How Society Works

How Society Works

Science and Faith

Hawking, science 1 comment

Though Stephen Hawking made wonderful contributions to humankind and is rightfully lauded across the globe, scant attention has been paid to the harm he has done to belief in God, probably influencing many to drift further away from Him.  Some will not call that harm; many might even call it a contribution. However, both Dr. Hawking and those who agree with him are not paying attention to the data of a different branch of the sciences: the human sciences.  If he had, he would have found that the more people worship the more they thrive.

All who talk about God agree that He is not observable and therefore not measurable. By this alone everyone must admit that discussion of God lies outside the realm of science, and of mathematics.

However, social scientists can observe humans worshiping God and can measure the effects of this behavior. Thus, the social sciences, though they do not study God, can study human beings in their relationship with God.  It is here that Stephen Hawking’s contention that God does not exist runs into scientific trouble.

If God does not exist, paying lots of attention to him would be a waste, while not paying attention to Him would be a good.  However, in observing and measuring people’s behavior towards God — not their beliefs but their behavior — more worship is linked to better and better outcomes on all the major tasks of life: education, happiness, enjoyment of life, family relationships, marriage, child-raising, longer life, and greater sexual enjoyment. Less worship leads in the opposite direction.

For the atheist and many scientists these facts cause discomfort if not downright confusion, but if they are true scientists, they will explore the facts with curiosity so that they may better understand.  Scientists do not set out to attack or suppress facts but to understand them. ‘Contrary data’ is the lifeblood of growth in the sciences, human or material, and thus the data on religious behavior are ‘contrary data’, especially in our ‘scientific age’  and thus ought to be of keen interest.

Hawking’s observations about matter led him, and he in turn led many, to a deeper understanding of the beginnings of the universe. Going backwards in time, his phenomenal intellect and imagination made possible the formulation of the physics of the first moments of the universe. This astounding achievement places him in the pantheons of science for all time. However, it is clear he either could not, or willfully would not, step outside the canons of material sciences and admit that his formulation of the beginning of time must have had a preceding cause, and ultimately a first uncaused cause. But his spirit could not go there.  While it is legitimate and true to say that material sciences (including mathematics) cannot go there — they cannot — it is not legitimate to use one’s standing in these sciences, and particularly one’s standing in science on the beginnings of the universe, to go outside the sciences and pontificate about God. That is the great harm Stephen Hawking has done.

In stepping outside of material sciences and mathematics he stepped into philosophy– even as he contended that philosophy was dead– and his philosophical efforts were not reasoning at all but willful insistence.

Thus, in two sciences Dr. Hawking failed: in the human sciences and in philosophy.  The human sciences he avoided and philosophy he bastardized.  Both sciences point towards God.  Hawking could have remained an atheist, even a public atheist, without abusing the physical sciences by bringing them into a field they cannot enter because God is neither observable nor measurable.  Given his stature he has misled many people, both lesser intellects in the academy and millions of ordinary folk around the world. What a pity in a man of such wonderful accomplishments of mind and human spirit, but what irony that he be buried — with many sinners and a few saints — in Westminster Abbey, England’s great homage in stone to God, next to one of his peers, Isaac Newton, whose chair he held, who knew the difference and who believed deeply in God.

With an eye to the young adult, the future of the world,

Pat Fagan

Income Mobility

community, crime, divorce, economic well-being, environment, family structure, income, Income mobility 1 comment

Income mobility has been in the public discourse of late and is informed by some of the best scholarship ever done.  However, even the best sometimes need a bit more: this time, attention to self-sacrificing love and dedication.

Income mobility, the movement of an individual or family into a different income quintile, is not always upwards.  For every new entrant “from below” into any of the upper quintiles, another who used to occupy that slot is bumped down.  There will always be equal proportions of people in each quintile and there will always be a bottom quintile.

The best recent work on income mobility has been done by Raj Chetty, formerly of Harvard and now at Stanford, and his formidable intervarsity team of analysts. They report that, on average, about 10% of the bottom quintile (about 1/50th of our population) move up into the top quintile by age 26.  For them, this is a phenomenal achievement.

