is a rush from one present to the next and an aging without growing old. Finally, one perishes in non-time.” In “San Junipero” there is no hope for salvation and no death to give life coherence. It is just a flat non-life within the duration-less loop of a counterfeit eternity. Empty time which cannot be remembered or redeemed. When thinking of the redemption of time, it is always good to turn to Eliot. He writes that “only through time time is conquered,” in the “Burnt Norton” section of Four Quartets, expressing the truth that duration, the segmentation of experience itself, is created on the chopping block of eternity. As Corey Latta explains Eliot’s theological gist in When the Eternal Can be Met: The Bergsonian Theology of Time in the Works of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden: The theological . . . [concept] which the Four Quartets uses to give time its ultimate meaning: the Incarnation, the act of God’s entering temporal time by taking on humanity. It is not space or abstract consciousness into which Eliot writes the Incarnation. The conduit for the Incarnate is time. The Incarnation defines the theological meaning of time in the Four Quartets by giving time its identity as the theological instrument of divine revelation. Eliot writes in “Burnt Norton”: Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility Only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. The lines “all time eternally present” and “What might have been is an abstraction / Remaining a perpetual possibility / Only in a world of speculation,” give us a poetically-condensed description of the Gruen Effect and, perhaps, a startlingly vivid depiction of what the attention economy does to the experience of time. The visceral heft of life incarnate is necessary for a sense of how time itself might be redeemed, or how events “Point to one end”. Our fractured experience is a felix culpa. And memories, sweet pangs of ephemerality, are themselves suggestions of redemption. Embodiment is necessary for the eternal to pierce. But memories, too, can be incarnate in their own way. This is anamnesis as opposed to impression. Not the intentional recall of a past event, but through the physical reenactment of the past. An embodied experience of an embodied past. The most recognizable instance of this in literature would have to be when Proust has Marcel involuntarily re-experience the past as he tastes a Madeline. As Gabriel Josipovici explains it in The World and the Book: Ordinary memory is the memory of habit, of the intellect, which smooths out the specific in favour of a generalized view of the past. It is always those senses which are the furthest removed from the intellect (smell, taste, touch) which reawaken our past selves. Thus it is only when Marcel tastes the madeleine, not when he sees it, that the whole of Combray floods into his mind and senses, Combray not as he had consciously remembered it, but Combray as it felt when he lived in it. And he explains this by saying that he had probably seen plenty of madeleines between that time and this, so that they too had taken on the familiar generalised look of habit. Taste and smell, however, because they cannot be conceptualised, remain uncorrupted. Memory is not only an idea. It is a physical reenactment which, more than simply conjuring the past, allows us to experience ourselves in the grip of the fundament from which all experience of time is made possible. Marcel’s madeleine suggests the primary act of anamnesis: the Eucharist. “Do this in memory of me.” It is worth quoting Josipovici here again, in length: And in the eucharistic sacrament [Christ] gives the Church the means to re-enact [his own redemptive] action forever. As Dom Gregory Dix has pointed out . . . the meaning of anamnesis here is a recalling or re-presenting a thing in such a way that it is regarded not so much as being absent as being itself presently operative in its effects. This is a meaning which the Latin memoria and the English “recall” and “represent” do not bear. The early writers on the subject, moreover, concentrate on the eucharist as a single action, rather than upon the matter of the sacrament itself, as modem Westerners tend to do. The idea of “becoming what you are” is the key to the whole eschatological teaching of the New Testament, and it is carried out in the liturgical action. As Dix says, the pre-Nicene Church conceived of the eucharistic action as one by Christ himself, “perpetually offering through and in His Body the Church his flesh for the life of the world.” It is “the perpetuation in time by way of anamnesis of His eternally accepted and redeeming act.” Lost in the mall, binging the web, dancing on a digital dance floor, gesticulating among the un-dead in San Junipero . . . each of these experiences, empty simulacra of eternity, acts as a kind of anamnesis in reverse, voluntary amnesia in the food court, a counterfeit heaven on an overheated server.