Chetty finds, when looking at 26 year-olds, that about 26% of the top quintile is made up of young folk from the bottom two quintiles.  Interestingly, when looking at 30-year-olds, that proportion from the bottom quintile shrinks to about 22% as those who studied longer for graduate degrees or advanced skills enter the top quintile.  (Those pushed out would end up in the fourth quintile — still quite desirable.)

Our real concern is not who gets displaced from the top, or even what happens in the middle, but what happens at the bottom, especially what happens to children at the bottom of the bottom:  the bottom 2 percent.  This bottom fiftieth is  defined by the neighborhood they are condemned, by budget, to live in.  From many studies we know they likely live in a disordered neighborhood with frequent crime, violence, abuse and low-quality schools.  The family structure that yields the disorder of the neighborhood  is the absence of marriage: the unmarried single mother, the absent father and the live-in boyfriend, who is often not the first, nor the last  The social disorder characteristic of these neighborhoods has its deepest roots in the multigenerational disorder of the mother/father relationship, leading to early out of wedlock births as teens imitate what they see.

Chetty et al., based on the evidence, recommend voucher assistance to help those who want to move to better neighborhoods to avoid the bad example around them.  But from among families who stay stuck, it is the children with imagination and grit who make it out.  Their ambition is likely kindled by a parent, relative, teacher, coach,  pastor, a volunteer from  Big Brothers or Big Sisters, but almost always by someone who sacrifices, if not their whole life (as many poor parents do) at least a portion of their time to help that child make it to the next step.  Their gift of time and attention enables motivates the effort to move. This form of love makes the difference: not the puppy love of romance but the tough love of sacrifice.  This is essential to Christianity. Though this self-sacrificing love is not confined to Christians, it has shined there the most.

Dagger John” Hughes, an Irish immigrant who started off as a garden-laborer in Pennsylvania and ended up as Archbishop of New York in the 1850’s, was dedicated to the lowest of the low at that time: the Irish poor who inhabited Lower Manhattan.  By the 1880’s the New York Times would refer to them as the “straight-laced” Irish.  They had become the policemen, teachers, and nurses of New York City.  Hughes pulled off this mobility miracle by attracting hundreds of celibate helpers (religious orders) who gave their lives to helping these poor Irish.  In modern history many Christian leaders have inspired thousands to dedicate  themselves to the poor of big cities:  Catherine and William Booth (Salvation Army, London); Frederic Ozanam (Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Paris) and of course, Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

While Raj Chetty’s work shows that helping the poor move to better neighborhoods helps them climb upwards, those stuck at the bottom of the bottom will need something more: the sort of help that demands sacrifice and committed relationship, the kind that Booth, Ozanam, and Mother Theresa all gave.

This form of love is beyond policy.  For income and vouchers, one can go to government, but not for self-sacrificing love.

We need this “idea correction” — better labeled an “idea addition” — to help those at the very bottom.  They need one-on-one self-sacrificing dedication from those prepared to give it.   Without that the bottom of the bottom will stay stuck, but with it we have a very different America, one we all will like a lot more.

 

With an eye to the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director of the MARRI Project
Catholic University of America

Pornography

abstinence, adolescent sexuality, child well-being, children, community, culture, D.C., elections, family, fathers, pornography, Technology, youth 1 comment

Recently, for a talk in Chicago to parents of high school boys, I had to update my knowledge based on a 2009 review of the effects of pornography. On this issue the world has changed a lot in less than ten years: the use of pornography has escalated and the effects are alarming.

The most telling effect, I think, is the epidemic of erectile dysfunction (ED) among men.  For all of human history this was mainly an older man’s problem.  As recently as 2002 the rate of ED for men aged 40–80 was about 13% in Europe. By 2011 rates reached 28% for men aged 18–40. As reported above, a 2014 cross-sectional study of active duty, relatively healthy, 21–40 old males in the US military, found that one third (33.2%) suffered from ED.

Unaware of these changes, for the last year or so I had thought that the drop in high school students’ rate of sexual intercourse was good news and that, since 2007, abstinence ideas were winning, but given the above data, all of the causes may not be good news. Increased pornography use among teenage boys, resulting in decreased interest in girls, may be the cause. This also serves to put in context a disturbing experience I had a few weeks ago while driving through a wealthy Washington D.C. suburb during rush hour: I noticed (as must several other drivers waiting for the traffic lights to change) a 12-year-old moving along the sidewalk, intently looking at his smartphone in one hand while his other hand was engaged in self-abuse.  I had not yet reviewed the new research on the prevalence of pornography viewing and was quite taken aback.  No longer.  At age 12 he was already so addicted to porn and had no shame.  The average age of a boy’s first viewing of pornography has dropped to 10 years of age. Fathers be aware.

75 percent of porn-watching is done on smart phones.  25 percent of all internet searches are for pornography.  Tablets and computers make up the rest, computers being the smallest percentage. The average length of stay on a porn site is about 10 minutes. 70 percent of US college students watch porn — alone, with others, or in couples.  45 percent of women now accept it in their relationships.  10 percent of women refuse to view it themselves but accept it in their husbands or partners.

A decade ago women viewed pornography at about one sixth the rate of men.  Today, depending on the country, it varies from only one third the rate of men (US) to one half (the Philippines and Brazil).

Estimates of production range up to 4.2 million websites (12 percent of the total sites worldwide) with 420 million web pages. Every single day, worldwide, there are more than 68 million search engine requests for pornography (which is 25 percent of all search requests).

What are the negative effects for those who become habituated and especially for those who become addicted?  Changes in brain size (diminished); the younger boys start the greater the effects on their brain, and the more difficult to overcome the addiction; men see women as sex objects not as persons, have greater interest in pornography than in the company of women or girlfriends; they suffer increasingly from erectile dysfunction, become more aggressive in their relationships with spouses or partners, are more likely to believe the ‘rape myth’ (that women enjoy being sexually abused), and progress to more and more deviant pornography to attain sexual arousal, leading in turn to greater sexual deviancy;  teenagers will be more likely to engage in same-sex sexual activities. It is no wonder that American young adults and college students are less and less interested in marriage and may be on the way towards the “Japanese disease” of widespread withdrawal from interest in sexual matters among 30-year-olds.

This is a calamity of monumental proportions.  Combined with contraception and abortion, we now have a ‘society-collapsing’ conception and practice of human sexuality.

Given the borderless nature of the internet, pornography is difficult to control.  However, there is not a nation on earth for whom its effects are not massively deleterious.  This is one public health hazard on which the governments of the world should cooperate.  Without that cooperation it cannot be stamped out. And, given the rate at which porn movies are made, the industry would have to be a major source of the sexual exploitation of women, with probable links to sex-trafficking.

In the meantime, savvy parents — and even savvy teenagers — will switch to dumb phones.  Giving a teenage boy a smart phone is installing a porn-shop in his pocket… and a very alluring shop it is too: cheap (free) porn, immediately available, and anonymous. In ten minutes a teenage boy can see more and more beautiful undressed women than the greatest sultan harem-owner in history ever saw in a lifetime. Who could resist?  Not many.

One father, a friend of mine who took great care in introducing his boys into a gradual and full understanding of male sexuality and its foundational role in marriage, came up with a savvy way of helping his boys avoid pornography:  He told them that, if any boy at their school showed porn to them on a smartphone, they had his full permission to grab the phone, smash it on the ground, stomp it into bits, and then tell that classmate to have their father call his father. One can imagine their glee but, so far, they have not had the joy of following through.  Their school now forbids smartphones during school hours on school property.  Maybe the practice will spread. ‘Dumb phones’ work fine for communicating with parents, family, and friends. The world is different when dumb is smart!

Parenting

caring, child well-being, children, family, Uncategorized No comments

Recently, I led a group of young parents in a case study designed to teach them how to handle a three-year-old when he is throwing a temper tantrum.  The parents in the case study were dealing with their first child and made several typical mistakes: one parent spanked in anger and one parent denigrated the other in front of the child.