Three Facts About Family Structure and Race: Responding to The New York Times
by W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP) and Ian Rowe (@IanVRowe) For those who doubt that family structure denialism is a thing on the Left, one need only open the pages of The New York Times this week for yet another effort “to minimize or deny the importance of marriage and family structure.” The Times ran with an op-ed titled “The Myth of the Two-Parent Home,” which sought to minimize the importance of family structure when it comes to “black kids’ success.” According to the article, “resources, more than family structure” are what really matter “for black kids’ success.” In making this claim, the author, Harvard sociologist Christina Cross, drew on her own research on high school completion, which found that the impact of single motherhood was weaker for black students compared to white students on this outcome. She argued that “living apart from a biological parent does not carry the same cost for black youths as for their white peers, and being raised in a two-parent family is not equally beneficial.” The article’s broader message is that for black children, the intact, married family is not so important; indeed, it is not even close to the importance of structural factors like racial segregation and poverty. Yet one need only look at the literature to see that the article amounts to a particularly egregious exercise in cherry-picking, drawing on only two studies to make the argument about family structure and black children. In fact, Cross completely passes over a finding from her own study that showed the link between family structure and college enrollment was not lower for African-Americans. So, what does the research on family structure really tell us about family structure and race? Three points jump out from the research—points that were obscured by this Times article. 1. For black children, family structure matters.  Cross is right to note that for some outcomes, a two-parent home seems to matter less for black children than for white children. This is what she finds in her new study of family structure and completing high school on time, echoing what some previous studies have found about the impact of family structure on black children’s educational attainment. But these findings do not mean that it is a “myth” that a stable, two-parent family matters for black kids. Even her own study indicates that black children who spent their entire childhood in a single-mother household are about 15 percentage points less likely to complete high school on time, compared to black children who grew up in a two-parent home. This is not a small effect. More importantly, Cross’ op-ed on the “myth” of the two-parent home passes over a large and growing literature on race and family structure that suggests different conclusions than the ones she offers. Take, for instance, the work that MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues have done on education using a sample of thousands of schoolchildren across Florida. In their recent study, they find that disadvantaged boys today are more likely to struggle behaviorally in school (in terms of absences and suspensions) than girls, in part, because boys are more likely to grow up in an unmarried home, which ends up having a disparately negative impact. What’s more: they show that this story applies just as much to black boys as other boys. Autor summed up the work this way: “Boys particularly seem to benefit more from being in a married household or committed household—with the time, attention and income that brings.”  2. Racial inequality is rooted in structure and family life. When it comes to explaining why black children are more likely to flounder in school, Cross points the finger, not at the family factor but at other, larger “structural barriers” like poverty and racial segregation, which she thinks matter more. Her move is common in today’s discussions of racial inequality. Cross and others who make this kind of argument about racial inequality are not entirely wrong, of course, but what they overlook are the ways in which many of the structural barriers they gesture towards often have a family angle.  To talk about the “myth of the two-parent home” when it comes to thinking about “black kids’ success” does a profound disservice to confronting racial inequality in America. Take, for instance, a new study by Penn State sociologist John Iceland on racial gaps in poverty and affluence—two big structural barriers facing black families and their children today. In looking at trends over the last half century, Iceland shows that structural factors like education play a big role accounting for persistent racial inequality in poverty and affluence, as Cross might expect. But guess what was the biggest factor in his models? That’s right: family structure. In his words, “the effect of family structure grew in importance and became the most significant factor among blacks—not only for poverty, but also for affluence, explaining about a third of the disparity in poverty and affluence in 2015” between blacks and whites. It turns out, then, that the “resources” that are supposed to matter more in accounting for racial inequality among children than family structure per se are themselves often linked to the stability and structure of family life.  3. It takes a father-present village.  Indeed, one structural factor that looms large in discussions of racial inequality are “neighborhood effects”—referring to everything from racial segregation to concentrated poverty—that spill over into the lives of black children and their families. But here again, it turns out that family structure is a big part of the neighborhood story on outcomes ranging from economic mobility to incarceration.  In fact, according to new research by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues, one of the strongest predictors of a big racial gap in adult income between black and white men traces back to the absence of black fathers in the neighborhood where they grew up. By contrast, black boys who grew up in neighborhoods with lots of black fathers (and, the study finds, married adults) are much more likely to earn about as much money as white men when they grow up. This study suggests, then, that family structure matters not just for individual households but for whole neighborhoods.  “That is a pathbreaking finding,” William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, told The Times. “They’re talking about the presence of fathers in a given census tract.” In other words, more black fathers in the village translates into less racial economic inequality for black men. To talk about the “myth of the two-parent home” when it comes to thinking about “black kids’ success” does a profound disservice to confronting racial inequality in America. While family structure is certainly not the only factor implicated in this divide, it is a central factor when it comes to racial gaps on outcomes as varied as school suspensions, poverty, and affluence. If we wish to close the racial gap in America, it is not enough to only pull the levers of public policy to address the structural barriers in the path of black kids. We must also figure out new ways to increase the share of black children being raised in intact families and in neighborhoods with lots of father-present families. W. Bradford Wilcox is senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and director of the National Marriage Project. Ian Rowe is CEO of Public Prep, a charter school network based in New York, NY, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Editor’s Note: This article is updated and expanded from an earlier article that appeared at UnHerd.
Our Lady of Guadalupe: Model for Life
December 12 is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of Human Life International. On this special feast day, we ask that you remember in your prayers and personal intentions our global pro-life missionaries and those we serve. In thanksgiving for your prayers, I would like to offer you a free audio download of an inspiring talk: Our Lady of Guadalupe: Model for Life, by HLI’s Chairman Emeritus, Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge. Thank you, and may you continue to have a most blessed Advent. Yours in Christ and Our Lady, Father Shenan J. Boquet President, Human Life International P.S. Please click here to access your free audio download. The post Our Lady of Guadalupe: Model for Life appeared first on Human Life International.
Fr Paul Stenhouse MSC (1935-2019) – Catholic Editor Extraordinaire
Stenhouse respected his readers' interest in important subjects, but he never talked down to them or took refuge in professional jargon
Exclusive data: How Catholics are likely to vote in the General Election
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Brooke Shannon on Waiting to Introduce the Smartphone: 5 Questions with Family Studies
by Alysse ElHage (@AlysseElHage) This Christmas, after spending the majority of middle school as one of a handful of kids in her class without one, my 14-year-old daughter is finally getting a much-desired phone—not a smartphone exactly, but a basic phone that allows her to call, text, and take pictures. The phone conversation started in our family in about 7th grade, and whenever she would ask what to tell her friends to explain her lack of a smartphone, we would answer, “Tell them we’re waiting until the 8th.” That phrase, and the movement of parents behind it, has helped to bolster our decision to delay giving the smartphone for our child as long as possible.  Wait Until 8th is the brainchild of concerned mother, Brooke Shannon, who created a simple pledge to give parents a way to support each other in pushing back against the overwhelming cultural pressure to introduce the smartphone at younger and younger ages. With over 23,000 parents in 50 states signing the pledge to date, the organization is now a full-fledged non-profit with a simple but profound message: “Childhood is too young to waste on a smartphone.” I recently had the opportunity to speak to Brooke about Wait Until 8th. Following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation. Alysse ElHage: Tell us how Wait Until 8th got started. Brook Shannon: About three years ago, a group of parents and I started to discuss the mounting pressure to give our children their own smartphones at an early age. We questioned why so many young children at school, sports, and parties are glued constantly to their smartphones. We wondered why on earth a first grader needed the latest iPhone. We agreed that the average age a child receives a smartphone, 10 years old, is too young considering all the risks the device poses. Many of my friends said they wanted to wait as long as they could but knew it would be an uphill battle. Out of this dialogue came the idea to rally together as a community by starting a pledge.  The Wait Until 8th pledge empowers parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade. By banding together, this will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over the kids having a smartphone. We are thrilled so many parents are jumping on board this movement. Alysse ElHage: I’ve heard you talk about an incident that sort of motivated you to start Wait Until 8th, which was driving past your daughters’ future middle school and seeing the kids coming out with their heads down staring at their phones. You’ve said you did not want this future for your daughters. What scared you about this sight? Brook Shannon: Smartphones truly are changing the way kids are growing up. The writer Annie Dillard said: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Our children are spending a lot of their days and therefore their lives on devices. These devices have been engineered by the world’s brightest to capture their attention and their time, and they’ve done a terrific job on this front. Common Sense Media recently reported teens between the ages of 13 and 18 are spending, on average, 7 hours and 22 minutes a day on screens. And this number does not even take into account school work . So much of our children’s day can be zapped because of a screen. But our children only get one childhood. My hope is that my daughters will look back one day on theirs and remember experiencing adventure, laughing (in person) with friends, exploring the outdoors, reading, creating, and even afternoons of complete boredom that turned into a great experience because they had to think of something outside the box to do. Alysse ElHage: I agree, and I think most parents want that for their children but find it increasingly hard when we are competing with the lure of screen time, which is why I was thrilled to see Wait Until 8th on the Today Show recently. I shared the clip on Facebook, where I received supportive comments from a few mothers. I’ve generally found that when I mention anything on social media related to delaying or limiting screen use, I get treated like I am attacking other parents. But something about your pledge seems to resonate with other parents in non-judgmental way. Why do you think that is, and what tips do you have for engaging in more fruitful conversations with other parents about these issues?   