We dissected the case: what happened, what went wrong, what they needed to do in the future, and how to get there.  Towards the end of the session we gained a bird’s eye view when someone pointed out that the underlying issue was one of trust.  The whole episode came alive again with new energy as we analyzed the case from that perspective.

The case parents were trying to form a habit of restraint in their child so that they could trust him to practice restraint in the future.  When he demonstrates that he can restrain himself their trust in him will grow.  If he does not learn restraint, however, they will trust him less.

Ironically, to achieve this level of formation in their child, they need to be able to trust each other to “do the right thing” when disciplining their child.  Though they agree on what Johnny needs to do they do not yet agree on what each of them needs to do. In this situation they cannot trust each other yet.

This problem will be solved when they can agree: “You can rely on me to do this in this situation.  And I can rely on you to do that in this same situation.”  When they can both look each other in the eye and each say this to each other the ground beneath them has shifted. Not only has trust been restored, but the foundation of their marriage has grown and they have learned how to deepen it.  When they have solved a string of problems in this way they are well on their way to being great parents and a great couple because they have learned how to grow trust.

No matter what way they discipline their child he will turn out strong because they know it is all about trust. “Johnny, you can rely on me to do this for you.  Can I rely on you to do the same for me?”  Johnny learns many good habits but, more importantly, he learns the value of being trustworthy.

Given the massive disruption in trust that the US is experiencing in all its institutions (family, church, school, marketplace, and government) it seems that fellow citizens who are opponents on so many issues need to begin their discourse with: “You can rely on me to treat you with respect in our conversations.  Can I rely on the same from you?”   Without a “yes” there is no point in having the conversation. With a “yes” the ground has shifted— a brick has been laid in the infrastructure we need most: trust.

If we adopt this habit a lot will change. Is there anyone in your orbit with whom you need to practice this?  A spouse?  A child? A relative?  A co-worker? A neighbor?

 

With an eye to the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director of the MARRI Project
Catholic University of America

Smartphones and Technology

community, depression, family, happiness, Technology, youth No comments

Today’s two findings link the digital world with relational outcomes that no one wants: abortion and unhappiness.  The digital world is a two-edged sword.  We know its benefits, but increasingly we are getting to know it’s down-sides.  Japan, one of the most digitally saturated societies on earth, is experiencing one of technology’s noxious byproducts: hikikomori  they call it, the shut-in lifestyle of young people who have withdrawn from society in fear and isolation to live, not socially, but digitally.

Being human, we are deeply relational from the first moments of our existence and thrive on good relationships throughout our lives. We are brought into existence by the most intimate and desirable of relational activities.  We come into the world to be nursed and cuddled in an intimacy many of us, subconsciously, seek to recreate throughout life, especially if we did not get enough in infancy.  We thrive in families that spend lots of time together, supporting each other in the tasks of life.  This is made even easier for us if we live in a close community.  Add lots of intact marriages and lots of weekly worship (both deeply relational) and life is pretty good for almost all involved.  Children who grow up in these environments are much more likely to thrive in adulthood.

Life in a Jewish Family” by Edith Stein, describes just such a family life in a close-knit Jewish community. It changed how my wife and I raised our children.  Later it led me to frequently suggest to my daughters that, in their turn, they consider living close to each other, if possible, when they married and began their own families because their children would benefit from all the aunts, uncles, and cousins they would have around them.  Better still, if they were anchored in a community of worship, and best of all if they had all this and friends close by.  What gifts for all the children involved!

Charles Murray of AEI in Coming Apart and Robert Putnam of Harvard in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis tell pretty much the same story: upper-class parents, by and large, understand the relational needs of their children and that their own marriage is foundational to their children’s future.  These parents are well educated and know the research. These upper-class parents also understand and practice the worship of God more than most!

But all this good work can be undone, even for the best of parents, should the digital get a hold on the imagination and habits of their children.