Brooke Shannon: The Wait Until 8th movement is all about community! We want to support and empower parents who would like to delay the smartphone. We know there is a strength in numbers and something special about parents coming together to help each other. We also recognize the pledge is not for everyone. For some families, waiting until 8th grade may not seem realistic with the average age a kid getting a smartphone only being 10. For other families, this line in the sand sounds too early. The key is to think through this important decision, consider the pros and cons of the device, and carefully determine what the right age is for your family. As far as engaging in more fruitful conversations with other parents, I think it is helpful to start with one or two friends and build from there. One great way to begin is to see if there are a few parents interested in reading a book about the issue and discussing it. There are so many great books about this topic. Also, you could explore if a documentary like “Screenagers” is playing in your community or even organize a viewing to raise awareness about the important issue. I think the pendulum is swinging in certain communities on this important issue. We hope that in a few years, families everywhere will feel less pressure to grant the smartphone wish and more empowered to put healthy boundaries around technology. Alysse ElHage: My daughter is now in 8th grade, where all the girls, except for her, are communicating on smartphones and on social media in ways that, maybe in the past, we communicated with handwritten notes or a phone call. And really this year, she's started to feel left out of some conversations and social events because she does not have a smartphone. But I know she’s also missing some of the drama, not to mention the many negative effects of social media on adolescent girls. I wish you’d speak to parents out there who are fearful that by not having a phone, their child is going to miss out on maybe normal teenage socializing that, for good or for bad, is now taking place online. What would you say to encourage them to stay the course?  Brooke Shannon: First, I would love to address the irony of the FOMO (or fear of missing out) and then provide a few words of encouragement. Parents are buying their kids smartphones out of FOMO and this is actually leading to endless FOMO for their kids! FOMO haunts children and adults alike. The dictionary defines FOMO “as anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.” Many parents purchase a smartphone for their young children because they worry their kids will miss out if they don’t have one and their friends do. Once a few of their children’s friends have a new iPhone, FOMO is dialed up. They worry about their daughter or son being left out of a group text, Snapchat or Tik Tok video. Ironically, in response to FOMO, parents are arming their children with tiny FOMO-producing factories that fit in their pockets and never leave their side. Do you want your son to feel left out? Give him a smartphone so he can see where all of his friends are (and he is not) on Snap Map. Would you like your daughter to realize she is not BFFs with three close friends according to the BFF caption on Instagram? Hand over the iPhone. Would you like your children to have a constant highlight reel of all of the events and parties they were not trendy enough to be invited to? You got it—give them a smartphone. So, for parents holding the line on the smartphone and still worried about FOMO, I encourage you to remember that it is OK and even good for kids to miss out on some of the drama tied to the smartphone and social media. Look for ways to gather your children’s friends in person. Be the parent who raises their hand to shuttle them to an adventure or host lots of gatherings in your home, so your child can spend time with his or her friends in person. Alysse ElHage: That’s great advice. Something I’ve found discouraging is how schools are dealing with the pressure of screens and phones. There are teachers who want middle school kids to bring laptops to class or who ask them to pull out their smartphones to look up information, even though they are supposed to leave the phones in the locker, which can be very embarrassing for kids who do not have a phone. What kind of response have you received from schools, and how do we educate more school administrators and teachers about the harms of screens to learning, social development, and mental health? Brooke Shannon: The response we have received from schools about the Wait Until 8th pledge has varied. Some schools are very supportive and encourage parents to join the movement. They share our resources in school newsletters and host events. Other schools do not want to support the pledge because they are worried about parents who have already made the decision to give a smartphone to their children. Many parents struggle with how to encourage educators to improve technology use in the classroom. From permissive use of smartphones during the school day to overuse of iPads, chromebooks, and laptops at the expense of educational fundamentals, our children need us to advocate for positive change at school. An excellent book to start with is Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber. The authors provide many real-world examples and cite multiple studies showing how technology use has created a wide range of cognitive and social deficits in our young people.  Next, I would advise you to find your tribe. Gathering allies to encourage the appropriate use of technology in school is crucial. Start with parents you already know to build your core team. Request a meeting with your principal. If you hit a roadblock, elevate the conversation to the superintendent's office or meet with your respective school board members. If you are making little progress, grow your allies with a district-wide petition asking for change. Have parents make public comment at a school board meeting.  Also, two organizations I encourage parents to help with screens in schools are Away for the Day and EverySchool. I think the pendulum is swinging in certain communities on this important issue. We're seeing vibrant support of the pledge and a desire for less screen time for children on the both the west and east coast. We hope this will ripple across the country, and in a few years, families everywhere will feel less pressure to grant the smartphone wish and more empowered to put healthy boundaries around technology.