Here too, savvy elites catch on quickly:  A few years ago, I gave a presentation to a group of very wealthy and highly educated married couples. The topic was ‘the benefits to children of the time married parents spend with them’.  One of the couples recounted their smartphone strategy: every family member, including each parent, puts his smartphone into a big ceramic bowl in the foyer when he arrives home.  The phones stay there until after dinner and, on going to bed, are put back there again until after breakfast … which they all have together as their start to the day.  They insisted they knew the value of things and that the most valuable of all is time with the most important people in their lives … each other and their children.

 

With an eye to the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan,
Director, MARRI at CUA

Sexuality and Dating

abuse, Dating, marriage, sex No comments

“Grace” took serious revenge in an anonymous blog after feeling ill-treated on her date with TV comedian and filmmaker Aziz Ansari. Many in the media have weighed in on both sides. A bad night was had by both, much worse for the woman, but not great for repentant Aziz either.

The fall-out may be greater caution from men — much needed in Aziz’s world.  Clearly, neither he nor ‘Grace’ know where to find the most lovable, most enjoyable, and most cared-for sexual intercourse, with the least anxiety, least guilt, and least sadness. It lies where it always has: within the life-long monogamy of weekly-worshipping couples’ intact marriages.  The more a woman moves away from this type of love the more likely she is to experience what she fears most.  But who tells modern young women, or men, where and how to find this?  Hardly any of them would believe the data at first sight.  After reflection they might, for common sense and discreet observation of those around them would tell the same tale if they could overcome their prejudices long enough to look.

The massive irony of all this is that Aziz co-authored the book Modern Romance with much acclaimed NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg. In their next volume, perhaps they could explore the pathways that successful couples have found to sexual intercourse full of love, respect, care, and enjoyment in an anxiety-free, sadness-free, and guilt-free way, where both the man and woman honor each other, the woman feels protected and safe all the time, and her man feels much the same way … in a manly sort of way.

For the (ultimate) good of the child,

Pat Fagan

Abortion- Norma Mccorvey

abortion, McCorvey No comments

The Jane Roe of ‘Roe vs Wade’ was really Norma McCorvey, but she can no longer be the poster child for the pro-abortion movement she once was, because she is a hallmark example — and given her role in the history of abortion law — an iconic example of God’s way of changing hearts.

McCorvey had a traumatic childhood.   Her grandmother was a prostitute and her mother a violent alcoholic. When her parents divorced she was taken in and then raped by a relative. After an abusive marriage at age 16, McCorvey turned to alcohol and lesbian relationships. By the age of 21 she was pregnant for the third time and sought an abortion. However, state enforcement closed the abortion clinic before she could procure the abortion. This action became the basis for Roe vs. Wade because she had given birth when she did not want to. (She gave her baby up for adoption.) For the next twenty-three years she lived quietly with her lesbian partner, occasionally working in abortion clinics. A sympathetic interview with her, published in the New York Times on the occasion of her first book, ‘I am Roe’ (1994) gives a sense of those years, including death threats and shootings from ‘anti-abortion’ people.

The publication of the book occasioned her meeting an Evangelical pastor which led to her conversion to Christianity and a change of heart on abortion after seeing a poster which illustrated the stages of development of the fetus: “…something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth—that’s a baby!”

The rest of her story is one of a gradual deepening of faith and active prolife work. She appealed to the Supreme Court, based on standing, to overturn the outcome of Roe vs. Wade. After her conversion to evangelical Christianity she ceased her lesbian lifestyle and later sought entrance to the Catholic Church.

Her second book, ‘Won by Love’, (1997) retells the story from her new perspective on life. She died last February 18, 2017 at age 69.

Modernity/Culture

abortion, abstinence, adolescent sexuality, church, McCorvey, Prayer, pro-life, teen pregnancy No comments

Something is going well in America, and the public evidence is that love, prayer, and truth — all combined —are changing America for the good on life/abortion and sexual activity.   Modernity is capable of reform. The drift is not all downward by any means.

  • Teen sexual activity: Prior to pregnancy comes sexual intercourse and on that the data is very encouraging from every perspective. On the sexual side there is good news in the classroom: continued significant decrease in teenage sexual activity, most pronounced among black teenagers who are coming closer to the national norm. We blogged before on Collier County Florida where, through effective abstinence-only education in the public schools, the STD rate plummeted and almost disappeared for some STDs among teenagers, while their teenage birth rate more than halved. This program is spreading throughout the country.
  • The Norma McCorvey story, above, points to the enduring power of love to heal the wounds of hate, rejection, violence, and abuse. The prolife movement has expanded from protest and argument to a much broader and very significant movement of compassion and service to the mother tempted with abortion.
  • Prayer: From myriads of ‘national-sample’ charts we know that the more people pray the more their prayers are answered. Public prayer outside abortion clinics is the face of God and man cooperating in public on this issue; it is the meeting of suffering and compassion. Also, behind this public prayer there is the hidden prayer in homes, in hearts and in churches.
  • The effect of mimetic desire. For a young single woman an unintended pregnancy is a major stumbling block in life, and, as Rene Girard illustrates, when we stumble we desire the easiest way around the obstacle and copy solutions we see others using .   Thus, proximity to abortion clinics correlates with higher incidence of abortion. The absence of abortion clinics removes such mimetic desires and increases the incidence of mothers coping successfully, giving occasion for different desires to awaken, and different models to copy. And, on the issue of teen sexual activity, as reported above, the presence of more and more teens who abstain from sexual intercourse makes it more likely others will desire and copy the same.
  • Sonogram technology makes the baby visible and shows it to be very much alive. Even a poster has had dramatic effects, as the case of Norma McCorvey illustrates.
  • Political action and prayer has led to the closing of a significant number of abortion clinics

So, on the foundational dimension of human behavior, the sexual, teenagers are increasingly going the right direction —- because adults are putting lots of effort into the fundamentals. A new culture is being formed.

Religious Freedom

clergy, economy, religion, religious freedom No comments

Recently, during a long taxi ride from Los Angeles airport I had a memorable conversation with the driver, a Muslim from Afghanistan.  After the usual mundane topics, we started discussing what makes for a good clergyman, then discussed confession, repentance, forgiveness and freedom.

It was wonderful to hear him talk about staying close to God, and of his need for prayer in his pursuit of freedom of heart (his often-failing struggle to become free from habits of sin, even small ones) through the help of God. This was particularly striking because a week before this, I had dinner with a public figure with whom I discussed the impact of marriage on the nation and especially on the economy.  I think the taxi-man knew more about the nature of personal freedom to do the good desired (the lack of which stifles and even kills many marriages) than did this great defender of economic freedom, who confines freedom to the level of politics.

The taximan said the clergy should not be hypocrites, complaining that some (his own religion included) destroy their effectiveness and do more harm than good. He wished they would step aside for someone authentic and said young adults making life choices about God and religion need good folk to imitate. Good clergy are essential, he said, if the millennial generation are ever to be prayerful. They are not inclined to put up with hypocrites.

This led to the nature of personal reform and the benefit of confessing one’s sins. He understood Catholic confession and, marveling at the “seal of confession”, got right to the heart of it when he said that “a change of heart” (repentance) is the sine qua non of a good confession.  Thus, he identified a universal that applies to this sacrament: the intention not to sin again.

This whole taxi experience reminded me of a passage in a ‘walking the Bible narrative’ where the young Jewish author spoke of an exchange with a Muslim woman in a bazaar in Egypt.  He asked her what was the most important lesson life had taught her.  Her instantaneous response was “the power of prayer.”

Speaking of prayer:  Our Managing Editor (who, among many things has also been the builder of Marripedia and the MARRI website) is starting on the road of life-long prayer and penance: she is entering Mount Carmel, an order of contemplative nuns. MARRI is guaranteed prayers! Pray that she be a holy nun.  May her prayers help us on the outside.

[We will resume Faith and Family Facts in the second week of the New Year.]